Stillanerd Reviews: Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows (2016) #6


The world of a still married Spider-Man gets much larger, and more complex, when he and his family meet up with Renew Your Vows’ take on the Uncanny X-Men.

The great thing about alternate reality stories are the questions. What if this happened instead of this? How much different would the world be? Would it be better? Worse? Or would it almost be the same? With Gerry Conway and Ryan Stegman’s Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows, the questions the series has limited itself were all about Spider-Man. “What if Peter and Mary Jane were still married?” “What if they had a daughter with spider-powers?” “What if all three were superheroes?” and so on and so forth. But for the first time, Renew Your Vows #6 gives us answers to questions about the larger Marvel Universe existing beyond Spider-Man’s friendly neighborhood. And appropriately enough, Conway brings the Spider-family and us into this larger universe by using the superheroes who’ve had the most noteworthy alternate reality stories in all of comics: The X-Men.

Granted, we already know the world of Renew Your Vows, while similar to the 616 Marvel Universe, had a familiar but different quality. But from the very first scene, we get a taste of just how different. Here we see Magneto and his Brotherhood of Mutants hunt down the X-Man, Banshee, an otherwise typical scene in any ordinary X-Men comic. Conway, however, literally crushes any such presumptions by killing off Banshee. No fanfare, no ceremony, and no blaze of glory of the final stand. Just Magneto dropping a shipping container on top of him. It’s a death that’s quick, sudden, and inglorious as it is callous, the kind which almost never happens to a prominent hero, or even not so prominent heroes, in the 616 Marvel Universe. With this one act, Conway proclaims this is not business as usual.  Actions will have real consequences, and cheap fake-outs, magic, or pressing the cosmic reset button will not undo them.

Credit: Ryan Stegman and Jesus Aburtov (Marvel Comics); from Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows (2016) #6

…for the first time, Renew Your Vows #6 gives us answers to questions about the larger Marvel Universe existing beyond Spider-Man’s friendly neighborhood.

Conway doesn’t stop there. During Peter’s surprise birthday party, Professor Charles Xavier arrives offering an invitation for Annie to come visit his mansion and Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. Again, this isn’t surprising, given that Peter and Mary Jane’s daughter had spider-powers since birth, and that they only agreed to her being Spiderling so that she could better learn how to use those powers. So when the Parker’s arrive at the school, the scene has all the comfortable trappings we associate with X-Men, specially that of the Jim Lee era. But isn’t long before Conway begins bombarding us with just how different these X-Men really are. Wolverine and Jean Grey are the co-leaders of the X-Men and co-directors of the school; they’re also married with a baby girl. Cyclops, meanwhile, also teaches at the school, but no longer follows Xavier with blind loyalty. Jubilee, too, has adopted a more cynical, sardonic attitude, and a more ridiculous haircut. And one of the X-Men has also become Magneto’s mole.

But most notable of all, the Superhuman Registration Act never passed, and thus Marvel’s Civil War never took place. Instead, the Avengers and X-Men, through an arrangement with the world’s governments, police other super beings and mutants themselves. Though not stated outright, we suspect, through Cyclops’ conversation with MJ and a later scene involving Magneto, that Xavier may have done something rather shady to bring this about. Thus this Xavier’s school, while still a place for educating and providing safe-haven for mutants, is also a means for keeping a watchful eye on potential threats. Since we know what did happen with Civil War, it’s easy for us to conclude that whatever Xavier did, he made the right call. But there’s also a sense he may have compromised his beliefs in achieving this greater good.

Credit: Ryan Stegman and Jesus Aburtov (Marvel Comics); from Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows (2016) #6

More from Spider-Man

Against this backdrop, Peter and Mary Jane get presented with a Civil War of their own once they learn Xavier’s true purpose for inviting them: he wants Annie to enroll in his school, which means she’d also have to live there. MJ believes this would deprive Annie the right to lead a normal life, or at least as normal of a life a girl with super powers could lead. But Peter, recalling the times he felt like an outcast even before getting powers, sees this as an opportunity for Annie that he never had. That both Peter and MJ clearly just want what’s best for their daughter makes this decision over her future all the harder. Of course, in the back of our minds, we know Peter, MJ, and Annie will stay together as a family, as there wouldn’t be a Renew Your Vows without them. But Conway frames this with such sincerity, and without any hint of maudlin melodrama, the suspense over whether Annie will stay or go feels genuine. It makes us wonder that, considering Peter and Annie are, let’s fact it, endangering her by letting her be Spiderling, maybe she would be safer at Xavier’s school.

