Early in his career, Marvel Comics’ Spider-Man found out that his actions can have dire consequences when he discovered that the burglar who murdered his beloved Uncle Ben was the same burglar he had allowed to escape earlier in the evening. Now, Spidey’s world is populated by a very large supporting cast, so everything the webslinger does has the potential to affect a lot of people he cares about. In the coming months in “Web of Spider-Man,” writer Fred Van Lente and artist Javier Rodriguez will examine Spidey’s choices and the ripple effect they have on his large supporting cast. CBR News spoke with Van Lente about the series and the new direction he’s taking it in.
For the past several months, “The Gauntlet”, a series of interconnected stories featuring the return of Spider-Man’s classic foes, has been running through the pages of “Amazing Spider-Man.” In November, Van Lente began a series of stories in “Web of Spider-Man” that supplemented “The Gauntlet,” done-in-one stories revealing untold tales from the early days of some of these Spider-Man’s classic villains. The final issue of these “Gauntlet Origins” stories focuses on Kraven the Hunter and appears in “Web of Spider-Man” #7, which hits stores April 14th.
“It’s a story set during Kraven’s early years and it’s actually more of an origin story of Sasha Kraven,” Van Lente told CBR News. “She’s Kraven’s paramore and the apparent mastermind behind ‘The Gauntlet.’ She’s definitely a major source of all the problems Spider-Man has been having recently with his classic villains.”
In “Web of Spider-Man” #8, on sale May 12th, Van Lente kicks off a new direction for the series that finds him moving the spotlight back on to Spider-Man. The series will have more of an ensemble feel though because the writer plans on paying quite a bit of attention to Peter Parker’s supporting cast, as well.
“Peter Parker is definitely front and center in this one. He is still unemployed, and he can’t really find work as a photographer any more because he was unfortunately disgraced due to his own actions; a typical Parker-esque mishap. So ‘Web of Spider-Man’ is definitely going to be looking at a lot of that aspect, as he struggles to find out what the next phase of his life is,” Van Lente said. “What’s exciting though is that this book is called ‘Web of Spider-Man,’ so we can show how Peter’s actions affect multiple members of his supporting cast, such as Flash Thompson, Betty Brant, Michelle Gonzales, J. Jonah Jameson, everybody. I think Peter is blessed with one of the best supporting casts in all of comics. And they’re all caught within Spider-Man’s web! HA! HA! HA-HA! Hence the title. So that’s definitely the theme that I really want to explore.”
“Web” #8 also kicks off the series’ first multi-part tale, which is titled “The Extremist” and begins at the dawn of the Marvel Universe’s new “Heroic Age.” “As the ‘Heroic Age’ begins, a new vigilante appears in New York City called the Extremist and he is whacking people who say bad things about superheroes. He’s doing so in a rather spectacular manner, which I can’t get into right now, but will be quite obvious once you see the preview pages. And because the Extremist is killing critics of Spider-Man, Peter feels obligated to help out. And since he’s unemployed and has such a connection with Spider-Man as Peter Parker, he starts trashing Spider-Man himself in order to lure the Extremist out into a trap. BUT WHO IS THE ONE REALLY BEING TRAPPED? Read ‘Web of Spider-Man’ to find out.”
Van Lente sees the Extremist as a Marvel Universe version of the classic note-sending type of serial killers, like the Zodiac Killer. “There is an important connection between the Extremist and the X-Men, which is explored in ‘Web of Spider-Man’ #9. It won’t be what you’re expecting, though,” Van Lente said. “And he’s definitely someone who’s sort of disrupted the entire superhero community by basically being a really violent spokesperson for them in a way that you really, really wouldn’t want to happen, especially not at the beginning of this new ‘Heroic Age.'”
The inspiration for the Extremist, both the character and the storyline, came from Van Lente and artist Ryan Dunlavey’s independent comic series “Action Philosophers.” “One of the philosophers we profiled in that series way Ayn Rand, the founder of Objectivism. So I was reading ‘The Virtue of Selfishness’ and her other philosophical works and started wondering what would happen if you took a character who took some of her ideas to the extreme and pitted him against Spidey? And that’s where a lot of this story is coming from,” Van Lente explained. “We’re contrasting these two characters. What makes a guy like the Extremist different from a guy like Spider-Man? What’s the dividing line between a vigilante, someone who thinks they’re out doing what’s right, and someone who is convinced their extreme sense of right and wrong is justifiable.”
The supporting cast of “The Extremist” arc will include Peter Parker’s ex-girlfriend and confidante Mary Jane Watson as well as one of the primary targets on the Extremist’s hit list. “We all know who the biggest critic of superheroes in New York City is, Hizzoner J Jonah Jameson, the mayor,” Van Lente stated. “So when you have a super powered assassin gunning for the mayor that’s not good news for New York City.”
J. Jonah Jameson is best known for his anti superhuman zeal and his crankiness and that will definitely be part of “The Extremist,” but Van Lente plans on showing some of the character’s other aspects as well in the story. “Jonah is probably my favorite over all Spider-Man character. He’s only second to Spider-Man, although on some days I think maybe he is my favorite Spider-Man character. To me, Jonah is basically a good guy,” Van Lente said. “And I know everyone doesn’t have the exact same outlook on this, but I sort of see J Jonah Jameson as kind of like Ahab, from ‘Moby Dick’. He’s basically a good, decent guy who has this one obsession sort of nagging in his brain and that is his total dislike, distrust, and pathological hatred for Spider-Man. I kind of love characters like that.
“Another character that I see as being somewhat similar to J Jonah Jameson would be Doom. I think that the Marvel Universe would be speaking Latverian right now if Doom didn’t hate Reed Richards so much. That’s Doom’s great Achilles Heel,” Van Lente continued. “He can’t process the fact that people think Richards is smarter than he is. So I see a lot of his schemes unraveling as a result of that. He really would be emperor of everything if he would just let the Reed Richards thing go.”
Van Lente is very pleased with the work that his “Web of Spider-Man” collaborator Javier Rodriguez has been doing for “The Extremist” story line. “Readers of ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ will already be familiar with Javier’s work. He is the colorist extraordinaire who works with Marcos Martin and Javier Pulido on that book,” the writer said. “He also drew a terrific J Jonah Jameson story in ‘Web of Spider-Man’ #2. This is his triumphant return as penciler and inker to Spider-Man.”
Currently “Web of Spider-Man” features a main story by Van Lente and additional stories by other creators. That will continue for the duration of “The Extremist” arc and beyond. “‘Spider-Girl’ is moving to her own title, but we will keep having the back up stories in ‘Web’,” Van Lente said. “And I believe I’m on the book for the foreseeable future. It’s very exciting to have my own Spider-Man toy box to mess around in.”