SPOILER WARNING: This story contains spoilers for "Amazing Spider-Man" #584, on sale now.
Whose face lies behind the mask of Menace? Who is the serial murderer the press have dubbed the Spider-Tracer Killer? And who will be the next Mayor of New York City?
These are the three big questions that fans of Marvel Comics' "Amazing Spider-Man" have been wondering since the book's Brand New Day began last year. Readers can rejoice, because their wait is almost over! The series' current arc "Character Assassination," by writer Marc Guggenheim and artist John Romita, Jr., kicked off in last week's "Amazing Spider-Man" #584 and promises to answer these questions and more as it brings many of the book's simmering plot threads to a boil. CBR News spoke with Guggenheim about the arc.
"Character Assassination" is a payoff story for fans who've been following the larger mysteries and plot threads in "Amazing Spider-Man," but Guggenheim also wanted the arc to be as new-reader-friendly as possible, which is one of the reasons why he chose to open "Amazing" #584 with the fictional news program, "Two-In-One."
"The second sort of problem I had to solve [beyond making the arc accessible] was explaining the nature of the Spider-Tracer killings and how they had been impacting the Mayoral Campaign," Guggenheim told CBR News. "The political fallout was something that really needed to be explained. Someone needed to say the Spider-Tracer Killings have been affecting the campaign and here's how. And I thought the most organic way to do that was to have two newscasters discussing the killings and the election and how they're connected. It's probably not the most inspired device I've ever used, but I think in this case it was very effective and we'll have some fun moments later on in the arc with the program. Like there's a one-page gag with J. Jonah Jameson in issue #587 where he appears on the show that I think is fun and funny. So I was originally using 'Two-In-One' for purely expositional purposes, but deeper into the arc I was able to mess around and just have fun with it as a framing device."
Following the opening "Two-In-One" segment, the action shifts to the scene of the Spider-Tracer Killer's latest crime. Detectives Stacy Dolan and Brett Mahoney might be familiar to fans of Guggenheim's work; they appeared in his recent "Vanguard" story, which was featured in "Marvel Comics Presents." "They're back! So obviously this places the 'Vanguard' arc in continuity after 'Character Assassination,'" Guggenheim confirmed. "One of the advantages of working in a shared universe is that you have all these pre-established characters and my general rule is that I try very hard to not create a new character when an existing character will do. Not because I'm lazy, but part of the fun of a shared universe is that you have all these characters that can pop in and out of your protagonists' lives. So when I had this scene that called for two NYPD detectives, Stacy and Brett seemed the logical choice. All I had to worry about was the continuity of things. But because I never said when in time 'Vanguard' took place, I could have it occur after 'Character Assassination.' By the way, now might be the time to demand that Marvel publish 'Vanguard' as a trade paperback!"
Another character from Guggenheim's "Vanguard" story to make a cameo appearance in "Amazing" #584 is Julian Beck, a fellow police scientist who Peter Parker's friend Carlie Cooper turns to for assistance in her hunt for the Spider-Tracer Killer. "The problem we've sometimes had since the Brand New Day status quo began is that even though we're publishing three times a month, we haven't had as much time to develop certain storylines because there's so much going on," Guggenheim confessed. "And since Carlie found the very first Spider-Tracer left by the killer back at the beginning of Brand New Day, we planned on her having a more active role throughout last year in terms of trying to hunt down the Spider-Tracer Killer. But we really didn't have the opportunity to do that much with her. So I wanted to work that in at the top of this arc."
Guggenheim continued, "In that scene with Julian, Carlie mentions that she came to him awhile back with the idea that if Spider-Man can trace the tracers shouldn't we be able to do the same by reverse engineering the process? So that's the idea that she hatches and what leads to her discovery of a stash of Spider Tracers at the end of this issue."
