FAN EXPO: Gage & Alberti on "X-Men / Spider-Man"

It's not easy being a superpowered teenager in the Marvel Universe. Not only do you have to deal with the horrors of puberty, but you've also got to contend with homicidal supervillains. And to top it off, you're probably fighting to save a public who despises you. Nobody knows this better than the original troubled teens, Spider-Man and the X-Men. Announced today at FanExpo in Toronto, the four-issue "X-Men/Spider-Man" miniseries from writer Christos Gage and artist Mario Albert will show readers the title characters share more than just similar adolescent experiences. CBR News spoke with Gage, Alberti and editor Steve Wacker about the book, which begins in November.

"X-Men/Spider-Man" is a miniseries that spans generations and features a variety of characters. "The first issue is called 'The Strangest Teens of All,' and it takes place in the Silver Age-- just after 'X-Men' #66," Christos Gage told CBR News. "The second is called 'Last Hunts and Massacres' and it features a black-costumed Spidey --still reeling from the events of 'Kraven's Last Hunt'-- meeting up with the X-Men towards the end of the 'Mutant Massacre.' Part 3, 'Clone Sagas,' stars the Ben Reilly Spider-Man and a bone-clawed Wolverine. And the concluding chapter occurs in the present day.

"The X-Men lineup changes, but we'll see certain characters-Wolverine, Cyclops, Iceman, Storm-more than once. Mario likes drawing Storm. In Italian, it turns out, and she's called Tempesta, which I think is really cool!"

In order to make life appropriately miserable for his protagonists, Gage has assembled a collection of villains from both Spider-Man and the X-Men's rogues' galleries. "Issue #1 pits our heroes against Kraven the Hunter and one of my favorites, The Blob--and wait'll you see Mario's rendition of these classic bad guys!" the writer said. "Issue #2 features all-out war with Sabretooth and the Marauders. Issue #3 brings the menace of Carnage and Mr. Sinister, who is a recurring figure. As for #4, I'll continue to play coy about that one."

Gage hopes each issue of "X-Men/Spider-Man" is fun and entertaining, but tone-wise, they will reflect the era that the particular issue is set in. "Issue #1 is a bit more of a light-hearted romp, capturing the tone you'd find in a Silver Age book. Issue #2 gets appropriately darker and grimmer, given events in the characters' lives at the time and the prevailing '80's ethic. Issue #3 reflects the tension and uncertainty of a time period which saw changes to many characters, such as Ben Reilly taking on the role of Spidey, Wolverine losing his Adamantium claws and so forth," Gage stated. "And to stay true to what's going on today, issue #4 will be late -- I'm kidding! KIDDING!"

Given the time gap, each issue of "X-men/Spider-Man" will be a stand-alone adventure but there is a common mystery running throughout the series. "It all comes together at the end in a way you'll have to read the book to find out about!" Gage said.

Since most of Gage's series deal with his title characters working together, and Spider-Man has never revealed his secret identity to the X-Men, most of Peter Parker's appearances in "X-Men/Spider-Man" will be in costume. "There won't be a lot of Pete in these issues. In fact, he won't show up at all in issue #3 -- that's Ben Reilly all the way!" Gage confirmed. "But we do get some out-of-costume Parker moments in #1, along with Gwen Stacy, Mary Jane, Harry Osborn and Flash Thompson, as they and the original X-Men (in their civilian clothes) all wind up at the Coffee Bean--and hijinks ensue!"

Gage also feels that the similarities and differences between Spider-Man and the X-Men create an interesting character dynamic for the story. "They have a similar outsider's perspective, and are persecuted by authorities, as opposed to heroes like the Avengers, who are respected and looked up to," Gage remarked. "But Spidey is a loner, whereas the X-Men are like a family, and I think the X-Men see themselves as part of a larger cause-the betterment of mutantkind-whereas for Spidey it's more the 'power and responsibility' thing--the idea that one man can and should make a difference."

"Uncanny" and "amazing" are words used often to describe the X-Men and Spider-Man, and Gage thinks they're also suitable terms for describing the work of his collaborator on the project, Italian artist Mario Alberti. "Working with Mario is a blast," the writer said. "I knew the first time I laid eyes on his art that the book would be visually stunning, and it is, but it's surpassed my expectations. The level of detail and the lush European flavor he brings is just amazing--I think people will really be blown away. What came as a surprise to me is how fast he is! And his work ethic is unbelievable-the research he's done into the time periods goes above and beyond the call of duty. All that detail isn't just there to look pretty; every line on the page exists to enhance the story. I feel very privileged to be a part of his first big U.S. project."

Alberti has provided covers for some DC Comics titles like "Aquaman" and "Shadowpact," but "X-Men/Spider-Man" marks his first time creating interior pages for a major American publisher. Over in Europe, though, the artist has been part of a number of highly acclaimed projects. "I have been working on comics since 1991, first in Italy for the publisher Sergio Bonelli on the series 'Nathan Never' and after for Humanoides Associes, a French publisher, with my series 'Morgana' (co-written with Luca Enoch) and Kurt Busiek's 'Redhand,' both sci-fi stories," Alberti told CBR News. "I've always been an avid reader of science fiction! I have also recently released a ghost story for Soleil, Mortemer, written by Valerie Mangin."

