I like Spider-Man: Brand New Day, but I’m not married to it.

by  in Comic News Comment
I like Spider-Man: Brand New Day, but I’m not married to it.

Am I far enough behind the zeitgeist on this that I can bring a fresh set of eyes to it, or am I just digging up a horse’s corpse for a squash match?

Yeah, so, I’m reading the new run of Amazing Spider-Man. Not only that, I’m paying for it! And enjoying it! Not without some reservations, mind you, even if very few of them have anything to do with the actual stories more than the hand of editorial that spun them in to existence.

See, I’m one of the people who is young enough to barely remember an unmarried Spider-Man; I grew up on a Peter and MJ as a couple, so that’s what approximates the good old days to me. The fact that those days also include Todd McFarlane’s rise to stardom, mullets a go go, and gave me an abiding love for characters like Cardiac, Silver Sable, Puma, and Rocket Racer, it’s hard to get too nostalgic for them. Still, I find it funny that I am in the polar opposite position of “Spidey’s Brain trust” on what constitutes the Spider-Man of my childhood, in that MJ is less of an intrusion on the mythos but an integral part of it.

I also find the argument that you can’t tell interesting stories with Spider-Man, as our friends in the U.K. often say, kind of crap. While our own Mark Andrew makes a good argument on a thematic level (with a remarkable show of restraint in dropping his g’s in the process, which is commendable), I tend to fall more on old man Hatcher’s side of the fence on this issue; it’s a gut vs. head thing, for me at least, but I’m comfortable playing Stephen Colbert here. It just strikes me as a lazy argument, more “No one in comics knows how to/wants to write this story” more than “it can’t be done/it’s ruining the character,” especially when Joe Q. was advancing it. It just seems like a cop out to me, especially because it always assumes there is no conflict in marriage whatsoever.

(Reading that article, I also find it funny that divorce was 1,000 times worse for the character than the albatross of the marriage, but somehow, annulment via Satan is not only better, but also a way to springboard a renaissance for the character. Also; T’Challa and Storm’s marriage is a great example of an organic relationship.)

Finally, he brings up all the stuff they’ve been able to do with a single, teen Peter in Ultimate Spider-Man, which is great, but also leads to this question; why the hell can’t they be satisfied with all of the storytelling options they have in Ultimate Goddamn Spider-Man? Why was there such a push to bring him back to his roots and what not when there was a whole comic with that mission statement in existence? What the hell is the point of Ultimate Spider-Man if his status quo is no different the original? Although the latter question is one that all of the Ultimate series seem to be struggling with, so it’s not a unique problem in that regard.

Also, I have to think that Chris Sims is on to something when he says:

As much as I’ve liked both parts of Brand New Day that have hit shelves so far, there’s nothing I like about them that couldn’t have been done with a married Spider-Man, and in fact, having to pretend like the guy I’m reading about didn’t just literally make a deal with the Devil last week is the biggest detriment to my enjoyment that the book has.

I mean really, what’s Dan Slott brought to the table that’s so fun? New villains? A desperate Peter Parker going back to work for an equally desperate Daily Bugle? The Spider-Mugger? All told, they make for a really fun read, and I’m glad to have them, but when you get right down to it, the only thing that makes the book different than it was two years ago is that now, it’s actually being written well. That’s what people wanted from the Spider-Man books, and the fact that it wasn’t happening when Peter and MJ were married says a lot more about the guys writing the stories than the characters that were in them.

I mean, really, was it the marriage that gave us a string of crappy Spider-Man comics over the last few years, or was it the fact that Norman Osborn’s oh-face probably wasn’t even the nadir of JMS’s run? To be fair, I haven’t read any of that run from Sins Past on, but that’s due to my standing policy to ignore all comics that sound terrible to me. It may be intellectually lazy when bashing said comics, but it has made things easier on my wallet and blood pressure. Furthermore, is marrying him off any more of a change to his character than, you know, everything that’s been done to him since Steve Ditko left? Okay, that one may be a reach, but still; I like the idea of someone, somewhere in the ’60s being mortified over the change from Ditko to Romita, and thinking that change ruined him forever. Hell, for all I know that may have been a huge hot button issue in the fanzines.