Then again, just how safe can this school really be considering it later succumbs to a surprise attack by Magneto and the Brotherhood? Even before this, we cannot shake the unsettling feeling that, behind the welcoming atmosphere, there lies a manipulative undercurrent of indoctrination, with the X-Men deliberately stacking the deck in their favor. For a group that’s all about the peaceful co-existence between humans and mutants, they sure don’t think too well of humanity. One can’t help but wince when Jubilee suggests to Annie that her friends would turn against her the moment they learn she had powers. The X-Mansion isn’t exactly the healthiest of environments for an impressionable ten-year-old girl.

Credit: Ryan Stegman and Jesus Aburtov (Marvel Comics); from Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows (2016) #6

One can only wonder and dream about what if the world of Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows had been the real Marvel Universe instead of an alternative one.

What is welcoming, though, is the return of Ryan Stegman. As a comic book artist, he doesn’t just pour all of his efforts into illustrating people, making have the proper proportion and genuine expressiveness. He also understands how essential setting can be for enhancing a given scene. This is on full, captivating display when the Parkers first arrive at the X-Mansion and meet with Xavier, Wolverine, and Jean, the petals from the cherry blossom trees drifting and swirling around them. There’s no need for the characters telling us this is a place of wonder and tranquility; the art does that for us better than words ever can. Still, it’s not entirely perfect. Stegman does his own inking, too, and much like his work on Superior Spider-Man, he favors a rough, dark, incompleteness to his work whenever the comic’s designated villains are present. It’s a nice method for establishing mood, but it’s also distracting when compared to the polished, clean-looking scenes involving the Parker family and the X-Men. There’s also a few times where his usual mastery of facial expressions are wide of the mark. One close-up of Peter’s face takes up an entire page, and unfortunately, he looks more like a Ken doll than an actual person. And there’s one image of Mary Jane’s face where she looks more half-asleep than angry, and I have no idea what’s wrong with her mouth.

Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows (2016) #6 succeeds not just as a Spider-Man comic, but as an X-Men comic, too. For the first time, we see that behind the 1990s esthetic, nostalgia, and frivolity, there is still lurks a darkness underneath this is a Marvel Universe. It, like the 616, is a place that’s still wrought with of danger, moral ambiguity, and sacrifice, only not nearly as in-your-face or simplistic, and without eliminating its sense of fun or optimism. One can only wonder and dream about what if the world of Renew Your Vows had been the real Marvel Universe instead of an alternative one.

Stillanerd’s Nerdy Nitpicks (possible spoilers)

Credit: Ryan Stegman and Jesus Aburtov (Marvel Comics); from Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows (2016) #6

  • Somehow, I don’t think Banshee’s sonic scream can curve like that. Plus, shouldn’t Banshee’s sound-waves look more like he’s vomiting concentric circles instead glowing, electrical wind?
  • Okay, I recognize Blob and Toad among Magneto’s Brotherhood. And we later learn the group’s designated female calls herself “Mist Mistress.” But who in the heck is the dude in the metal mask and funky hair?
  • So who’s the one being asked if they’re “still playing football?” Flash Thompson? Get he actually go pro in this universe?
  • Just as I’m still wondering how Aunt May died in this continuity, now I have to wonder how Anna Watson died, too? Especially since I’ve always considered Aunt Anna slightly younger than May, and less prone to heart attacks.
  • “You got any normal flavors?” I don’t know, Annie. Some those treats actually sounded good. Well, maybe not the “fudge-free brownie” or the “cheesecake without cheese.”
  • “Or as we sometimes call her ‘Shine.'” Methinks Logan and Jean are big fans of The Shining, a film appropriately enough involving a kid with psychic powers. Also, is Kate last name “Grey?” Because I doubt Logan has all his memories, including knowing he was born “James Howlett,” in this universe. Which I guess would mean he’s now “Logan Grey?”
  • So of the X-Men, we see Professor X, Wolverine, Jean, Angel, Iceman, Rogue, Colossus, Jubilee, Nightcrawler, Beast, and Cyclops. Where the heck is Storm? Or Kitty Pryde? Or Psylocke? Or Gambit? Got to at least have the rest of the Blue and Gold teams there, yes?
  • “Annie isn’t a mutant.” Well, technically, MJ, since Annie was born with super powers, she kind of is. Then again, given how mutants in the Marvel Universe develop their powers when they hit puberty, would that also mean Annie’s an “early-bloomer?”
  • Wait? I thought Annie already told her parents she could see things before they happen last issue?
  • Bye, bye, Renew Your Vows, Beast. We hardly knew ye!
  • If Cyclops, by saying he’s no longer “the Professor’s errand boy,” no longer an X-Man, why then he still dressed like one?
  • Gee, for the number of psychics at the X-Mansion, they sure were slow on the uptake sensing the Brotherhood’s arrival, weren’t they?
  • So not only did Wolverine steal Cyclops’ girl, he also stole Cyclops’ catchphrase.
  • Wow! Got to admit, I did not see that particular X-Man being the traitor. But it makes sense when you back and re-read their dialogue. Oh, Conway, you crafty devil, you.