Last month’s issue of Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows presented a solid look at the life of a married Peter Parker. This month writer Gerry Conway and artist Ryan Stegman backtrack slightly from #1’s cliffhanger ending to take us through a day in the life of Mary Jane. The result is an Amazing Spider-Man book that features very little Spider-Man (something that has been happening a lot lately), but still feels and reads like a Spider-Man comic book.
The issue opens with a scene similar to the first issue’s Scorpion opener. Instead of juggling a grocery list while knockin’ heads, #2 opens with MJ making a mental list of party invitees while simultaneously swinging her daughter to school and scolding Annie for poor time management. Much like the breakfast table scene, MJ lecturing Annie about finishing a project before she goes to bed grounds the more fantastic elements of this family and adds to the everyman quality that is indicative of all great Spider-Man comics. However, since this same exactly style of opening was used for the first issue, this issue’s opener felt a little on the stale side, but it does set up a motif that connects Peter and MJ on a more cerebral level rather than just accepting the two as married and being done with it – as the old adage goes, a writer must show, not tell.
What should not be discounted, however, is that this is one of the most in-depth looks we’ve had at Mary Jane in hundreds of issues. For readers who jumped on after One More Day, this might be the first real exploration of the character outside of the Sam Raimi films and the two or three times she’s popped up to any real effect post-OMD. Because it has been so long, I think Conway was right to take a step back from #1’s ending to give MJ a little room to breath and for readers to become (re)acquainted.
Perhaps the biggest thing to note about MJ from this issue is her penchant for multitasking. Mother, business owner, wife, blogger, and superhero, Mary Jane has a lot on her plate and is seen fraying at the edges more than once – setting up her tendency to shoulder burdens and take on projects to her own detriment is the same kind of tragic flaw as Peter’s responsibility-turned-over-protectiveness. This multitasking – always over-extending – might even be bleeding into her superheroism, as Peter mentions that MJ might be borrowing more of his strength through Regent’s reclaimed tech than she realizes. This sense of duty adds a depth to Mary Jane that has never been explored extensively and should prove a fertile area for plot and development.
Going back to the issue at large, the backtracking, while it is used to MJ’s character as a lead rather than a support, creates a disjointed story. The pace and flow set by last issue is thrown for a loop while we take a narrative detour away from dinosaurs and kidnappings to deal with the mundane world of clerical errors and child rearing. That’s not to say that the issue was unenjoyable on its own, but I can’t help but think this might have worked out more smoothly had #1 been a giant-sized issue that spun MJ and Peter’s narrative together, rather than one serving as the sequential next to the other. Roughly a third of the page count is spent moving the narrative further, with the remainder spent not building suspense, but filling in character beats. It’s too soon in the title’s life to call it slow-moving, but looking on Conway’s recent past work (Amazing Spider-Man: Spiral and Carnage), his tendency to bog stories down in heavy character study can sometimes get in the way of the dynamic and snappy stories that keep readers coming back month to month rather than waiting for the trade.
Perhaps the largest surprise from this issue comes from the continuation of the Osborn thread from last issue. I surmised last month that the identity of Osborn shown was Harry, but here we discover that the new CEO and Chairman of Oscorp is none other than a diminutive Normie Osborn, going by the more dignified (and foreboding) Norman Osborn the Second. Ignoring the implications of a child running a massive corporation like Oscorp, Normie’s position as head honcho seems to imply that previously next-in-line Harry Osborn has either been excommunicated from the family or perished in some way. We also learned from MJ that Aunt May has joined the ranks of Uncle Ben and Gwen Stacy – people Peter failed to protect. We’ll notice that Harry is not on that list, so it leads me to believe that he is alive but perhaps removed from the family like he is currently in Dan Slott’s Amazing Spider-Man.
Ryan Stegman’s art and paneling continues the high caliber work seen in the previous issue. Mole Man is particularly hideous in the most delightful way and the big action sequences are larger than life. Curiously, while his adult characters are firmly entrenched in a more Western style, his child characters – Annie and Normie – appear to be more anime-influenced in their facial structure, sporting large expressive eyes, thin, stylized lips and rounded faces. I’m not bringing this up as a negative point, but it is a little jarring to see how different his child characters look from his adult characters. Annie still looks like she’s a few years older than 8 (her age according to a tweet from Conway), but with radioactive spider-blood coursing through her veins, it’s pretty easy to no-prize that as a premature growth spurt or some other anomaly. We haven’t seen Annie perform any feats of strength, but if she has the agility and wall crawling, she surely has the proportional strength of a spider.
Ultimately your enjoyment of this comic will come down to whether or not you value character over story. Readers who want a lightning fast story might be annoyed by the pitstop we take to look at MJ’s life, while readers who are more interested in getting into a character’s headspace will appreciate the time Conway spent doing just that with a character we haven’t seen in detail in years. The more I think about this issue, the more I really see it as the second part of the first issue, rather than the second issue of the series – much like MJ and Peter, these two issues are married. While they are perfectly fine to stand alone, when looked at as one unit, they weave a more complete narrative.
Conway takes a step back to examine a married Mary Jane much like last issue caught readers up to a married Peter Parker. Fans of classic, character driven Spider-Man stories will be more than pleased, while those itching to see what happens next might be a little disappointed.