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The Parker family of crime fighting, Peter (Spider-Man), MJ (Spinneret) and their daughter Annie (Spiderling), have lived in the earnest, endearing pages of Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows for two plus years now learning. Fighting, and growing alongside each other and into the hearts of readers (like me), their story has been engaging, and tumultuous, but always honest in its depiction of a family grappling with heroism as well as their responsibility to each other as parents and a child. Now, under the guidance of writer Jody Houser, artist Scott Koblish, and colorist Ruth Redmond, it is time for their story to come to an end with the run’s fourth volume before pivoting into the miniseries Spider-Girls currently running as a Spider-Geddon tie in. So, how’s the bow out? Touching, but not without unmistakable compromises in both narrative and art.
What’s it about? Marvel’s preview reads:
“Mr. and Mrs. Parker have been saving up for a “just the two of us” vacation since Annie was born, and they aren’t going to let trouble — no matter how catastrophic — get in their way! But something sinister this way comes…could this be the start of Annie’s very own clone saga?! Find out as an army of Spider-Doppelgangers attack! But that’s just the beginning — the master plan of the villain behind it all could threaten superhumans across the globe!”
If that synopsis hardly reads like a story nearing its conclusion, the whole thing reads even less so in practice. The elephant in the room, then, is that Houser and company may have very well not known that this was the Parkers’ final story as they were crafting it — and that’s undeniably unfortunate (we can hope they’re only on hiatus; I will) — but the book still struggles with pacing and closure across the board even with the self-contained story its trying to tell.
When the story is homed in on the Parkers, who are all greatly defined, characteristic and lively in their own right, it operates on a fantastic level that speaks to the unique position this book has in the medium — depicting parenting in the superhero world. Annie’s struggle with telling her parents about her burgeoning new powers and her parent’s suspicions that she’s hiding something, the tension cut with the occasional laugh out loud funny joke from Peter, offer an honest and compelling stalemate that most families would be familiar with (if it wasn’t about superpowers but just secrets, that is). It’s obvious Houser cares about the Parkers as much as the readers do and as the stakes ramp up here that attention to character-driven written pays off well — it’s the heart of the book that has carried us and the Parkers this far and its very much intact here.
Unfortunately, the narrative outside of that heart is misfocused, muddled and uneven. A first issue sees Peter and MJ attempting to get away for a bit of a vacation and struggling with that because “As if superheroes can take vacations!” which works in a kind of touching vignette way, but follow-up ones are entirely tonally mismatched. The idea of Annie’s very own clone saga is kind of interesting in theory, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired as disparate ideas are thrown to the wall to see what sticks: X-Men feature, numerous bait and switches belittle the tension, and things are all resolved much more easily than they were mounted up to be. It all feels like diminishing returns with each issue even though you so badly don’t want it to be, because the ideas are good. It doesn’t help that what little ending, really a quick, hopeful pivot into another series, we get doesn’t feel finite or summative at all to the story of this family but rather the story contained with this volume alone.
Similarly, the artistic effort is one of compromises as well. Koblish and Redmond are a competent team — Koblish’s knack for spirited expressions and dynamic movement is intact here as are Redmond’s popping, saturated colors. Things like Annie’s nightmare of a surprise attack on unsuspecting bystanders as well as her teaming up with the X-Men to take down a wayward Sentinel are entirely different in effect, but both totally realized in their execution, really speaking to the duo’s range. Unfortunately, they continually limit themselves with rote layouts and static positioning that locks down the possibilities for that realization and limits them to boring dialogue scenes page to page punctuated with a more open page following, a pattern that becomes obvious after the first two occurrences. Where the art shines, like a scene of the Parker family swinging through the night, it really shines. But in the interim pages, it feels so transitory and rote that it diminishes the visual storytelling to a noticeable degree.
In the end, then, we’re left with an incomplete feeling. An exit for the Parkers of Earth-18199 that keeps its familial heart intact to its benefit but moves it through the paces in an uncharacteristically uneven and bland feeling way that certainly doesn’t have the air of a finale. Unfortunate, but not without its own merit either.
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