Amazing Spider-Man #546-554
Brand New Day: The First Three Months
Written by Dan Slott, Marc Guggenheim, Bob Gale
Art by Steve McNiven, Salvador Larocca, Phil Jimenez
Cover price: $3.99; Available now
I was able to pick up the first three months worth of Amazing Spider-Man: Brand New Day issues on the cheap from my LCS (Graham Crackers Comics of Wheaton, tell them I said “Hello”) so I thought I’d check them out and see what the big fuss is about.
Now, Spider-Man was really the comic that got me started in this crazy hobby (Web of Spider-Man, specifically, God Bless Alex Saviuk) but I’d drifted away from the book during college, which happened to be during the Clone Saga, so I wasn’t missing much. When I started getting books more regularly again, for some reason I never picked any Spider-man books up, or if I did, they disappointed me. But I am a big fan of Ultimate Spider-man, and I enjoyed the movies, so I know there’s room in my life for the tales of one Peter Parker. Still, the regular Marvel U Spider-Man series held no appeal for me, much in the same way a lot of “classic” characters hold no appeal for me, i.e. Superman, Batman, the Hulk, Fantastic Four (thus the lack of coverage from me on the Millar/Hitch run). So my question to myself while reading is, can I go home again, and regain that enjoyment that I used to get from the series. As it turns out the answer is, no, but it’s not really through the fault of the creators. These are perfectly decent stories, which place Spider-man in his own corner of the Marvel U, away from any skrull-y distractions. It just turns out my taste have moved on from these kinds of stories.
The new direction begins with an arc by Dan Slott, with art by Steve McNiven. They’re charged with setting up the new status quo, explaining what Harry Osborne has been up to (yes, he’s back from the dead), setting up the story-telling engine for the rest of the writers. The main story deals with Spidey going up against Mr. Negative, classic kind of villain with underworld crime connections and vaguely defined powers. By the end of the story Spidey has gained a favor from the mob, J. Jonah Jameson has had a heart attack, and Mr. Negative is set up as a villain with some staying power.
The second story is by Marc Guggenheim, art by Salvador Larocca. This arc is mostly setting up the new character of Jackpot, introduced in last years Free Comic Book Day Spider-Man story. The story also introduces the new villain, Menace, who may or may not have a connection to the Green Goblin, but is certainly riding a familiar looking glider. This story works a bit better, because it doesn’t need to spend as much time setting things up, it focuses on the actual plot.
The third story is written by Bob Gale and features the art of Phil Jimenez. For this month, the villain is called Freak, a homeless meth-head who makes the mistake of thinking some needles in Dr. Curt Conners’ lab are filled with street drugs, only to find out they’re filled with something much worse. The drugs turn him into a monster who is adapts to anything that kills him, so we know he’ll be coming back. The story line also forwards a few other subplots that were established in the first two arcs.
I really enjoyed how the arcs played off each other, and how well each writer set up and paid off things the other writers did. There are a couple of big mysteries and subplots that will pay off further down the road. I also liked how the new villains were heavily based in classic Spider-man tropes; the mob boss, a goblin type, and the science accident gone wrong. Spider-Man has some of the best villains of any comic book character, and if you’re going to make new ones, it’s best to focus on the kind of monsters he’s fought before. I would like to see the writers used some of the classic villains, but the cupboard could always use some refilling, and these three could become interesting villains for others to use in the future.
You can tell that each writer has their own style to bring to the book, but they all capture the classic Spidey themes and writing ticks that make a Spider-man book what it is. Marc Guggenheim and Dan Slott have a nice middle of the road feel, not drifting too far from any normal Spider-man story of the last twenty years. It’s very good work, but it’s not really flashy in a Matt Fraction/Grant Morrison kind of way. They tell the story, split the focus between Peter and Spider-Man, and get out of the way. It doesn’t make you sit up and say wow per se, but it’s doing its job, which is to tell a smart, exciting story. Bob Gale does a pretty good job as well, but he does do a couple of goofy silver age tricks, like using arrow captions to say what’s coming up on the next page. It’s a style and if he wants to go that way, its fine, the style just doesn’t do much for me. Each writer gets the characters, gets the setting, and gets the style of what a Spider-man story should be, and that’s a high complement, especially after “One More Day” which was the opposite of what a Spidey story should be.
The art is also very good, across the board. Each artist brings their own style to the book, but none of them vary so widely as to be a distraction. With Chris Bachallo starting his arc next month I might not be able to say that, because he has a very singular style, but some variety to the art won’t be a bad thing either. Salvador Larocca was the best in my opinion; his art had a nice balance between Phil Jimenez’s weird character models, and Steve McNiven’s stiffness. I could deal without the photos of New York used in reflections, but that’s just a style point, and if it helps him keep the art on time, more power to him. There’s nothing in the art to stop me from recommending it to other people though, and fans of the three artists will want to check their respective issues out.
So will I stick around? That’s a good question I don’t rightly know the answer to, and its something each reader is going to have to figure out on their own. There are lots of Spidey fans out there, and each one has an opinion on what a good story should be. Should it be in the Lee/Ditko style, the Lee/Romita style, Conway, Michelinie or dozens of other writers from the characters long history? For me, Spider-man is a big part of my reading history, but perhaps a part that I have just moved on from. It’s not a bad thing, it’s been twenty years since I started reading comics, and my tastes have changed. I’m still kind of curious to read the next story, and I’m a bit hooked by the mysteries set up, so I might pick up the next batch of issues. But I’ve got a ton on my reading stack already, and do I really have room for another book three times a month? But then again, I read so much, is one more book really going to make that much of a difference? Maybe I should pick up the next three issues, and then wait for the trades to start coming out. But do I really want to wait for an affordable trade to come out? See, I could list pros and cons for hours, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. I would think that regular Spidey fans should be happy with this change though. They get a book with high quality creators, three times a month, telling classic tales. If they’re not happy with this, nothing will make them happy. And there’s always Ultimate Spider-man, which I still enjoy month in and month out. I’m going to go sit and mull this for a while, and hopefully come up with a decent answer.
Yes, it’s a tough life being a comic fan.