Best Run Ever: Spider-Man by the Spidey Braintrust (Part 1)
With Spider-Man: Far From Home opening up in just a few short days, we thought it would be fun to look back at a great run for the webhead. But it turns out, it was too good of a run to put into one article! Don’t fret, true believers! Just as this era printed three times a month, we’re going to give you three articles! Dan Slott, Marc Guggenheim, Bob Gale, Zeb Wells, Joe Kelly, Fred Van Lente, and Mark Waid. The best team for one of Marvel’s a freakishly ambitious run: Spider-Man, three times a month, with a rotating creative team of writers dubbed “The Spidey Braintrust” and more top artists than you can throw a pencil set at. (You’ll get the “freakishly” pun later on).
Spider-Man, Before This Best Run
Before we get to the good stuff, we have to talk about how we got to the Brand New Day era of Spider-Man. And that means talking about the end of J. Michael Straczynski’s (JMS) Spider-man run, which was not the best. In fact, even the title of his last story, penciled by Joe Quesada (because no one else would touch it and it was the story he wanted). I’m talking about One More Day. Give yourself time to shake out the heebie-jeebies. It was a story JMS didn’t even want to write. In fact, he even stated:
“There’s a lot that I don’t agree with, and I made this very clear to everybody within shouting distance at Marvel, especially Joe Quesada… there was a point where I made the decision, and told Joe, that I was going to take my name off the last two issues of the OMD arc. Eventually, Joe talked me out of that decision because at the end of the day, I don’t want to sabotage Joe or Marvel, and I have a lot of respect for both of those.”
One More Day One Last Time
So what happened? Well, at the end of Civil War, Aunt May was shot and killed. So Peter Parker makes a deal with Mephisto to bring her back, and the price of her resurrection was Peter and Mary Jane’s marriage. Right. So, they say yes and then Mephisto erases everything that has happened to Spider-Man in the twenty years prior. Or, at least, some events. The ones that involved MJ…which, since they were married, was all of them, but it wasn’t all of them, because some of the best Spider-Man runs happened in those twenty years, but it also changed his…I’m getting stuck in a loop. Just, they reset Spider-Man. Okay, let’s just go from there.
Brand New Day Vol. 1
Writers: Dan Slott and Marc Guggenheim
Artists: Phil Jimenez, Steve McNiven, and Salvador Larroca
Collecting Issues 546-551
It’s hard to imagine, but in 2008, Dan Slott wasn’t an all-star name—and it would be a while before he became one of Spider-man’s best writers (for an eight-year run), but Brand New Day starts with Dan Slott setting the tone, pace, and feel of the next decade of Spider-Man stories. Not that he knew that at the time. After the debacle that was One More Day, Spider-Man needed a fresh start, even if that was forced upon him. And Slott starts this Spider-Man run in the best way—completely ignoring the previous events and just going with the change. Slott’s Spider-Man is familiar. Peter Parker is down on his luck, as he usually is, jobless and living back home with Aunt May (who is not okay with this). He can barely keep a job at the Daily Bugle, much less find a fulltime job doing anything.
His life as Spider-Man has destroyed his life as Peter Parker. And the Parker luck just churns on. A mugger, wearing a Spider-Man mask, holds Peter and a new friend of his at gunpoint—and gets one of Spidey’s webshooters. He gets caught up in a mafia family blood feud, and has to take on a new enemy, Mr. Negative. All in one day. It’s a vibrant start to the Brand New Day era, made even more so by Steve McNiven’s pencils.
With issue 549, Marc Guggenheim takes over for his part in the run, and here we see why this was best Spider-Man brain trust we could hope for. Guggenheim seamlessly continues the story Slott started. Slott established Peter Parker for us. Guggenheim starts expanding his world, bringing in the superhero Jackpot (who may or may not be MJ) and the new villain Menace (who Spidey refuses to call a “Goblin” of any kind despite the goblin glider. Even the artist choice, Salvador Larroca, was a smooth transition from Steve McNiven. Brand New Day volume one launches the best run on Spider-Man in decades—in fact, at the end of the volume is Tom Brevoort’s notes on what they were doing wrong with Peter Parker for 20 years.
Brand New Day Vol. 2
Writers: Bob Gale and Zeb Wells
Artists: Chris Bachalo, Phil Jimenez, and Barry Kitson
Collecting Issues 552-558
Bob Gale keeps the ball rolling. Or, in Peter Parker’s case, keeps the train wreck wrecking. Now everyone thinks Spider-Man is a serial killer on the run, and so he does what Spidey does best: makes the situation worse. When he saves a mayoral candidate, the newly christened DB! (formerly known as the Daily Bugle) takes Peter’s photo as proof that Spider-Man tried to kill the mayor, and the new villain, Freak, was the hero of the day. Yeah, the new owner of the newspaper, Dexter Bennet (DB) is actually worse than J. Jonah Jameson. Oh, and Jameson is still in a hospital recovering from a heart attack that Peter Parker caused. Good times. Gale’s writing is fun, but it’s too nostalgic at times, with a lot of “talking to the reader” captions. But we also get some of Phil Jimenez’s best Spider-Man art, in this run or any other.
