Do you remember that classic SNL skit with Will Ferrell and Alec Baldwin? They’re doing Inside The Actor’s Studio and Will Ferrell (as James Lipton) tells Alec Baldwin (playing Charles Nelson Riley) that the English language lacks a word capable of describing just how great his performance is. As a result, he invents the word scrumtrelescent to describe that level of perfection. Well after work yesterday, I finally treated myself to the trade paperback of Dan Slott’s Secret Wars tie-in series The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows. Do you know what I learned? IT WAS SCRUMTRELESCENT!!!
I write often of my love of Spider-Man, of the lifelong connection I’ve felt with the character. Of all the costumed heroes bouncing around comicdom, he’s always been my favorite – ever since Mom bought four-year-old me that first issue of Web Of Spider-Man back in 1986. He means a lot to me and he represents a lot to me too. That’s one of the reasons I’ve always been bothered by the idea of the 2007 “One More Day” storyline. That unease has kept me from reading any current Spidey titles (save Spider-Man/Deadpool and Spider-Man featuring Miles Morales) since returning to comic collecting. Peter and Mary Jane’s relationship was so central to the two characters. The idea of it being tossed aside for a (in my mind) fairly contrived story to produce a single Spider-Man once more upsets something deep within the core of my being.
It’s not that I have a problem with the idea of marriages ending per se. While often sad, that’s a part of life. Love is a mystical experience and, try as we might, we as human beings can never fully control something so divine. So if there was a story anchored in the real struggle and painful heartache that ultimately resulted in the end of Peter and Mary Jane’s marriage, it would have broken my heart but I would have been able to get behind it. It would have been real. It would have been honest. And it would have honored the characters and the love they shared. Instead, in the wake of his Civil War unmasking, a gunman shots Aunt May. To save her life, Peter makes a deal with Mephisto (because how could that be wrong??) and Mephisto saves May in exchange for their marriage. Peter and Mary Jane (and the world) have all memories of their love erased and Peter gets his secret identity back too. While I’ve read much about the story I want to be upfront and admit I’ve never actually read the story itself. I can’t bring myself to do so. It feels too contrived. A beautiful marriage, decades of continuity, and a shining example of love being more important than money, stability, security, and anything else in life was jettisoned not to illustrate how difficult it is to keep love alive or how love can unexpectedly change or transform but rather, through a ridiculous deal with the devil to get an awkward and single Peter Parker back on the scene. I’ll give that a hard pass. Given the strength of my objection, I can’t bring myself to buy any of the current Spider-Man titles. But then I read The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows…
This is EXACTLY what I HOPED would have happened to Peter and Mary Jane once I stopped reading comic books!!! This is the story I’ve been dreaming of. The first issue opens with the panels above and what quickly became one of my favorite scenes in all the Spider-Man books I’ve read. Peter and Mary Jane are sitting around their kitchen table, in their little apartment, where MJ’s feeding their daughter Annie and Peter’s working on his webshooters. They’re a family! Even as a kid, I was annoyed when 1998’s “The Gathering Of Five” and “The Final Chapter” storylines revealed that it was Aunt May who was alive and hidden from Peter by Norman Osborn and not Peter and Mary Jane’s daughter May. I remember thinking, “Aunt May’s a thousand years old! She deserves heaven with Ben. And Peter and Mary Jane deserve their daughter, their family.” And in Renew Your Vows I finally got to see the story I’ve been hoping for (for nearly twenty years!) play out.
Anyway, I’m not going to spoil anything major about the plot. I immediately fell in love with this story and I want you to have the chance to do so too if you haven’t read it yet. But the basic setup is despite the domestic bliss, all is not well on the superhero front. Spider-Man heads to Avenger’s Mansion after he learns from Ben Urich (at the Daily Bugle) that superheroes are going missing and ending up dead. While there, Spidey learns a breakout has also occurred at Ryker’s Island. The Avengers go to face the new big bad, Regent, who’s killing all the heroes while Peter rushes home…to find Venom on the couch with the symbiote wrapped around Annie and MJ.
