I know I’m not the only reader who swore off Spider-Man comics in 2007. When one of your favorite heroes makes a literal deal with the devil, negating a relationship you’ve been invested in for the last 20 years, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
As a result, it was a long time before I read any of the recent Spider-Man titles written by soon-to-depart Spidey author Dan Slott. But over the years, my “outrage” faded. When Brand New Day and Slott-era stories began showing up in my local library and cheap on comiXology, I began picking them up.
One story in particular served as the perfect jumping-on point for Spidey’s new world, smoothing the way from “One More Day” to where we are now. That story also just happened to be Dan Slott’s first big Spidey event, so I thought now would be a perfect time to look back at it.
If you’ve been out of the loop since “One More Day,” and you want to see what Spider-Man’s been up to before June’s upcoming Amazing Spider-Man relaunch, there’s no better place to start than “New Ways to Die.”
“New Ways to Die” is a clever story that knows exactly who its readers are. “New Ways” starts with a recap of basic Spider-Lore: The radioactive spider bite, “With great power comes great responsibility,” etc. But it then keeps that recap going into territory that less familiar or lapsed Spider-Readers (like myself) might not know about.
The page above quickly catches you up on what Spider-Man’s been doing since the Brand New Day era began, and it sets up relationships that pay off throughout this story and the rest of the Brand New Day run. For example, Harold Theopolis Osborn has a big part to play in “New Ways,” thanks in part to his father’s reappearance.
The return of the Green Goblin, as well as Venom and classic Spider-Man artist John Romita Jr., does a lot to sell “New Ways” as a big deal for old-school Spider-Man fans, and the story uses all three of them very well. There’s no one who draws a banged-up, on the brink of collapse Spider-Man quite like Romita Jr. does, and his return to Amazing Spider-Man is definitely part of what drew me to this story, in particular, when I started looking back into Spidey stories.
But, as you might infer from the title, “New Ways” isn’t just about putting Spider-Man through the same old paces. In these pages, Norman Osborn is a legally sanctioned officer of the U.S. government, leading a team of hero-hunters that includes Bullseye and Venom. As a result, Osborn barely dons his familiar purple-and-greens, instead preferring to battle using his brains and his lackeys. New York is in the middle of an ongoing mayoral election, with twists and turns throughout this arc (and an incredible resolution that comes later). And, oh yeah, there’s also Anti-Venom, who is either the dumbest or the coolest. You’ll have to decide on that one for yourself.
“New Ways to Die” includes a lot of innovations, in both the ways the story incorporates and expands upon existing Spider-Man concepts (I really want to talk about, of all things, how this story uses Peter Parker’s camera, but that bit’s best left for you to discover) and how it incorporates what was going on in the Marvel Universe at the time. You couldn’t tell “New Ways to Die” in the same way now as Dan Slott and co. did in 2008, and while that might preclude the story from being timeless (I don’t think it does, but I’d hear the argument), it also makes it something different. Superhero comics, in particular, are strange, ongoing beasts with decades of pent-up backstory and storylines. Some of them end up being “important,” and some don’t. But the importance doesn’t particularly matter, as long as the story’s good and carries you along for the ride.
“New Ways” does that, setting up and resolving a fraught showdown between all its parties while also leaving several enticing side-plots dangling. “New Ways” leads directly into several subsequent Amazing Spider-Man arcs (most notably, in my mind, the weird but very good “American Son”), and if you’re like me, it’ll set you up to get hooked on Spider-Man all over again, deal with the devil bedamned.