The mainstream Peter Parker may be facing dark times during The Clone Conspiracy, but classic Spidey writer Gerry Conway and artist Ryan Stegman are creating a version of Peter’s life where the last ten years look very different in the recently launched Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows.
Spinning out of a Secret Wars mini-series that weaved a world in which Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson never split, Renew Your Vows continues the timeline of a very different – and happier – reality, complete with a whole family of crimefighters in Pete, MJ, and their daughter Annie.
But this isn’t just a surface level change – according to Conway, in the world of Renew Your Vows, not only did the entirety of Civil War not happen, the sweeping differences may go back to the original “Clone Saga” or even further.
To find out what’s ahead in Renew Your Vows and how these timelines diverge, Newsarama spoke to Conway and Stegman, who both believe their version of Peter Parker is the antidote to the darkness of the mainstream title.
This article also contains previously unseen images from the upcoming Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #2.
Newsarama: Gerry and Ryan, you’ve both got extensive experience with Spider-Man, and yet Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows isn’t like any Spider-Man story either of you have ever worked on. How did this dream team for Renew Your Vows come together?
Gerry Conway: I think we were both asked! [laughs]
Ryan Stegman: I had no contact with Gerry prior to being asked. I was at a convention, and I had been hammering them for a while for more Spider-Man, and Marvel called and said “We’ve got this story with married Peter and MJ. Gerry Conway is writing.” So I said, “OK! I’m in! When do I start?”
Conway: The same thing happened to me, except I came on before Ryan. But I was delighted when I found out he was the artist. It’s a dream team for us, too.
Nrama: Ryan, this is really your first time drawing the classic, original Peter Parker in an ongoing series. How do you approach him differently from the modern Peter, or from Otto Octavius in Peter’s body?
Stegman: I don’t really approach this Peter very differently from the modern, mainstream Peter, but I definitely approach him differently than the Superior Spider-Man version of Peter Parker. In that version, even when he was not in costume, he was always posing and sticking his chest out and being a real creep. And then when he’d fight, he was much about actually trying to hurt his opponent. The fights were bloodier, more vicious. So I’ve scaled that back to something more in line with Peter Parker. The only care Otto Octavius gave to Peter Parker was being in his body, so this is completely different.
Nrama: Gerry, you wrote some incredibly formative stories for Peter, including “The Night Gwen Stacy Died.” How does it feel to do kind of the opposite of that story, writing a happily married Peter?
Conway: It’s obviously great fun. I never wanted Peter’s life to be miserable, it just sort of happened. Given where he was in his development as a character during “The Night Gwen Stacy Died,” it was appropriate for him at the time. But the great thing about Renew Your Vows is that we’re in an alternate universe, so we’re not bound by the weight of prior darkness. There’s certainly an element of darkness to Peter’s life because of the deaths that have occurred in it, but he’s been pretty happy for the last five or six years in our timeline.
He’s settled into a family routine, and to some degree, just as my early stories with Peter were a reflection of my adolescent angst as I wrote him – I was around the same age that the character was – Renew Your Vows reflects my experience with relationships from a more mature, adult perspective.
Nrama: Following up on something you just said, the timeline of Renew Your Vows isn’t necessarily tied to any previous storylines. Aside from the obvious diverging point of “One More Day,” are there other differences in Peter’s past?
Conway: Oh yeah. My take on this, and Ryan, I think yours too, is that this is a universe where Civil War never happened. So Aunt May is dead, but she’s dead for a different reason. He didn’t expose his identity, he didn’t make the bargain with Mephisto, and the world doesn’t have the level of superhero conflict as worlds where Civil War took place.
For me, it feels thematically more like the Marvel of the mid-60s, where the rivalries weren’t life and death, they were more like disagreements. And in that context, things can be a little lighter, a little less gravelly. He still has Gwen Stacy’s death on his conscience, he has Uncle Ben’s death on his conscience, he feels bad about Aunt May, even though he doesn’t feel guilty for her death. But he’s not bound up in the kind of dark grief the 90s era gave us.