It’s one of the most horrifying scenes I’ve ever seen in a comic. I’ve written before about how Venom’s introduction as a villain was one of the scariest things I’d ever read. Revisiting it as an adult only allowed me to appreciate the raw horror of The Amazing Spider-Man #300 all the more. This scene, in The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #1, seemed the logical extension of that fear. This was the worst possible outcome from what transpired in The Amazing Spider-Man #300. The panel cut right to the core of me. Even though I’ve developed a very real appreciation of the horror genre, I can’t handle violence towards children or babies, miscarriages, or anything threatening or destroying the innocent life of a child. I just can’t take it. So this was SCARY.
It was also the perfect illustration of the very real risks of being a superhero. Sure the MCU has given us a world where practically no superhero has a secret identity. And the ending of 2008’s Iron Man, when Robert Downey Jr. Tony Stark tells the world he’s Iron Man is AWESOME. But how can that work when you have a child to protect?? In addition to all the fear, that sequence reminded me of why I love Spider-Man – he is always motivated by the twin poles of love and responsibility, fighting to protect his family, no matter how impossible the odds may be. It also made me really miss reading him…and also made me kind of want to go back and read everything out there. In one single story Dan Slott has given me the Spider-Man narrative I’ve dreamed about as well as made me seriously reconsider my not reading any current Spidey titles. I can’t imagine going back and reading things like “One More Day”…but the idea of reading the other stories Dan Slott’s contributed to the Spider-Man canon is awfully appealing.
I can’t underscore just how big of a deal this is for me. I’ve intentionally stayed away from all of Peter’s current adventures for deeply personal, emotional reasons (save those with Deadpool because that comic features so little of Peter’s personal life I can read it without getting too sad). But this story was so filled with life, love, excitement, and the feeling of a classic Spidey tale I think I might be ready to tip my toe into the waters of the current Spider-scene (or, at least some of the tales Dan Slott’s been writing). I’m at least considering it.
Anyway, it is revealed Regent has killed all the X-Men, Avengers, and most all super powered beings in the world. Upon their deaths, he takes their abilities. Spider-Man was spared because he just disappeared. After the too-close call with Venom, Peter retires his costume. He narrates, “That was the day the Avengers died. That every last superhero died. Even ‘Spider-Man.’ It just looked like he was standing there. But that was just me, Peter Parker. A dad in a red-and-blue suit. That was the day I learned what trumps great power…an even greater responsibility.” I can totally appreciate Peter’s decision. It makes sense and it’s one of those story moves where, if I put myself in his shoes, I can see doing the exact same thing. That makes the story that much more compelling.
Regent, moving through Slott’s incredibly crafted plot, establishes a pretty classic dystopian situation (I love dystopias!) as he rules “benevolently.” He has a squad of old super villains (only those without powers, all those with powers have been killed), hunting any super powered individuals who may be in hiding. There are mandatory broadcasts, super power screenings, flying police cars, resistance fighters, and just everything you’d want from a perfect dystopia with the amazing bonus of HAVING SPIDER-MAN IN THE STORY TOO. As Annie’s own spider-powers begin to develop, Peter returns to the world of superheroics to challenge Regent and the society he’s created.
It’s a family decision for Peter to go back out to protect those who can’t protect themselves. And it’s on Mary Jane’s advice that he take up his black costume once more so he can move stealthily through the shadows. This isn’t just the return of the classic, laid back, joking, friendly neighborhood Spider-Man either. Yes, the jokes are there but this time he’s fighting to protect his daughter and there is a surprising ferocity to his actions. But that’s believable! It makes the story ring more authentically. Again, if we were to put ourselves in Peter’s shoes…wouldn’t we do the same?
Through the entire five issue miniseries, Spider-Man battles Regent; an eight-year old Annie wrestles with her family history and who she’s meant to be; Mary Jane fights to protect her family and keep them together. The narrative is exciting, fun, filled with tension, and also manages to deliver deeply moving, poignant moments. Like I said, this is the Spider-Man story I’ve always wanted to see! I’m already excited to read it again!
As I closed The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows I was just so happy. I finally had the chance to see the future I always felt Peter and Mary Jane deserved. It couldn’t get any better than this. Right?? Oh wait…it CAN. This fall, as part of the Marvel NOW! relaunch, Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows is going to become a REGULAR ONGOING MONTHLY SERIES written by Gerry Gonway with Ryan Stegman handling the artistic duties! Aaaahhh!!! How can we possibly hope to describe this fantastic turn of events?? In a word, it’s scrumtrelescent :).