Emanata: Dimming of the Day

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This week’s Amazing Spider-Man #647 marks the end of the three-year, 102-issues-long “Brand New Day” sequence–a consistently entertaining run that could have been more than that. The premise of BND, when it started, was that Amazing was going to be the only Spider-Man book, that it would come out three times a month (giving Marvel slightly more slack than a weekly), and that it would be produced by a rotating crew of four writers–Bob Gale, Marc Guggenheim, Dan Slott and Zeb Wells–and a few rotating artists.

That’s not quite the way it turned out. The writing collective ended up expanding considerably, incorporating a few guests, and bringing up some of its members in rotation much more often than others. (Wells, for instance, only wrote a handful of issues, although they were some of the best.) In theory, having that many writers should have meant that everybody tried to one-up one another and push the plot forward. Sometimes that actually did work out: Mark Waid’s Shocker story (the one that introduced J. Jonah Jameson Sr.) succeeded in making the overall dynamic of Spider-Man’s supporting cast more interesting, and Slott’s “New Ways to Die” kicked a lot of fun elements into motion. And basically any time the Osborn family showed up, the story crackled on the page–quite an achievement at a time when Norman Osborn was appearing in nearly every other Marvel series too.

(More on Techland: Emanata: Forward-Looking Statements)

In practice, though, BND often didn’t maintain the soap-operatic buzz it tried for. Characters or situations were often left in the hands of a single writer, which meant they could lay fallow for months at a time until that writer reappeared; bits of business remained in place long after they’d gone stale, because nobody was in charge of changing them. (Michele is a jerk to Peter! We get it!) The plot threads involving the repercussions of “One More Day” dragged on far too long. Maybe even more damagingly, BND was often paced like a weekly serial, but it didn’t actually show up every week–and, especially in the past year, repeatedly stumbled over its schedule, to the point where two issues came out the same week more than once.

For that matter, establishing Amazing as the Spider-Man title where all the important action happened made every related series play second banana. Amazing Spider-Man Extra! and Spider-Man Family and Peter Parker and Web of Spider-Man often seemed like leftovers. To some extent, so did the various Amazing Spider-Man Presents miniseries, although a couple of them were really entertaining (particularly worth seeking out: Jen Van Meter and Javier Pulido’s Black Cat and Brian Reed and Philip Briones’ American Son).

Still, there was plenty that did work about BND-era Amazing. The art was fantastic a lot of the time–Marcos Martin’s work with Waid on that Shocker story and with Stan Lee himself on their recent, nutty two-pages-a-week serial was some of the best this series has had in decades, John Romita Jr. knocked himself out on “New Ways to Die” and the long Dr. Octopus story in #600, and Chris Bachalo, Emma Rios and Javier Pulido all contributed really terrific-looking work too. The variety of writers very rarely made Amazing feel inconsistent–as different as the tone of their stories could be, from Fred Van Lente’s screwball romantic comedy in #605 to Wells’ horrifying “Shed,” they all seemed to share a basic conception of what the series was about, and they all kept its momentum up. And it was a really good value for money: especially in the second half of the run, it seemed like almost every issue had a few extra pages or a bonus feature.

(More on Techland: Emanata: More Weekly Comics, Please!)

Van Lente, as the writer responsible for the most lighthearted episodes of BND, fittingly writes the cheery lead story in #647; it’s liberally sprinkled with callbacks to the entire sequence, including the reappearance of Overdrive (from the 2007 Free Comic Book Day issue that served as a preview of “Brand New Day”) and a splash page that pays homage to the one from #546. It gives a bunch of the subplots from the last hundred-odd issues dramatic closure–the baby Osborn’s name couldn’t be more perfect, and it’s about time we finally saw Mary Jane wearing a Jackpot costume–and concludes with a very rare happy ending for Peter. And then, in one of the best examples of multiple-writer synergy the BND era has had, Zeb Wells takes a funny moment from Van Lente’s story and turns it upside down into a pitch-black, pitch-perfect five-pager.

The rest of this week’s issue is basically the rest of the crew coming out for a quick bow: Gale and Waid and Joe Kelly all contributing cute quickies, Guggenheim doing a follow-up to his very-special-episode Flash Thompson issue, Slott and Van Lente collaborating on an extended clip-show gag about what a bit player from BND’s first issue has been doing ever since. Amazing‘s creators for the past three years deserve that curtain call; the next superhero comic that tries to sustain their pace as long as they did has a lot to learn from their example.

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