Amazing Spider-Man, Marvel’s flagship comic title, has seen a lot of changes in the past two years. In the wake of One More Day, readers saw a status quo with some reintroduced elements of yesteryear, some new elements, and the lack of other recent elements. I’ve been behind on the reviews because most of what I have to say about them doesn’t fit neatly into our review formats, so here’s another editorial. (Note that this introduction concludes the spoiler-free portion of the article.)
The Stated Goals
The One More Day story arc seems to be a case where Marvel Editorial decided the ends justified the means. From what I can see in (and infer from) the public statements, they felt that “Amazing Spider-Man” would be a better title if Peter were single again, if his secret identity was secret, and if his adventures were in one, frequently published title rather than three distinct titles. (This last one seems to be a sales thing; with the exception of McFarlane’s early issues on his title, “Amazing” has consistently sold better and been more tightly tied to continuity than the other titles.) They wanted a clean slate, hearkening back to the days of yore, when his titles were more fun. They also wanted to set up an easy jumping-on point for new readers to pick up and just read, without worrying about continuity not covered by the movies.
This editorial covers the content from:
- The Amazing Spider-Man: Free Comic Book Day 2007 Edition – This was our first glimpse of the “Brand New Day,” introducing a registered, red-haired feminine heroine named Jackpot with a penchant for calling Spider-Man “Tiger.” Published before One More Day was solicited but after it was announced, the fans easily deduced that this would be in post-OMD continuity. Speculation that it was Mary Jane Watson-Parker under the mask ran wild.
- Amazing Spider-Man #546-558: The original issues with the “Brand New Day” moniker, reviewed here in more detail.
- Amazing Spider-Man #559-561: The “Peter Parker, Paparazzi” arc, in which Peter gets good money taking unethical photos for the new DB!
- ASM #562: “The Other Spider-Man,” in which someone runs around in the costume.
- ASM #563: Spider-Man visits the Bar With No Name, where super-villains hang out.
- ASM #564: “Threeway Collision!,” where we see a chase with Spider-Man and Overdrive from three perspectives. This was also the last story to have “Brand New Day” stamped on the cover.
- ASM #565-567: “Kraven’s First Hunt,” in which Sergei’s daughter starts hunting Spider-Man.
- ASM #568-573: “New Ways To Die,” the first story arc to bring back classic villains. In this case, Norman Osborn shows up with the pre-Secret Invasion Thunderbolts, and the Mac Gargan Venom encounters both Eddie Brock and Mr. Negative in the process.
- ASM Annual #1/35: The readers finally get Jackpot’s full history.
- ASM #574: Flash Thompson is reintroduced with massive changes to his personal status quo.
- ASM #575-576: “Family Ties,” updating Hammerhead
- ASM #577: Spider-Man teams up with the Punisher in one story, and the Bookie decides J. Jonah Jameson is the Spider Tracer killer in the other.
- ASM #578-579: “Unscheduled Stop,” introducing Mark Waid to the writing team and introducing the readers to J. Jonah Jameson Sr.
- ASM #580: “Fill In The Blank,” in which the Blank returns.
- ASM #581-582: “Mind on Fire,” in which the Molten Man comes back, and the readers and Peter finally learn why Harry Osborn isn’t dead anymore.
- ASM #583: Going into six printings, the lead story covers Peter’s relationship with Betty Brant, while the backup covers his meeting with some guy named Barack Obama.
- ASM #584-588: “Character Assassination” ends several running plot threads, including the Spider Tracer Killer and mayoral election arcs.
- ASM #589: Return of the Spot
- ASM #590-591: “Face Front,” which covers his latest encounter with the Fantastic Four. This is the first to start to really address why nobody remembers who he is anymore. Due to alternate dimensional travelling, two months elapse back home while they’re gone, which leads to significant changes in the status quo for both Jamesons.
