Nathan Kiehn is the author of over 100 blog posts on his family website Keenlinks and "The Gray Guard" ebook fantasy trilogy on Amazon.
This is probably the best Brand New Day arc up until the masterpiece that is The Gauntlet (which I will get to down the road)—no joke. This is really, really weird for me to say, because this is yet another Dan Slott tale. Now, I think I’ve been taking it easy on the guy the past couple of blogs, but I should make it clear: I am not a Dan Slott fan, generally speaking. The guy has talent, I’ll admit, but he’s so completely polarizing and has written—no offense—some bad stuff.
His dialogue can oftentimes (more often than not, at least) be fairly clunky and unrealistic, and he’s done some weird storylines that make you shake your head and wonder why he still has a job. Nevertheless, when he’s good, he’s good. I don’t feel bad for not liking him, but he genuinely surprises me when he writes something top-notch. This is probably the best thing he’s written, I will say. I will remark that I enjoyed the issues leading up to the recent Clone Conspiracy, which is a fun read once you put aside the fact it’s an obvious homage to The Clone Saga of the 90s. Needless to say, that means it all goes downhill from here. Sorry, Dan.
However, it most certainly helps that he has the talents of John Romita Jr. behind him. Romita Jr. returns to illustrate Spider-Man for the first time since he finished up his fantastic run with Straczynski. Once again, he is brilliant. Romita Jr.—like artists such as other favorites of mine Tim Sale, Marcos Martin, Humberto Ramos, and Steve McNiven—manages to really make the worlds they craft pop.
You pick up their stuff and you know you’re reading a comic book. It’s got colors, it’s got goofy-looking characters, and it’s got fun angles and lines. A guy like Alex Ross is amazing for bringing a level of realism and exquisite detail to his work; not that these other artists belong in the opposite camp, but their work is always more fun to take in. Plus, like a few other artists, Romita Jr. is one of those guys whose look you can absolutely recognize. He’s got a unique style that separates him from other artists.
Look at this Green Goblin. One of my favorite Spidey story arcs is Amazing Spider-Man 39-40, by Stan Lee and John Romita, JRJR’s dad and fellow artist. John Romita, for me, definitely defined the look of the Green Goblin. Sure, it's the same costume as when Steve Ditko originally drew it, but I think Romita took this elfin character that Ditko created and turned him into a supervillain filled with maniacal glee.
Romita Jr.’s work is a great homage to his father. Straczynski never really tackled the Green Goblin during his time on the book, so it’s awesome that Romita Jr. gets to draw him here and really help to continue building upon that cackling menace that his father instilled in the character.
Thunder Strikes Once
Onto the story itself: Norman Osborn is the man. He killed a Skrull queen during the Secret Invasion storyline, effectively ending a hostile Skrull takeover of Earth. This means Slott has a lot to play with, because Norman is not only in charge of the peacekeeping organization H.A.M.M.E.R., but also his own version of the Avengers, including a black-suited Spider-Man who is actually Venom in disguise.
Villains like Radioactive Man, Bullseye, and Ares are considered heroes now, trusted even more so than legitimate heroes like Iron Man and Captain America in the wake of events like Civil War, the assassination of Captain America, World War Hulk, and definitely Secret Invasion. The ripples of Civil War continue to impact the Marvel Universe, and Spidey feels the brunt of them here. Slott really gets to toy with the idea of Norman with all this power and how Spidey gets mingled in, plus the idea that, because of Peter’s deal with Mephisto, Norman is no longer aware of Spidey’s civilian identity.
Norman does, however, know that there’s a relationship between Peter and Spider-Man, so Slott plays with that too by having Norman and his “Dark Avengers” interrogate Peter. It’s also Peter’s first introduction to the “Spider-Man” on Osborn’s team: Venom, aka Mac Gargan, the former Scorpion who received the alien symbiote a few years ago during Mark Millar’s run on Marvel Knights: Spider-Man.
A Touch of Venom
A bit of backstory before we continue: a few years back, Eddie Brock revealed that he'd been diagnosed with cancer prior to being bonded with the alien symbiote that made him Venom. Undergoing a crisis of faith, he realized that, even though the symbiote was keeping him alive, he was still doing pretty terrible things as Venom, so he sold the symbiote to the highest bidder. Displeased with the host that purchased it, the symbiote left him and sought out Mac Gargan, turning him into the new Venom and current Thunderbolt member. Alright, history lesson over.
Venom becomes integral to this story as he goes a little rogue from the rest of his Avengers team, drawn to the symbiote’s previous host, Eddie Brock. Eddie volunteers at the same F.E.A.S.T. shelter run by Martin Li, alias Mr. Negative, who used his powers to heal Brock of his cancer.
Venom bursts into the shelter, trying to merge with Brock. Encountering Mr. Negative’s healing properties, the symbiote gets twisted by Mr. Negative's powers in Brock's bloodstream into an Anti-Venom creature when attempting to bond with Brock, thus allowing Slott to introduce a brand new character into his arc that will play a role further down the line in other ASM issues, particularly during his own run as head writer. This is what comic book writers call "science."
Bolt After Bolt
Things get chaotic from there, as the next few issues turn into one brawl after another: Venom vs. Anti-Venom, Norman Osborn vs, the mysterious Menace, Spidey and Anti-Venom vs. the Dark Avengers, and Spidey vs. Bullseye. It’s pounding after pounding, and Romita Jr. delivers the action beautifully, as he always does. Slott knows how to deliver good tension here, playing with a variety of characters and giving fans good battles between favorite characters.
The fight eventually culminates at Osborn’s own company, where he gifts Gargan with a retooled Scorpion costume (his old one previously having been sold at an auction in Marvel Knights) and puts on the old Goblin costume seen above. Of course, supporting cast members come into play, including Harry Osborn as he tries to talk his dad down and keep his girlfriend Lilly out of danger.
The story ends ominously. Secrets are exposed about OsCorp and the candidate they’ve been backing, Randall Crowne. Lilly all of a sudden kisses Peter, adding tension there. Anti-Vemon/Eddie Brock fades into the shadows, promising a return in the future. For the moment, Osborn is beaten, but his shadow looms. Slott pulls together a few of Spidey’s greatest foes—the Green Goblin and Venom—and shows how they continually haunt Spider-Man and how, seemingly, they’ll never stop.
It's a really fun story—probably the best Brand New Day that we've had yet, and certainly the longest. The arc shows how Slott will be able to maneuver himself through all the intricacies of ASM when he becomes the single writer on the book. He has a lot of characters, a lot of action, and some mysteries throughout the six issues we have here, and he does a good job with it.
While Slott's dialogue comes off as sub-par, as it typically does, readers will definitely be focusing more on Romita Jr.'s art than the text. His work, as always, is stunning, and it's wonderful to have an artist of his caliber back on the book, even if only for a short while.
Amazing Spider-Man: New Ways to Die
A Host of Hosts
© 2017 Nathan Kiehn