Monday, July 06, 2015

"In a perfect world, this was how it was always meant to be": Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #1

While many of Marvel's Secret Wars tie-ins have taken their titles and parts of their plots from past stories set in different realities or alternate futures and timelines, Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows is one of the few that is based on a previous status quo. And, it's worth mentioning, a pretty popular status quo that many fans were unhappy that Marvel changed on what amounted to an editorial whim.

Without getting too deep into the death of the Spider-Marriage, here's the short-ish version. Previous Marvel Editor-In-Chief Joe Quesada didn't like the fact that Spider-Man Peter Parker was happily married to Mary Jane Watson, as he felt it unnecessarily aged the character, but un-marrying him didn't really solve the problem, as making Peter Parker a widower or a divorcee wouldn't exactly make him younger. This was one of three "genies" in the Marvel Universe that Quesada wanted to find a way to re-bottle.

He found a way, but it was a terrible, terrible way: A soft reboot that only affected Spider-Man continuity. When perpetually dying old lady Aunt May was on her deathbed yet again, Mephisto–i.e. Satan himself, essentially–appeared to Peter Parker and told him he would restore his beloved aunt to health in exchange for his soul. No, not his soul! Don't be silly! Why would you think the devil would want to render services to someone willing to sell their soul to him? No, Mephisto wanted Spider-Man's marriage. As in, he wanted to manipulate the time-stream to make it so that Peter and Mary Jane were never married.

This was really cool of the devil, and worked out pretty great for all involved. Because while he claimed that he wanted Spider-Man's marriage because it represented Spider-Man's happiness, the devil was also going to strip away all memory of the marriage from Peter Parker, so he won't have any reason to be sad about losing the marriage. What a nice guy, that devil is!

Now, this was problematic for a lot of reasons, the fact that Spider-Man did a deal with the devil to supernaturally extend the life of his elderly aunt being just one of them. (Why would the devil do that, anyway? Why would the devil want that? Would Spider-Man really want that? Would Aunt May have wanted Peter to make that decision? Isn't death a natural part of life? Is Spider-Man going to put together the Infinity Gauntlet and challenge the entire Marvel Universe the next time Aunt May gets cancer? Why does having an unmarried 30-something Peter Parker matter, anyway–issn't that why Marvel created the Ultimate line?).

In addition to undoing the marriage, the devil basically just did a random reboot of Spider-Man continuity, rebuilding Aunt May's house, seemingly brining Peter Parker's dead best friend back to life, that sort of thing–it was bad enough a story that J. Michael Straczynski (who has, remember, wrote some real stinkers in his career), argued with Quesada about the scripting of the One More Day miniseries in which this nonsense occurred, ultimately asking to have his name removed from the issues and publicly disavowing it as it was being released).

I guess people got over it pretty quickly, though. I quit reading Amazing Spider-Man at that point, but I would have quit not long after, when they jacked the price up. Marvel started publishing ASM about three times a month, and they hired a slew of great writers and artists to work on it. One of them was Dan Slott, pretty much the idea Spider-Man writer, and that guy is still writing Spider-Man. Hell, he's writing this very comic.

I'm not a fan of reboots, myself, and I hate these sort of soft reboots the most, as they don't work well in a shared universe; they essentially punish fans for knowing too much about the setting and history. DC's increasingly frequent re-settings of their continuity are annoying too, but at least those have been across the board, and generally done in-story in a way that makes a modicum of sense. The devil didn't cosmically annul Superman's marriage at any point; rather time itself was disrupted so badly by The Flash and Reverse Flash's attempts to alter it in Flashpoint (and Pandora's still un-explained attempt to strengthen the universe by blending it with two different alternate realities) that it completely changed all of history, not just a marriage (DC has done its share of dumb soft reboots too, including a John Byrne-lead one of The Doom Patrol and a Jeph Loeb/Michael Turner-lead one of Supergirl, but both were made irrelevant quickly by people either not reading/caring or later, universe-wide reboots.

