Friday, July 17, 2009

Trade Waiting - Amazing Spider-Man: New Ways To Die

New Ways to Die has a lot of things going for it - Dan Slott, the post-Civil War Thunderbolts, Spider-Man and, most importantly, John Romita Jr. Of course, it all has one huge problem as well - Brand New Day.

I am not a rabid BND hater, I bought this trade after all, but I'm not a supporter by any means. My main problem, when it comes down to all, is that from what I've seen, including New Ways to Die, nothing requires a single, unmarried Peter Parker. If BND had actually done something new with a single Peter, I would be all for it but they haven't. I did check out the first BND trade though, out of curiosity, and found it to be pretty unreadable. I barely made it through a first reading and couldn't even make it through the book a second time. But, as I said before, New Ways To Die does have a lot going for it, so I took another plunge on Brand New Day Spider-Man. Hit the jump for my review.

Written by Dan Slott and Mark Waid
Art by John Romita Jr. and Adi Granov
Collects Amazing Spider-Man #568-573

To start, New Ways To Die is not horrible by any means, but, then again, it's not what I'd call all that good either. There are some things that work, some that don't and, for the most part, most of it is tolerable. All around, a pretty average comic.

The main story in New Ways To Die follows the return of Norman Osborn to New York City and the Spider-Man books. However, instead of coming as the Green Goblin, he is now the director of the Thunderbolts (this is pre-Dark Reign). With him comes the Thunderbolts, among which includes longtime Spider-Man villain, Venom. This is, of course, a big deal and apparently intersects with several of Amazing Spider-Man's many ongoing plot threads.

I say apparently because 1) I haven't read enough of BND to know for sure and 2) Slott never actually bothers to explain it for new readers, which struck me as odd, especially considering the fact this is the first major story/event and departure from the three issue arcs they were using. Marvel obviously expected new readers to jump on with this story, so you'd think they would have made an attempt at explaining all of the important stuff new readers should know coming in.

Even the more obvious stuff, like Menace, isn't explained that well either. Menace is trying to manipulate the New York City political scene throughout this arc, but there is not motivation given, so it all just seems kind of random, within this particular story, but it would make sense if you have read more of ASM. Menace's confrontation with Osborn is even weirder since she alternatively hates and admires him, which is, again, weird mostly because their is no context for it. This the the same for a lot of the BND plot threads that intersect with the main story of New Ways to Die. You can kind of get a feeling for them if you are a new reader, but a lot of it is never explicitly explained. The main story however, is pretty decent.

As mentioned above, Osborn is back in New York City, which means an inevitable confrontation with Spider-Man. Osborn's motivations for his return are not that clear though. It has something to do with the mayoral race and Osborn wants something in return, but what it is he wants is never made clear. Eventually, Osborn decides to track Spidey down and the story goes from there. Osborn sends the Thunderbolts out to find Spider-Man and, eventually, Venom believes he has found him at a F.E.A.S.T. homeless shelter, but he has actually tracked down Eddie Brock. This introduces the story's other major plot point, the return of Brock as Anti-Venom.

Brock gets his Anti-Venom powers from a reaction between the Venom symbiote and Mr. Negative's powers, who is also the owner of the F.E.A.S.T. shelter. As Anti-Venom, Brock is actually a hero now, not a villain/anti-hero, and can "cure" people. The two examples of this in the story are his ability to destroy the Venom symbiote and "cure" Spidey of his radiation poisoning that give him his powers. Though I don't really care for his design or name, I actually like Anti-Venom. It's a logical step for Brock and actually makes positive use of the character since Mac Gargan is now Venom. Anti-Venom not only wants to cure Venom, but he has also decided to take down the Thunderbolts, which continues his involvement in the story.

The story is fairly entertaining, but it's dragged down by the Brand New Day plot lines, for me anyway, because, well, I don't really care. When dealing with the parts that don't have to do with BND, Slott does a good job with the story. The characters are pretty good, the combination of Spidey/Anti-Venom/Venom leads to some interesting scenes and the plot moves forward with some nice twists and turns. Slott has some surprises for us as well. He has Osborn suit up as the Green Goblin, though it kind of fizzled out, and there is the Venom/Scorpion combination, which is interesting, to a degree.

