This has certainly been a moment we’ve been feverishly anticipating ever since the continuation of Dan Slott and Adam Kubert’s Secret Wars tie in series Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows was announced. After months of teases, interviews, and concept art, writer Gerry Conway and artist Ryan Stegman’s Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #1 finally hit the shelves. The book was surrounded by mystery, not due to lack of details, but because we wanted to see for ourselves how an on-going Spider-Family book unfolds in a post-“One More Day” Marvel. And for the most part, that mystery is answered.
The book opens with a dynamically paneled fight between the Scorpion and Spider-Man. Fans of Stegman’s work in Superior Spider-Man are not going to be disappointed, this book looks nice. While his scratchy hatching looks out of place in a few instances (specifically the spread of Spider-Man recoiling from Scorpion’s tail swipe), Stegman excels in framing his villains with menace in a visually enthralling manner. From a narrative stand point, the fight exists as artistic filler while Conway establishes the mind-set of Peter Parker.
In what is relatable to anyone who has ever walked into a grocery store, Spider-Man attempts to mentally go through a grocery list he really wishes he had written down. It’s relatable, as I said, but it also gives us the first glimpse of what married life is for this Peter Parker: a balance between the much more banal responsibility of married life and the greater responsibility he faces as Spider-Man. It calls back to a more historical Spider-Man, one who’s family life is still a large part of the character’s identity, and thus, also serves as a well of drama from which the writers can draw. I understand that forgetting juice boxes at the store isn’t the most compelling drama for fiction, but we’re only on the first page.
Quickly, we learn that MJ has called Peter Parker back home on a “Code Green,” which leads to a joke familiar to all domestic comedies – the lights turn out, the Marvin Gaye soundtrack starts to play, and just as things start to heat up, a child’s cry kills the mood. While the joke as it’s presented here doesn’t do too much to change a classic, it still serves the purpose of, again, establishing. We see that the relationship between Peter and MJ as alive and well; this is a couple who are still passionate about each other. Annie’s interruption serves as a good a place as any to interject her into the story so we can see the parenting style of the Parker household – a firm but supportive hand that seems natural to Peter Parker, thanks in large part to a rich history of serving as parental figure to new teen heroes in team-up titles.
MJ and Peter’s parenting is uniform and symbiotic, which I think benefits the health of the series by side-stepping the usual cliché of “good-cop bad-cop” style parenting. It is difficult to tell if Annie is older than she was in the original mini series, or if Stegman’s taller and lankier Annie is just a style difference between himself and Adam Kubert. The narrative seems to imply that she is somewhere in elementary school (she mentions seeing Gloria Grant’s First Grade son in school), but as Stegman depicts her, she appears to be closer to adolescence than prepubescent – maybe 11 or 12.
The home life of the Parkers appears frantic in a way that rings true to my memories of getting ready for school in the morning. While I’m not a parent myself, I can certainly remember sitting at the table for breakfast in the morning while everyone else around me rushed to get out the door on time. Annie is doing much the same the morning after the incident with the Scorpion. While many modern artists might be tempted to make this scene a large splash page, Stegman chose to cut each exchange into small panels of mostly call/response type dialogue for a staggering 18-panel page.
The result is a lightning-fast, “Gilmore Girls”-like back and forth that adds to the sense of frazzling speed in which these before-school meals tend to go. The scene shows a perhaps more domestic Peter than we’ve seen in the pages of MC2’s Spider-Girl, with Pete acting as the stay-at-home freelance Dad while MJ leaves for work. Annie talks about a few friends from school, but only catches her parents’ full attention once she mentions dating. Annie doesn’t seem too interested in boys, and this isn’t the most inventive setup for a family dynamic, but it works because it’s so genuine with the pace, the reactions, and the voice. It might not be the most action-packed sequence of the title, but I think it is the most technically sound and well-put together.
Next, we see Peter at the Bugle and there’s not much new going on here. Jonah’s still as cheap as ever, and his staff is still quick to inject the congratulations and support for Peter’s efforts that Jonah cannot verbalize. However, this version of Jonah does offer Peter a little bit more scratch than he’s traditionally offered, and Gloria Grant does note that Jonah, at his heart, is a good man and one of the few that allow a single mother like herself to have a practical career.
Perhaps the biggest change in Peter’s job set-up is the inclusion of a camera drone. There are good changes to classic scenarios with comic book characters and bad ones, and this, thankfully, is one of the former. Gone is the webbed-up camera in the alley, always somehow managing to capture front-page quality photos despite the angle and use of autofocus. It was never a breaking point for me, but it was one of the sillier aspects of the character. Now, I’m not saying that a drone flying around Spider-Man at 10 meters (that’s about 11 yards long, for those who don’t want to do the math) is any less silly, but it’s a good way to update the character from something that’s starting to get more and more archaic and unrecognizable. A drone is certainly less subtle than a tucked-away camera though, so I’d love to see it have some other features that benefit Spider-Man in a way to give the drone a “cover” so-to-speak. Conway himself, through Peter, admits that it’s extraordinarily convenient that Jonah doesn’t look too closely into how Peter gets these photos.
