COMMENTARY TRACK: Steve Wacker on "Avenging Spider-Man" #1

The Marvel Universe is home to many types of heroes like mutants, gods, super geniuses, super strong brutes, agile acrobatic types and even non-powered characters who use their expertise and extraordinary weapons to fight crime.

There's one Marvel super hero in particular with strong ties to virtually all the rest: Spider-Man. And in recent years, Spidey's membership in two different Avengers team and the Future Foundation has allowed him to interact and establish relationships with an even larger variety of heroes. In the new, ongoing "Avenging Spider-Man," writer Zeb Wells and artist Joe Madureira will explore the dynamic between Spidey and his numerous teammates.

In issue #1, in stores now, the creative duo kick things off with a tale that finds Peter Parker and the Red Hulk, General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross joining forces to investigate an underground conspiracy. In today's edition of THE COMMENTARY TRACK, Editor Stephen Wacker joins us for insight into some of the key scenes in the issue

CBR News: So, Steve -- in this scene, we've got an interesting layout of a big battle where Spidey and his teammates are taking on a giant A.I.M. robot. Spidey has enthusiastically battled giant robots with the Avengers before, like in "Amazing Spider-Man" #648, which kicked off the current "Big Time" era of the book. In this scene, though, he seems down and hesitant. Why is that? What do you think is going on here?

Steve Wacker: One thing that's always been true about Spider-Man is that he's always you when you have one too many things on your plate. Even when he's at the top of his game, he's still struggling. I think that's sort of the universality of Spider-Man. That's what Zeb was going for.
There's a posture that Joe drew here on page two, where Spidey's shoulders are down. It's like he's a guy who just ran three marathons, swam across the Hudson River and now has to go home to his sixth floor walk up. It's just exhaustion. But you can see by the end of this sequence, Spidey is running full throttle again. He's running headlong into the danger, not scared of whatever is going to stomp on him.

He just had that one moment of exhaustion. Any parent who remembers their baby needing something at three in the morning knows this feeling. You've just given up for a moment and now it's time to go feed that kid.

So, this is one of those human moments that make Spidey the hero we all know and love.

Yes, I think the fact that he's on the ground there while everyone else is flying around is important. Even Captain America is up in the air. I think that's what makes Spidey Spidey. He's always looking up at these other super heroes

Here we have a very interesting collision between a horde of Moloids and runners in the New York City Marathon. To us, Moloids usually come off as more cute than scary, but it seems like Joe and Zeb made an effort to make them a little more monstrous.

Well, my editorial office's motto is "cute, but scary." [Laughs] The team really went for that, and this sequence is really sold by Joe. Zeb wrote the world "Moloids." He didn't describe them or give them any sort of emotion because he knew Joe could bring that to the table. He just wrote that they weren't really attacking as much as they were running over the runners. So it just so happens that the New York Marathon is going through a parade of Moloids. It's two masses of beings crashing into each other like waves. That's what Zeb wrote. But Joe made it into the symphony you see on the 2-page spread.

Joe was a new artist to me when he came on to the book. I had missed the whole Joe Madureira craze in the '90s. I knew the name, but not the work. I had no idea that this guy, as an artist, was one of the best "actors" in comics. He took what Zeb wrote and really ran with it. Every single Moloid and runner in this piece has an emotion and a point of view. I could look at this page forever.

Plus, I can't say enough about our colorist Ferran Daniel, who had the task of adding color and contrast to what is really some complicated choreography.

The fact that this sequence takes place in a giant metropolis like New York makes it especially interesting because the Moloids remind me of a swarm of giant rat people.

[Laughs] I hadn't thought of that, but it's true. It can't make you too cheerful to see them crawling around.

This double page spread title sequence is interesting and something we don't see very often in a book. How did it come about?

Our letterer Joe Caramagna did such a great job with it. I love it. It's got a nice cinematic quality to it. I wanted something that planted a cool visual flag and simply summed up who our main characters were and listed off all our creators, but that didn't over-complicate things.

Here we have the scene that sets up Spider-Man and the Red Hulk for their adventure together. What made you guys interested in exploring their dynamic and how would you describe it at the beginning of this issue? It sort of reminds me of Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte's characters in "48 Hours."

[Laughs] I like that. I think making Spidey Eddie Murphy in that equation is flattering, but it isn't quite "Spidey" since Eddie Murphy is so dang cool in that movie. It's probably more like Greg Brady and Nick Nolte, if that's not too dated a reference.

We came up with this pairing partly because we were going off some of the characters that Joe was excited about drawing. We tried to hit the breadbasket of the stuff that Joe Mad likes to draw with this issue. Red Hulk obviously lends himself to big visuals. Plus, he's got a lot of personality that leaks off every one of his lines of dialogue, so Zeb was able to sink his teeth into things as well. Because we hadn't seen any extended sequences or stories with the Red Hulk, this just seemed like an opportunity and Zeb was interested in exploring it.

