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REFLECTIONS #234: Marc Guggenheim, Part I

by  in Comic News Comment
REFLECTIONS #234: Marc Guggenheim, Part I
“Amazing Spider-Man” #551 on sale now

If you think Marc Guggenheim’s name has been everywhere in the last year, that’s because it has. Besides acting as creator/showrunner on the freshmen hit ABC television series “Eli Stone,” he was the creator tasked with killing off Bart Allen in his short but memorable stint on DC Comics’ “The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive.” He also worked on the Emmy-winning hit “Brothers and Sisters” on ABC, wrote the “Hyperion vs. Nighthawk” miniseries for Marvel Comics, and completed a yearlong run on “Blade.” Oh, and he’s also one of the four writers given the difficult task of rebooting the entire Spider-Man franchise in the thrice monthly "Amazing Spider-Man."

But hey, no pressure on keeping that streak going.

Robert Taylor: Let’s talk about your transition from DC to Marvel.

Marc Guggenheim: Well, I went exclusive with Marvel just as I was wrapping up writing “The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive” for DC and finishing up a six-part Batman story. For Marvel, I was doing “Hyperion vs. Nighthawk” and “Blade,” so my work was evenly mixed between the two companies at the time I went exclusive.

The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive” #9 began Guggenheim’s five-issue stint on the title

RT: And that Batman story remains to be published?

MG: It hasn’t been published yet. Half of it is painted, so it is taking some time, but right now it should be close to publication. It’s an ambitious book, narratively. It tells stories from two periods in Batman’s life, and one of the periods is fully painted while the other one is drawn. We go back and forth within the same page sometimes, so it should look visually unique-unlike anything that’s been done before. The art itself is really spectacular, especially considering we are living in days where a lot of art is done by computer. Painting by hand is a rare and special thing now.

RT: Will it be a “Batman: Confidential” arc?

MG: I believe so, yes.

RT: Back to your transition.

MG: I’ve been a Marvel exclusive since the day I handed in the last issue of “The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive.” I had to finish it up before the exclusive kicked in, so it has been almost a year now.

RT: How did it feel to kill off The Flash?

MG: It felt good in the sense that I wanted to tell a really emotional and gripping story, and one of the great ways to do that is to kill someone off. It was creatively satisfying. But I loved the character, and I grew to love him even more as I wrote the book, so it was bittersweet.

Bart Allen was killed off in "The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive” #13

RT: Have you been following the aftermath in “Countdown” and related DC books?

MG: I’ve been following it, and it’s been very intriguing. I’m curious to see if Bart makes a return. It’s comic books, so you know when you kill a character off, it’s not forever.

RT: How about Mark Waid’s work on the subsequent series, “The Flash?”

MG: I’m a huge Mark Waid fan, so oh yeah. When I came on [“Fastest Man Alive”], it was with an intended five-issue run with the knowledge that they were going to re-launch the book. At the time, I didn’t know it would be Mark doing the re-launch, but once I found out, I thought fans couldn’t ask for something better than that.

I’ve loved Mark’s encore. I think it’s a very tricky position for a writer to be in. Anyone who comes on to do an encore of an incredibly seminal run on a book is really setting themselves up for a hard road. If you do it like you did before it’ll seem repetitive, and if you try to do something new, the way Mark did, fans will complain you aren’t giving them what they read before. I have to give Mark a lot of credit for wading into that pool. Uh, no pun intended. [laughs]

RT: How soon after signing the Marvel exclusive did editors reveal that they were rebooting the Spider-Man franchise?

MG: I found out my very first day on the job. Literally in the first hour of the summit of the new writers, Joe Quesada told us what was going to happen to Spider-Man. I remember thinking “Wow.  The fans are just gonna love this.”

“Amazing Spider-Man” #549

The great part of us coming in at this stage of [“Amazing Spider-Man”] is because we get to reap all the benefits of what “One More Day” did to the character and his status quo without having to deal with how they got there. I recognize that de-marrying Peter and how they did it were both controversial things, but we are just running with the ball and not looking back.

