Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Amazing Spider-Man: Brand New Day vol. 1 (comics)

Writers: Dan Slott, Marc Guggenheim
Artists: Steve McNiven, Salvador Larocca, Phil Jiminez
Trade Collects: Amazing Spider-Man 546-551, Spider-Man: Swing Shift and material from Venom Super-Special

Like many heroes, Spidey's been around a while. Like most heroes, Spidey has a lot of history and continuity to sort through. Unlike a lot of heroes, the character took a serious downturn in quality that never quite seemed to let up, along with some questionable moves over the years that slowly ate away what made Spidey great to begin with. Like many heroes, it was about time for a soft reboot to put the house back in order. Many fans balked at the changes coming, but they went through anyways.

Thank goodness they did.

This volume is the first of a back-to-basics approach for the Spider-Man line. His marriage to Mary Jane Watson has been retconned out, many old supporting characters are alive and back in Spidey's life, the mechanical webshooters are back and Spidey's secret identity is safe once more. In essence, it's the classic Spidey setup reborn, allowing a fresh jumping on point for anyone new.

The character really benefits from it, without question. Before, Spider-Man had few problems outside the mask. His girl troubles had been eliminated thanks to the marriage, he had few money problems, his secret identity was out and his supporting cast either dissapeared or was killed off over the years, just to name a few problems. Some chalk it up to change, but there is good change and bad change; most of the things that brought about story fodder was gone and the title had become boring. Spidey became little more than another cape who quiped a bit more often; most comic superhero universes have plenty of that.

So now everything is back the way they should be after a frustrating twenty years; and boy oh boy is it a lot of fun.

We find Peter Parker in a bit of a low point at the start of the volume, but he's holding up. Living with his Aunt May while he gets himself back on his feet, Peter quickly starts shopping around for money to move out and move on with his life. Of course, it doesn't take long for things to go horribly wrong; there's a Spider-Mugger out and about, one of his web shooters is stolen and a new player in town - Mister Negative - is making a move against the crime families in a bid to take over. Then in the second arc of the trade, Peter teams up with registered hero Jackpot to investigate and stop someone who's a bit too gobliny for Peters taste.

This might not sound like anything worth note, but the writing is rather spot on. Both Dan Slott and Marc Guggenheim seem to have a handle on Spidey's voice in general; everything flows well, Spidey makes amusing quips and there's always trouble around the corner in some way for both Peter Parker and Spider-Man. The book feels plain fun in a way things haven't for the longest time, with many writers resorting to darker tones to try and inject some interest in stories.

Both arcs have a good dose of old fashioned Spidey humor as well. My personal favorite in this regard is Marc Guggenheims arc. Spidey makes quite a few funny jokes and quips here, not to mention finds himself in awkward situations left and right. This helps give a refreshing quality to the stories, which have been a bit too dark for far too long.

The art is quite good, for the most part. It's all clean, colorful and flows well. I must say that I preferred Steve McNiven - the artist of the opening arc - more than Salvador Larroca. While many of Larroca's normal faults aren't as pronounced as usual here, they can still be glaring. See one of the early swinging shots of Spider-Man at the start of the arc, for example. Usually, his art is a like it or hate it affair, but thankfully his work here is pretty good. The art in many of the shorts are too varied to give a blow by blow, but you won't see anything that offends your eyes in here. Also, the Swing Shift story that opens the volume is drawn by Phil Jimenez; which looks great as usual.

If there's something I didn't much care for, it was some of the wink-wonk-nod-nod stuff aimed at the readers and outcry over One More Day, the story that changed the status quo. Some points in Slott's arc seemed deliberate in poking fun at OMD and the fan reaction, with the first page of the first issue of Slott's arc seeing Peter liplocked with another girl in a club as well as some allusions to mysteries surrounding the new status quo. For Guggenheim's part, his arc guest star's a new hero called Jackpot, whom is basically a composite of several Mary Jane references and cliche's. She's even got the hair and says Mary Janes infamous "Tiger" line for goodness sakes. We know it's not Mary Jane - it seemed obvious it wouldn't be her after just getting off OMD - but the character seemed like it was fashioned in this way just to raise ire.

Anyone coming in fresh with Brand New Day won't really see the significance or care much, but for those of us who do it's a little annoying; for my part I'd much rather everything changed be laid out and OMD put behind us. Otherwise, these are genuinely fun Spider-Man tales that are actually a joy to read; with all the distinctly non Spider-Man gunk they were trying to shove down our throats gone now, we're back to Spidey the way he should be.

On one last note, there's a story in the back of the book culled from an old Venom Super-Special from back in the 90's. The significance is that it's Dan Slott's first story, never before reprinted, and it deals with the Alien Costume Saga and Jean DeWolffe before she died. It's alright, but not really something that needed to be included; aside from being written by Dan Slott it doesn't have any correlation to anything else in this volume. The same goes for the included manifesto that laid out what they wanted to do with Brand New Day, though it is interesting to read those thoughts.

The Score: Dramatic Thumbs Up

It's been a long time since I've enjoyed Spider-Man this much. Aside from early symbiote stories up to Maximum Carnage, I haven't really been a fan of the Spidey stuff put out over the past couple decades. With this reversion back to the way things should have been all along, it feels like life has been put into the character and his world again. It's not going to profoundly affect you or change the way you look at the character, but these stories are enjoyable and worth the time to read. I'm looking forward to reading future volumes, myself, and I'd reccomend that you give this trade a look, even if you're on the fence about BND. You might just find yourself enjoying it.

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