It really is the world's worst team-up. Spider-Man isn't looking forward to this. Red Hulk isn't looking forward to it either.

And that's what makes it work.

It seems like Ross only tolerates Spider-Man because he has to as a member of the Avengers.

Yeah. That's probably true of a lot of the Avengers. It certainly is true of my relationship with the senior Marvel editorial staff. [Laughs]

Here we have the arrival of one of Subterranea's visually distinctive monsters. Who came up with the look for this tongue creature?

In Zeb's script, this thing was called "the creature" and we really just let Joe run crazy. Zeb just guided the camera angles with script notes like, "We're inside the creature's esophagus and Red Hulk is violently punching through puffy, organic material." So the look of this thing is really a product of Joe's crazy imagination. It reminds me of the creature that almost ate the Millennium Falcon in "The Empire Strikes Back."

Here we are at the end of issue #1, and Jonah Jameson is still pretty heavily involved in the story. How big of a role does he play in this initial three part arc? Is there a chance for some interaction between him and Ross?

Jonah and Ross would be quite fun to see together. It would be like watching Axel Alonso and Tom Brevoort at an editorial meeting. [Laughs]

The issue ends with the reveal of what appears to be the main villains of the story. Their look suggests that this is a tale that's going to cater to Joe Madureira's love of the fantasy genre.

That was exactly the plan! As Joe steps back into the Marvel Universe, slowly but surely, we wanted to give him stuff he could get excited about drawing. This whole project came about because Madureira, [Marvel Publisher] Dan Buckley and [Marvel Chief Creative Officer] Joe Quesada started talking. Dan and Q worked really hard to convince Joe to come back since Joe has a full time job with his video game work.

The fact that were able to get Joe cast on a book (with one our best writers) which gave him a lot of room to swing his big pencil around I think is a real testament to Buck, Quesada and Axel's ability to improvise editorially when necessary.

Joe is a great artist, but he's hasn't worked on a monthly book for some time. Readers are wondering how big of a part he'll play on "Avenging Spider-Man?" Will we see his work in the title on a regular basis?

Let me say flat out: "Avenging Spider-Man" is a monthly comic. If it fails to ship in a given month, it's on me.

There's definitely going to be a little space between this first three parter and Joe's next story, but there are still going to be issues every month by Zeb and some of the best artists in comics.

Joe has been pretty up front about what he can do, and that makes it easy for me to schedule around him. The things that make it hard to schedule are when an editor and artist are surprised by things they didn't see coming.

I've learned a lot about scheduling over the last two years from working on Spider-Man and when I worked on "52" for DC, so I can generally guide this stuff pretty well (as long as [assistant editor] Ellie Pyle is there caching all my mistakes).

After this first three part arc, we'll have a few issues by some other big name artists and Zeb. Then we get back to Joe's second arc which is also going to be huge. So I think we're going to see six to eight issues from Joe every year, which I think holds up with just about any other book.

Anything else you would like to share about "Avenging Spider-Man" #1?

I've wanted to do a book like this for a while. I jotted down the name "Avenging Spider-Man" when I first got assigned to the Spider-Man books several years ago. I thought it might be a creative way to revive "Marvel Team-Up" as a book. You can't really sell that MTU name today, but Spidey is firmly ensconced on a number of super teams at this point and is a pretty integral part of the Marvel Universe, more than he has been in the past. I think there's a place, now, for a book that just has Spidey meeting the other characters in the Marvel Universe. Spidey is the perfect Marvel character because he bounces off every character that we have in an interesting way. There's just something about his personality.

For people who've been hesitant about picking up "Amazing Spider-Man" because of the frequency or they're still upset over "One More Day," I think "Avenging Spider-Man" is a pretty good taste of what we do with this character week in and week out. And just as important, I think, visually, it's going to be the most arresting Marvel book each month.

Finally, can you offer up any hints or teases about "Avenging Spider-Man" #2?

I just got the book to press on Friday, and Jeph Loeb would like me to mention there's an ad for "Avengers: X-Sanction" #2 in there. [Laughs]

Issue #2 has some of the funniest and deadliest fight moments I think I've ever edited. It's Walter Hill meets Michael Bay meets Walter Hill again. It's pretty nuts. Zeb is a flat-out funny writer. I'm sometimes as jaded as anyone about this stuff, and then I walk away amazed at the things he just choreographed into his scripts.
For $3.99, you get a full-color super hero story packed every inch with drama, humor and righteousness, and you get the digital copy for free! I'm personally making sure and you get 52 DC issues worth of action in one comic book! [Laughs].

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