As a writer, Spidey handles better, like a car, when he’s not married. The funny thing is that, for half of my life, I read a married Peter Parker and, for the other half of my life, I read an unmarried Peter Parker. I have to say, as a fan, I was pretty agnostic about the marriage question. Obviously, Joe, for the longest time, was laying the tracks of unhitching Peter from Mary Jane and so I, like the rest of the fans, had a long time to emotionally react to that. I have to say, my reaction was that I could have taken it or leave it. I’ve enjoyed Spider-Man my whole life and, as a writer, with all the possibilities that him being unmarried open up to me, I think it was the right play for Marvel.

I know that people may not agree with how it was done, but at the end of the day —

RT: No pun intended.

MG: Oh, my. [laughs] At the, ahem, end of the day, I’m working with the situation, and it’s been very nice. As a writer, the character and the book tell me how to write them. I may go into a book with certain ideas about the character, but whatever my intentions are, I’m at the mercy of the character and the series. Whether something is good is more about what the character is telling me more so than what I am bringing to it. I feel really pleased with how it feels to write Spidey, and I really enjoy it.

RT: The reaction has been increasingly positive, with a lot of fans saying they wanted to hate the reboot but admitting they like it.

“Amazing Spider-Man” #550

MG: I always figured that would be the reaction. We knew that there would be resistance, but we also knew what we are doing is good and exciting and quality wins out. For whatever reason, and despite the movie and video games, it seems that it’s been hard recently to get people excited about Spidey as a regular comic book. What “One More Day” did for us is give us the opportunity to tell stories people get jazzed about.

RT: Tell us about the roundtable of “Amazing Spider-Man” writers.

MG: One of the cool things that Marvel did, which was very smart, was that they did not take a bunch of writers at random for the book. They assembled a group that they thought would have creative chemistry. It’s something that I, as a television showrunner, think about, but I didn’t think Marvel would think about it when they came up with what was essentially their writing staff.

All four of us get along well and there are a lot of laughs when we get together. They are great guys. Dan [Slott] is the consummate Spider-Man writer. His whole life has been leading up to this gig, and he brings an encyclopedic knowledge of the character to it. I’ve never heard anyone come up with as many ideas as he does, and they are all really good.  His conceptual batting average is pretty remarkable.

Bob [Gale] is the sweetest guy. I’ve been in awe of his “Back to the Future” movies since they came out, so it’s like working alongside a living legend.

Zeb [Wells] is the sweetest, quietest guy. He’s so nice, but he’s so quiet. I have a big mouth and I’ll talk constantly, so I’m amazed by someone like Zeb because, when he does speak, everyone listens. And it’s always a great point or idea, and he measures those words so well.

“Spider-Man: Brand New Day” hardcover on sale in May

RT: How far ahead have you guys plotted?

MG: Pretty far. I would say that, with specificity, we have a year from now mapped out and a year-and-a-half with the sense of where we are going.

RT: So the writing team isn’t going anywhere, then?

MG: I can’t speak for the other guys, but whenever I take on an open-ended commitment, I’m onboard until they kick me off. So I’m on until Marvel kicks me off.

RT: How did it feel to be the second writer of the team to script an arc?

MG: It’s the second-worst position to be in. Dan is the first one on the beach who takes all the heavy fire. But when Dan’s issues came in and I read them, I thought “Oh shit, I have to follow this!?” It’s such a tough act to follow, and I would have much rather been three or four. [laughs]

I wrote them over a year ago at this point, so they are pretty far in the rear-view mirror.

RT: You seem to be adding a lot of humor into the mix, which some would say hasn’t been there for years.

MG: That’s the thing. All of us consciously wanted to lighten up the book in a lot of different respects. We wanted to bring humor, since life has been so hard for him in a dark way, not in a humorous way.

“Wolverine: The Death of Wolverine” hardcover on sale in April

RT: After taking Mary Jane off the canvas, you had to know that any new female characters would come under a lot of scrutiny. With that in mind, what went into the creation of Lily and Carlie?