- ASM #592-594: “24/7,” in which Peter decides to be Spider-Man 24/7 specifically to irritate New York’s newest mayor, J. Jonah Jameson Jr.
- ASM #595-599: “American Son,” a Dark Reign crossover with
- ASM Annual #36: The engagement party between “Aunt” May Parker and J. Jonah Jameson Sr.
- ASM Extra #1-3: These fill in additional stories in and around the main title, often with stories set in the future to tease upcoming plotlines.
- ASM #600: The reintroduction of Dr. Octopus and the wedding of May Parker and JJJ Sr. There are other stories here, too, in this 104 page ad-free, reprint-free monster issue published this past Wednesday, July 22.
The most obvious reintroduced elements were Peter’s webshooters (replaced with organic webshooters, much like in the movies, during a storyline titled “The Other” which ran just before Marvel’s Civil War,) Harry Osborn (last “seen” at his funeral,) and Peter’s job at the Daily Bugle (though that didn’t last.)
The New Elements
When the new status quo hit, we found Peter hanging out with a new group of friends. Three notables were Vin Gonzales, a police officer who soon became Peter’s roommate, Carlie Cooper, a police scientist who also knew Vin and who seems to have a romantic interest in Peter, and Lily Hollister, girlfriend of Harry Osborn and daughter of mayoral candidate Bill Hollister.
Perhaps more significant than the new friends were the new enemies:
- Anti-Venom: Eddie Brock has been transformed, as has his symbiote. He’s more of a hero now, trying to heal and help, but part of that drive is to “heal” Peter from the spider bite he once received, stripping him of his Spider-Man powers.
- Freak: A druggie who took the wrong drugs, and now evolves to every threat so that he can’t be hurt or killed the same way twice.
- Kraven: Daughter of Sergei Kravenoff, who is obsessed with Spider-Man.
- Menace: A new goblin-type villain, who kept attacking Bill Hollister on his campaign trail.
- Mr. Negative: By day, Negative is philanthropist Martin Li, who also employs May Parker at one of his soup kitchens. The two personas may or may not be aware of each other. Negative is Kingpin or Tombstone style crime boss, whose history was only recently revealed in the “Dark Reign: Mr. Negative” miniseries. (At the time of this writing, two of the three issues in that series have been published, revealing his powers as well as his history.)
- Overdrive: Overdrive was the first we saw, back in the Free Comic Day special, whose power is to use nanotechnology to “trick out” any vehicle he touches. He’s also a huge Spider-Man fan.
- Paperdoll: A two dimensional woman obsessed with Mary Jane Watson’s current celebrity boyfriend.
- Screwball: A teenager who wants fame more than crime. She tends to webcast her exploits.
- Vulture: There’s a new Vulture in town, who actually feeds off of sick or wounded criminals like carrion.
The major story arcs to date have contained various long term threads, as well. The two most prominent were the mayoral election with its companion Menace attacks, and the Spider Tracer serial killer. The former covered New York’s search for a mayor, and one candidate was repeatedly attacked by Menace. The unsuccessful attacks generated more sympathy for Bill Hollister in the public eye, and drove him to a win. When it was later revealed that Menace was none other than Bill’s daughter Lily. Though Bill was unaware of it, Lily became Menace when she found the goblin formula in a secret room at the Osborn mansion, and used that power to generate sympathy for her father and try to drive him to win the election. When the people learned of this, Bill backed out of the role, forcing an emergency re-election that took place while Peter was away with the Fantastic Four. J. Jonah Jameson Jr., former publisher of the Daily Bugle (as of the first Brand New Day story arc, in which he had a heart attack and his wife sold the paper while he was comatose to cut the stress in his life when he recovered) won the election and became New York’s latest mayor.
