Last time, we saw the lengths Peter Parker would go to protect his family. This time, we see how he adjusts to being a “normal” dad, and learns the awful truth that his own flesh and blood doesn’t like his Aunt May’s wheatcakes! It’s the second part of the Secret Wars tie-in showing us a married Spider-Man with a daughter that (as some might argue) we should’ve always had for the actual Amazing Spider-Man.
“Part 2: Because We Said So, That’s Why”
WRITER: Dan Slott
ARTIST: Adam Kubert
INKER: John Dell
COLORIST: Justin Ponsor
LETTERER: VC’s Joe Caramagna
COVER ARTISTS: Adam Kubert and Justin Ponsor
VARIANT COVER ARTIST: Sara Pichelli
ASSISTANT EDITOR: Devin Lewis
EDITOR: Nick Lowe
THE STORY: Peter has a nightmare of when he killed Venom, but in the dream Eddie Brock pleads for mercy, saying the symbiote made him do it, and that he would never hurt his daughter. But when Peter tries to save him, the symbiote envelops Peter and Venom says because Peter killed him, “you’re no better than me!” Startled awake, Peter’s spider-sense tingles, and he and his wife, Mary Jane, dash to Annie’s room, and find she’s once again crawled out of her bed and onto the ceiling to sleep. After waking Annie up, Peter and MJ admonish her for using her powers, reminding her the authorities could take her away. Peter notices Annie’s power inhibitor bracelet is damaged, while she insists she didn’t mean to use her powers but was trying to get away from the “Shadow Thing” under her bed. Peter reassures Annie the “Shadow Thing” no longer exists, and reminds her how because they have great power, it’s their responsibility to hide it. The next morning, Peter and MJ walk Anna to school. Here, we learn MJ is still a struggling actress while Peter is still a photographer for the Daily Bugle, and although money is tight and that the replacement parts for Annie’s inhibitor are expensive, Peter reassures them “the universe will provide.” Just then two police cars speed by, and Peter hails a cab to follow them. Once at the school, MJ reminds Annie to blend in with the other kids and to keep her powers hidden, even if someone is being picked on and she wants to help. Annie is also reassured by MJ she would still be special even without her powers.
Meanwhile, Peter is taking pictures of The Regents’ assault team—consisting of Boomerang, the Shocker and the Rhino—fighting Demolition Man, who is protesting The Regent’s rule. Also watching the fight and in civilian guise are The Prowler and Mockingbird, who report to S.H.I.E.L.D. and asks to rescue D-Man. But their unidentified commanding officer tells them not to interfere as D-Man is not worth the risk. Shocker then finishes off D-Man, and the assault team take the body to The Regent. Although The Regent considers D-Man “beneath him,” he promotes Shocker to his “elite squad” and sends the body to Dr. Stillwell to be studied and dissected. Just then, Janice Lincoln, a.k.a. The Beetle, arrives to report a random security sweep has detected a child with powers at a school, and so The Regent orders her, along with Boomerang and Rhino to bring the child to him. At the Daily Bugle, Peter delivers his photos to J. Jonah Jameson who, because The Regent controls the press, pays Peter for them not to be published. Just then, a reporter comes in saying how The Regent’s assault team is heading to same public school Annie attends. Peter secretly leaves and, having pulled and tightened his hoodie over his head as makeshift mask, leaps his way towards the school. He contacts MJ with his earpiece, and his wife tells the attack is all over the news and that she’s also heading to the school, even though Peter tells her to stay put.
