Untangled Web - Part 2

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If anything, the second chapter of Brand New Day proves that the shift to a thrice-monthly publishing strategy doesn’t mean that the Amazing Spider-Man Brain Trust of writers are going to try and stretch one issue’s worth of story material over the course of three. In these scant twenty-two pages Spidey comes face to face with his latest nemesis, the poorly named but otherwise interesting Mr. Negative, risks outing his identity yet again and even dies on the final page, proving that Marvel is listening to all the negative fan reaction from One More Day.

But before we discuss ASM #547 in detail, let’s take a look at what happened in the previous issue:

J. Jonah Jameson had a heart attack! You heard it here first Broken Frontier readers... unless you actually read the issue. When faced with the mounting pressure of a Daily Bugle takeover from rival Dexter Bennett, and demands from Peter that he be justly compensated for his years’ of Spider-Man pictures, Jameson’s heart nearly explodes, adding yet another layer of guilt to sad sack Pete’s life. This week, Jameson’s wife Marla calls their lawyer and offers to sell her husband’s Bugle shares to Bennett. What will this mean for the future of the Daily Bugle and JJJ himself? We’ll have to wait to find out.

There’s a heated mayoral race brewing. Longtime comic aficionados know that many times background details aren’t just there to fill out the picture, and anyone who’s been paying close attention over the course of the first two BND installments must now realize that the race to become NYC’s newest mayor may have large repercussions for the wall-crawler. Here’s what we know:

As of now there are two sides: Parfrey and Crowne. There’s not much concrete info that can be gleaned from the pages of ASM, but what we’re sure about is that Aunt May is a Parfrey supporter as she wears a "Vote for Parfrey" pin on page 5 of ASM #546. We also know that Crowne is "rolling out a new attack ad" according to Robbie Robertson. Meanwhile, newly-returned Harry Osborn has personally funded an exploratory committee to see if his girlfriend’s father, Bill Hollister, can make a legitimate run in the campaign. Is this yet another attempt at a power grab by a member of the Osborn clan? Again, we’ll have to see how this plays out over the ensuing weeks.

The return of the Petrified Tablet… sort of. Way back in Amazing Spider-Man #68-75 (the cover to ASM #74 is pictured left), the webhead clashed with the likes of Kingpin and Silvermane for a little relic known as the Petrified Tablet, a trinket which supposedly holds the secret to eternal life. Ironically, during this arc Spider-Man threatened JJJ over his poor treatment in the Bugle and came quite close to giving the old geezer a heart attack. Turned out it was just a case of shock, but I digress. Anyway, Silvermane is this decrepit old coot who plans to use the tablet to gain eternal youth. Of course he fails and what’s the next logical step to prolong your life after a mystical tablet fails? Cyborg enhancements. But what does this have to do with Brand New Day?

The latest Spider baddie, the aforementioned Mr. Negative, received a similar tablet in the opening issue of Brand New Day and in ASM #547 it was revealed that the tablet was not the original Petrified Tablet of Life, but is instead that tablet’s sister. It contains the formula for brewing "The Devil’s Breath," which is apparently some kind of super poison. And who does Negative want to use this new weapon on but the Maggia, the 616 version of the Mafia.

In the Marvel Universe the Maggia is largely comprised of two factions, the Karnelli family and the Manfredi clan. Guess who ran the Manfredis before defecting to HYDRA? Silvermane. So are these just Easter eggs for long term fans or is Dan Slott setting up the return of Silvermane (pictured below right)? We’ll have to wait to be sure, but I’d make a bet on not seeing Silvermane for at least a few months. The Brain Trust has already established that they have a one-year mandate on no older villains. However, it wouldn’t be the first time we were misdirected by a group of comic writers.

Another tip of the hat to long term readers comes in the form of the Coffee Bean. In ASM #547, Harry Osborn purchases a Starbucks at the suggestion of his girlfriend, remodels the building and renames it the Coffee Bean. If that sounds familiar then that’s because it’s the name of the place Pete, Harry, Mary Jane Watson, Gwen Stacy and Flash Thompson spent a large chunk of their youth. With all of these references to the past, it seems fairly apparent that the current team of Spider-Writers is more than happy to pay homage to the golden era of Spider-Books.

But how did the actual issue fare?

Pretty well actually. The Spider-Brain Trust has moved Peter Parker away from the realm of mysticism (The Other) and political intrigue (The War at Home) and back to where he belongs: street-level skirmishes. Peter’s pitted against a mugger bearing his mask and Mr. Negative’s electrified nunchuck wielding henchmen, the Inner Demons. These are the types of stories I’ve been clamoring for throughout the majority of J. Michael Straczynski’s up and down run. Spider-Man belongs in the streets and it’s obvious writer Dan Slott knows this.

The much hyped soap opera element of Brand New Day works well here too as we’re treated to glimpses of what Harry and his new lady friends are up to, how the Daily Bugle’s handling the aftermath of JJJ’s heart attack, and even a surprisingly interesting scene with the usually forgettable Marla Jameson. All this takes place while Peter’s sporting the webs for the majority of the issue proving that Dan Slott knows how to intersperse his Spidey tales with just the right amounts of action and character development.

Speaking of Slott, he’s so far managed to eschew the darker, moodier Parker we’ve seen in the past and instead include at least one or two laugh out loud moments in each issue, bringing back an aspect of the character that caused many of us to add him to our pull lists in the first place.

And if you can even believe it, Steve McNiven’s pencils actually seem to have improved from the previous issue. He’s given a few action set pieces to work with here and man, are they impressive. Just look at that cover. When will you ever get a chance again to pick up brand spanking new McNiven artwork at a weekly rate? Regardless of your opinion on how Spider-Man got to this point, you can’t deny that Brand New Day is packed with A-list talent.

However, not everything works as well as McNiven’s art. Any drama derived from the subplot of the Spider mugger tracking down Pete’s secret ID is made irrelevant by the fact that we just watched the effects of Spidey unmasking play out over the last year. After everything that went down in One More Day in order to reel back the secret identity, can any reader really take this conflict seriously? It was a bit too much for my suspension of disbelief.

Another element of the story that falls a bit flat is Peter’s guilt over indirectly causing Jameson’s heart attack. We just had to sit through months of Spider-Man proclaiming he’d do anything to save Aunt May and now they’re going to hit similar beats in a story about Jameson? This plot element seems like something the writers should’ve built towards instead of lumping it in during the very first post-One More Day issue.

But these small complaints are mostly nitpicking and don’t heavily detract from the otherwise superb quality of the issue. As long as Dan Slott makes up part of the Spider-Brain Trust I’m more than willing to continue with their thrice-monthly ride. If you gave up Peter Parker with One More Day or just plain lost interest over the years as Spider-Man became grittier and grittier within his very own title, I implore you to give Brand New Day a chance. Spider-Man hasn’t been this fun since Brian Michael Bendis reinvented the character nearly eight years ago.

That’s it for this week’s Untangled Web, but be sure to come back in seven when we take a look at the conclusion to Dan Slott’s opening arc and go over what we know about the newly expanded supporting cast.

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