Slott also manages to work some of the plot threads together in a manner that helps the story to a degree. He has Peter act as an actual photo-journalist and not just the guy that takes pics of Spider-Man. Harry shows up as well and, while he does play a part in the story, I don't really care for it that much either. Anti-Venom, as already mentioned, is probably the thing I liked best about the story, which kind of surprised me. All in all, the things I don't care about are balanced out by the things I was actually interested in.

The one truly disappointing thing was Norman Osborn. A lot of the relationship between Spidey and Osborn is based on the fact that Osborn knows who Spider-Man really is. Without that, the relationship loses all of its impact and storytelling possibilities since it is so one sided. The same goes with Venom. The fact that Spider-Man's identity is secret again creates some pretty, well, stupid story telling. At one point, Osborn figures out that Spidey takes his own photographs, but, instead of realizing that Spidey is really Parker, Osborn concludes that Spidey just splits the profits with Parker. Occam's Razor alone should make it obvious that Spidey is Parker but, nope, we can't have that because Spidey's identity is secret again.

In fact, earlier in the story, Spidey mentions that what "we did" is keeping people from remembering who he is. Who "we" is is never mentioned nor is it explained what Parker and the other party actually did. So, once again, it's f@#$ing magic. It's all so goddamn arbitrary. In fact that's a lot of my problem with BND in general, it's just so arbitrary. Harry's back...just because. No one remembers that Peter is Spider-Man...just because. Peter is a loser who can't catch a break again...just because. I mean, I could have missed some of the explanations since I've only sampled some of BND, but it's still not good story telling. Originally, Marvel was just ignoring the continuity clusterf@#$ that is One More Day, which I completely approved of, but then they started to actually explain some of the stuff and well...we get Norman Osborn, the oblivious idiot, and it just points out how stupid the whole thing is.

The real reason why I bought New Ways To Die was actually the art by John Romita Jr. and, even here, I am disappointed. At times, JRJR's art is pretty good and measures up to a lot of his better work, but then, at times, it looks like he was rushing and his work shows it. The same goes with his character work as well. Venom, Radioactive Man and Freak don't look that good while Anti-Venom, Menace and the Green Goblin do. As always, though, his action sequences are dynamic and engaging. He is also great with emotions and his story telling skills are still pretty good. Again, its an overall disappointment with a few great highlights.

Verdict - Check It. A disappointing yet competent story whose faults are mostly balanced out by the story's better aspects.

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Anonymous said...

The only Spidey issue I've bought since the start of the "One More Day" arc was that one-shot Kevin Maguire drew, and I'll likely come back for the one-shot with Deadpool. However, I just cannot bring myself to care about the regular series, or even the characters anymore. At this point, I don't even think retconning BND away would help.

Klep said...

If they undid the whole BND thing (got Peter back together with MJ in their own place and with Peter having an actual job), I would be interested again. Right now Peter's just some loser I actually feel antipathy towards, and my general love of Spidey can't overcome that. It was one thing for him to be a loser when he was a high school or even college student. That was something I think most people can understand and relate to. When you're a total loser in your late 20's, that's much harder to excuse.

Andrenn said...

Good review.

I myself was buying New Ways to Die when it first hit comic shelves and I started out loving it. Anti-Venom is a great character and as a longtime Venom fan since I was a child I was happy about it.

Sadly, as you said, the OMD and BND hints and teases absolutely ruined it.

For me the best moment had to be Venom vs. Anti-venom, or really any scene with Anti-venom as Slott did a great job with the character.

Eric Rupe said...

Anonymous - I think the biggest damage OMD has story is that it proved that no, none of the stories they matter since they can literally be undone on a whim, as it were. Why go back if Marvel can just easily change their mind anytime they want?

Klep - If Marvel were not so intent on explaining the whole retcon aspect of BND, I might be more interested but that is unlikely to stop.

Andrenn - Yeah, the Venom/Anti-Venom stuff was pretty good because Slott knew how to play the characters off of one anther.

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