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Joe Kelly Talks Amazing Spider-Man

by  in Comic News Comment
Joe Kelly Talks Amazing Spider-Man
“Amazing Spider-Man” #577 on sale next week

When Hammerhead burst onto the scene way back in 1972 in “Amazing Spider-Man” #113, the villain’s affection for the clothes, style, and language of a 1920s gangster made him the butt of a number of the Spidey’s jokes. But in 2008’s “Amazing Spider-Man” #576, by writer Joe Kelly and artist Chris Bachalo, the Marvel Comics web-slinger learned that fighting the new and improved Hammerhead is a serious matter — deadly serious. CBR News spoke with Kelly about the issue (which is in stores now), its developments, and what fans can expect from the writer’s next Spider-Man adventure.

One reason Hammerhead has gone from joke to force-to-be-reckoned with is because the crime lord Mr. Negative outfitted the villain with an entire skeleton made of super strong metal. Another reason is that Hammerhead has adopted a new perspective and outlook. “For me, it’s fun to see Hammerhead with the sort of Jimmy Cagney gangster look, but I don’t think a new audience member coming to Spider-Man for the first time gets those references,” Joe Kelly told CBR. “Now the definition of a gangster has a wider scope. So I wanted to take a look at him and see if we can make him a little scarier and step away from the other elements. So mentally he’s been sort of broken of that ‘20s gangster stuff.

“In that little Brand New Day story [July’s ‘Spider-Man: Bran New Day-Extra’] that Chris and I did, the idea was to strip [Hammerhead] down to his most basic attributes and show that he spent most of his life pretending to be something that he really isn’t. So once he had the revelation about that Mr. Negative says, ‘Do what you do best, which is break things,’ and do that for me. So that’s his mindset. Basically he’s a missile now. Point him at something and he’ll take care of it.”

Hammerhead embarked on his first mission for Mr. Negative in the first part of Kelly and Bachalo’s story, “Amazing Spider-Man” #575, setting out to recruit an army for his employer from the ranks of New York’s street gangs. Earlier in the issue Peter Parker meet teenager Harold “Dunk” Winslow and his little brother Anthony, who’s a whiz at science. Spider-Man and Hammerhead’s paths intersected when the villain tries to press-gang Harold and Anthony into his army. Unfortunately for Spider-Man, Anthony was greatly impressed at the raw power wielded by Hammerhead. In “Amazing Spider-Man” #576, the Web-slinger and hammerhead faced off in a physical battle for the hearts and minds of Anthony and several of his youthful friends. Spider-Man ended up beating Hammerhead, but whether or not he “saved” the youth is still unclear.

Page from “Amazing Spider-Man” #577

“Anthony’s brother Harold gets it. He wasn’t so hip to the whole gang thing even before Hammerhead got involved, he was just sort of going along with it, but now that he’s seen how bad things can be he’s dodged it completely,” Kelly explained. “Anthony, I don’t know. I think he’s kind of at risk. He’s really easily swayed by displays of power and unfortunately I think that’s kind of endemic of a lot of kids. It doesn’t matter the situation, they respond to stuff like who’s strongest or who kicks the most butt. I don’t think Anthony is equipped yet with the tools to differentiate between someone who’s strong and someone who’s good.”

It’s possible that “Amazing Spider-Man” readers will get more of Harold and Anthony’s story in future issues. “On one hand, they were sort of engineered just for this story, but I did kind of like them,” Kelly remarked. “So it would be nice if they popped up down the road.”

Joe Kelly also hopes to continue Hammerhead’s story in future issues of “Amazing.” “There is a long story for Hammerhead and if it plays out the way I’m hoping, you’ll see that things like loyalty are still important to him,” the writer explained. “You’ll also see there are elements of logic about how he conducts himself that will make perfect sense to Hammerhead and anybody who understands his ‘code.’ I think that code is still alive and still a strong part of the character.

“I know the guys in the office were happy with how we played Hammerhead and I’m definitely digging him as a character,” Kelly continued. “So I’m really hoping he’s going to come back more and if he does we’ve got a longer story for him that we’ve already talked about.”

