Berryman vs Brand New Day: ASM #549-551


ASM #549 – #551

Marc Guggenheim & Salvador Larroca’s Menace & Jackpot


Aaand we’re back for more this Saturday as we move on from the forced and artificial feeling first arc to Marc Guggenheim & Salvador Larroca’s Menace & Jackpot story arc.  Menace is the second new villain introduced into the Brandnewverse and appears alongside Jackpot, a new hero introduced in a Free Comic Book Day book called ‘Swing Shift’ which came out the summer before Joe Quesada’s ‘One More Day.’  So how does it work, how does it not work and how does it absolutely fall on its face?

Summary:


Yet another Goblin knock-off villain is cackling its way into town, stirring up trouble.  Spidey meets a Mary Jane wannabe disguised as a super hero wannabe.  Another hero shows up.  They fight.  Later the Goblin knock-off comes back.  Everyone fights.  A mayoral candidate dies.


Read on for all the ugly details…


Specifics:


Early on with Brandnewverse many began to complain about specific ongoing themes.  One such theme was “Spidey’s always running out of web fluid.”  It happened in Slott’s first Brandnvewverse establishing arc and Guggenheim throws it in as well.  But during the story Guggenheim has Spidey lament that he’s out of web fluid and doesn’t have enough dough to make more (“as usual,” as he puts it).  Oookay.  That sounds odd, and in the next arc (featuring Freak) we see an early example of why having too many writers spoils the stew.  Because Bob Gale has Spidey using that apparently ultra-expensive web fluid pretty liberally, creating a huge wall of webs around a common doper burglar.  So one hop-head street criminal necessitates a massive helping of that expensive, precious fluid.  This isn’t a slap at Guggenheim or Gale – it’s just an example of how having a ‘brain trust’ on one title is problematic.

Another recurring theme that many fans who still read the book back then were disagreeing with was the recurrent use of ‘comic swearing’ in the stories.  Or in other words using text characters in place of actual swearing.  The most iconic use of this in Quesada’s Brandnewverse was in the first issue of Brand New Day, Amazing Spider-Man #546, showing a mugger with a Spider-Man mask yelling “Just Shut The @#*% Up And Give Me Your Money!” at a victim.  Since the mugger is pointing directly ahead on the panel (i.e. ‘at the reader’) many, including myself, have used that panel as a metaphor for the attitude Quesada’s Marvel has for its fans.  Or in other words “Don’t complain, just buy the books and shut up.”

Either way the recurring use of ‘comic swearing’ got to be bothersome to many, and it is out of place for a Spider-Man comic.  For comics in general?  Of course not.  It would make sense in a book like Wolverine or even the Punisher, where the main character is constantly going up against the lowest types of trash villains on Earth.  But for Spider-Man, yes, it’s out of place and using it so often makes the writers look like young kids getting to summer camp for the first time, realizing they can swear since their folks aren’t around and giggling at how cool they think it makes them.  When using ‘comic swearing’ it’s best done out of the blue and sparingly.  Very sparingly.  Like “Oh wow – hey look, it’s Bigfoot!” sparingly.  Otherwise it loses its punch, and the ‘Brain Trust’ are guilty of that.

The Spider-Tracer Killer subplot had a little potential when it first kicked off in the first Brandnewverse arc, and it continues to crawl (heh) along in the current arc.  At one point a Bugle reporter being fired by the paper’s new owner Dexter Bennett (get it?  His initials are D.B. and he’s buying the Bugle!  GET IT?!) mentions the tracer killer thing to Peter.  He apparently knows Peter, well enough to call him Petey, and then asks him “You know what a spider-tracer is?”  Instantly in my head I the smart-ass in me wanted to speak for Spider-Man and say “Wow – no, Jack.  I mean I’ve only covered him here in pictures for the Bugle for a decade or so.  I mean it’s not like I made a book about the guy.  Educate me.”  Again that’s not a knock on Guggenheim.  That’s just what popped into my head cause that’s how my mind works.

