For nearly every massively popular superhero, chances are there’s an equally popular love interest behind that hero. Iron Man loves Pepper Potts, Superman loves Lois Lane, and Spider-Man loves…okay, he’s loved a couple people over the years. Gwen Stacy, Peter’s first love, cared for Peter but hated Spider-Man, a dynamic that would have inevitably doomed the relationship, even if the Green Goblin hadn’t sent her to an early grave. Black Cat represent the dangerous, thrill-seeking side of Spider-Man’s life. She was the opposite of Gwen: Black Cat loved the Spider, but had no interest in his Peter Parker persona, a fact that Peter himself couldn’t reconcile. Mary Jane Watson, however, was what many readers consider to be Peter’s ultimate love interest, who loved both sides of Peter’s identity, and ultimately married him. However, their love was not to be. In the 2007 arc, One More Day, Peter and MJ’s marriage and future is sacrificed to Mephisto, Marvel’s Satan equivalent, in order to save the life of Peter’s Aunt May. The editorially-mandated nature of the story left many long time fans feeling burned and mocked. Marvel Comics’ golden couple had been torn apart.
However, with Secret Wars and its myriad of “What If?” style tie-ins in full swing, longtime Spidey writer Dan Slott gets to ask the question, “What if Spider-Man and MJ stayed married?” In that regard, this issue feels like a perfect Spider-Man story – almost too perfect. References to the main Secret Wars book and its monarch in shining armor are almost non-existent. Rather, this issue takes place in a world comprised of idealized elements of the Marvel Universe. The biggest and most relevant ones, Peter being married with a healthy toddler, and working at the Daily Bugle taking pictures of Spider-Man, are interesting but fairly obvious. But there are also smaller details revealed in the comic, such as the Avengers united under Captain America and Iron Man, the X-Men being led by Professor Xavier in the School for Gifted Youngsters, and Richard Rider alive and well as Nova, leading the New Warriors alongside the Avengers. These “perfect scenarios,” when put together, make the modern Marvel Universe seem like a warped alternate timeline. However, by the end if the issue, they become simply dominoes to be knocked back down.
Tackling art duties is prolific artist Adam Kubert. Not only does he get to draw Spidey in full, action-packed glory, but he’s able to draw Peter, MJ, and their baby daughter in quieter, more intimate moments. Kubert also gets to draw Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in battle, proving why he’s one of the top artists working in comics. Complimenting him on inks is John Dell, who cleans up Kubert’s scratchy, sketchier pencils, resulting in clean, crisp line art. To top it all off is Justin Ponsor, who frequently colors Marvel’s big events. Here, his vivid, saturated colors serve Spider-Man’s colorful and bombastic world well, even as it crashes and burns.
While the title of the comic, Renew Your Vows, may seem to refer to Peter and MJ’s marriage, by the end of this issue, it’s clear that those vows aren’t marriage vows, but another kind entirely. So far, Dan Slott seems to be taking full advantage of the massive creative scope that Secret Wars allows, asking questions about Peter’s responsibilities in a way that the regular Marvel Universe simply can’t. Can Peter balance being a father with his duties as Spider-Man? Is it even possible for him to be Spider-Man at this point? Complex questions like these support the best Spider-Man stories, and deserve serious answers. Given the amount of free rein Slott has over the story, readers deserve nothing less.