Dear Joe -
You've made the point in the past that there is a quintessential characterization for Spider-Man, that when he is portrayed in (most) other media it is as an unmarried teenager. That means he is most easily recognized as that newly-powered teen. Because of this, you argue, he should always be that young man with romantic complications.
I agree that if you boil down Spider-Man to his roots that what you get is that basic origin of a teen with newfound powers and a newfound realization of his responsibility. And that Spider-Man as a comic book was perhaps at its greatest strength during the first 120 or so issues of Amazing Spider-Man when soap opera elements dominated alongside the superhero action.
However the stories in comic books do not exist in a vacuum. Part of the charm and the longevity of the Marvel Universe is that we have seen how these characters grow and mature. Certainly their essence remains at the core of the characters. The Fantastic Four are a family. The X-Men are mistrusted. Daredevil overcomes his handicap. Bruce Banner struggles with his darker side. The Avengers come together for greater threats. Thor is pulled in both directions by his allegiances. Iron Man is both improved and limited by his armor. Captain America struggles with ideals he hopes do not become outdated. And Spider-Man fights on to overcome his guilt at his tragic inaction.
But if every issue of these comic books dealt with these characters battling their Achilles heels, then the stories lose their linear feel. You may as well just read Tales of Suspense 39 or Fantastic Four over and over again. But no, we read other stories about these characters. We can accept Walt Simonson obliterating Donald Blake or Peter David making a smart Hulk because the tales were so good. And if we want to read "fun" Daredevil, we'll put down our Frank Millers for awhile and pick up our Wally Woods. If we want something a little different we'll pick up Byrne's Fantastic Four with She-Hulk before going back to the Lee/Kirby issues. Those stories still exist and always will.
So I say that if readers want to read about Peter Parker's romantic entanglements, direct them to Lee/Romita. Or Bendis/Bagley. Or the Marvel Adventures line. Or Mary Jane Loves Spider-Man. There are many, many options in the Marvel family.
But to take away Peter's and Mary Jane's relationship by having Wanda say "No more marriages" or however you're planning on doing it without stigmatizing either character is erasing over 19 years of linear continuity. Think about that...19 years. Think about a reader back then who was six years old who is now 25 and still reading Spider-Man. Think about a reader who was 25 and is now 44 or so on. That is a whole generation of comic books fans who have as their Spider-Man reality Peter Parker's marriage to Mary Jane Watson. That's not something you can easily erase.
One of your arguments has been that it is more difficult to write stories with them married. I think a lot of writers have done some really good work with their marriage. Your close contributor J. Michael Straczynski has rejuvenated their relationship, saving it from a previous administration who thought it might be better if Peter and Mary Jane weren't together. You see how well that all went over.
The Spider-Man whose story has unfolded for us over these 40-plus years couldn't stay the high school geek forever. He couldn't always hang out at the Coffee Bean with his pals and gals. He couldn't continue mourning for Gwen. The Black Cat relationship wasn't going to last. Found himself a nifty black costume. He married the woman he loved. Clones happen. He can't work at the Daily Bugle forever. Eventually he was able to fully confide in his Aunt May. He lost and then regained Mary Jane. And now he is working and living with the Avengers. And who knows what will happen next?
"Next." That's the key word here. If Peter's progress is reverted and he is changed back into the swingin' single with girlfriends and buddies he is no longer Peter Parker.
And "Peter-as-Archie" was fine at its time, those great Lee/Romita issues with Pete, MJ, Gwen, Flash and Harry learning their way in the world with tragedy always looming but still trying to make their peace and grow up. And grow up they did when Spider-Man could foil that tragedy. He couldn't always do it and that made him grow up as well.
In your recent Joe Fridays you cite a letter that someone wrote in about the marriage that you agreed with. I'm afraid I can't concur.
"What made the Marvel Universe was a bunch of cool, new heroes that had flaws and spoke to people. Spider-Man's flaw wasn't that he was married to a supermodel. And Reed and Sue can get married because Reed and Sue were together since the beginning. They were always a couple, adding a ring doesn't change anything because they are the same. And the kids don't grow. Nor should they ever.
"Peter Parker never was a family man. It perverts the character to make him so. Peter Parker being young and having girl trouble, school problems, work problems, and feeling guilty about the death of his father figure and constantly lying and not being there for his mother figure is relatable. Peter Parker being old, married, with money problems and whining about his luck is pathetic. And Peter Parker being old, married, and content is boring. "And I think it is kind of funny people are complaining about the status quo. The marriage is the very DEFINITION of the status quo. You can't get rid of the damn thing. It just sits there, adding literally NOTHING to the stories. If anyone can tell me ONE good story that requires Peter and MJ to be married instead of living together or engaged, go ahead. If you can tell me that Spider-Man would have survived if he had married Betty Brant in the early issues of Spider-Man, go ahead"
Kids shouldn't grow? Read Dennis the Menace if you want to see eternal childhood. I'd rather see Franklin Richards age a year or two and see the story possibilities as Reed and Sue have to deal with a new personality that emerges.
Peter Parker never a family man? His whole basis of his origin is that he feels as though he FAILED his family. He comes from a happy home...why wouldn't he wish to emulate the love that his Uncle Ben and Aunt May had or that he knew his parents had before their demise? How can anyone say that having a family is a "perversion" of this character?
Peter will always have work problems, always feel guilty about failing his family. He may not have the girl troubles but different complications arise: his guilt about the death of Gwen and the feelings he still feels for her; his fear that he is endangering Mary Jane or not paying enough attention to her; his tempations involving the Black Cat.
How would Peter being engaged or just living to Mary Jane be any different than being married to her? Do you think he'd be dating if he were in this kind of relationship? And if you ask me to name one good story that results from their being married, I can point to the Valentine's Day special, Web of Romance. Peter again realizes what a special person he has in Mary Jane. This is a husband rediscovering the wonder of his life partner. You can't write a story like that if your character is wondering if his girlfriend is making time with his war hero buddy just back from the army. Those stories are great but that was in the past.
With a character as popular as Spider-Man you have many publishing options. Look at the wonderful Untold Tales of Spider-Man which placed stories with a more modern style in the continuity with which we are all familiar. You say that early Marvel writers and editors aged Peter too quickly. Well, go back to that era again and write those great stories about Peter in his early days. Use careful continuity and I think the fans would devour it. You can use topical references from today...I don't expect Pete to be watching Ed Sullivan when he should be watching Conan O'Brien.
I agree that having Peter be divorced or a widower would alienate many fans and the popularity of Mary Jane makes it impossible for her character to disappear or be besmirched. Your only probable option is a revision of the Marvel Universe as we know it by some cosmic event, be the perpetrator Wanda, Thanos or the Beyonder or what have you.
THAT is the easy way out. The House of Ideas is talented enough to create your great stories without changing an element of the Spider-Man canon that a generation of comic book fans have come to love.