Secret Wars has obviously introduced a ton of new changes within the Marvel Universe – some clearly temporary, some … who knows – but none of the announced spinoff titles were as eyebrow raising for Spidey fans as The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows, by Dan Slott with art from Adam Kubert. Promoted by Marvel (and Slott) as the “last Spider-Man story ever,” Renew Your Vows promised to scratch the itch many readers have needed scratched since the controversial conclusion to the “One More Day” arc in Amazing Spider-Man in 2007. When you add in some cryptic comments from Slott regarding the apparent “consequences” of not only uniting Peter Parker with Mary Jane Watson in holy matrimony, but also adding a young kid into the mix, the potential for a completely incendiary tale that would polarize the fan base like never before became apparent.
And yet, Renew Your Vows #1 manages to gloss over all of the bombast and threats for internet breakage and instead presents readers with a solid introductory chapter to what is essentially a glorified “What If?” tale. The Peter, MJ, Venom et al featured in this story are clearly alternative versions of their better known 616-selves, but they are all familiar enough – outside of a few semi-questionable costume redesigns from Kubert – where the comic doesn’t become an exercise in trying to identify all of the differences in this world versus the “real” world. So while Renew Your Vows #1 reads like it could have been originally published at some point in the late 90s or 2000s, there’s still some lingering questions about how much of this story is actually going to bear any consequence when Secret Wars ends and the core Spider-Man book, whether it be Amazing, Superior or something else, picks up again in a few months.
Fortunately, from a readability standpoint, having Renew Your Vows operate in its own independent sphere, while still featuring characters we know and love from yesteryear, enables Slott to write one of his most focused and balanced narratives in months. He establishes the Peter/MJ/baby Annie dynamic immediately, giving these characters and their complex relationships time to develop before setting up some of the high superhero comic book drama that Slott is better known for.
Because of the way Slott unveils and paces his story, we get what is very likely his most personal Spider-Man/Peter story since his tragically beautiful “No One Dies” arc, which feels like it was published so long ago based on how far the writer has seemingly strayed from these character-centric stories. It also helps that Kubert illustrates these family moments with strokes of warmth and intimacy. A father, mother and baby daughter sitting at a kitchen table is not the most interesting visual for a superhero comic on first blush, but Kubert provides a homespun vibe, adding emotion and sentiment to each character’s face. The issue’s final visual, another presentation of a certain inter-personal dynamic, is equally chilling in its intimacy.
A part of what makes Renew Your Vows #1 such an effective opening chapter is its multi-tiered presentation of dramatic stakes. There’s Peter the husband and father, struggling to keep the details of his secret identity hush-hush around a young child who has no verbal filter and could easily blab that her “Dada” is “Pidey” while also trying to find that oh-so-relateable balance between work (Spider-Man) and home. The threat level is then elevated significantly when Venom, one of the few villains who knows Spider-Man’s secret identity, escapes from prison and unashamedly targets the Parker family.
Probably the weakest dramatic subplot occurs when Slott attempts to go one level higher, incorporating a world-changing threat in Regent, who is challenging whoever remains from the Avengers in this region of Battleworld. As has long been the case, Slott flat out struggles integrating the Avengers into his Spider-Man stories. Characters like Captain America or Iron Man tend to appear either as stereotypical archetypes or as personality-less drones. Kubert also appears to have difficulties illustrating these large-scale sequences, as critical points of action come across as vague and undefined (what exactly happened to the Hulk when he fought Regent?).
At least in Renew Your Vows, the subpar Avengers subplot serves a purpose in demonstrating how Peter/Spider-Man’s worldview has changed in light of parenthood. Spider-Man is initially asked to accompany the Avengers as they deal with their cosmic-level threat, but Spidey notably bails on this mission to address the “war at home” by rescuing MJ and Annie from Venom. The use of this narrative dichotomy pays off the issue’s ultimate conclusion by firmly drawing a line in the sand and establishing what this new status quo has done for Peter’s priorities.
The final page appears to be the “monkey’s paw” moment that Slott was referring to during his promotional tour for this comic. But this is not the teeth-gnashing, venom-spewing plot reveal calling something a “monkey’s paw” (referring to a classic literary story about a man who finds a monkey’s paw that grants him his wishes in the cruelest, most sadistic way possible) indicates. Because the comic does such an effective job selling the stakes of Venom’s prison break in Peter’s personal life, Peter’s final “vow” feels rational and expected.
It also sets the stage for an infinite number of storytelling possibilities for the arc. Of course, we’ve been at similar crossroads with Slott before during some of his recent big arcs (“Goblin Nation,” “Spider-Verse”) and it’s because of that track record the next chapter of Renew Your Vows should be approached with cautious optimism. The potential is there for Slott to tell a sincerely honest, Spider-Man story, but I’m not ready to give him the benefit of the doubt just yet that he will follow through on such an opportunity.