When Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows was first announced, there were at least two things about the Secret Wars tie-in which I was apprehensive about. First, given Marvel’s well documented stance of opposition towards a married Spider-Man and the lengths they went through to get rid of it with “One More Day,” my assumption was Renew Your Vows, like “One Moment in Time,” would make a none-too-subtle argument for why Peter and Mary Jane should never have married. The second was given Renew Your Vows was, technically, a five-part “What If?” story taking place in a dystopian version of New York City, there was a genuine sense of fear at least one member of the Parker family would die a tragic, horrible death.
But now that the story is over, I needed have worried. Not only do we get an unusally happy ending, but Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #5 makes a strong case that Peter Parker having a family of his own gives him a greater sense of purpose and strength. During their climatic showdown against the Regent, writer Dan Slott allows for each member of the Parker family to have several moments to shine in the spotlight, and to kick butt (and not just literally) in all its fan-service glory. Annie May playing “tag” with the Regent’s assistant, Dr. Shannon Stillwell; MJ strapping on and armored suit, ready to take on the Regent by herself; and of course Peter, seemingly imprisoned and dying in one of the Regent’s power-siphoning booths, finding his inner-strength to tackle to Regent several stories out of his high-rise stronghold. It is the stuff of summer action movies, and on such a pure, visceral level, it’s glorious to behold.
Moreover, by allowing for who Peter, MJ and Annie are as characters to drive the story, Slott allowed readers the chance to become intimate with them, creating genuine tension and suspense throughout. Annie, after all, is only a little girl who, because she’s spunky as she is adorable, we, like her parents, fear for her safety and pray nothing bad happens to her. The same goes for Spider-Man, who also faces a different kind of suspense is that he faces the same moral dilemma he had during his fight with Venom in Renew Your Vows #1: how far is he willing to go to protect the ones he loves?
In fact, much of Renew Your Vows #5 brings themes and even images from the first issue full-circle. This a story which began with Peter choosing to save his family over helping the Avengers, and the story ends with the surviving Avengers, along with his family, coming to his rescue. It’s a story which began with Spider-Man fighting a villain alone, and ending with Spider-Man fighting another villain with his wife and child by his side. Even the last page, perfectly illustrated by Adam Kubert and Scott Hanna, is a literal and symbolic mirror of the first page from issue #1, with the emphasis being on the future instead of the past.
And as for the rest of the art, what else can I say about Kubert’s work on this series which hasn’t already been said? It’s not just that Kubert can draw with such clear and intricate detail without cluttering up the page, his skill as a visual storyteller is just sublime. Take the scene where Annie fights Dr. Stillwell, in which just as Annie zig-zags around her opponent, the panels themselves, each varying in size, zig-zag from left-to-right-and back to left again. Or how, by placing three panels side by side or top to bottom, he can create the effect that you are moving closer to whatever action is taking place, as he does with showing Peter coming awake inside the Regent’s siphoning both, or the two of them trading blow for blow on a busy street. The only downside is Hanna sharing the art duties, as he did in issue #4, it doesn’t have as near the punch it should have. Even so, any aspiring comic book artists should take a look at Kubert’s work not only in this issue, but all of Renew Your Vows, as a source of inspiration.
It’s such a shame then Renew Your Vows #5 lapses into having such atrocious, awkward and arrhythmic dialogue.
Slott has mentioned in the past he writes comics according to Stan Lee’s “Marvel method,” in which he plots first, let’s the artist interpret the plot, and then comes back to fill in the dialogue. I’ve also mentioned before how he also appears to emulate Lee’s expository and bombastic style of writing and the classic Marvel comics of old. Even though Lee’s dialogue had more wood in it than Noah’s Ark, he somehow had this magical ability of making you believe people in his stories would actually speak the way they do no matter how unrealistic it really was. Slott doesn’t. When you read lines such as Hawkeye’s “We’re doing more than that, murderer! We’re putting an end to your reign, Regent!” Or Annie (remember, she’s supposed to be eight-years old) saying phrases like “You gotta stop calling me ‘Annie’ when we’re on a mission,” the unnatural way it sounds not only takes you out of the story, it reads as Slott just trying way too hard.
Just as awful, as he has been throughout the entire miniseries, is the Regent. I’ve already talked about what a dull, inspired antagonist he’s been, but his defeat comes across as way too easy to the point of laziness, and its something which could have easily been avoided. There’s nothing wrong with having a villain who, on the surface, appears unstoppable, as we love for our heroes as underdogs and going up against near-impossible odds. But the Regent, with his ability to absorb and use literally thousands of superpowers, is just too powerful. The moment he literally severed off the arm of the Incredible Hulk in first issue, you knew Renew Your Vows would be forced to find some way to “cheat” to have Spider-Man win. It’s the same corner Slott backed himself into with “Spider-Verse” with his treatment of Morlun and the Inheritors, and he’s once again made a villain so god-like in power that only the most contrived of scenarios could ever defeat him.
