After a brief “flashback” interlude where we got an excellent Peter and MJ-only issue, Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows returns to the present day and has been closing the loop on one of its open storylines from January. There have been moments in this “Eight Years Later” timeline where I’ve felt that some of the plot points could unfairly invite comparisons to the book’s spiritual predecessor, Spider-Girl, but with the latest arc it seems that Jody Houser and company are full-on embracing the similarity, with Annie Parker currently embroiled in her own clone saga. Should we be concerned about this, or is there more to this approach than meets the eye?
The plot in this edition is fairly straightforward. In the last issue, Annie had a nightmare about then actually fought against and failed to apprehend a mysterious doppelganger of herself who appears to be evil. It turned out that the source of this “clone” was Mister Sinister of X-Men notoriety, who has likely used the DNA unwittingly collected from Annie at the end of issue #15 to create this duplicate. In this issue, Annie is in search of her new nemesis and has brought her parents, Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson, along for the swing to quell their suspicions and concerns about their daughter. It turns out she isn’t telling them the entire story, namely about her mental link with the “clone,” and her parents are smart enough to figure out she’s hiding something as the search is mostly unsuccessful.
Later on, Spider-Man goes to Normie Osborn, the only person who he can think of that might have answers due to his grandfather Norman’s masterminding the original clone saga, and asks him to help out (even though he doesn’t fully trust him). Meanwhile, as MJ and Annie are reflecting over the clone-related past, they are alerted to and get into a confrontation with the imposter, who goes by Chelicera. This time, she’s brought help in the form of what seems to be another Spider-Clone and when Spider-Man shows up to tip the odds, the dastardly duo disappears. To close the issue, we see Normie actually following through on his commitment to Spider-Man to try and find out more about whether his company is behind this cloning project, only to run into a bit of a quandary (that may actually cause him some problems).
Clones are a dicey topic in the Spider-world. The original clone saga from the ’70s was an interesting topic but seemed to just be a one-and-done affair that ultimately served only to try and challenge Peter and MJ’s budding relationship at the time. The ’80s were blissfully free of anything clone-related. Then we all know the ’90s clone saga and what a convoluted mess that ended up being. Fortunately, in the 2000s, Brian Michael Bendis’s Ultimate rendition of the Clone Saga was well executed and much simpler, and Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz also did it justice when they brought in April Parker during the Spider-Girl series and added a familial element to the mix that ultimately ended up deepening the tragedy in the end. Where does Houser’s attempt fit in? At this point, it seems that the structure of the story is meant to loosely resemble the Spider-Girl clone saga, although the addition of Mister Sinister and multiple clones is variation enough.
With that said though, I’ve stopped trying to make in-depth comparisons between this book and Spider-Girl, as something else has become incredibly clear in this issue and the two preceding it. Houser hasn’t taken this gig to write earth-shattering storylines. Instead, she’s taking full advantage of this opportunity to do some amazing character exploration on all three of the heroes with the unique ability to be able to mold them without being tied down to continuity or company-wide events. Take Peter, for example. The Peter Parker of this world is a version of the character who seems to have major trust issues, even having difficulty believing his own daughter. He still has a deep love for and unquestioned reliance on Mary Jane, maybe even more so than in the 616 universe. But thanks to what has transpired in this world, with almost all the heroes being wiped out by Regent, we see that Wolverine is one of only a few other people outside his immediate family he can talk to in full confidence about these topics. (Somewhat related, I did find it weird in this issue that no bystanders appear, at all, which takes a bit of the usual realism associated with Spider-Man away.)
Also, while Houser’s take on the “RYV-verse” has been generally optimistic and upbeat, this issue does a fantastic job of hitting dark and mournful points that Marvel has gone silent on in the main Spider-universe, in some cases for decades. It’s an incredibly powerful moment to have MJ use the recent events with the supposed clone as an opportunity to take Annie to the grave of Ben Reilly and actually grieve about the loss of baby May. This is a scene that I had all but given up hope of ever seeing in any Marvel comic, and Houser brings it to life in this issue. There are other brilliant character moments here too. Peter and MJ have an intimate, serious conversation (always a big win for me) full of concern for Annie. Normie and Annie show the elements of a strong friendship that can withstand the realistic obstacle of busy lives and infrequent contact. In fact, when you add all of these up, the issue is almost entirely made up of character moments. The action is just one component and is arguably just a vehicle for Houser to delve into what makes these people tick.
Scott Koblish (Deadpool 2099) is now on his third issue, and his output has been a great improvement from what seemed to be a rushed effort from usually-competent Nathan Stockman. For one, the range of expressions in the characters is significantly diversified. A sequence near the end of the issue with Normie Osborn is a good example. In just one page, we see Normie intrigued, frustrated, resolute, and shocked. Another positive for the art is the focus on small callbacks to Spider-History. The costume design for the new enemy introduced in this issue incorporates elements of Scorpion, the Shocker, Venom, and Ben Reilly. Similarly, the final scene has a callback to a stylistic depiction of the costume of a great spider-villain that was done initially and most memorably by the recently passed legend Steve Ditko. Finally, on a lighter note, Koblish draws Spider-Man with his armpit-webbing! This is something that not too many Spider-artists remember these days, but given that it was part of the original costume design as created by Ditko, I’ve always been pretty particular about it and it’s awesome to see Koblish embracing it.
If you’re looking for a groundbreaking new challenge and premise to follow that is heavily plot-driven, this isn’t your comic. However, if you’re looking for a story that explores real human elements, like friendship, parenting, familial trust and grief, this is your book all the way. In particular, Spider-fans who have felt abandoned by crossover events and fewer character moments in the mainstream Marvel universe will find some real closure on one critical event in this month’s issue. In less than a year, Jody Houser has gone from someone who had never worked on an ongoing series at Marvel to the writer responsible for some of the best in-depth exploration we’ve seen of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson, both individually and as a couple, in a long time. Support this book and pick it up; show Marvel you want it to keep going!