In 1987, David Michelinie, Jim Shooter and Paul Ryan told the tale of the wedding between Peter Parker and his long time girlfriend Mary Jane Watson, a marriage that lasted 20 years, until 2007. As a result, an entire generation of Spider-Man fans grew up with a web-slinger who was married. Alas, the Marvel Universe is a place of cosmic disappointment, capable of altering a heroes reality, even retroactively. That's what happened to Spider-Man's marriage, when Mephisto piped it from ever having existed, leaving Spidey a single hero, who fondly remembers the long, nuptial-free relationship he had with Mary Jane.
This November, fans will get a chance to see what Peter Parker's life would be like had he and MJ remained married and started a family in “Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows,” a new ongoing series by writer Gerry Conway and artist Ryan Stegman. The book is set on a world where web-slinging has become a family affair for Peter, Mary Jane and their daughter Annie, and while Conway and Stegman promise lots of Spider-family fun, there's plenty of excitement in the Watson-Parker family's future as well.
CBR News: Both of you have experience and an affinity for the world of Spider-Man, but what made this series an appealing assignment for you guys?
Ryan Stegman: For me, it's Spider-Man, so that's a pretty easy sell, but for a while now, I've felt like there hasn't been very many love stories in comic books as I've lamented publicly on Twitter quite a bit. I've always loved Peter and M.J. Then, the fact that they have a kid in this book is really appealing to me as a father of a five-year-old and a two-year-old. So a book about love, parenthood and superheroics is right up my alley.
Gerry Conway: I agree with everything Ryan just said. My interests in this book was to portray a loving couple that may have problems, but their marriage is not a problem. Their relationship is solid. There's no conflicts, other than the normal ones that come up in a marriage. I don't think that's something that people have done too much with, so I thought it would be fun to do.
Gerry, did you get a chance to write Peter and Mary Jane as a married couple much when you came back to the Spider-Man books in the late '80s?
Conway: I did, but because I was writing “Web of Spider-Man” and “Spectacular Spider-Man,” I couldn't really do anything with the main character arcs. Those were being handled by David Michelinie in “Amazing Spider-Man,” so I spent most of my time with supporting cast members, like Robbie Robertson and Gloria Grant.
One of the nice options we have doing this book is that we can write the main characters and we don't have to worry about bumping into anyone else's story. That's a lot of fun.
What can you tell us about the world of “Renew Your Vows?” How similar and how different is it to the current "Amazing Spider-Man"?
Conway: Visually, it's Manhattan. We didn't take the direction of the “Renew Your Vows” miniseries that was published during “Secret Wars” did of a futuristic Manhattan. The notion here is our world was the Marvel Universe up to the point of “Brand New Day.” Then things continued without that big change. Things have also gone off track in certain ways, though. Some of the stories in our world developed in a different way.
Our first arc features the Mole Man, and the Mole Man as we're doing him is a lot different from the one that appears in the mainstream Marvel books.
Ryan, did you get a chance to redesign his look?
Stegman: Oh, yeah. Because we're in our own sort of corner, I get to sort of do what they did in “Ultimate Spider-Man.” Any character that appears, I can do them my own way, and that's very liberating.
So far, the Mole Man looks totally freakish and completely in my own style. I definitely took some liberties with him.
I know you love drawing strange looking characters.
Stegman: I love ugly characters! [Laughs] That's Spider-Man's rogues' gallery. If you look at the way Ditko drew them or what they're named after it's always kind of obvious what they were going for. The are no handsome villains in Spider-Man's universe.
Conway: Ryan mentioned the Ultimate Universe and that was sort of an attempt to make heroes and villains realistic, but we're sort of doing the opposite of that where it's more heightened and more fantastic than it would be in the Marvel Universe.
We're trying to make this a fun book, where you can laugh at things. Spider-Man used to be a book, and it still is to a large extent under Dan Slott, where you could have all these ridiculous situations that Peter could find himself in. As a reader, it's like, “How do you get out of that?” Then, of course, he just gets out of it and does something ridiculous to get out of it. It's that kind of fun.
How long have the Parkers been a crime fighting family when you pick up with them in “Renew Your Vows” #1?
Conway: What do you think, Ryan? I'd say about six months to maybe a year.
Stegman: Yeah, that's how it felt to me, script-wise. They're still figuring things out.
Conway: They also have sort of conflicting motives. Each of them is coming at it from a different direction. So there's going to be some bumping heads, at least initially, until they figure out what their common strategy is going to be.
Ryan, both Annie and Mary Jane will be wearing new Spider costumes designed by you. What inspired their new heroic looks?
Stegman: Mary Jane is a former super model. She's very fashionable, and that's what we were going for. We wanted something that looks Spider family, but have it also be something that she would wear. She wouldn't put on just any costume. She'd definitely have an opinion on what she was wearing.
Another thing was that I was trying to make them look like a family, but Mary Jane is not going to wear a full spider mask. She's got a different hairdo every day, and she's not going to mess that up just to wear a spider mask. I worked around that and came up with just the eye mask.
During the time I was designing Annie's costume, I was also teaching my son how to ride a bike. I was padding him up much more than I ever remembered being padded. I made him put on knee pads and elbow pads and a helmet. I also wouldn't let him ride on the cement, and was pushing him on the grass. So I was thinking about how a parent would react if their child had Spider powers and they were gong to go swinging around the city.