And although this is the last issue of the miniseries, there’s still a lot of loose ends left. Remember Annie’s fear of the “shadow thing” brought about by the trauma of seeing Venom as an infant back in Renew Your Vows #2? It’s never brought up or addressed ever again. Or how it’s all but ignored that the public is now fully aware that Peter is Spider-Man and that his daughter also has superpowers. There’s even a point made how even with the Regent’s defeat, he’ll still have the authorities on his payroll, so whatever victory the heroes have will be incomplete. But who cares? A breakfast of banana pancakes will make everything better, says Annie! It may fit with the concept (which the comic itself brings up) that Spider-Man’s story, like all comic book superheroes, never really ends but is always “to be continued.” Except in this case, it sure would’ve been nice to actually have an ending.
Yet for as flawed as this issue of Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows is, I still enjoyed it as I have the rest of the series. You might say I’m only being kind to it because it taps into the nostalgia of seeing Peter and Mary Jane together again as a married couple, or, like Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz’s Spider-Girl, it explores the concept of Spider-Man being a father to someone who also has spider powers of their own. Perhaps. And maybe it would also be unfair of me to compare this alternate version Spider-Man with the upcoming one Slott will tackle in the new volume of Amazing Spider-Man, where it seems Peter Parker will become an ersatz Tony Stark, only without the alcohol, heart problems and goatee. So what if I am? Because although Renew Your Vows hasn’t been perfect, it’s the logical extension of Spider-Man’s creed of “with great power comes great responsibility.” It shows you don’t have to make Spider-Man “young” in order to appeal towards a younger audience or readers of any age. It’s a Spider-Man who is closer to the spirit of what he should be, what he used to be, and what, dare I say, needs to be again.
Stillanerd’s Nerdy Nitpicks (spoilers ahead)
- Okay, Mr. Regent, it’s bad enough you can’t tell the difference between Dagger and Dazzler, probably because they’re both women with light-based powers. But how did you manage not capturing Dagger when you captured Cloak? Those two heroes are literally inseparable, not to mention Dagger needs Cloak to avoid her powers from overloading.
- So I guess the rule of thumb is, if Peter and Mary Jane have a kid, then Aunt May must die. After all, it happened during the Clone Saga with Amazing Spider-Man #400, one of the most moving and heartbreaking stories of all time which was unfortunately retconned. Guess this in this reality, that issue story still happened under slightly different circumstances.
- Remember during The Other: Evolve or Die when Mary Jane put on one of Tony Stark’s old Iron Man armors? Pretty ridiculous, right? Well, her suited-up in Dr. Stillwell’s armored suit is just as ridiculous…ridiculously awesome!
- Speaking of codenames, have to admit Annie coming up with “Amp” based on her initials is pretty clever. It’s certainly was better than the one I was thinking, which was “Otaku.” Because of “Annie May?” Which sounds like anime? Get it? No? Never mind.
- I presume the particular region of Battleworld where Renew Your Vows takes place has much lighter gravity in comparison to our own world. How else to explain how character can leap out the top window of building several dozens of stories up and not go splat! even with super-strength? Or it’s just another one of those “Because it’s comics” explanations.
- I’m just surprised Peter’s bluff that his spider-sense was better than Annie’s actually worked. Because just a few moments earlier, the Regent tagged with Cyclops’ optic blast. Which should’ve also clued the Regent in into just how “reliable” spider-sense actually is.
- All right, science majors, explain this: the inhibitor-chip arrowhead is designed to dampen biologically-based superpowers, correct? Then Annie stabs the Regent with the arrowhead, he loses all the powers he’s been able to absorb. So far, so good. So how come the Regent also loses his armor, which is tech-based? Moreover, he has an enhanced body to store all the superpowers he’s absorbed, so how come he didn’t lose those enhanced abilities when stabbed with the arrowhead, as well? Also, if it’s the arrowhead which is sapping his abilities, why not just pull it out of his neck?
- Just how bad is the Regent as a villain? He’s so bad, he’s the only one, as far as I know, who not only laughed Peter’s jokes, he gets sucker punched because he laughed at Peter’s joke, an extremely awful pun on spider-sense at that. But I guess the Regent loves his puns, considering how he said Spider-Man has “doomed them all.” Get it? Because Doctor Doom was the guy he wanted to stop? Never mind.
- “Some guy named ‘Doom,'” Mary Jane? “Some guy“?! Wow, are you ever lucky Doctor Doom doesn’t seem to think twice about your corner of Battleworld.
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