Hammerhead gave Spider-Man a pretty memorable beating in “Amazing” #575 and #576, but if and when the villain next appears in the title, he’ll be even more dangerous. “He’s going to have to lick his wounds a little bit but he’s got a pretty strong backing at the moment. Next time we see him he’ll be stronger,” Kelly teased. “The design defects that were part of his downfall in this story won’t be there next time. And I think because even though in this story he was working with Mr. Negative, he was trying to step out of the box a little bit. He had an idea and was trying to pursue it. And next time I don’t think that will be the case at all. Next time he’s going to be like a missile.”

“Amazing Spider-Man” #576 on sale now

Hammerhead’s scheme and many of the other gang elements in “Amazing” #575-576 were inspired by real stories and experiences related to Kelly himself. “Obviously we’re working in the realm of superheroes but whenever I can, I try to put in things that I know about or experienced first hand,” he said. “And my wife is a guidance councilor. Over the course of many years, she’s told me lots of stories about how she’s dealt with gangs, gang members and their families. Those stories get tucked into the back of my head and I pick at and hold on to them. She was the one that actually told me this idea that down in South America a gang recruitment technique is that if someone isn’t going to join a gang you go after the members of their family until they do. So to that degree I had a little bit of offhanded research. I found it so horrifying that I had to use it somewhere.”

In “Amazing Spider-Man” #575, Kelly introduced a new supporting character who just might have an impact on the lives of both Peter Parker and Spider-Man. Her name is Norah Winters and she works with Peter as a reporter for Ben Urich’s newspaper Front Line. “She’s a total pain in the butt,” Casey laughed. “She’ll say anything she has absolutely no filter. She strikes me as the sort of down and dirty street journalist who can mix it up with anyone. Calling her fearless may be stretching it but she hasn’t had any cause to think she can’t accomplish what she’s setting out to do. In #576 she saw the opportunity to get out of the Community-Events pages and do something a little more meaningful and she decided to go for it with both feet. So she’s going to get herself into plenty of trouble and be a real asset to Front Line.”

On the final page of “Amazing” #576, Norah foreshadowed her own return to the title when she told Peter Parker that she’d take him out to celebrate the success of their story on Hammerhead’s gang recruitment scheme. “The guys seem to like her and I definitely like her,” Kelly remarked. “Any time we can shake the cast up and introduce more potential supporting characters and even a potential love interest for Pete, that’s always cool.”

To those who don’t know about Peter Parker’s costumed life, he can seem like sort of a slacker, and this is why Norah finds Peter so interesting. “I have a feeling that it’s about a lack of him seeing his full potential,” Kelly said. “Norah isn’t taking him as a charity case but I think she instinctively knows that there’s more to him than meets the eye and just keeps pushing him to see when he’ll crack.”

“Amazing Spider-Man” #575 on sale now

Norah may have an interest in Peter, but Joe Kelly isn’t so sure Peter’s interested in her — or if he even really likes her. “She’s pretty abrasive,” Kelly said. “She’s certainly not the type of forceful personality that we’ve seen him go after before. Certainly Mary Jane was a really strong personality, but I don’t think to the cut down side of things like Norah. So we’ll have to see how he responds but, you know, sometimes good things come from somebody who makes you feel uncomfortable.”

“Amazing Spider-Man” #577 is a special double-sized one-off issue by writer Zeb Wells and artist Paolo Rivera that guest stars The Punisher, but Joe Kelly is already hard at work on his next “Amazing Spider-Man” story, which is tentatively scheduled for the Spring of 2009. “It’s a big one. I’m excited and pretty intimidated,” he said. “It wasn’t one of the ones I thought I was going to walk away with at our last Spider-Man conference because it’s got a lot of the Marvel Universe’s heavy hitter characters. Specifically, Spider-Man has sort of targeted somebody large. He’s going after him. The story’s got a ton of Spidey soap opera elements and it’s heavily integrated into what’s going on in the Marvel Universe at the time.”

Now that Kelly is hard at work on his second “Amazing Spider-Man” arc, he hopes to play a larger role in chronicling the Web-Slinger’s exploits. “I just wanted to do something simple and quick for this first story,” he said. “Because I’m having so much fun, I think if I didn’t have a lot of other stuff going on I’d probably have another story coming out at the end of this year or early next year. It’s great working with [editor] Steve Wacker and it’s just a matter of working my commitments so nobody gets shafted and making sure that I can juggle everything.”

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