Comics : Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #546

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This review was first published on: 2008.

Background...

Last issue in the one of the most controversial Spider-Man stories of all time, Mary-Jane and Peter cut a deal with Mephisto. In order to save Aunt May's life they agreed to give up their marriage to the Prince of Lies. Mephisto magically altered all memories and tangible records of the marriage and Spidey's secret identity. At the start of this brand new day, Peter woke up single in Aunt May's house before quickly heading out for the birthday party of the no-longer- deceased Harry Osborn. With a new status quo, Amazing Spider-Man strides off in a bold new direction. Will it be able to carry its readers with it?

In Detail...

"Brand New Day"
Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #546 (Story 1)
Feb 2008 : SMURF 546.500 : SM Title
Editor:  Stephen Wacker
Writer:  Dan Slott
Pencils:  Steve McNiven
Inker:  Dexter Vines
Cover Art:  Steve McNiven
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 Reprinted In: Spider-Man Brand New Day #1
Articles: Freak (1st), Green Goblin II (Harry Osborn), Menace, Mr. Negative (1st)

The issue opens in a nightclub at 11:59pm on a Friday night. Peter is kissing an unknown brunette. In case we think his life has taken a turn for the better Peter assures us that this is just an unexpected blip in an otherwise appalling day. The Parker luck is still running true to form.

Twenty-four hours earlier, and a mugger in a Spider-Man masks robs a well- dressed victim at gunpoint. He takes his money and his watch. The nightly news is reporting the activities of this "Amazing Spider-Mugger" and claims that the police and newly licensed superheroine, Jackpot, are no closer to catching him. For an expert opinion, the newsreader turns to J. Jonah Jameson. What is his take on this?

Unsurprisingly, Jonah blames Spider-Man for inspiring this criminal activity. But doesn't he have an axe to grind? Haven't sales of the Daily Bugle fallen to an all time low in the months since Spider-Man disappeared? Jonah has no comment about this, but the question has been asked and the reader is curious: where is Spider-Man?

Peter is woken by his Aunt May in her house in Forest Hills. She gets him out of bed and out of the house in half an hour. Peter's not a teenager any more, and May wants him out looking for work, not lounging in bed all day. As Pete is waiting for a train into the city he gets a call from Betty Brant. Betty has found him an apartment so bad that even he can afford it. The quest for a job, and his second month's rent, begins in earnest.

But things don't go so well. He can't get a job as a teacher because of his track record in his last job - how many lessons did he miss playing Spider-Man? He can't get a job as a fashion photographer because all his best shot look like his camera was glued to the side of a building. He can't get a job as a lab assistant because the would-be employer remembers him, and can't understand how he squandered all that promise. Of course we know, don't we?

By 6:00pm Peter is sitting on top of a gargoyle staring out at the city and bemoaning his lot. He always thought that without Spider-Man he could make something of himself. Now the fall-out from Civil War has done just that. He can't get licensed without revealing his identity, and as he won't do that then he has stopped being Spider-Man.

Then the phone rings. It's Harry Osborn inviting Pete out to a swinging new club called the Mulberry. He agrees. Harry is sharing his apartment with his gorgeous girlfriend, Lily, and her friend Carlie. Carlie would rather stay in and research "forensic odontology" than go out partying. Harry and Lily persuade her otherwise.

Meanwhile, in Chinatown crooked detective Willowby is handing over a case from the police evidence locker to a trio of suspicious types. The three are in the pay of shady supertype, Mister Negative (black skin, white hair - looks like a human negative). The trio try to stiff the cop on his payment. This offends Mister Negative's perverse sense of honour and self image. He kills his own men and pays the detective the money that was promised. As Willowby flees, Mister Negative opens the case. Inside is a tablet covered in strange runes. Mister Negative muses that he now requires a translator.

Cut to the club and we're back to where we started. The girl kissing Pete is called Mia Flores who locked him into a lip wrestling contest, as he was slinking across the club searching for a bathroom. Lily (who is obviously looking to pair Peter off anyone - up to and including Carlie) thinks that he should pursue Mia, she's pretty enough to be a model. Harry cuts in and says that Pete has sworn off models - "he almost married one". Peter turns the conversation to Harry's growing list of ex-wives, and it seems to the reader that Peter has more than brotherly affection for Lily. That'll hurt down the road. As they talk, Carlie sneaks away.

Harry reveals that he met Lily when he started a million dollar exploratory committee to see if her father (tough district attorney, Bill Hollister) should run in the current mayoral race. They discuss their different worlds, and Harry gives Peter enough money to cover his rent. Pete promises to pay him back, but it is clear Harry isn't expecting it. Then Mia is seen coming back for another pass on Peter, who quickly retreats to the men's room.

