And so the Amazing merry-go-round continues, with Back To The Future co-scribe Bob Gale the latest to step up and tackle the new! Improved! Single! Webcrawler! for three weeks. Of course, the fact that all four writers are working in tandem as one big Spidey Team means that there’s hardly a jarring shift in tone – but what’s also noticeable as a result is just how one-note it’s already starting to become.
Take the jokey editorial notes, for example – in Slott’s run, they were a breath of fresh air. But when you’ve got a note on the first page followed by a note replying to it (courtesy of Joe Quesada muscling his way in), you realise just how annoying they can be. When the footnotes even start narrating the action (“Let’s see what’s going on elsewhere…”), you wish they’d just shut the hell up and let you get on with reading.
And I know that a core tenet of Brand New Day so far has been the return to “traditional” Marvel-style storytelling. But this isn’t 1963, and there’s only so far you can go – so use of the word “thru”, or incessant thought bubbles that fair clog up the pages, are just as much of a problem. The sense of fun, after years of JMS-fuelled gloom, is of course welcome – but there is such a thing as too much, particularly when it’s at the expense of solid storytelling.
And really, there isn’t very much storytelling on show at all here. The consequences of the final issue of Guggenheim’s arc are barely touched on – a shame, as the death of Councilwoman Parfrey was a shocking and well-played moment. Instead, we get the creation of a new villain (that’s three new villains in three short arcs, with the result that none have had anything like enough time to bed in and establish themselves) in an extremely clichéd and hokey way, interspersed with a bit of Daily Bugle, a bit of Peter ‘n’ Harry, and a cadre of gambling costumed villains. The pacing is quite fudged, so that some of the story elements feel like they’re being touched on for the sake of just including them, while others break up the fast-paced nature of the book by hanging around too long (such as two pages of Peter in his bedroom).
Phil Jimenez, meanwhile, is of course one of the more reliably classy portrayers of superheroics in the business. But even his work here feels a bit off – nothing wrong with the clarity of his storytelling, but perhaps it’s a personal reaction to his McFarlaneish Spidey – all spindly limbs and massive eyes (of course, if you like the early ‘90s vintage, you’ll probably enjoy it a lot more). It’s also quite interesting that at one point there’s one of those pesky editorial notes remaking on cutting away from a fight scene “before it gets too gruesome for our all-ages comic”, and yet the last-page splash of the new villain really does push it in terms of the schlock factor. Deliberate, or coincidence? I honestly couldn’t tell.
It’s still fairly entertaining, and the goodwill earned by the strong start of the run hasn’t worn off just yet. But we’re seven issues in, now, and something resembling a major plot would be nice – because there’s only so long you can get by on wisecracking, retro-style “fun” with nothing of substance behind it.