For Valentine’s Day 2023, I wanted to revisit a comic that shaped how teenage me, at least, thought about romantic relationships. And I’m not going to lie, I was worried this comic would not hold up. I think all of us have things we loved and ideas we subscribed to in our youth that we are embarrassed to have loved or believed in. And it sucks when you revisit those things and figure out that, yeah, they were actually not correct. That they had it a little (or a lot) wrong.
Reader, Ultimate Spider-Man 13 is not one of those now-wrong things. Ultimate Spider-Man 13 is still great, actually:
In this issue, a Peter Parker who has just recently become Spider-Man tells Mary Jane Watson that … he has recently become Spider-Man. Back in the day, before every superhero didn’t have a secret identity, this was a big deal. And even rereading this book now, it still feels like a big deal. This was early in Ultimate Peter Parker’s career, when he’d just barely managed to take down the Green Goblin and Kingpin without getting himself killed. Yes, eventually, the mainstream Marvel Universe’s Peter Paker told Mary Jane Watson that he was Spider-Man (though she already knew). But for this Peter to do so this early in Ultimate Spider-Man‘s run … it was a game changer for the book, the Ultimate Universe, and most importantly, this version of Peter and Mary Jane’s relationship.
Because the relationship Peter and Mary Jane have in the Ultimate Universe, we find out, is not one where Peter feels like it is correct for him to constantly lie to and ditch Mary Jane for what, to her, seems like no reason. The relationship that Ultimate Peter and Mary Jane have is built on respect, trust, and honesty. And Peter knows that to keep that relationship (which at the start of this issue has not yet moved past “very very good friends”), he has to tell Mary Jane that he is Spider-Man. Otherwise, his secret will blow the healthy “friendship” they have apart.
The way this discussion goes feels authentic to the characters and authentic to the experience of being a teenager. At first, Mary Jane can’t believe what Peter’s telling her. Then, after Peter sticks to his ceiling, she asks why Peter doesn’t tell everyone that he’s Spider-Man. After Peter explains (y’know, it’s dangerous), she asks why Peter told her. And Peter tells Mary Jane that she’s his best friend, and so he felt he had to tell her.
My wife and I are best friends. I know for a fact that not every married couple are. I count myself lucky that we have that style of relationship, where we enjoy many of each other’s hobbies, have a similar sense of humor, and can tease each other and challenge each other and always know the other will have our back. While it’s not all our relationship is based on, I can say that we have a foundation of respect and trust and honesty, with a bit of humor thrown in.
I found all that, again, when rereading Ultimate Spider-Man 13. (Think it’s missing the humor part? I didn’t touch on what Aunt May thinks Peter and MJ are up to in his room …) When I was a teenager, I thought this version of Peter and Mary Jane’s relationship was something to aspire to. I sought out partners with whom I could develop a relationship like theirs. As an adult, I still feel like Ultimate Peter and Mary Jane’s relationship is founded upon the right values. And I’m very glad to have found a wife who, though she’s never read this comic, believes the same thing.
(Addendum: Kat’s reading the comic as I’m finishing this up. She doesn’t love the art, but she’s laughing in all the right spots.)