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Why Spider-Man's greatest enemy will always be J. Jonah Jameson
The man who turned public opinion against Spider-Man is now his biggest defender. And it doesn't seem right.
J. Jonah Jameson has been a thorn in Spider-Man's side since the very beginning of the Marvel hero's run. These were the very first words Stan Lee put in Jameson's mouth, way back in 1963's Amazing Spider-Man #1:
"When I'm through with this article, Spider-Man will be run out of town."
That sentence captured the character's mission statement for much of the next 50+ years. Since his dour debut, JJJ's entire existence has been defined by his hatred of Spidey. He's wasted countless gallons of ink blasting the hero in the pages of the Daily Bugle, he's paid money to create super-powered villains like the Scorpion and the Fly to rid the world of Spider-Man, as well as funded the creation of the Spider-Slayer robots.
For a good long while, he was a one-trick pony, used effectively as comic relief, as the tightwad curmudgeon in Spidey's supporting cast we loved to hate. In Amazing Spider-Man #10, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko added some surprising depth to the character with a quiet scene where Jameson explained why he hated the web-head so much: Envy. Jameson knew Spider-Man was everything that he wasn't. And, so J. Jonah had to destroy him. And he certainly tried. Not even having his life saved countless times by the "masked menace" could change his mind.
Times have certainly changed for the character, in both print and on the big screen. Sure, the J. Jonah Jameson that will appear in Spider-Man: No Way Home — portrayed again by J.K. Simmons — appears to be closer in spirit to the Jameson that hates Spidey. But in the comics, at least, J. Jonah Jameson is a new man. In fact, he is closer to being Spidey's ally than foe.
Jameson has not only abandoned his misguided crusade in the comics, he's also become the biggest public supporter of the man he once called a "masked menace." In the present day Amazing Spider-Man ongoing, Jonah writes pro-Spidey editorials for a digital outfit called "Threats and Menaces." Jameson's pieces are as passionate in their support of the webslinger as Jonah's past editorials for the Bugle were vitriolic. He's even tried to help Spider-Man fight crime, but always winds up making things worse. But Jonah is trying to make amends.
The relationship between the two changed forever when Peter Parker revealed he was Spider-Man in Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #6. Peter took off his mask because he saw a man at the end of his rope, who had seen his life ruined by an obsession. He put his faith in Jonah. And in Amazing Spider-Man #800, at Flash Thompson's funeral — an event Jameson holds himself responsible for — Peter tells Jonah he forgives him. For everything.
The result has been a new direction for a relationship that has been nothing but adversarial for nearly 60 years.
However, this turn feels somewhat unsettling and boring.
In many ways, J. Jonah Jameson is Spider-Man's greatest enemy. Not only did he fund the creation of a number of villains, but Jonah's anti-Spider-Man rhetoric and biased coverage in the Bugle has been the biggest factor in making Peter Parker's web-swinging existence a nightmare. Because of Jameson, Spider-Man has been an outlaw for most of his time in tights. Thanks to Jonah, Spidey has been deprived of much of the public support enjoyed by other masked heroes, like the Avengers and the Fantastic Four. Outside of the deaths of Uncle Ben and Gwen Stacy, Jameson's campaign against Spider-Man has had the most lasting impact on the hero's life.
You can't just sweep all of that under the rug for the sake of a few comedic story beats. It's one thing to have Jameson be part of Parker's family (his dad married Aunt May awhile back). But having him be an unwanted sidekick for Spidey feels boring.
Jameson's made more attempts on Spider-Man's life than some members of the mainstays in his rogues gallery. Over the years, the reasons for Jameson's hatred has evolved to be an issue of distrust of a hero who hides behind a mask. A true hero, Jameson argues, would let the world see who he is. Jameson's envy of a man who represents everything he is not is a much more compelling justification for his hatred. And that makes Jameson a natural foil for a hero, who despite his reputation as a loner, wants to belong, wants to be accepted by society.
Much like the average citizen "can't fight city hall," your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man can't fight the media. The press will always win the battle of public opinion. That is J. Jonah Jameson's greatest contribution to the Spider-canon.
He is the one threat our hero can't punch out, can't outsmart, can't outthink. To turn that kind of thorn in Spidey's side into a friend is a "fresh" take, but, in the long term, it may be short-sighted. Because the "best" version of J. Jonah is the one who constantly keeps the Wallcrawler on his toes.