Amazing Spiderman #601 (J Scott Campbell) Homage Covers
An Instant Mary Jane Watson Classic
J. Scott Campbell’s cover for The Amazing Spiderman #601 (October 2009), featuring Mary Jane Watson front-and-center as Spiderman swings out the window behind her, is perhaps one of the most well-known covers in the Marvel universe, and arguably the most popular cover featuring Mary Jane. It is certainly oft discussed. Fans either love it or hate it, and for the very same reason! They both claim that Mary Jane is overtly, unrealistically and unnaturally sexualized in Campbell’s interpretation of the famous redhead. One online critic even took matters into his own hands and casually “fixed” Campbell’s cover in June 2021, sparking an online debate and sparring match about casual users “correcting” the work of art professionals, particularly long-established art professionals, suggesting that there is something wrong with any given artist’s work. Among the charges are that Mary Jane’s pose is both unnatural and suggestively sexual and her proportions unrealistically presented, with a very narrow waist, for example. The criticism is not lost on Campbell, but he openly admits the charges are true (to some degree): “My art is certainly pretty sexy at times, on rare occasions perhaps even a bit sexual. But in all actuality, my artwork is far more in the spirit of the girl-next-door pin-up calendar art of the 1950s and ’60s.”
Mary Jane Watson is the pefect subject for Campbell’s “girl-next-door pin-up calendar” treatment for The Amazing Spiderman #601. She is almost literally the girl next door in the decades-long series featuring the exploits, trials and tribulations of Peter Parker as he tries to balance his normal-but-spinning-out-of-control every-man life with the unimaginable responsibilities and burdens of a superhero. Nerdy Parker could be any of his millions of fans. Why shouldn’t he be able to win the love of the girl of his dreams, the proverbial girl-next-door? Campbell’s cover for The Amazing Spiderman #601 fulfills that fantasy for readers in a beautifully rendered unadulterated way. This woman, this Mary Jane Watson, is the woman for a man who struggles every day to do the best he can as he wrestles with bills, failures, disappointments and machiavellian super villains hell-bent to destroy or enslave not only the city but sometimes the known universe, or simply our hero’s fragile personal life.
The scene for The Amazing Spiderman #601 is cozy and intimate. Mary Jane sits on a well-worn couch along with a well-stuffed pillow in the corner. It is presumably morning. The cityscape outside the open window is well-lit in the distance. She holds a steaming cup of coffee, its light tendrils waft high in the cool morning air from the window. Her red hair is untended, with a long winding strand hanging over her eyes. She sits with one leg bent under her but the other raised so her foot rests flat on the cushion. Her hip-hugger jeans are tight and riddled with stringy holes in the knees and thighs in the popular style of the period. Her tight ladies t-shirt, likewise in the style of the period, features a playfully round red-and-black logo of Spiderman’s mask. The folded Daily Bugle on the coffee table offers an article about Spiderman’s latest exploit. Her arms are pressed to her sides, perhaps for warmth against the cool New York morning. She watches over her shoulder longingly, almost worriedly, as her lover – Peter Parker/Spiderman – swings from their window out over the city.
Undoubtedly, many of Campbell’s details are sexually suggestive, revealing an intimacy heretofore unaddressed. Mary Jane’s clothes are skin-tight. Her shirt, if she were not holding the coffee, would reveal her navel. The coffee is held at her crotch. The raised leg is slightly opened. Her arms, pressed against her sides, also press against her small but full breasts, framing them while lifting and pressing them together. The coffee’s creamy tendrils rise from her hands like two translucent snakes which, incidentally, also resemble spermatozoa.
Since 2009, Campbell has produced similarly playful covers featuring Peter Parker’s other love interests, namely The Black Cat (Felicia Hardy) and Gwen Stacy, but none have captured the same intimacy between the characters or, therefore, the same interest that this cover has garnered.
Whichever side of the debate you choose – to love it or hate it – Campbell’s cover for The Amazing Spiderman #601 cannot be ignored.