I’m not even sure there was a “Clone Saga” in this world. We haven’t gotten that far yet. We’ll see.
Stegman: It’s a different world. And I kind of prefer this one.
Nrama: I think there are some fans that might agree with you.
Peter is joined in crimefighting by Mary Jane and their super-powered daughter Annie. Gerry, what’s their family dynamic all about? And Ryan, how did you go about designing two new Spider-heroes?
Conway: Much of the family dynamic was already in place from the Secret Wars mini-series. But I think the difference in our take on it and Dan Slott’s take on it is that he doesn’t have kids and he’s not married. So he doesn’t have the same experience Ryan and I have to draw on.
There was a scene in the script for #1, which Ryan took to the next level, where Peter is making breakfast for everyone and it’s one of those chaotic morning, getting everything done all at once kind of scenes, and it’s really true of my experience, and I think Ryan’s experience, having small children and trying to manage that chaos. That’s something we bring to it, in terms of our personal insights into these characters.
As far as how their powers and their relationships come together, that’s what the first four issues are about. In the first three issues, we give the perspective of each individual member of the family, and then in the fourth issue, it’s the whole family operating together. So you have a personal one on one with each of the characters, and then the group dynamic in the fourth issue. That was actually Ryan’s idea, and it’s worked very well.
Stegman: As for the designs, we wanted something for Mary Jane that was a little bit stylish, and wasn’t just a different version of Peter’s costume, because she’s very strong willed and she wouldn’t just dress like him. I wanted to keep the mask off of her hair, because as we showed in the first issue, she takes her hair seriously. So to have to put it up under a mask every time would be a pain.
With Annie, at the time I was designing her, I was teaching my son to ride his bike, and he was all padded up to such a degree that it looked absurd. So I started thinking, “If your kid is out swinging on weblines around the city of New York, you’re gonna really pad them up.” So I just tried to find the padded version of a Spider-costume.
Conway: It’s so cool. I don’t think we’ve seen anything like that in a young hero. Most sidekicks and young superheroes in comic books take inspiration from Robin, which is probably the most dangerous outfit for crimefighting. Bare arms, bare legs. This is more realistic, and funny at the same time.
Nrama: We’ve already seen the Scorpion and Mole Man pop up in Renew Your Vows #1. What other classic Spider-foes and Marvel characters will we see showing up in the future?
Conway: Well, we are doing an early issue with Sandman. He appeared in a back-up story in the first issue, but we’re giving him a full issue. Speaking for myself, I want to cycle through most of the old Spider-Man villains. At the same time, we do have the option, since this is our universe, to reinvent whatever Marvel characters we want. Ryan is reinterpreting all these characters for our universe, and they’re looking pretty awesome.
Stegman: Personally, I love Spider-Man’s rogues gallery. He’s got my favorite villains in all of comics, so there are too many to list, especially since I get to draw them however I want to. I didn’t know going in that drawing Mole Man would be so fun, but I got to put my own spin on him. Scorpion too, I got to turn him into something I really wanted to draw. So the fact that I already like these characters, and then I get to do them in my own way, you could name any character that’s ever appeared in the book and I’d get excited. Like Green Goblin, I can’t even imagine what I’d do with him. Doc Ock would be interesting.
Conway: How about Mysterio? I’d love to see your version of Mysterio.
Stegman: Yeah, that’s a really weird design anyway, so I’d love to push it even further.
Conway: As you can see, we’re gonna have lots of fun with this.
Nrama: There are a few alternate Spider-Man timelines going on at Marvel right now. Why is this the right time to show an alternate take on Peter Parker that rolls back many of the changes in his story from the last ten years? Why is a story about Peter and MJ staying together important?
