Amazing Reviews: "Brand New Day Volume 2" (Amazing Spider-Man 552–558)
The second part of my Brand New Day Collection brings us into the second volume of Brand New Day stories, covering seven issues, written by Bob Gale and Zeb Wells, and illustrated by Phil Jimenez, Chris Bachalo, and Barry Kitson. This volume continues to lay the groundwork for Spidey's new world, bringing in more new enemies and conflicts for him to encounter. Having introduced Spidey to two new members of his rogues gallery, Mr. Negative and Menace, the hits just keep coming from the Web-Heads as Bob Gale takes the time to introduce this guy:
The guy’s a Freak. No, I’m not cutting him down. That’s literally his name. No alter ego, no regular name like “Peter Parker” or “Johnny Storm” or “Victor von Doom” (though, come to think of it, some of these regular names are a little odd). He’s just known as Freak, before and after he turns into, ya know, a freak.
Behind the mutated gunk lies a small time druggie who steals money from the F.E.A.S.T. Project (Food, Emergency Aid, Shelter, and Training), a service provided for homeless individuals by Martin Li (who—SPOILER!—is secretly Mr. Negative!). It just so happens that dear Aunt May is is a volunteer at F.E.A.S.T., and it also just so happens that her favorite nephew is there to help out as well and change into his red-and-blue pajamas to give chase (so it's not the wittiest plot in the world, so what?).
Spidey chases him and, in his haste, Freak falls into the lab of one Dr. Curt Connors (who—SORTA SPOILER!—is not-so-secretly the on-again/off-again enemy of Spidey’s called the Lizard) and injects himself with what he believes are drugs. Of course, Freak learns that invaluable comic book lesson of never tampering with anything science-y, because the formula actually mutates him into the Prince Charming stand-in you see above.
Admittedly, his origin is kooky, but his powers are not. Over the course of a few issues, Spidey fights him about three times, and each time, Freak gets “killed” and further mutates in order to grow a defense mechanism against whatever killed him the previous time. Soon, he’s fireproof and bulletproof. It’s an interesting concept, and Gale pulls it off well. Artist Phil Jimenez becomes somewhat of a mainstay on the series, and while I don’t think his art is the most recognizable, his rendition of Freak is hideous, and that’s a good thing.
Gale also continues to play nicely with the supporting case, bringing in police officer Vin Gonzalez and Carlie Cooper to help with the case. Vin will play a larger role in the series as time goes on, but for now he's got a thing against Spidey, as most cops do. JJJ also plays a role as he discovers that his wife Marla sells the Daily Bugle, concerned as she is for his health, even though the news of this results in a second heart attack for the man. Guy survives both, cause the man has nerves stronger than adamantium.
Wells, Wells, Wells, Look What the Storm Dragged In
A snowstorm stops Spidey from pursuing Freak further, meaning Gale and Jimenez slide over to let writer and artist team Zeb Wells and Chris Bachalo write a three-part story that explains the sudden storm and the evil behind it. I enjoy the few Wells/Bachalo collaborations on Amazing that crop up. Both can be a little dark, but they click together, sorta like how Straczynski and Romita Jr. worked together earlier.
The Snowstorm Story
The story involves Spidey rescuing an old man from evil, mystic Aztec warriors and looking for his missing pals. Unbeknownst to him, the old man is actually trying to use human sacrifices to call on an ancient Aztec deity of death that can bend time and space in order to jumpstart the takeover of the world. So, yeah, just a regular day for Spidey. Once again, Spidey’s friends and allies are put in harm’s way to heighten the tension, cause saving the world or New York is too impersonal. There’s gotta be some immediate danger, amiright?
Bachalo’s art is more on the cartoony side than most, meaning he plays with humor well, especially in Spidey’s facial expressions, while also giving some wonderful detail and grim darkness in the action and violence departments. Both Wells and Bachalo like to see how much they can bet the tar out of Spidey and still have him come out on top, and so Spidey takes his lumps and bruises as he battles this evil Aztec, world-conquering deity. There's also a fun cameo made by Wolverine, who helps Spidey take on some of the Aztek warriors, reminding readers that the Web-Slinger does some team work on the side of his solo title.
As fun as it is, however, the story is a little cheapened just by where it's slotted. It feels rather out of place between the two parts of Freak's story and would be better served being placed at the end, almost as a filler between the Freak tale and the beginning of the next arc. Stopping a story halfway through because of a freak snowstorm (no pun intended) unfortunately screams "coincidence" at the reader.
The Return of Freak
After playing in Winter Wonderland, Spidey’s back on the trail of Freak, who has once again mutated. Phil Jimenez is replaced by Barry Kitson for the last issue of this volume, and I’m not as big a fan of his art. His version of Freak isn’t as a cool as the previous version, and Jimenez seems to pack in some more detail. Kitson will never become as regular an artist on the series as others on this list, but his work will pop up from time to time. It's good, but like I said, I have other artists I enjoy more.
Maybe because of the weird ordering with Wells and Bachalo’s story, this issue seems a little rushed, as Spidey figures out how to beat Freak by pretending to have drugs and tricking him into inhaling a compound that renders him unconscious. It just seems like a weak way to end the story, as if Gale wasn't 100% certain on how he wanted to wrap up Freak's first appearance and decided this was quickest and/or easiest method of doing so.
On the plus side, the writers continue to weave in Menace’s presence as a staple as well as a long-running campaign story that I enjoy see play out. What these writers do very well at is weaving various threads (ha, spider pun) through their stories that play out well in later arcs. Specifically, Randall Crowne is fleshed out in these issues. With the death of Lisa Palfrey in previous issues, it's really Crowne and Hollister at this point, and Menace seems to be making a point of going after Crowne and his supporters, which include employees for the Daily Bugle.
A Recreation of Spidey's World
What these volumes are doing is really something that hasn’t been done since Stan Lee created the book. They’re reintroducing Spidey to a new generation of readers and reconstructing his world. Now, I’m a purist when it comes to comics. I don’t like huge changes to my characters. However, Brand New Day isn’t so much changing Spidey (save for whole dissolved marriage thing) as it is returning him to his heyday, back when new villains were cropping up and money, relationships, and making lame excuses to his friends were among his biggest issues. In that instance, I’m enjoying watching Spidey’s world being recreated for my generation, as it happened for the previous generation fifty years ago.
Amazing Spider-Man: Brand New Day, Volume 2
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© 2017 Nathan Kiehn