Presenting OTP Tuesday! Each Tuesday I will introduce you to a new One True Pairing! Tune in each week to find out which fictional couple you need to agonize/squee over next. This week’s OTP is PeterMJ.
Who Are PeterMJ?
PeterMJ refers to Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson, also known as MJ, from the Spider-Man universe. I can’t find an actual ship name, so I’m going with PeterMJ. Peter and MJ have a long and interesting history in the comics, but since I haven’t read them, I’ll be sticking to the films for this article!
Who doesn’t know who Peter Parker is? Peter Parker is one of the most enduring superheroes, possibly even one of the most enduring figures in any pop culture. Simply put, Peter Parker is Spider-Man. There’s a lot more to his character, though. He’s lasted this long for a reason: he’s relatable. Peter Parker is the quintessential lovable nerd. His whole life changes, however, when he is bitten by a radioactive spider. Peter soon finds himself with strange new abilities, although at first he doesn’t know what to do with them. He finds direction after receiving some wisdom from his Uncle Ben: “with great power comes great responsibility.”
After Ben’s untimely death, Peter realizes it is his responsibility to fight crime. He has the power to stop bad things from happening, therefore he also has the responsibility to do so. To not fight crime would be a waste of his talents and disrespectful to Ben’s memory. So, Peter becomes Spider-Man, the friendly neighborhood crime fighter of New York. As Spider-Man, Peter experiences a strange new world. He acquires a weird assortment of enemies, from his best friend’s father as the Green Goblin to a mutated lizard/human scientist.
He also faces enemies of a different sort, like J. Jonah Jameson, a newspaper manager who is determined to paint Spider-Man as a public menace. This is a bit of a problem for Peter, who works for Jameson. Turns out, crime-fighting won’t pay the bills. But Peter makes do, taking a bunch of pictures of Spider-Man for Jameson. Photographer by day, superhero at night, Peter makes the best of his life. He even manages to have a relationship with his childhood crush, Mary Jane Watson, the girl next door. Life could be better, but it could be worse.
Mary Jane Watson
Mary Jane Watson is the original girl next door love interest. She grew up next to Peter, and he had a crush on her for a long time. Unfortunately, despite being neighbors, MJ was far out of reach for Peter. MJ was a popular girl in high school, whereas Peter was The Nerd. He loved her from afar, and thought she’d always be out of his reach. After his spider-induced glow up, though, Peter had more of a chance. Despite dating Peter’s best friend, Harry Osborn, things change when MJ catches the eye of Spider-Man. She doesn’t know, of course, that underneath the costume is her childhood neighbor. She just thinks she’s lucky to have a superhero watching out for her.
Unfortunately, MJ has also caught the eye of Peter’s big enemy, the Green Goblin, who is Harry’s father. The Goblin has it out for MJ, which frequently puts her in the line of danger. Luckily, Peter is there to get her out of it, and a strange attraction is kindled between the girl next door and the friendly neighborhood hero. Eventually, MJ learns Peter’s secret. Her attraction to the hero and affection for mild-mannered Peter come together and they start a relationship.
This, of course, puts MJ in even more danger. Any villain who discovers Peter’s identity comes straight for MJ. She’s a weak point for Peter. But that’s okay. The two of them love each other and support each other through every up and down in Peter’s strange life. Things aren’t always perfect – they split up, at times, pushed apart by the stresses of who they are. But they always come back together in the end. Because no matter what, Peter and MJ are meant to be together.
Why Is PeterMJ OTP?
PeterMJ is the classic, archetypal superhero/damsel in distress relationship. At times it can feel boring, at others corny (“tiger,” anyone?). But we keep coming back to this ship time and time again. No matter what, we return to PeterMJ as the relationship that defines both characters.
I haven’t always been the biggest fan of PeterMJ, since it hits a lot of notes I’m not a fan of (hero constantly has to save the girl being a big point against it). But after watching Into the Spider-Verse, I can’t stop thinking about why we always return to this ship. What makes it endure? Why do we love PeterMJ so much?
The Girl Next Door
One of the things that makes PeterMJ so enduring, I think, is the very thing that makes it seem unappealing: how cliché it is. The thing is, clichés exist for a reason. We act like we don’t like clichés, but we do. That’s why we keep coming back to the same story again and again – because it can be a good story (though it isn’t always). PeterMJ is cliché, true. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Mary Jane Watson is the Girl Next Door. Literally. Peter pines after his beautiful, charming neighbor, who remains so close and yet so far. MJ is the embodiment of everything Peter can’t have because of his nerdy personality: popularity, success, a girlfriend.
