When Stan Lee and Steve Ditko introduced the world to Marvel Comics’ Spider-Man in 1962’s “Amazing Fantasy” #15 the character was unique for a number of reasons: he wrestled with both real world problems and super heroic ones, his relationships out of costume were just important as those in costume, and he was a teenager. Costumed teen heroes existed at the time, but always as sidekicks for adult heroes. Spider-Man was an adolescent who fought crime all by himself.
Over the years, Spider-Man grew up and held many different jobs in his civilian identity as Peter Parker. He’s currently a scientist, but in the past he’s been both a freelance photographer and teacher at his old high school. Life as a super hero may have hampered Peter’s punctuality, but in his classroom he proved to be an effective teacher largely because he never forgot what being a teenager felt like. In May’s “Amazing Spider-Man” #661-662, regular writer Dan Slott is joined by “Avengers Academy” writer Christos Gage and artist Reilly Brown for a story that finds Spidey once again back in the classroom, only this time he’ll be in costume as a substitute teacher for the troubled teens of “Avengers Academy.” CBR News spoke with Gage about the two-part arc.
CBR News: Christos, you’ve written a couple miniseries that teamed Spider-Man up with both the X-Men and the Fantastic Four in the past. For this arc you’re teaming him up with the teen cast of your monthly “Avengers Academy” series. It’s pretty clear that you enjoy writing Spidey, but it seems like you enjoy pairing him with teams even more. What is it about Spidey team-up stories that make them so compelling to you as a writer?
Christos Gage: I think it’s fun to play Spidey against other characters–seeing where they’re similar and where they’re different, what he thinks of them and vice versa. Sometimes we get our best insights into people through how they interact with others. Also, growing up reading “Marvel Team-Up probably had something to do with it. I have a complete run — all 150 issues! I am such a nerd.
How did this story come about for you? And how does it feel to be collaborating with Dan Slott again?
The funny thing is, I feel like we never really stopped collaborating, because we’re always touching base about what we’re doing and where our stories can build on each other. We don’t talk as often as we did when we were co-writing “Avengers: The Initiative” or “Mighty Avengers”, but we keep up with each other and have a lot of the same sensibilities about what kinds of stories we like, so it often makes sense to find common threads.
As for how this story came about, Steve Wacker called and said Dan was writing some extra Spidey issues (the Point One issue as well as the Free Comic Book Day issue) and could use a short breather, and he’d love to see me do a story teaming Spidey with the kids of “Avengers Academy.” It seemed like a natural fit, given that Peter Parker used to be a teacher, and he was the original teen superhero! That was an aspect of Pete’s life I hadn’t had a chance to examine yet — how he feels about having been a teacher, and not being one any more — and I thought it would make for some rich character moments for both him and the kids. And c’mon, who says no to “Amazing Spider-Man?”
The next couple of months are going to be pretty intense and busy for Spidey. Without spoiling anything what can you tell us about his mindset going into this story?
Well, I think it’ll be no surprise to regular readers that he’s still struggling with the death of [SPOILER] Marla Jameson. He’s also recently joined the Future Foundation, and we will see him in action with the FF as the story opens. After writing the “Spider-Man/Fantastic Four” miniseries — which, I must shamelessly add, is out in collected hardcover form now, and which features the return of Kristoff, who has become a major player in “FF,” so everyone should run out and get it — I was excited to be able to write Spidey as a full-fledged member of the FF, although it’s still kind of new and there are some “adjustments” to be made on both sides.
As you mentioned, Spidey is going to be teaching at Avengers Academy for this two issue story. How would you describe the dynamic between him and the Avengers Academy kids in this story? Given his past and the painful lessons he’s learned the kids might respond to him positively, but is that necessarily the case?
