“Face it, Tiger, the old rules don’t fly anymore!”
See what a day in the life is like for the new and improved Mary Jane Watson-Parker! Just don’t threaten her family!
WRITER: Gerry Conway
ARTIST: Ryan Stegman
COLORIST: Sonia Oback
LETTERER: VC’s Joe Caramagna
COVER ARTISTS: Ryan Stegman & Sonia Oback
VARIANT COVER ARTISTS: J. Scott Campbell & Peter Steigerwald
TITLE PAGE DESIGN: Anthony Gambino
ASSISTANT EDITOR: Allison Stock
EDITOR: Darren Shan
SPIDER-MAN created by STAN LEE & STEVE DITKO
STORY: MJ webs Annie to school, stops a crime on her way to work, and grabs a coffee before seeing Peter fighting on the news. She joins him in battle, only to find that Annie is there and captured. The Spider-Couple free her, but get caught in the process by the Mole Man.
THOUGHTS: It’s been a loooooong month since the first issue of ASM:RYV was released. I’m happy to say the wait is over and the latest chapter, Brawl: In The Family: Part 2 is here! The issue has two great covers. One, provided by series artist Ryan Stegman, focuses on Mary Jane in her costumed identity, and rightfully so, as this story is told from her point of view. The second, penciled by J. Scott Campbell, is a fun pose of the Parker family. They’re both great covers and if I could afford both, I’d grab them!
Winding the clock back from the climax of the first issue, this outing is told from the perspective of Mary Jane and paralleling that comic, she, too, opens the story with a list in her head. Unlike Peter’s grocery list, this is a list of family and friends, some of whose names I haven’t heard in quite some time, with one, Jenny, being a newcomer as far as my knowledge goes. The list may be for a party that MJ is planning, but Conway proves that there is far more to MJ than partying as the issue goes on.
Much like last issue, Conway provides a great capture of what family life is like for the Parkers. Not only do we see MJ as mom, setting boundaries and enforcing rules for her daughter (who could’ve seen MJ as disciplinarian in 1966?), but her working life, too. What parent hasn’t told their kid they should’ve finished their homework last night? What business owner hasn’t worried about a bungled order or the price of rising rent? Add to that trying to plan a party, keeping your blog up, and spending quality time with your significant other and suddenly here is a Mary Jane that we haven’t seen before, but one still rooted in her character if it had been allowed to progress naturally. This juggling act that is her current life is exactly like that of most people, family life or not. Who doesn’t feel like a million things are going on at once? It’s this multitasking that Conway provides as the rationale behind the Mary Jane persona. As she herself states, she’s not flighty as per her husband’s misconception, she was distracted. “That’s what happens when you multitask.” Does this hold over for every little story the character has been in since the 60’s? No. There’s more to Mary Jane than just multitasking, as Conway well knows. She’s a character of depth, not shallows, and Conway is just adding another layer to that.
One thing that I feel gets mishandled or overused a lot is the infamous Parker Luck. As lauded as the Spider-Man 2 movie is, Peter getting repeatedly hit over the head with bad things happening to him wears thin to me on repeated viewings. One of the heights of this phenomena was during the Byrne era when Spidey was a homeless widower, washing dishes to pay for the meal he ate. We start to see this happen to Mary Jane as she gets simultaneously hit with more product than she needs and her rent going up two hundred percent. One thing you should never do is ask how things can get worse because that is when the other shoe drops. In this case, that’s actually not where the story is going as something good happens. That’s life. That’s real. Things go up and down, good times get mixed with bad, and there are tragedies and triumphs. The thing that made Peter relateable at the onset was his struggle, that everything wasn’t peachy-keen because he had powers. Good and bad things happened in his life, just like everyone else’s. Sometimes, those who craft Spidey’s adventures get too caught up in piling on hardship that they forget the balance. Conway demonstrates here that he is not one of those people and I am grateful.
