Annie Parker tries her hand at balancing responsibility and being cool, with mixed results.
Disclaimer: I am an unabashed Spider-Marriage fan who lamented what “One More Day” did to the character of Spider-Man and his continuity. For years, Spider-Girl was a welcome respite from all of that, until it was cancelled. With the release of Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows as a miniseries and then as an ongoing monthly, I got excited again because I felt it represented a return to the natural progression and arc of Peter Parker, one of my favorite fictional characters of all time. In addition, Mary Jane Watson was back as his wife and not only did they have a daughter together, but the three of them teamed up as a superhero family. This represented a fun dynamic that had never been explored before for Spider-Man. Having said that, this series has had some shakeups lately not just in the creative team but also in the story, where we unexpectedly moved ahead eight years a few issues ago. Inevitably, this sets up comparisons to the aforementioned Spider-Girl and makes one wonder why this was done when a new status quo was ripe with stories to be told. This leaves a newer creative team of Jody Houser (Cupcake POW!, Brickgirl & Oscar) and Nathan Stockman (Anti-Hero, Reyn) in a challenging spot, but it also represents an opportunity to craft a new narrative and give Annie real character.
To recap, in the last issue, the big revelation was that Peter was going to become a teacher at his alma mater of Midtown High, much to his daughter’s chagrin. In the process of trying to avoid her dad at school, Annie stumbled upon two students who appeared to have given themselves superpowers. In this issue, Annie talks to them and finds out that they intentionally did this, and after Annie’s attempt at dodging an instinctive attack from one of them, she is able to convince them that she has in essence been “hit by the superhero bug” as well and is now one of them. This allows her to take the lead and try to keep the students on the right path. The rest of the issue is concerned with Annie watching the initial excitement and thrills of these self-proclaimed superheroes going through the typical moments of discovering their powers, coming up with hero names and fighting their first bad guys. While this happens, Annie reflects on her own first experiences and whether she is becoming too “safe” like her parents. She keeps all this from her parents who are finally shown having a long-overdue moment to themselves, albeit while fighting crime. Throughout the whole issue, you feel like the proverbial dam is going to break with these two rookies where they go too far, and at the end of the issue they finally show their intent to do so, which puts Annie in the uncomfortable position of having to decide between responsibility and fitting in.
Houser writes the high school atmosphere and banter between teenagers really well. Her voice for Annie isn’t just a Mayday Parker retread, which is somewhat refreshing. However, the stakes just seem lowered now unlike the start of this series, where the main characters seemed to be in real danger at various points in time. Before you felt that every action taken had real consequences that actually lasted, not just for them as superheroes but even at home. Now, it seems like plot points of tension are quickly forgotten or pushed aside even within story arcs. In this case, much was devoted last issue to Peter becoming a photography teacher at Annie’s school and her resulting embarrassment and consternation. In this issue that is quickly pushed aside after just one talk.
On the other hand, we get treated to the first Peter-MJ moment in some time. This was one of the selling points with this title and it’s been somewhat lost especially after Conway and Stegman moved on and the story moved years ahead. It’s nice to have a moment demonstrating their parental concern mixed with refreshing trust that their daughter can handle herself, which almost seems to directly counter Annie’s concern that her parents are too protective.
The art seems a bit rushed, as it looks like shadows frequently get mixed in with lines especially on the faces. Distant character shots in particular are where a lot of structure seems to get lost. Close-ups seem to suit Stockman much better. You can tell he is heavily influenced by Sal Buscema, a past titan of Spider-Man artistry. A lot of detail is given in the closing panel at the end and he is quite capable as shown by other panels zoomed in on characters. It’s here that Stockman is able to give more attention to detail and Ruth Redmond’s colors help these panels shine.
In today’s comic world, with reboots, relaunches, and crossover events occurring twice and sometimes three times a year, readers of a book like this get nervous. However, my hope is that by re-introducing some previously prominent characters that played a central role in the early days of this series it will raise the stakes significantly and present new challenges for our heroes to keep the title healthy and continuing. The character progression has stagnated a bit since the start of the series, and the hope is that whatever comes out of the ending of this arc will present lasting consequences for the three main characters (rather than the board being cleared after every few issues). Even if this is an alternate world title, Houser has an opportunity to do some real continuity building in the next issue so I remain optimistic (but nervously so).