The second major ongoing story arc was the hunt for the Spider Tracer killer. A series of corpses were found around the city, all with active Spider Tracers on them. Spider-Man was branded a serial killer in the public eye, which made life difficult for him. The responsible parties were eventually revealed (due in large part to Carlie Cooper) to be members of the NYPD, who were leaving old evidence at the crime scenes to frame Spider-Man and bring him in. One of the officers involved was Vin Gonzales, who eventually came clean and is now serving the time due to him.
Peter and Mary Jane were never married. They were going to be married, but something happened on the wedding day that Mary Jane has never forgiven Peter for. The results of “The Other” are also missing, as is Peter’s job as a teacher. To date, none of these have been explained.
The only change as obvious as the missing marriage is the fact that Spider-Man’s secret identity is secret again. It was finally explained to some degree in issue 591, when Peter describes it to the Fantastic Four in the following exchange:
Mr. Fantastic: All right, Spider-Man, now that we finally have some time on our hands, I have to admit to… I’m curious. This “mindwipe” of yours. How does it work?
Spider-Man: Reed, it’s like Fight Club, the first rule of mindwipes is you don’t–
Mr. Fantastic: Humor me.
Spider-Man: All right. It’s kind of a… “psychic blindspot.” Even if there’s a stack of evidence pointing to who I really am… your mind won’t let you connect the dots.
Mr. Fantastic: Or we’d connect them ourselves… but in the wrong order.
Spider-Man: Right. You’d come up with your own solution. Not the right one, but one you could accept.
Mr. Fantastic: So is there any way your identity could be compromised?
Spider-Man: If someone unmasks me. Or if I unmask myself. Then for that person it’d all come rushing back.
We still don’t know who helped facilitate the mindwipe, but Spider-Man has now unmasked for both the Fantastic Four and the New Avengers. Dr. Strange arrived while he was unmasked and showed no reaction whatsoever, so it’s my bet that he was involved in the mojo that made this work. In this week’s #600,
Outside of the stories, we’re also missing the “secondary” titles. For most of this millennium, Spider-Man has been present in multiple titles. Before the OMD crossover, there was “Amazing Spider-Man,” which was most closely tied to the Marvel Universe continuity and most directly involved in crossover events, “Sensational Spider-Man,” which had a darker tone and had more involvement from his super powered supporting cast, and “Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man” which had the lightest tone of the three and spent more time with Peter Parker’s life outside the mask. Starting with ASM #546, the other two titles were discontinued and “Amazing Spider-Man” has shipped three times a month.
“Brand New Day” has been met with mixed reviews online. Many of the strongest negative reviews are actually judging “Brand New Day” based on “One More Day.” I don’t believe this is fair. It’s my understanding that the “Brand New Day” creators were offered the jobs with the understanding that the initial status quo had been decided, and the writers and artists involved with these issues had little or no input into “One More Day,” and I won’t just their work based on that story. My opinions of “One More Day” haven’t changed, but that has nothing to do with the work these people put into these issues.
In my opinion, these issues aren’t extremely good or bad. The quality can be somewhat erratic, but at the end of the day, you can’t fairly brand the entire collection as good or bad. I’m going to start by detailing the changes and introductions that I’ve really enjoyed, and then go into more detail on those that don’t work. The parts that work are in issues I’d encourage you to read on your own, so I’ll go light on details here to prevent undue spoilers. The elements that don’t work will see far more detail, both to explain the criticism being leveled, and to fill in the readers of this column on enough story details to skip those issues and follow along with the stories that come later.
The first is Mr. Negative. Spider-Man has always worked well playing off crime bosses. When the Kingpin was organizing crime instead of hunting for tablets, he worked well. Later on, Tombstone, Hammerhead and the Hobgoblin also fit that bill. Mr. Negative is the latest in the line, and he has enough unique elements to him to make him feel unique instead of “Kingpin-lite.” The revelations in his Dark Reign title add to this, and really define him as a character. It looks like he’s going to stick around for a while, and I’m definitely okay with that.
