Being part of a team tasked with bringing readers the thrice monthly adventures of Marvel Comics' Amazing Spider-Man means you're a very busy writer. That's definitely the case with Spider-Man Braintrust member Marc Guggenheim, and in the coming months readers will start to see the fruits of his labors. CBR News spoke with Guggenheim about his October-shipping Spider-Man books: “Amazing Spider-Man” #574 and “Amazing Spider-Man Annual” #1, as well his long terms plans for the ongoing title like the 2009 arc “Character Assassination” and the developing Kraven family subplot.
“Amazing Spider-Man” #574, which features art by Barry Kitson, hits stores October 22. It's a special issue focusing on long time Spider-Man supporting cast member Flash Thompson. “We publish three times a month; sometimes more if we do a special or an annual, and when you're publishing at that frequency I think that gives you some leeway to spend an issue trying something new,” Guggenheim told CBR News. “The whole idea behind this issue is that it's very much a Spider-Man story in so far as Spider-Man looms large throughout the story because he looms so large in Flash's life, but it's a departure in so far as Spider-Man doesn't appear physically anywhere in the issue and neither does Peter Parker. Really it's all about Flash.”
Guggenheim finds Flash Thompson's Spider-Man fandom to be one of the character's more interesting traits, and a welcome evolution of the character. “The truth of the matter is Flash started out very two dimensional. He was a bully. That's all he was,” Guggenheim remarked. “Then Stan Lee added this interesting layer of Flash being this guy who hates Peter Parker but was Spider-Man's biggest fan. He started a Spider-Man fan club and people were laughing at him because Spider-Man was sort of reviled throughout the city at that time. The duality of that was fascinating. Especially when you ask yourself, 'Why?’ What was it about Spider-Man that Flash found so compelling? Then you look at some of the stuff in his history, like his abusive father and his military experience. Like a lot of characters with such longevity, he's gone down some roads that I don't think were entirely successful for his character but I think that's part and parcel for these long standing characters. I think the core notion of Flash being Spider-Man's biggest fan is really interesting, though.”
Longtime Spidey fans know that Flash Thompson's original military experience came from serving in the Vietnam War. “Amazing Spider-Man” #574 finds the character once again serving his country, this time in a nebulous Iraq conflict. “We reference the fact that Flash has seen action before but we don't get specific in terms of which war it was and when it was,” Guggenheim explained. “It was Steve Wacker, actually, who originally pitched the idea that perhaps Flash got pressed into service again and that resonated with all of us. We all thought the idea of him serving in Iraq was fascinating. It was an opportunity to place one of our characters in the middle of real world events in a very organic way.
“If the story is really about anything, it's about what made Flash want to volunteer in the first place and what motivates his decisions on the battlefield.”
Guggenheim chose to tell the tale of Flash's time in Iraq through a soldier's perspective rather than a political one. “I really bent over backwards to make this story apolitical -- even going so far as making sure the song Flash is listening to in the opening pages of the issue avoids the lyrics that could arguably be seen as being critical of the war,” Guggenheim stated. “We had talked about having the issue take place in Afghanistan to eliminate or sidestep any political issues whatsoever. That was tempting, but I had written and choreographed some action for the urban fighting being done in Iraq. And in many ways, I was really thinking of all the soldiers fighting in Iraq because the war in Afghanistan is sort of politically non-controversial. When any of the current wars are being depicted in TV, films or comic books it's always with a nod towards Afghanistan and I was like, 'But what about the soldiers fighting in Iraq?' They don't get much exposure because no one wants to touch the hot potato, but this is really a very, very apolitical book.”
Guggenheim wanted Flash's Iraq experiences to feel as authentic as possible, and undertook a good deal of research, something he was used to from other projects. “I did an awful lot of research for the 'Hyperion Vs. Nighthawk' series, which was set in Darfur, and the research for this [Flash Thompson] story certainly was on a level of that magnitude,” Guggenheim explained. “I had to do a lot of research just because I didn't know really anything about modern day combat. My goal here was to capture as much as I possibly could the realism of the very specific house-to-house combat being done right now in Iraq. We had a former Army medic, Jeff Guerin, help us out with research. Jeff’s a comic fan himself and he was very generous with his time to make sure that this issue had as much verisimilitude as possible.
“I also did a lot of my own research, including consulting a phenomenal book called 'House to House,' which I highly recommend to people if they want to get any sort of sense of things from a soldier's eye perspective,” Guggenheim said. “That book was a big influence as I was writing and it’s thoroughly eye-opening. It really gives you a sense of what these men and women are signing on for when they enlist and it’s anything but pretty.
