Weekly Webbing: Waid & Van Lente on Bringing Back MJ

Weekly Webbing: Waid & Van Lente on Brin

Amazing Spider-Man #602

Mary Jane who?

Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration. Most Spider-Man fans haven't forgotten the lady who's played such a huge role in the Spider-Man universe over the years.

But since the big status quo change in Amazing Spider-Man a year and a half ago – when the title started shipping three times a month and Peter Parker's marriage to MJ was seemingly wiped from memory – Mary Jane Watson hasn't really been part of Spider-Man's life, nor part of the comic book's supporting cast.

That's about to change.

With a four-issue storyline titled "Red Headed Stranger," Mary Jane is coming back to Amazing Spider-Man beginning in issue #601, the follow-up to the multi-creator jam session in the oversized issue #600. After writer Mark Waid and penciler Mario Alterti bring MJ back in #601, writer Fred Van Lente and penciler Barry Kitson pick up the story in #602, when MJ's return is accompanied by the return of the Spider-Man villain Chameleon.

For this installment of Newsarama's Weekly Webbing, we talk to Waid and Van Lente about the return of Mary Jane, what she remembers, and just how long she's sticking around.

Newsarama: So fellas, has this been the plan all along, to bring Mary Jane back now?

Mark Waid: I believe it's been the plan all along to bring her back at some point, but it's just been a case of trying to find the right place for it, making sure that Spidey's new world is really set up before we go throwing a wrecking ball on everything by having MJ suddenly thunder into the picture.

Fred Van Lente: And I think it's also sort of part and parcel with the fact that you haven't been seeing a lot of the classic villains either – the Electros and Doctor Octopuses of the world. And along with MJ's return, you'll see some other faces returning.

NRAMA: Why now?

MW: One of the answers is that it's never a bad time to put something else gigantic on Peter's shoulders that's going to break him. There's never a bad time to torment Peter with some sort of development like this. That's what it's all about with Spider-Man. That's what it's always been about with Spider-Man, ever since Stan and Ditko created the character. What can we throw at Peter for him to try to persevere against? And more often then not, it's more personal stuff than superhero stuff.

FVL: And I think also that Steve Wacker and the guys initially wanted their take on Spider-Man, which was generally known as the 'Brand New Day' tack, to have some time to establish itself, and to introduce some new characters, supporting cast members and new villains.

Now issue #600 is sort of a signaling that we've moved into the next phase. It's not just MJ coming back. It's not just Chameleon coming back. It's also a lot of surprise old villains coming back. We're moving into a whole new phase of the new Amazing Spider-Man. Now that the groundwork has been laid, we can introduce these elements and bring them back in newer and fresher ways.

Amazing Spider-Man #601

NRAMA: So how do we start this storyline after issue #600?

MW: My issue, #601, is really sort of a – not a breather actually, because it really does deal with the Peter-MJ dynamic as it stands now – but it's not a villain issue. It's more about Peter trying to deal with things. He thought he kind of had everything settled for awhile, and then suddenly here comes MJ. And now he's got to figure out how it fits into his life now.

NRAMA: Are you playing at all with the fact that we all know their married past while they don't? Or is there still a chance that they remember more than we realize?

MW: That's certainly one of the questions that's on the table, and I can say that #601 pretty much makes it clear who knows what and who remembers what. But the answer of what those memories are might surprise you a little bit.

FVL: You won't know everything, but you'll know way, way, way, way more than you did beforehand.

MW: Yeah. There are probably still some questions to be answered, but we knew going in that one of the things you've got to have in this story is who remembers what. And we knew that was something we had to address.

NRAMA: What are things going to be like between Peter and MJ now?

FVL: Mary Jane returns to Peter's life as the ex. They've had this long-term relationship, they were very close and intimate, but then they broke up for reasons that remain mysterious. But now MJ is back and she's back in New York permanently.

NRAMA: So she's permanently part of Spider-Man's life? Even past this storyline?