Peter escapes through the window using his Spider powers, leaving a perplexed Mia wondering what happened to him. She reveals (by the power of thought- bubble) that her motives in pursuing Pete aren't pure. She hopes that by dating him she will get close to Harry, and be set to pounce when he dumps Lily, as he inevitably will.

In the alley outside, Peter bumps into Carlie. They enter an awkward conversation, in which Peter comes seconds from paying her a compliment when they are both accosting by the Amazing Spider-Mugger (remember him?) Carlie steps in front of Peter (she's training to be a cop after all), but in doing so she stops him from using his spider powers. The mugger escapes with Peter's wallet (and all the money Harry just loaned him) and his web-shooter that the mugger mistook for a watch.

Peter snags the perp with a spider-tracer and, despite Carlie's protests, runs after the mugger. Around the corner, Peter is about to change into Spider-Man and run him down when he sees a Daily Bugle lying in the gutter, and Jameson's face staring back at him proudly declaring that it has been 100 days since Spider-Man was last seen. Not wanting to improve the sales of the hated daily rag, Peter determines not to dress up as Spider-Man and to bring the mugger down on his own.

Taking off his shoes, he races over the rooftops and quickly catches up with his assailant. However, the mugger flees into near-by homeless shelter. If he had been dressed as Spider-Man Peter could have quickly webbed up the guy, but instead he has to chase him on foot. He runs into the shelter and runs straight into Aunt May.

Another worker in the shelter, Martin, thinks Peter is homeless and even asks May if she volunteered at the shelter to find her nephew! Peter explains he has been mugged, but every moment it takes to do this, the mugger gets further and further away. By the time Martin has found Peter a new pair of shoes, the mugger has hopped into a taxi and vanished.

Frustrated, and completely broke Peter looks up at the Daily Bugle building still lit up despite the hour. There's one last place he can try for cash. However, all is not well at the Bugle. The paper is doing so badly that it is at risk of a buy-out. Jonah is on the phone desperately trying to buy back enough shares to retain the controlling interest. Most of the Bugle's staff have stayed with him (without pay) in a show of solidarity for their august publisher.

Peter isn't having any of that. He storms over to JJJ and demands to be paid what everything he has done for the Bugle over the years. Pete completely loses it, and yells at Jonah as he hasn't in a long time. Jonah is beside himself with rage. He jumps to his feet, opens his mouth, has a heart attack and falls at Peter's feet. To be continued!

In General...

For those of you reading this site ten years from now, you're probably wondering what all the fuss was about. One More Day and Brand New Day are little more than footnotes in Spider-Man's chequered history, everything has been reversed or further modified and fans such as myself are bemoaning the next big crisis to grip the character.

But for me writing now, in the week of the release of issue #546, this is a big deal. Perhaps the biggest deal, we've had up until now. Even the clone saga, a fondly remembered low-point by many, wasn't like this. The vitriol written on the various internet sites about these stories has genuinely embarrassed me. There are videos on You Tube of long-term fans burning their comics or using them as toilet paper.

Is this truly representative of the feelings that the editorial decision driving this story has engendered? How many Spider-Man collectors will simply give-up because of this, and how many of them have been trained by Marvel to soldier on; the collector in them outweighing the critic?

I had hoped to review this comic without reference to One More Day; draw a line under the shambles of the previous arc and see what Slott, McNiven et al could do with the hand they were dealt. Unfortunately, it isn't as easy as that. For the record, I liked this comic a lot. The script was crisp and funny. The issue was a lot of fun to read in a way that Spider-Man hasn't been fun for years. There are times when Dan Slott seems to be channelling Stan Lee. This is a comic I am going to look forward to reading each week. But One More Day hangs over everything like the Sword of Damocles. Brand New Day is a castle built on quicksand, and no matter how good it is, it is tainted by what has come before.

The official line from Marvel is simple: get over it. One More Day happened, deal with it and move on. And in truth this is good advice, because if you can't move on, if you can't reconcile what has happened, or argue that it is just part of a bigger and better picture we haven't seen yet, then there's no point reading Spider-Man anymore.

Let's be clear what the problem isn't. The problem isn't the end of the marriage with Mary Jane. I sympathise with Quesada's stance on the marriage. Marrying Peter off wasn't an organic extension of the stories of the time, it was an editorial decision in much the same way as One More Day. It did forever change the character, and it did close off the telling of certain types of stories.

However, the marriage also opened the door to a whole host of different types of stories: stories about companionship and love and children; stories about maturing, about growing older and eventually about death. The difference is that Marvel has no intention of telling those types of stories about Spider- Man.

Marriage isn't the end of the story, but it is often seen as the end of the story - particularly in Western folklore. All those fairy tales end with the princess and the handsome prince getting married. No-one wants to know what happens next. As I mentioned in my review of Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #24, Spider-Man isn't a character in as much as he is a brand, and I'll go as far to say that he is part of the mythology of contemporary culture. He's an icon, and you can't stray too far from what makes him iconic without diluting the brand. By dispensing with the marriage, giving him back the rich supporting cast and putting back all the angst in his life, Marvel hope to return him to his most iconic period. There are many fans who disagree with the need to do this. I'm not one of them. I don't mind what they've done, but I detest how they've done it.

