Nathan Kiehn is the author of over 100 blog posts on his family website Keenlinks and "The Gray Guard" ebook fantasy trilogy on Amazon.
From Back in Black to Brand New Day
In a strange turn of events not fully explained in One More Day, Peter’s deal with Mephisto brought with it certain side effects. One that is hinted at with the ending of One More Day is that Peter’s best friend and former Green Goblin, Harry Osborn, is back from the dead, and the second is that the world no longer remembers Peter Parker and Spider-Man are one and the same. These are mysteries that are teased for a while before finally being answered down the road. Some of these mysteries take quite a number of issues before being revealed, and other subplots are planted as stories develop, so readers had a lot to look forward to.
So this is the world we are thrust into: Aunt May is healthy, Mary Jane is out of the picture, Peter Parker’s identity is once again secret, and Spidey’s back to juggling superhero duties alongside finding a job and supporting himself while evading authorities because he's a fugitive for never working with the Superhuman Registration Act from Civil War. It’s just like the sixties, if Spidey was a fugitive from the law in the sixties…actually, come to think of it, authorities hated and hunted him back then, too, didn’t they? Never mind. This is exactly the same stuff.
The one difference is now a whole cabal of guys handle writing duties, “Webheads” or “Spidey’s Braintrust” as they come to be known. The resulting epoch of Brand New Day is a series of six volumes that I actually have combined in the newly released Spider-Man: Brand New Day: Complete Collection Volumes 1 and 2. Since there are about 18 issues in the monster of a collection that is Volume 1, I’m going to be breaking it down over three blogs, each consisting of the issues contained within the original Brand New Day volumes and then doing the same for the equally large Volume 2. The first volume consists of six issues, penned by Dan Slott and Marc Guggenheim and illustrated by Steve McNiven and Salvador Larroca. There are a few other backup stories, but these are not terribly important, so I'll be skipping over those in order to get to the meatier tales told within.
Amazing Spider-Man: Brand New Day, Vol. 1
There Are a Lot of Supporting Characters
Dan Slott is a lucky dude. The current writer of Amazing Spider-Man, he’s been doing the book for, like, seven years at this point and has done a lot to build (and sometimes destroy) the Spider-world. He’s a fairly polarizing guy amongst fans, so I kind of wished he’d continue playing it safe as he did with these first few issues. The storyline in issues 546-548 centers on Spidey facing down his newest enemy Mr. Negative, juggling this task with hunting down an imposter and finding a job. Despite his often confusing twists, Slott clearly loves Spidey and his supporting cast and is able to pack a lot within these three issues. We get a confrontation between Peter and J. Jonah Jameson over—what else?—money, and the ole skinflint has a heart attack. We get the introduction of Mr. Negative into Spidey’s world and his alter ego Martin Lee, characters that continually pop up in Slott’s further ASM issues.
We also see a lot of supporting cast members Marla Jameson, Bruno Karnelli, Carlie Cooper, Harry Osborn, Lilly Hollister—Marla is Jonah's wife, concerned for him and his health after his heart attack and the impact the Daily Bugle has on his well-being; Bruno is a gangster whose family is targeting by the sinister Mr. Negative; Carlie is a forensic scientist who will play a larger role down the line; Harry is, naturally, the son of Norman Osborn, the Green Goblin; Lilly is the daughter of Bill Hollister, a man running for the position of mayor of New York City. These characters are introduced and/or fleshed out well under Slott’s command and stay for future stories once Slott eventually takes the title over.
Slott Inserted Humor
Slott is also genuinely funny here—not that he normally isn’t, he is, but this a good example of the humor he consistently injects into the series. During a montage of Peter job hunting, the guy in the panel above critiques his photo-taking technique by saying “It’s like you left your camera on a ledge and walked away or something,” which has gotta one of the best jokes I’ve read in comics, because that’s exactly what Peter does as Spider-Man. Ultimately, and you’ll see more of this later on, Slott handles the character well. Like all writers, there are moments where I'm not as much a fan of his work, but that’s usually a comment regarding his later work, especially with the Superior Spider-Man storyline. What he does here is good. He builds Spidey’s world well, he handles the dialogue well, he clearly enjoys what he does.
The same goes for artist Steve McNiven. I really, really enjoy his work on Civil War, and a cover I saw that he did for a different Spider-Man book made me wish he did art for ASM long before I knew he actually had drawn these issues. McNiven straddles a fine line; he’s able to make his art look realistic while reminding us that this is a comic book. Some guys look too cartoony or tacky, but not McNiven.
The "Menace" of Marc Guggenheim
Following this story are a few issues written by Marc Guggenheim that introduce a Menace to Spider-Man’s life. Yes, that’s supposed to capitalized. “Menace” is a new Goblin foe, complete with glider and a secret identity that isn’t revealed for a number of issues. While the concept is definitely intriguing, I don’t think it carries the same weight as the secret identities of the Green Goblin and the Hobgoblin. It's an engaging and fun subplot, but at this point, it feels a little same old, same old. It will never be as iconic as those two other reveals. However, having already known about Menace’s identity before I read this volume, I did find it interesting to see how the writers played out and teased the mystery. Guggenheim also brings in Jackpot, a red-headed vigilante that, yes, is a reference to Mary Jane. Guggenheim also adds to the post-Jameson Daily Bugle story, now the DB! under the cantankerous and irritating Dexter Bennet, a character he plays with well.
What’s nice to see—and easier to understand once you start reading more stories by the same writers—is that these guys are seemingly given a lot of creative license with who they can use. Heck, I recently read a later Dan Slott story where he brought back a couple of characters he’d used over a hundred issues ago. Though each author has to tell a certain story or are probably required to introduce or add to certain elements, it seems like they each have freedom to do so, meaning that while the authors together work on this larger story of Spider-Man, they each have the ability to make their own mark and weave in their own themes. The team idea is a great and unique approach to this mag, and I’m happy Marvel ran with it for a couple of years.
Salvador Larroca’s artwork is…fine? I add the question mark—not that it isn’t okay—but because that’s about the only word I can describe it with. Some guys, like John Romita Jr, Steve McNiven, Marcos Martin, or Tim Sale, are artists who have some sort of distinctive flair, some aspect that makes you go “Yup, that’s him” when you see the artwork. Larroca isn’t one of those guys. His art is good, but it doesn’t stand out or pop. Like McNiven, Larroca does get props for straddling that reality/fantasy divide. I’m definitely reading a comic book, but nowhere do I go, “Oh, yeah, this is a comic book.” His work is enjoyable to see, and his rendition of characters is good, it’s just that there isn’t anything that makes me go “Wow.”
These are the first two story arcs that propel Spidey into the Brand New Day setting, and the writers and artists do a great job at solidifying Peter into this new world. This is the era of Spidey comics that I genuinely fell in love with. Yes, the One More Day deal might be silly, and Peter’s lack of a spouse may be irritating, but I think that the “Webheads,” for the most part, do a good job of taking responsibility for this character and building a newer world around him. Is the writing as good or consistent as J. Michael Straczynski’s? No. Is the art as pleasant as John Romita Jr.’s? Not always. But, if we’re looking at this like the passing of a torch from one writer to a group of writers, I think the torch has remained lit. It’s strong, it’s fun, and it’s a new era for Spidey, the readers, and the talented creators behind the panels.
© 2017 Nathan Kiehn