Spider-Man's Brand New Day: Three Years Too Much?

This Christmas would be the three year anniversary of the blackest, hardest piece of coal Spider-Man fans ever found in their stockings. Many of our readers may not know what the big hullabaloo is around the just completed period of Spider-Man comics called "Brand New Day". So here is a quick rundown:

On December 28th of 2oo7 "Amazing Spider-Man" took a strange turn with "Amazing Spider-Man" #545, an issue concluding a story called "One More Day" which has become one of the most widely disliked of the decade. Spider-Man and Mary Jane's marriage of 1987 was deleted. No, not annulled. The Pope was not involved. No, it was not a divorce. There were no legal proceedings. The marriage and, without explanation, the death of supporting character Harry Osborn, the destruction of the Parker home in Queens, and Spider-Man's "Civil War" unmasking were simply deleted, either from the characters' memory, history, or both. Or were they?

Long-time fans (among whom I count myself) felt understandably confused and somewhat betrayed. The truth is long-term serial fiction requires house-cleaning from time to time. I always try to think: 'Just show me in your story that you put serious thought into how your story works even if it is just a device to change an old story and/or set-up a new one.' It appeared as if the mastermind of this story, Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada (@JoeQuesada), hadn't done that. The details of the situation are complicated and don't particularly make anyone involved look good. But what followed over the next two years, depending on your point-of-view, was either a masterfully-laid slow-burn reveal of what "Brand New Day" always really was: a new Spider-Man status quo or a massively convoluted backpedaling away from an attempt at giving Spider-Man a remaking. There is a difference between the two, more on that later. First, quick as I can, a run-down of the little clarifications that came down the path during "Brand New Day":

Stephen Wacker (@StephenWacker) was made the new "ASM" editor and the first issue taking place in the new status quo (the new continuity) (or whatever it is) was "Amazing Spider-Man" #546. The dialogue in the issue made it clear that six months had passed since the last public sighting of Spider-Man. Strange, but it opened many doors. It was revealed in "Amazing Spider-Man" #569 that Peter could remember a time when at least some people did know his secret identity as the superhero Spider-Man. It was 'ret-conned' through flashback and explanations in "Amazing Spider-Man" #581 that Harry Osborn had never, in fact, died at all. In the same issue we learned that the Parker house had been rebuilt as a good-will present from Harry upon his return from hiding. (Note that, although strange, these changes are organic.) In "Amazing Spider-Man" #591 it was revealed that Spider-Man had succeeded in creating a 'global mindwipe' of the knowledge of his secret identity. "Amazing Spider-Man" #601 revealed that Mary Jane remembers that Peter Parker is Spider-Man.

Why does that all matter? It means that there is still a single story thread, as convoluted as it may be. A status change as opposed to a re-boot. It seems that Marvel (E.i.C. Quesada, Spider-Man editor Stephen Wacker, and the multiple rotating "ASM" writers) after giving the string of this nearly 50-year ongoing story a swift snap, then applied band-aids, electrical tape, gum and elbow grease to reconnect it. Who really knows whether or not this was the plan all along. I have very little inside information to go on. It worked well-enough compared to the catastrophe it could have been. For me, it was like a murder mystery where the victim was continuity and instead of 'Who killed it?' the question was 'How dead is it really?'

So a lot of the B.S. has been explained. Mind you, they are still goddamn stuck on the marriage never having occurred. Which is... well, bullshit. Sorry Marvel Entertainment. Sorry to Joe Quesada and Stephen Wacker and every writer and artist, colorist, and letterer who's worked on "The Amazing Spider-Man" from "One More Day" to the present, but regardless of the quality you bring to everything around it, it just doesn't stand because it doesn't make sense.

