There is a lot to love about Dan Slott and Adam Kubert’s The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #3, but one scene in particular stands out to me above all the others. Sorry for the *spoiler* but in it, Peter, Mary Jane and daughter Annie are attempting to pass through a superpowers scanner that has been set up at Annie’s elementary school so Regent can discover (and capture) Spider-Man’s identity. The trio walks through, undetected, allowing the family (and readers) to breathe a heavy sight of relief. Then, a child behind them triggers the alarms and exhibits mutant powers. Chaos ensues as the Sinister Six descends and Peter — who has sworn off being Spider-Man for the good and protection of his family — stares at the imminent tragedy involving another person’s child. His indecision seemingly lasts an eternity, before Annie implores him to be the hero he once projected himself to be. And from there, Spider-Man officially “returns.”
The scene works on a number of different levels. It obviously echoes the most famous Spider-Man story of all, his first one in Amazing Fantasy #15, where Peter’s apathy towards a common criminal leads to the worst (in)decision the character would ever make. And anytime a modern creator can adequately honor and echo what is arguably comic’s finest origin story like Slott and Kubert do in Renew Your Vows #3, that alone is worthy of praise.
But even beyond how crisply it nails Peter’s tortured obligation to “with great power, must also come, great responsibility,” the scene also encapsulates why Renew Your Vows has been such a successful story through its first three issues. Dating back to when this series was first announced earlier this year, the obvious hook or gimmick was centered around the fact that (in this alternative universe) Peter and Mary Jane would be reunited with a child, begging the question, how would Spider-Man operate as a husband AND a father (a hypothetical conundrum Marvel has never allowed us to experience until now)? As such, the quality of the series was going to rest strongly in how Slott and Kubert depicted the Parker family dynamic. Would the creators just treat MJ and Annie’s presence as an annoying albatross that would prevent Peter from being the Spidey we know and love, or would they treat the topic of family in superhero comics with the maturity and grace that we never got in past Spider-Man stories like “One More Day,” “One Moment in Time” and “Revelations.”
The aforementioned scene demonstrates that Slott, Kubert and Marvel as a whole, have decided to go the latter route with this story. Part of what makes Peter’s pause in helping the mutant child so gut-wrenching is the fact that his daughter — who is unquestionably at that age where a kid has developed that uncanny ability to judge and guilt through their innocence and naiveté — is standing right there looking back at him with palatable disappointment. Peter may have quit being Spider-Man at the end of Renew Your Vows #1 for the right reasons personally, but like that moment with the burglar, it was still the easy way out for him when compared to standing for what he believes in as Spider-Man, fighting Regent and protecting his family. The scene is tangible reminder that often, the right thing to do, is often the hardest and most consequential thing to do. And even when those consequences come home to roost at the end of Renew Your Vows #3, Peter’s decision to be a hero for his daughter is so satisfying, it reminds all of us why we love this character so much.
The craftsmanship and elegance of this one scene alone would make this issue a very good one. But fortunately Slott and Kubert pack a lot of great moments into this comic, making it the best of the series yet. After teasing an alternate version of the Sinister Six in Renew Your Vows #2, the supervillain group is deftly deployed this time around in a way that allows some of the group’s most memorable characteristics from the 616 universe — mainly Doctor Octopus and Kraven the Hunter — to shine through and injects a nostalgic fun into the comic. Demonstrating once again that Slott writes no character better, Otto is especially insufferable (in an enjoyable way) and egomaniacal, but also brings enough menace to justify the darker turn by Spidey. No, Spider-Man doesn’t kill anyone this time around, but the battle ends on a rather cringe-worthy note that is wonderfully illustrated by Kubert (completed with a very cinematic “cutaway” from the carnage for extra emphasis).
The comic also allows Mary Jane to have some moving moments with her daughter, specifically when Annie is asking about what her father was like as Spider-Man. As has been the case in earlier scenes starring MJ and Annie, there’s a relateable intimacy to how mother and daughter interact, opening up the reader to a well-timed gut-punch when Annie asks “has he ever lost?” The question spurs an uncomfortable reminiscence from Mary Jane of past moments most Spider-Man fans probably know by heart, but the inherent tragedy of Spider-Man’s biography is heightened by the sheer presence of his daughter. Meanwhile, the lie MJ tells Annie feels so familiar and true as a parent, that I’m almost shocked to be seeing something so raw in a superhero comic book.
There are still some general problems with a lackluster baddie like Regent being the primary antagonist in this story, making me wish the creative team could have flexed their obscure Marvel characters knowledge with a villain more closely associated with the Spider-Man universe (Grizzly or Mirage for the win? I kid, I kid). And as much as I love it whenever Spider-Man’s powerset and abilities are presented as something special, Regent’s sudden fascination with acquiring them seems forced and unnecessary.
There is also the larger problem that is still lurking in the back of my mind regarding this story’s long-term impact on the Spider-Man universe. With a new series already announced for October that seemingly has nothing to do with any of the concepts currently running through Renew Your Vows, I’m not terribly optimistic that much from this series is going to carry over into the reboot, regardless of Slott’s promises of “elements” remaining in the new universe. All the same, Renew Your Vows is a very enjoyable ride, which is not something I’ve said often and consistently with a core Spider-Man book recently. So rather than obsess over how this will all be nullified in a few months, I will choose to focus on why it’s been such a great read to this point.