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SPIDER-MANDATE: Latour Heads Up Our All “Spider-Gwen” Jam Session

by  in Comic News Comment
SPIDER-MANDATE: Latour Heads Up Our All “Spider-Gwen” Jam Session

Welcome to SPIDER-MANDATE, CBR’s regular column featuring the lowdown on everything Spider-Man! From the core adventures in “Amazing Spider-Man” to the epilogue for the “Spider-Verse” event or the myriad of other titles based in Spidey’s corner of the Marvel U, Peter Parker and company have a lot on their plates.

While Marvel Senior Editor Nick Lowe normally helms the column, this week we’re mixing it up in favor of a brand new title springing from the “Spider-Verse” event. With fans writing songs, crafting custom-made hoodies and reports of pre-orders hitting the six-digit realm, the first issue of “Spider-Gwen” is the one of the most-buzzed about releases this week — and series writer and co-creator Jason Latour is on hand with us for a special in-depth look at all things Gwen Stacy.

RELATED: Lowe Talks ‘Surprise’ Hit “Spider-Gwen,” “Secret Wars'” Spidey Connections

Join us on our Latour detour as the “Spider-Gwen” writer talks sales, “Secret Wars” and what the Wu-Tang Clan has to do with your friendly, neighborhood Spider-Gwen!

CBR News: Reports have “Spider-Gwen” around 200,000 copies sold in pre-orders, which makes it a huge release for Marvel. I know in our last SPIDER-MANDATE, Nick Lowe mentioned that “Spider-Gwen” has been the surprise hit of that event. Does hearing the pre-order sales numbers and being on the cusp of the first issue release make it more real for you?

Jason Latour: [Laughs] I’m so excited about it that there’s no trepidation anymore! It’s a surreal number. It’s kind of impossible to wrap your mind around the idea that this all sprung organically from just a one-shot, you know? It’s very gratifying on a lot of levels, even removing myself and my own personal goals from it. Just going into comics and trying to tell stories you dream of, something that connects you to people in this way, it’s really something I don’t want to take for granted or let slip through my fingers. There’s no way we could have ever planned for this, and that makes it all the sweeter because it’s so rare that fans actually vote for a book to exist with their wallets and their enthusiasm and their interest level. It’s really, really amazing.

Was there a point where you did have that trepidation? Perhaps some sleepless nights thinking, “There are a lot of people paying attention to this!”

To be honest, no. [Laughs] I can’t say that’s always been the case with the books I’ve done, which is really odd because this is the biggest thing I’ve ever been involved in. Especially since I’m on the deck of the ship, so to speak. I think some of why it’s not that nerve-wracking is because it feels like people are responding to the world Robbi [Rodriguez] and Rico [Renzi] and Nick and I all put on the page. With a lot of superhero comics that’s not necessarily the case; sometimes, oftentimes, people will go into these books with preconceived notions. They already love certain aspects of the character, and they’re looking to see if you can replicate or one-up. With this, it’s a little more whole cloth. Sure, it shares a lot of the mythos of Spider-Man, but so much of the world is ours. I guess you could say it would be daunting that people might judge you or not like what you put on the paper, but I feel really comfortable with the fact that we’re all approaching it really earnestly and we all want to tell a good story, so I think it’s easier to wrap my head around the fact that if people don’t enjoy it, then it’s not for them, that’s fine. We’re getting to do largely what we want to do, and that’s really rare in mainstream comics — at least it has been.

Because this has received so much positive reaction, I’m curious if you’ve met anyone with a negative reaction to it, or had fans come up and say to you, “I really loved old Gwen Stacy and wish you hadn’t brought her back.”

No — and I wasn’t really concerned with that, either. I think if anything, the bigger concern is that I’ve never tried to put this book up on a pedestal or act like Robbi, Rico and I are the most progressive team to be working on the book! I mean, at the end of the day, it’s three men who are writing a book about a girl with Spider powers. I was a little concerned there might be some pushback against that. I hope, at least, that if you read the book, you can tell this is nothing but an earnest and genuine attempt to tell a good story and to make Gwen Stacy’s superhero adventures as interesting and as important as Peter Parker’s were when he debuted in the 1960s. That’s the ultimate goal: to do a good superhero story. That seems to have connected with people who were both fans of the old Gwen Stacy and maybe people coming to it from other media for the very first time. I hoped that would happen. I grew up in an era where I’m one of those old-school people who thought Gwen Stacy was supposed to stay dead forever! [Laughs]

Initially, if I’m being honest, there was some trepidation when we were first throwing out the idea that some people might balk at her returning. But having worked on “Winter Soldier,” [it] opened my eyes to the potential of comic books. I really think, especially superhero comics, the one thing they have over other forms of fiction is, the characters can beat death. They can find better endings, or even new stories to inhabit. That’s really unique about superhero comics. We just lean into it and embrace it, and it seems like people have come along for the ride so far.

