Untangled Web - Part 4

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Welcome back, webheads. Hope the first break in the thrice-monthly shipping cycle wasn’t too hard on you. Now that the torch has been passed from writer Dan Slott to Amazing Spider-Man newcomer Marc Guggenheim, we here at Broken Frontier thought it was time to further explore just exactly what the Spider-Brain Trust is. We’ve alluded to it before, and in case you’ve been left scratching your head, we’re back with an in-depth look at the writers behind Peter Parker’s bold new direction.

With Amazing shipping thrice-monthly, and presumably publishing thirty-six issues a year instead of the standard twelve, the powers-that-be at Marvel quickly realized it would be quite difficult for any single writer, with the exception of maybe uber-prolific Brian Michael Bendis, to handle that high a workload. Editor Steven Wacker, the mastermind behind the Distinguished Competition’s epic 52, was hired to spearhead the project. He quickly amassed a team of four writers working in conjunction, similar to that of a television program’s writing staff.

Each writer gets as many issues as necessary to tell their story, meaning that unlike during the Clone Saga days, when Spider-Man was effectively written as a weekly story under four different titles, no writer will get stuck penning the second chapter of somebody else’s story. However, each member of the so called Spider-Brain Trust has a say in the overall direction of the franchise, and subplots from Slott’s issues will pick up in Guggenheim’s and vice versa.

We’ve experienced Dan Slott’s take on Spider-Man firsthand over the month of January. But what is he known for besides the webslinger? Slott typically handles books of a more humorous nature, having started his work at Marvel writing the short lived Ren and Stimpy monthly. Since then, Slott’s tackled a high number of humorous characters. In 2004, he took over She-Hulk and shifted the focus to Jennifer Walters’ legal practice leading to Harvey Birdman-esque results. He followed this up with a stint on the now defunct The Thing solo effort and in 2006 launched Avengers: The Initiative, a book that’s consistently been praised by critics. To see our interview with Slott concerning the Initiative, click here.

Marc Guggenheim’s first story arc began this past Wednesday, but it may surprise you to know that he has just as solid a background writing for television as he does working in comics. He’s written for The Practice, Law & Order, CSI: Miami, Brothers and Sisters, and has recently co-created the midseason replacement Eli Stone which follows Lost on Thursdays. In the comics world Guggenheim has recently written the death of Bart Allen over in Flash: The Fastest Man Alive at DC and has recently announced his latest book, Young X-Men, which will spin out of Messiah Complex in April.

Bob Gale’s worked on Batman and Daredevil, but what he’s most known for is co-writing the screenplays to the entire Back to the Future movie trilogy. Little is known about Gale’s opening Spider-Man story set to debut in March, but what Marvel has announced is that Freak, the latest addition to Peter’s Rogues’ Gallery, will see his origin here. Some fans may remember Freak’s brief appearance in one of the backup stories that ran with ASM #546 last month.

The final member of the Spider-Brain Trust, Zeb Wells, is no stranger to Spider-Man. He’s previously written for the Marvel Adventures Spider-Man book and also for Peter Parker: Spider-Man. Continuing the trend of bringing in writers from Hollywood, Wells is also one of the forces behind Adult Swim’s hit program Robot Chicken. If that wasn’t enough to get you excited, know this: when Wells gets a crack at Spidey the first thing he does is reunite him with the New Avengers and have him and Wolverine take on an army of ninjas… in a blizzard!

So how did Guggenheim’s first time at bat fare? I wouldn’t call it an outright homer but ASM #549’s a solidly entertaining double. While Dan Slott easily had the toughest writing slot of any of the Spider-Brain Trust, having to follow up the crapfest that was One More Day, Guggenheim also found himself in an unenviable position in having to introduce Jackpot, the newly powered MJ, a character who’s produced a ridiculous amount of fanboy rage considering she’s only been briefly seen in a two page backup story. All that said, Guggenheim manages to make Spidey funny again and packs in a ton of laugh out loud moments. In fact, he does the nearly unthinkable as the Spider-Man/Jackpot scenes are actually the best parts of the book.

The plot is mainly focused on the arrival of Menace, the latest in a long line of Goblin-themed enemies. Although Menace is always kept just slightly off panel, Guggenheim does a good job of slowly building up the tension and legitimizing a relatively stale concept (he’s crazy AND on a glider?!) without resorting to lame 90s gimmicks to build up a new villain, (i.e., just have them kill off an older character). The Daily Bugle plot is also moved forward despite the absence of J. Jonah Jameson. His rival, Dexter Bennett, doesn’t fare quite as well as he did last month. In Slott’s hands this character managed to be a relatively amusing addition to ASM’s sprawling cast, but with Guggenheim he’s just a one-note joke. His scene is probably the only misstep in the issue script-wise.

Well if that’s my only complaint with the script, what else went wrong? Unfortunately, artist Salvador Larroca is following up Spider-Man runs by Steve McNiven, Joe Quesada and the critically underappreciated Ron Garney, and against those names he can’t really compete. When Spidey’s in costume everything’s fine, but the second Peter pulls off the mask it’s a different story. Every character here has these freakishly bushy eyebrows that just totally pull me out of the story. However, it seems as though the remainder of the three-part storyline will focus mostly on Spidey and Jackpot confronting Menace and possibly S.H.I.E.L.D. So I have hopes that things will improve on the art front as time goes on.

All in all, Guggenheim puts in a solid effort here. I’ve long been a fan of everything Dan Slott, but Marc Guggenheim seems to have just as good a grasp on the character. In fact, I might go as far as say I preferred this issue to Slott’s opener. If things improve on the art in the next two installments I think we’ll have the ingredients for an excellent storyline and even an interesting new villain to add to Spidey’s stable of rogues.

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