The second truly successful element of the title is the remasking of Peter Parker. The explanation we have so far works, and it eliminates the constant threat to his private life that was previously present. It also set up some great scenes in issues 590, 591 and 600, both with the Fantastic Four and Daredevil.
The third element I’m quite happy with is the entire mayoral election story. The story involving Menace was a pretty good mystery, and the final outcome definitely makes for some lively interactions. Some of the best elements of the early Stan Lee issues were the JJJ/Spider-Man exchanges, and this handles those quite neatly, bringing back that friction in a completely new forum.
In a similar vein, J. Jonah Jameson Sr. has also been a welcome introduction. In his role as May Parker’s second husband, he’s not only produced some comedic situations with Peter, but it sets up another plausible connection to bring Peter and JJJ Jr. into the same room at the same time, bringing in more of that wonderful friction.
Peter’s second old school rival, Eugene “Flash” Thompson, has also been effectively reintroduced. He’s no longer a high school physical education teacher, but is now a war vet who suffered severe consequences as a result of Spider-Man inspired heroics. Issue #574 was one of the best issues in the history of the series as a result of this. If you haven’t read it, track it down.
Once you’ve read #574, pick up the issues from #590 on. Starting with Dan Slott’s interaction between Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, we’ve been treated to Amazing Spider-Man as it truly used to be for the first time in over a year. Spdier-Man has always been a part of the Marvel Universe, but the desire to have a fresh start and a clean slate kept him playing in his own corner or a while. This really starts to reintegrate him into the Marvel Universe for the first time since “New Ways To Die” (in which the M.U. Thunderbolts interaction seemed more like a sidebar than the focus) and set up his role front and centre. Slott’s uncanny knack for the Spider-Man/Human Torch banter goes a long way towards setting this up. (I’m in no rush to see Slott leave this title, but when that inevitable day does come, I hope he finds a home with the FF.) Slott’s work leads directly into Mark Waid’s “24/7,” and that segways into Joe Kelly’s “American Son” before Slott returns for the lead story in #600.
Recent months demonstrate a time frame when this aggressive publishing schedule works. The creators are firing on all cylinders, and those of us who don’t want to wait too long for the next issue don’t have to. If Dan Slott or Mark Waid are in charge of the writing, it’s effectively done, and generally quite enjoyable. Guggenheim has been “on” more often than he’s been “off,” and Joe Kelly’s latest arc has some of the most enjoyable interactions between Harry and Peter I’ve ever read. On the art side, Phil Jimenez, Marcos Martin and Barry Kitson have been similarly successful in moving the title forward.
What Doesn’t Work
Not all creators have been as dependable as Slott, Waid, Jimenez, Martin and Kitson. When we’ve got individual creators, or (worse yet) pairings whose work I find less enjoyable (such as Bob Gale, Chris Bachalo, or the erratic Zeb Wells) the aggressive publishing schedule is a bit of a damnation. When I was buying three distinct titles a month, one weak story arc didn’t bother me as much, as it was mixed in with other teams putting together very different types of stories. The reader’s ability to pick and choose the type of Spider-Man stories they want to buy this month is somewhat reduced, making some period of time seem to drag. It’s still better than the 1990s, in which Marvel published a single storyline under four different titles, forcing the readers to buy them all. If Marvel is publishing the same story with high frequency outside of a relatively short “Messiah Complex” style crossover, then I’d rather they not even pretend they’re publishing three titles. Though I’m sure they never intend to put out comics people won’t enjoy, they’ve got to know they can’t please everyone all of the time. I’d rather have the choice and variety of three different books with three different tones, if only to run with the law of averages. (I easily enjoy over two thirds of the Marvel product I read, so having three distinct titles with a flagship character generally means I’m going to enjoy at least two of them.) This could be why the guy who runs my local comic shop tells me he’s been ordering different numbers of issues based on the writers of those issues; some of his customers are reading only the Slott and Waid issues. I’m sure that, from Marvel’s perspective, this model makes more business sense: the people who only bought one title and dropped it with the change are likely outnumbered by the people who only bought one title and now buy three comics a month instead of one. This may be hard to gauge exactly, as anecdotal evidence indicates that many people were so upset by “One More Day” that they dropped all Spider-Man titles, and were outright replaced by a higher number of new readers who jumped on for “Brand New Day.” (i.e. BND issues sell very well, but in many cases, they’re sold to different people.)