And at first the whole thing was not only tactless but didn't make up for it with real quality. The early "Brand New Day" stories were fairly mediocre. Mind you, those first creators were in a damned-if-they-do-and-damned-if-they-don't situation in regard to... everything. There was a tone of experimentation. Things got better in fits and starts and eventually the 'Web-Heads,' as the rotating creative teams were nicknamed, turned out some fantastic stories. Some of the better Spider-Man stories of the decade. And that is the real tragedy here, that as a commenter my opinions about the quality of these stories is only a small part of an editorial about them.

Let's talk about a few of those stories: "Unscheduled Stop" from "the Amazing Spider-Man" #578-#579. The Shocker is hired as a hitman and we meet J. Jonah Jameson's father! This delightful story brought me tentatively back on-board. "Red-Headed Stranger" from #601-#605. Chilling one-moment, hilarious the next. "Grim Hunt" from #634-#637. Badass. "The Last Stand of the Rhino" from #617 & #625 The Rhino finds his humanity, goes straight, starts a family, gets screwed, becomes a criminal again. "Keemia's Castle" from #615-#616. Heart-breaking, both. Those were just my favorites.

We did, unquestionably, get some great stories out of the "Brand New Day" period.

Finally, the story "One Moment in Time" (ostensibly a direct sequel to "One More Day" and essentially bookending the "Brand New" era) in issues #638 to #641 finally handled the secret identity problem, the 'global mindwipe' and did so in an emotionally satisfying, if convoluted, way. However, it also showed through flashback an almost-entirely alternate version of the story from the 1987 "The Amazing Spider-Man Annual" #21 wherein Peter Parker and Mary Jane got hitched. Is that wrong? No, I suppose it's not. But it's a rather unpleasant experience. Mephisto (read: the Devil) 'bought' their marriage from reality in exchange for Aunt May's continued health in "Amazing" #545, the end of "One More Day". And apparently that's the way things are going to stay. Marvel Entertainment just won't let that one go.

In the latter quarter of last year this ad began running in Marvel's comics:
That in addition to the covers (especially of issue #639, above) they released? False hopes were all Marvel gave us. Intentional little tricks to drive sales or innocently honest presentations of the story? Just because Mary Jane is in a wedding dress, it doesn't have to be a story of reunion, apparently. Who knows?

At San Diego Comic-Con in July it was announced that the tag-team style writing would be dropped, Dan Slott (@DanSlott) would be the new solo writer and that "Brand New Day" will end with a story titled "Origin of the Species" in issues #642-#646 with a single coda issue (#647) which will serve as a bridge to "Big Time", slated to arrive this Wednesday November 10th in "Amazing" #648. With "Origin of the Species", "Brand New Day" goes out as it went in: exciting, but confusing and just above average.

I felt that the Long and Shortbox Of It! should have something definitive on the record about this strange period of Spider-Man history as it passes, but "Brand New Day" makes little sense to me as a marketing idea or as a story element. If it is supposed to be a quality part of the ongoing story of Spider-Man that works in and of itself why does it need to take such pains to create a situation that doesn't naturally follow from the previous story? If it is a story existing purely to create a more 'marketable' Spider-Man, why make "The Amazing Spider-Man" less unique and more like the single teenage Spider-Man as seen in "Marvel Adventures Spider-Man", "Ultimate Spider-Man" and the Spider-Man films? Is a married Spider-Man really unrecognizable? Brand strengthening or character diluting? I don't have easy answers.

What will be the legacy of Spider-Man's "Brand New Day"? Well in one sense that stands to be seen in the choices Dan Slott and his editors will make in Spider-Man: "Big Time" but in one way it's not done yet: Mary Jane Watson still goes by her maiden name. The history of mainstream superhero comics is no different from other long-term serial fiction. The creators stretch the rubber band as far as they can and then let it come back. "Brand New Day" has epitomized this.

Whether intentional or not, much of what was so shocking in "Amazing" #545, like Harry's apparent unexplained return from the grave, have been turned into mere twists and flashbacks. The series' status change gave way to a normalizing force. Things aren't exactly as they were but they make sense.

Except for one little marriage certificate.

Oh well. Maybe next year.

~ @JonGorga