Now that we’re past establishing character, setting, and circumstance, we can move on to the meat of the issue. Honestly, there both is and is not a lot going on. From an interview Conway and Stegman did, we know that this is not a direct sequel to the original Renew Your Vows, but instead is set in a very similar continuity that is a little bit more grounded with its technology. From this issue, we know that Regent did steal super powers from heroes and was ultimately defeated by the Parkers, but the exact details are ours to fill in (A Captain Marvel poster is seen in Annie’s room, implying not everyone died.) A sinister looking Harry Osborn has purchased the rights and patents to the Regent’s technology and appears to have some motive for their use, giving the book a solid hook for something down the line.
However, because this story is more in medias res as far as continuity goes, we’re not certain of what kind of Harry Osborn we’re seeing. Are we getting a vengeful Harry? A strung out, psychotic Harry? Pretending to be Peter’s friend Harry? We see characters like Harry or Betty Brant and we have to fill in the gaps and see what mutation of their character Conway is drawing from. I don’t fault him for this, after all, you can’t spend the entire issue establishing character and fail to adequately set up the plot for the characters to follow. However, I wonder if Harry is perhaps playing the Osborn card too soon since the real interest in the Osborns as villains is their complicated and messy relationship with Peter Parker.
The book ends with another fight sequence in which Mary Jane’s hero persona and the mechanics for her powers are introduced. Peter altered some of Regent’s tech so that MJ, when in danger, can siphon off some of Peter’s spider-powers to protect herself – or at least, that’s why he designed it. MJ rebukes the idea of Peter being the sole protector of the family in a genuinely touching moment between the two, saying that Peter is no longer a solo act and he needs to respect that MJ is fighting to protect her family as much as Peter is fighting to protect his. While perhaps not as saccharine (some might use mawkish)as Straczynski’s moments between the two, Conway’s Peter and MJ still display a genuine affection and a healthy one at that. Mary Jane is no damsel and Peter, while perhaps more accustomed to traditionally patriarchal roles, is more than open to his wife’s assertive and progressive nature. Their love is one that is constantly learning and improving the other, and it is a refreshing romance in a sea of stories that use martial strife as a key point of drama rather than a potential area to grow both characters.
Unbeknown to her parents, Annie sneaks into the fray and is seen defeated and carried underground by a group of Moloids lead by a very mole-looking Mole Man. Peter narrates over the splash page that he is no longer just Spider-Man or Spider-Man and MJ, but instead he’s one part of something greater: a family. It’s a solid sentiment and a good way to firmly establish what this title is going to be about. Not Spider-Man, not the marriage, but but family itself. Is that going to satisfy those who were demanding One More Day to be struck from canon? If we’re to believe this last page, Peter the father isn’t going to be the same person as Peter the husband. But I think ultimately what we’re getting with Renew Your Vows is what a lot of people have been missing during the Dan Slott era of Spider-Man; a more down-to-Earth, grounded Spider-Man with a tight-nit and fleshed out support cast. We as readers might just need to adjust our expectations that this is not a Peter Parker, the Amazing Spider-Man book, per se, but instead, the Parkers, Spider-Family.
Speaking of fleshed out side characters, Renew Your Vows #1 came with not one, but two backup stories. The first “The Earnest Adventures of Spider-Dad” is an adorably cute story with story and art by Anthony Holden (Precious Rascals) that showcases a lazy-day in the life of Peter Parker, Spider-Dad. There are some great jokes (Annie asking Sandman to build her a sandcastle) and a solid running gag involving Disney’s “Tangled,” with vibrant colors and a style that is reminiscent of the Renaissance era of Disney animation. While it doesn’t offer anything substantive on the book itself, it’s a perfect slice of life comic for those who maybe want to see more of the Parkers’ lives outside of their costume adventures.
The second backup story, “Make It Work” written by Kate Leth (Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat) with art by Marguerite Sauvage (DC Comics Bombshells), focuses more on mother-daughter bonding between MJ and Annie. MJ drafts Annie to help with developing MJ’s costume, which gets side-tracked when the Rhino attempts to rob the store. The story is, like “Spider-Dad,” cute, but not essential. Sauvage’s pencils are fantastic though, and I would love to see her on more Marvel works. While I’m not entirely sure how a non-powered child could do much of anything to the Rhino, his defeat comes in a trite “macho man is allergic to pink things” kind of gag that I honestly thought we were past. However, it is the first time we’ve seen Annie embrace her femininity– since she’s taken after her father, she seems to always to be presented as more of a tomboy. And yet in this backup story, she is perfectly at ease with her mother’s more traditionally feminine craft. I think it would be interesting in the main story to explore the effects that super heroics and legacy play on a child’s gender identity during their formative years, if we are indeed going to be exploring the entire family with this title.
I can say that Amazing Spider-Man Renew Your Vows #1 did not disappoint, even after months of anticipation and hype. It’s not a slam-dunk opener that puts you on the edge of your seat, but this isn’t supposed to be a nail-biter of a comic. This is a comic that explores family, togetherness, and the bonds that bring us all together, and with all the doom and gloom prevalent in media today, I cannot think of a better time for this book to debut. I cannot think of a book quite like this on Marvel’s current roster and if it delivers on even half of the promise I’ve seen in this issue, it deserves to be on the stands every month.