Sunday, 15 July 2012

The Mystery of Marcy Kane

...was revealed not in the Spider-Man titles but in the Jack of Hearts limited series published at the end of 1983, cover dated January to April 1984. I am not aware of the series having been trade paperbacked. The story was trailed by the events of Marvel Team-Up #134, which has not yet been reached by the Essentials.

(SPOILER WARNING: Since this covers a little-known limited series, even one from nearly three decades ago, this post may give things away more than usual. You have been warned.)

According to Spidey Kicks Butt writer Bill Mantlo promised at the time that Peter Parker and Marcy Kanes’s relationship ‘would be “nothing like had been seen before.”’ (Why did it have to be you Mary Jane?: Part 2 Tragedy and Rebound) However there were few significant developments, in part because of fundamental incompatibilities in their outlooks (well that was Marcy’s perspective but it was unlikely Peter would do the one thing that could correct it). Throw in a change of emphasis towards Debra Whitman when a new writer came along and ultimately we never saw the new twists promised even though Mantlo subsequently returned. In 1983 Peter “interrupted” his studies and left graduate school, totally extinguishing whatever spark there had been.

The epilogue to those days came in Marvel Team-Up #134 as Peter cleared out his locker and said a final goodbye (for now). It was the last time most of the characters would be seen in the Spider-Man titles. But it also established a connection between Marcy Kane and the Jack of Hearts, revealing they had briefly been an item when undergraduates, before the accident that gave Jack his powers.

The limited series goes further, adding to the backstory of Jack, with Marcy playing a surprising part. In issue #2 it is revealed that Jack’s mother was an alien, a sun priestess from the system of Contraxia. With Contraxia’s son dying, and a code of honour that barred them from taking another race’s world, the sun priestesses searched on other worlds to find a way to revitalise the sun. Jack’s mother came to Earth where she found a scientist who was developing an efficient liquid fuel called Zero Fluid that could be the solution. They fell for each other, married and had a son. But then she was killed in an accident and a replacement was sent. And that replacement was the woman known as Marcy Kane.

Marcy, real name “Kaina”, came to observe Jack in the hope of obtaining the Zero Fluid. In the process the two fell for each other but then Jack disappeared as he was summoned home where in an incident his father was killed and he accidentally fell into the Zero Fluid, giving him his powers. Marcy then went on to graduate and then to graduate school at Empire State University, where Jack later tracked her down. By the time of the limited series she has recently graduated and comes ostensibly to help Jack cope with his powers running out of control, but wants to take him back to Contraxia to repower the sun. The rest of the series sees them go there where they get caught up in power struggles but by the end Jack succeeds in re-energising the sun then his excess power washes away much of Contraxian civilisation, forcing them to start again. Unfortunately his powers are at a level that mean he and Kaina cannot be together, so he heads off into space, leaving her to work with her people to rebuild their world. As far as I’m aware she hasn’t been seen since.

So how does all this fit into what was established before? I’ll be honest that I’m not familiar with any of Jack’s appearances from before the Team-Up issue so I don’t know how much of that side of things is a long-running mystery finally revealed as opposed to a major retcon. (However for what it’s worth Jack’s entry in the original The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe came out a few months before this series and there’s nothing in it implying any alien connection.) But with Marcy it all feels rather forced and awkward. I can accept that after Jack disappeared she maintained her covering identity, and continued her work to either find a way to save Contraxia or find someone who could, but there’s no real indication of her having such ulterior motives in any of her Spider-Man appearances (bar a caption in the Team-Up issue). And surely if she were focusing on ways to save a sun she wouldn’t have wasted so much time on the biological side? Then there’s the issue of her hair – she says she was a blond child whose father praised her hair, and the prospect of it going brown, and then not being able to dye it, frightened her. Yet now we learn she was in disguise all the time and is a priestess in a matriarchal society (and the Team-Up flashback shows her as a brunette). Something doesn’t add up.

Part of this is down to changing writers – whilst she was introduced by Bill Mantlo who also wrote the Team-Up and the limited series, the hair revelation came under Roger Stern who probably had no idea this was where the character would end up. Did Bill Mantlo have all this planned from the outset? Peter Parker having a relationship with a girl who turns out to be an alien does fit “nothing like had been seen before”, but it’s so far away from the norm that it would have been very hard to make it work. And unless Marcy had somehow determined that Peter Parker could be the scientist to find a solution for Contraxia’s sun (which seems unlikely given the focus of his own work), then her interest in him is hard to reconcile beyond straightforward infatuation. Frankly either the plan was poorly implemented, or there was no plan at all. And I’m inclined towards the latter, though unless there’s an obscure interview with or letter from Bill Mantlo lurking somewhere we’ll never know for sure.

Now okay Mantlo had introduced Marcy in the first place and morally at least (let’s not digress into the issue of comic creators’ legal rights) had the right to take the character wherever he wanted (subject to the various Marvel approvals) but I think in this case he blundered. It’s true that Spider-Man’s graduate school days were seemingly over for good but most supporting cast members have eventually reappeared in some form or other. There was no particular need to force Marcy first into the role of Jack’s ex, then into the role in the limited series – an entirely original character could have served the same purpose. But instead a good supporting cast member was completely removed in such a way she could never realistically return for no really justifiable reason.

Marcy is not the only supporting cast member to have been sacrificed on the alter of shock revelations and the needs of individual stories, though it’s rare for such revelations to come outside the regular series (or related spin-offs). And this shows why – they get taken in very different directions from their original series and rarely did the story require it to be them. Maybe there was some further potential for Marcy had she stayed on Earth without all this, maybe not. But we’ll never know now. A pity.

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