09 October 2011

Faster than a DC Bullet: Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, Part I: Circle of Friends

I've read a lot of DC series so far in Faster than a DC Bullet, and not all of them were even DC universe: Green Arrow, The Sandman, Gotham Central, Y: The Last Man... But something I haven't done yet is read a single series produced by a different publisher. This is appropriate, given the series title I suppose, but other publishers do make stuff, even if they're not as good as the Distinguished Competition...

Comic digest, n.pag.
Published 2004 (contents: 2004)

Borrowed from the library
Read September 2011
Mary Jane: Circle of Friends

Writer: Sean McKeever
Penciller: Takeshi Miyazawa
Inker: Norman Lee
Colorist: Christina Strain
Letterers: Randy Gentile & Dave Sharpe

The (Spider-Man Loves) Mary Jane series retells the Spider-Man story from future Spider-Spouse Mary Jane's perspective. Plus it transposes all the action to high school, as Peter Parker didn't meet Mary Jane or Harry Osborn until college, bringing it more in line with the films than the original comics. It also uses some manga stylings, both in terms of the art and the stories. (I have to trust the Internet on the latter one, 'cause I can't claim to have read much of this kind of manga myself. There is a word for it, but my mind has momentarily lost it.) The big conceit of the series is that since MJ does not yet know that Peter Parker is not Spider-Man, there is no on-panel acknowledgement of the fact... though of course the series has a lot of fun with the fact every reader obviously knows about this connection.

Mary Jane is pretty popular and also attractive and a rich guy wants to be her boyfriend, but that doesn't mean she doesn't have problems. She feels alone sometimes, despite it all, and she's also in love with a masked superhero she's never even met. And her lower-class background means that she feels like her relationship with Harry Osborn, the richest guy in high school, feels one-sided to her, so she overworks herself to make some money. We actually don't see a lot of MJ or Harry's home lives, though; it's all about the high school drama. MJ's best friend Liz Allan thinks that her boyfriend Flash Thompson likes some other girl, while meanwhile MJ can't figure out if she wants a relationship with Harry or not. Oh drama, oh angst! It's all here a-plenty, and it's pretty standard situations. But it all works. Let me tell you why:
1) Jokes. Well, of course. Flash Thompson is kind of a stereotype, but he is hilarious. Also I like it when MJ gets fired from tons of jobs.

2) The Art. Takeshi Miyazawa is not Japanese (he is actually Canadian), but he captures the manga style very well. More importantly, though, he does some of the best facial expressions I have ever seen. Comics can be pretty bad about this given it is a visual medium sometimes, but in Miyazawa's skillful hands, you can always tell what characters are thinking or feeling. It's his artwork that really sells some of the more potentially-trite moments, like when Liz thinks Flash is cheating on her with MJ; you can read the shock and despair right on Liz's face. Miyazawa is ably aided by Christina Strain's colors; the manga-ish red cheek thing is deployed to good effect fairly often.

3) Spider-Man. The best parts of the story are the ones the capitalize on the fact that this is not just a high school relationship story, but one with Spider-Man in it. Mary Jane has two conversations with Spider-Man, one when she catches him sneaking out of high school, and they are both great. Conversely, the brief appearance of Peter Parker works well, too, because on the surface he is just there to prove that Harry is a good guy (Harry sticks up for Peter to Flash, though admittedly only once Peter has walked off), but you the reader know he has much more importance than that.
Okay, not all of it is perfect (the bullying plotline is silly), but it is fun and funny, and on the other hand, devastating when it needs to be. And Miyazawa's covers are just gorgeous!

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