Scared you, didn’t I?
And with good reason. Spider-Man’s Clone Saga is the poster child for the unnatural, overlong event-as-status-quo storytelling that superhero comics have constantly been in danger of slipping into since at least the early 90s. Its failures are legendary, and its excesses so grand that even twenty years have not separated its admittedly charming ideas or individually strong stories from the mishandling they received. So is giving Peter’s daughter her own Clone Saga a recipe for disaster?
Well, it’s early yet, but I’d have to say no. While there probably could have been a little more drama drawn out of the mystery of the whole affair, The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #20 keeps a clear focus throughout the issue that sets notably lower expectations than the lofty original, and that is very much to its benefit. There’s no question of the clone’s identity this time and, if you didn’t catch him in previous issues, the cover makes no secret of who’s behind the cloning scheme and, by extension, what kind of motive is behind it. But that works, because the purpose of the story is grounded and the introduction of a villain outside of Spider-Man’s usual toybox holds some inherent intrigue.
So the premise is safe, but we’re not fully out of the woods. Despite this, many of the issue’s turns do feel familiar and not in the ‘homage to a classic story’ way that you might expect. While “Weird Science” avoids the strung-out melodrama of the 90s original, it feels built on an unoriginal skeleton, drifting admirably, but somewhat lazily, through necessary exposition until it’s time for a solid quip or a really nice character moment. It’s not by any means bad, and it avoids hewing too closely to its spiritual predecessor, but it can feel like the writing lacks excitement about this section of the story, eager to do the housekeeping and move on to what’s next.
Luckily, the character work remains solid. Jody Houser is entirely at home writing Peter Parker’s fatherly concern, making it awkward and paranoid while still feeling genuine. Likewise, Annie remains a charming lead, and Houser remains skilled at writing her into teenaged tropes without losing her believability. Mary Jane is something of a non-entity this time, which is an undeniable shame, though hardly unforgivable, but, strangely enough, the real scene stealer is Wolverine!
Wolverine is a character that is continuously being written by a huge number of incredibly talented creators and yet, when someone really gets him, you know it instantly. And you’ll know it here. Despite appearing for just over a fourth of the brief issue, Logan is absolutely the strongest character, and one that keeps this book feeling grounded. From his grumpiness, to his compassion, to his alcoholism, to sneaking up on Peter’s Spider-Sense, Logan is pitch perfect here and it demonstrates why Wolverine makes sense for this series.
Wolverine is the ultimate adult – he’s been alive for centuries and he’s been called upon to do all the ugly things that childishness insulates us from – but the struggle of his story is acting like it. Logan often fails his trials, he can’t resist a cheep distraction or cathartic mistake, but to see him succeed here feels eminently natural and makes him a natural foil for Peter, who has never been able or allowed to fully evolve beyond childhood.
Admittedly, between this and the villain, you wouldn’t be out of line to wonder if Houser would rather be writing the X-Men. She definitely comes alive when playing with their characters, but, nevertheless, she’s still doing some wonderful things here. I especially love how Houser uses Annie’s visions. Annie has been having visions, seemingly a Kaine-style precognitive Spider-Sense, since she took up the Spiderling mantle, but mixing in nightmares that actually seem to be psychic resonance with her trying-way-too-hard clone is a clever, if unoriginal twist. What pulls this idea through is how clearly it’s conveyed and how it develops consequences as the issue goes on.
A big part of that is the intuitive storytelling of Scott Koblish and Ruth Redmond. The depiction of the twin Spiderlings resonance is simple but strangely evocative while Chelicera’s excesses and Sinister influence are communicated immediately in her look and her bearing. Koblish’s work with Spidey and Wolverine in costume is also iconic and slick. It feels just like your memories of early 90s classics and, despite my summary of the Clone Saga above, I mean that in the best way.
Unfortunately, there are many other places where this book just doesn’t come together visually. Many scenes feel oddly flat and lifeless, even when the staging is strong. Anatomy is iffy, with wild eyes that can’t just be chalked up to expressiveness, and Wolverine’s nose switching between ‘overdue reminder that Logan is a distinct and interesting profile’ and ‘unintentional reminder that Logan frequently takes blows to the face’ at the drop of a hat. Endless panels of characters standing in front of basic green backdrops only exacerbate what is already a problem for the issue.
Put simply, this doesn’t feel like a priority for Marvel. Much of the issue lacks the visual polish you’d expect from a Marvel book and Houser’s writing, while strong, borrows heavily from other stories and only resembles her best work when Wolverine is on the page.
With a spin-off title like this, you’re always going to be fending off the perception of irrelevance or inadequacy. And, while The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #20 features a spectacular guest-star, some wonderful artistic highlights, and grounded characters, its unevenness leaves it open to those complaints of being unoriginal.
Wolverine’s appearance alone marks this as an interesting and well written issue for this week, however, around peaks like this, there’s a lot of unspectacular set up. Giving Spiderling her own Clone Saga is a bold move that’s more interesting and unique than it probably seems, but that just means that Renew Your Vows #20 left me excited to see how the creative team can capitalize on that in coming issues, and this issue seems to agree. Consider circling back next month or picking it up in trade, but, for now, like its protagonist, this book’s mind feels like it’s half here and half somewhere else.
The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #20 is currently available in comic shops from Marvel Comics.