Saturday, August 22, 2009

Amazing Spider-Man: Brand New Day vol. 2 (comics)

Writers: Bob Gale, Zeb Wells
Artists: Phil Jimenez, Chris Bachalo, Barry Kitson
Trade Collects: Amazing Spider-Man #552-558

With the first volume of the opening of Spider-Man's new era, Brand New Day, behind us it's time to move on to volume two. After a very solid first volume - which collected the opening arcs of Dan Slott and Marc Guggenhiem - the final two writers of the initial Spider-Man "Brain Trust" step up to deliver their opening stories. Is this volume as solid as the first?

No, not really; in truth it feels a bit uneven. After reading this volume, I found it really brought attention to the rotating writers we have in the current era of Spider-Man in ways both good and bad. But we'll get into that soon enough.

The first arc collected this volume is the first of Bob Gale, whom was one of the original members of the Spider-Man "Brain Trust". It details Spider-Man through his troubles with the DB, now owned and operated by the sleazy Daxter Bennet, and the appearance of a new enemy named Freak, whom we met in the short backup centered around Aunt May last volume. The second arc is the first of Zeb Wells; a blizzard has hit New York City in the middle of April, caused by means we come to find out are quite unnatural. Spider-Man must weather the storm and try to figure out what is causing it. The last issue collected is written by Bob Gale and ties up the Freak storyline for the most part, as Gales arc left it open somewhat. Also returning in the issue is new villain Menace whom was introduced last volume.

Bob Gales arc centered around new villain "Freak" is something of a mixed bag. Unlike the first storylines of Brand New Day - which set Peter back to basics in a way that felt modern without being derivative - Bob Gale's style of writing feels way too old fashioned. Thought balloons are over abundant here, we have Peter over-talking or over-thinking what was happening all and then we have an over-reliance on old fashioned page transitions. Even the dialogue feels too old fashioned to be taken seriously in this day and age. One of the things people whined about in regards to the change of status quo was that Spider-Man was going back to the seventies and eighties; here comes an arc that feels like something right from that era and it's really the last thing the fledgling direction needed at this point.

On top of that, out of the three new villains introduced thus far Freak is by far the least interesting. Mister Negative worked well and Menace is alright for a character that looks far too gobliny for my taste. Freak, on the other hand, is the loser out of the crop so far. For the most part, he boils down to a drug addict who stabs himself with stem cells when he mistakes them for drugs; the end result is that he turns into a monster that, whenever killed in some fashion, cocoons itself and mutates into a form even stronger than before that is also resistant to the previous method of death. The concept is solid enough, but Gale never manages to sell it; Freak's dialogue is almost laughably bad sometimes and you find yourself unable to care about this new rogue.

The artist for this arc is Phil Jimenez. I have to say I don't think his work was quite as strong here as in the past. Sometimes the faces look a little off and the art feels a bit more rushed than what we normally get from him. Considering the weekly format and the grind it must put on the artists, it's not terribly surprising, but it is disappointing.

Zeb Wells arc is much, much better. We're thrust back into more modern storytelling. No more over-exposition; Wells seems to know when to let the artist carry the story. The arc starts out with a guest star appearance by Wolverine and Doctor Strange before Logan departs and Spidey is left to figure out the cause of the blizzard. The story feels a bit more claustrophobic than previous arcs, which works to it's advantage; with the story feeling more closed in, the blizzard really creates a feeling of isolation in the Big Apple and helps with the sense of urgency the overall threat later places on things.

The artist for this one is Chris Bachalo, whom is imminently capable in his own right. The artwork for this arc is simpler, with less lines and a bit less detail, but it really gels with the overall story. Aside from the heroes, the colors are less pronounced in this tale, with their backdrop being scads of white and some snowflakes in the foreground. It's beautiful in it's own way. The only nitpick I had with the art is that I though Bachalo drew Wolverine overly beefy; Wolverine's a muscular guy, for sure, but he was a bit too hulking in this one.

The last collected issue is again written by Gale, but thankfully the writing felt a bit more restrained in this one and less like a lost 1970's Spider-Man arc, though it still suffered from some of the same writing pitfalls of the earlier arc. For the most part, the Freak storyline is more or less wrapped up for the time being in a semi-conclusive way; in other words if no one wants to use him again it's really not necessary by the end. Menace also makes an appearance as the Mayoral election plot moves forward a little bit. All in all it's not a terrible issue and it feels like a better installment than the arc it wraps up.

Barry Kitson pulls art duties on said last issue. His work is much cleaner and feels more modern to me in this issue and I thought it was pretty good. It doesn't stand out much either way though; it feels like some dependably solid Spider-Man art that I don't have much in the way of complaints about.

As I mentioned earlier, these arcs really brought about the good and the bad in regards to the rotating creative teams. Thankfully, there's more good than bad; one bit that's much appreciated are the different artists, which gives each arc it's own look and helps each volume feel a bit like a showcase in different arts, even if the effect is unintended. The other good part is that when they remain relatively consistent, each arc will flow together well and still feel like the same Spider-Man. On top of that, we get a unique voice and addition with each arc that comes down the pipeline.

The bad, however, lurks right around the corner. All it takes is one writer to muck up the consistency and sadly that writer is Bob Gale. His wildly different style of writing things feels so overly retro that it becomes something of a stark contrast to the relatively consistent feel the other writers bring. In regards to the other writers, while each arc feels different, they still flow together and feel consistent. Gale doesn't write like that here and it really is to the detriment of the team.

Back to some positive. MJ is not missed, even in the lesser arc. Without the writers having to worry about forcing her in, we get scenes with the supporting cast. Really, the supporting cast helps make things so much better; losing it was really the stupidest mistake ever made in the history of the franchise. I'm glad this aspect of Spidey has returned; even in Gales opening arc they help quite a bit.

Also, I can't stress enough how great it is to have running subplots back. That's another thing that helps out even the lesser work in this new era. Things like checking up on Jonah Jameson, whom had a heart attack in the last volume and lost the Daily Bugle without his knowledge, or the slow burn of the mayoral election subplot are welcome insertions and help mix things up. They also help things feel consistent from arc to arc; the writers may change, but the suplots and issues carry over. The little touches that tease upcoming events or refer to past events in the book are great details as well; an odd, upcoming blizzard is telegraphed in the background of Gales arc almost throughout, which really helps lead into the aforementioned arc.

Things are still fun as well, even if this volume isn't quite as much so as the last. Despite the issues with Gale's writing, even his work feels a bit more "free" and loose. It's this feeling that really makes Spidey worth following again.

My Opinion: Try It

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