Funnybook Babylon

January 23, 2009

Waited for the Trade: Spider-Man – New Ways to Die

New Ways to Die Cover
Spider-Man: New Ways to Die
collects Amazing Spider-Man #568-573
written by Dan Slott & Mark Waid
art by John Romita Jr. & Adi Granov
Marvel Comics

Fair warning: This review contains some spoilers, but nothing that will really ruin your enjoyment of the story. Be forewarned.

I’m in love with Harry Osborn. Not the Harry Osborn of the movies, although James Franco is a pretty funny guy. Not even the old Harry Osborn, the one who died back in 1993. I was seven when that story happened; I bought the comic because it had a shiny cover but the greater significance of it was totally lost on me. Catching up on Spider-Man through Essential volumes has given me a greater grasp on the character, but to be perfectly frank, old Harry pales in comparison to the current Harry written by Dan Slott.

He’s a nuanced character now, with fully realized relationships with Norman Osborn (another resurrected villain), Peter Parker, Spider-Man (in a completely different sense than his relationship with Peter) and the rest of the supporting cast. If you haven’t been following Amazing Spider-Man for the past few years this probably doesn’t mean anything to you, but stay with me.

The greatest problem with recent Spider-Man comics has been a startling lack of anything even resembling a supporting cast. Although that same supporting cast was arguably the comics’ greatest strength through forty-something years of publication, by the time the Brand New Day relaunch came about the cast had been whittled down to Peter Parker, Mary Jane, Aunt May, and whatever super-hero or villain was featured this month. This made the comics pretty painful to read. Not only was Spider-Man stagnant on a personal level, leaving Peter in the same situation for years outside of some isolated story arcs, there was no supporting cast around to provide characters that were mutable. By 2006 the Spider-Man books were completely stagnant outside of some attempts to change his powers and origin, which didn’t address the core problem to any degree.

Front Line OfficesNew Ways to Die shows off the new supporting cast in a variety of ways. Only about half the story is about Spider-Man fighting Norman Osborn and the Thunderbolts, while the rest of the book concerns the supporting cast; I’m broadly considering Eddie Brock, the other centerpiece of the story, a supporting cast member instead of a villain. The supporting cast makes this story work. At its core, Spider-Man’s role in the story is just to provide action scenes with Norman and the Thunderbolts. The fight scenes are fun, but they’re not meaningful and they’re never really high stakes. There’s never really a sense of danger that Spider-Man is going to be captured or brought to “justice” at the hands of Osborn.

All of the other stories are far more compelling, particularly Peter’s interactions with Ben Urich. Urich’s storylines in Daredevil and old Spider-Man comics have endeared me to him, and while he’s lately been stuck in terrible Front Line miniseries the strength of the character hasn’t suffered at all. Peter’s job working in the Front Line office with Urich brings back the energy of the Daily Bugle newsroom in 1960’s-era Spider-Man. It brings a vibrancy to the stories that, for me, is partly evoked by nostalgia for the old Spider-Man., but it goes beyond that and becomes a good driving force behind personal drama in Peter’s life on its own merits.

Anti-VenomAnyway, back to Harry Osborn. While Spider-Man drives the physical conflicts of New Ways to Die, Harry is the centerpiece of the emotional conflict. Norman Osborn is, of course, the key antagonist for both Peter and Harry. When he’s not busy hunting down Spider-Man, he’s rampaging through Harry’s coffee shop, telling him what a disappointment he is. The only time the Osborns seem to bond is when they’re fighting over Norman wearing the Green Goblin outfit, something he only does when he’s feeling particularly crazy. The closest thing Norman shows to affection is when he tells Harry he’s proud of him for apparently breaking into one of his old Green Goblin weapon stashes. This rebuff of Harry actually has plot implications beyond being the standard sort of character building scenes, driving him to turn over evidence of Oscorp’s dirty business dealings to the Front Line offices and provide the dramatic impetus to the last half of New Ways to Die. By tying in the Osborns’ relationship to the plot so significantly, Slott makes their scenes together more important than a standard character building type of scene.

Actually Anti-VenomThe other major plot element worth discussion is the debut of Anti-Venom, Eddie Brock’s new white symbiote alter-ego. When I saw the previews featuring this character I assumed it would be sort of stupid and, well, it is. Long story short, Mr. Negative (a mysterious new villain introduced in Brand New Day) turns the cancer-stricken Eddie Brock into a giant walking anti-body whose only purpose in life is to kill other symbiotes. Brock, now going by the name Anti-Venom, manages to temporarily “kill” current Venom host Mac Gargan’s symbiote, but by the end of the story it’s obvious that the only reason Slott wrote that outcome of the symbiote battle is to get Mac Gargan back into his old Scorpion costume for a few pages. The whole Anti-Venom part of the story is easily the most inelegant story element; it reads like fanboy wish-fulfillment. Did we really need Eddie Brock back with a symbiote? He was written out of the Spider-Man books fairly well,, aside from a brief spell best forgotten during the Back in Black debacle. The rest of the story is devoted to what I think of as “maintenance pages;” they check in on existing subplots without advancing them in a meaningful way.

I feel obligated to mention the art, although there’s not a whole lot to say. It’s John Romita Jr on Spider-Man, and it is up to his usual standard of quality. The panel layouts are good, the fights are fluid, there’s not a thing here that detracts from the story at all. Romita Jr. is a great storyteller, and New Ways to Die is a great example of the style that’s made him one of the best pencillers in the business.

While New Ways to Die isn’t spectacular, I highly recommend it to anyone interested in catching up with Spider-Man. While the BND relaunch started off slow, it really hits its stride with this arc and justifies all the hoops the Spider-Man creators jumped through to get to this point. For new fans who are completely unfamiliar with Spider-Man in the comics, this is the place to start. For fans who might’ve been driven away from the book by One More Day, this is the time to come back.


  1. Been a Spider-Man fan all my life, have to say that I’m really enjoying BND, much more than say, friggin’ Maximum Carnage or Clone Wars, or all that junk.

    The feel of BND reminds me of my dad’s old Spidey comics from the seventies, which to me are the golden age of Spidey. Half-expecting to see Big Wheel roll out!

    Comment by p — January 23, 2009 @ 6:39 pm

  2. My wise-investor 10-year-old self owned TWO copies of Spectacular Spider-Man 200. When I read the one copy for reading, I am more than a little embarrassed to admit I uh, only turned the pages using tweezers. I don’t even know where I got that. Probably The Simpsons.

    Comment by Pete — January 23, 2009 @ 11:51 pm

  3. The perpetual drama of Peter Parker’s life is actually pretty interesting when his entire supporting cast isn’t dead or evil!

    Comment by Sam — January 24, 2009 @ 9:08 pm

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