FVL: She's permanently part of the Spider-Man cast again, but she's got a very different role than she's ever had before. She's the ex, and while she still cares about Peter a lot, like most exes, she's acutely aware of all his flaws. And so it's a really unique way to use Mary Jane and to have a really different Mary Jane/Peter dynamic. As somebody who has read Spider-Man for years – and obviously I'm biased – but I think it's a really interesting way to use the character.

NRAMA: You say it's a new and interesting way to use the character, Fred. Do you feel like it was necessary to kind of hit the reset button with their relationship in order to get these types of stories?

FVL: The word "necessary" is very loaded when you're dealing with fiction, because you're talking about these various aesthetic choices. I do think, as a long-time Spider-Man fan, that this use of Mary Jane is going to surprise Mary Jane fans about how interesting it is and how much fun, for lack of a better word; it is to use the character in this way. And I think most importantly, a lot of great Spider-Man stories are going to come out of it.

NRAMA: You mention Mary Jane fans, so my question from our point of view would be, has Mary Jane changed? So many of the characters in Spider-Man's universe are altered somewhat by this new status quo. How different is MJ?

FVL: I'm basing my characterization of Mary Jane on the way she's been depicted in the past, particularly pre-marriage. And that's not a knock on the marriage; it's just simply because she was single then and she's single again. But because she's gone through this experience with Peter, she is wiser and more worldly.

NRAMA: Are we going to learn what she's been doing all this time?

FVL: Amazing Spider-Man #605 explores that. It's like an epilogue or coda to Red-Headed Stranger. We originally thought it was going to be an Amazing Spider-Man "extra," but now it's going to be a regular issue of Spider-Man. That issue will tell you exactly what Mary Jane was doing prior to her coming back, and why she's moving back to New York. And it's got the White Rabbit in it. Everyone loves the White Rabbit. At least I do.

NRAMA: Your storyline also brings back the Chameleon. What's that character like now?

FVL: The Chameleon is a character who has been used in a lot of different ways. And I think that's appropriate, given the fact that he's the Chameleon [laughs]. But we don't really know what he's really about. We think we know his back-story and we think we know he has these connections to the Kravinoff family, we think that he's been crazy and obsessed with Spider-Man and had all these mental problems.

But in a mini-series I did with Francis Portela called Super Villain Team-Up: M.O.D.O.K.'s 11, we actually heavily suggested that the whole crazy Chameleon aspect of his personality was just a ruse that allowed him to sort of fade back into the background. Now, you don't need to have read that to enjoy this story. This is sort of a restart of the Chameleon. I wasn't a huge fan of giving him superpowers, because to me it seemed to lessen the uniqueness of the character, just because he was this normal guy who took on Spider-Man. So if he has superpowers in this arc, he's not going to use them. Maybe it's some other guy who has the superpowers. I don't know.

The scary thing about the Chameleon is that you don't know who he is. You don't know who he is now, and you don't know who he has been. He's just a complete cipher. And that's what makes him cool.

NRAMA: What is the premise of his return?

FVL: I will say that it has to do with Peter Parker's new job.

NRAMA: He has a new job?

FVL: It's part of his whole new status quo, and that gets set up in #602.

NRAMA: So he actually gets this new job in #602.

FVL: You got it.

NRAMA: What can you tell us about this mission Chameleon has that's targeting J. Jonah Jameson?

FVL: I'd rather not say more than that. I'm going to leave that shrouded in darkness, just because I think the less readers know, the more fun they'll have with it.

But what's interesting about this storyline is that, in addition to Peter and Mary Jane and the Chameleon, beginning with this storyline, we have a lot of new plotlines starting for many of the supporting characters, including Flash Thompson and Harry Osborn. Mary Jane's return has an effect throughout the cast and throughout the book – not just with Peter's love life. And Peter's love life will be kicked up another notch, as the kids like to say.

NRAMA: So there's quite a bit going on in this storyline besides Mary Jane?

FVL: Right. And Mary Jane has some things going on. What's fun is that the story isn't just about how Mary Jane's return affects Peter. It's also about how Mary Jane's return affects Mary Jane.

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