Spider-Man’s powers are waning to the point he may no longer need to play the saviour and return to a normal life once more. Unfortunately this life is falling down around him no thanks to the fluxing spider powers, causing Peter to sleep through classes and his date with Mary Jane Watson whom is reaching the end of her patients towards him. More bad news comes from Dr Connors whose examination of Spider-Man’s blood have shown his powers aren’t disappearing, they’re going through a state of metamorphosis – Peter is rapidly mutating into something inhuman.
As Spider-Man patrols Coney Island for the occasional purse snatcher while musing on the latest anti-Spidey story associating him with a recent string of jewel heists, and MJ’s reluctance to close the emotional bridge preventing their romance progressing to the official level, all the while trying to avoid thoughts of his mutation, a robbery is taking place at the adjacent museum/aquarium where some bright spark decided to showcase a $2 million pearl necklace in one of the exhibits. The thief materialises within the fish tank, effortlessly overcoming the 4 inches of glass and security shutters. Drawn by the alarm, Spidey arrives to find himself out of his depth against the slippery fiend who drops him into a pool of vicious eels, using the distraction to make his escape while Spider-Man swims for his life. Naturally his Parker Luck has the security guards mislabel him as the jewel thief, requiring him to web them up to exit, adding to the woes of an already bad publicity story in the making. Outside the shadowy thief approaches a life size poster of MJ, who is now a city-wide advertisement celebrity, and holding up his takings to her neck declares that this is all for her.
MJ meets with Peter at a diner to thank him for the modelling shots that have launched her successful advertising gig. Pete suggestion of an official first date as quid pro quo payment is reluctantly rejected by MJ. Her hesitance to become too romantically close is instantly picked up by Pete, but she is called away by their friend/waitress Liz Allan for a phone call before he can get to the heart of matters. The call is from her previous boyfriend Morrie Bench, instructing her to meet him immediately. Despite herself she agrees, walking out on Peter with curt refusal to allow him to accompany her, though this does not technically extend to Spider-Man.
Morrie presents MJ the necklace, a “down payment” on him giving her the world. She is not swayed, reminiscing on the possessiveness and misery that their short relationship brought to her life on his behalf, rejecting the gift and his advances outright. Morrie snaps, blaming her walking out on him being due to her father issues (who walked out on her as a child) as she storms out. Spider-Man arrives seconds later but Morrie has disappeared before he can be questioned. At the park MJ is once more hounded by Morrie as he appears as if from the ether (unphazed he is wearing a completely different outfit from 2 minutes ago), and he agrees that in the past his lack of career, ambition and cash worked against their being together; now however he has a means to get her everything she ever wanted/needed – the ability to control any water around him, demonstrated with an impressive display of his abilities using the central fountain. This is still not enough to persuade her to pick up where they left off 2 ears ago, and in a rage he rounds on her. Spidey leaps to her defence which prove more difficult than imagined as his fist passes straight through Morrie’s liquid-composed Hydro-Man form, so much so that Morrie does not even bother to resist the web-heads blows. MJ runs, forcing Hydro-Man to take aggressive action by washing her away with him in a localised flood. She is rescued by Spider-Man, making Hydro-man finally acknowledge the hero, demanding he stay out of this matter of the heart – when kidnapping is involved though, Spidey can’t simply look the other way and the two men fight across the rooftops. It’s a one sided battle as all physical attacks are ineffective and soon Spider-Man is drowning in a whirlpool inside a water tower. Eventually leaping clear, Spider-Man upends the tower, temporarily disassembling Hydro-Man in a sprawling puddle. As the villain struggles to reassemble himself Spider-Man carries MJ to safety several blocks away, although she is less than thrilled to have yet another super-powered individual involved in her life – even one who saved her life. MJ is given a spider-tracer and heads for home, refusing Spidey’s offer of a ride. Alter-ego snubbed, at least Peter knows now whey MJ has been so distant since they hooked up, but now there’s the question of how her ex-boyfriend acquired overwhelmingly dangerous superpowers to be answered.
If he’s to have any chance against Hydro-Man, Peter is going to need to up his game, thus he heads for the university labs to concoct a secret formula to turn the tides on Morrie. Meanwhile MJ is at Liz’s apartment musing over her relationship with her absent father. Despite coming to terms with the trauma of her childhood relationship with men, she now has to deal with the one from her past as Morrie, having overheard Liz mention to Peter that MJ is staying with her, breaks in and sweeps her away into the harbour. This stunt fools bystanders into thinking her dead, but Spidey knows this is deeper than mere murderous revenge for Morrie; he’s not done trying to win her over yet, it’s just a matter of knowing where to look for his lair.