“Moreover, the amazing work Barry’s been doing really adds to the verisimilitude. It’s an overstatement these days to say that an artist is ‘doing the work of his career’ and that hyperbole sounds really hyperbolic when you consider this is just a single issue, but I really feel like Barry is showing a side of himself with this very non-superheroic story that will really impress people.”
“Amazing Spider-Man” #574 is the first time Flash Thompson has appeared in the series in a while, but readers can expect to see more of Spidey's biggest fan in the months ahead. “This story sets up his return to the Spider-Man supporting cast,” Guggenheim confirmed. “We have a very clear plan of what he'll be doing and what's going to happen with his character once he returns. So it all begins with this issue.”
Guggenheim’s next book, “Amazing Spider-Man Annual” #1, hits stores one week after “Amazing” #574. In the Annual, Guggenheim and artist Mike McKone give readers a definitive answer to a question they've been wondering since the 2007 Spider-Man “Swing Shift” special, “Who is the red-headed superheroine known as Jackpot?”
“That’s the mission statement,” Guggenheim stated. “At the end of my first 'Amazing' arc, there was this sort of cryptic ending where Jackpot tells Spider-Man her name is Sarah Ehret. Spider-Man then goes to see Sarah Ehret and she's basically like, 'I have no idea what you're talking about.' Dan Slott then picked up something from that in his Paper Doll arc. In that story there's a moment with Sarah Ehret that will make more sense once you read the Annual. There are a lot of little hints we've been dropping and the Annual explains 95% of them.”
Guggenheim's Annual also serves as a jumping on point for new readers wanting to check out “Amazing Spider-Man.” “If you look at the Annuals of the 1980s, the ones I grew up on, they really accomplished two things,” Guggenheim explained. “They left you feeling like you saw a story of some importance; something big enough happened to justify the existence of the annual, but at the same time I think a successful annual sort of exists on its own terms. There was a feeling that the story didn't occur out of time much as it existed on its own ‘Annual time,’ if you will. So people who aren't reading this book regularly, you can come in relatively cold and still be able to follow what's going on and still get a really good Spider-Man story.”
Walter Declun, a corrupt businessman who menaced Wolverine in Guggenheim's first Marvel story arc “Vendetta,” which ran through “Wolverine” #42-48, returns to make life miserable for Spider-Man and Jackpot in “Amazing Spider-Man Annual” #1. Many readers are wondering how Declun can return since his encounter with Wolverine at the end of “Vendetta” looked to be fatal. “We certainly cover that,” Guggenheim revealed. “I wrote the Annual during the Writers Strike last year and, at that time, I was really interested in the notion of corporate amorality and these super-rich people who seem to exist outside any sort of conception of right and wrong. The only thing they care about is their bottom line and I was intrigued by that. Is amorality immoral? I wanted to see if there was a villain in comic books that could reflect this corporate greed; this idea of 'I'm not breaking any laws really but I am hurting people.'”
In January of 2009, Guggenheim also gets to bring back some of the elements from his recent story in the “Spider-Man: Brand New Day-Extra” one-shot in his next “Amazing” story arc, the five-part “Character Assassination.” “Like 'New Ways to Die,' 'Character Assassination' is designed to be this widescreen, big action, explosive style story,” Guggenheim said. “It's as far away as you can get from 'Amazing Spider-Man' #574, which is a relatively quiet story. We went into the winter 2008 Spider-Man Summit thinking that a lot of our long-running story lines will have been going for about a year by the time this arc would see publication, so we basically made it our mission to blow up some of those stories or bring them in for a landing. Specifically, I'm talking about the Mayoral Election, the mystery of Menace, and the Spider Tracer Killings. All of them come to some sort of fruition over the course of 'Character Assassination.'”
Next year will also see some plot elements start to spout from the seeds Guggenheim planted in his last “Amazing Spider-man” arc, “Kraven's First Hunt,” which introduced Ana Kravinoff, the daughter of Spider-Man's deceased foe Kraven the Hunter. In the arc’s final issue, readers got a glimpse of Ana's mother. “That wasn't meant to be an arc featuring everybody in the Kravinoff family,” Guggenheim explained. “It was intended to introduce Ana and her mother and get you thinking about the Kravinoffs as a family unit again. When our plans come to fruition in about two years you'll be able to look back on this arc and say 'Oh wow that's when all this stuff stated.’”
Guggenheim is having a lot of fun writing “Amazing Spider-Man,” and part of the reason is the assignment allows him to tackle such diverse stories. “One thing that I'm really proud of is that there's a lot of range here -- The Jackpot Annual is a very different story than the Flash Thompson issue, which is very different from 'Character Assassination.' They're all different types of stories,” the writer said. “I'm really proud that my Spider-Man work has such variety to it.”