So the Spider-Tracer Killer stuff started off interesting but then as I kept reading (and I am through #574 now) it had become a running gag.  Something for anyone bumping into Spider-Man to reference for laughs.  When one of your ongoing plots become chuckle-stuffs for almost thirty issues (and that’s just at the point I am at now) then the subplot’s gone horribly astray.  This is another problem with the consistency and is a direct result of having too many writers taking turns on one title.

The Dexter Bennett habit… quirk… act… whatever… of not getting anyone’s name right gets old really, really fast.  The new characters introduced in the Brandnewverse just aren’t interesting.  At this point Carlie’s an obvious Mary Sue, Lily’s a busty cypher and the writers can’t decide if they want Bennett to be an ‘Evil Jonah’ or muck-feeder like Larry Flynt.

It’s almost impossible to find Menace interesting as a character.  It’s obvious Goblin knock-off #4,789 and it feels like Marvel assumes readers would give a damn based solely on the fact that the character’s got a glider and cackles.  When Menace attacked Spider-Man with an electrical charge he (well, she) said…


“That was a non-lethal charge.  And a warning.The Goblin’s biggest mistake was toying with you, Spider-Man.  I won’t make that mistake.  Back off… or next time  I’ll put you in the ground.”

Or in other words the character is saying “The guy whose shtick I’m stealing?  His mistake was not killing you, and I won’t make that same mistake!  So… you’re getting off with a warning this time.  Because I am definitely not making the same mistake.  At all!”

Jackpot’s just as much of a throwaway character.  The character was doomed at conception, really, before she’d even been designed for the first time, let alone drawn into a story.  What did the pitch on that one sound like, I wonder… :


“Well we know Joe’s about to wreck the marriage, so let’s introduce a red-headed superhero that everyone’ll think is Mary Jane.  That way we can kind of ‘have’ MJ in the story without having MJ in the story.  Kick it around the room for me.  Ideas?”

“Say!  I know!  We could call her Jackpot!  You know, cause that’s part of the first phrase Mary Jane spoke to him!”

“Yeah!  And… and she can call him ‘tiger’ all the time too!  Just like Mary Jane does!”

“Perfect, I love it!  And then we’ll reveal that it’s not Mary Jane at all!  Just some other random chick who Spidey thought was Mary Jane while Mary Jane was really spending her time in bed with a doper celebrity! You know – cause she’s shallow like that, right!”

“God that’s awesome!  Yet another ‘reality slap!’ We know how much the boss loves those!”

“It’s almost too good!  What could possibly go wrong?!”

Damned if they did, damned if they didn’t.  If Jackpot had actually been revealed to be Mary Jane, fandom would’ve rolled their eyes and yawned at the obviousness.  When Jackpot turned out not to be Mary Jane, fandom rolled its eyes and yawned at the obviousness.  The character never had a chance either way.

The end of this story culminates with a runaway glider killing a mayoral candidate.  It’s something that should make Peter feel guilty about even though it wasn’t his fault, because he always blames himself for everything.  At least initially.  Yet he doesn’t do that here.  In the Freak arc Bob Gale actually does have Peter note it.  At the funeral.  Once.  Then it’s forgotten.

Overall:


Good Stuff? Salvador Larroca’s art was well done.  Seriously, if there is one thing the Brandnewverse usually (and I stress usually) has going for it, it’s the art.  The story might be an ongoing, catastrophic mess but at least it often looks nice!

Bad Stuff?  The new villain brings very little ‘new’ to the table except for a sex change we’re not yet aware of and stumpy horns.  This story should have flowed much better seeing as how it wasn’t doing the lion’s share of the work in establishing Quesada’s Brandnewverse.  Whereas the first BND arc under Slott felt forced and hurried, this arc seems flat and uninspired.  Yet another Goblin legacy shows up and competes with Jackpot to see who can be less interesting.

And the story still isn’t anything that necessitated Quesada wrecking the marriage for.  Every bit of this could’ve been told with a married Spidey.


–George Berryman

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