Tuesday, January 10, 2012

GN Review -- Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane: Sophomore Jinx / Terry Moore & Craig Rousseau

I’m generally not a fan of teen love dramas, shojo manga, or romances in general, though there are clearly exceptions to the rule.  In the case of the Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane series, I’m willing to make a big exception for several reasons, the first of which is the writing of Houston-based comics creator Terry Moore, who’s proven himself more than capable of writing interesting, deftly crafted women characters.  With him in charge of the characters in the Spider-Man mythos who I’ve read about extensively and love, there’s little reason for a discriminating reader not to at least check it out.

Mary Jane Watson, starting her sophomore year at Midtown High, is looking forward to a great year, but soon finds that things won’t be as simple as she’d like.  Between a working mom she hardly ever sees, a perpetual tendency to be late to classes and work, and her uncertainties toward the friends in her life, including Peter Parker, Gwen Stacy, and former boyfriend Harry Osborn, she finds herself struggling to keep her social life straight, to say nothing about being popular.  With disapproving teachers and co-workers hounding her, and the mysterious onset of a website slandering her, MJ’s only respites seem to be in her friendship with hyper-busy Liz Allan, and the occasional check-in from her super-hero crush, the mysterious Spider-Man.

I can’t say enough good things about Terry Moore’s skills as a writer (and it’s not just because I’ve met him and worked with him).  Anyone who’s read his most famous work, Strangers In Paradise, knows he can both write and draw women who are imperfect, intriguing, and infinitely involving and lovable.  He applies the writing skills with aplomb to MJ, Liz, Gwen, and even Flash Thompson and Harry Osborn, delivering a story that lays bare the complexities of teenage relationships and the uncertainties of knowing who your friends are.  He utilizes several tropes from the Spider-Man mythos effectively for the purposes of this story, including Peter’s apparent aloofness, Harry’s lack of success with women, and Gwen’s sweetness as well as Flash’s swagger.

While I was more than a little disappointed not to see Moore’s hand behind the artwork, Craig Rousseau does an excellent job of conveying the cute-yet-not-model-perfect appearances of the teens in this series, particularly the girls.  The slight exaggeration and cartoony style fits the narrative, and makes for a nice reminder that these characters are the younger, less developed and more uncertain versions of the characters in the Spider-Man universe.  It’s a good match to Terry Moore’s writing, and captures the youthful apprehension and angst of the teen years, before the relative stability and confidence that comes with becoming an adult.

Overall, I enjoyed Sophomore Jinx quite a bit, though I’ll understand if it doesn’t sit well with your traditional Spider-Man enthusiasts.  The writing is tight, the concept is a creative reimagining of the characters, and the artwork is well-matched to the narrative.  There’s not much in the way of action, but the plot makes a good character study for MJ.  Highly recommended.

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