Like you said, you’re getting to create this world whole cloth. How do you tackle creating villains and allies that aren’t just a parallel or mirror universe versions of the characters from the main Peter Parker stories?

I don’t think any of us are interested in doing cover songs, you know? But you could make the argument that every comic, to some extent, is a “What If…?” of whatever came before it. Whenever a new writer or artist comes onto a project, it changes tone, things are ignored or bent to service a different kind of narrative. Here, the goal and the aim is to be governed by what the characters need more so than the expectations of the audience. That’s not to say that if you throw out a name like Frank Castle, it’s not that we don’t know that’s a loaded name to bandy about! [Laughter] But you don’t include a character like that unless it services Gwen’s own adventure. You don’t just start turning everything into a “What If…?” just to titillate people who might be fans of Punisher. There also needs to be a willingness to let the story go in its own direction. Over time, people will see that’s the plan. Our Gwen Stacy or our Matt Murdock or our Captain Stacy and Frank Castle, all these characters are going to go in directions that don’t have anything to do with the characters we’ve seen before.

What can you say about the foes and allies Gwen is going to be facing off against — and working with — in the opening arc?

The first part of the first arc is spun out of her disappearing in the one-shot. The last time we see her, she drops this big bomb on her father that just upends his entire world. He’s the guy who has been chasing Spider-Woman this whole time and he comes to realize she was right under his nose. Off-panel, she sort of disappears and goes off into “Spider-Verse” to fight alongside Spider-Man and Spider-Woman and Spider-Ham — Spider-Snail, Spider-Booger! [Laughter]

Don’t forget Spider-Ma’am!

Whatever versions of Spiders you can think of! [Laughter]

That experience is not going to be forgotten, because you have to remember, in her own world, she’s a criminal. She comes back from this big superhero war where she’s inspired by all these heroic Spider-folks and she looks at her own life and says, “How am I getting it so wrong? Why am I cast as a villain? What can I do about it?” So this very first arc is about her trying to use Spider-Woman to change those things, to correct the course of her life. Again, she’s left her father in a really strange position, and she’s left her band mates, so one of the big questions of the first arc is, can she reconcile being Gwen Stacy and Spider-Woman?

Over the course of that, we’re going to run into characters like the Vulture, who’s sort of a modified spin on the old Vulture — probably the crankiest Vulture that I could come up with — at least that’s the aim, long-term! [Laughs] That’s a character who comes out during the vacancy of Spider-Woman being gone those couple of weeks in “Spider-Verse,” somebody who seizes the opportunity. Then there’s larger backburner plot things with this “evil” Matt Murdock who may or may not be working with the Kingpin, and the introduction of our new spin of Frank Castle who has something a little deadlier than a skull on his chest — he’s got a badge!

It’s an interesting mix, so we’ll put all that to boil and hopefully have a long time to play with this stuff. I know when I say there are three villains in the first arc, it sounds like I’m pitching a terrible movie sequel! [Laughter] But the plan is to take our time and have it unfold organically and have fun with it. The title, other than being the most recognizable name everybody calls her by, it’s a nice reminder that the book is half Spider and half Gwen. So there will be a lot of the Mary Janes, a lot of stuff with Dad. I really am excited about it, and the reaction behind closed doors has been good so far. I don’t know if it can live up to these massive expectations, but if it doesn’t fall flat, I think we’re in good shape!

Since you mentioned the Mary Janes, when the one shot story hit, you had people instantly writing songs about/”by” them, like Married With Sea Monsters who did “Face It Tiger,” and Adam WarRock’s “Spider-Gwen Rap.” I know the week of the release, You’re hosting a release party in North Carolina, and you’ve got limited vinyl of “Face It Tiger” — how did that come about? Did you know the band before they did the YouTube video?

Robbi knows them, I think he may know the lead singer, Kat, from high school, so he talks to them quite frequently. He was casually sharing what the book was about, and they seemed really excited. One of the reasons, story concerns aside, that I liked the idea of her being in a band is, I knew how excited that would make Robbi! [Laughs] I feel if you can get your co-creator/collaborator on the same page and excited about things, that’s half the job. I think Robbi was talking to them as we went, and they got so excited about it, they cut that song. So it was sort of planned, but not really. I don’t think any of us thought it would blow up the way it did; it was as organic as the book coming out. But I think it’s really cool. My only fear was I hadn’t heard much of their music before, so I was like, “What am I going to do if the song’s not good?” [Laughter] Fortunately, it’s really awesome, so I can wipe the sweat off my brow on this one!

It’s funny, outside of the music you’ve got people making fan art, there are Etsy stories popping up selling Spider-Gwen-styled hoodies — it’s almost like the high-tech world of the Internet has brought us back to the old days of, “Write into this P.O. Box to get your Spider decoder ring!”

