As a kid growing up in the ‘90s, Mary Jane Watson was the only girl for Spider-Man. My main source of exposure, Fox’s animated “Spider-Man” cartoon show, didn’t even mention Gwen Stacy or Betty Brant. To me, Peter and MJ were as indisputable as Clark Kent and Lois Lane. They were supposed to end up together in the end. They were supposed to.
But then “One More Day” happened, and a big part of my comics foundation came crumbling down: Peter and Mary Jane weren’t together anymore. I figured if I waited it out, it would eventually come back around and right itself, as comics are wont to do.
But that day never came.
The deal was finally sealed with Dan Slott’s “One Moment In Time” storyline, where we are told the new version of Spider-Man’s history, and everyone walks away with finality. And I won’t lie; it shook me. Marvel’s “It” couple was no longer a thing, and one of my favorite heroes was alone. He dated Carly Cooper for a minute, but I never believed it was meant to last. I’d never known a hero without a serious love interest before, and it was a weird feeling.
It was in this context that I began reading “Renew Your Vows,” an alternate reality story that was published as part of the second “Secret Wars” event that Marvel did, and I found what I was waiting for and more.
Our story begins with Peter and Mary Jane early in the stages of family life. Their daughter is very young, they’re living in a humble apartment, and Peter and Mary Jane talk openly of Peter’s life as a superhero. Leading up to this night, several heroes are found dead, and some with powers are missing. Spider-Man goes to Avengers Mansion and stumbles on a briefing session, revealing a new villain named “Regent.” At the same time, a mass breakout at Ryker’s Island prison frees Venom: the one villain who knows all of Spidey’s closely guarded secrets. As the Avengers race to battle Regent, Spider-Man abandons the Avengers and races home to find Venom in his house. As the battle against Regent ensues, the Avengers die in the fight, and Spider-Man crosses a line to protect his family. From that day on, there are no more superheroes, and Spider-Man hangs up the webs for good. Peter becomes a fully committed father, and the world lives under Regent’s rule. After years of living in this totalitarian world, Peter finds a new reason to don the mask again, using his old powers for new responsibilities.
After this initial mini-series, “Renew Your Vows” continued with its own monthly title, but the writers have taken some liberties with the lore they established. Basically, some characters that were supposed to be dead aren’t. But those characters have fun twists on their own canon, and I won’t spoil any here. Most enjoyably to me, the Parker family all become superheroes.
One of the main reasons I love this story is that Peter Parker is one of the few characters in comics to do something universal: he’s grown up. We’ve watched him go from awkward teen to college student with a crappy job, to married man with a (slightly) better job, to where he currently is in the canon storyline; a powerful business executive/scientist with a superhero bodyguard.
The one thing that was missing from Spider-Man’s story is that we never got to see him with a family. It’s where his life has always been headed, barring the tragedy that seems to follow him around. With “Renew Your Vows,” we’re given an optimistic look at what Peter’s life could have been. He’s still bearing the responsibility, but he’s not alone anymore.
Also, Spider-Man’s humor is perfect as dad humor. Peter’s quips at home and his quips in costume are so corny you’ll wonder why you never saw it before. The way he beats Regent is because of the best Spider-Dad joke that has ever been.
This family dynamic plays well into the antics of this super family. Peter and Mary Jane fit the roles of super-parents perfectly, and their daughter Anna is a worthy successor to everything that we’ve come to expect from Spider-Man.
In some ways, this version of Peter’s life is better than I could have ever hoped. He finally has some of the happiness I’ve always hoped he’d find, and it’s so refreshing to see something go right in his life. To me, it is Spider-Man as he should be, and a welcome continuation to a love story I’ve grown up with.