Ultimate Mary Jane

The Ultimate Universe brought readers a multitude of memorable takes on their favorite Earth-616 characters. Two, in particular, are some of the most fleshed out and well written of the bunch. Ultimate Mary Jane and Gwen Stacy, regulars in ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, are incredibly empowering. Their co-creator, Brian Michael Bendis, who also wrote nearly all of their appearances, made them distinctly different than the main-universe versions. This made their character development all the more exciting to read.

MJ goes through multiple traumatic experiences while a student in high school, giving her episodes of PTSD, which Bendis dealt with carefully and compassionately. She also becomes a well-received high school journalist despite her psychological trauma, making her an empowering character. Gwen goes through an emotionally abusive childhood with a neglectful mother and even loses her father at a relatively young age. Bendis also wrote this in a realistic way, serving to underline the significance of her situation. Overall, Ultimate Mary Jane and Gwen Stacy are arguably the most well-written characters in an already tightly-characterized book.


Ultimate Mary Jane: A Survivor

Throughout the ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN series, Ultimate Mary Jane goes through a number of traumatic experiences due to her close relationship with Peter. The first is when the Green Goblin kidnaps her and throws her off the Queensboro Bridge. Luckily, Spider-Man is able to save her in time. This is, of course, a reference to Earth-616 Gwen Stacy’s death. While MJ doesn’t die here, the ending of this arc isn’t all too happy. Spider-Man beats the Goblin, but MJ’s psyche is damaged by this attack. She begins having recurring nightmares about the bridge incident. This eventually leads her to break off her budding relationship with Peter. She can’t bear to be put into a situation like this again. They eventually reconcile but this relationship ends again when Gwen Stacy dies. After a few periods of restarting and ending it, Peter dies saving MJ from the Green Goblin yet again.

Ultimate Mary Jane
ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #25. Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

This opens up various old wounds. On top of losing the love of her life at a young age, the event reminds MJ of her first traumatic event. In SPIDER-MEN, when the Peter Parker from Earth-616 comes to the Ultimate Universe, MJ can’t bear to talk to this version of Peter and breaks down crying upon seeing him. Eventually, MJ receives a happy ending when her Peter comes back to life and gives up the mantle of Spider-Man. This all precludes SECRET WARS where the Ultimate Universe is destroyed.

Ultimate Mary Jane: PTSD

Bendis wrote MJ as a person who was traumatized by many near-death experiences. She has multiple scenes where she melts down emotionally about her insane life. She acts like an actual person going through a traumatic episode. Bendis treated her fragile mental state with compassion for any real-life readers who may feel the same way as Mary Jane. After this Green Goblin event, MJ goes through the mundanity of high school classes without showing her emotions, but seeing Peter or having a sudden memory of the bridge incident triggers her post-traumatic stress. Throughout the series, she has multiple episodes where she, out of nowhere, blows up at Peter or another character because of her intense stress and traumatic memories.

Ultimate Mary Jane
ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #32. Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

At no point is the reader meant to laugh at these outbursts. The reader should know enough about MJ’s situation to understand why she has these episodes. In fact, as the series progresses, MJ becomes more in control of her emotions. She still feels the mental anguish of being subjected to these tormenting events, such as when she can’t handle seeing the Earth-616 Peter Parker after her own Peter died. However, much like real survivors of PTSD, she learns how to cope with these emotions without letting them control her life. In this way, Bendis turned MJ into an empowering figure for people who deal with PTSD. While she carries the scars of the various events that trigger her disorder, she is able to use the tenacity she has gained from living through these stressful situations to become a journalist.

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Ultimate Mary Jane: The Journalist

Ultimate Mary Jane is empowering in another way, too. She becomes a somewhat successful student journalist in the later years of the Peter Parker-run ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN. Much like 616 Peter, she uses her close relationship with Spider-Man to cover his stories. While her first videos aren’t a success, as her nerves on camera lead her to humorously flub some lines, she eventually gets the hang of it. She gains the respect of the head of the school’s newspaper, Jessica Jones, and even receives some praise from Ben Urich of the Daily Bugle.

This empowers younger female readers of the book. It could inspire them to pursue a career in journalism, so they could be like MJ. The world needs more female journalists, so if this book could make even a slight difference, it’s worth it. In addition to this, it feels very rewarding for the reader to see MJ take ahold of her emotions and her complex feelings about Peter and his alter ego. She uses these feelings to inform the public about superhero-related events. She even starts a popular blog about superheroics later on, which feels especially satisfying. While she goes through mental anguish to get to this point, it feels great to see her succeed in spite of her PTSD.

Ultimate Gwen Stacy: Victim of Abuse

Much like MJ, Gwen has to deal with some serious situations as well. Her ways of coping differ greatly, though. Instead of having emotional outbursts, she bottles up her emotions and puts on a combative, punk rock attitude. Much like real life bullies, her inability to change her home life leads her to inflict violence on others. When Gwen first shows up, she makes a name for herself by pulling a knife on one of Peter’s own bullies after they kick him in the hallway. Later on, we learn the roots of why she acts this way. She has a loving father, Captain John Stacy, who cares for her daughter’s well-being. Because of his job and duties as a police captain, however, he can’t always be at home.

Unfortunately, Gwen’s mother is incredibly neglectful and, as a result, emotionally abusive. She doesn’t care about Gwen and takes no steps to rectify this. She eventually leaves John for another man, which then leads Gwen to attempt suicide before running to Peter for help.

Ultimate Mary Jane Gwen Stacy
ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #28. Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

Soon after, John dies in the line of duty, and Gwen moves in with Peter and Aunt May. Her mother wants nothing to do with her and Gwen has nowhere else to go. Peter and Gwen bond and she is slowly able to confront her depression and the trauma her mother’s emotional abuse has caused. Soon after, she dies at the hands of Carnage. Eventually, she comes back as a clone and, after Peter’s death, pushes past her grief and becomes a mentor figure for Miles Morales when he first becomes Spider-Man.

Ultimate Gwen Stacy: An Empowering Figure

Ultimate Gwen serves as an empowering character for those going through emotional abuse by a parent or guardian. Bendis wrote her as a deeply damaged individual who, eventually, works past her pain and becomes an empathetic character in order to counter her mother’s cold indifference. The trauma still affects Gwen, but she uses this to become a better person than her mother ever was. She goes so far as to become a mentor for a budding superhero she doesn’t even really know. She’s a great role model because she uses the pain from this abuse, as well as from the loss of her father, to better society and to save lives though Miles’ heroic actions.

She also battles her depression by opening up to people who care, like Peter and Aunt May. In the beginning, Gwen feels as if no one cares about her, but with the help of friends and an adoptive family, she realizes her own self-worth and how much she matters to people who love her. This is empowering as well to people who have had similar feelings. They can see how Gwen works out her feelings with her loved ones, and they may be moved to do the same.

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Ultimate Mary Jane and Gwen Stacy: Two Great Characters

While both go through horribly traumatic experiences, both Ultimate Mary Jane and Gwen Stacy work through their grief in order to better society. One becomes a journalist and the other a mentor for a young hero. MJ partly inspired me to join my high school newspaper and pursue journalism. I wouldn’t be where I am now if not for Bendis’ stories.

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