Comic book lore has long held that Spider-man was never supposed to be a success. In fact, creator Stan Lee had to sneak Spider-man’s first appearance into the final issue of an obscure anthology series just to introduce his vision of angst-filled teen superhero Peter Parker to an unsuspecting readership. The results, of course, are legendary.
As irony would have it, a few years ago lightning struck twice for Marvel Comics with the unheralded debut of May “Spider-girl” Parker in the pages of another struggling title bound for cancellation. That title was What If…? # 105, and the writer was longtime Spider-man scribe Tom DeFalco. Like May Parker’s father nearly three and a half decades earlier, readers instantly saw something they liked in Spider-girl, and the demand for a series of her own was loud and clear.
Three years later, the character is still spinning her web every month for a surprisingly passionate fan-base–and writer Tom DeFalco seems to be having the time of his life telling her adventures.
Josh Roberts: When you pitched the character of Spider-girl as a story for What If…? # 105, did you ever think that it had a chance to catch on and become its own series, or was it always intended to just be a one shot?
Tom DeFalco: Ron Frenz and I just thought of it as a one-shot. We thought (and hoped) that editor Kelly Corvese might like it enough to assign us some more issues of What If…?, but it never occurred to us that Spider-girl had a chance of becoming a series.
Here’s a bit of trivia you probably didn’t know–after Thunderstrike was cancelled, Ron Frenz went off to do Superman at DC and I stuck with Marvel. What If…? #105 was actually the story that reunited us as a team. Since we were going to be introducing new characters (like Mayday and Normie Osborn) and using new versions of older characters (like Peter and Mary Jane), Ron drew a bunch of character sketches. He also included ideas for the future Avengers and Fantastic Four, which we used in the background of the What If…? story.
Kelly went wild when I showed him the sketches, and he asked if he could hold on to them. After What If…? #105 instantly sold out, Kelly took these sketches to [then editor-in-chief] Bob Harras and proposed the new Spider-girl series. Bob agreed and gave me a call. So Kelly is actually the guy who pushed Marvel to do a Spider-girl series.
JR: Talk a little about the process of creating the different facets of Mayday’s life and personality?
TD: There are a lot of teens and pre-teens in my life, and I just take notes.
JR: Marvel recently announced the cancellation of Spider-girl, then did an about-face and reversed its decision in the span of about a week because of the passionate outcry from readers and fans…
TD: It was actually closer to three weeks! (And all of them were pretty hectic!)
JR: What do you think it is about Spider-girl that inspired such a passion from the fans?
TD: I wish I knew. All I can say for certain is that Pat Olliffe, Al Williamson and the rest of us pour our hearts into every issue. Maybe our passion is somehow rubbing off on the fans!
JR: Does it affect the way you look at the series, knowing that it now has a second lease on life?
TD: I find writing the book a lot more intimidating now.
JR: When Marvel announced the cancellation, you were quoted on a few message boards as saying that you had a storyline that would bring Mayday’s tale to a close. Now that the book has been rescued, what can you tell us about what would have been the story to end the series?
TD: I really don’t want to say anything about that story–because we still intend to use it over the next few months.
JR: There’s a lot of controversy among the comics community about the way Peter Parker’s marriage to Mary Jane, and the subsequent “birth” and “death” of their child, has been handled in mainstream continuity. Is the rather blissful marriage that Peter and MJ share in the alternate future of Spider-girl a reaction to what has happened over the years in the core titles?
TD: I think Peter and Mary Jane deserve to live happily ever after–or as happily as a web-swinger can!
JR: Do you think that there is a place for the Spider-girl version of May Parker in the mainstream Marvel Universe?
TD: I certainly did when I first started thinking about her, but I don’t think she’d fit into the current core books.
JR: You’ve written Spider-girl for almost three years, and if I’m not mistaken, you’ve had a creative hand in her every appearance. Could you ever envision passing the reins on to another writer, or are you so attached to this character that you wouldn’t want to share?
TD: It’s not a question of sharing! I love this character, and intend to keep writing her stories until Marvel fires me, but I don’t have 100% control over her. I’ve heard that Alex Ross intends to use her in a series, but nobody has talked to me about it and I doubt they ever will.
JR: Fan interest in Spider-girl is on a huge upswing with all of the recent publicity. Marvel is even releasing a trade paperback reprinting the early issues of the series to introduce new readers. But what can you tell us about what the future has in store for her?
TD: We’ve got a lot fun stuff planned in the coming months–but I don’t want to give any of it away. We’re a character-focused book, not one of those “big-event-of-the-month” thingees. (Although we have even more changes in store for Spider-girl!)
JR: Let’s talk a little about some of your other work beyond Spider-girl. You’ve worked as a writer, editor and editor-in-chief at different points in time for Marvel in the ’80s, ’90s and ’00s. You’ve written Spider-man, Thor, Fantastic Four, created Spider-girl, and much more. What are some of your proudest moments as a creator or editor at Marvel?
TD: I really loved working on Spidey, the Fantastic Four, Thor, Thunderstrike and the Green Goblin–Gosh, I really can’t choose! It’s all been a blast! I’m the kind of writer who really throws himself into the work. If I’m having fun, I stay on a series for a long time. Right now I intend to stick with Spider-girl and my two new Image books, Randy O’Donell is the M@N and Mr. Right.
JR: Which role–creative or editorial–have you enjoyed the most?
TD: If you do it right, editorial IS creative! I really do love writing, but I kinda miss editing. In many ways, editing is more rewarding because you can really celebrate each new publication. As a writer, I’m always trying to hone my craft and improve my skills–so I’m rarely satisfied with a finished comic. (But I keep hoping the next issue will be better!)
JR: Pretend you were given the power to alter time and space, but only in the Marvel Universe. What would be the one creative decision in Marvel continuity that you would go back and change in a heartbeat?
TD: That’s a tough one. I know I wouldn’t have allowed them to bring back Norman Osborn, kill baby May or reboot Spidey and bring back Aunt May…and the Clone Saga went on much too long!
JR: Ultimately you became very involved in the development of the Spider-man Clone Saga. The entire storyline was very divisive, and its ending no less so. In your opinion, was bringing back Norman Osborn as the Green Goblin a good idea to end the clone story, a cheapening of a landmark event in Spidey’s history, or a little bit of both?
TD: I thought bringing back Norman was a cheat that didn’t make any sense…and I still do!
JR: For myself and many other readers, your run and Roger Stern’s before it in the ’80s are the epitome of classic Spider-man. What was it like charting the course of Marvel’s flagship character?
TD: It was very intimidating at first! I’ve loved Spidey most of my life and never believed I’d ever get a shot at him. I especially loved working with Danny Fingeroth, who used to sharpen my plots by asking me a zillion questions about each scene, and that was when I first began collaborating with Ron Frenz. Ron and I have been together ever since.
JR: What’s your personal favorite era in Spidey’s history?
TD: Since I started with Amazing Fantasy #15, I’d have to say that I like the early Stan Lee/Steve Ditko/John Romita period–although I still fight the tears whenever I pick up the DeMatteis/Bagley Amazing Spider-man #400.