Today, Spencer and Patrick are discussing The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows 1, originally released June 3rd, 2015. This issue is a Secret Wars tie-in. For more Secret Wars coverage from the week, check back tomorrow for our Secret Wars Round-Up!
Spencer: Becoming a parent requires a serious reshuffling of priorities. Unlike what a lot of movies will try to convince you, it doesn’t mean that a new parent has to drop every activity they ever loved, but it does mean that those activities — and literally everything else in the world — takes a back seat to the duty they have to raise and protect their new child. It’s a staggering responsibility, even to someone like Peter Parker, who, as Spider-Man, has devoted most of his life to shouldering great responsibility. What happens when Peter puts his family before his duties as Spider-Man? That’s the question at the heart of The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows 1, and the answer is rather startling.
Our story technically takes place on the patchwork planet Battleworld, but if not for the recap on the first page, you’d never know. Unlike pretty much every other Secret Wars tie-in thus far, there’s no mention of other territories, or even of God Doom. The idea here is that Peter and Mary Jane were able to keep the child they lost at the end of “The Clone Saga” (Spider-Girl had a similar premise, but writer Dan Slott divorces the two books by naming Peter and MJ’s daughter Annie instead of Mayday, as well as by making her a red-head), and that firmly places the story sometime in the mid 1990s. Slott and artist Adam Kubert wholeheartedly embrace the details of the period, from the very specific Avengers (and New Warriors) rosters to the throwback costumes and character designs.
That’s a very 80s/90s Iron Man, but (unfortunately) Mary Jane’s outfit especially just screams “hey, it’s the mid-90s!”
Outside of his new daughter, all these details actually help to portray this Peter as what many would consider to be the quintessential Spider-Man. Slott’s Superior Spider-Man and the following reboot of Amazing have taken Peter in drastically new directions (owning his own company, for starters), but here’s a Spider-Man who’s still married to Mary Jane, who still works at the Daily Bugle, whose greatest enemy is still Venom. This is the concept that fans who grew up on the 90s animated series automatically think of when they think of “Spider-Man,” and I think that’s actually a rather vital aspect of this story — but I’ll loop back around to that in a bit.
Anyway, with this classic Spider-Man now established, Slott immediately starts to show how fatherhood has changed Peter, starting with the most minor of compromises.
Already we can see that becoming a father means changing how Peter handles being Spider-Man, but these compromises are easy for him, and ultimately, don’t affect anybody other than Peter. That changes rather quickly — superpowered heroes have been vanishing across New York, but as the Avengers assemble to find the culprit (a man named Augustus Roman, who has been absorbing the powers of every hero he kills), Peter rushes home to rescue Mary Jane and Annie from Venom, who just escaped from prison.
By the end of the issue, Roman — now going by Regent — has annihilated the Avengers and established himself as the world’s only “hero.” In many ways it’s shocking that Peter wouldn’t be there for an “Omega Level” disaster, but at the same time, I severely doubt that Peter’s presence would have changed the outcome of the battle at all. Ultimately, I can’t blame him for prioritizing his family — that’s just what Dads do, and as easy as it could be for the audience to sit back and say that saving the world is more important than saving two people, I don’t think any of us want to see a Spider-Man who would just leave his family to die.
Less heroic is Peter’s decision to kill Venom so that he can never harm his family again. Interestingly enough, Peter seems to agree — he knows this is a decision Spider-Man would never make, but it’s one that Peter Parker, father, would gladly.
By the end of the issue we’re left with a world without Spider-Man (an absence echoed by the absence of any heroes outside of Regent), a world where Peter Parker is only concerned with watching out for himself and his family. In many ways this seems unthinkable, and Slott even comments on how out of character this is by having Peter quote Uncle Ben’s dying words. “With great power comes great responsibility” is the central tenant of Spider-Man as a character — thus, Peter finding an even greater responsibility thoroughly drives home how life-altering fatherhood has been for him.
To be honest, I’m not really sure how I feel about Peter abandoning being Spider-Man — especially under rule by Regent — but I think unease and uncertainty about Peter’s decision is part of the point. Dan Slott started writing Spider-Man right after “One More Day,” the controversial storyline that ended (and retconned) Peter and Mary Jane’s marriage. Fans have been clamoring ever since to bring back the marriage, to bring back their daughter, to bring back their quintessential idea of Spider-Man, and this story certainly feels like Slott’s way of saying “be careful what you wish for.” Is Peter Parker as a husband and father really what’s right for the character in the long-term? This may just be Slott’s chance to finally say his piece on the matter — and provoke the fan-base a bit in the process.