His suspicions are correct, Morrie has taken MJ to his base of operations where his amassed wealth of stolen gems, jewels and cash prove in his eyes he’s big league enough to qualify as her boyfriend once more – y’know, apart from all the crazy. As a pile of gold that’d make the Rothschild’s drool isn’t winning her over, he goes instead for plying her with expositional back story; after flunking out of high school, Morrie’s parents enlisted him in the navy as a deck swab, compounding his self-image as a looser that even a transfer to the special research and development sector could not eradicate his warped self perception. It took the combined failure of an experimental submarine and weird radiation from within the sea to make him overcome his self-loathing, giving him purpose and a new identity as Hydro-Man. He thinks he can buy MJ’s love, much to his delusion, threatening to flood the entire city unless she can commit to loving him. Spidey interrupts the blackmailer with his latest invention; powdered gelatine webbing that reacts with his water molecules, trapping him in a short-term concrete shell. He figured Morrie’s base would be the city water processing plant as it’d grant him unlimited access to ever pipe in New York. The solution isn’t as long lasting as hoped and Hydro-Man is soon back in action, hurling Spider-Man into his small mountain of loot. MJ escapes through a random pipe with Morrie in pursuit – the number of possible exits meaning Spider-Man can’t be certain which one they fled down after he regains consciousness.
The drain leads MJ to a newspaper warehouse where she gains the upper hand as she throws everything at hand at the advancing foe; teetering stacks of papers, fire-bucket sand, a furnace – by the time Hydro-Man has recomposed himself and followed her up to the rooftop he is severely weakened, breathless and unable to retain his human form more complex than a transparent liquid form. Spider-Man arrives with the fatal blow: he doesn’t need to fight Hydro-Man because MJ has already beaten him, luring him away from any life sustaining water and trapping him on a hot roof in the blazing midday sun. His determination to have her blinded him to the fact that stooping to kidnapping and threats meant he never truly loved her, and in his wilful refusal to accept her decisions he has doomed himself. Unable to concede defeat he blames Spider-Man’s interference and lunges at him, missing due to his weakened, delirious state. Breaking apart in a pool of water and unable to reassemble himself, the remnants of Hydro-Man evaporate in the scolding heat. Unconvinced this’ll mean the death of Morrie, Spidey reassures/warns MJ that water is infamous for its malleability to change – no doubt he’ll someday return, causing her to quip he’s starting to sound a lot like Parker.
The next night Peter finally gets his date with MJ, who has at last come to terms with her history of emotional abuse from the men in her past, and chosen to move on with the man she may in fact be falling in love with.
This episode allows Mary Jane to be showcased as a character with more to her than a foil for Peter’s ever dwindling ability to maintain his double-life. Until now MJ has existed as a sassy love interest but has had little development, other than to depict her as caring/playful/quick to temper/feisty, etc. over the course of the first season. Finally we get some back story and character development, and for the most part it is well handled. Using her past relationship with Morrie to draw out her father issues from childhood allows Hydro-Man to serve not just as the antagonist of the piece but also as a tool to progress the narrative and establish MJ’s character. Her childhood issues as touched upon throughout the following seasons but this is a nice introduction, and makes Peter and MJ an official item from here out.
Hydro-Man was a good choice for the villain/jealous ex-boyfriend. Despite being potentially one of the most dangerous and powerful faces in the Marvel rogues gallery, he’s never really been used for anything major, always being a goon with superpowers rather than a Goblin-level threat. This is perhaps the first time he’s been used to any real effect, utilising the obsessively jealous womanising streak that lead him to his most memorable appearance in Amazing Spider-Man 217 when he and Sandman end up merged after a brawl when they fall for the same woman. His single minded need to have MJ is played out effectively; rather than coming off as a broken record we instead see a man whose turn in life has left him broken and fixated on the only good thing that he feels ever happened to him. Now blessed with amazing abilities he can see no other way to use them other than a means to win her affection – he takes no thrill from the crime or even the vast wealth he’s amassed, all he can see is the woman he longs for. It would be touching were he not so ruthless and unfeeling. An interesting and effective take on a formerly underdeveloped and improperly utilized character.
Interestingly Spider-Man is a bit-player in this story, with MJ being the one who defeats Hydro-Man. Aside from developing a rather ineffective anti-water web-fluid, his role in the plot is to run around after MJ. Not that this is a bad thing, again allowing MJ to take the limelight throughout.
A fast paced, well written, action-packed story that gives insight into MJ’s character and introduces an old villain in a new light