So what have we learned after nine months worth of "New" Spider-Man stories?
The Amazing Spider-Man has been busy shaping the new status quo in Spidey's version of the Marvel universe. Not surprisingly was what happened in the rest of that universe (mainly the Secret Invasion) completely left out of this new universe to have space for developing characters and explaining what the heck is going on. Which is very necessary because nobody outside of the so-called Brain Trust knows.
It has happened before that a comic has more questions than answers, that characters play more important roles than they at first appear to, and that the reader has a sense of insecurity. But usually this is reserved for a storyline where this serves the goal to blur the otherwise simple answer. But for a story arc (which is what Brand New Day still very much feels like) that sets up the tone for a new universe, this is counterproductive.
Brand New Day was to attract new readers. It was to bring everybody back to one level and tell simple, exciting stories. The goal was simple. The execution was the opposite: they took a devil and changed so much about the "known" past that now nobody knows what – I said it before – the heck is going on.
Having said all this, I would like to explain that there is a whole lot to like about Brand New Day. I liked Marvel's idea of a reboot, mainly because Amazing Spider-Man has become so self-absorbed and self-important that despite great storytelling by J. Michael Straczynski the stories lacked fun. Many months went past without much action or so much of a single wisecrack. Introducing new elements was critical to bring about change and the Brain Trust made some great choices. Dexter Bennett taking over the Bugle – fun! Jackpot as a hot, new superhero – yay! Mr. Negative is a subtle new villain that could become a new classic. And the political element is an exciting ongoing story that fits so well into this year, 2008. Even having Peter and MJ separated is something that can be accepted because it moves the characters forward and gives so much room for new storylines.
However, after 7 months of storytelling, very little has been done with that. Bennett has been developed very nicely, and Jackpot is still a mysterious figure that's fun to follow. But aside from that – what did the reboot actually do?
Aunt May survived only to be reduced to an uninteresting side character, a silhouette of Spider-Man's most formidable ally in hearts. J. Jonah Jameson has not had any involvement since being confined to his hospital bed. MJ's appearance was negligible and weird if taken out of the as yet unknown context. The other added characters could be interesting but they just popped up. Having Harry Osborn suddenly back from the dead just feels disturbing as long as it's not explained. Most of all, Spider-Man has not been developed at all. He is a facade of many different attitudes and behaviors but none of them are explained or justified. He is just there to bring together all the other characters. This book is not about him.
I am positive that despite their good intentions and first-class names, the reason for this is the Brain Trust. It is like the College of Coaches (a ridiculous idea by the Chicago Cubs baseball team to have alternating coaches rather than one GM). As good as they may be and as hard as they may try, they are losing touch with the original character. The whole Spidey universe is reduced to more or less separate storylines, telling stories about the characters living in NY. But they lose the emotional power of the main character. That is why Straczynski's stories were good – they told stories about Peter Parker AND Spider-Man.
Steve Wacker may do a decent job in giving the new Amazing a fun tone, one that has been deeply sought for years, but why did he have to take apart the character to do it? There may have been good arcs among the last 7 months, but I can hardly recall any of them. The only one I really enjoyed was Slott's first. Why? Because back then I didn't bother that I had no clue who this Spider-Man actually was? Now, after 9 months of reading, we know less than ever. One thing is sure, he is not like the grown-up, responsible, aspiring teacher that tried so hard to be good and help his family. This one is a totally different person and THAT is why I can't find enjoyment in reading the stories. They may be good stories, but they are not good Spider-Man stories because he's not in it. They are good Jackpot stories, good Dexter Bennett stories, good ... of all characters ... Screwball stories.
But this is not Spidey. Which is why long-time readers are dropping the book. Even if "they" answer all the questions – without bringing back the Spidey that developed over the last 45 years this comic book is nothing more than just another new superhero comic. Give it a chance if you like, but do not expect that having Amazing on it will put Amazing into it.
[NOTE: We might exempt Amazing Spider-Man #574 from this criticism as a special case.]