Anyway, let's read Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #1, the first issue in a comic book set in an alternate reality where Joe Quesada never managed to convince anyone to reboot the Spider-Man franchise, an alternate reality that is now part of "Battleworld: A massive, patchwork planet composed of the fragments of worlds that no longer exist, maintained by the iron will of its god and master, Victor Von Doom!"

THE COVER
There's a lot of verbal information on this cover, but if you take a quick glance around it, you'll note how important Marvel apparently thinks the Spider-Man and marriage parts are compared to the Secret Wars-iness of it.

The ASM logo is at the top, the same size as it usually would be, long with the sub-ttile and an oversized "#1." The Secret Wars logo, in contrast, is tiny, about the size of the creator credits or the tag letting us know that this is a Marvle comic book and that we get a "bonus" digital edition because we are over-paying for this $3.99, 21-page comic.

The image is by Adam Kubert, as the large pink "Adam Kubert" signature next to it makes clear. It features an unmasked Spider-Man standing next to Mary Jane, a little girl that looks more like MJ than Peter sitting on his shoulders. Is this the long-lost Parker baby, grown up? Yes, yes it is.

Behind them is an oddly elongated version of the Spider-Heart that appeared on the wedding issue. I'm not sure why Kubert would have drawn it in that particular shape, as drawing it out like that obscures it so much behind the logo. I have to assume it was simply because there was some miscommunication between artist and publisher regarding the final lay-out of the cover, or because Kubert screwed it up but didn't want to or have time to go back and change it.

I like Adam Kubert's art okay, but like his brother, he's not really the sort who handles deadline pressure well. Or at all.

TITLE PAGE

The spiel about Secret Wars is repeated here: "The Multiverse Was Destroyed! The Heroes of Earth-616 and Earth-1610 were powerless to save it!" and so on. The page ends with a big "The Amazing Spider-Man" logo (sans the "Renew Your Vows" subtitle), and some of the credits, starting with the letterer and ending with the executive producer.

PAGES 1-3

The first page opens with a narration box designated by a Spider-symbol as Peter Parker's: IN a perfect world, this was how it was always meant to be." Oh, snap!

Behind it are framed photos hanging on the wall, including one of the Parkers on their wedding day and another in the hospital, MJ and Peter posing with what looks like a tiny Wilson Fisk swaddled in a pink blanket.

"Renew Your Vows Part 1: Why We Can't Have Nice Things" fills the over-sized gutter between the page's two panels, along with the missing credits from the first page: Writer Dan Slott, pencil artist Adam Kubert, inker John Dell and colorist Justin Ponsor.

At a cramped table in a cramped-looking kitchen, a shirtless Peter Parker tinkers with his web-shooters, while MJ feeds their poorly drawn daughter, whose age seems to change from panel to panel. Kubert may draw great superheroes, but toddlers are not his strong suit.

It appears to be sometime in the late 1980s, maybe early '90s. The Parkers trade jokes a bit, and Peter mentions that he seems to be picking up the slack of other New York City costumed vigilantes, as it seems he's been fighting his villains and there's lately.

PAGE 4

Peter rushes into the Daily Bugle office to sell some photos, where he learns that some superheroes have been showing up dead ("Punisher, Moon Knight, a boy going by the name Night Thrasher") and others with powers have gone missing ("Daredevil, Iron Fist").

Is it weird that any time a creative team gets the opportunity to do an alternate reality story of any kind, they almost always resort to killing everyone off? I mean, it makes some degree of sense, given the fact that killing everyone off is something they can't normally do, so maybe they just have some pent-up bloodlust for superheroes they need to release somewhere, but you never read an alternate reality story where some of the good guys just retire or something...

