"Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows" #1 is a comic book targeted at Spider-Man fans who grew up during the era when Peter and Mary Jane were an item. Though it's not a direct sequel to those stories, the spirit of that relationship is what drives this issue, as Peter, Mary Jane and their daughter Anna have set up shop as a family. The trappings of "Secret Wars" have allowed the creative team the opportunity to indulge in this story, but nothing within these pages even references the situation, which is for the best as Dan Slott gets plenty of mileage out of the concept without the added layer. Veteran penciller Adam Kubert turns in some solid work, though nothing that reaches the apex of his work from 15-20 years ago.
"Renew Your Vows" is an appropriate subtitle for the story, as it deals with the near-ubiquitous struggle in Peter's life: committing to both Spider-Man and his family. Slott gives readers Peter's most difficult day in his union suit, a day that also coincides with some great tragedies in the superhero community at large. Within the issue, the tone shifts from a lighthearted family story to a dark superhero tale, a surprising change that feels similar in tone to Alan Moore's classic Superman story, "Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow?" What's interesting about this dichotomy is how Slott proves that Spider-Man settling down -- something Marvel claimed would destroy the character -- is a natural progression for Peter. Though the big action takes place in the darker portion of the book, it's the quieter family scenes that really pop off the page. Peter is a guy with a complicated background when it comes to family: he's an orphan raised by his committed but aged aunt and uncle. Like most things Parker, Slott gets this and pushes the wall-crawler further towards the Responsibility half of his most famous catchphrase. Slott also knows MJ well, giving her some of the best lines of the book and portraying her as strong and confident in both herself and her family while staring down danger. As mentioned before, the story is steeped in love for the relationship that drove Peter's stories throughout the 90s, so Slott's choice of villain is likewise apropos for the events.
Kubert delivers his unique blend of realism and cartooning, which both works and doesn't. Close-ups of characters in quieter moments play well but, when the book turns towards action, his layout choices and designs are a bit confusing, continuing a trend in his work first noticeable in "Avengers Vs. X-Men: AXIS" last fall. He chooses to focus on odd elements in a page, creating a scene that doesn't feel like it addresses the drama of the story itself. He favors tall, thin panels, which means there's a need to pull wide on action, depersonalizing the fight in a story that is all about personal stakes. There are also some unnecessary character redesigns here, like a Captain America with an "A" on his chest or Crop Top Iron Man. They are a distraction in a story that isn't even about those characters. This will hopefully balance out, since the events herein really lead one to believe the story will swing back towards the material in the issue that worked best visually.
There is plenty more to mine from this concept and Slott writes like it's his last Spider-Man story. The stakes are more personal than they have ever been for Peter and, now that the lead up has been established, it will be interesting to see if Slott addresses Battleworld at all or if he will keep this as self-contained as possible. "The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows" #1 is a story that explores the heart of the character and feeds into the 90s nostalgia wave, while still having something new to say about Marvel's most recognizable hero.