Remember John Romita Junior? He was the guy who drew Amazing Spider-Man back when it was good. He’s back for “New Ways to Die,” a story that promises to take Spidey out of his Brand New Day bubble and into the wider Marvel Universe while also reintroducing a few classic bad guys. Does the first issue justify Marvel’s relentless hype and advertising? Read the full review to see what a broke undergraduate from Colorado thinks!

Oh, and leaving comments is sexy.

“Back With Vengeance” (Part 1 of “New Ways To Die”)
WRITER: Dan Slott
PENCILS: John Romita Jr.
INKS: Klaus Janson
COLORS: Dean White

Luckily for the guy who doesn’t know how Peter Parker became Spider-Man (or gal, no one knows this mythical individual’s gender for sure), issue #568 starts with a two-page recap of those events. Since modern myths aren’t prone to redundancy, I’ll reiterate it here, with the important words highlighted so you don’t get confused.

Peter Parker was a teenage nerd who got bit by a radioactive spider, which gives him powers. He uses his powers to gain fame and fortune. One day, he decides not to stop a burglar because he figures it isn’t his problem. BUT HOLY BABY JESUS THAT SAME GUY KILLS HIS UNCLE OH CRAAAAAAP!!!!! With great power comes great responsibility! So he becomes a super hero.

If it’s still hard to get straight, don’t worry. It took me five cartoons, countless comics, and a movie to get right. Repetition is the key to learning. That’s why Nick Jr. plays the same episode of Blue’s Clues every day for a week.

On to the actual story! Spidey thwarts an attack by Menace on a Bill Hollister campaign truck. The ensuring destruction exposes a nearby illegal sweat shop owned by Hollister’s opponent opponent for mayor, Randal Crowne. After some advice by Harry Osborn, mysteriously taking the phone call from a rooftop, Peter sells his photos to Ben Urich at Front Line, where Robbie Robertson also now works.

Norman Osborn agrees to endorse Randal Crowne if Crowne uses his political clout to bring the Thunderbolts to Manhattan. Meanwhile, Dexter Bennet, a Crowne supporter, sends Betty Brant to write a smear peace on Martin Li, the billionaire humanitarian (and closet mob boss) who owns the F.E.A.S.T. Center, the soup kitchen where Aunt May volunteers. At the F.E.A.S.T. Center, Betty sees Eddie Brock, the former Venom and current cancer patient, who has decided to spend his last days helping the homeless.

Peter returns to his apartment and finds Norman Osborn and the Thunderbolts inside waiting for him. To be continued.

Then there’s a ten page backup tale by Mark Waid and Adi Granov about Eddie Brock suddenly recovering from cancer. I wish they had condensed this into two or three lines of dialogue and worked it into the main story, but then Marvel couldn’t have justified charging $4 for this extra-long comic. Commerce trounces art yet again.

Dan Slott earns props for wielding most of Spider-Man’s recent history yet still making it cohesive and accessible. New Ways to Die draws from Civil War, Thunderbolts, The Last Temptation of Eddie Brock, One More Day, and nearly all of the subplots and characters from Brand New Day, making it exactly the kind of story readers of serial fiction want to see: one that’s constantly building on and adding to what came before. One of the new creative team’s cardinal sins was their failure, until now, to write adventures that couldn’t have happened at any other time in the character’s history.

The second cardinal sin, Peter’s portrayal as a loser, improves somewhat. Front Liner Pete is less pathetic than unemployed Pete, but it has to develop into something more than the freelance gig we’ve seen before. Peter Parker needs a career, not a job. Photography was a job for Peter, never a passion, and always something to supplement what he was really doing with his life, like working toward a degree or teaching. The creators and editors claim they want to make ASM the story of Peter Parker again, but so far that’s been the story of a man with no apparent goals or ambitions beyond subsistence. That does no justice to the journey from a high school student to a college student, a graduate student, and a teacher our hero has taken.

The third and final of the Brain Trust’s cardinal sins is their refusal to fill the logic holes regarding Peter’s secret identity, but I’ll get to that cluster f*** in my next review.

As a political science student with campaign experience, I enjoy it when comics fall into my area of expertise. The roll of the media in politics warrants exploration, and it’s topical. Spider-Man is unique in that he lets writers tackle these issues from an “everyman” perspective, so we can see their impact at the ground level. There’s a great tradition of that, from Stan Lee addressing Vietnam, drugs, and racism to Straczynski tackling education, poverty, terrorism, and civil liberties. If Slott can make New Ways to Die half as meaningful, then he’ll be a step closer to earning his place in Spiderdom’s upper echelon.

Or he could give me a kickass Spider-Man vs Bullseye fight. I’ll be happy either way.

3.5 webheads out of 5. This is one small step in a good direction, but Spider-Man needs a giant leap. It’s too early to tell if New Ways To Die can save this sinking ship.


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