Renew Your Vows #5
By Dan Slott, Adam Kubert, Scott Hanna, and Justin Ponsor
In the modern era of Spider-Man comics no event looms more largely over the character’s history than One More Day. It was a 2007 story written by intermittently worthwhile storyteller J. Michael Straczynski and then-Marvel-Editor-in-Chief, Joe Quesada. The story followed up on the events of Marvel’s other large looming event of the mid-2000’s, Civil War, in which Spider-Man publicly revealed his identity to the world. As a result, Aunt May had been shot and left in critical condition. Desperate to save her, Spider-Man made a deal with Mephisto to save Aunt May’s life in exchange for giving up his marriage to Mary Jane. Even though Spider-Man’s marriage was never a fan favorite aspect of his character, having Peter break so violently with his established identity to make a deal with Satan engendered naught but the most vile and rancorous of fan outrage. Now, 8 years later, superstar Spider-Man author Dan Slott has taken it upon himself to undo the damage of One More Day with the Secret Wars tie-in comic Renew Your Vows. And it’s a real shame he did that because framing Renew Your Vows as an overt response to One More Day has pretty much ruined the comic.
The plot of Renew Your Vows is strangely dark and oppressive; especially given that Slott’s previous works have usually been pretty balanced. In an alternate reality a new villain named Regent showed up one day apropos of nothing and killed the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, and the X-Men leaving only a handful of non-powered and G-list heroes left as the underground. The only surviving A-list hero is Peter Parker who gave up his identity as Spider-Man when he brutally murdered Venom in order to protect his family. This story is set some time in the future into Regent’s reign where Peter, MJ, and their super-powered daughter Anne are trying to live normal lives under the radar when they get swept up into the resistance against Regent.
This is part of how the Renew Your Vows’ framing as a rebuttal of One More Day hurts it and make no mistake that’s exactly the metric by which Renew Your Vows wants to be judged. Everything about the story of the comic to the very name imply this is a return to form, a narrative proof of the importance of Peter’s familial relationship. Even putting that aside Renew Your Vows is just awkward and mean, especially because it doesn’t seem to realize how uncomfortable it actually is. The opening issue features Spider-Man murdering someone to protect his family, but the story still has the gall to frame Peter’s responsibility to his family as a good thing. It’s almost like the comic is mocking its audience and their desire to see Peter and M.J. reunite, as if to say “sure he can have a family, he won’t be Spider-MAn or even a hero, but he’s back together again.” They don’t even really take advantage of the actually interesting idea of Spider-Man being a crutch for Peter’s lack of accomplishment. A main thread of Slott’s other work has been Peter struggling to make accomplishments as Peter Parker and not just as Spider-Man; to remember that his greatest powers are his intelligence and skills he’s learned as Peter not simply spider-powers. However, in Renew Your Vows basically all those skills go out the window, as Peter’s life remains stagnant. He’s not even doing science work somewhere, he’s still just taking pictures for the Daily Bugle. It all adds up this weird, horrible vision of Peter Parker, husband and father, as someone without accomplishment or initiative, which is shockingly cruel given how light the tone of the comic is.
And that’s not even getting into the slurry of technical failures that plague the comic. Regent’s world is starkly boring with very little development even though what we do see makes it seem genuinely compelling and worth exploring further. Regent himself makes no sense whatsoever, in fact he makes even less sense if you try to fit Renew Your Vows into the setting of Secret Wars like this final issue does. Despite being part of Battleworld no one in this world has ever heard of Doom except for Regent who killed all the heroes to absorb their powers so he could defeat Doom. Even though this reality literally didn’t exist till Doom willed it into existence and Doom is worshipped as a God and they exist on a patchwork continent where Gods of Thunder enforce Doom’s law, somehow no one has ever heard of him here. It’s so clear this story was never meant to be slotted into the Secret Wars line but got shuffled in at the last-minute, to say nothing of what a disappointing motivation that is for the central antagonist of this story. Even in defeat, Regent makes no sense. He’s defeated by the end of the issue and Spider-MAn and family get a ‘happily ever after’ moment even though the world should be thrown into chaos now that its primary ruler has been kidnapped by militant terrorists. The whole story only works if you pretend the world of this narrative only exists in the brief period during which we see it.
It’s genuinely perplexing why Renew Your Vows was made given everyone working on it was so clearly on creative autopilot. Even at 900 words this review only scratches the surface of the comic’s problems like the incredibly insincere and rushed ending, the lazy artwork that often lacks backgrounds, the sloppy and aimless pacing, or the sketchy optics of a story that ends with a white upper middle class hero beating up a successful black man for trying to save the world from Dr. Doom. Not to mention, all the laziness of execution seems to have blinded the creators to what a cruel and mean-spirited little story this is. While it’s hard to tell whether the cruelty of the story was intentional or just an unfortunate accident, what is clear is they didn’t care, nobody cared and it shows.