When it was announced that the romantic interest in Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man movie would be Mary Jane Watson, some nerds objected. Mary Jane and Peter Parker had been married in the comics for a while, but they considered Gwen Stacy (who competed with MJ for Pete’s affections and tragically died in 70’s) Parker’s true love. They eventually got their way with Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man, which used Gwen (I assume) to have some superficial differences from the movie franchise it was rebooting just five years after it ended. Both times, I was by myself, shouting into the darkness: “What About Betty Brant?”
Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane Watson came into their own as characters partially through the glamorous linework of penciller John Romtia, Sr. Because I have a cold, dead heart, I am a Spider-Man hipster and prefer the work of Romita’s predecessor, original Spidey artist and co-creator Steve Ditko.
Steve Ditko’s world was much darker than the more popular Spider-Man artists who followed him. Instead of muscle-bound and heroic, Ditko’s Spider-Man was odd and gangly to reflect how much he was hated and feared by the outside world. Antagonists like Flash Thompson and J. Jonah Jameson often had just slits for eyes. Most importantly, his primary love interest during the Ditko era was Jonah’s assistant, the down to earth Betty Brant.
Gwen Stacy was introduced as Peter’s college classmate and a former beauty queen. Mary Jane Watson was a model and then an actress. It always seemed a little incongruous that downtrodden everyman Peter Parker, Radioactive Charlie Brown, was being fought over by all these women. Betty makes more sense. They met at work, because neither of them really have time for a social life. She was raised by her mother and dropped out of school to cover mom’s medical bills and her no-good brother’s gambling debts. The other Brants die, so in addition to financial hardship and dealing with Jonah, Betty and Peter have grieving the loss of loved ones at a young age in common.
Perhaps the most Spider-Man thing about Betty Brant is that Peter can’t make their relationship work. His triple life as super hero, photographer, and student means he is a terrible boyfriend. Instead of galavanting with two of the most carefree girls in New York, it always made more sense when he was accidentally standing Betty up and commiserating with her when they could get together. It perhaps made the most sense when she finally ended things with him. Betty eventually works her way out of the admin racket into a reporter’s job. She’s always been portrayed as very intelligent, so it feels very natural and earned. She doesn’t exist just to be Peter’s girlfriend. How can you not root for Betty all the way?
If you live the SportsAlcohol.com lifestyle, than like me you support Jesse’s plan to bring J.K. Simmons back to reprise his role as J. Jonah Jameson from the Raimi films, Judi-Dench-in-Bond-style. I say we take things a step further and give Simmons his Betty Brant, Elizabeth Banks. I always found Banks’ versatility and comic timing underrated. She’s a bigger star now, so it would only make sense to give her a larger role. She could be Peter’s love interest, but maybe she could be the Daily Bugle’s top investigative reporter. I’m guessing Sony doesn’t have the rights to Ben Urich and we’re promised all these big secrets will be revealed in these Amazing Spider-Man movies. It hasn’t happened yet, but who better than Betty Brant to actually do it?
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