Now it’s Zeb Wells’ turn, and he brings in one of my all-time favorite artists, Chris Bachalo. This odd little story that closed out the first year of this Spider-Man run is the best use of Bachalo’s style. Spider-Man vs a Mayan Snow God! It’s a departure from the narrative we’ve had so far, which we needed a break from before it started getting stale. We even get a little bit of the Secret Avengers from the post-Civil War era. It’s a classic Parker luck story too. He asks Doctor Strange what the weather is, so naturally, he finds himself fighting ninjas in a blizzard while his friend Carlie (who he definitely has a crush on) is about to be sacrificed to that god we mentioned earlier. Plus Wolverine.
Bob Gale returns for a one-and-done story featuring Freaks return. Barry Kitson’s art is great here too. Freak is definitely a callback to Spider-Man issues that discussed drug addiction but done in a fresh way. We also see Menace return just to remind us that he hates liberal political candidates.
Spider-Man: Brand New Day, Vol. 3
Writers: Dan Slott and Bob Gale
Artists: Marcos Martin and Mike McKone
And we’re back to Dan Slott. By now, we’ve gotten the feel and style of the Brand New Day era, but we’ve never seen the Parker Luck in action like this before. First, he has to deal with a new villain named Screwball who is an internet sensation, but his role as a photographer isn’t cutting it anymore. Anyone with a cell phone can take a great picture and send it to the newspaper for cash. So how can his Spider-Man photography still come in handy in this new era? Paparazzi! Yep, Peter sinks that low. He starts breaking into clubs to get embarrassing photos of celebrities, telling himself no one is getting hurt. Guess what—someone gets hurt. All this ends with Peter losing his job at the DB! and getting on Dexter Bennett’s bad side, which turns out is a hell of a lot worse than being on J. Jonah Jameson’s bad side. And Spider-Man also has a new villain, the creepy teenage girl, Paper Doll. One of the best aspects of this run so far is that Spider-Man’s rogue’s gallery is steadily increasing. So far, we have five new baddies. Menace, Freak, Mr. Negative, Paper Doll, and Screwball.
It’s not just Peter Parker’s regular life that’s getting harder, his role as Spider-Man is also taking a beating. Someone is still using Spider-trackers to frame Spidey as a serial killer. In the middle of all this, the Bookie—a gambling dealer who places odds on Superhero fights, decided he’s going to fix a fight. The Bookie gets a long-forgotten Spider-Man villain to threaten the web-slinger, but nobody thinks Spidey will show. Peter decides to go, as Peter Parker, to make sure no one gets hurt…and then Spider-Man shows up. Or, at least, a Spider-Man. Naturally, this irritates Peter so he suits up and now there’s a Spider-Man chasing another Spider-Man.
It’s a fun, short arch, and so far Bob Gale’s best on the series for one primary reason: we see the cracks forming. Peter can only handle so much, and the damage to his superhero persona and personal life is wearing him down. He actually threatens people—violently—not in his usual quips. And who could blame him? This isn’t the best time of his life—as Spider-Man, he’s on the run from police. As Peter Parker, he’s running out of money. This is how storytelling works—cyclical, and Peter’s been having fun for a bit too long now.
Spider-Man: Kraven’s First Hunt
Writers: Marc Guggenheim, Bob Gale, Dan Slott
Artists: Phil Jimenez and Paulo Siqueira
Collecting Issues 564-567
A lot is going on here, so much so that we get three out of the four Spidey Braintrust members writing in one issue! It’s the same story from three points of view. First is Spider-Man, doing what he does best: saving people from supervillains before running from a police officer. That officer? Peter Parker’s new roommate Vin. We’ve seen him pop up here and there, but now he’s becoming a bigger part of Peter’s world. Off duty, he tries to apprehend Spider-Man, and in the process ditches his dad. The third character is Overdrive, a villain who can somehow transform cars by just touching them. He was supposed to deliver a sonic weapon to Mr. Negative but then Spider-Man happened. It’s a cool issue, but it definitely feels like we should pay attention to these three.
And yeah, this is where it starts getting more serious—really serious. Marc Guggenheim and Phil Jimenez’s Kraven’s Last Hunt in a three-issue sucker punch to Peter Parker. It’s also the best story in this run so far, and the biggest test Spider-Man’s had since Brand New Day began. The Parker luck hits Peter’s roommate Vin—hard. Kraven the Hunter’s daughter mistakenly identifies Vin as Spider-Man, abducts him, forces him to wear Peter’s Spider-Man costume, and tortures him in a sewer. With his costume missing, Spidey borrows Daredevil’s costume and goes to find Vin. Peter believes Vin discovered his secret identity and is rounding up a posse of police to take him down. He is, after all, a suspected serial killer. Poor Vin. The character is kind of a dick, but this is rough. And even though Peter figures out a way to protect his identity, his relationship with Vin is going to be strained even more. Vin barely puts up with him to begin with. We had 20+ issues of fun Spider-Man, now it’s time for some pathos. And hell, just look at the title of the next volume…
Spider-Man: New Ways to Die
Writer: Dan Slott
Artist: John Romita Jr
Collecting issues 568-573
With Kraven’s First Hunt changing the tone of Brand New Day, we get the first BIG story of the run, and it utilizes all the best elements of a Spider-Man story. We have multiple villains, both new and old. Menace, Mr. Negative, Venom (Mac Gargan), Norman Osborne, and Freak. I’ve always felt that Spider-Man was at his best when there were multiple variables happening at once, even if they don’t all interact with him. For instance, we finally get Menace—or, as Spidey called him (her? them?), “Mock Goblin”—facing off the OG himself, Norman Osborne. That’s Original Goblin. The Green Meanie himself. And without a glider, he holds himself pretty well in the fight. We also get some more intrigue with Menace. Though they’ve been attacking the liberal candidates, and even killed one, they’re actually trying to help them? So, while they might have put Hollister in the hospital, there’s a lot more going on.
