It is relieving to see an arc’s payoff justify its choices. While last issue might have put a few doubts into readers’ minds, Gerry Conway and Ryan Stegman put those worries to rest with the fantastic Amazing Spider-Man Renew Your Vows #4. The issue might not be genre-defining, but it does show how solid character ground work can enhance small scenes, magnifying their impact and creating a more enjoyable package.
The issue opens with an impressive two-page spread by Stegman showcasing Spider-Man, Spinneret, and Annie Mae (now called Spiderling) in full egress with the Mole Man hot on their heels. I was a little hard on #3 not being as judicious with its use of spreads and splashes as it probably should have been, but every spread and splash in ASMRYV #4 is used to fantastic effect. The opening scene, with its speed lines and kinetic posing, really conveys a sense of urgency and momentum. Later on, a spread featuring a lava pit gives the reader a great sense of grand scale that, with some genius paneling by Stegman, works as both backdrop for the nine panels on the page as well as a panel in its own right. These panels are outlined by thick gutters which make the panels seem less like chronologically anchored points in a story and more like vignettes or smash cuts. The gutters act as full stops, divorcing the reader from the background and pulling tight focus on the action depicted. Their small size keeps the eye moving, pulling the reader’s attention closer and closer to the lava that looms in the background. It’s a fantastic sequence and really showcases why Ryan Stegman is in a league of his own in not just artistic talent but also visual storytelling.
None of this is to downplay Gerry Conway’s contributions. Delivering what might be one of his best issues in recent years, ASMRYV#4 builds off the strong foundation laid down by the previous three issues. Mole Man comes off as completely and totally unhinged from his isolation underground, giving all the motivation needed for his antagonist without diving into monologues or coming off too ham fisted. Keeping in line with Spider-Man’s more human roots as a hero, the Spider-Family does not run like a well oiled machine. Annie Mae goes off alone, Peter and MJ crash into each other while swinging and get into a spat while standing in a massive underground cavern.
This could work without the previous three issues informing us about the Parker family, but because we got a day in everyone’s life, we can see why these particular issues are coming to head at this moment; Conway humanized the argument via the previous three issues which informs the reader that these characters lead stressful lives and sometimes that pressure comes to a head – and that’s normal for everyone, even super heroes. Even better, we switch to Anna Mae’s perspective via free indirect discourse once the argument starts, again downplaying the content of the argument to highlight the banality of it. We aren’t made privy to any of the details about the argument, as Anna Mae’s ears only perk up when she hears her name, so we are forced to ignore it like she is. Annoyed rather than disturbed, she instead channels her father’s mind and mother’s tenacity to come up with a solution to their predicament. This is a great, subtle way to crank down the melodrama of a martial argument by directly showing the reader how they are to read this particular interaction without having a character state it flatly.
Sewn throughout are a few scenes with little Normie Osborn. These scenes are one note by design as to not steal away the impact of the A-plot, and that’s fine, but so much of what is being set up seems to be stepping on the toes of Spider-Girl. Normie continues showing interest in Annie Mae, Annie Mae herself says that Normie’s cute looking. Granted that the relationship was slightly different in Spider-Girl (Mayday and Normie didn’t explore their romantic interest in each other until after Normie reformed), it still isn’t entirely fresh ground and I’m waiting with mild apprehension to see what the pay off is. There’s so much of this world to explore (the name Spider-Girl is taken, but by who? Anya? MC2 Spider-Girl?), and yet we’re focusing a lot of building on Normie Osborn. It’s a little frustrating, but since the Osborns are so important to the Spider-Man mythos (and let’s not ignore the fact that Conway himself has a huge part in making that so), it makes sense to start with them for the first big background arc.
Amazing Spider-Man Renew Your Vows #4 delivers something a lot of Marvel titles have been lacking recently: solid character work, strong visual story telling, and a coherent voice. The title might not be breaking new ground, but it makes up for that by being such a well crafted piece of fiction. It’s hard to put this issue down without a smile on your face.