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Untangled Web - Part 3

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Dan Slott’s inaugural Brand New Day arc came to a close this week with a victory for Mr. Negative, and ownership of the Daily Bugle changing hands to Jameson rival Dexter Bennett. But before we actually cover the content of the issue and whether or not the opening storyline proved successful, I think it would be helpful to examine some of the new characters introduced into Spidey’s sprawling supporting cast.

Lily Hollister The daughter of NYC District Attorney Bill Hollister and recent girlfriend of Harry Osborn. So far Lily has been content to play the role of Harry’s party girl and hasn’t been given much material to work with. She spends her days lounging around with Harry in limousines and coffee shops and attempts to drag her bookish best friend, Carlie Cooper, away from her work and into the New York clubbing scene. Whether or not Harry is dating Lily simply to get access to her father remains to be seen.

Bill Hollister This DA has recently been coaxed into possibly joining the mayoral race by none other than Harry Osborn, his daughter’s boyfriend. Harry has fronted the money for an investigation into whether or not a Hollister campaign could be successful, and when confronted by Bill about his motivations, Harry reacted rather coyly and deflected the questions. Hollister seems to be a straight arrow DA and is rather troubled by the idea of an Osborn funding his hypothetical campaign. Hollister has yet to appear in a Spider-story proper and has only been alluded to or briefly seen during a brief backup story in ASM #546.

Carlie Cooper The best friend of Lily Hollister and presumed love interest for Peter Parker. Carlie works for the NYPD as a forensics officer but has so far been treated as a very green rookie. Her father, a well respected policeman, has apparently died of reasons yet unknown. Much like Peter, she’d rather bury her head in a book than go clubbing with Harry and Lily. She’s also recently found a spider-tracer on a murdered body. We’ll have to wait at least two weeks to see what Carlie will make of this newfound discovery.

Dexter Bennett The new owner of the Daily Bugle. In the aftermath of J. Jonah Jameson’s heart attack, Jonah’s wife Marla sold their shares over to Dexter Bennett, a famous businessman who is as likely to appear on Perez Hilton’s celebrity blog as he is to land the cover of Forbes. Little is known about Bennett at this point but he seems poised to take the Bugle in a hip, new direction that Old Flat-Top would never stand for.

Mr. Negative/Martin Li His day job consists of running a homeless shelter, but by night Li turns into the monochromatic Mr. Negative. Within three issues he’s managed to secure the Tablet of Death, wipe out NYC’s Maggia influence and concoct a poison gas that specifically targets Peter Parker’s bloodline. However, what Negative doesn’t know is that Spidey’s aunt is May Parker, his budding love interest and homeless shelter co-worker. Neither Spider-Man nor Martin Li know of each other’s secret identities and it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out over the ensuing weeks.

One of the criticisms I want to address with the opening storyline of Brand New Day is just how bare some of these character portraits are. The Spider-Braintrust is doing its best to build a fully functional world for Peter Parker to inhabit over the next year or so and for that they should be commended. This isn’t Wolverine where the themes and characters drastically change every few issues thanks to the nomadic creative teams involved (look at the transition from Jeph Loeb’s dreadful Evolution arc to Marc Guggenheim’s Logan Dies run). But the Brand New Day team is really taking their time.

Thankfully this is being put out at a thrice-weekly rate but after three issues in I thought we’d have more of a concrete idea of who these new characters are. So far, Carlie Cooper and Lily Hollister have been two dimensional props, at best, and leave me longing for the return of Mary Jane or even the Black Cat.

However, some of these complaints can be attributed to the inherent hype of Brand New Day. If you were expecting an earth-shattering storyline to open the latest chapter of Spidey’s life you might be sorely disappointed. That’s obviously not writer Dan Slott’s goal. His strengths lie in telling classic Spider-Man tales and that’s exactly what these first three issues have been: a fun little romp reminiscent of the old days. Whether that’s what people want out of Marvel’s flagship title remains to be seen, but so far Slott has managed to perfectly nail the voice of Peter Parker while concurrently winking at the stranger bits of continuity, for example, the hilarious reference to the Spider-Mobile (first appearance Amazing Spider-Man #130 back in 1974).

After last week’s assassination of the entire NYC Maggia through DNA-targeting gas, Spider-Man races to a circus in order to spare the made men’s children. Mr. Negative also wants to kill them in order to fully eradicate any Maggia presence on his turf. So a fair share of the issue is spent with Peter battling the Inner Demons, the Negative henchmen introduced in the previous issue. ASM #548 concludes with Negative holding a child at knife point and negotiating for a vial of Spidey’s blood. This would give Negative the materials necessary to form a poison specifically engineered to kill Parker and all his blood relatives.

While the writing was solid as ever, this issue did feel a bit anticlimactic as we never even get to see Spidey fight Mr. Negative. The acquisition of the Parker poison and Martin Li’s connection to Auny May are obviously good methods of ratcheting up the tension between the two characters and also manage to add a new villain to Peter’s relatively stale stable of enemies. However, the ending lacks any type of visceral punch and isn’t helped by the fact that the Martin Li/Mr. Negative revelation was so obviously telegraphed.

Steve McNiven’s artwork has always been a treat and that doesn’t change here. Despite basically having to work with a redo of last week’s action set piece, McNiven keeps things fresh during the more explosive scenes and really has a chance to shine during the quieter moments, such as JJJ’s heart attack recovery. His ability to render facial expressions is mind blowing.

Despite a few hiccups along the way, such as the back up stories in the opening issue and the somewhat lackluster ending, the initial arc of Brand New Day has proven quite successful. Slott’s Spider-Man is something that J. Michael Straczynski’s webslinger never was: funny. He hits all the right notes when the Maggia widows invite Spidey to join their organization or the hilarious encounter between Dexter Bennett and Robbie Robertson.

This arc hasn’t exactly been life changing for the wallcrawler but didn’t we have enough of that in One More Day? Maybe the most shocking aspect of Brand New Day is its complete scaling back of the grittier qualities that have been bleeding into Amazing Spider-Man ever since the 1980s and the arrival of the black costume. And if a down-on-his-luck, wise-cracking Spider-Man is something you’re interested in, I think you’ve found your book.

Well, since Amazing Spider-Man’s going on its first weekly hiatus since the new publishing schedule, we here at Untangled Web are going to do the same. But be sure to check back in two weeks for updates on everyone’s friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.

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