Conway: Because it’s a hopeful story. In a way, it’s weird that it came up now, because we’re in a very strange year, and this is almost an antidote to that. But there’s another thing I think is cool, which is that, since we have the cinematic versions of these characters redefining them and introducing or reintroducing them to people, we can now tell any story we want, even in the mainstream universe books. The obsession with continuity that drained the life out of comics in the 90s seems to have abated, so we’re more about telling stories that are of interest to a wider audience than with connecting the dots for a smaller devoted core group of fans. Obviously we want to stay true to the history of these characters and be faithful to what makes them special, but the idea of different universes is terrific and liberating. We’re not bound by the straitjacket of continuity.
Nrama: Ryan, you’ve got Sonia Oback supporting you on colors. How has your working relationship with her developed?
Stegman: We had done a few covers in the past together, and after the third one, I e-mailed her and said “I really wanna work with you on the book.” And a lot of the times, even if a colorist does a nice job with your work on a cover, it still takes a while to gel on interiors, but really, from the very first page, Sonia and I felt like the prefect fit. It’s some of the happiest I’ve ever been with colors. It’s pretty much perfect, she’s nailed it right out of the gate.
Nrama: Ryan, you said you kind of prefer this timeline with the married Peter Parker. There are undoubtedly going to be a lot of fans who agree with who, who might believe this timeline should supplant the current mainstream Marvel version of Spider-Man, and likely a few more who worry Peter will have all this ripped away from him again. What do you want to say to those fans?
Stegman: Issue #5, they get a divorce, and that’s the end. [laughs]
Narama: Well this has taken a turn. [laughs]
Conway: [laughs] We’ll be writing the litigation for the next two years
Stegman: He hires Matt Murdock, she hires She-Hulk, it gets pretty ugly. It’s a courtroom drama.
Conway: I think the beauty of this situation is, it doesn’t have to go that way. For the fans that wish “One More Day” hadn’t happened, I doubt that it’ll supplant the mainstream title, but it’s a nice complement. It’s like a cover song. If people come to feel this book is as valid a version of Spider-Man as the mainstream one, that’s great. It doesn’t have to replace it. They can co-exist.
Stegman: This book is all about Peter and MJ’s marriage and their family, so as long as this book exists, it wouldn’t really make sense to call it Renew Your Vows anymore if there was no family. It’s like the Fantastic Four - this is a family team.
Conway: This is the version that tells what would have happened if we had gone that route. So without that element, it’s just another Spider-Man book. With that element, it’s hopefully got more layers for Peter as a person than other versions.
Nrama: Before we wrap up, Ryan, what’s on your drawing board today? And Gerry, what are you currently scripting?
Stegman: I’ve got the cover of issue #4 on my board right now. I’m inking a bunch of chains. That’s all I can say about it. I’m on like hour three of inking chains.
Conway: I’ll try not to make you draw too many of them in the actual issue. [laughs]
Yeah, we’re working on issue #4. We made a revision to the ending of #3, so we’re wrapping up #4 now. And after that, we move on to a one-shot for #5, and then into a run of stories after that.
Nrama: That begs the question, are your stories smaller arcs? One-and-dones? What’s the plan for the story structure?
Conway: The first arc is four issues, then there are two single standalone issues, then another four or five issue arc. I have, percolating in my head, a major arc for the second half of next year.
Nrama: Long term, what are both of your goals for Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows?
Stegman: I personally want to draw the Spider-Man I want to see. I don’t look at it as much more than that. Through my comic book journey, I’ve realized I just love drawing Spider-Man, so I’d like to have just a nice, long run on this title, and keep drawing the character that I love. It’s really a great feeling to be this in love with something you’re doing every day.
Conway: I second that. My hope is this book is popular enough it never falls in danger of cancellation. Even if they feel the need to restart with another #1, I’d like to keep going as long as Ryan and I and the fans are having fun. I appreciate the great response the book has gotten so far. It’s really overwhelming.
Stegman: I’ve been having trouble keeping up with all the positive comments. And I’m enjoying doing it so much, that’s just icing on the cake.