SPECIAL PULL-OUT ADS SECTION

This being a modern Marvel comic book, there have already been two ads, but here we get the first pull-out section of house ads. There are four ads for four different Secret Wars tie-in comics, all printed on a glossy, heavier paper stock, and which a reader can unfold as if they were going to be a poster or something cool.

Nope, just ads. One for Secret Wars #5, one for Spider-Island #1, one for Age of Apocalypse #1 and one for Hail HYDRA #1.

PAGES 5-7

Spidey makes all haste to Avengers mansion, where Jarvis lets him in and lets him know they've been expecting him–"and anoyne else left standing."

Inside, he finds "The Avengers, New Warriors, Hulk and Namor." We can tell this is an alternate timeline because Captain America has a star on his forehead and an A on his chest. Totally different. Also, I think The Vision is wearing an all-white costume with just a yellow diamond shape on his chest, and thus look 98% less stupid than usual.
Cap is in the middle of a debrief, explaining that many superheroes have gone missing lately, including all of the X-Men. Iron Man and Spider-Man gossip in the corner, ignoring Captain America, while Shellhead offers to move Spidey and his family into the Mansion for safety's sake. Peter calls home on a very, very large phone to ask MJ about this, while in the background Cap reveals their best lead, the CEO of a company researching "super-human abilities and bio-technologies" with the perfectly villainous-sounding name of Augusts Roman Then Hawkeye reports in from the field, noting that there's a full-scale prison break at Ryker's and that "Everyone's broken out!"

Cap's just all like whatever.

"Sorry Clint," he says. "But I'm calling it. Roman's an omega-level threat. We need all hands!"

MJ told Spidey to hold on, as someone was at the door, and then she didn't answer again. Could the two things have something to do with one another?

Yes!

PAGE 8

Master tactician Captain America is in the process of loading every single superhero left into a single Quinjet with which to launch an assault on Roman, when Spidey bugs out of there, jumping through his own apartment window with a KSHHHH.

"Well, look at this..." says someone off-panel in a white on black dialogue balloon that either represents a slightly drunk Morpheus or...

PAGE 9
...Venom! He's sitting comfortably on Peter's busted love seat, holding the baby in one hand (and one tentacle, his other arm (and several tentacles) around MJ.

Now I believe this is a reference to an earlier story in which something, for lack of a better term, rapey either happened, or at least was strongly implied as having happened. (I actually tried reading that part of Todd McFarlane run in a library-borrowed trade in the very early '00s, and I just couldn't do it; like the Chris Claremont/Jim Lee X-Men, they were just too bad for me to force myself to read them; spending a few minutes online researching, the official line is apparently that Venom "terrorized" Mary Jane. Those of you who lived through Todd McFarlane's Spider-Man run can feel free to set the record straight in the comments section.)

Scanning the full-page splash for clues, there's no real strong implication of that here. MJ's no more naked than she was previously, the rips in her jeans all in the same places they were during the dinner scene. Aside from Venom's long, dripping tongue curling in her direction, there's nothing terribly suggestive going on here.

I do like the fact taht Kubert drew a stuffed Hulk doll with its arms ripped off. Venom clearly smashed the door in, tore up a pillow and part of the couch and ripped the arms off of Annie's toy.

What a jerk!

PAGE 10

Venom starts talking to Spidey, but he doesn't listen, punching him so hard in the face that he breaks bones in his hand while Venom's in mid-sentence. Why Venom didn't bite his own tongue off, I don't know. Just like I don't know why Venom's voice is so clear, despite talking with his tongue out of his mouth all the time. Shouldn't he sound more like Daffy Duck...?

Peter tells MJ to get the baby out of there, while he punches the hell out of Venom.

PAGES 11-12

MJ runs out to the street, and see the Avengers fly over head, attempting to hail them, but they're busy, flying straight at Roman's headquarters, Empire Unlimited. He has been expecting them, as he has "telepathy, like Professor X," and introduces himself. He's a big, robotic-looking Darkseid type, with his company logo as a chest emblem, pink energy emanating from his flying form.