Return of a Fan Favorite
The big part of New Ways to Die is the return of Eddie Brock. He’s dying of cancer, but finds purpose volunteering at the F.E.A.S.T. centers. These have popped up a few times. Aunt May works there…and Mister Li, AKA Mr. Negative, finances and runs them. Negative is an odd character, and I look forward to learning more about him. He genuinely seems to want to help people, and with his power, secretly cures Eddie of both the cancer and the remnants of the Venom symbiote. Or so he thought. When Venom attacks F.E.A.S.T., a negative version of Venom emerges from Eddie Broc—one that has all the strengths of Venom and none of the weaknesses. He can even heal others. Eddie was looking for a purpose, and he found it. His newfound powers give him the ability to rid the world of symbiotes, thus he becomes “Anti-Venom.”
But there’s more!
And it gets crazier. Someone, possibly Osborne, is using illegal Chinese immigrants for medical experiments—same with the new villain Freak. Peter’s home life is getting more complicated and his roommate really hates him. And Harry Osborne is just emotionally brutalized by his father. Meanwhile, his girlfriend, Lizzie Hollister, might want Peter instead. So much happens in this story, and Dan Slott keeps it exciting the entire time. Plus, an Eddie Broc backup story by Mark Waid and Ari Gradov. Easily the best Spider-Man story in this run so far.
Spider-Man: Crime and Punisher
Writers: Marc Guggenheim, Joe Kelly, and Zeb Wells
Artists: Chris Bachalo, Barry Kitson, and Paolo Rivera
Collecting Issues 574-577
Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry. That’s basically what I was uttering at the end of this one-shot. Spider-Man doesn’t show up in this one. It’s all about Peter’s former high school bully turned college friend Flash Thompson returning to the battlefield during the Iraqi War. Bush’s Iraqi war. I mean George W. Bush’s—the second one. Flash is a hero, and the president wants to give him a medal of honor for how he saved a fellow soldier. Now, I knew from later stories like Rick Remender’s excellent Venom run that Flash lost his legs in the war. I didn’t know how. It’s a heartbreaking story, dedicated to the men and women serving in Iraq. Guggenheim and Kitson honor them beautifully.
Hammerhead was not the best Spider-Man villain, but that was always the joke—he’s just a guy who runs his enormous head at you. And then, in Civil War, he died. Or so it seemed. Who actually dies, right? Turns out Mr. Negative gave him a Wolverine-like skeleton. Now Hammerhead is this big terrifying mob boss who wants to recruit children into Mr. Negative’s crime family. Guess how that turns out for him when Spidey finds out? We’re also introduced to Norah Winters, a journalist for Front Line, who loves busting Peter’s balls. She’s a fun character and probably a good romantic interest for Peter. The only weird thing about this two-issue story was the beginning, which felt more like a Deadpool comic than Spider-Man. A genetically enhanced rat escapes its lab, gets adopted by a homeless woman, and then they’re chased by clowns on hovercrafts. The entire four pages, Spidey makes jokes about her weight and breath. It’s just not Spider-Man. Joe Kelly did write one of the greatest Deadpool runs though, so maybe it just slipped out.
Team up with the Punisher! That’s great and fun. Punisher swallows a Spider-tracer so Spidey can follow him. They disagree on murder—classic story for the two of them. But what’s really good in this issue is the interlude. The Bookie (from 15 issues ago) is trying to find the Spider-tracer killer and thinks that it’s J. Jonah Jameson. He even accuses Jameson of faking his heart attack. Bookie’s got a point. Jameson has funded supervillains and tech to bring down the wallcrawler. Hell, he made Scorpion. But Jameson really did have a heart attack and couldn’t leave bed for weeks. However, the Bookie seems to think he’s finally cracked it—and of course, that’s where it ends.
Thus concludes our first part of the Brand New Day era. It’s a fun mix, and perfect for anyone who is pumped for Spider-Man: Far From Home. In Part 2, we’ll get to the next seven volumes, leading us into the Dark Reign era of Marvel. See you soon!
Roman Colombo finished his MFA in 2010 and now teaches writing and graphic novel literature at various Philadelphia colleges. His first novel, Trading Saints for Sinners, was published in 2014. He's currently working on his next novel and hoping to find an agent soon.