Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

24 July 2009

Amazing Spider-Man: Brand New Day, v. 2

Collects: Amazing Spider-Man #552-8 (2008)

Released: December 2008 (Marvel)

Format: 168 pages / color / $19.99 / ISBN: 9780785128465

What is this?: More post-deal with the Devil adventures with Spider-Man and his more appropriately themed villains.

The culprits: Writers Bob Gale and Zeb Wells and pencilers Phil Jimenez, Chris Bachalo, and Barry Kitson

Although I enjoyed the first volume Brand New Day, it didn’t guarantee I would enjoy the second. Given the rotating stable of artists and writers, I knew the quality and tone of Amazing would fluctuate over the arcs. So I shouldn’t be surprised I didn’t particularly care for Amazing Spider-Man: Brand New Day, v. 2.

The first three-issue arc and the final issue of v. 2 are written by Bob Gale, who is best known for co-writing the Back to the Future movies and a Daredevil arc few liked between the ones almost everyone did like (v. 2 #20-5). Gale’s work focuses on a new villain: the Freak, a drug addict who injects a bunch of samples from Curt Connors’s lab looking to get high. Instead, the Freak gets mutated. And every time he’s “killed,” he goes into a chrysalis and mutates again, becoming immune to whatever killed him.

Amazing Spider-Man: Brand New Day, v. 2 coverThe Freak didn’t thrill me. A villain who gets more powerful every time he’s defeated is difficult to make work because eventually he has to win or become a joke, neither of which is good. (The former can work; it just rarely does.) The final issue seems a throwback to monster movies of the ‘50s and ‘60s, where the monster has to be stopped with a common chemical (The Horror of Party Beach, for instance). The Freak, blaming Spider-Man for his predicament, desire revenge on Spider-Man; despite the Freak being the cause of his own misery, he doesn’t have to deny or confront his own shortcomings. He’s repetitive in his screaming and slashing; that’s fine for a villain who appears in only one issue, but when it’s four, that’s a bit too one note.

Gale writes a good Spider-Man. That’s one thing in Brand New Day’s favor so far: all the writers seem to understand Spider-Man needs to be funny. He also advances the plot with J. Jonah Jameson, dealing with his wife’s sale of the Bugle. He seems to overestimate the power of Carlie Cooper, the friend of Harry’s girlfriend who works in the coroner’s office; she seems to have real influence here, whereas in v. 1, she was obviously low on the totem pole. I also enjoyed a return appearance by the Bookie, but I have my doubts about whether some of the villains shown placing bets would really be in a supervillain bar. But perhaps that’s an art problem.

The second storyline, written by Zeb Wells, is a misstep. Spider-Man visits with the New Avengers and teams up with Wolverine, for no other real reason I can think of other than to show he still is part of the New Avengers. Then he fights Mayan snow ninjas (did the Mayans have much snow?), a monster from Beyond, and a crazed priest of a Mayan god. Nothing in those two sentences “feels” like Spider-Man, and nothing Wells does makes it any more like him. Joining the New Avengers was one of the screw ups that caused the “One More Day” / “Brand New Day” nonsense in the first place, and mystic adventures was one of the three major problems people had with the J. Michael Straczynski run (the other two being animal totems and Gwen Stacy’s Goblin babies). The banter with Wolverine is fun — like I said, all of the Brand New Day writers have done well with the Spider-dialogue, and Wells isn’t an exception — but Wolverine is gone after the first issue, and despite some helpful bums, the plot gets less interesting the rest of the way.

Still, there’s something about the art from Chris Bachalo that I enjoy. I can’t quite put my finger on it, though. His pencils tell a comprehensible story — a big challenge for him at one point — and his odd, angular style works with the odd, mystical story, complete with a monster from a place where the geometry might not be the same as ours. (It never says, one way or the other, about the geometry; that’s just my inference.)

I’m less thrilled about Phil Jimenez’s work on the first arc; it’s just as professional, but it’s less distinctive. It comes across as boring but effective; that’s not the worst review, but it’s not an endorsement either. I also don’t care for his design(s) for the Freak. It’s a hard job designing characters who are supposed to disgust the reader visually. The Freak is certainly revolting, but … the picture Jimenez draws is not as effective as my imagination. The story doesn’t give Jimenez the opportunity to obscure the villain’s deformity, but I wish he could have. I enjoy Barry Kitson’s Freak more; Kitson, who penciled the final story in Brand New Day, v. 2, has a Freak who is much more visually streamlined, less deformed, and more menacing.

Overall, because of the strong start on v. 1, v. 2 of Brand New Day is a disappointment despite its competence. Nothing clicks as well as it did in the first volume, and Brand New Day drifts into areas that are distractions rather than strengths for Spider-Man.

Rating: Spider-Man symbol Spider-Man symbol (2 of 5)

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