The new year has long been a time for new beginnings and resolutions. So with that in mind, I thought I would kick off 2015 with a serial lookback at one of the most controversial and dramatic new beginnings in Spider-Man history: “Brand New Day.”
Unless you’re someone who just came to Spider-Man over the past two or three years, the phrase “Brand New Day” probably prompted some kind of emotional reaction for you (though, maybe not as visceral of a reaction as my regular reminders of another dark period in Spider-Man history). That’s because “Brand New Day” was Marvel’s clever branding of the series of storylines that followed the universally reviled “One More Day” arc – aka, that storyline where Peter Parker made a deal with the devil and dissolved his marriage to Mary Jane.
But I’m not here to focus on the negative. Seriously, I’m not! In fact, one of the reasons why I want to dedicate some virtual ink to “Brand New Day” is because I think some readers have had an incredibly hard time disconnecting these stories from the editorially mandated disaster that preceded it, meaning a bunch of quality, well-written/illustrated comics have been forgotten about despite the fact that they are less than 10 years old.
“Brand New Day” ushered in a period of high-octane creativity for Amazing Spider-Man, with three issues being published a month (thanks in large part to the dedication/efficiency of editor Stephen Wacker, who left DC after editing the company’s weekly 52 series) and different creative teams rotating on and off the books. Fans who love current Spidey scribe Dan Slott should note that he got his start with Amazing Spider-Man during “Brand New Day” (in fact, he scripts the three issues, ASM #546-548, I’m going to talk about here), while other top-notch creators like Mark Waid, Fred Van Lente and Joe Kelley also contributed some terrific stories.
So for the next month or two, I’m going to sequentially profile each arc in “Brand New Day,” which for those keeping score at home means Amazing Spider-Man issues #546-564 (aka, all of the issues that say “Brand New Day” on the front cover). If I find myself really engrossed (and if I get a sense that you guys like it too), I’m going to carry on with my retrospectices of these issues until I ultimately grow tired of the exercise. Keep in mind, I have covered a few stories from the era immediately following “Brand New Day,” such as “New Ways to Die,” and “Unscheduled Stop,” but as a whole, I’ve avoided talking about this era of Spider-Man, which leaves a bit of gap of content on my site which I’d like to remedy retroactively.
As I’ve been indicating through these first few paragraphs, “Brand New Day’s” opening arc is a ridiculous amount of fun, and does a fantastic job of establishing the new Spider-Man status quo in a way that doesn’t feel overly heavy-handed (except in a few spots, which I will get to). It’s plainly obvious that this is an early Slott Spider-Man story (he did script the excellent Spider-Man/Human Torch miniseries but beyond that, his experience with Spidey was mostly the Wall Crawler’s guest appearances in other books he was writing), as there’s a certain amount of “feeling out” going on in terms of some of the trademark silliness and irreverence which tend to dominate his writing of the character today (sometimes to a fault). But in the case of “Brand New Day” and ASM #546-548, the freshness of Slott works hand-in-hand with the dramatic reboot of the character and his universe.
Even before Marvel’s former editor-in-chief Joe Quesada interfered with J. Michael Straczynski’s run on ASM, I felt that the book and the character was getting a bit stale and tired, especially as it jumped from one event (Civil War) to the next (“Back in Black”). JMS seemed to be losing track of who this character was and while I know Straczynski loves to blame all of his bad stories on editorial interference, he does have to take some responsibility for how the second half of his run is regarded.
“Brand New Day’s” opening arc tries not to dwell too much on how the JMS run ingloriously ended, though there is a little bit of needling to fans who were outraged about the dissolution of Peter and MJ’s wedding (but still reading the comic obviously). The very first page of ASM #546 opens with Peter making out with a girl who is very clearly not Mary Jane. And a little later in the storyline, he even chides Harry Osborn (who returned from the dead without any fanfare – what?) about being too young to be married. Yes, these scenes were undoubtedly inserted into the comics to tell those fans still holding out that “One More Day” will be reversed to essentially get over it. But the way Slott scripts these sequences makes it come across like a bouncer denying you access to a club with a big, beaming smile. He feels your pain man, but this is the way it is, ok?
I’m not going to lie; I loved how this is executed. I have said in previous posts that from a strictly pragmatic perspective, I totally understand why Marvel wanted to find a way to unmarry Peter. The entire Peter/Mary Jane marriage was just another sales-driven event from then Marvel EIC Jim Shooter. Fortunately, some very worthwhile writers like J.M. DeMatteis and David Michelinie were able to take this awkwardly shoehorned plot development and transform it into something that helped shine new insights on the Spider-Man universe. But having a married superhero was also undoubtedly limiting in terms of the range of stories Marvel was able to tell with Spider-Man.
My problem, forever and ever, with “One More Day” is its execution more than its actual premise. There were dozens of different ways Peter and MJ could have broken up that wasn’t a magical deal with the devil, which just smacked of laziness and tone deafness from Quesada and company. But having a single Peter is not a bad thing. And please keep in mind that I’ve heard all the arguments about how a married Peter led to mature/adult-themed stories, but please just accept the fact that I think there’s a lot of storytelling potential in a youthful, untethered Peter as well. And that’s exactly what we get in “Brand New Day.”
Slott also uses this opening arc to develop a whole new supporting cast, including potential allies/love interests like Carlie Cooper (who, contrary to what some fans think, I thought was a fun character in the series until she was suddenly written like a total moron during Superior Spider-Man) and a new supervillain, Mister Negative (probably my favorite bad guy introduced during “Brand New Day”).
Typical of Slott, he plants so many seeds over the course of this three issues, weaving different subplots together like a maniac. It lends an almost manic level of energy to the series, but also feels totally appropriate given just how much groundwork needed to be laid down at “Brand New Day’s” onset. We get a side story about J. Jonah Jameson losing control of the Daily Bugle, and Aunt May working in a soup kitchen/homeless shelter (which in turn connects to Mister Negative). There’s also a mugger going around dressed as Spider-Man, which in turn leads to an ongoing storyline about Spidey being framed for murder when one of his tracers is found inside a dead body.
But above all, this storyline really plays up Peter’s youthful elements as a character. There’s an emphasis on the “Parker Luck” of which we really haven’t seen since the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko era of ASM. Keep in mind that this characterization is a dual-edged sword for me. I love how it’s a throwback to what is arguably the golden era of the character, but over the years, I also feel like many creators (including Slott) have overplayed Peter’s misfortune to the point that he comes across almost buffoonish rather than unlucky. But in terms of this specific storyline, it’s definitely more the latter rather than former, especially when he ends up having to give up a blood sample to Negative (who uses it to blackmail Spidey by telling him he will use it to make a potion that will kill him and his family if he ever meddles in his business again) in order to save the lives of Maggia Family children.
Again, at no point over the span of these three issues did I find myself thinking, “this story needs Mary Jane,” or “this story would be enhanced if Peter was married/had kids.” “Brand New Day” was proof that with the right creators on the title, great stories could be told about Peter regardless of his marital status. But could that momentum be maintained? We’ll have to see next week when Marc Guggenheim jumps on the book and introduces us to the new villain, Menace.