But Peter and MJ end up together, after all. It literally pains me to write “he gets the girl” because women are not prizes to be won or objects to be possessed. But Peter getting the girl at the end is how the story shows that becoming Spider-Man made him more than he was before. He’s still a nerd, of course. But he’s more than that, he’s also a hero. Hero saves the damsel in distress is not a trope I typically go for. I’m far more a fan of equal partners, two people who save each other, than one hero always saving the girl (because it’s almost always a girl).
PeterMJ falls into this trap, with Peter constantly having to save MJ because she’s always somehow in danger. Of course, part of the reason she’s often in danger is because of Peter, so it’s only right he saves her. But PeterMJ is also nice because it may use outdated tropes, but there’s a reason these tropes endure. We like seeing the hero save their love.
I have to be honest, for me, a whole lot of the reason I enjoy PeterMJ – despite it hitting a bunch of notes I would normally not enjoy – is because of nostalgia. Spider-Man was a big part of my childhood, therefore PeterMJ is probably one of the oldest pairings I can remember shipping. I was… lucky… enough to come of age in the dawn of the modern superhero movie craze. So the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movies were some of my first exposure to big budget blockbuster approaches to the heroes I knew and loved from animated TV series. For better or worse, those movies shaped a lot of my youth.
Yes, the original Spider-Man movies were super cringy. In hindsight, there was a lot that I’m glad was left behind (though I almost died laughing when Spider-Verse referenced that dancing scene). But one of the things that really worked in these movies was the relationship between Peter and MJ (and Kirsten Dunst was amazing, I stand by it). PeterMJ in these movies captures a weird but charming relationship. MJ calling Peter tiger is weird. The upside down kiss is weird. Hanging out on a web your significant other has spun out of his own body is super weird.
Writing your love interest a letter in web is both weird and dangerous. But a lot of the weirdness is just a part of those movies and their (questionable?) charm. PeterMJ was corny and weird, sure. But it was also cute. It was also one of the first well-developed superhero movie romances. We only have Pepperony, Steggy, and all the rest because PeterMJ came first. If it wasn’t for this cute, corny, weird romance, we wouldn’t have what we have now. Remember where you come from.
What’s Next For PeterMJ?
That is… a surprisingly complicated question. At the moment, Spider-Man is a complicated web (heh) of stories. What is next for PeterMJ depends on what you view as canon. If you take Into the Spider-Verse as canon PeterMJ, which is kind of how I’m approaching things, there’s a lot of possibility. We know we’re getting a sequel to Spider-Verse. Given that Spider-Verse has an interesting subplot about how Peter B. Parker and Mary Jane split up, and how he wants her back, the sequel might bring up their developing relationship.
Peter B. Parker and MJ split up because Peter didn’t want kids. After his illuminating experience with Miles Morales, however, he’s willing to give it a shot, and the film ends with Peter going to see if MJ might be willing to give him another shot. I’d love to see how this plays out, and I’m definitely crossing my fingers that the Spider-Verse sequel is as good as the first. If you take the MCU as current Spider-Man canon, things are a bit more complicated. Mary Jane Watson has so far not appeared in the MCU. However, there is an MJ: Michelle Jones, Peter’s eccentric classmate.
Given that Michelle reveals that her friends call her MJ at the end of the movie, it seems like the MCU might be going the way of PeterMJ, even if it’s not the PeterMJ we’re familiar with. The power of PeterMJ as a ship is that fans are already speculating that Michelle is MCU Peter’s endgame. The newest trailer for Spider-Man: Far From Home might have more hints, but we have awhile to wait for the movie to confirm or deny.
Is PeterMJ Canon?
Again, this is really complicated depending on how you view canon. There are too many Spider-Mans, I’m just going to come right out and say it. It makes my job more difficult. Get it together, Marvel/Sony/whatever. Let’s break it down, Spider-Man by Spider-Man. Tobey Maguire Spider-Man, the OG film Spider-Man, gives us a definitively canon PeterMJ. They get together early in the series, have their ups and downs, even split up, but in the end find their way back together.
MCU Spider-Man is showing us hints of a future PeterMJ that is definitely not canon yet. There are hints being laid, that may yet lead to a canon PeterMJ. But, at this point in time, MCU PeterMJ is not canon. We’ll have to wait til the summer to find out more. Spider-Verse PeterMJ is interesting, as it’s a post-canon yet pre-canon relationship. They were previously canon, but split. At this point in time, they are not yet back together, but Peter is attempting to salvage things. So, interestingly, Spider-Verse is somewhat in the middle.
A Schrodinger’s canon, if you will, not canon and yet not not canon. I reiterate: Spider-Man is a very confusing subject to get into, and that’s not even beginning to take into account the comics or TV shows. But no matter what genre or medium, one thing endures: PeterMJ is one of the cornerstones of the Spider-Man experience.