Sean McKeever and Takeshi Miyazawa's loveable but quirky Mary Jane [http://www.spiderfan.org/comics/title/mary_jane.html] series was one of those little books that could. Despite low sales in the direct market and a truncated issue run, this series was brought back for a sequel mini-series thanks to critical acclaim, strong digest sales, and positive fan response. Oh, and the fact that McKeever's been nominated for an Eisner Award this year doesn't hurt things.
For those of you who missed the earlier arc thus far, here's all you need to know. Mary Jane Watson is a sweet high school girl with a crush on Spider-Man who can't quite decide if she wants to be more than friends with Harry Osborn. Complicating matters is that her best friend Liz Allan is desperately suspicious that her boyfriend Flash Thompson is cheating on her, and wouldn't you know it, the big lug has a crush on MJ. Oh, and lurking in the background is Harry's nerdy friend Peter Parker.
Last time we saw the gang there was a little bit of the cliffhanger when an increasingly paranoid Liz saw MJ giving Flash a hug. And right after she explained to the guy how much Liz loved him. So let's get this party started.
We fade in to see Mary Jane trying on a new dress in the boutique where she got a part-time job in issue #3. She pauses in front of a mirror, rehearsing for the big dance, when out of nowhere she sees one of the Green Goblin's pumpkin bombs being hurtled towards her. At the last possible moment, one of Spidey's webs snags the pumpkin away from MJ, saving her. She turns around to see Spider-Man slugging it out with the Green Goblin. Spidey swings the pumpkin bomb on a thread back around towards the Goblin, causing its blast to blind the arch-fiend. He quickly webs his arch-enemy to the wall.
The web-slinger promptly takes our heroine by the hand and asks her to the school's Homecoming dance. She declines the offer as her new dream guy is Harry Osborn. Suddenly, as if magic, MJ finds herself transported to a field of wildflowers with Harry. Just as she asks her boyfriend to kiss her, she suddenly finds herself jolted back to the real world. Turns out she's been daydreaming, and her teacher isn't particularly pleased, to say the least. The teacher also seems to have some choice words with Harry Obsorn's lackluster performance in class as well.
Back at the Coffee Bean the couple meet and Miss Watson is rather irate with how openly Mrs. Feeser chastised the boy in class. Obsorn seems rather depressed and doesn't want to talk about school at all. It seems the guy has some issues with his father. He didn't want to say anything about it knowing how excited she is about the dance, but, well, it seems his grades aren't up to snuff. Considering Norman Obsorn's less-than-admirable parenting skills, this does bode well. Harry's Father has forbidden him from dating her until he gets his act together, and that includes homecoming. Harry has no idea how his dad would go about enforcing this, but he was really specific about the dance. Knowing Harry's father, I would recommend he not plan any dates near the Brooklyn Bridge anytime soon. MJ, meanwhile, is undeterred and vows to help make sure that Harry passes the test. Alas, all Osborn can respond with is a sad smile.
Later that evening back home, MJ tries to call up Liz Allan on the telephone, but she's already gone to bed. It's almost like she's been avoiding her. Back at the school library, Peter attempts to tutor Harry in physics. This only succeeds in frustrating Osborn. An increasingly stumped Harry suggests cheating. First jokingly, then seriously. When Parker refuses, Obsorn, in desperation, offers him a bribe.
MJ meets Peter as he trudges out of the library in frustration. A depressed Peter laments his inability to help Harry. MJ tells Peter not to be so rough on himself as it's just homework, and he doesn't have to be so rough on himself. "It's just homework. You Don't have to save the world or anything." Strangely, this doesn't seem to comfort Parker too much. MJ offers to tutor Harry herself, but a depressed Osborn doubts she'll fare any better than Parker did. She then offers to quiz Harry herself. The added incentive for studying harder is that each time he gets a right answer she gives him a kiss. (Why didn't Parker think of this?) Alas, Harry proves to be more interested in necking than in studying, so the duo agree this doesn't work.
The next day in physics class, Mrs. Feeser catches MJ passing a note to her boyfriend. Irate with the couple for not paying attention in class, Feeser offers them the choice between volunteering to stay after class to set up for tomorrow's senior lab, or having the note read before the class. The two reluctantly agree to stay.
After class, Harry runs by MJ a variation of the cheating idea he ran by Parker, but she doesn't seem too keen on the idea, either. She then runs into Flash Thompson, who's a tad frustrated with how Liz has been treating him. He asks what the deal is with her, but MJ was just about to ask him the same thing. Pointing out that there's nothing seriously going on, and that he just had a misguided crush that's over. Flash stresses out over how it seems the nicer he tries to treat her, the more rabid she gets. MJ is unable to notice Flash's stressed
MJ later catches Liz staying after one of her classes, and tries to get her to explain why she's been avoiding her. Liz tries to skirt around the issue, so MJ changes the subject and mentions that Harry wants to cheat on the test. This prompts the increasingly volatile Liz to explode. "I hate cheaters. Cheaters are the SCUM of the EARTH. They're SELFISH JERKS who take GREAT PLEASURE in hurting their friends' FEELINGS."
"So... you think I shouldn't do it, no matter what?" A dumbfounded Mary Jane responds. Liz storms off in an angry huff. Later after school, MJ and Harry are setting Mrs. Feeser's lab, when suddenly a message comes over the intercom system saying that Feeser's husband has sent her a delivery of flowers. Just as she is about to leave the room, MJ volunteers to fetch them for her. Thus foiling Harry's cheating scheme before it can begin.
After the detention, MJ meets with Harry, who bitterly storms out of the school. "I just couldn't go through with it. I'm just... not that kind of person," she says.
"What, does that mean I'm a bad person?" Harry responds before reminding her that he only got the idea so the two could stick together. Mary Jane quickly protests that there has to be another way, and perhaps if he studied really hard and talked to his father she might be able to help.
"Boy, you really don't know my father, do you?" Harry ominously says before wondering if the two would be better off without each other. "I'm saying if you don't want us to be together that badly, then maybe we shouldn't be together at all." Dejected, he walks off looking like he absolutely hates himself.
Whew... surprisingly heavy subtext for a book aimed at younger readers. At first I found Harry's behavior somewhat puzzling, but when you consider who his father is (something McKeever slyly hinted at during the fantasy opening) combined with the amount of stress a teenager usually is in, well it makes sense. The story moves along logically from where the prior Mary Jane series left off, and Takashi Miyazawa's art truly shines here as his knack for drawing great facial expressions truly sticks out in this issue.
Perhaps the most interesting/suspenseful thing about this storyline is a lot of interesting stuff seems to be going on behind the scenes. A tricky storytelling technique, but one that McKeever pulls off very well.
2004's sleeper mini-series is back, and just as good, if not better than ever. My one complaint is that a "previously" page wasn't included for folks who missed the original mini-series. So snatch up that digest.