Yes, Spidey is going back to teaching — but it’s a very different situation than he’s used to. I don’t want to give anything away, but the Avengers Academy kids are not impressed with Spidey (except Reptil, who idolizes him), and they’re going to give him a hard time. But you’re right, he does have valuable lessons they could learn — if they can all survive the day! I happen to think that Peter Parker’s teaching career is one of the most interesting points in his adult life, so it was great for me to be able to revisit that, and explore how things have changed.
Peter obviously has a lot he can offer these kids in both their personal and super heroic lives. In terms of plot and theme, what is this story about?
It’s about doubt, fear and hate — overcoming the things you think might crush you, whether you can go back to a role you’ve left behind — and what makes a hero. And also giant monsters and dudes from the Microverse who control minds.
It looks like the primary antagonist for this story is Pyscho Man. What do you find most interesting about this character? What makes him a good foil for both Spider-Man and the Avengers Academy kids?
What’s interesting about Psycho-Man to me is that he uses people’s own weaknesses to destroy them. Right about now, Spidey has plenty of inner turmoil to exploit, whereas the Academy kids are just steeped in it. So Psycho Man seemed like a perfect villain.
It sounds like it. The solicits also mention a character called Monsteroso. If my research is correct there were two different Monsterosos — one created by Lee and Kirby and one created by Lee and Ditko. Which Monsteroso appears in your story?
The Lee/Ditko one, of course, since those two living legends also created Spider-Man! He’s also from the Microverse, like Psycho Man. I wonder if there’s a connection…
Who are some of the other important supporting players in this story line?
You’d think there isn’t much room for other characters, but we will see the FF, and Giant-Man makes a giant-sized appearance.
How important of an element is setting in this story? Where does this story take place?
New York — like all great Spider-Man stories!
Artist Reilly Brown is also making his “Amazing Spider-Man” debut along with you on this arc. What’s it like working with him, and what do you feel he brings to the story as an artist?
He’s terrific. He really brings the characters to life — he thinks about what they’re feeling and saying, and how that might play out visually. For example, in a classroom scene, he mentioned that he hadn’t put any books on Finesse’s desk, since he figured with her photographic memory she’d have memorized them all already. I love that. Plus he’s great with action — I adore the Monsteroso fight! If fans aren’t familiar with Reilly’s work I think they’ll be very impressed.
How would you describe the tone of this story? It seems like it could be a fun adventure story, but considering how Marla Jameson’s death is affecting Spidey and your use of Psycho Man as the villain, things could get dark and intense pretty quickly.
What I love about Spider-Man stories is you can combine jokes and light-hearted moments with real intensity and even dark moments, and it doesn’t seem weird. In fact, they reinforce each other. You can’t necessarily do that with every character. But with Spidey it feels natural, and that’s the approach I took.
How new reader friendly is this story for “Avengers Academy” readers who haven’t read “Amazing Spider-Man” and Spidey readers who may not be too familiar with “Avengers Academy?” Also how important are these issues in terms of what’s coming up for both books?
It’s very new reader friendly — I want readers of both books to feel they can enjoy the story without being forced to buy something they don’t normally read. Of course, if they like the story and they’re tempted to learn more, hey, who am I to complain?
In terms of what’s coming up in the books, I have conferred with Dan and my story definitely picks up on what he’s already laid down and flows into what he’s got coming up. One thing all of us — me, Dan and Steve Wacker — were adamant about is that this not be a “fill-in” story, that it be part of the tapestry that is “Amazing Spider-Man” right now. It was actually a lot like writing for TV, where there is a spine for the season but different people write individual episodes, and the showrunner (in this case, Dan) making sure it all fits together.
Any final thoughts you would like to share on your “Amazing Spider-Man” work?
I’m just thrilled to be able to write “Amazing Spider-Man!” I have pictures of myself holding issues of this book as a little kid in the seventies, and to be writing it now is a dream come true — I really have to thank Steve and Dan for the opportunity. Of course, it’s also hugely intimidating, to be walking the same ground that folks like Stan Lee, Gerry Conway, JMS, and so many more have trod — I really hope I did a good job. I did have a lot of fun, so hopefully that’ll come through.