In November, Mike Costa returns to the Spider-Man universe for “Spider-Verse” to head up a team of some of the Spider-Family’s most famous clones. With art by Paco Diaz, Costa’s “Scarlet Spiders” follows the Marvel Universe’s Kaine, Ultimate Jessica Drew and an alternate universe Ben Reilly on a special mission that requires their clone-expertise. One of Marvel’s big Spider-Man related announcements at Comic-Con International in San Diego, the 3-issue long series promises to show a new side to some of Spider-Man’s most prominent associates.
To get a better idea of what the Spider-Verse’s best clones are up to, CBR News spoke with Costa about the series and his history with Spider-Man, discussing the dynamic between the trio, bringing an alternate universe Ben Reilly to the table years after his death in the main Marvel U, how the series directly ties-in to “Spider-Verse” and more.
CBR News: Mike, tell us a bit about “Scarlet Spiders.” What’s the core concept here and how does it tie-in to “Spider-Verse?”
Mike Costa: I have to just come out front and say that seriously, I think this is the best-plotted crossover in the last ten years at Marvel. The story is so tight and so character-oriented and so good, I’m just so proud to be a part of it. Obviously, it’s really [Dan] Slott’s baby. But what happens is that all of the Spider-Men and Women from all the different Marvel Universes come together to fight the good fight and stop their own extinction. So, we’re going to get a couple of spinoff miniseries following characters as they go on their various side missions.
I get to do “Scarlet Spiders,” which is Kaine from the 616 and Ben Reilly from an alternate universe where he remained Spider-Man. The Ben Reilly we’re dealing with is the one that actually succeeded and made it instead of sacrificing himself and dying in the 616. In his universe, when Peter started becoming de-powered, his powers never returned. Peter and Mary Jane retired to Oregon, lived their life and had kids. Ben inherited the mantle of Spider-Man and has been Spider-Man ever since. This Ben Reilly is the Spider-Man that made it. Then, of course, there’s also Ultimate Jessica Drew.
The one thing these three characters have in common is that they’re all clones. They are sent off on a very specific mission by Spider-Man and a bunch of other Spider-Man characters to deal with a clone problem — I’ll say it that way. Send a clone to beat a clone, basically. You’re following those three characters in my book on their side mission that is crucial to the story of “Spider-Verse,” but there wasn’t time to deal with it in the main book. You’ll see it in my book and obviously it’ll fold back in to the main “Spider-Verse” after they’ve either succeeded or failed.
Ben Reilly, Kaine and Ultimate Jessica Drew are three characters that you haven’t gotten the chance to write to date. What was the draw for you in writing these characters together?
What’s really exciting is I get to write Ben Reilly, which I’m really thrilled by, because Ben is a controversial character, to say the least. Obviously, I’m not writing “the” Ben Reilly, because that character is still dead. But it’s as close to the real Ben Reilly — it’s essentially is Ben Reilly, the Ben Reilly who made it. I don’t think there’s been a Ben Reilly story in about 15 years, and I get to bring back this character who, through no fault of his own — it was not Ben’s fault that he was so controversial. [Laughs]
I think Ben Reilly the character can get kind of a bad rap because fans perceive the story around them as potentially destructive to the Spider-Man legacy, so Ben got killed off and swept under the rug. It’s really fun to bring a character like that back and say, “Well, if I had a second chance, let’s see what can be done with him.”
Whatever minor attention I’ve gotten in my career, I’ve gotten largely because of the “G.I. Joe: Cobra” book I wrote for so long. I wrote a lot of characters in that comic who were written off or were considered silly when they were originally conceived. I really did my best to investigate those characters while maintaining fidelity to their core concepts. But trying to find something about them that was interesting and real — I look forward to doing that with Ben Reilly. Now, Ben was obviously a much more already rounded-out characters than say, Chuckles was. [Laughs] But still, it’s really fun to take these characters that I think fans aren’t expecting a lot from and see what I can do with them.
Kaine and Jessica Drew are really fun on their own, too. Kaine is one of my favorite characters in the Marvel U, just because I really like dark, conflicted guys — guys who are trying to do good but don’t see themselves as good people, and are trying to atone for something they can’t atone for. Jessica’s interesting — I actually think it was a stroke of genius by Bendis to combine both the clone and the Spider-Woman concept into one character and say, “Well, this Spider-Woman is a clone, but it’s a female.” I think it’s a really interesting idea. I love what’s been going on with her recently in the Ultimate U. She was being trained by Captain America!