However, it’s not Annie who the Assault Team is after—it’s The Power Pack. Annie, watching the fight, feels she has to do something when her dad arrives. Peter tells the Power Pack to leave and the villains, realizing Spider-Man is back, shift their attention to him, while MJ takes Annie. Peter knocks the villains out, and later they report to The Regent what happened. The Regent decides to call in his “Elite Guard” to hunt down Spider-Man, who are revealed to be The Sinister Six, and are comprised of the newly promoted Shocker, Doctor Octopus, The Vulture, Mysterio, Kraven the Hunter and the Hobgoblin. At the Parker’s apartment, Peter says they need to go into hiding now that the world knows Spider-Man is still alive. MJ, however, says running away won’t do any good, and takes out Peter’s Spidey gear from their closet. However, because Peter need to “stick the shadows,” MJ takes out Peter’s black costume instead of the red-and-blues. This freaks Annie out as, of course, the costume looks like the “Shadow Thing” from her nightmares. Yet Peter reassures his daughter he got rid of Venom years ago, “because that’s what daddies do. We do anything to keep our families safe. Anything.”
THOUGHTS: One of the great things about comic book stories which take place in an alternate reality is they allow for otherwise familiar characters to be placed in unfamiliar situations and surroundings, and give readers a taste of where those characters lives might have gone under different circumstances. In the case of Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows, it also allows Dan Slott to craft a story driven by character instead of the plot, which had been one of his biggest hurdles all throughout his run on Amazing Spider-Man up to this point. And just as we saw with issue #1, issue #2 shows just how much potential Marvel squandered when they erased Peter and Mary Jane’s marriage with “One More Day,” because thus far, Peter Parker the husband and father is proving to be far more interesting than the Peter Parker Marvel insists their readers should have.
There was a lot of controversy, as you folks well know, with Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #1 in regards to Spidey killing Venom to protect his family, with one of the arguments against this being Venom, even at his darkest, never sought to harm innocents, let alone children. Slott appears to have anticipated this because he addresses Venom’s death head-on right from the start. During Peter’s nightmare, Brock insists he’s not responsible for his actions, that he was under the influence of the symbiote. Of course, those familiar with Venom’s history know the concept of the symbiote bringing out the evil in its wearer originally came from Spider-Man: The Animated Series, and was quietly retconned into the comics later. It does, however, add to Peter’s sense of guilt and doubt; even though Peter knows he had no other choice, his dream shows he wishes there was another way, and by becoming Venom at the end of his dream, he fears the darkness within himself that he believes his taking a life brought out. It’s a common trope in superhero comics that the hero doesn’t kill because they believe it makes them no better than the villains, but it’s an proper one for Spider-Man.
Feelings of guilt, doubt and fear are what lie at the center of Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #2, especially when it comes to how Peter and Mary Jane start to raise their daughter. Slott shows how in spite of having to struggle to make ends within a totalitarian police state, the Parkers are a loving and devoted family. Just like any parent would, Peter and MJ want to keep Annie safe, and for good reason considering how she’s already developing spider-powers in a world where superhumans have been all but rounded up and killed. Yet it doing so, we can see they’re also unintentionally instilling both fear and doubt in their daughter; Peter subverts his own mantra “with great power comes great responsibility” by teaching Annie the responsible thing to do is to hide her powers, while the once happy-go-lucky, attention-seeking MJ ironically tell her daughter to conform and not “stand out” from the rest of the kids.
So it makes complete sense that just as Peter quit being Spider-Man because of what he had to do protect his daughter, he should come out of retirement when he believes her life is in danger. That it’s the Power Pack, a group of kids who, like his daughter, also have super-powers, who need rescuing couldn’t be more proper, and Slott’s decision to have Peter refusing to banter because of the circumstance is nice added touch. The last scene is not only fitting, it also has the effect of bringing full-circle Amazing Spider-Man #300, the conclusion of Venom’s first story. As Slott reminds us, Peter promised never wear the black costume again for MJ’s sake because reminded her of Venom, yet here it’s MJ who insists he wear it. By having her be the one to give Peter the black costume, she is symbolically conquering her own fears just as Peter is conquering his, and reclaims the costume which Venom had co-opted.