To the Parkers, spider powers are somewhat normal, but they'd still be like, “All right, but you have to wear your pads and your gear, or you're going to get hurt.”
Conway: That's Peter's attitude. M.J. Is a little more, “Yes, we're going to have some fun.” Peter is more like Ryan. [Laughs]
Stegman: Yeah, my wife's perspective on getting my son to ride the bike was, “Let him go.” [Laughs] I didn't want him to get scared or injured, though.
Conway: What's also cool is the pads are part of Annie's civilian clothes. She wears the helmet, knee pads and arm pads as she's riding her scooter on the way to school. So it becomes an easy transition
It's also nice that Ryan had made it that, while these characters look like a family, they have an individualistic design for each outfit. So it's not like, say, the Superman family, where everybody wore the same basic design.
Stegman: Yeah, Mary Jane would throw a wrench into the idea of family uniforms like the Incredibles or something like that.
Conway: She's an individualist who is going to do her own thing.
Annie's Spider powers are, of course, inherited from Peter, but what can you tell us about the source of Mary Jane's abilities?
Conway: Right now, her spider powers are a result of technology from the Regent, where they're being drawn from Peter. That's going to cause some problems, because when she draws powers from Peter he gets weaker. At some point, she's going to come up with a strategy to get her own unique set of abilities. That's something for further on down the line.
Regent was the villain in the “Renew Your Vows” miniseries that took place on the “Secret Wars” Battleworld. Is the continuity of your series linked to that mini?
Conway: The Regent did exist in this universe. My thinking is that after “Secret Wars,” this universe was reestablished, but much of the stuff that happened in that miniseries still occurred. So, as I mentioned, we don't have the high tech future world from that mini, but the Regent did attempt to take over the world and he was put down by Peter, Mary Jane and Annie, together.
That's why his tech is very much a huge part of an ongoing storyline for our series.
What about the Parkers' day to day, out of costume lives? Are both Peter and M.J. employed when the series begins?
Conway: Yes. I don't think the Internet has gone as far in this universe as it has in ours in destroying the newspaper business, so Jonah Jameson is still very much a force to be reckoned with as a newspaper publisher, and Peter is doing his Spider-Man photos freelance for Jonah. He's making decent money at it, though. He's not struggling the way he used to struggle because he gets the best photos.
M.J. owns a small boutique, and she's dealing with the problems of being a small business owner. She also has a fashion blog that she runs on the side. It's actually starting to get her some attention as a serious commentator in the world of fashion. Her career is very much a standalone career. She doesn't need Peter, and Peter doesn't need her. That makes them the perfect match for each other, because they're co-equals.
Annie is eight years old. She's in approximately second or third grade. She's your basic "thinks she's smarter than she is" kid. She's a bit more aggressive than she should be, but she's got a really good heart. She really wants to please her parents, but she keeps getting into trouble. That's their family dynamic.
Will “Renew Your Vows” feature a lot of Spidey's classic cast?
Conway: Yes, for the most part. We also have a master villain who will remain slightly secret for now, but we're going to have some fun with that character over our first sequence of stories.
Would you describe the series as having classic Marvel, almost Fantastic Four-style, heroics?
Stegman: I think that's an apt description. One of the things that appealed to me about this is my favorite things at Marvel are probably Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four. This is a nice combination of both of those.
Conway: Yes. It's bigger than life and tons of fun.
Speaking of the Fantastic Four, what can you tell us about your larger sort of heroic landscape? Do you have plans for groups like the FF or the Avengers?
Conway: Spider-Man's world is pretty big on it's own, and there's a lot to focus on and develop, but those other characters will be available. At some point, I'd love to do a Human Torch story because he and Spider-Man were always hanging out together. It would be fun to see that.
Ryan, how would you describe the overall look of the book?
Stegman: It will be relatively cartoony, but I'm already cartoony, so it will look similar to my work on “Superior Spider-Man.” I'm really trying to pull out all the stops with the action.
Conway: Ryan is also doing a lot of great character stuff. When you see Jonah Jameson, it will be the classic, blowing his top-style Jameson, which is just great.
Stegman: There's a page of just family stuff that might be my favorite page that I've ever gotten to work on. I doubt anyone would think anything of it because it doesn't involve people being punched in the face.
Conway: That's kind of the core of the book, though. It's really good stuff.
Speaking for myself, this is the most fun I've had working on Spider-Man since at least the '80s, because while I enjoyed working on “Spiral,” the recent Spider-Man miniseries I did, it's really kind of nice to have this ongoing project where you know you can plant some seeds, put some stuff out there, and see how it all blooms. That's a lot of fun
Plus, working with Ryan is just such a treat because his stuff is so dead on to how it looks in my head.
Stegman: Yes, issue #1 is one of my favorite scripts I've ever worked on. I didn't say that for the longest time, because I was trying not to be hyperbolic about the project, but when I finished the issue and looked back at it, I thought, “No, that legitimately is one my favorite things I've gotten to work on.”
Gerry's scripts are really descriptive. He seems to be a visual thinker and some writers can have difficulty with that. So, really, I couldn't be happier working on this book.