When it was announced that this “Secret Wars: Warzones!” miniseries would focus on a married -- with child -- Spider-Man, I thought I knew what the story would be about. We’d get to see how Peter Parker would handle these things while interacting with other heroes and villains in some semblance of current Marvel continuity. That’s not what we got with this Dan Slott-written, Adam Kubert (with Scott Hanna) illustrated miniseries. I have to give credit to Slott for bucking expectations like that, but it took a while for me to get over the fact that I didn’t really care for this at first.
Things start off with a few pages of relative domestic Parker family bliss before they go straight to hell with the revelation that superheroes are turning up dead in the streets. This is because they’re being murdered for their powers by a new villain named Regent, who has already taken out the X-Men and is looking to add the Avengers to his checklist. Before Peter can join the fight, he finds out that Venom has broken out of Ryker’s Prison and has taken MJ and his daughter hostage. After a chase and a knock-down, drag-out fight in a burning building, Peter serves up a permanent solution to that problem and then gives up being Spider-Man after Regent takes over the world. Why? Because the only thing that trumps the great power of superpowers is the greater responsibility of parenthood.
If you’re a longtime Spider-fan, then the opening chapter of this miniseries might be pretty hard to swallow. Slott basically takes some key aspects of Peter’s character and throws them right under a bus for the service of the story he wants to tell. Which is also a departure for the character itself as it involves him taking on a futuristic sci-fi dystopia. Even for someone like me who was onboard with much of what the writer was doing in “Superior Spider-Man” much of the story here just doesn’t feel right for the character.
Then again, I’m sure that Slott was counting on fans feeling this way at the start of this story. Being a writer who knows superhero conventions inside and out, it’s clear that he wanted his audience to feel anxious and off-balance between Peter’s actions and this strange new world he finds himself in. After all, there has to be some kind of struggle for the character to get back to being the wall-crawler we all know and love. The fact that he’s joined in this character arc by his wife and daughter just makes the journey all the more satisfying.
For all the strangeness of the opening chapter, “Renew Your Vows” turns out to have a pretty familiar but not entirely unsatisfying arc to it. While the “looks after me and mine” take on the character may be hard to swallow at first, Slott is just setting it up so that Peter has something to work against over the course of the story. Well, that and the combined threat of Regent and his rogues gallery. Those conflicts, though illustrated quite well by Kubert, are easily the most formulaic part of the story. Regent himself is also a pretty dull villain for all of the powers he commands. Though he at least gets some decent motivation in regards to why he wants Peter’s spider-sense, Regent is here just to be the final step in the character’s journey back to being a real hero.
Along with his family, that is. If there’s one thing the story succeeds at, it’s making the idea of a Parker super-family seem pretty appealing. Though most of the story is set up around Peter and MJ trying to protect their daughter Annie from Regent’s forces and finding ways to inhibit her powers, it’s still easy to understand their motivations for that. Plus, even while this is going on, Slott makes it clear that theirs is a fun family dynamic with most of the angst and drama coming from the dystopia right outside their window. It’s not until the end, when Annie adopts her own superhero getup and is encouraged by her mom that things really take off. Seeing the Parker family save the world -- with the help of a so-terrible-it’s-great Spider-pun -- is immensely satisfying and validates a lot of what Slott does with the setup.
Still, I can’t help but wonder what a story showing Annie growing up in the pre-”Secret Wars” Marvel Universe would’ve been like. Slott is a whiz with Marvel characters and continuity, and I think he could’ve given us a really fun story along those lines. That’s just my opinion, but “Renew Your Vows” turns out to be pretty good for what it is. The narrative may be pretty familiar and the main villain is rather drab, but it shows that the Parker family is a force to be reckoned with. Maybe we’ll get to see them together again someday.