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

22 October 2010

Amazing Spider-Man: Brand New Day, v. 3

Collects: Amazing Spider-Man #559-563 (2008)

Released: February 2009 (Marvel)

Format: 120 pages / color / $14.99 / ISBN: 9780785132424

What is this?: Mary Jane crosses paths with Spider-Man again as Peter deals with the life of the paparazzi; Spider-Man learns about the Bookie.

The culprits: Writers Dan Slott and Bob Gale and pencilers Marcos Martin and Mike McKone

It’s been a year since I’ve read anything from the Spider-reboot, Brand New Day. I hadn’t forgotten about it, but I had put it on the back burner. But I was looking for something to review, and the local university library had Amazing Spider-Man: Brand New Day, v. 3, so here we are.

I enjoyed v. 1, but I felt it was using the reboot to tell stories that wouldn’t have needed such a drastic reboot if the Spider-books hadn’t gone off the rails so badly. I felt v. 2 was a bit of a misstep, focusing on an uninteresting villain and a mystical adventure outside Spider-Man’s bailiwick. Fortunately, v. 3 only makes one of those mistakes.

Amazing Spider-Man: Brand New Day, v. 3 coverThe first arc is written by primary Spider-scribe Dan Slott, and Slott manages to make the best of a story, like One Moment in Time, that had to be told regardless of who wanted to read it. Although the “return” of Mary Jane is ostensibly the big draw in Amazing Spider-Man #559-61, Slott does a good job of making Mary Jane only a peripheral part of the story. There’s not enough room here to do justice to the big emotional payoff we’d expect from the meeting, so Slott is satisfied with letting us know Mary Jane’s status quo. On the other hand, I’m not sure getting across her status quo requires the amount of presence she has in this story. It’s a tricky balance, and although Slott pulls it off as well as I could have expected, I’m not satisfied with MJ’s presence either.

The main focus is an obsessed fan Spidey dubs “Paper Doll,” a two-dimensional stalker who can make her victims two dimensional as well, causing suffocation because of their newly tiny, tiny lungs. There’s not much to Paper Doll except for an set of powers that is underused in comic books, but for a one-off villain, there’s not much more needed. She remains true to her motivation and doesn’t clutter up the plot (she probably should have gone after Peter Parker at some point, though). If there’s use for her in the future, her character can be developed better then. I do call foul on her real name, so subtly revealed I picked it up only on a third read-through: Piper Dali.

What Slott does best is update the mass-media world that employs Peter Parker. It isn’t as a radical (or unlikely) a shift as the Peter-as-Bugle-Webmaster Brian Michael Bendis gave us in Ultimate Spider-Man, but it’s much easier to take. Dexter Bennett, the new publisher of the Bugle, assigns Peter to the celebrity beat, something his Spider-abilities make him supremely suitable for. Of course, best friend Harry Osborne — reasonably a long-term target of paparazzi — isn’t wild about the switch in career, and Aunt May isn’t exactly proud either. Neither is Peter, for that matter, but the paychecks are good.

Spider-Man also fights a Web-savvy villain, Screwball, who translates her villainy into fame via the Internet. Maybe she makes money at it; I dunno. But it makes sense there would be someone like her in Spider-Man’s New York. The writer of the next arc, Bob Gale, also uses the Internet / villainy connection in a way that feels natural.

The second story is a two-parter in which Gale tells the story of the Bookie, the gambler at the Bar with No Name that sets odds for superfights. He’s appeared a couple of times in the Brand New Day setup, and I can’t say that I’ve ever wondered what his story was. Nevertheless, here we have it, and of course it involves bad luck, bad odds, and fixed games.

It’s a shame that Gale’s decided to focus on the Bookie when there’s not much interesting about the character. Gale seems to have a good handle on the villains at the Bar with No Name — the whole scene with Spidey in the Bar is well done, both by Gale and by penciler Mike McKone — and I have a great deal of respect for someone who decides to use the Enforcers out of Spider-Man’s entire rogue’s gallery. (I’m not sure about Ox’s characterization, but I’m not sure he’s been given a personality in almost 50 years of appearances, so I’ll let it slide.) His Spider-dialogue — like Slott’s — is spot-on. But I don’t care about the Bookie or his father or any of his hare-brained schemes, not even when it’s suggested the Bookie could have the answers to clear Spider-Man from the most recent charges of murder that have been leveled against him. Spider-Man is always cleared, more or less, so there’s not much excitement there, and I didn’t get the feeling that whoever is framing Spider-Man is that important. (From things I’ve read online since this came out, I know that might be wrong. But Brand New Day hasn’t convinced me of the culprit’s importance.)

Whatever I think about the plots, the art remains a strength for Brand New Day. The artists in this book have some of the highest quality-to-amount-I-like-their-work ratios other than Frank Quitely. Marcos Martin pencils the first arc, and although I don’t like the way he draws faces and human bodies49, I can’t deny he knows how to make a scene visually interesting. Whether it’s Spider-Man debating with himself over whether to take celebrity pictures or Paper Doll alone with her collection of newspaper clippings, there’s rarely a dull page. I also enjoyed the fight scene in an art gallery, where Martin got to use his art studies to integrate Andy Warhol’s and Roy Lichtenstein’s work into the Marvel Universe — and into a fight scene. I enjoyed McKone’s work more, although I wasn’t quite as impressed with it. Still, the scenes inside the Bar with No Name were fun, as was the rescue on Coney Island.

There’s nothing wrong with the stories in v. 3 — they’re fun, lightweight, refreshingly free from grit or heavy gloom. That’s part of their charm, and that’s a large measure of their problem; there’s no real substance here. No matter how strong the art, no matter how encouraging the new direction, the stories themselves feel like a sweet, frothy dessert with little to sink one’s teeth into. Like the rest of Brand New Day, it’s a strong reboot. The individual appeal of the stories, however, is much less, despite strong writing and penciling.

Rating: Spider-Man symbol Spider-Man symbol Spider-Man symbol (3 of 5)

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