Election Day is pretty exciting for most people, but for Spider-Man, it can be downright crazy. The "Character Assassination" arc of Marvel's "Amazing Spider-Man" is at its halfway point, and if the story so far is any indication, the day New York City elects its new Mayor is going to be one for the history books. CBR News spoke with writer Marc Guggenheim about some of the storyline's bombshells, as well as what's in store for Spidey and the rest of the cast for the remainder of the arc.
One of the biggest revelations came in "Amazing" #585, part two of "Character Assassination," wherein Peter Parker's friend Carlie Cooper confronted Peter's roommate, Vin Gonzales, because she believed he was connected to a number of serial murders known as the Spider-Tracer Killings. Carlie found a stash of Spider-Tracers, Spidey's signature tracking devices, stashed underneath Vin's bed, and she got an even bigger surprise when Vin's partner, officer Alan O'Neil, admitted that he and an associate(s) gave Vin the Spider-Tracers.
"The Vin and O'Neil partnership is going to undergo some major changes, and you'll see that in a big way in issue #587," Marc Guggenheim told CBR News. "Vin's storyline sort of talks to Harry Osborn's, because both characters are friends of Peter Parker. Harry sort of fell off the wagon years ago and is struggling to not fall off again. And now we see Vin at the beginning of a path that could similarly lead him to a very dark place. Will he have the strength to move off that path? You'll have to read the remainder of the arc to find out."
Vin and Alan's involvement in the Spider-Tracer killings was as shocking, to say the least, and even a bit creepy. Guggenheim credits the scene's impact to his collaborator, artist John Romita, Jr. "One of the joys of working on this arc has been relying on John's 'acting ability,'" the writer said. "He does big, widescreen action so well, you actually forget that he's incredibly good -- if not even better -- at creating these quiet moments of drama. I wrote a lot of talking heads for him in this arc and I know that he doesn't really enjoy doing them, but he does them so well. There are a lot of moments in the story that play with little or no dialog. I know that puts more responsibility on his shoulders, but I do it because I know he can pull it off. In that scene where Alan says, 'Surprise,' I wanted it to feel like you had a Leopold and Loeb moment between him and Vin, and John pulled that off brilliantly."
Of course, readers still don't know the whole truth about the murders. "There's something more complicated going on," Guggenheim confirmed. "There are three different revelations to be had in this arc: there's the Spider-Tracer Killings, Menace's identity, and the outcome of the mayoral election. With respect to Menace's identity and the Mayoral Election, there's a finite number of outcomes. With the Spider-Tracer Killings, I have the opportunity to tease out information a little bit slower, because it's not just one revelation, it's a series of revelations. As it goes deeper and deeper, there will be plenty of more surprises and revelations."
Guggenheim said readers should envision the truth about the Spider-Tracer Killings as being similar to a Russian Matryoshka, a large doll that has several smaller dolls inside it. "The truth will keep coming out and coming out," the writer said. "While that storyline reaches an ending in issue #588, the final part of 'Character Assassination,' its effects are felt beyond that issue. You get closure, but there's a coda to the arc that will be seen in 'Amazing Spider-Man: Extra' #3."
The question of Menace's identity has already been resolved. In "Amazing Spider-Man" #585, the Green Goblin-esque villain was revealed to be Harry Osborn's fiancee Lily Hollister. In "Amazing" #586," a special interlude chapter of "Character Assassination" that's in stores now, readers learned that Lilly's transformation into Menace was the result of her accidental exposure to an experimental form of Norman Osborn's Goblin Formula. But the seeds for Lily Hollister's villainous turn were planted years before by her father, Mayoral candidate Bill Hollister.
"In comics, because there's things like Goblin Formulas and magic potions and the like, there can be a temptation to make your life easier as a writer by blaming all of your character's problems on outside forces, as opposed to grounding it in character and the person's actual personality," Guggenheim explained. "And one of the things we'd always talked about in conceiving the Menace/Lily character was that she had these deep-seated father issues. The Goblin Formula certainly brought out the worst in her, but something had to have been there before for the formula to have anything to bring out.
"One of the things I wanted to bring out with this issue was that she had all these different sides to her personality and you didn't know which version of Lily you were going to get from moment to moment. By the end of issue #586, Harry is left with the discovery that the woman he's fallen in love is perhaps not as firmly rooted in sanity as he originally thought, and now he's potentially stuck with her. Perhaps that's an experience a lot of readers can relate to."
Lily's motivation as Menace is to do whatever she can to get her father elected Mayor of New York City, which begs the question: now that Election Day is here, what's going to become of Menace? "I don't want to spoil anything that happens in issue #588, but we do leave her in a very interesting place," Guggenheim said. "I think it's the next step in her evolution as a character."
As with others who've been exposed to the Goblin Formula, Lily's sanity was severely compromised, but the batch she was exposed to came with a new side effect; she doesn't become Menace by putting on a mask, her goblin-like appearance is the result of a physical transformation. "This is was something that was also discussed by the 'Spidey Web Heads.' I want to say it was Bob Gale's idea and it came about because we were trying to solve a specific problem," Guggenheim explained. "Part of it was how do you explain that the masculine looking Menace is actually the very feminine Lily Hollister? And the other part of it was also how do we further remove ourselves from the Green Goblin?"
