Brand New Day Retrospective, Part 4: “We All Need A Little Support”

One of the strengths of the Spider-Man mythos, going back to the heights of the Lee/Ditko and Lee/Romita runs, has always been the supporting cast.  A rich grouping of characters representing multiple ages, races, and societal rank, the supporting cast alone could make for an interesting title.  However, one of the interesting things about these supporting characters is that the vast majority of those popular with fans can be traced back to those aforementioned classic runs of Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and John Romita.  For a long time, the cast surrounding Spider-Man has been virtually identical to that which could be found in the late 1960s.  Nearly every new writer has attempted to augment this supporting cast with new characters, with varying results.  (Anybody remember the TriCorp Research staff?  Anybody?)

Brand New Day, true to form, has introduced new supporting characters, while attempting to update the classic cast to the new continuity.  This entire potpourri of new and old faces has, not surprisingly, been met with a wide spectrum of response.  In this installment, we take a look at the people that surround Peter Parker in his everyday life.

Kevin Cushing: One of Spider-Man’s greatest strengths for storytelling is his rich and expansive supporting cast.  These characters do not represent that.  We have a racist face-licker, a racial stereotype with a shotgun and an attitude problem, a bland new love interest who was never necessary in the first place, and a sleazy newspaper editor who vacillated between caricature and villain before he seemed to be forgotten altogether.

And the ‘returning’ members of that rich supporting cast are mostly unrecognizable.  Harry Osborn was regressed to college but with the villainy and insanity stripped out of him.  The Black Cat went from 3-dimensional to 1-dimensional, and even that dimension is characterized as if the last 20 years of her memory has been removed along with almost all of her moral compass.  J. Jonah Jameson is occasionally written correctly (see: when written by Fred Van Lente), but too often just acts as if his character was never given any depth.

All in all, an extremely poor showing for a book that, once upon a time, was known for its supporting cast.

Zach Joiner: Now about this supporting cast…  Lets review: JJJ was heart attacked out for Bennett.  JJJ Sr shows up to give May more action than Peter.  Vin is the roommate who has it out for Spider-Man, and dislikes Peter.  Michele is brought into create romantic tension, but only shows how batshit crazy she is.  Norah? Witty Racist Reporter.  Carlie Cooper? She’s the ‘too good to be true’ girl.  Lilly Hollister?  Yeah she’s the hottie that is with Harry only for the Goblin Goo.  Take away Norah Winters and Michele, you do not have any of these characters intact … in fact they’ve all been written out of the series!  For all this time we could’ve spent on developing them, we don’t because of the choppy storytelling.  Norah is written almost exclusively by Kelly, Michele is written more by Gale in the ‘Peter Parker’ book than any of the other writers combined.  Van Lente wrote a lot of her, but I think Gale has handled her better than anyone.  Yeah, Gale.  Seriously, how sad when your weakest writer handles your (before Carlie was thrust on us like a bad Van Lente Rape) premiere love interest in a book than you thrust him onto to get his paws off the main title?  Seriously, this shows that the writers have incompetently handled this from the beginning.

CrazyChris: Again, I’ll limit my opinion to the early issues of Brand New Day and the handful of issues I have read since then.  My vote for least-favorite supporting cast member goes to Norah Winters because she constantly makes racist jokes and her methods of flirtation (e.g., unsolicited face licking) would get her sued for sexual harassment in real life.  I also hated Dexter Bennett, not because he lacked potential, but because the writers couldn’t get over the running gag of him forgetting people’s names.

The writers also handled Harry Osborn poorly, at least in the issues I have read.  His return needed immediate explanation.  Spider-Man watched him die in an ambulance after rescuing Spidey from bombs Harry himself had placed.  Considering this man had a change of heart after attempting to murder Peter, Pete should have more than zero questions right away when Harry suddenly showed up alive.  If the writers successfully crafted a suspenseful mystery around Harry’s return, then it might have held my interest, but when the continuance of a mystery hinges solely on the characters being too stupid to ask the obvious questions, the pussyfooting aggravates and never captivates.  Worse, in an interview, assistant editor Tom Brennan mentioned that it took so long to for them to explain Harry’s return because the writers themselves hadn’t come up with the answers.  When writers make the damn story up as they go along, especially when it comes to huge developments like the return of a long-thought-dead character, we have no basis to care about any unanswered questions in the story because we have no basis to believe an answer even exists or will exist until the writer decides to pull it out of his you-know-what.

Jon Wilson: Taking into account that I’m a bit behind on my reading, here are my thoughts.

I had no clue who Menace was and was completely surprised when it turned out to be Lily.  She became a much more interesting character at that point, and I wonder where she’s going next.

Carlie Cooper needs more screen time.  I like her, she’s cute and smart, I’d date her myself if I were a drawing.  We definitely need more of her.

Harry Osborn has been an interesting addition to Peter’s life.  Without Mary Jane as a constant sounding board, Harry has been able to serve as one of Peter’s primary go-to guys.  I loved the initial American Son arc, but I haven’t seen him since, and I’m kinda wondering what’s up with that.  (I realize there’s a miniseries going right now answering that very question, but we’re back to the “too long between characters” scenario I mentioned earlier.)

Gerard Delatour II: I’m of two minds on the subject of the supporting cast.

On the one hand, I like when writers attempt to break away from the established side characters.  The supporting cast traditionally features the same characters that have been around since the 1960s, with very few newbies actually having the staying power to last beyond one or two writers’ runs.  On the other hand, many writers attempt to toe the line of keeping the established supporting cast while introducing new side characters, and this almost always ends in failure because there simply aren’t enough pages.  That’s why I was initially excited about the possibility of the new supporting cast to be introduced in Brand New Day – for once, they had the page count to make it work!

Unfortunately, I’ve been disappointed by the supporting cast.  I’ve liked the Webheads’ use of the classic characters, for the most part – J. Jonah Jameson, Betty Brant, Flash Thompson, etc. – but that use has been very limited.  The Black Cat is the major exception, as she has seemingly been devolved back into the late 1970s for no apparent reason, wiping out all of her significant character development.  The pendulum has swung heavily in favor of the new supporting cast, and frankly I don’t care for a single one of them.  Michele Gonzales, in particular, is insulting – an oversexualized racist caricature (the “fiery Latina”) that manages to drag the book down with every appearance.

The worst part of all of this, however, is the odd frequency of the appearance of these characters.  There have been long stretches in which certain characters have practically disappeared, after which they feature prominently in an arc, and then they return to obscurity for another long stretch.  It’s bizarre to have an arc focusing on Harry Osborn (“American Son”) followed by a long period in which he’s barely been seen outside of random cameos.

Brad Douglas: Every female introduced is always overshadowed by Mary Jane.  Readers want her to be in the book.  Everyone else that appears tries to measure up to her and fails.  I am glad to have Harry Osborn in the book.  I also like the twist they’ve done with Flash.

Up next: If thee be my enemy!

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