Speaking of balance, Conway deflty weaves in a mix of comedic moments, family tension, and heroic thrills. I love how Peter marvels at how Mary Jane asserts her parental authority and how MJ’s big ambition is to just break even at as a store owner. Due to Stegman’s art, you know reaching that goal would mean the world to her. Let’s not forget how Conway keeps the threat of Normie on the board, while still giving us super-hero action as the Parkers continue their struggle against Mole Man, his Moloids, and a T-Rex stomping around New York (man, I love writing that).
Conway gives us a reference point that it’s been six months since Spidey defeated Regent and adapted the tech to share his powers with MJ. Now I understand, and even maybe share, concerns about Mary Jane joining the ranks of costumed heroes. Renew Your Vows isn’t the return of the Spider-Marriage in the 616 and going back to the old status quo, nor is it bringing back or making a reality out of the old MC2 line with Mayday Parker. This is a reality where Secret Wars didn’t really happen, but events of the miniseries kinda did. Confusing, sure. Is Marvel looking at what DC is doing with a married Superman who has a super son and trying to one-up them with a super wife? Maybe. However, adding MJ into the hero mix is giving this title a different dynamic and as we can see, it’s adding to the conflict. Mary Jane may be taking away from Peter’s powers, but she’s adding extra hands into the mix and making them equals, both at home and on the streets. There was a time when Mary Jane felt very helpless, waiting to see if her husband would come home alive, fretting in front of the television. She even went back to smoking as a way to deal with the stress. Here, the tables are turned and she can feel like an equal partner in the relationship in her eyes. She doesn’t have to be sitting at home anymore pining for her hero and feeling ineffective. She’s the hero.
This adds drama for Peter, who now has to deal with his decreased skill set. Spidey was never Silver Age Superman, who could do whatever impossible task the story asked for. He was powerful, but had limits, especially times when he would go out fighting when he was sick with a cold. Is this symbiotic power dynamic going to last the whole series? Will MJ have to forsake her powers to save Peter? Will she figure out a way to develop her own independently so she doesn’t endanger her husband in the field? These are all questions I am eager to see explored as this series runs. Also, I’m looking forward to seeing where this takes Peter from a character standpoint as he has to learn to share his powers and deal with his natural instinct to protect his family. Conflict and drama make for good storytelling and there is a potential for some great storytelling in this new dynamic.
Mary Jane FINALLY reveals her hero name during the cliffhanger, Spinneret, and I gotta say, it’s not bad! It certainly helps that she’s not the fifty-sixth Spider-Woman and establishes her own unique identity across the Marvel U. It could’ve been far worse had she gone with “The Swinger”! Still no word on Annie’s nom-de-guerre, though.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t say more about Stegman’s art in this issue. It’s every Spidey title adjective you can think of-amazing, spectacular, and sensational! He brings a dynamic sense of movement as our heroes swing through the air, has theatrical compositions, and I love how the man draws a dinosaur. I definitely picked up a McFarlane influence at times when it came to the web lines and certain panels of Mole Man reminded me of The Clown. I certainly don’t mean the comparisons in a bad way as only two issues in and I want to put his name up there with the Spidey greats as one of the unique voices in Peter’s long history. Having skipped out on Superior Spider-Man and Scarlet Spider, I’m eager to check out his earlier art to see what I’ve been missing!
Renew Your Vows may not be exactly what every Spider-Fan wants from a married Spider-Man, but two issues in and this fan is the happiest he’s been reading the character in the last twelve years. The characters feel like people you’ve grown up and matured with and the art is gorgeous and exciting. I was happy to see things from Mary Jane’s perspective and witness how far she’s come as a character since her inception. My only caveat was the Mole Man’s dialogue. I’m not sure if that’s how he normally talks, but it was very borderline villain cliche. Maybe that was the point, as it was in stark contrast to how natural MJ and Peter sounded. Consider this writer renewing this title on his pull list next month!
MY GRADE: A
JAVI’S HUH?: Aunt May is dead and Conway has said in interviews that Civil War didn’t happen in this continuity. So, how did she die and in what way would Peter feel responsible for it? I’d love to see a flashback told in an annual detailing this and other differences!