Early on, it felt like the title was trying so hard to be fun and fresh and new that it felt a bit forced. The first panel on the first page of #546 didn’t help long time readers, either. The first issue of “Brand New Day” opened with Peter kissing “another” woman on New Year’s Eve. It was a random woman at a party, it was meaningless, and in the new status quo it was a perfectly innocent exchange involving a guy with no romantic attachments. From the perspective of a long time reader, it not only feels like infidelity, but it feels like rubbing salt in the wound caused by the most highly debated result of “One More Day.” By the time #548 came out, the readers realized that Slott had it planned out as a series that eventually becomes quite comical, but that’s not the way it felt to the reader.
The forced feeling continued for some time. We’ve got a moment where Spider-Man springs into action singing “Heeere I come to save they daaaaay!” from the old Mighty Mouse cartoons, which works very well. One dialogue balloon later, he switched to the theme song from the 1967 Spider-Man cartoon. Why does the theme song exist in the Marvel world? Spider-Man’s never been that accepted. He should know those lyrics to sing them!
Hot on the heels of that rescue is the introduction of the Freak. One of the weakest villain origins in comicdom creates a villain who is, essentially, a biological version of Ultron. Ultron works: he’s a dangerous adversary with the intelligence to threaten the entire Avengers team, who can rebuild himself after losing to eliminate the weakness that was just exploited. Freak is also able to eliminate the threat of being attacked the same way twice, but he’s missing one key element Ultron has: Freak’s an idiot. Peter may not be Reed Richards, but he’s no slouch. Spider-Man has stopped the Rhino, the Hulk, and the Sinister Six. He faced off against Thanos with the Infinity Gauntlet, he’s taken out Venom, and (when imbued with Captain Universe power) he’s beaten down Kallark, the Shi’Ar Gladiator. He had coffee with the Beyonder, and he’s become an Avenger. His reaction to Freak was uncharacteristically nervous. It felt like the writer was trying to elevate the Freak’s threat level by writing a scared Spider-Man instead of writing things the Freak could do that would actually scare Spider-Man. We see an effect that lacks sufficient cause, and it doesn’t sit well with me.
Throughout all of these early issues, no mention of the old status quo was made. This makes sense, to a degree. Issues filled with expositions of what came before them do not make exciting jumping on points, so Marvel decided to wait on giving those explanations. Time frames for the waits that work with monthly publication schedules don’t work as well with this aggressive schedule. When waiting a year and a half means waiting through 18 issues and three story arcs, it feels right. When waiting a year and a half means waiting through 60+ issues, it’s less effective. What’s even worse is the way we finally got one of the explanations. When Brand New Day began, Harry Osborn was already back from the dead. Peter knew this, and didn’t seem upset by it. Granted, Peter sees a lot of people come back from the dead, but given Harry’s mindset at his time of death and the way he died, I’d expect Peter to demand an explanation. Therefore, I assumed that Peter was made fully aware of the mechanism for Harry’s return during the “missing time” between the end of “One More Day” and the start of “Brand New Day.” Instead, Peter learns the reasons in issues 581 and 582 along with the reader. This doesn’t work for me. With Flash Thompson’s story told in #574, we had the appropriate opportunity to manage this reveal. Flash had been overseas long enough that he didn’t know Harry was back. When Flash returned to the group, he could have asked Harry how he came back. Harry would then tell Flash and the reader the story, while Pete could go develop photos or something in the background after somehow telling the reader that Harry had filled Peter in on things between issues 545 and 546. Peter’s still in character, the reader still gets the explanation, and it still comes at a natural point in the story.