The opportunity to draw some of Marvel Comics' most famous characters has Alberti over the moon with joy. "The thing came quite out of the blue for me, I never seriously thought I could ever work on superheroes before and after getting in touch with Marvel I simply asked it to be Spider-Man: as a teenager I was totally addicted to the character and actually drawing him is a kid's dream come true," Alberti said. "So, besides working on some of the best known characters world-wide which surely has its own appeal, there's this thing about my love as a kid for the genre that really is coming back, unexpectedly even more than I could imagine, and it makes it one blast of an experience."

Alberti learned how to draw comics from copying those he loved. In the '70s, he was reading and loving Steve Ditko and John Romita, Sr.'s work on "Amazing Spider-Man." "So I think you can easily guess who Spider-Man is to me!" Alberti remarked. "The issues in the mini will be based in different periods in time and the character changes and evolves so much. The thing I love the most though is the fact that Peter Parker is really a kid fighting off and finding his way in a world of adults, truly believing that somewhere around a corner the future looks brighter no matter what and even if he doesn't know. This thing is perfectly visualized in the way he slings on his webbings more than anything else: everything is bigger, taller and possibly meaner but he can zig-zag through it holding to the thinnest line and joking about it.

"For me this is the most intriguing, enjoyable and the most difficult thing to visualize--and it has to be there not only when he's actually doing it but also when he's in plain clothes. I have to admit I haven't read much of Spider-Man since I was a kid (but I'm catching up) so I can't say much but I guess this must be the hardest part for the writers too, especially now that Peter Parker has grown up!"

Alberti is also having a blast drawing the X-Men in "X-Men/Spider-Man," and finds the chance to draw teams from different eras of the group's history to be one of the more enjoyable aspects of this assignment. "Not only for the visuals of the X-Men but for the whole background they move into: I'm watching old movies, reading or re-reading comics to try and get the right feeling for each of the time periods. Researching fashion,

architecture -- there's so much that have changed through these years and it takes a lot but is one of the most rewarding things in the end," the said. "To get the feel of each team I'm trying to read as many back issues as I can, there's no shortcut unfortunately--you have to wait for that 'click' when a character becomes real to get it right. At least, I did my best to! Plus I get to draw all the outfits! No chance to get bored for sure."

Readers familiar with Alberti's European work or his DC Comics covers already have an idea of what "X-Men/Spider-Man" will look like. "The style I'm using is really my usual, if there's any such thing," he said. "Even if I always try to understand how that particular story wants to be told and try to adjust my drawings accordingly I still remain myself within and that puts up some insurmountable and sometimes frustrating borders. I think I can consider myself basically a mainstream European comic author and that may give some sense of 'news' for the American readers that are mostly used to different things, especially colors-wise. My recipe is: green pencils, markers, sometimes graphite pencil, Photoshop, lots of enthusiasm, passion and a pinch of luck."

Alberti finds the rhythm and storytelling in Christos Gage's scripts makes them not only enjoyable to bring to life but to read as well. "But the thing that I love the most is that he really is capable of nailing a character with just one line, everyone says what he/she would have said and in that time frame! Kudos, Chris!" Alberti stated.

"Spider-Man/X-Men" came about primarily because editor Steve Wacker and former Marvel editor Andy Schmidt were fans of Alberti's work. "I don't remember the exact chain of events, but soon after I got handed the Spidey books I was talking to former X-Editor Andy Schmidt about the art of Mario Alberti, which we were both fans of, and somewhere in there the idea of doing a team-up mini we would co-edit fell into place," Steve Wacker explained. "Chris then came up with a solid pitch for a story and next thing we knew--Andy left Marvel! Somehow, though, the idea of Spidey teaming up with the X-Men survived."

Teaming some of Marvel's most popular characters together for a miniseries may seem like a natural thing to do, but Wacker and Schmidt wanted the series to be special and standout, and the editor feels Gage and Alberti have made "X-Men/Spider-Man" a series that does just that. "Mario is just flat out talented. He's penciling, inking and coloring this thing. He would have lettered it, too, if I didn't stop him," Wacker said. "So we all wanted something that would show him off to a relatively new American audience. Chris Gage really did the heavy lifting and came in with a solid game plan for how to tell a big story showing off the histories of both Spidey and the X-guys. Chris knows both sets of characters really well and found a throughline that fits perfectly into established history."

"X-Men/Spider-Man" has proven to be an enjoyable experience for both Gage and Alberti and the creators can't wait until November when readers get a chance to see the first fruits of their labors. "This is a labor of love for all of us, especially Steve, who turns into a drooling fanboy whenever new pages come in. I'm always a drooling fanboy, so I just drool even more," Gage said. "If even a fraction of the fun we're having working on this book comes across, readers are in for a real treat!"

"I wish to thank Steve Wacker for all his support and enthusiasm; he's making my adventure at Marvel the best!" Alberti added. "Have fun reading it! Half as much as I'm having doing it should be enough already!"

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