Gerry Conway was 19 when he penned one of the most legendary Spider-Man stories of all time: “The Night Gwen Stacy Died,” drawn by Gil Kane, which ran through “Amazing Spider-Man” #121-122 in 1973. Gwen Stacy’s death wasn’t the only memorable moment in Conway’s Spidey career — He would go on to co-create such iconic Marvel Comics characters as the Punisher and Hammerhead, and when he returned to the Web-Slinger in the ’80s, he introduced the world to more infamous underworld figures like Tombstone and the Lobo Brothers.
In the ’80s, Conway transitioned from comics to screenwriting and found particular success working in the field of television on shows like “Law & Order,” “Batman: The Animated Series,” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.” This March, he returns in “Amazing Spider-Man” #16.1 with artist Carlo Barberi for “Spiral,” a five-part, street-level adventure that co-stars the Wraith and finds the Web-Slinger trying to stop a war for control of New York City’s underworld.
CBR News spoke with Conway about “Spiral,” and the comic book legend discussed working with Carlo Barberi, picking back up with some of his ’80s creations, Spider-Man’s relationship to street-level stories, his recent return to monthly comics — and Gwen Stacy — in “Spider-Verse Team Up” #2 and more.
CBR News: Gerry, “Amazing Spider-Man: Spiral” marks your return to monthly comics for Marvel. How long has it been since your last Marvel project?
Gerry Conway: I believe it’s almost exactly 25 years ago. So it’s been quite a while. I think the last books I did for them were “Spectacular Spider-Man” and “Web of Spider-Man.”
How does it feel to return?
It’s great. I’m enjoying it quite a bit. Marvel is a place that has a lot of fond memories for me. I’ve always thought of myself as a comic book writer who writes other things. [Laughs] So it’s interesting to come back and slip into that mentality again.
“Spider-Verse Team Up” #2 — your first Marvel story since your return — features the new character Spider-Gwen, which is interesting considering you penned the Spider-Man story where Gwen Stacy died. What was it like working on a story starring a Gwen Stacy who hailed from a reality and became Spider-Woman?
It was a wonderful experience. When [Editor] Nick Lowe asked me if I was interested in doing this and told me I’d be working on a story starring Spider-Gwen I was like, “Absolutely! This is beyond awesome! How could I turn this down?” So it was a lot of fun.
Gwen is such an iconic character because of her fate that it’s ripe for ironic interpretation. That’s kind of what I tried to do with my story; basically address that irony in a way that’s hopefully fun and entertaining.
I saw what Jason Latour was doing with “Spider-Gwen” and it made perfect sense. It’s a delightful riff on the character and it was fun to get to play with that story that the previous teams set up.
“Spider-Verse Team Up” #2 was also interesting in that with your first story back at Marvel you’re jumping into the deep end of the pool with a crossover tie-in.
It actually wasn’t my first script for Marvel. I had been working on “Spiral” for several months before this came along. Even though it came out first, I wrote it after I wrote the first issue of “Spiral.” So, I had already felt my way back into Peter’s voice and into the mindset of writing a Spider-Man story. It was a very fun event to be part of.
The story also allowed you to write a Peter Parker who hails from a world where he became the Hobgoblin.
My basic pitch on it was, “What if Peter hadn’t overcome his grief? What if he really blamed himself and took on the full weight of his connection to and collaboration in Gwen’s death?” We’ve always kind of danced around that in other versions of the story. The reader is aware that Peter is partly responsible for Gwen’s death because of the way the webbing caught her. Peter himself, though, is not aware because he did not hear it.
I thought, “What if he actually became aware of that and really took it on? What if he felt a specific guilt rather than a generalized one?” That was really the angle I was coming at for this story.
Let’s move to “Spiral,” which finds you once again chronicling a monthly adventure of Peter Parker. Peter has changed quite a bit since you last wrote him. What do you find most interesting about his current status quo?
The most interesting thing for me is that he’s not the young adult/late teens Peter Parker. He’s more of a mid to late 20s Peter Parker. He’s a guy who’s much more comfortable in his role. He’s still having a lot of fun with being Spider-Man, but he’s not playing pranks and practical jokes the way that he would maybe when he was just a kid straight out of high school learning the ropes. He’s much more self confident in his career path, shall we say. [Laughs]
Then the other aspect that’s very different is that there’s a much greater emphasis on his technical expertise as a scientist than there was when I was writing him as primarily a kid still in college taking classes and learning things. He’s now a fully formed adult and functioning as an adult, which is different from the Peter Parker that I had written. He’s still very much the same guy though.
What’s it like working with “Amazing Spider-Man” writer Dan Slott and the editors of the Spider-Office?
Dan and I have had breakfast together. So we’ve talked and I really admire him and his work.
It’s intimidating to come onto a book where the current writers, both Dan and Christos Gage, are so good at what they do. It’s not like I’m coming in and getting to show off. [Laughs] I can’t really do that. I have to raise my game to compete with their game, and it’s really wonderful.
Your Spider-Man work has featured a lot of different genres, but you co-created the Punisher, Hammerhead, Tombstone and the mutant werewolf gangsters the Lobo Brothers. The underworld and organized crime has played a significant role in your past Spidey stories, and I understand it will play a large role in “Amazing Spider-Man: Spiral” as well.
