Rave : 2009 : Current Spidey - Not So Bad After All?

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We've been a bit rough on Brand New Day here at Spider-Fan. But we also like to think that we're pretty open-minded too, and certainly there's a feeling among many of the staff that the stories that are being told now are actually pretty good.

Of course, there's still some SpiderFan reviewers that would like to differ. Here's a three-part Rave that Al started, Dave replied to, and Jonathan demanded on having the final word on. Warning, contains SPOILERS for issues Amazing Spider-Man #601-608.

First... long-time SpiderFan staffer Al Sjoerdsma asked rhetorically: Is Brand New Day the best Spider-Man ever? He answered himself as follows.

Well, no. But, IMO, it's the best ASM since JMS' first 6 months and since the best of the Clone Saga before that. I certainly have complaints with it, as you all well know since I have complained about things (like the illogical Spider-Tracer Killer subplot, the overt sexual activity that make this an "adults only" book and the sloppy haphazard Kaine continuity) here.

But on the whole I am enjoying this book and I love the 3 times a month frequency. I just recently edited entries for the issue of Official Index that includes the start of BND and I was very impressed with the way they established things right from the beginning with Free Comic Book Day. It was hard to appreciate those early issues because the change from ASM #545 was so disorienting at the time. But I would recommend going back and reading them now. The lead-ups to Mr. Negative, Menace, Freak are very nicely done in back-up stories and subplots.

I think the near-weekly frequency allows the writers to take their time with things and not worry about the pay-off happening years down the road. Look at how Freak has been handled from first appearance through his mutations to being Norman Osborn's petrie jar, look at Menace's development, look at Mr. Negative's slowly unveiling story. I was indifferent to these early issues at the time. Now I think they are wonderful. This was all carefully thought out.

It's no secret that I'm not really a fan of Joe Kelly's version of Spider-Man... I believe his Peter Parker is clearly acting outside his fundamental character. But week by week, this is a consistently entertaining and exciting book, doing new things with a near-50 year old character. Can't beat that.

Could they have done these things while keeping Peter and MJ married? Absolutely. (All of the good stuff, anyway.) But I was never a big fan of the marriage to begin with so that doesn't ultimately faze me. Those of you who are no longer reading, I think you're missing out. This is some first-rate stuff. If you suffered through Round Robin, Maximum Carnage, Howard Mackie, the Stacy twins and stories like that... for God's sake, don't skip these stories now!

But... fellow reviewer Dave Sippel had to disagree.

Al, I totally respect your opinion but I still think that the BND stories are drivel. JMS's run certainly had its faults, we all know that. Sins Past and The Other were certainly low points in the characters history. Some of the lowest, in fact. But in my opinion, many of the stories were much more intelligently written than what we have now. The ASM stories have suffered a definite drop in IQ since BND.

Yes, I realise that Peter's involvement with Tony Stark was due to the larger storyline going on at the time. But look at the inner conflict that was eating at him the entire time. The loyalty to Iron Man was at odds with his moral revulsion at seeing comrades imprisoned in the Negative Zone. Peter has always been a character full of anxiety (he even had an ulcer once upon a time). The weight of being Spider-Man has weighed on him heavily since the Lee/Ditko years. I appreciated the connection to current real life events (support the Iraq War or not).

Second, I dont like this nonchalant Spidey. He seems too carefree to me. Quesada even said that he had more fun when he was unmarried and he thought Spider-Man would too. Since when did Peter have fun as Spidey? How many times has he wanted to quit? Sure, he enjoys swinging across Manhattan and beating up the occasional bad guy but it wears on him too.

Sleep with Black Cat, as long as she doesn't look at his face? Yeah, ok. Get drunk and sleep with Michelle? Thats a double no no. (I thought Peter didn't drink. The best example was seeing Spidey fight Hobgoblin while drunk. That would set a guy straight real quick.)

Then we have the general tone of the book. Its definitely written for a younger audience. The joke with Bullseye killing a rat with a booger in American Son still bugs me. I was half expecting a fart joke to come along. That works on Family Guy but Spidey deserves better.

Just my two cents.

But... site editor Jonathan Couper-Smartt had to side mostly with Al on this one.

I'm going to have to support Al on this. I'm finding Amazing Spider-Man really quite enjoyable right now. I've said all along that I have no problems with the stories in BND per se. It was only ever the WAY that the transition was performed. I still can't believe Mephisto having made the deal that he made. It makes NO sense at all and stinks of "Diablo ex Machina". I am very much waiting for a satisfactory explanation please, Mr. Quesada.

However, if the details of the BND transition is put to one side, then the recent plots have been fine by me. Personally I have zero problem with (a) Peter having fun, or (b) getting drunk, or even (c) engaging in the odd moment of ill-considered casual sex. Spider-Powers don't stop Peter from being a young man. And wasn't that the whole point of Spider-Man... that he was the first teenage hero, with real emotions and conflicts, and a real personal life?

Comics change. Comic readers change. Here at SpiderFan we seem to alternate between sometimes complaining that comics are to childish, and occasionally complaining that they are too adult. I say "whatever". Fans change. Times change. Social mores change. There's no rule about how "adult" Spider-Man should be. If you want kid versions of the web-head, go read Marvel Adventures Spider-Man.

So I reckon that Joe Quesada and Stephen Wacker are actually doing a fine job, mostly by avoiding many of the editorial mistakes of the past. Specifically:

  • They use Peter as the main character, and that how Spider-Man has always worked best.
  • They have successfully reconstructed and extended a supporting cast. The supporting cast was always the strength of Spider-Man.
  • They have encouraged a good mix of classic villains, re-invented villains, and new villains.
  • The new publishing schedule works much better than trying to weave arcs through four different titles simultaneously.

For a contrast, let's think back to the 90's. Peter was put in the back seat, while the old supporting cast was either forgotten, or else completely ruined. Remember Betty Brant toting guns and using karate?

Villains were either worn out to nothing (e.g. Venom, Carnage), or parodied (female Doc Ock, Scorpia, etc). Then there was a constant parade of one-off lame villains, mostly in cybernetic battle armor.

As for the title integration? Cast your memory back to that painful period in the 90's when four titles constantly shuffled major story arcs between them. Four writers and artists trying to co-operate? No wonder the plots became confused and inconsistent. By contrast, this current approach allows the editorial team the ability to both control the overall story direction, while also giving individual creators freedom to tell their own stories.

This is in a large part due to generally capable current mix of talented creative teams. Although I must agree with Al that Joe Kelly's scripting leaves a great deal to be desired. I have enjoyed Kelly's work in the past, but his Peter Parker is just far too trivial, childish and shallow to be enjoyable. It's almost "throw-away" stuff, and it isn't worthy of the title. Also, Mr. Kelly, if you're reading - may I suggest that a maximum of one pee-pee/poo-poo joke per comic book is a very good guideline.

But putting Kelly aside, and suppressing my ongoing and fundamental dissatisfaction with the Mephisto affair, I must confess that there is much in the recent issues to find entertaining and original. There's plenty going on, but it's all being kept reasonably well under control. There's a careful mix of strong overall guidance, with room to move at the individual issue level.

I don't know who to thank for this. But I'm going to assume that this is all handed down from the top. I'm guessing that Joe Quesada demanded the original changes, and that it is his commitment and discipline that keeps the whole thing working. I'll assume that Wacker and the creative teams are happy to play along.

Anyhow, my message to Marvel would be. "Find Joe Kelly something else to work on. Keep the rest of the guys doing what they're doing. And for the love of all that is holy, please get around to dealing with the Mephisto stuff before too long, OK?"