There’s a great trifecta to the characters because you’ve got Ben Reilly, who for all intents and purposes is Spider-Man. Like Spider-Man, he’s a very seasoned hero, he’s got a lot of experience, he knows what he’s doing, but he hasn’t had any training, necessarily. You’ve got Jessica Drew, who is very young and is nowhere near as seasoned as Ben, but has been trained by one of the greatest soldiers in any universe. She’s got technical know-how, whereas Ben Reilly is very experiential. Then, you’ve got Kaine, who’s just a wild animal. He’ll just tear your head off. He doesn’t need training or experience because he’s just a killing machine. There’s a great character dynamic there.
The way you talk about the book makes it seem similar to the team black-ops feel you created with “Blackhawks” and “G.I. Joe: Cobra.” What was it like approaching that feel from a Spider-Man angle?
It’s interesting because for the vast majority of my career, I haven’t written superheroes. The first thing I wrote was a Jack Hawksmoor comic, and while he’s technically a superhero, I think he’s right on the edge. He doesn’t wear a costume, he doesn’t have a secret identity — he’s that post-modern Warren Ellis version of a superhero. It wasn’t until last year when I got my first gig at Marvel that I really wrote superheroes for the first time. I’ve always loved superheroes and I’ve always wanted to write them. It’s really exciting for me to do this again, to do it regularly. I guess it’s true that there’s a certain continuity with my career that I’ve written a lot of dark, military — “Blackhawks” wasn’t dark, but it was certainly technocratic military kind of story. I never imagined that I would be good at or known for that kind of thing. I surprised myself enjoying working on “G.I. Joe” so much, because it was never a property I thought of before I was asked to write it.
I think the reason books like “G.I. Joe” and “Blackhawks” clicked for me is because the thing that really appeals to me in the stories that I come up with and the work that I do are characters who feel a great deal of guilt and conflicted emotions of what their roles are in the perpetrator of acts, be they good or bad. Chuckles, in “G.I. Joe: Cobra,” went undercover and did a lot of really bad things for what he had to believe was a good reason. Towards the end he started doubting whether that reason was worth the things he had to do, and wondering who he was on the inside; if he was a good person or a bad person. “Blackhawks” dealt with very similar themes: whether we are the problem or the solution to the problem.
Ultimately, that’s sort of what Spider-Man is about. He’s a character who is 100% motivated by guilt — he’s a hero, absolutely, but the thing that motivates Peter is the mistake he made and atoning for it. Somewhere down on the inside, Peter wonders if he’s really worthy of this mantle, and he’s doing it to make up for something he did before, and that’s something he carries with him all the time. Similarly, that’s what Ben Reilly would have as well because he has the same experiences as Peter up to the point where they diverged. I think that writing these particular superheroes is right in my wheelhouse for that reason alone — even less so the man on a mission thing. That’s sort of plot mechanics, but the actual themes and things that motivate the characters, they feel like something I can understand.
Clearly, I have some darkness in my past that has yet to be exposed somehow, because this is what appeals to me. [Laughs]
These characters aren’t super mainstream, but they’re certainly popular amongst a certain readerbase. Did you find there was a freedom in getting to write these lesser-known folks? What was the experience like for you?
Oh, totally. I think a lot of writers like Christopher Yost have done a really good job with Kaine. But he is an interesting character, so there’s a lot more to investigate with him. Similarly with Jessica, Bendis and Michael Fiffe are doing a good job with her as well. Ben is sort of the outlier because we haven’t seen this Ben Reilly before. I had a big conversation with Devin [Lewis] and Nick [Lowe], my two editors on the project as well as Chris Gage, who is writing the “Spider-Verse Team-Up” book, which is a bunch of vignettes showing how characters are being recruited into the team that gets put together. He’s introducing them and showing how Ben gets recruited, so we wanted to get on the same page of who Ben is, what makes him tick and why he’s interesting. Why is he different than Peter?
[This incarnation] of Ben is the Spider-Man that doesn’t have the famous Parker luck. Everything has gone well for him. At first it didn’t because he was living rough and living underground while Peter was Spider-Man. But unlike what happened in the 616 where Ben thinks he’s the original Peter and then he’s not — it’s not a very happy ending for him — this Ben, everything works out. Peter gave him the mantle and went away. Peter Parker had his happy ending, he moved off into the countryside with Mary Jane and had a kid. This Ben Reilly ended up becoming Spider-Man. Our idea was where things would go wrong for Peter Parker in the 616, a lot of things went right for Ben in his universe. He got to “Big Time” faster than Peter did, “Spider-Island” was easier, there was no “Superior” Ben Reilly — Doc Ock did not take over Ben. This version of Peter Parker — because Ben is a version of Peter — is the version that everything worked out for.
