Untold Tales of Spider-Man #16

Background

For those who haven't read the "Parallel Lives" graphic novel, this issue may come as a bit of a shock. Thanks to the nature of Untold Tales of Spider-man, we get our first glimpse of ever-lovin' Mary Jane Watson chronologically before she was ever shown in the Amazing Spider-man continuity. But Kurt Busiek gave us more than just a glimpse; he gave us much, much more. Read on, tigers, if you want to know the real story!

Story 'Who's That Girl'

This issue comes at us from the perspective a youthful Mary Jane Watson, and what a perspective it is! On the very first page, we witness her discovery that Peter Parker is the Spider-man. Amazingly, this discovery took place on the night Ben Parker was murdered. MJ, looking out her window, saw Peter run into the house and emerge from his bedroom window as Spidey.

MJ has had a rough life, so she deals with it by laughing away anything that scares or worries her. Still, she doesn't laugh off her aunt's attempt to set up a "blind" date between her and Peter, although she does manage to avoid the date anyway. MJ seems obsessed with Peter/Spider-man, or at least obsessed with the enigma he presents. He's not the shy bookworm Peter; he's not the colorful carefree clown Spider-man. Mary Jane's dilemma, and the theme of this issue, is "Who are you really, Peter Parker?"

We find that Peter's crowd at Midtown High is having a rough time. Jason is still being shunned after Sally's death, and if it's not bad enough that his fellow classmates are dumping on him, he's beating himself up over it too. Liz wants to do something to cheer Jason up, so she asks Peter to come up with an idea.

Sometime later, Mary Jane and Aunt Anna are walking through a history museum. MJ's quite bored and just wants "something to happen". No sooner does she make that comment than Spider-man and the Radioactive Man come crashing through the exhibits. MJ has been trying not to think of Spider-man all day, but now she's concerned for his safety. The Radioactive Man is a heavyweight (he recently took on the Avengers). How can Peter Parker stand up to him?

Well, Spidey stands up to him by using a statue as a baseball bat to knock Radioactive Man across the room. Unfortunately, he knocks him into a case of radioactive ore samples (great "uh oh" scene here). The samples cause a chain reaction within the Radioactive Man's body which will ultimately result in him reaching super-critical mass and exploding, taking the rest of New York City with him. Radioactive Man then makes his exit, and Spidey takes off to follow him.

MJ has confidence that Spidey will save the day, but she's not sure why. Several hours later, she sees a live TV report of Spidey and the Radioactive Man duking it out on the Brooklyn Bridge, so she grabs a taxi to go see the battle first-hand. Spidey's not having a good time of it. His specially-made lead-laced webbing is no help.

Mary Jane marvels at how even when faced with an unbeatable foe, Spider-man simply won't quit. Spidey eventually spies a coal barge passing under the bridge. Putting his science knowledge to good use, he catapults the Radioactive Man onto the coal barge, where the coal dampens the atomic activity, stopping the chain reaction. The day is saved, and MJ still doesn't know what to make of Spider-man.

The issue ends with a party at the Parker residence. Peter's idea to cheer up Jason was to throw a welcome back party for both Tiny and Jason. Tiny is thrilled, and so is Liz. Liz is so thrilled, in fact, that she kisses Peter on the cheek, right as Betty Brant walks through the door. Oops! Flash then tells Peter not to mess with his girlfriend, and Jason joins in on the Peter-bashing. So, all is once again normal in the Parker world. MJ sees the party crowd from her window and thinks again of Peter. She's not ready to date him yet, but she won't run away forever (don't we know it!).

General Comments

At first, I was shocked by this issue. I remember when MJ first told Peter that she knew his identity (ASM 257), but I never would have guessed that she would have known almost from the very start. Apparently this retcon was originally made in a graphic novel called "Parallel Lives", so I can't give Kurt Busiek credit for it. It seems to work well, though.

I really enjoyed the fact that most of this issue was narrated from Mary Jane's perspective. I found her confusion very interesting and very believable. Is Peter a showboat? Is Spidey a geek? How can a teenager keep his cool while taking on these nasty baddies in near-hopeless situations? All in all, this was very well done.

The Jason sub-plot worked well and didn't interfere with the MJ storyline. I also liked the fact that Spidey's special lead-laced webbing that he spent all afternoon brewing up simply didn't get the job done. Nice touch. The artwork was pretty good, too. I wasn't too impressed with the cover, but many of the panels in the book itself were perfect.

This issue left me wanting more. I'm eager to see the next appearance of MJ in Untold Tales, not to mention the next issue, featuring Hawkeye. Yes!

Overall Rating

Four lead-laced webs!