Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Amazing Appeal of Family Fun: Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #4

The following is my review of Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #4, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


Some unwritten rules are made to be broken. Some rules don't deserve to be written or unwritten in the first place. For whatever reason, there's this prevailing sentiment in superhero comics that heroes can't be heroes and have loving families. Maybe it's because of the extended absence of the Fantastic Four, as well as the abysmal failure of their movies, that this mindset took over. Whatever the reason, it still isn't a good reason because heroes being heroes with their families has a real appeal.

Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows embodies that appeal in a form every bit as pure as the Fantastic Four, minus the flying cars and silver surfboards. After spinning out of Secret Wars, this series builds a story around a version of Peter Parker that's actually easy to root for. He's a husband, a father, and an all-around likable guy. That means he's not someone who ever has to justify making a deal with Mephisto.

This Peter Parker stands in stark contrast to current constructs of male superheroes. He doesn't always have to be the underdog. He doesn't always have to be looking for a new love interest or trying to protect another. His family doesn't have to be an obstacle. In fact, they can be vital assets. That's the spirit of the story Gerry Conway and Ryan Stegman forge in Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #4. Superheroes can not only have families. Those families can be fun, compelling, and dramatic. No deals with Mephisto are required.

This issue caps off the first major battle that the Parker family encounters as a family of spider-themed vigilantes. It acts as the polish on a narrative that begins as an uncut gem, still needing to prove that the Fantastic Four aren't the only ones who can make this work. When all is said and done, the Fantastic Four may need to worry because there's a new superhero family in town and they have an adorable redheaded girl on their side. Even flying cars and silver surfboards can't compete with that.

Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #4 caps off the prologue, of sorts, to Spider-Man becoming a family affair. It's not enough that Peter Parker's wife and daughter wield superpowers now. While the Secret Wars tie-in did show that they can stop a powerful threat like Regent, it doesn't sell Peter on the idea that his wife and daughter should share his responsibilities. He can barely handle the responsibility of having J. Jonah Jameson as a boss. It makes perfect sense that he would worry about his family sharing those burdens.


Conway makes it a point to highlight Peter's reservations about the concept. Just because the Fantastic Four can make it work doesn't mean the Parker family can do the same. Plus, the Fantastic Four have their own building, steady jobs, and robot assistants. The Parker family has an apartment, credit card bills, and no flying car. They have a lot of factors working against them, but it's in those kinds of situations when Peter Parker, Spider-Man, and his family are at their best.

The situation isn't quite as dire as it was against Regent. The main villain in this family conflict is Mole Man and on most days, he's not even as menacing as J. Jonah Jameson. A simple fight between Spider-Man and Mole Man has limited appeal. Throw a super-powered Mary Jane Watson and a mischievous Annie Parker into the mix and the appeal shoots up to Galactus-level proportions.

This is where Stegman's art really shines, creating colorful, action-packed scenes that never lose the light family tone that brings new energy to the world of Spider-Man. This isn't just Spider-Man whining about being late for work or cracking jokes about Mole Man's body odor. It's Spider-Man and his family working together, outwitting Mole Man as a team, and making it feel fun and entertaining every step of the way.

That's not to say it lacks maturity. There are some more powerful moments that help Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #4 feel like a serious Spider-Man comic and not some diet version reserved for Saturday morning cartoons. The defining moment of the issue, and the first major conflict of the series, is the debate Peter has with Mary Jane on who gets to be a hero in this family. The fact it takes place in the middle of Mole Man's lair only adds more weight to the moment.

It's a very relevant issue, turning Spider-Man from a solo act to a family affair. Peter's reluctance is understandable. People tend to get hurt when they try to get involved with his superhero life. Gwen Stacy is the greatest example of this. However, Mary Jane Watson is not Gwen Stacy and Annie Parker is too young to worry about falling off bridges.


In many respects, it's an issue where there's no one responsible recourse. If Spider-Man is a solo act, then his family is still vulnerable because it means he has to protect them and be a hero. If Spider-Man works with his family, then his family does face more danger. However, they can confront that danger together and one person doesn't have to bear the full burden. It's a tough decision for Peter and Mary Jane to make as parents and lovers, but in the end it's a decision that eventually makes itself.

More specifically, Annie is the one who makes the decision obvious. She really steals the show in this first major battle as a Spider-Family and it's not just because she's amazingly adorable. Like many kids, she sees adults arguing and finds it to be hopelessly pointless. Instead of thinking and worrying, she just acts and she helps her family win the day. There aren't many ways to make parents more proud that don't involve college scholarships.

The way things play out in Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #4 make clear that Spider-Man can work as a family. They still argue, worry, and frustrate each other along the way, but that's what family does. That's what makes a family stronger. More importantly, that's what makes a superhero family amazing.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

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