One More Day was logically unsound, and it was lazy. Stories should be told by moving forward, not back. Using magic or time travel shows an utter bankruptcy of ideas. The many faults of the story have been ably chronicled elsewhere, so I won't dwell on them here regardless of how tempting it is. Let's just look at what is pertinent to Brand New Day:

Marvel are saying that Mephisto affected the memories of everyone on Earth. Peter and Mary Jane were married, Peter did reveal his identity in Civil, Aunt May was shot... it's just that no-one can remember it happening any more. Of course, Mephisto also had to erase all written records and all computer records of these events as well, but if we're being generous we might say that such a thing is possible. Both Doctor Strange and Iron Man have used a similar conceit to erase their secret identities from the world.

But, Marvel didn't stop there. They were greedy. They've brought back the web- shooters, they brought Harry Osborn back to life. This goes far beyond simply erasing memories. Marvel say that everything in every past comic book did really happen. That Harry did die, that Spider-Man did get organic webbing and so on. Issue #545 was a line in the sand. After that issue, Mephisto brought Harry back to life, and no-one remembered him dying, in fact everyone remembers a false history, but Harry did die.

Why? Why would Mephisto do this? Why would he rebuild Aunt May's house, why would he mess about with Liz Allen/Osborn's life. Did she marry Harry at all? Does her son even exist anymore? When DC rewrote the continuity of their iconic characters they did so with gusto and enthusiasm, Marvel is doing it piecemeal. They are trying to have their cake and eat it; on the one hand they are encouraging us to ignore what has gone before, and with the other they are expecting praise for the lengths they have gone to preserve past continuity. It doesn't wash.

Continuity is an odd beast. It can be both an attraction and a turn-off for fans. Marvel's goal is to get new readers, the perception is that a fifty year continuity is a turn-off to those new readers, and so it is either played down or ignored. But if new readers are going to stick around they have to care about the character, and they have to believe that the stories they read matter. A new reader who reads a title for a year, knows a year's worth of continuity. They're going to be just as annoyed as a longer term reader, if they're suddenly told all those stories didn't happen. If Civil War really brought new readers into Marvel as Quesada hopes, how do they feel now? Were they looking forward to reading Spidey's continuing adventures as an unmasked fugitive? Has the carpet now been pulled out from under them?

The main problem with One More Day is that it loudly proclaims that none of the stories produced by Marvel matter any more. If something like the Parkers' marriage can be simply erased after so long then nothing is safe. Do we expect the writer that follows Brubaker onto Captain America to happily announce that the Winter Soldier wasn't really Bucky after all? If nothing matters, if nothing sticks, then why read the comics at all?

This is what Brand New Day faces. If this is anything other than your first issue of Spider-Man, then you cannot help trying to work out what has changed, what the ramifications are and how it all fits together. The more inaccuracies and unquantifiables we find, the weaker Brand New Day looks and the more we suspect that there is more going on then there actually is.

It isn't hard to find explanations: Mephisto isn't powerful enough to rewrite history so he hasn't, Peter is trapped in an alternate world, Harry actually is Mephisto in disguise and so on and so on. If Marvel were to go down that path then I'm sure they'd work out ways for "Spider-Man" to continue to play a role in New Avengers even if it isn't the real Spider-Man. But we could well be setting ourselves up for a fall. By looking for deeper meanings and explanations we are going to be sorely disappointed when Marvel reveals that there aren't any.

At which point Marvel's advice to "get over it" is all we have.

So... to the story. To their credit Dan Slott and Steve McNiven are doing their utmost to give us a classic Spidey story. They try as hard as they can to make us forget One More Day, in some places they are trying too hard. Slott's story is cleverly retelling the themes of Spider-Man's origin story without ramming it down the reader's throat.

What's that mugger going to do next issue? He's the thief that Spider-Man could have stopped but chose not to. Peter chose not to change into his Spidey costume just to cock a snook at Jonah. If he had, the thief would be caught. Now everything that mugger does is his responsibility. Uncle Ben all over again? I appreciate, the subtlety. Chapter One this most certainly isn't.

As for the art; Steve McNiven is very good, and anyone who liked him in New Avengers or Civil War won't be disappointed. It just that... well, I've always found his art to be a bit "nasal". Go through the issue and count the number of panels that are angled so you can see up a character's nose. Every page screams "Nostrils!" at me. I can tell this is just my problem.

Overall Rating...

Can I "get over it"? Can I judge this comic solely on its own merits and ignore the gargantuan horrors that have brought us here? I really want to, for the purposes of these reviews I think I have to. And it did make me laugh. Four webs.