Of all the alternate universe stories occurring in Battleworld, Dan Slott and Adam Kubert’s Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows had the most successful and celebrated debut. Fans eagerly awaited the return of Mary Jane as Peter’s wife and were curious how their marriage would be further complicated by the addition of Annie Parker, their super-powered daughter. Early issues delivered on this concept and established a world run by the dictatorial Regent, setting Peter Parker and his overwhelming sense of responsibility up against a real moral conundrum: Just who does Peter have responsibility to, the people of New York City or his family?
Renew Your Vows #4 split up the Parker family, removing the dynamic that made the early issues sing, and suffered quite a bit for it. In its place was a silly and stylized action sequence featuring combat novice Annie trumping the Sinister Six. The issue’s tone broke away from the harsh realism and heavy stakes the series had established all while laying into some pretty heavy dialogue driven exposition. As a penultimate issue it didn’t quite work but many suspected this low-key issue was designed so that Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #5 could hit the ground running and deliver an ending befitting reader’s desires.
Unfortunately, Renew Your Vows #5 is a bit of a mixed bag, retaining a number of quirks of the previous issue and unsatisfying narrative choices that writer Dan Slott has relied on in previous stories. Additionally, the book has a number of printing errors, including an unforgivable ad placement that divides a double page spread and confuses what should have been a powerful character moment.
There are a number of praiseworthy things about Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #5, specifically the artwork of Adam Kubert and Scott Hanna. While this book’s interiors and cover don’t quite reach the heights of the beautiful Renew Your Vows #2, they are certainly a step above the previous issue. Kubert and Hanna’s pencils become mostly indistinguishable in this book, which makes for a much more consistent read. The book’s visual flow makes this book easy to read and uncomplicated, with inset panels used sparingly to punch up the action. Where the visuals excel are during any of the number of stunning full-page and half-page spreads the artists use to punctuate action. The moment where Peter knocks Regent out the window of his high-rise lair is a wonderful callback to the “Owl/Octopus Wars” in Spectacular Spider-Man #78.
Dan Slott’s script concludes the story with all the subplots wrapped up, all while teasing audiences that there will likely be more stories with these characters (especially if you consider just how well this miniseries has been selling). The narrative thrust of this story and many of Slott’s little twists on convention, particularly Peter’s escape sequence that calls back to the classic Amazing Spider-Man #33, will satisfy readers. Where Slott’s script fails is in giving this story as rich of a thematic resonance as he did with the beginning of his tale. Instead, Renew Your Vows #5 devolves into a typical big-boss, punch ‘em up that readers are likely to have seen in dozens if not hundreds of other superhero comics. That in itself isn’t damning, there are certain joys to watching our favorite characters punch some big baddie in the face repeatedly, but it’s a bit of a letdown considering the challenging moral quandaries that Slott had Peter facing in the beginning of the story.
The most disappointing part of Renew Your Vows #5 is that at the end of this story I realized that I left knowing very little more about this version of Peter and his family than I did going in. In Renew Your Vows #1, Peter made the tough decision to save his family by abandoning the Avengers in their time of need. In this issue Mary Jane asks Peter if he would be willing to kill if his daughter was in “real danger” (even though she was in real danger here) and the answer is left vague and up to the reader’s interpretation. It’s fine to leave something for the reader to interpret, but in this case Peter’s answer is the only insight we readers have into whether or not Peter has changed after the ordeals of this story and is vitally important to the character arc this story set out to tell.
This interesting question, which formed the heart of Renew Your Vows, is also sandwiched between two light-hearted moments featuring a rather corny Dad joke, which gets a far bigger reaction than it deserves (perhaps Regent’s Achilles Heel is that he is too easy to humor), and a declaration that all one needs after a death-defying battle is breakfast. Both moments could genuinely work in a low-stakes book like Dan Slott’s Spider-Man/Human Torch, but with the consequences this high and the moral gray areas this dubious, its strange to see such childish humor appear, especially when it is the key to defeating this story’s villain. Add in a magic arrowhead and other ambiguously defined pieces of tech and all the little details begin to dissolve into deus ex machina mumbo jumbo.
Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows wasn’t the perfect Spider-Man story or the return of Mary Jane that I dreamed of (I’m sure few books would have fit that bill), but it was an entertaining “What If?” story with beautiful art, a compelling narrative, and a version of Peter Parker that I’ve never seen before. For that, I found it to be a worthwhile distraction from the Amazing Spider-Man narrative and the most successful Spider-title occurring during “Secret Wars,” warts and all.
EDIT: Upon a fourth reread I realized that I had misread one of the biggest moments in the book and falsely suggested that Dan Slott had left Peter’s decisions about killing ambiguous. This is not true, as Peter decides to allow Regent to live in the end to set up a positive model for his daughter. As a reader I’m not sure that I totally buy Peter’s change in attitude, as the only new information that he has to make that change is watching the dissection of D-Man, which hardly seems enough to avert him from a hardline decision he’s been upholding for six years. It’s one thing for Peter to espouse his new philosophy on protecting his family and its another thing entirely for him to earn it. I’d rather he earn it.
Still, its a fitting moral conclusion to the story and manages to tie up the thematic ideas of the issue, even if I don’t feel they were completely earned. I have adjusted the score summary to reflect my updated feelings about the issue and apologize for the mistake.
Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #5 proves this story to be the best of the Spider-titles during "Secret Wars" by offering a narrative with compelling themes, real stakes, and beautiful art, even if this ending is tonally inconsistent and unearned.