Oh yeah, that’s true! It’s funny, because I’ve been reading Sean Howe’s “Marvel Comics: The Untold Story,” and they talked about the Merry Marvel Marching Society back in the ’60s. It is sort of like that! I really like that, and I really encourage all this stuff. I think it’s really cool. My only fear with that would be if it got in the way of letting the story goes where it needs to go, but that’s putting the cart before the horse. I’m not saying I’m ever going to get rid of the Mary Janes, but I want to be open to playing with that; you don’t ever feel like you’re going to make people angry! [Laughs]

All in all, it’s really great. Every time I go on Tumblr, I try to keep up — we have a sort of unofficial official Tumblr site to queue up fan art, and the queue is so long and so deep, I could spend an hour just queuing up stuff and it could run for weeks. It’s just amazing, for a character that’s only ever been in maybe four or five issues.

Recently, we had the “A-Force” announcement, the all-female Avengers team “Secret Wars” series that will feature a lot of characters, Spider-Gwen seemingly among them. Will “Secret Wars” and “A-Force” have any effect on what you are doing on the book?

As far as I know, we’re all systems go on our long-term plan. I think for the foreseeable future — the events of “Secret Wars” are complicated, and I don’t know what they’re going to do to the publishing schedule, but as far as Gwen having a book and story of her own, we’re on pretty safe footing, so long as the sales stay good. And right now, they’re phenomenal! I think everything looks pretty good in terms of her future and the story we want to tell. Every indication I’ve gotten from Marvel is that we’re in good shape — but it’s comic books, so who knows! [Laughter] The best and worst part of working in this business is how adaptive it is. But I feel pretty good about it, and I say that completely honestly, so I hope that allays anyone’s trepidation in investing in the book!

This month, we also have “Silk” launching, and “Spider-Woman” issue #5 will have a new costume as she’s coming out of “Spider-Verse,” plus “Amazing” is still going strong. Where do you see “Spider-Gwen” fitting in? What is her tonal niche in the broader spectrum of the Spider books?

She’s the one, I think, that is the furthest removed from that stuff, and by that, I mean the larger Spider-verse. That doesn’t mean she’s not connected to it, because it is important that she be connected to 616 and Peter Parker’s universe, but for the foreseeable future, Gwen’s in her own stream. I think that’s the niche she’ll occupy; it’s not really about the core concept of Peter Parker so much as it is “great power, great responsibility.” We’ll get to see a permutation of that, and hopefully see that play out in a more modern context.

Context is king here — without Peter Parker in this universe, the characters are free to have their own lives. As great as it is for Jessica Drew and Silk to have Peter around, that’s what makes this book different. Peter isn’t so readily accessible or in the periphery. That’s not to say that makes this book better or anything — it’s just a different flavor, because I think those other two Spider-books are really cool. It’s really exciting to be involved in this expansion of the Spider-verse, so to speak. Spider-Man has always been a solitary character, and to see it pushed to the edges of what it can be is sort of like rocket fuel for your creativity!

Finally, you’ve talked before about the rock and roll sensibility you and Robbi are bringing with this book and the original story that kicked it off. So do you have a “Spider-Gwen” mix tape? Are there bands or songs in your head that inspire you as you write your story?

I think it’s hilarious that you would use “rock and roll sensibility” as a descriptor for me! The co-creator of “Southern Bastards” is probably not a rock and roll guy! [Laughter]

I certainly love a lot of kinds of music. I’m not writing for Pitchfork anytime soon, but I do have an abiding love for all kids of music, and find it really inspirational. Robbi has a specific play list! [Laughs] Rico may have a specific play list. But for me, as the writer, it was important not to press my own take on people. I certainly have an inner check and balance in terms of what I think plays or doesn’t play in terms of tone, but there are so many different people coming to the book that I don’t want to get preachy or deny somebody the experience of writing their own soundtrack in their head. That may sound like a middle of the road answer, but like I said, rock and roll for me is a misnomer! [Laughter]

For me, personally, there’s a lot of rap music that goes into the thought process of the book. I’ve come up with this secret idea that Gwen is into like kung-fu movies and loves Wu-Tang Clan and old rap music that’s a little before her time. I think, being a drummer, that makes sense, being into beats and the presentation of music in that way. When we were first kicking the idea around, we talked a lot about Debbie Harry, and again, she sort of fused a punk aesthetic with hip-hop. Robbi’s a little bit more into Grrrl bands; he makes fun of me because I once mentioned the Pixies as a reference point only to admit later on that the Pixies ended up being on his mix tape! [Laughter] It’s hard to have a mix tape and write to it, but I think if I was drawing the book, I probably would!

We’ll be back soon to discuss what’s next for Spider-Man and the broader Spider-books, so make sure to send questions our way by heading over to the SPIDER-MANDATE CBR Community thread!

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