Yes, the thing about Spider-Man is that he’s comfortable in two different kinds of super hero stories. He’s comfortable in the larger than life super villain stories, but he’s also very much a street level super hero. Some of my favorite Spider-Man stories when I was reading the book as a kid were the Crime Master stories, the Enforcer stories, and even the early Green Goblin stories were primarily street crime driven
That’s an area that I have a comfort level with, and I didn’t want to tread on things that were going on in the main book. I wanted to find an area that I thought might be a little bit under served deliberately by Dan because he wanted to focus on other things. I looked for an area that I could play in and make a little bit of a difference and I do love those underworld characters. Tombstone and Hammerhead are featured in this story-arc.
Thematically, what is it that appeals to you about pitting Spider-Man against organized and street crime?
You have to remember that Peter became Spider-Man primarily because of street level crime. He didn’t become Spider-Man to fight the Green Goblin or the Vulture. He became Spider-Man to catch the guy who killed his Uncle Ben. So he has a very personal connection to street crime.
The other aspect of it was something that came out of my time collaborating with John Romita, which was that John and I both really liked Chester Gould and Dick Tracy. One of the aspects of Steve Ditko’s run on Spider-Man was creating these really interesting looking criminals in addition to the super villains that he created. Crime Master is an iconic criminal and we hadn’t really seen anything quite like that at least up until the time I came onto the book. We had Kingpin obviously, but other than him there hadn’t been a lot of street level criminals.
So one of the things that John and I wanted to do at that point was to create a Dick Tracy-esque character that Spidey could go up against and that was Hammerhead, which brings you into the underworld. I respond to that and I think the readers respond to it too when it’s done in a colorful way.
In “Amazing Spider-Man: Spiral,” you’re chronicling a turbulent time in the New York City Underworld because a power vacuum has arisen in the aftermath of the downfalls of the Kingpin and the Goblin King, correct?
Yes, basically with the Kingpin and Goblin King out of the picture, there is no head of crime in New York City and there is a power vacuum. So all the different criminal overlords are vying for power. They’re criss-crossing each other’s turf and fighting it out, but the story is primarily focused around the precinct that police Captain Yuri Watanabe oversees. She becomes the focus of our story and is in fact what the story is primarily about. It’s about her dealing with this in her capacity as both a police captain and as the costumed vigilante, the Wraith.
I imagine there’s quite a bit of dramatic conflict there since those are contradictory roles.
Exactly. One of the things that fascinated me about Watanabe as Dan Slott developed and created her is that she’s a police captain, which means she’s been part of the police force for many years. She understands the institution and is clearly passionate and committed to it, yet she also goes outside the law to act as the Wraith. She’s clearly conflicted about this in the stories that Dan did and I thought it would be interesting to play with that conflict and see where that leads.
Is “Spiral” primarily from the Wraith’s perspective, then?
That’s Spider-Man, of course, but she’s the main supporting character. It centers on the Marvel U crime-world through the lens of the two of them; his friendship with Watanabe, and his kind of mentorship of the Wraith that the story is developed.
Let’s talk about the forces of the underworld that Spidey and the Wraith are up against in “Spiral.” You mentioned that both Tombstone and Hammerhead will be major players in the story.
Yes, Tombstone is in the first issue. Hammerhead is in the second issue, and it goes on from there. The idea is that several of the main crime families are vying for power and that brings them head to head against each other. In some cases, they’re just trying to expand their operations and in others they’re deliberately trying to take over other things. We’ll also discover that there’s some manipulation going on behind the scenes, which is affecting the whole battle.
Tombstone and Hammerhead are long established Marvel Universe crime lords. Will we also see some newer ones like Chinatown’s Mister Negative?
Yes, he’s in it. So is the Black Cat, and so are the Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime. [Laughs] There are quite a few people involved. Mister Negative is a character who I think the readers will discover to be very interested in what’s going on. He sees this chaos as an opportunity for him to make a move.
The double dealing, mayhem, and action of “Amazing Spider-Man: Spiral” is being brought to life by artist Carlo Barberi, who has a flair for dynamic and acrobatic characters like Spidey.
Yes, he really is a dynamic and exciting artist with a great sense of storytelling and page design. His stuff just explodes off the page and I think that works really well when you’re dealing with a street level crime story. You need an artist that’s really going to make it look as exciting as possible. Carlo is the guy to do that. His stuff is just terrific.
I’m having a great time with this story and I hope the readers will also have a great time. We’ve got covers by Art Adams, which I think is pretty awesome! And the book looks terrific.
“Spiral” is a five part story that runs through “Amazing Spider-Man” #16.1-20.1 Do you have any other Marvel or other comic work lined up after that or on the horizon that you can hint, tease, or talk about?
Nothing that’s really at a point where I can discuss. I have some ideas, which will hopefully flower too. [Laughs] Things can move slowly these days, but I’m having fun writing comics and I’m hoping to continue to do more. I love working at Marvel. I love working with my editors there.
I’m in a different phase of my life than I was in my early 20s. So I’m not eager to be everywhere and do everything. I want to pick and choose what I do and I love the opportunities here for me at Marvel. So hopefully there will be more to come.
Conway and Barberi’s “Spiral” begins in “Amazing Spider-Man” #16.1 this March.
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