The beginning of New Ways to Die, the first big storyline in the Spider-Man titles since it switched to thrice-a-month shipping, is a strong start to the story, particularly on the art-side of things, as John Romita Jr.'s return to Amazing Spider-Man is a welcome one (along with inker Klaus Janson). Dan Slott, meanwhile, delivers a good first issue plot with more than a few interesting twists mixed in.
Marvel appears to be bending over backwards to make this storyline a sales success, and they seem to clearly know that a lot of new readers might be giving this issue a look see (especially with that awesome Alex Ross cover!), so they open up with a two-page recap on both Spider-Man as a whole as well as his current status quo. Slott does a particularly good job here, condensing Spider-Man's origins and current situation into an amusing two pages.
The rest of the book is built around the main hook of the story (so far), which is that Spider-Man's old nemesis, Norman Osborn, agrees to come to New York City to take care of Spider-Man. Only now, Norman Osborn is in charge of the Thunderbolts, so he has a lot of super-powered firepower at his disposal, and when you couple that with his familiarity with Peter (although, very likely, the last page cliffhanger notwithstanding, Osborn probably does not know Peter is Spider-Man, a la Mephisto's memory erasure a go go), you have a great mix.
However, as strong of a hook as that is (and boy, does Romita draw Osborn and the Thunderbolts well), what is more impressive to me about this issue is the way that Slott intermixes the other plotlines from the Spider-Man titles leading up to now, including the mayoral race, Peter's unemployment, the whereabouts of Robbie Robertson, the unscrupulousness of Dexter Bennett and Randall Crowne, the evil mystery of Mr. Negative and, well, that's about it, but that's a ton of subplots that Slott is juggling here, and he juggles them expertly.
Dialogue has always been a strong suit for Slott, and I think he has a real ear for Peter Parker, so his thought balloons, which dictate most of the story, read quite well.
One of the coolest twists in the comic is the way in which Dexter Bennett's immoral behavior might very well have put Betty Brant on the lead of a really good story - totally accidentally by Bennett, of course. That was a very clever twist by Slott.
Romita's artwork, though - wow - I just love his characters - I especially love how he makes Vin Gonzales seem like such a normal guy.
Oh, Eddie Brock is also in the comic, which will likely tie into the other hook of this story, the introduction of a new Venom-related guy (possibly/probably Eddie himself, but we shall see). Eddie is the spotlight of a back-up story by Mark Waid and Adi Granov that I really wish had been replaced with a, like, one-page text piece - "Eddie's cancer appears to be in remission - it may have something to do with the symbiote. To be continued..."
I mean, Waid tries to do something interesting with it, by showing Eddie's "Venom" personality pop into his consciousness, but really, Waid doesn't have much room to play with in the story, as it really reads more like a set-up for Eddie's role in the main plotline. I understand why they felt the need to address Eddie's cancer, but like I said, I'd almost prefer just a text piece telling us "Yeah, he's healthy now" rather than force Mark Waid to write a short story getting us to that point. I'd rather see Waid and Granov do something on their own, rather than work as set-up for the main story.
Anyhow, as a whole, this was a good issue. So glad to see JRjr return.