Wanting to do the right thing in her role as a police scientist and a citizen is just one of the reasons why Carlie launched her plan to catch the Spider-Tracer Killer. "One of the things I think we've done very affectively in Brand New Day is establish the fact that Bill Hollister, who is running for Mayor, is like a second father to Carlie. And as the 'Two-In-One' news program discusses at the beginning, the Spider-Tracer Killings have hurt Bill Hollister's chances at getting elected," Guggenheim explained. "Spider-Man needs to get arrested for Hollister to get off the political hot seat."
Carlie isn't the only one hunting Spider-Man in issue #584. Her fellow officers are also hot on the web-slinger's trail, since they too believe him to be the prime suspect in the Spider-Tracer Killings. While fleeing the cops, Spidey is struck by a bullet and almost caught. In an intentional homage to the hero's origin, Guggenheim had Spider-Man escape the police by running past an apathetic citizen and ducking into an elevator, leaving the police to chastise the man for his failure to stop Spidey.
"For me, a lot of my inspiration tends to strike at the script stage, and as I was writing the chase between Spider-Man and the police, I thought it would a funny and ironic moment," Guggenheim said. "It was an intentional homage to 'Amazing Fantasy' #15, and luckily Steve Wacker and Tom Brevoort let me do it. When I wrote the scene I was like, 'They're either going to absolutely love this or they're going to hate it.' And I suspect the same will be true for readers as well."
The gunshot wound caused Spider-Man to lose a lot of blood. He consequently passes out and has a nightmare where Menace unmasks and is revealed to be Peter Parker's best friend Harry Osborn. "I think there are two things going on in the dream sequence," Guggenheim mused. "One is Spider-Man's suspicions regarding Harry are increased by what he learned about Harry in Dan Slott's recent Molten Man story. And the other is that his subconscious is probably putting together some pieces that the readers may not even be aware are clues. Over the last year in Brand New Day, we've actually dropped a lot of clues as to who Menace is and I think Spider-Man's subconscious was sort of crunching on those."
At first glance, it may seem like Menace's only appearance in "Amazing" #584 came via Spidey's dream, but readers will soon learn that the villain actually had a bigger part in the issue than they thought. "Menace appears in #584, but not necessarily in costume," Guggenheim confirmed.
While Spider-Man was having a nightmare about his friend, Harry Osborn was doing his best to make his own dreams a reality by proposing to his girlfriend, Lilly Hollister. "We really wanted to give readers a huge moment that would loom pretty large, not only in this arc but in the series in general," Guggenheim said. "The ring is one of the reasons Harry went to see Liz in the Molten Man story. And I have to give a shout out here to John Romita, Jr. for knocking that whole splash page out of the park. I said I wanted it to be such an iconic image that it can play without dialogue and as usual John totally nailed it."
Because Harry's marriage proposal to Lilly was depicted without dialogue, readers didn't get to hear her answer. "Everything is a cliffhanger in #584," Guggenheim stated. "So we will get Lilly's answer next issue."
"Amazing Spider-Man" #584 wasn't all about the big moments. Guggenheim also included a quiet scene between Robbie Robertson and his former boss J. Jonah Jameson. "That scene came out of either Bob Gale or Steve Wacker's notes on the script. One of them suggested that we check in with Jonah and get his reaction to the fact that there's this mayoral campaign going on and he's lost his paper," the writer explained. "It's something that he normally would be in the thick of but for the fact that he's lost the Daily Bugle. So it just struck me as a logical thing to have this moment play out between Jonah and Robbie who are both so connected to the Bugle. It really wasn't intended to do anything other then give Jonah a chance to sort of weigh in on what's been going on.
"Now, that being said, I just might be incredibly crafty because if Robbie is Menace and I wanted to reintroduce him in this issue, that would be a pretty effective scene to do that in."
