Welcome to Spider-Man Roulette! Shelfdust’s Patreon backers were asked to pick a number at random – and now I’m going to write about whichever corresponding issue of “Amazing Spider-Man” they chose! This issue was picked by Patreon backer Levi Hunt, who chose number 546 for the roulette!
So you’ve decided to reboot Spider-Man’s life entirely, taking away his marriage, his web-shooters, and leaving readers with no idea what kind of story they should expect to read the following week. What’s the first image you want to give readers, to show them just what “Brand New Day” is all about?
Spider-Man hooking up with a random woman in a club? Ah, so this is one of those Dan Slott troll comics, then.
There’s a trait which has followed Dan Slott throughout his career at Marvel, especially in recent years as he’s gained bigger and more notable keys to their kingdom – and that trait is his enjoyment of trolling the readership. Given how upset a large number of fans were by the dissolving of Peter Parker and Mary Jane’s marriage, it’s a clear shot right at them to have Peter not only kissing a random woman (who doesn’t seem to have any relevance, or actual romantic interest in Peter) but doing so on the very first page of the issue. That’s the message that’s being sent out: what you were used to has been taken away from you.
It’s not that the story has changed: it’s that what you liked has been taken away from you. It’s the same sort of message which Slott kept sending out during his run Superior Spider-Man, where he consistently reinforced that Peter Parker had been killed and was definitely, absolutely gone and would never return in any way. He’s offer a bit of hope, then gleefully snatch it back off the readers. It might sound like a strange approach to keeping and cultivating a readership, but deliberately aggravating readers is probably the best way to get them to keep reading. Hate reading is definitely a thing, especially for comic book readers: you might not keep them interested, but if you can keep them angry they’ll want to read the next issue just so they have something else to be miserable about every week.
The rest of the issue works forwards in two separate ways: it wants to give new readers a way into Spider-Man’s new world so they’ll want to pick up the next issue, and it wants to annoy people who are already annoyed… so they’ll read another issue next week. New readers get glimpses of a new superhero called Jackpot! Annoyed readers get to wonder why Marvel have made Mary Jane Watson into a superhero called Jackpot. New readers find out about a new circle of friends made up of a back-to-life Harry Osborn, his girlfriend Lily, and her roommate Carlie. Fuming readers get to fume some more.
It’s a whole thing. At the time you can see how this all works – reading it back now, after the Spider-Man office has been able to filter out the stuff which doesn’t work (Jackpot) and retain the additions which did (the FEAST Centre), what really stands out here is how incredibly dated it all feels. Peter’s trip to the nightclub is filled with hokey banter that wouldn’t feel out of place thirty years ago – perhaps fitting, given Slott’s reverence for Stan Lee’s originals. After the girl – Mia – stops kissing him, she asks if he’ll forget her. Peter says…
Names. Faces. But never a gumline.
Shudder. That awful line then leads into a tease about Peter and Mary Jane’s wedding not happening, and we’re back in the “angry reader baiting” zone again. I think, in honesty, that might be a big part of hiding some of the weaknesses in Slott’s writing, generally speaking. He has some pretty poor dialogue in this issue, but each time he compensates by following up with something which deliberately baits the readers. A scene where Betty Brant says “I’m on your five” is followed by a scene where various employers discount every single job Peter has ever held in the past, for example. It’s one thing for Peter and Betty to have an extremely dated conversation – but let’s focus instead on how apparently Peter is an unreliable teacher, an actually poor photographer, and a scientific never-was, eh?
I’m not really a fan of the issue, even discounted the way that time has really not helped the dialogue or narrative choices. Steve McNiven’s artwork misses most of the big moments that Slott throws at him, and his storytelling is abrupt and disjointed. When he has the choice to push outwards and let exposition scenes play out, he instead zooms into each character’s face at a strange angle, which means readers spend most of the issue looking up at double chins and neck muscles. Slott writes at a breakneck pace which means there’s a hell of a lot of dialogue on each page – shout out to Cory Petit, doing the lord’s work trying to make this whole thing work – and McNiven is a splash page artist forced to draw a lot of drawn out conversations, with little space amidst the word balloons.
He makes two poor choices with Martin Li, our first new villain – and I think the only one who really has had a lasting impact. Li is Mister Negative, and looks (shockingly) like a photo negative when he’s powered up. For some reason McNiven raises the viewpoint on the character’s first appearance so instead of appearing in profile so we can see him properly, we’re looking slightly down on him. This makes Li look shorter, hides his facial features a fair bit and is followed up by a vague close-up on his face. Li goes on to kill some of his minions who’ve failed him, but Slott and McNiven depict the action off-page — it all feels completely designed to take away from Li as a villainous character. He’s presented unevenly and then we don’t get to see how his powers work? What’s going on?
I don’t like Dan Slott’s writing anyway, but the combination of Slott and McNiven is unworkable. McNiven works as an artist when he draws big superhero action and set-pieces, but this issue isn’t about any of that. It’s a bunch of conversations where Slott makes fun of the upset Mary Jane/Peter fans, and sort-of sets up what the new status quo for the Spider-Man world is meant to be. It’s a poor pairing, and it brings out the worst of each side of the creative team. As a whole, Brand New Day ended up working out very well – but this was not the most enlightened way to start things out.
Amazing Spider-Man #546: Brand New Day
Writer: Dan Slott
Artist: Steve McNiven
Inker: Dexter Vines
Colourist: Morry Hollowell
Letterer: Cory Petit
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