There are multiple Mary Jane Watsons. This opening panel is from the issue that changed Mary Jane Watson forever—or rather re-created her in such a way that her happy-go-lucky party girl demeanor resonated with new meaning in light of her troubled life and her absence and subsequent return to Peter Parker/Spidey’s life. Amazing Spider-man #259 from late 1984. Suddenly, all her seemingly air-headed fun-chasing capers emerge from a desire to escape a here-to-fore unseen tragic home life.
It turns out that Mary Jane knew Peter was Spider-man all along, having witnessed him climbing out his window in super-garb while she was living next door to the Parkers with her aunt. Her flight from the pages of Spider-man was explained (at least in part) by her desire to get away from Peter and his alter-ego—unwilling to deal with the burden of her knowledge.
Mary Jane’s secret knowledge and hidden life of loss and abuse is the perfect example of the re-framing of characters that serialized narratives (in particularly comic book series) are really good at—at least when done well. It not only deepened her character, allowed for Tom DeFalco and future writers to demonstrate her growing maturity, but it also created a parallel between the lives of Mary Jane and Peter Parker that would make their marriage not only make sense, but makes the magical dissolution of that marriage years later such a bitter pill for so many fans to swallow.
Sure, this kind of retroactive continuity can often lead to messy inconsistent plots and characterizations, but more importantly I see it as opening up infinite possibility in these ongoing narratives and demonstrates that the closure through which the comic medium works (see McCloud’s Understanding Comics to learn more about that) functions not only on the micro level of individual panels grouped on a page, but more broadly over time. Individual issues and story arcs serve as fragments that require a writer’s willingness to reimagine them and a reader’s willingness to reorganize some and elide others in ways that help the changes make sense and let that narrative move forward.
“All My Pasts Remembered” is actually kind of a prescient title for this issue, because after telling her tale to Peter Parker, Mary Jane has two parallel pasts—the past readers of past issues knew up to this point and now the hidden past written into that silent space, and twenty years later Mary Jane would have a third past, in which she and Peter were never married, even though we as readers can remember them all.
Side note: I love the depiction of Central Park’s Belvedere Castle.