"Amazing Spider-Man" #584 ended with Carlie Cooper following her Spider Tracer tracking device to Peter Parker's apartment, where she discovered a stash of Spider Tracers hidden in the bedroom of Peter's roommate, Police Officer Vin Gonzales. Carlie's find left her wondering just who Vin really is. "In that final scene, I think Carlie is jumping to a conclusion that is both right and partially right," Guggenheim said. "I don't want to be too oblique about it, but basically I think the answer to who is the Spider-Tracer Killer is more complicated than people are probably expecting. I have to leave it at that out of fear of spoiling anything, but I can add that Carlie finding the Spider Tracers in Vin's room is not an innocent misunderstanding."
"Amazing Spider-Man" #585 picks right up with the cliffhanger of Carlie's discovery and promises to be a pivotal issue in the overall arc of "Character Assassination." "Basically, I think #585 pays off a lot of the set up we did in #584, and at the same time it helps set up the latter half of the arc," Guggenheim said. "Issue #585 is big stuff. It's Spider-Man vs. Menace. It's Menace's identity revealed and it's more information about the Spider-Tracer Killings. In writing the issue, I had the choice between a couple different moments that were cliffhanger worthy. So it's got more than one cliffhanger."
Further installments of "Character Assassination" will see the pace that Guggenheim established in #584 quicken and become even more frenetic. " The story takes place basically over 55 hours and as the arc goes on, the time factor becomes more and more critical," the writer said. "You have these events that are happening in the background in terms of the election but then you've got everything else that's happening too. It gives the story a '24'-style feel in that time is crunching down on everybody."
Its race-against-time feel is just one of the reasons why "Character Assassination" has proven to be the most difficult and challenging comic book project that Guggenheim has tackled in his career thus far. "Part of it was the sheer enormity of an arc that ties up several different storylines all at once," Guggenheim said. "I've heard some people say that they didn't feel like I stuck the landing on the reveal of Jackpot's identity in the recent Spider-Man Annual. The funny thing is, I actually completely stuck the landing as far as what we had planned out at the Spidey Summit. It just turned out to not be a satisfying answer for some people.
"Here it's the same sort of situation. All of the reveals and answers are stuff we talked about, but the tricky part has been determining the best way and time to make those revelations to readers, as well as how to space them out in a way that feels satisfying dramatically. There were some scheduling complications too. So it's been a magnitude issue and a logistical one."
In last year's "Amazing Spider-Man: Extra" #1, readers were given a preview of "Character Assassination" with a short story by Guggenheim and artist Marcos Martin that took place in the middle of the current arc. Guggenheim believed writing that story would simplify the process of writing "Character Assassination." "Turned out to make it a lot harder," the writer admitted. "Especially with the chronology of events being so important in the story."
The experience of writing "Character Assassination" may have been fraught with complications and difficulties, but Guggenheim feels the story is better because of it. "I think it is my strongest Spidey arc yet. I'm really proud of the way it turned out and for that I think a lot of the credit goes to John Romita, Jr., whose art just nailed and elevated every single moment. I think when you write something and the artist draws it well, that's phenomenal, but when the artist takes it to the next level and makes you look really good by elevating what you originally wrote, it doesn't get better than that. I remember the first day I got some 'Character Assassination' pages from John. I was blown away. It was a career highlight for me. I think it's one thing to experience John's work as a fan, but it's an entirely different kettle of fish to experience his work as a writer and see how he tells your story. I don't think there's any sort of hype that you can attach to John's work that is just hype. Every element of his craft is on display in every panel. The work he does is amazing."
"Character Assassination" is a story that's literally been years in the making, so Marc Guggenheim is excited that readers are finally getting a chance to see the finished tale. "As far as answers to questions like, 'who is Menace?' and 'who is the Spider-Tracer Killer?' Those answers were worked out at our first two Spider Summits. So that's like two to two-and-a-half years ago. We had our first summit about it where we broke out the details over a year ago. And I wrote my first draft of 'Amazing Spider-Man' #584 back in April of 2008. So we've been working on this for quite some time. Everyone, particularly Steve Wacker and John Romita, Jr., just worked their asses off on this story. I hope people are as proud of it as we are because we all worked very, very hard on it."