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

22 May 2009

Amazing Spider-Man: Brand New Day, v. 1

Collects: Amazing Spider-Man #546-51, Spider-Man: Swing Shift Director’s Cut, backup story from Venom Super Special #1 (1995, 2008)

Released: May 2008 (Marvel)

Format: 200 pages / color / $24.99 (hardcover) / ISBN: 9780785128434

What is this?: The first collection of post-reboot Spider-Man stories.

The culprits: Writers Dan Slott and Marc Guggenheim and pencilers Steve McNiven and Salvador Larrocca and friends

I’m going to get this out of the way now and then move on: Spider-Man’s “One More Day” was a stupid, stupid idea, as many others have pointed out more forcefully and in a more timely manner. Trading his marriage, his happiness, and his wife’s happiness to the devil for the life of a woman who has been terminally ill since about 1964 makes no sense; I’m sure Aunt May herself would have said, “Don’t be a halfwit, Peter.” And given that Aunt May tends to “die” every 200 issues anyway, well, I wouldn’t bet much on her surviving much past Amazing Spider-Man #600. And what the hell is Mephisto going to do with a marriage, anyway? It’s not a commodity you can sell or trade or even use as a stake in poker game.

That out of the way, I can move on — as Amazing Spider-Man itself did — to Amazing Spider-Man: Brand New Day, v. 1. In it, Peter Parker’s a hard-luck 20-something in New York City, trying to scrape by on a photographer’s income while also being an outlaw hero. His marriage with Mary Jane never happened; Harry Osborn is back from the dead, after bumming around Europe for a while (to be fair, that’s essentially how they brought back his father); and Peter Parker’s back to being a hard-luck superhero, poor and rootless.

Amazing Spider-Man: Brand New Day, v. 1 coverI came to Brand New Day with some misgivings, and I can’t say they were completely mollified. I admit there are some very good ideas here. The change of ownership at the Daily Bugle and Spider-Man’s interaction with superheroes who registered during Civil War are great plot directions; the subplot of a murder who puts Spider-tracers in the mouths of his victims is intriguing. The new villains were in the vein of Spider-Man’s old villains but without being too derivative. But this book seems all too pleased with itself sometimes, from Harry Osborn’s smug face to the Stan Lee-inspired editorial tags and narration. We’re going to back to the basics, it says, if we have to kill Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, dig up and zombify their corpses, and chain them to desks in the Marvel Bullpen so that you can get Spider-Man in the Mighty Marvel Manner!

In moving forward, Brand New Day is continually looking backwards, regressing Peter, rolling the clock back on his development, making Spider-Man a police suspect and Aunt May an activist (again), and generally trying to make it feel like the mid-‘80s (if not the ‘70s or Silver Age). But the past is gone. I am not interested in revamps, reboots (hard or soft), or reimaginings. Characters or the writers’ interpretations must grow and move forward if they’re to speak to new readers; if they don’t, the characters will die. Brand New Day wants to move forward, but it is determined to hold on to that past like a life preserver, little realizing it’s an anchor: it can steady you or give you hope, but it can’t support you.

And it’s a pity that overshadows the stories. Are they classic Spider-Man stories? Although they’re in that vein, they probably won’t feature in a Best of Spider-Man volume any time soon. But they are solid stories, with new and somewhat interesting villains (time will tell how interesting) doing unpredictable evil. There’s little confusion over the new continuity. Writers Dan Slott (Swing Shift, #546-8) and Marc Guggenheim (#549-51) do an imaginative job with the new Spider-Man setup. Editor Tom Brevoort’s manifesto, reprinted at the end of the book, has many excellent ideas: bringing back the supporting cast, creating new villains, sticking with consistent looks and characterizations on the old villains, making Spider-Man funny again. These are all excellent ideas, and they didn’t need a reboot to implement them. And the idea of the thrice-monthly Amazing with a regular rotation of writers and a head writer is an excellent plan; I hope sales remain strong enough to continue it.

Steve McNiven (#546-8) provides the pencils for the first arc, and Salvador Larroca draws the second half (#549-551). Neither really knocks me out, and I’m surprised that for such a high-profile storyline Marvel didn’t get bigger artists (nothing against McNiven or Larroca). I prefer McNiven, who seems to have a good sense of the kinetic nature of Spider-Man and gets the interesting challenge of drawing the chromatically reversed Mr. Negative. Larroca’s art seems stiffer and puffier, although that may be a result of the off-putting coloring, which seems to go out of its way to refuse to show any vibrancy. The names of the artists involved in smaller roles are better known to me: Phil Jimenez on Swing Shift and Greg Land, Phil Winslade, and Mike Deodato on some backups. John Romita, Jr., illustrates a two-page summary of the new continuity at the beginning of the story. For completists, Mark Bagley is the artist for Slott’s first Spider-Man story, a forgettable backup from Venom Super Special #1 reprinted at the end of the book.

After reading Brand New Day, I have a new respect for X-Men: Messiah CompleX. I enjoyed Brand New Day much more — much, much more, really — but as I said in the Messiah CompleX review, that book works better as a statement of what’s to come than as a book. Messiah CompleX says the future’s going to be different that what you’ve seen, so you better pay attention. Brand New Day says the future’s going to be a lot like the past, so if you want to take a snooze, you probably won’t miss much. For that reason, they average out to about the same rating.

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

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