With relatively little fanfare, The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows comes to an end this week as Jody Houser rounds out the “Weird Science” arc. Despite being split into two parts, it’s been clear for a while that Houser’s run constitutes one larger story about the Parker family’s introduction into Mr. Sinister’s plans.
That story comes to a natural conclusion this issue, with the revelation of Sinister’s plan and a resolution for Annie’s developing powers. Despite the hints of a new Clone Saga, Sinister is an old dog and he swiftly returns to his eugenic roots. Indeed, in a twist that effectively communicates Sinister’s inhumanity, the Parkers were never more than a means to an end, a new variable in his experiments on the X-Men. It has a certain Spider-Man charm to it, but it doesn’t fight the perception that Houser is almost more interested in her merry mutants than the Parkers. Luckily it’s Annie who’s at the center of events, driving the plot, but it does leave the story feeling oddly bisected, an X-Men story that insists on focusing on Spider-Man and family.
Annie’s new powers are put to good use and give the tale its moral throughline. Houser’s depiction of family drama isn’t groundbreaking, but the focus on Annie’s anxiety rather than the sheer severity of her situation is spot on. Teenagers, particularly good kids with loving parents, are often struggling to know what to do with the new freedoms they’re getting on slow drip. Annie’s known that she’s destined for great responsibility all her life – I mean can you imagine how many times Peter’s given his daughter that speech!? – but all of a sudden her powers don’t feel destined, she’s different from the rest, she’s gone off the path! There’s no one to guide her and, even if there was, she’s maybe not what her parents wanted her to be! It spirals real quick and, though Houser doesn’t detail the exact complexities of Annie’s worry, it feels authentic. This is one of the best elements of the book and it makes sense why the story is built around what could otherwise be seen as an underwhelming secret.
There’s no big Logan moments, though Houser retains her strong grasp on his voice. For his part, Sinister gets at least one panel to make him feel legitimately threatening and at least one to play him as the melodramatic ham that he is. And who’d have thought that the Parker family car would be this issue’s scene stealer!?
The biggest problem with the issue is that it doesn’t read like a grand finale. On some level, it barely even reads like the end of an arc. The battle with Sinister’s forces never really has stakes. At times characters will mention that the odds are against them to let you know, but Houser holds no illusions that the action is the draw. Instead the fight serves as a backdrop on which to paint a number of fun character moments and some decent quipping. That self-awareness is nice, but it falls a little flat when this is goodbye for now.
Additionally, Normie’s story feels very abruptly cut off. There’s no time to explore the significance of Sinister’s experiment, as it adds little other than a dramatic cutaway to the issue as is, nor any clarity as to the particular curiosity that led Sinister to meddle with Normie’s genetics. In fact, we don’t even get any clue as to why Sinister led the Parkers to think he had cloned them! It’s possible that these story elements were implemented purely for their practical value as surprises, but Houser is a much better writer than that. Instead it feels as though there was intended to be more and things were cut short by the series’ cancelation.
Scott Koblish finishes out the arc he started, bringing much the same classic Marvel look as the previous issues. This time around, however, there aren’t as many memorable moments and a couple more awkward ones.
Loathe as I am to say it, the art is a big part of why this book feels supplementary. Now make no mistake, being a What If title already set the stage for that, but compared to the series’ beginnings under Ryan Stegman, there’s no denying that this series didn’t feel like a priority to Marvel anymore. Without the great Spidey reaction shots and acrobatics of previous issues, the art feels basic.
Koblish still emotes well, especially with Spidey himself, demonstrating some impressive subtlety. That guarantees that, on a panel to panel basis, the storytelling holds solid. However, this issue feels weaker than Koblish’s previous efforts in terms of the big picture. Panels don’t knit together to create atmosphere and things feel descriptive more than in past issues. With the story largely devoted to a climactic battle that lacked scale and interaction in the script, the art doesn’t step up to provide those elements.
A general lack of background detail also suggests that Koblish was overworked or focusing his time elsewhere.
The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #23 succeeds where it needs to, bringing the story to a close ahead of the Spider-Girls miniseries and seeing the emotional crux of Houser’s run through. There’s still wild ideas you won’t find in other Spider-books and a great take on Peter Parker, plus some nice teen drama, but there’s also the feeling of a book whose power got turned off between issues. Much is left unresolved and the art, already not bringing an ‘A-list’ feel, is unusually rough. Renew Your Vows struggles over the finish line on fumes, heart, and a love of Spider-Dad jokes, with Marvel seemingly having already moved its resources onto the next thing. And that’s a shame, because Peter, Annie, and Logan have been gems through this run, while Mary-Jane and Sinister had plenty of potential.
The book ends on a short soliloquy that sums up Peter’s experience with Annie and Sinister before trailing off of the art. These last three sentences are wonderful, tugging just the right heartstrings, as obvious as it may be. However the presence of three sentences floating in the bleed, swiftly wrapping up the series after the art’s run out is a fitting end for a book that knew how to connect to its core message but seemed surprised by its own cancellation.
The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #23 is currently available in comic shops from Marvel Comics.