"From this day on, call me REGENT," says Augustus Roman, CEO of Empire Unlimited. See, he did indeed capture all the missing superheroes, and he's managed to extract their powers and put them into his own body, and now he's ready to fuck up The Avengers.

PAGES 13-14

MJ thinks about Venom's powers and weaknesses out loud, and then she jumps on to the back of a speeding fires engine, hanging on with one hand while holding her baby in teh other.

Venom jumps out the window, in pursuit, followed by Spidey.

Spider-Man looks briefly in the direction of the glowing pink explosions around the Empire Unlimited skyscraper, but heads off to save his family.

"The Avengers..." he rationalizes "...will be just fine."

Will they?

Regent is boasting, telling Cap that this is "literally a show of force" and that he can evade and counter anything they can throw at them. And then The Hulk jumps at him.

PAGE 15
I'm not 100% sure what happens here. The art's a bit murky. Regent grabs Hulk's arm, shoots Cyclops' energy beam and then BAMFs away, clutching The Hulk's severed arm.

It's unclear if he cut it off with eyebeam and then teleported away with the severed arm, or if he severed it via teleportation.

Either way, I don't think Hulk's, Cyclops' or Nightcrawler's powers should work like that, but whatever, this isn't a Hulk or X-Men comic, it's a Spider-Man one.

...

...Oh! Hey! Remember a few pages ago, when Kubert drew a stuffed Hulk doll with its arms torn off? Maybe that wasn't a little clue that Vemon was a big mean bully and jerk; maybe it was foreshadowing this very moment.

PAGE 16

The firemen notice MJ on teh back of their truck with a baby as they pull up to a burning building. They start to give her grief, but are soon distracted by the giant black tongue monster rushing them. MJ lifts a line from what has to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 different comic books and movies (Venom: There's nowhere left to go! And notheing left to do... ...except scream!" MJ: Yeah? You first.")

MORE PULL-OUT ADS

A turn of the page brings us a half-page ad for Secret Wars: Civil War and a half of a page explaining how to redeem your code for a free digital copy of the paper comic you over-paid for. Next to it is a second pull-out section of house ads, including one for the third issue of this series, showing Spider-Man in his black costume and the tag "The Most COntroversial Spider-Man Story of The Year Continues!", plus ads for Old Man Logan #3, The Infinity Gauntlet #3 and Star Wars: Lando #1, which is not a Secret Wars tie-in, but man, if they were collapsing the whole Multiverse into Battleworld, there really should be a Star Wars tie-in. Maybe ones featuring the characters from Castle, Once Upon a Tim, those Oz comics and the Jane Austen adaptations as well.

PAGES 17-20

The sirens do indeed cause Venom to scream–"AAARGHHH!"–as sound is one of his weaknesses. Then Spider-Man arrives and starts wailing on Venom, each blow pushing him back further and further until they're within the burning building.

MJ asks a fireman if there's anyone left in the building aside from the two spider-themed super-people, and when she learns that it is, MJ shouts that the building is empty, "You're the only ones in there! Do you understand?!"

He does. God help him, he does. He pulls down a support column and brings the whole burning building down on top of them. OMG! Spider-Man just killed one of his villains!
As you can see, Spider-Man emerges from the burning rubble, but Venom? Not so much. He is apparently dead. Or maybe just "dead." I guess we'll find out.


PAGE 21

It's sometime later, and Peter Parker is helping his now much older-looking daughter–she has long red hair as she does on the cover–cross the street. Off-panel, someone shouts, "Help! My purse! That man's flying away with my purse!" And, behind an oblivious Peter Parker, we see The Vulture successfully flying away with a purse.

"It's not a perfect world," Peter narrates over the last panel, where billboards and bus signs indicate that REgent has taken over the city/Battleworld domain, "But, I look after me and mine. And that's...good enough."

