Last month’s issue of Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows served as an excellent close to the first chapter of writer Gerry Conway and artist Ryan Stegman’s story. So, imagine my surprise when I opened up Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #5 to see “Brawl in the Family: Part 5” on the recap page. This isn’t the first time this has happened (I jumped to a similar conclusion with Spider-Man/Deadpool’s “Isn’t it Bromantic”), and I am sure it will not be the last. That being said, this issue does not follow the same introduction angle that the previous four issues focused on. Also a surprise is Ryan Stegman’s absence from this issue, with Spidey’s Nathan Stockman filling in.
ASM:RYV #5 picks up the pacing by a lot, dropping the laser focus on each individual family member and instead giving us a more-or-less one-and-done caper. Conway (Via Spider-Man) comments this issue that after so much time saving the world “you forget how fun a simple night of crime fighting can be,” and I’m finding myself agreeing. It’s been a while since we’ve seen Spider-Man bust up a simple bank robbery, and there is something nostalgic about what is perhaps the archetypal superhero story. Of course, being the go-to stand-in for representing superheroic stories means the concept can be a little stale, but Conway’s surgical insertion of character and Stockman’s delightful pencils serve as a fresh coat of paint on the old cliché.
Coming straight off the tail of last issue (I guess justifying the part 5), the Parker family arrives home from their adventures in the underground only to have Annie remind her parents that it is Tuesday, and that means it’s family night. Stockman really pours in an almost manic energy into Annie, befitting of a kid with the proportionate speed and strength of a spider(?), but perhaps overselling the emotions by just a hair. However the look of absolute dread on Peter and MJ’s faces once they realize they’ve roped themselves into going to what is clearly-not-Chuck-E-Cheese is worth the cover price alone.
Renew Your Vows seems to be about fresh looks at familiar faces with minor tweaks. While the remorseful Sandman of Marvel Two-In-One #86 might be my favorite, Conway’s malaprop dropping Flint Marko was certainly one of the better takes on the character and really sells the “dumb crook” angle of Sandman and Stockman gives him perhaps the most physically intimidating frame the character has seen in years. Adding to the physical threat, Conway seemingly references the brutal death of Spider-Man at the hands of Sandman in Marvel Zombies Return #1. The physicality is undercut a bit by the anti-climatic way Sandman is apprehended, but the team-work focused solution is fitting for the themes of the book.
Perhaps more engaging than the A-plot (not to put down my enjoyment of the A-plot) is the B-plot featuring Normie that answers some of the questions surrounding the Osborns. Since “One More Day” did not happen, Harry never came back from the dead (or he’s still in Europe in rehab, if that retcon is in play). Project G is all but confirmed to be some sort of Goblin treatment (not that there is much surprise there). Normie is without a doubt a bad guy and it’s looking like an Osborn/Parker showdown looms on the horizon. It might not the be freshest take on a Spider-Man story, but there seem to be enough new twists and kinks to the narrative that I’m excited for it. This entire issue exists to inch the Osborn plot forward and I think that is an art lost in modern comics today. Some writers mistake “the long game” with introducing an idea, dropping it for a year, and then picking it back up. But here we see the story on a low boil, shaping the events in the foreground while moving steadily in the background. It’s solid story telling.
Another issue down, and so far Renew Your Vows is 5-0. Stegman’s presence is missed for sure on this issue, but Stockman’s background in animation is both evident and elevates the issue. His characters are vibrant, emotive, and full of motion. His lines are a little looser than Stegman’s, but for an issue that puts so much focus on Annie, I think that works out pretty well. Plus, any visual shout out to Superior Foes of Spider-Man will always endear me to what you’re putting in front of me. Next issue we see Annie getting an invitation to Xavier’s School for Exceptional Children and the return of Ryan Stegman, or at least that’s what the solicits are telling me.