Patrick, do you have a better handle on how you feel about Peter retiring than I do? How important do you think all the Regent stuff will end up being? And honestly, 90s throwback or not, does Mary Jane’s outfit bother you as much as it does me? I really never needed to see ripped jeans again, but they seem especially strange to me on a mother for some reason.
Patrick: I can deal with the ripped jeans — but maybe that’s just because I watched Montage of Heck this weekend, and I’ve got Cobain and Love in my heart. The 90sism in MJ’s outfit that bothers me even more is that shirt tied up to always reveal her stomach. I mean, she’s a mom — still a pretty new one at that — and it makes me a little uncomfortable to inhabit the fantasy that she has to be model-skinny and showing off her rock hard tummy, even when hanging around the house. That scene at the table — I can’t tell if it’s late at night or early in the morning — has Peter tinkering with his webshooters, and he’s not wearing a shirt. That’s a great set of images: there’s nothing that can express the weird comfort of domesticity and family than sitting at the kitchen table without a shirt on. Generally, I think Kubert has a masterful knack for those kinds of details, especially in this very sequence.
Just like the previous page that arranged picture frames on a wall, we’re able to infer a lot about Peter and MJ’s lives together by examining the details as they appear on the page. You want to talk about how we’re still in the 90s? Check out that TV in the first panel. You want some of that animated-series-era mega-branded fun? Check out the aerosol can with the Spider-Man logo on it (incidentally, I think that means Peter has been getting his webshooters from the toy section at K-Mart). There’s a set of two “P” magnets on the fridge; presumably Peter placed them next to each other at some point as a little goof. There’s also a “Y” and an “A” and the calendar seems to indicate that it is May 1st, both of may be nods to the missing Mayday Parker. Or that “YA” could be referring to “Young Adult,” which is decidedly the kind of story Slott and Kubert are telling. There are a lot of cute details (Hulk mug!) and insightful details (of course they can’t afford a place with a dishwasher), that just makes it all the more confusing that MJ walks around wearing half-a-shirt the whole issue.
And though I will gripe about that, perhaps MJ’s costume is only fitting in an issue that insists on making Venom an evergreen Big Bad. Slott makes sure that Eddie iterates this point explicitly — no matter the outcome of this specific punching match, Venom will never stop putting the Parker family in danger. Again, in typical 90s-comic fashion, the threats become pretty graphic and specific. Honestly, Eddie: suck out her “brains“? We get it, you’re a Bad Dude. Not that Venom’s alone in embracing an out-of-date enthusiasm for grotesque violence — we don’t fully grasp how powerful Regent has become until he straight-up rips one of Hulk’s arms out of its socket.
All of those 20-year-old trappings notwithstanding, I do think this is an interesting thematic area to explore with Peter. This is a character that’s never figured out work-life balance, and it’s always been to the detriment of his own happiness. Spencer, you asked me if I had a better handle on how I feel about Peter giving up Spider-Man, and I’m not sure that do. Actually, let’s clarify: I do know that I’m conflicted — like any Spider-Man fan, I want to see Peter happy, but I have to weigh that against my desire to see ol’ Web Head thwipping through the streets of Manhattan.
Ultimately, we know that Peter will have to re-embrace his superhero identity, and I think this issue does a pretty good job of forecasting this. Consider for a second how Peter comes to his decision in this issue. He’s not making decisions based on events that transpire in his civilian life, but those that transpire in his costumed life. “Spider-Man” has more sway over his decisions than “Peter Parker.” I mean, there’s a moment in this issue where Peter is offered the opportunity to continue to have his cake and eat it too when the Avengers extend the offer to protect his family. Both the suggestion and the means of carrying out such protections are offered by his superhero friends — that’s Peter’s network and that’s where Peter’s value lies. I know he’s happy teaching his daughter to look both ways before she crosses the street, but it’s always been Spider-Man that drives his decisions.
Still, now that we’ve calmed down into a story that’s not so murder-happy, I’m looking forward to seeing the cuteness of this family dynamic played out a little. We only get glimpses of it here (‘pidey!), but I’ve love a reason to be invested in Peter’s homelife before it is inevitably snatched away. I keep thinking about how ominous the title of this series really is: “Renew Your Vows.” Obviously, we’re supposed to think of Peter and MJ’s wedding vows, but that’s not the only vow Spider-Man makes, right?
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?