As good as Marvel’s current summer event, Secret Wars, has been in terms of creating a compelling and dramatic narrative, many of the company’s “Battleworld” tie-in books have been problematic because as glorified “What If?” stories, they seemingly lack the consequences required to fully engage readers and make them commit to the concept. Like, why should I care about the gang of multiversal heroes in Spider-Verse when in many instances (Spider-Gwen, Norman Osborn) there are questions about whether or not I’m reading about the “real” version of these characters? In Ultimate End, a universe has been destroyed and all these characters seem apt to do is stand around a table and talk about it.
But through its first two issues, Dan Slott and Adam Kubert’s The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows has bucked this trend and has made me a believer with its pervasive drama and tight plot. This might be a story built around a Peter and Mary Jane Parker (and daughter Annie May) from an alternative dimension, but Slott’s script has built the stakes so high it feels like these characters are clinging to the side of a cliff with their fingernails, while Kubert’s lush pencils create a sense of dynamism that is also grounded in the gritty reality of this dystopian timeline.
After a strong opening that established the “Peter and MJ are married again” in Renew Your Vows #1, Renew Your Vows #2 does a fair bit of world building in demonstrating the mechanics of this particular Battleworld zone. As indicated in the series opener, the world’s superhero population have been wiped out by the evil Regent who now rules supreme in a totalitarian system reminiscent of a George Orwell or Ray Bradbury novel. This is a world filled with soaring skyscrapers with glass towers and flying cars whizzing by like it’s “The Jetsons.” But beyond the confectionary exterior is a dark and sinister center where children with powers are forced to wear inhibitors or risk being captured and tortured (or worse) by Regent’s hired hands. And if that’s not bad enough, Annie, who of course has inherited the “Parker luck” by possessing some of her father’s famed spider-abilities (and an inability to properly control/hide them), is being depicted as a prime target for Regent.
Peter, meanwhile, is dealing with his own internal struggle and still finds himself haunted by his shocking decision to let Venom/Eddie Brock perish in a burning, crumbling building in Renew Your Vows #1. Some fans were outraged by the creative decision to have Peter willfully let Venom die, but the opening sequence in Renew Your Vows #2 does its share of heavy lifting by demonstrating his conflicted emotions about his controversial decision, while leaving the window open to the fact that there are elements of “our Peter” still there.
Renew Your Vows #2 also continues to successfully capture the warmth and intimacy of the Parker family dynamic. There’s more of an edge to this world’s Peter, but it’s hard not to believe him when he says his “Parker luck” is actually a good thing because he has two of the greatest women in the world in his life. His interactions with Annie read as being very authentic while varying in range and nuance. He’s paternally playful when he jokes with his daughter about wheatcakes, but also flips the switch to dire urgency during one of the comic’s many cataclysmic moments. Concurrently, MJ is depicted as being an equal partner to Peter in this marriage.
While she still has her trademark kittenish sass, MJ plays the role of lioness when she believes her daughter’s life is being threatened. During this very perilous sequence, Mary Jane almost resembles a superhero in the way she rushes to the scene (while Peter temporarily resumes his role as Spider-Man by swinging and leaping his way there). Again, while Slott’s script is very tight and precise, Kubert’s pencils bring this story to another level with the fast-paced urgency of his aesthetic.
The comic is filled with well-paced and smartly executed surprises including the unveiling of two wildly different iterations of the Sinister Six and the integration of the prepubescent supergroup, the Power Pack. Slott can sometimes overwhelm the reader with the way he randomly incorporates either forgotten or deep cut characters, but in Renew Your Vows #2, the script moves deftly, providing the right amount of exposition and context with action during these sequences. Slott has also pre-programmed some hope spots into the narrative, which will hopefully detonate at the appropriate times as Renew Your Vows approaches its conclusion in a few months.
Speaking of deep cut characters, one of my chief concerns after reading Renew Your Vows #1 was the use of Regent as the main villain. While the series is clearly drawing inspirations from the 90s in its style and tone, Regent just smacks of a guy I read about in a comic that probably had an interlocking holographic cover – aka a comic best left in the quarter bin at your local comic book dungeon. Fortunately, Slott and Kubert’s depiction of Regent in Renew Your Vows #2 isn’t the slog I thought it was going to be. Any time a villain can send a chill down your spine the way Regent does when he talks about hunting down super-powered children, you know you’re dealing with a fairly potent bad guy. It does feel like Slott is borrowing some of Regent’s characterization from the far more notable Thanos, but as of this moment, I’m definitely buying this guy as the master of this particular universe.