HeroesCon: Putting Spidey Through "The Gauntlet"

When the Brand New Day era of Marvel's "Amazing Spider-Man" began, the titular Wall-crawler suddenly found himself adrift in a sea of strange new villains like Mister Negative, Menace, and Freak. Surely, at some point Spidey must have wished for the familiarity and comfort of his classic batch of rogues. But over the past several months, some foes like Venom, Norman Osborn and the Shocker have returned to the pages of "Amazing Spider-Man," and the months ahead will see the return of even more characters well known characters like Doctor Octopus and the Chameleon.

At yesterday's Pint o' C.B panel at the Heroes Con convention, Marvel announced "The Gauntlet," an overarching story in "Amazing Spider-Man" that details how Peter Parker deals with the sudden onslaught of his classic enemies. CBR News spoke with series editor Steve Wacker and writers Mark Waid & Marc Guggenheim about "The Gauntlet," which begins in November's "Amazing Spider-Man" #611.

"The Gauntlet" isn't one giant story arc, but actually several smaller ones that connect together to tell one enormous tale. "We're taking our cue from the way Marvel has done things like Dark Reign or The Initiative storyline, which spun out of 'Civil War,' where you give a sort of an über-arc name to all the stories that come out," Steve Wacker told CBR News. "From Peter's point of view, all these villains are coming back, one after the other. Is there a connection and where does that question takes Spider-Man is what 'The Gauntlet' is all about."

In "The Gauntlet," Spider-Man's foes will wage war on him, but readers won't see straight up battles with all of Spidey's foes attacking at once. In this storyline, Spider-Man's rogues are fighting a war of attrition. "The emphasis is on reintroducing the 'classic' Spidey villains at a constant pace that will wear Peter down to a nub," Mark Waid told CBR News. "Spidey's enemies, when they work in concert, have a bad tendency to rush him all at once, forgetting how hard it is for a human rhino to not accidentally trip over metal octopus limbs (or whatever). Not that I'm confirming they're working in concert, but if they were, hmm, who'd be arranging that...?"

Spider-Man's inability to quit in the face of overwhelming odds would normally serve him well in the sort of scenario Waid describes, but the Webslinger is not ready for the physical and emotional trauma that awaits him in "The Gauntlet." "It's going to be very difficult on him. That's why we chose the title 'The Gauntlet.' It's very specific," Marc Guggenheim told CBR. "We really want to put him through the ringer and knock him down to the point where he's almost dead. So it's unrelenting in terms of what's facing Spider-Man. I'm not going to pretend that this is something you've never seen in the pages of Spider-Man, but I don't think it's ever been done on this scale and with this level of mercilessness on the part of the villains and ambition on the part of the creative team."

Mark Waid kicks off "The Gauntlet" in November with a story that brings back a foe who first crossed Spidey's path in 1964's "Amazing Spider-Man" #9. "It's the return of Electro, amped up -- 'amped up'! I slay me! -- in a way we've never really seen before," Waid said. "And before Spidey can shut him down -- if Spidey can shut him down -- Electro's liable to destroy one of the most familiar things/people/places (no hints!) in the Marvel Universe."

Marc Guggenheim follows Waid's story with a tale that brings back one of Spider-Man's stronger but not necessarily most intimidating enemies. "My story features the return and revamping of a villain with a horn and a really dorky costume, but that's going to change," Guggenheim said. "My goal here was to take the Rhino - a great character who has become one of the lamest villains in Spider-Man's rogues gallery -- and make him as serious and deadly as possible. I want to give this character the same kind of love that Joe Kelly gave Hammerhead last year."

In Guggenheim's story, Spider-Man's confrontation with the Rhino will have him seeing double - literally. "I can tell you this story will feature a brand new version of the character as well as the original version," Guggenheim explained. "So basically it's a battle between old and new and Spidey is caught in the middle."

Guggenheim's tale will also examine the initial threat "The Gauntlet" poses to the supporting cast of "Amazing Spider-Man." "The 'Who is Ben Reilly?' arc I'm doing in October focuses on a villain going after Peter Parker and that includes his loved ones. After ['Amazing Spider-Man Annual' #36, which hits stores in July] we may find out that the number of people we consider as Spider-Man's loved ones is actually a much larger group than it currently is. So if anyone goes after them in "The Gauntlet," there's quite a few targets to choose from."

The tone of Guggenheim's tale will certainly be brutal but there's an extra dimension to it as well. "My hope is that this story will be more emotional then what is typically the norm," the writer said. "I'm going for more of a tear-jerker with this arc. I need to see if I can make people cry without resorting to amputating a member of the supporting cast."

"The Gauntlet" will feature artwork by both veteran Spider-man pencillers and new blood, including Marcos Martin, Paolo Rivera, Mike McKone, Barry Kitson, Paul Azaceta (who pencils Mark Waid's story), and John Romita, Jr. "It's going to look beautiful," Steve Wacker said.

"The Gauntlet" is scheduled to run well into 2010, and will encompass shorter arcs as well as the larger "tent-pole" Spidey stories in the vein of "Character Assassination" and "American Son." "It will probably go into the early spring," Wacker said. "Individual events will start coalescing and the walls of Peter Parker's life will start to close in on him."

"What connects all these stories, apart from the toll they take on Peter and Spider-Man, is the fact that we're building up to the next big arc," added Guggenheim. "I have to be vague out fear of spoiling the other writers' work, but you'll see that all of this is laying the foundation for an even bigger more ambitious arc to come. Speaking as someone who's been in the meetings, knows where we're headed, and knows what the arc is after 'The Gauntlet', I think people are going to be very excited."

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