Obviously, discovering his fiancee was a psychopathic supervillain created by his father's evil legacy had a profound impact on Harry Osborn. "With every character, you need a hook to find your way into how to write them, and with Harry, I've always tried to write him as a recovering addict," Guggenheim said. "And I'm not just talking about his addiction to heroin, I'm also talking about the temptation of the addiction to the whole Goblin identity. And I think, as with most forms of addictions, your resolve to stay clean and sober gets shaken in proportion to the emotional upheaval that you're going through at that moment. So we end issue #586 on a cliffhanger that asks, 'Is this going to push Harry off the wagon?' Not off the wagon into heroin, but off the wagon and into the whole Goblin of it all."
Things became intense between Harry and Lily. At one point, she touched him and Harry told her to take her hand away. When she didn't, he slapped her. In response, Lily backhanded Harry and practically knocked him across the room. The scene was jarring for some readers. "I tend to stay off the message boards, but my editor Steve Wacker had forwarded me a post from one of the boards that suggested this was a controversial moment," Guggenheim said. "However, when I wrote it, it never struck me as potentially controversial, partly because I think it's a very different circumstance than something like the moment when Hank Pym hit The Wasp. And it didn't strike me as an abusive moment, especially when you consider what Lily does to Harry. I think she can more than take care of herself. So it's always very interesting to me to see how people react to something that I wrote. In the case of Harry slapping Lily, it just struck me as a natural reaction on Harry's part, just as his vomiting at one point struck me as a natural reaction.
"The thing about Harry is like, 'Once a Goblin, always a Goblin,' in the sense that Harry continues to struggle with his dark side and his temper. If you're going to write that kind of character, he's going to have those kinds of moments. You even saw one of those moments in issue #585. With Harry, his darkness and rage is always just underneath the surface because that's the demon he's constantly struggling with and in certain moments that comes out."
Lily's confessions about Menace may have temporarily aggravated Harry's temper and even caused him to consider becoming the Green Goblin again, but the younger Osborn still loves his fiancee. "He was prepared to spend the rest of his life with her, and I think there is a part of him that is still in love with her and that's what makes it a complicated and difficult situation and a dramatic story," Guggenheim said.
Whatever choices Harry ends up making, they won't be intentionally evil ones. At the end of the day, Guggenheim says, Harry is Peter Parker's best friend and for that relationship to work there's got to be some good in the man. "There's a scene with Harry and Peter at the end of the arc that basically explains why Peter is friends with Harry," the writer said. "I have to give Steve Wacker a lot of credit for recognizing the potential in that scene. Steve saw it as a golden moment, after decades of the Peter-Harry friendship, to explain why the two of them are friends and what Peter sees in Harry. So that's one of the cool things we're building up to.
"In many ways, this interlude issue is sort of a pivotal point for 'Character Assassination.' It's the midpoint of the arc and it's not where it shifts focus, but rather, where you're going to start to see an added layer to the arc. The Trojan Horse to get people in here was that we're giving you all these revelations: Menace's identity, who wins the Mayoral Election, and the truth about the Spider-Tracer Killings. What we're really doing with this issue though is setting up what's inside the Trojan Horse, which is a real story about the Peter-Harry-Lily triangle. I'm really excited about where we ultimately end up."
On sale now is "Amazing Spider-Man" #587, which picks up "Character Assassination" with the fate of Spider-Man himself. When readers last saw Spidey at the end of issue #585, the Webslinger received a major beat down at the hands of Menace and was being arrested by the NYPD as the prime suspect in the Spider-Tracer Killings. Guggenheim and artist Marcos Martin teased Spidey's capture by the police last year in a prelude to "Character Assassination" that appeared in "Amazing Spider-Man: Extra" #1.
Guggenheim explained, "There's overlap here. One of the things I love doing when it serves the needs of a story is to tell the same moment or scene twice, but from a different perspective. In 'Extra,' you saw this little self-contained story set at a particular moment in the future and now we've finally caught up to that moment. You'll get to see how everything plays out but the way we did it is; you're not going to feel like half the issue is stuff you've already read in 'Extra.' One of the things we are doing though is making the story from 'Extra' available for free on Marvel.com, so if you didn't pick it up, and shame on you if you didn't, you can check it out in full online when you read #587."
With Spider-Man in police custody, he's going to be spending some time behind bars, but the remaining chapters of "Character Assassination" will unfold in a number of locales. "I could have gotten two or three whole issues out of Spider-Man in prison but for good or bad, and I think it's good, we really burn through a lot of story in these last two issues," Guggenheim stated. "It's a lot like the second season finale of 'Battlestar Galactica.' There were moments in that episode where you thought, 'Oh my god! They can spend a whole season on this!' and then, boom! They were onto something else and then something else. So there's a lot of story left to tell and we're just gonna chew through it all and hopefully people are on board for a total roller coaster ride."
Spider-Man and his supporting cast are in for some pretty big shocks as "Character Assassination" comes to a close. "One of the moments that I'm happy about and want to tease is J. Jonah Jameson's reaction to Spider-Man's arrest," Guggenheim said. "You know that's a moment we had to have fun with."
"Amazing Spider-Man" #587 is on sale now from Marvel Comics.