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 Chris O’Halloran, who chose number 550 for the roulette!

After an issue with a nice, dignified approach to villainy, we’re back into the start of Brand New Day – which was, I think we can now all agree, pretty much a wild mess. On purpose, half the time.

Issue #550 is a right near the beginning of the relaunch for the character, and as such it’s still playing deeply into all the mysteries and intricacies of the new brand. At the same time though, it also feels like a tick-list ripped from an internet fan forum where the creative team are one-by-one answering every single point that readers raised “here’s why Brand New Day makes no sense”. Just like Dan Slott’s first issue of the rebrand which happily trolled the readership, Marc Guggenheim’s story here seems to be a way for the “brain trust” to address internet grievances rather than a story in its own right.

I’ll tick through them the same way that the issue does.

First up: the Superhero Registration Act! As Spider-Man has now hidden his identity, how does that play into the big dramatic unmasking from Civil War? Well, as this issue makes clear, Spider-Man is now an enemy of the Registration Act, although the most important thing to remember is that the Registration Act doesn’t matter anymore. Notable heroes aren’t going to actually try to enforce it at this point in time, which is why Guggenheim joyfully dredges up a character from Dazzler #5 called The Blue Flag. This is the guy who tries to actually take Spider-Man in for an unmasking – not Iron Man, not Carol Danvers, and certainly not Jackpot, the new superhero who teams up with him throughout the issue.

So essentially we’re just going to sweep this one under the rug. You’ve had it explained that yes, he is a criminal, but no, it’s not that important anymore. The issue ends by giving the police a different reason to chase him anyway, so the narrative shifts away from the Registration Act in very quick fashion. The impact is to tell readers that the story they were grumpily trying to bring to the forefront as a way to kill off the rebrand isn’t an important one, and they should instead focus on this “spider tracker serial killer” narrative instead.

There was a fuss at the time about whether people actually could physically unmask Spider-Man, or if something had happened to make that impossible. Dan Slott later made fun of that idea during his rubbish Fantastic Four team-up story, and here Guggenheim does the exact same thing. Blue Flag doesn’t manage to achieve it – and Spider-Man similarly isn’t able to unmask the new villain, called Menace.

A masked Menace, you say? I think you can see how that character came together on the Spider-Man retreat that year. Last month the roulette stopped on Acts of Vengeance, where Magneto’s perspective was important and the character gave the reader all the information on his plans upfront. Here, we’re shown how only Peter’s perspective matters at the start of Brand New Day. By restricting us to spend our time in his head where possible, we don’t get to see who any of the mystery players are – we are bystanders as the issue unfolds around Spider-Man, and someone like Menace remains a mystery. Is this a new character, or an old character in a new form? Forget about the Goblins we know from before! We need to now pay attention to whatever this new mystery is.

And Jackpot. We should spend time on Jackpot, who was previously used to confuse and distract readers. Mary Jane Watson was taken off the table when Brand New Day started, as Peter Parker’s wife vanished from his life entirely. But Jackpot showed up instead – a character who referred to him as “Tiger” and whose codename obviously refers to “you just hit the jackpot!” It’s another case of the readers being told to follow one thread rather than another, even if this issue reveals that Jackpot apparently isn’t even Mary Jane Watson. The first issue of the era gleefully made readers think this was what happened to MJ, but here we find out that Jackpot’s real identity is actually “Sara Ehret”.

That whole thing gets really confusing, so I won’t go more into it. The important part is that readers were given the impression that MJ was now a superhero, but she’s possibly not, but maybe she is? It confuses the issue in a clever, convoluted fashion, keeping people interested in what’s going on even as it presses the new status quo onto everyone. If we’re going to get interested by whatever this bizarre angle is, then by proxy we have to buy into Brand New Day a little bit more than we did before. Annoyed fans wanted to keep thinking about the past, but the first few stories of BND keep working to erase the past and make the present more confusing, annoying, involving. It switches the point of focus.

It’s an effective issue for what it has to juggle, but it’s not hugely entertaining. This is a piece of a much larger story, printed at an accelerated release schedule to make up for the way it’s structured. It only works when you can binge the narrative, so readers don’t have to think too hard about the parts they don’t enjoy. In many ways, readers are much like J. Jonah Jameson at this point, who is still recovering from his heart attack at the start of the run. He doesn’t know what he’s lost and what he’s kept, and he’s sat in a hospital bed where everybody is withholding secrets and mysteries from him. From time to time somebody slips a bit of information, but all it does is confuse the issue. Jonah thinks he knows his current status quo, but it’s going to take him a lot of time to work out the truth and find out what leads he should actually be following.

The issue is a checklist, where editorial reveal some secrets and discount others. The only thing that’s made clear is this: you have to keep reading if you want everything to make sense. That includes you, long-term reader! We’re all in this wild mess together, and it’s on us to try and make some kind of cohesive storyline out of this whole thing. So keep buying!

 

Amazing Spider-Man #550: The Menace of…. Menace!!
Writer: Marc Guggenheim
Artist: Salvador Larroca
Colourist: Stephane Peru
Letterer: Cory Petit

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