Of course all of this hinges on how we respond towards Annie May Parker, as children are often the most difficult characters for a writer to get right. The heartwarming scene with MJ and Annie outside the school reminded me of Zack Snyder’s Superman film, Man of Steel (2013), and how Clark Kent’s adoptive dad insisted he shouldn’t use his powers even if someone else was in danger. Like Clark in that film, Annie is just as conflicted. Annie not only has inherited her father’s powers, she’s also inherited the sense of responsibility he once had, only she doesn’t know what she can do to help. This, and the adorable way she interacts with her mom and dad (“Wheatcakes are yucky,” and “It’s the red hair [that makes me special], isn’t it?”) make her genuinely likable. Not as effective, however, is Annie’s fear of Venom, or the “Shadow Thing” as she calls it. I understand the idea Slott is attempting, that because of what happened when she was little, Annie has developed night terrors about the shape-shifting, symbiotic psychopath. But as we saw in issue #1, Annie was just a toddler when Venom attacked, so while she might subconsciously be afraid of shadows lurking under her bed, I doubt she’d remember Venom in such specific detail. Also, her reaction to the black costume is way too articulate and expository for a frightened grade-schooler. Even so, Slott still manages to do a very good job in depicting Annie as an ordinary little girl who happens to be special, just as her dad is an ordinary guy who happens to be a super-powered genius.
The character who does disappoint, however, is The Regent himself. Just like in the last issue, Augustus Roman comes across as the most generic of antagonists, and in addition to looking like Darkseid and having Sylar from Heroes‘ power-set, he also comes across as both a second-rate Kingpin and wannabe Doctor Doom. Worse, he has no clear motive for why he wants to acquire superpowers and rule New York as some benevolent dictator other than “everything I do is for the greater good.” I do, however, like the concept of him employing members of Spidey’s own rogues gallery as his personal police squad, including three-fifths of The Superior Foes of Spider-Man plus Rhino. Makes sense a Spider-Man comic would use Spidey’s villains, after all. Though with the introduction of The Regent’s own Sinister Six, and that this Secret Wars tie-in also takes place in a dystopia, it isn’t hard to notice a few similarities between this and that other “Last Spider-Man story,” Spider-Man: Reign, only far more colorful, less Dark Knight Returns pastiche, and without the death by radioactive bodily fluids
As for Adam Kubert’s penciling, aided by John Dell’s inking and Justin Ponsors colors, the interior art and panel composition is fantastic. Normally, I would be annoyed having to read a comic with no less than five double-page spreads, but Kubert pulls it off without it being distracting. The only two occasions where there are jarring scene transitions are whenever it cuts back to The Regent and his high-rise headquarters, but otherwise, this comic is once again a solid example of sequential, visual storytelling. The on-panel action is fluid, concise and, best of all, clear. Kubert also does an excellent job when comes to having characters convey the proper emotion, particularly Annie’s. We can see in eyes and face when she’s happy, or sad, or scared or in awe without having to read the corresponding word balloons or over-exaggeration. It’s a style which feels like the perfect combination of Spider-Man art from the 1980s and 1990s, which given the era the comic evokes couldn’t be more fitting.
While Slott’s dialogue does then to be heavy-handed and melodramatic as it’s wont to do, Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #2 does hit all the right emotional beats, and proves Slott is able to tell a story without forcing his characters to go from point A to point B. It also shows the advantages and possibilities to be had with an adult Spider-Man wrestling with plausible adult responsibilities and priorities, and that a superhero who is also a family man can still be identifiable to a coveted younger audience. If Marvel really wished to go into an “All-New, All-Different” direction for The Amazing Spider-Man, they might want to take a closer look at their own mini-series and take it under consideration.
- Want to know how cute and precious Annie May Parker is? She has a My Little Pony and a Strawberry Shortcake doll on her bookshelf…along with a plush black widow spider. Awww…
- Okay, Pete and MJ, I know you’re all worried about The Regent’s random security sweeps possibly picking up the power levels of your daughter because her bracelet is damaged, but you do see that it’s smoking, right? Being the good parents you otherwise are, maybe you ought to check your daughter’s wrist to see if she has any serious burns. Just sayin’.