This makes for a nice, parallel to Spider-Man's origin story. You'll recall that he decided to use his super-powers to fight for good after choosing not to help stop a criminal, a criminal who then went on to murder his beloved uncle shortly afterwards. In the course of this story, he finds that by using his super-powers to fight for good, he was actively endangering his family members, and must now make the opposite choice–to selfishly not fight crime to keep his family members alive.

This story, then, shows the Spider-Man story coming full-circle. Now, we already know Spidey probably isn't going to not be Spider-Man for too long–that ad for ASM: RYV #3 in this very issue appeared to show Spider-Man in a Spider-Man costume, Spider-Manning, but it's interesting to see Slott doing something interesting with the opportunity to do an out-of-continuity Spider-Man story.

I made much of the first line of the book, the bit about in a perfect world, Spider-Man and Mary Jane would have been married, but I suppose that could be read as an ironic statement, rather than Slott meta-endorsing the previous, pre-devil deal continuity. After all, how "perfect" is this world...? Every superhero except Spider-Man is apparently dead, Spider-Man is retired, a super-villain rules the city/world/Battleworld domain and animal-themed super-villains are free to snatch purses with impunity (Although, there are flying cars and hover buses in Regent's New York City, so it's not all bad).

I've only read four Secret Wars tie-in books yet–I haven't written about the fourth one, X-Men '92 yet–but this was certainly the best of those four.

3 comments:

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

I've only read a few tie-ins myself, but I took away the idea that the missing heroes involved them being part of other SW tie-ins. Still trying to figure out why there are multiple Spider-Mans.

Brian said...

Wayne, I'm still a few months behind (reading the books via the Unlimited app), but my understanding, from the lead-up to Secret Wars and discussion online since is...

[SPOILERS, albeit probably a bit wonky, for the mechanics of Secret Wars – someone "up to date" might correct me]

...Battleworld is a combination of large parts of the twenty-two Earths remaining in the multiverse at the time that Doom got to work on his project of (to quote Valeria Richards) "not losing" amidst all the destruction of the Incursions that the heroes of the Illuminati had been fighting a defensive war against. Because of the nature of the multiverse, there's both 'missing' people and duplications of people among those who Doom and his allies (Molecule Man and the Mad Thinker) were able to save when constructing Battleworld. Since the tie-ins are localized to regions and the regions are the patchworks of the old Earths, that's why you see the duplications of characters (although the specifics of characters just happen to match the stories that writers of tie-ins have chosen to use – I'm among those who wish that there was a more unifying mechanic behind which "version" of characters survived, since some are so heavily duplicated across regions/minis).

Robert Jazo said...

Venom terrorizing Mary Jane happened between issues 299 and 300 of Amazing Spider-Man. To me it did come off as a little 'rapey' to me at the time, mostly because it happen off panel and because of how traumatized Mary Jane was afterwards. I don't know if that was truly the intent though because the real reason for it was so that Mary Jane could no longer stand to see Peter wearing the black costume (which he was wearing exclusively at the time) thus giving an in universe reason for him switch back to the classic red and blue suit.

As for the obsession with keep Spider-Man young, I remember an interview once where some Marvel exec lamented that they had the greatest teen superhero of them all and they 'threw it away'. I understand that sentiment, but that ship has already sailed. After all, Peter had already graduated high school and went to college before Steve Ditko left the book! No amount of unmarrying is going to return Peter to high school or even college.

Honestly, there seems to be a lot of nostalgia for an era of Spider-Man that never actually happen! Basically, Peter back in high school but with the classic college supporting cast (Gwen Stacy, Mary Jane, Harry Osborn, and friendly Flash Thompson) as well as the college subplots like the love triangle (quadrangle?). Few people want to go back to the angry loner Peter Parker from the Stan Lee / Steve Ditko days.

Sorry for the length of this comment, but I can go on about Spider-Man like Chris Sims goes on about Batman when given half a chance ;-)