Another part of this whole imbroglio I’m glossing over is the ‘net response, because I ignore those on principle, too. It could be that I’ve been reading a variation on this theme since I moderated the Spider-Man board, and the utter nerd freak outs over everything from Sins Past (which I could sympathize with) to the vitriol some people could uncork over petty crap like the organic web shooters in the movie soured me on reading another argument about how the sky was falling in Spidey’s friendly neighborhood ever again.

And yet, despite all of that, this is a post about my thoughts on the new run on Amazing, not Ultimate or Marvel Adventures, which shows how much pull the “flagship books” have with entrenched nerds like me; it’s all well and good that both of those books deliver fun Spider-Man stories, but the fact that Amazing is doing it was the first thing to galvanize me in to buying a new Spider-Man comic regularly in years. Beyond the fact that I have my own reasons for not following those books (I lost interest in Ultimate about four years ago, and haven’t felt like jumping back in, even with Immonen on board, and the art on the Marvel Adventures book just never appeals to me enough to make me want to pay money for it), I’m not immune to the pull of reading about “my” Spider-Man.

Although, really, Dan Slott writing Spider-Man again was the main draw, and why I jumped on board for the ride to begin with. His version, in the Spider-Man/Human Torch mini-series and his guest appearances in She-Hulk, is one of my favorites in recent memory. As far as Faustian bargains go, I’ve made one over this run; I’ll swallow what I think is a wrong headed, poorly executed retcon if I can get a fun comic out of it.

And, you know, I think it has been for the most part. If nothing else, it shows how little I ask of a Spider-Man comic, and how easily the new writing crew has been able to supply it. I knew I’d enjoy Slott’s arc, but I may have actually liked Guggenheim’s more. The writing so far has struck a good balance between being frantically paced and densely plotted, the supporting cast has a strong presence, and, most importantly to me, Spidey gets in some funny lines. Which is one of the many reasons why I undermine whatever the mission statement of this site was other than “state the obvious” when it was founded.

The art’s a little too slick to really have the energy that my favorite Spidey artists bring to the table, but it tells the story well, and doesn’t go so far in to the ultra high gloss style that it’s like Greg Land-esque near fumetti (except for that back up story Land drew). Even if I’d someone closer to John Romita than Steven Mc Niven or Salvador LaRocca on my new fun Spidey comics, I can’t deny that they create an attractive comic.

There have been some notes that I don’t necessarily like or agree with. From small points like Spider-Man tossing a bomb in to a crowd because he’s pretty sure it won’t harm them (it didn’t, but it was still stupidly reckless for him, even if he was right) to larger concerns, like why Peter has to be a total schlub. Admittedly, that’s part of his “Charlie Brown in spandex” charm, but I thought Slott went a little too far in that regard. We also have things I’m on the fence with; I like the banter with Jackpot, but the constant Mary Jane references are already getting on my nerves, and while I liked Harry a lot as a character, this marks the second time Marvel’s undone a great death story for an Osborn. It hasn’t led to anything great with Norman (I will cop to not reading Ellis’s Thunderbolts beyond the first issue, so his presence there may prove me wrong), so hopefully they’ve got something in mind with his return from the grave beyond using it to give people trying to figure out the new continuity a massive headache (which is something I can’t entirely condemn, honestly).

So far, I’m enjoying Brand New Day, if for no other reason that saying the phrase “despite the whole selling his marriage to the devil thing that served as its catalyst, I’m enjoying this new storyline” is something you can only say in comics. I’m not saying it reflects well on the art form or anything, but it certainly appeals to my sense of humor, and that’s really what’s important here.