- Holy mother of God, that smiling kid at Annie’s school who appears to be looking directly at us is the creepiest little boy since Damien Thorn from The Omen. Are we sure in this reality Mephisto didn’t have another son or something because yikes!
- Poor Dennis Dunphy, aka Demolition, aka D-Man. Just when he gets brought back to life after being shot by Sharon Carter in Captain America, everyone treats him as if he were the Rodney Dangerfield of superheroes. Bad enough he gets taken down by the likes of the Shocker and Boomerang. Bad enough the acting head of S.H.I.E.L.D. refuses to rescue and recruit him because he’s “Thick as a post, broad as a board and ain’t even as strong as tenth of The Hulk.” Bad enough his body gets sent to be studied and dissected by the same scientist who turned Mac Gargan into the Scorpion. (And as aside, how is Harley Stillwell alive in this reality?) But he has The Regent make fun of the fact he has a “D” on his chest, saying how it’s a “proper grade” for someone like him? D-Man, the only one who was brave (or stupid) enough to challenge Regent’s rule in broad daylight deserves justice and retribution! Okay, not really but come on? Not every would-be superhero can wear a costume that’s both a knockoff of Daredevil’s original duds and Wolverine’s mask and pull it off.
- Hold on? Is that Dan Slott in the crowd of onlookers wearing a baseball cap? The one who doesn’t recognize D-Man and calling him a bad guy? What had D-Man ever done to you, Slott?
- I’m sure some of you think the acting head of S.H.I.E.L.D. in this issue is supposed be Nick Fury, right? That’s certainly what the art and word balloons want you to think, but look closer. Notice how he has blondish hair, and how what looks like an eye-patch is actually part of a pair of sunglasses. And you can just make out what looks like a quiver of arrows on his back? It’s Hawkeye. Hmm…Clint Barton, director of S.H.I.E.L.D. does have a nice ring to it.
- And definitive proof we are in an alternate universe? No way would the real Fred Myers, a.k.a. Boomerang, allow for the Shocker to take credit for anything. Knowing Fred, he’d come up with some elaborate, hair-brained scheme to convince The Regent he was the guy who killed D-Man. After all, D-Man did have a considerable amount of boomerang’s embed in his back and arms.
- Aside from how Peter’s clothing are red-and-blue, notice how the treads of his sneaker look like a webbing pattern? It’s easy to spot considering how high he’s got his leg up.
- Okay, so the security sweep not only detected Katie Power instead of Annie—who remember has her power inhibitor damaged—but it also didn’t detect Alex, Jack and Julie Power either? And considering how there’s five super-powered kids going to this one public school, The Regent is only now finding out about this? Maybe he should have spent more research on a better detection device instead of those flying cars.
- “…and I never knew. They were freaks like me.” Oh, Annie. Don’t you know all the weirdos in the world live right there in New York City?
- Got to say, as far as the Sinister Six of this world goes, Shocker, Mysterio, Kraven and Hobgoblin have some pretty nifty duds. But man, looks like the Vulture paid the price for his purse-snatching last issue as The Regent literally mutated him into a half-man, half-buzzard like he is in the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon. And then there’s Doc Ock, who seems to have his arms and legs amputated to be fitted with mechanical arms along with the ones he already had. And it looks as though two of those tentacles are coming out of his butt. The indignity!
- All right, Spidey fans. If according to Annie “Banana Pancakes fix everything” and “Wheatcakes are yucky,” then there needs to be a Spider-Man themed taste challenge: Aunt May’s Wheatcakes vs. Mary Jane’s Banana Pancakes.” We have the recipe for the wheatcakes, so you need to write to Marvel and demand the recipe for the Banana Pancakes, so we can settle once and for all which are the better flapjacks.