Not to say that it makes him arrogant or it makes him have a chip on his shoulder, but he doesn’t carry the guilt and the darkness of 616 Peter, because he hasn’t had to sacrifice a whole lot, and he hasn’t lost a lot of fights the way our Spider-Man has. We’re pairing him up with a guy that is basically part animal and a violent, borderline sociopath with Kaine; and then Jessica Drew is much younger than Ben, but because she’s been through the Ultimate Universe, she’s lost a lot. The Ultimate Universe is a pretty grim place. Tons and tons of characters — friends of hers, people she’s fought with have died, and died for good. There aren’t a lot of resurrections in the Ultimate U. The city was destroyed and flooded, and her Peter Parker is dead. In a lot of ways, she has a more mature outlook on life than Ben Reilly does, because she’s lot a lot more.
It was really interesting saying, “Who is Peter when you take away a lot of the sadness that’s inherent?” Which is interesting because Peter is this very boisterous and funny character, but it’s obvious that a lot of the humor is gallows humor, because things are always going wrong for Peter. His way of dealing with it is joking about it, but things have really gone more right for Ben Reilly. We’re in a situation in which there’s real serious danger and he’s going to have to decide what kind of hero he is.
You’re working with Paco Diaz on this miniseries. What is it about Paco’s art that you think makes him a good fit for your “Scarlet Spiders” story?
Well, [editor] Nick [Lowe] was the one that put that together, but if I had the ability to call Paco and say, “Would you do this book with me?” I would have done it! [Laughs]
I think his art is excellent. It’s strange, because we’re dealing with characters that wear masks, but his characters are incredibly expressive and nuanced when it comes to the emotional content. Artists literally refer to their characters as acting, when you’re expressing an idea through bodily language and facial expression. Some artists are way better at acting than others. Some artists are really good at action or design, but when two characters end up talking, it’s stiff and boring and you have to let the dialogue carry it, but I think Paco’s good at everything.
How does “Scarlet Spiders” challenge you in a way that some of your other work hasn’t? You’ve definitely done team books before, you’ve even done Spider-Man-based Marvel books before — what did you find most challenging about this miniseries?
I’m so honored to be a part of an amazing, huge event — and Spider-Man is one of the best-selling books in the industry. So, there’s a lot of pressure there. Not that my book is going to be selling 300,000 copies, but it’s a part of a major event for the most popular character who is currently undergoing one of his most popular eras in comics. And he’s written by who I consider to be the best writer that has ever written Spider-Man, Dan Slott. That is a lot of pressure to not be the book in this crop that sucks. [Laughs]
I think there’s a very high expectation for this to be good, and having read what is going to happen in the Spider-Verse and having read the scripts that are out there right now, knowing how good it’s shaping up to be, I want mine to not be bad in comparison.
Also, I am dealing with characters — particularly Ben Reilly — where it’s a tightrope. You can’t make them too much like Spider-Man, but you also can’t make them too different. I was saying that he’s the Spider-Man everything’s worked out for, but I also don’t want him to be an arrogant Spider-Man who thinks he’s going to win because he’s entitled to. That’s not who Spider-Man would be. Peter Parker wouldn’t be that guy. Even if everything worked out for Peter, he wouldn’t be a jerk about it. So, it’s a really delicate line to walk to express this nuance of a character that is familiar but at the same time, not.
The world that Dan has built for this to take place in, the world of “Spider-Verse” and where “Scarlet Spiders” is going to go — it’s a really fun playground to be a part of. That has been just a lot of fun.
Again, I’m so happy and excited to be doing this. I grew up reading comic books and my dad was a comic collector since he was a kid. Comics were a huge part of my life. He would go to the store every week and come back with a huge stack. He was a big Marvel Zombie — he bought almost everything Marvel published. So I’ve been reading these comics my entire life, and I don’t think there’s any kid in the world that doesn’t love Spider-Man, especially if you read comics, because it’s such a compelling character. It’s you if you were a superhero. The idea that I get to write Spider-Man now is just so awesome. I hope it never gets old! I hope if I write Spider-Man for the next 10 years, it never gets old. To work on a legacy like this — it’s really awesome.
“Scarlet Spiders” begins in November.