When we last left Annie Parker, she had stumbled into two of her fellow high school classmates who had accidentally gained superhero powers. She then spent the previous issue essentially trying to tame them while simultaneously proving to her parents that she can handle things on her own. However, all that appeared to be at risk with the revelation that one of her new friends was going to use her powers to go after her enemy turned friend, Normie Osborn.
As the issue launches, we get a brief recap following up on what happened to Normie after the time-skip and it reveals that things turned out well for him and he is running Oscorp, his family’s legacy, pretty responsibly. But as we flash back to the present, we find that one of Annie’s new friends, Lacey, is now hellbent on going after Normie as payback for the death of her father (who as it turns out was a former Oscorp employee who died on the job and for whom nothing was done). When her companion Reece tries to talk her out of it, she nearly kills him and storms off to deal with Normie. Normie, meanwhile, is literally trying to solve one of the biggest issues afflicting the world today and has become the quintessential “good guy.” As he is leaving the office, that’s when he runs into Lacey and the sparks begin to fly (and not in a good way). Annie and Reece meanwhile, after dusting themselves off, head over to try and stop Lacey before she does something she will regret. Annie is unexpectedly accosted by her parents, essentially convinces them to let her go solo, and then moves on while we have just one panel of a Peter-MJ moment. I’ll let you read the book to find out whether she is worthy of her parents’ trust and what happens with Normie.
Needless to say, in this issue it seems like many of the same beats that were hit in the original Spider-Girl comic are hit here again. Annie keeping secrets from her parents, then earning their trust and giving her friends strength and motivation to take action on their own, is a road we’ve been down before. Similarly, a reformed Normie Osborn who is the target of outsiders because of his family’s past is also something we’ve seen before. This was the worry I had when they decided to move eight years ahead, that we were going to get a Spider-Girl rehash, and unfortunately so far it appears like this is what we are getting. The Spider-Family dynamic could have been what saved that but based on this arc it seems like the primary focus in this timeline is Annie (rather than Peter and MJ featuring Annie). Judging from the next issue, there is reason to be hopeful as we get a Peter and MJ focused story, but even that is a flashback. I should be clear – there’s nothing truly wrong with the story in this issue. It does well in building the personas and motivation of Annie’s friends and it’s refreshing that there’s only one real act of violence in the entire book and no need for any splash pages. It also does a great job at showing the natural tension between parents and their kids who want to prove they can be like them without their help, and Annie takes that a step forward by giving Reece a chance to prove he can be the one to get Lacey to stand down. There is also a great reveal at the end that proves there is going to be some epic payoff to beats Houser laid down on her first arc, starting in issue #20 if we go by the upcoming previews. So, I’m glad that the continuity and world building I was hoping for will continue.
I’m not as generous on the art though. Having done a binge-read of Doctor Strange and the Sorcerers Supreme since reading the last issue, I was exposed to what Nathan Stockman is truly capable of with his guest work on that title and I was quite impressed. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like we got that level of quality on this story arc for Renew Your Vows in general. My contention from the last issue — that the art feels rushed — holds, and to make matters worse in this issue, it seems like there was some problem with laying the colors down that is quite glaring especially on digital copies – the letters and text all appear quite sharp and distinct but the art almost seems blurry. I’m not sure if this is on the colorist or on the editors, but it’s pretty jarring and unacceptable from a quality control perspective (in a followup, I was dismayed to find out that Heather Antos, the current editor of the book, is leaving Marvel, so now we’ll be looking forward to the third editorial change which could also explain this matter of quality). One thing that Stockman does pretty well is draw emotion and he’s able to demonstrate a lot of range in his characters, from sadness to happiness to confusion and anger. Also, the little touches of showing Lacey’s tears and the blood trickling down Normie’s head stand out.
This is a critical time for the book. It started off being touted as an alternative to the main universe Spider-Man story and it gave us a look into a dynamic and a Spider-Man status quo that we had never experienced before for a sustained period of time. Since then, it has jumped into a time and general vibe that on paper, is something that’s already been done before. While there are some differences between Annie Parker and Mayday Parker, I’m hoping that in the rest of the run those are highlighted and emphasized. Otherwise, with what looks to be another Spider-Girl Clone Saga coming up, the feeling of “been there, done that” may only get worse. Nevertheless, I will remain optimistic and supportive, because there’s really no other choice Marvel has given to fans of the Peter-MJ dynamic and because there are few family-oriented books out in the market today. In the end, this is less about Houser (who does a great job with what she’s given) and more about mandates from above and editorial shakeups that don’t seem to end. I expect great things from the next issue and hope that can carry over in what appears to be a big buildup story beginning in issue #20, but the ominous signs continue for this book. I hope it can beat the odds for as long as its spiritual predecessor (Spider-Girl) did.