What is Gotham Central? Simply put, it’s one of the best comics of the last fifteen years. To explain a little bit more, Gotham Central is a comic written by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka that puts the focus on the detectives of Gotham’s Major Crimes Unit. The series, never the smash hit that its quality would indicate, ran for forty issues before reaching a bittersweet conclusion. Along the way to that conclusion readers were treated to a heartbreaking coming out story that reshaped the way comics spoke about sexuality and a Joker story so stellar that the Nolans borrowed from it for The Dark Knight. Now, the book is a comic shop mainstay; owners know well enough to keep volume ones in stock at all time.
That’s what Gotham Central is. But what does it mean to be a Gotham Central?
I would define a Gotham Central as a book that takes the foundation of a corner of a character’s universe, aligns itself accordingly based on that, and builds on that by focusing on the supporting cast. For example, Batman can be boiled down to existing in the crime/procedural genre (or adventure, sci-fi, or whatever fits the concept) so Brubaker and Rucka built a book that is about the crimes that take place in Gotham with a cast of characters (some pre-existing, others created for the book) that existed on the periphery where Batman is a rare presence.
So, Gotham Central is DC’s Gotham Central. What’s Marvel’s Gotham Central?
Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane.
Okay, you can stop laughing. No, really, this isn’t a joke.
The work done by Sean McKeever and Takeshi Miyazawa is 100% comparable to the work Brubaker and Rucka did over at DC, maybe not in tone or plot but in how it treats the Spider-Man lore in creating a new series. It boils down Spider-Man to one specific genre (high school romance) and builds the cast around that while leaving Spider-Man/Peter Parker on the periphery. Mary Jane is upgraded to protagonist while Flash Thompson, Liz Allen, and Harry Osborn get bumped up to main characters. They’re totally analogous to the MCU over in Gotham Central.
And may I just say how brilliant it was having Takeshi Miyazawa take the reins on a romance comic rendition of Spider-Man? John Romita was the consummate romance comic artist back in the day and having him join up on Amazing Spider-Man brought the sexy in a way that appealed to young men and women. Manga is one of the last realms of comics where romance comics still thrive so having Takeshi Miyazawa draw a Spider-Man book with his manga style that appeals predominately to young women serves as a spiritual successor to putting Romita on Spider-Man.
Back to the point, what really puts Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane over as the Gotham Central of Marvel Comics is how it was treated when it was released. First published as two miniseries, Mary Jane and Mary Jane: Homecoming, the book underperformed in single issues but came alive in collected editions that proved popular enough to spawn a full ongoing series that ran 20 issues. Unappreciated in its original run but successful in trades? That sure sounds like a Gotham Central to me.
Still, Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane is a book that needs some love. The book is out of print and there appear to be no signs of another printing coming any time soon. Heck, it’s not even on Comixology. However, it is on Marvel Unlimited. Please, Marvel Unlimited subscribers, consider giving this little book that could a chance. You may find that it sits in pretty esteemed company.