Another side effect of “writing around” past continuity (rather than outright ignoring it) is the lack of interaction with the Marvel Universe at large. When was the last time “Amazing Spider-Man” ran 60 issues with only five major interactions with the MU at large, only two of which were in the first 50 issues of the run? Spider-Man used to be the star of “Marvel Team-Up,” a title created because he was a popular, active hero in Marvel’s New York, a city positively overrun with heroes. Norman Osborn, Marvel Earth’s head cop, was originally a Spider-Man villain, and this title took longer than any other to hit a Dark Reign crossover. It just felt like the series dragged until those elements started coming back, first with an extremely brief Daredevil cameo during “Kraven’s First Hunt,” then a few of the Thunderbolts (when two of their members were Spider-Man villains), and then nothing until #590. He’s still an Avenger, for crying out loud! The only hint of that early on was a Wolverine cameo, but Wolverine cameos in everything. Similarly, the Punisher’s brief appearance is also using a character originally created as a Spider-Man villain. I wouldn’t be surprised if Marvel avoided such crossovers specifically to make the title more accessible to new readers who are only reading the one book, but it doesn’t feel like “Spider-Man.” Sure, he’s got an overdeveloped sense of responsibility that makes him try to do things on his own rather than asking for help, but he also can’t keep his nose out of other people’s business, and frequently instigated team-ups by jumping in to help the character that seemed to be the hero.
Setting the rest of the Marvel Universe aside again for a moment, I found there were two long term arcs that didn’t play out effectively, in my opinion. The first is the Spider Tracer killer story. The buildup works well enough, but the solution didn’t live up to the established expectations. These are police officers raiding evidence lockers, and they’re headed up by a superior officer. They’ve been planting the tracers on other corpses. This puts all of the crimes within that precinct’s first response radius, and every significant case in one neighbourhood of the city. Not only do the public frequently ignore the accusations in most issues that don’t show further clues in that plotline, but the idea that such a plot could go on that effectively with so few officers in so much of the city for so long without attracting internal affairs is something I find rather unlikely.
The third and final long term mystery (after the identity of Menace and the identity of the Spider-Tracer killer) is the one revolving around the identity of Jackpot. Designed from the outset to remind people of Mary Jane, she plays off a moment in “One More Day” making readers wonder if MJ asked Mephisto to make her a superhero to still have “on the job” interactions with Peter after history was rewritten. Instead, we learn that Jackpot is entirely unrelated to Mary Jane. Given the level of similarity between the two, that doesn’t work for me. They played up the similarities so much, that it felt like there had to be a connection between the two. I’d have rather seen something like “the Jackal cloned MJ along with Peter and Gwen” reminding people of the Clone Saga than have the “all coincidence, no connection” reasoning we actually got. (Given the September solicits, I think it’s safe to assume Marvel’s not necessarily afraid of reminding people of the Clone Saga, anyway.) While it can be argued that every piece of fiction writing is designed to manipulate the emotions of the reader, the reader should never feel manipulated, and that’s exactly the way I felt in this regard, simply because there’s no in-story reason to have so many similarities between the two.
Final Summary and Recommendations
In a nutshell, the post “One More Day” Spider-Man stories are far from perfect, but they’re not the complete train wreck others find them to be. It took a while to establish a groove that really works for the title, but it seems that groove has been found. I believe the remaining explanations (why the marriage didn’t happen, why the web shooters are back, etc.) need to happen ASAP because it’s already been too long. I still don’t believe “One More Day” was necessary. (With over 1400 pages of content, we might have seen 14 that tell stories that couldn’t be told if Peter and Mary Jane were still married.) Still, new readers may enjoy much of what they read from “New Ways To Die” on, and long time readers will likely be happy with #574, 578-579, and 590 on.