One of the major differences between Spider-Man in the main Marvel universe and the Ultimate Marvel universe is the centrality of his relationship with Mary Jane Watson. In the mainstream universe, Peter Parker had been in serious relationships with Daily Bugle secretary Betty Brant and Gwen Stacy before he started dating Mary Jane. However, in the Ultimate universe, Mary-Jane is Peter’s first love. They were good friends before they started dating. And even after Peter dated Kitty Pryde, Gwen Stacy, and smooched Black Cat, and Mary Jane went out with Mark Raxton, the frontman of the band Molten Man, they either remained friends or got back together after their respective breakups. But Mary-Jane definitely has her own life outside of Spider-Man or Peter Parker. She is friends with Liz Allen and helps her come to terms with being a mutant and eventually warms up to Gwen Stacy just before Gwen’s unfortunate death at the hands of Carnage.
Ultimate Mary Jane Watson is quite intelligent. In Ultimate Spider-Man #1, she is introduced as Peter Parker’s friend and science project partner. Unlike her mainstream incarnation, she wants to be a teacher instead of an actress. Later, she wants to become a journalist and starts a online newscast for Midtown High. Her investigative skills as a reporter come in handy when she finds out that a NYPD officer is actually working for Mysterio and making sure security cameras don’t capture any of his activities. In the “Death of Spider-Man” arc, she even saves Spider-Man from the Green Goblin by running him over with a stolen van and threatens to write a tell-all book about Nick Fury’s role in Peter Parker’s death. She decides not to after Nick Fury is genuinely sorry for what he has done. (He cries.) Even though she got kidnapped by Norman Osborn and injected with the Oz formula by Spider-Man’s evil clone Kaine, Mary Jane plays an active role in Spider-Man’s adventures. She is the one who motivates him to team up with Daredevil, Shang Chi, Moon Knight, and other street-level heroes to take down the Kingpin in the “Ultimate Knights” story and is a tireless advocate for justice.
One of the best and most consistent things about Brian Michael Bendis’ run on Ultimate Spider-Man was how well-developed and organic Peter and Mary Jane’s relationship . He subverted quite a few superhero tropes, like the hero not telling his love interest his secret identity. In fact, Mary Jane is the first person to whom Peter reveals his secret identity as Spider-Man in Ultimate Spider-Man #13. This issue perfectly captures Peter and Mary Jane’s friendship and love for each other as well as Peter’s burden of responsibility to protect his loved ones from his enemy so they don’t end up dead like Uncle Ben. And Mary Jane’s enthusiasm is understandable. Who wouldn’t be happy to date a superhero who can do amazing things like lift cars and swing through New York City? (Until you see the punishment he takes on a nightly basis and get targeted by enemies who know his secret identity.) Bendis’ dialogue for Mary Jane is always quick and witty and shows the passion she has for life, knowledge, and Peter Parker.
In Ultimate Spider-Man, Mary-Jane Watson is part of a star-crossed superheroic romance. But she has some good sense too. She initiates the first break-up with Peter because she keeps getting flashbacks of getting thrown of the Queensboro Bridge by the Green Goblin. She and Peter both realize the risks of being close to Spider-Man, but their love and friendship for each other means they will always come back to each other eventually. Bendis used Peter and Mary-Jane’s relationship to explore a lot of interpersonal issues, like dealing with a partner’s secret (when Mary Jane tells Peter she used to date Harry Osborn) and dealing with jealousy (when Mary Jane thinks that Gwen Stacy likes Peter). He also dealt with teenage sexuality in Ultimate Spider-Man Annual #3 when Peter and Mary Jane discussion whether or not they were ready to have sex. Bendis writes these characters like real people (albeit with the ability to spout off snappy dialogue at the drop of a hat) and gives both Mary-Jane and Peter their own story arcs complete with triumphs and tragedies with some kissing in between.
Mary-Jane Watson is definitely the most important supporting character in Ultimate Spider-Man. She plays an integral and varying role in most of the storylines ranging from traditional damsel in distress to best friend and confidant to teen detective and finally, a hero in her own right as Peter Parker dies in her arms after he saved his family and friends one last time. Mary Jane is a great match for Peter and shares his love of learning, goofy sense of humor, and introverted personality. In my opinion, a lot of the chemistry that Ultimate Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson share can be found in the relationship between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy in the Amazing Spider-Man films. She is still a relevant character in the current Ultimate Spider-Man and has helped mentored the new Spider-Man Miles Morales and even helped him take down a new incarnation of Venom.