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Spider-Man: Renew Your Subscription... please.

May 18, 2018

     So, here’s the thing, I don’t really plan on reviewing or talking about comics very often on this blog. I got out of the hobby years ago because of price increases, and I didn’t care for the direction a lot of my favorite characters were being taken in. So instead of constantly bitching, I gave it up. So why am I making an exception for this? Well Spider-Man is a special case. Spider-Man was the character that initially got me into comic books, and really made me love superheroes. Beyond that however, Spider-Man was my favorite character in anything, period. I was pretty much obsessed with Spider-Man throughout Middle School and High School. I loved his alter ego and his supporting cast, particularly Mary Jane. First (fully) appearing in Amazing Spider-Man #42 back in the 60s, she’s a character that made an impression on pretty much every reader. While initially just a friend, she eventually became a major love interest for Peter Parker (Spider-Man’s alter ego, but you knew that).

     This might surprise younger readers, but back in the 80s, Peter and MJ got married, one of the first major characters to really do so. Sure, you had Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman, but they were in a relationship from the start. Peter and MJ were different; they didn’t start out as a couple, or even lover interests. MJ was Peter’s third girlfriend after Betty Brant (my friend Josh just screamed somewhere in the distance) and Gwen Stacy. It was a ballsy move; a major change in the status quo that actually stuck. Hell, Peter and MJ even beat Clark Kent (Superman, but again, you knew that) and Lois Lane, THE original comic book couple, to the altar by nine years. Marvel even had a little fun, taking out an advertisement and congratulating DC for copying Spider-Man. This was back when the editors at the big two didn’t hate each other, Hard to believe, I know. This lasted for twenty years.

     Alas, a handful of creators didn’t like Spider-Man being married; they felt it “ruined” the character. And in 2007 the marriage was ret-conned out of existence through a series of shenanigans that I’m not going to get into. Just Google “Spider-Man: One More Day,” if you want the full story. This was not a popular move, and most fans hated it. For me personally, it felt like a betrayal of the character and I lost my interest almost instantly. I realize that sounds kind of nuts, but people make emotional connections to fictional characters. That’s how good stories work, it’s why you were so upset at the Red Wedding. Anyway, I’m saying all this, so you understand 1. What Spider-Man meant to me when I was growing up 2. That I haven’t bought an issue of Spider-Man in ten years. I’ve been out of the comics game for a while, and out of Spider-Man’s world for even longer.

     A few years ago, there was some major Marvel crossover event and one of the mini-series that got released as part of it was called The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows. The premise was that Peter and MJ were still married and had a daughter. Now this had already been done for years in a title called Spider-Girl by Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz, who really don’t get enough credit for writing the longest ongoing superhero book with a female protagonist at Marvel, but that series concluded in 2010 with Spider-Girl: The End.

     Despite not being the biggest fan of Dan Slott, I read Renew Your Vows and mostly enjoyed it. If nothing else, it was nice to see Peter and MJ as a couple again. Their daughter, Anna, I liked, but not as much as May (Spider-Girl’s real identity). I guess it sold well enough, because it was recently announced as an ongoing monthly series written by Gerry Conway with Art by Ryan Stegman. Conway is a comics legend, having taken over for ASM after Stan Lee, he wrote the Death of Gwen Stacy, co-created the Punisher, and has made significant contributions to comic books. He has two of my favorite runs on Spider-Man. His original run on The Amazing Spider-Man after Stan Lee, and when he was pulling double duty on Spectacular and Web back in the 80s. So, this definitely piqued my interest.

     I read the first volume, which collects issues 1-5, and the truth is that I have mixed feelings. I wanted to like this, I really did. Truthfully, I wanted to love it, but at best I thought it was okay. And I don’t know if it’s just that I’ve been out of comics so long that classic comic tropes feel played out to me. Nothing is in this is technically bad. The storytelling is fine and the art by Stegman is fantastic. Issue five however isn’t drawn by Stegman, it's by Nathan Stockman. I’ve never seen his art before, but it didn’t impress me. It’s not awful, but it looks off in a way I can’t really explain.

     The premise I (mostly) like. Peter and MJ in their thirties with a kid is the Spider-Man book I always wanted, but it just doesn’t come together the way it should. Again, nothing is bad per se. The villain of the week shows up, hijinks ensue. But instead of Peter juggling Spider-Man with being a husband and father, those have become intertwined. Anna has begun to develop powers and wants to be a superhero, but she’s only in first grade and can’t do all that much yet besides get herself caught. In addition, Peter has built a suit for MJ that allows her to tap into his spider-powers. The premise is a bit eyebrow rising, but it's not inherently any more ridiculous than a radioactive spider bite, so I’m willing to buy it. But MJ as a superhero doesn’t really work for me, and I don’t know why.

     MJ is a strong character, and she definitely has the spine and the courage to be a superhero. She’s faced plenty of dangers without super powers simply because of her relationship with Peter, so it’s not like the premise itself is ridiculous or anything. But for whatever reason, it just doesn’t work for me, and I think that’s because of who the characters are to me. A lot of superheroes have a significant other who is also a hero or has powers, and (at least at the start) Spider-Man was unique in that he didn’t. And I don’t mean a rotating stable of girlfriends without powers, plenty of heroes had that. Peter and MJ however, were together for years before characters like Superman or Wally West settled down with a normal human. And that’s the thing; Mary Jane is what grounds Peter Parker in reality. She’s on the edge of Spider-Man’s world, but she’s really part of Peter’s world. She anchors him to a normal life, and I feel like giving her powers undermines that. It’s not like she needs powers to be strong or interesting. Peter having a civilian life that isn’t part of his super heroics is part of what makes him such an interesting character. Making the Parkers a superhero family pushes it closer to Fantastic Four territory.

     And finally, we come to Anna. She’s… ok. I honestly find her constant running off and getting herself into trouble, only for her folks to inevitable bail her out, a bit repetitive. I get that she’s a kid and going to make mistakes like that; and it may very well be my own inherent bias as a Spider-Girl fan that keeps me from liking her that much. I don’t hate her, she’s just kind of there. She feels more like a plot device than a character.Again, I wanted to like this, and I’m not trying to be negative, but I can’t help feeling a bit let down by this book. It’s adequate, but I was hoping for something with a bit more substance. Still, it is nice to see Peter and MJ again.

 

3 out of 5 webs.

 

3 out of 5 webs

 

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