MG: A big part of the mission statement of “Brand New Day” was to shift the focus away from Spider-Man and back to Peter Parker. The only way to do that successfully was to create a wide circle of friends and co-workers for him to interact with. We needed to repopulate that group since people in that circle tend to die a lot. Some of them tend to come back, too. [laughs] And when some of them tend to come back some of them need new girlfriends.

We created a list of needs of what we wanted to accomplish, and created a whole bunch of characters before consolidating them and making two or three characters into one person. There just weren’t that many peers of people because Liz Allan and Betty haven’t been in that circle for so long.

RT: Let’s talk Harry. Have you guys re-jiggered the character at all with his return from the dead or is he the same classic character?

MG: He’s pretty much the classic Harry. The only re-jiggering is that, the last time we saw him, he was mired in a certain era, and we’ve updated him for the 21st century. It’s more of a dialogue tweak than a character tweak. We had to bring Harry back, not a Harry clone back…ooh, wouldn’t that be interesting? But we had to bring back a character we all recognized.

RT: Tell us about the choice to sell the Daily Bugle in the first few story arcs and the makeover the newspaper’s receiving now.
MG: The way I characterize our approach is that we are going back to the basics, and when I think of books like that, I think of John Byrne’s run on “Fantastic Four.” He returned to the essences of the characters, but built off from there instead of miring them in all that continuity. And from that level, he then started to change the status quo in really interesting ways.

“Squadron Supreme: Hyperion Vs. Nighthawk” trade paperback on sale now

Selling the Daily Bugle really fits into that model. Media has changed today, and we wanted to reflect that evolution with the Daily Bugle, otherwise it feels very old-fashioned. And we wanted to hang a lantern on it with the character of Dexter Bennett to reflect the sea change we’ve seen in journalism over the past few years. Plus the fodder we created for Jonah, not to mention Peter’s career, was great. We get to do Daily Bugle scenes that aren’t filtered through a Jonah-lens.

RT: Who is your favorite character, other than Peter obviously, to play with?

MG: I’m enjoying Dexter Bennett. And Jackpot, too. She’s great because she is so innocent and it’s a lot of fun to write her interactions with Spidey.

RT: The thoughts balloons are back!

MG: The big thought process I need to engage in is when I use the thought balloons and when should I use captions. The rule I’ve created is that a character has a conversation with himself, like we sometimes do, I put it in a thought balloon. I wanted to avoid Spidey just narrating via the thought balloons. There are the thought balloons and the narration of his life, and there is a difference between the two.

RT: Now let’s talk about the arcs. Will “Amazing Spider-Man” remain in this writer-rotation order, and will stories always be three-issue arcs?

MG: We totally will mix it up. For the launch we kept it rigid, but after month four, we loosen it up and it’s not all three-issue arcs. There are two-issue arcs, single-issue stories and even a six-issue arc. We become more integrated as we go.

Marc Guggenheim’s “Blade” run is collected in trade paperback

RT: How did you get hooked up with artist Salvador Larroca for your first arc?

MG: In this case, I got to pick. At least insomuch as Marvel asked us which artists we would like to work with. We made lists, and the person at the top of my list was Sal. Sure enough, he was available and Marvel thought we were a good team and it happened. It was the first time I’ve been able to say an artist I wanted to work with and we could hook it up, so that was very gratifying.

And let’s also say that I’m getting to work with a lot of other people from my list as well.

RT: How’s the workload, what with coordinating a weekly book, writing arcs and showrunning “Eli Stone”?

MG: It’s been a tricky workload. This past year, I was doing a lot of comic books, working on the pilot of “Eli Stone” and “Brothers and Sisters” and also co-running the “Eli” writing staff. It was so insane. I didn’t even fully appreciate how insane it was until the writer’s strike happened and I had to stop working and I could take a breath.

Well, I took a breath and looked around and wondered how the hell I did that.

It’s been a tough year. The good news is that all 13 episodes of “Eli” are written and produced, and we won’t start season two for another couple of months, which gives me enough time for my comic book work, which hasn’t fallen behind, but my hope is to get ahead of it so that when “Eli” does come back I’m far ahead.

I’m very proud of the fact that none of my books have ever missed shipping, and that is definitely a point of pride with me, but keeping that streak alive is phenomenally stressful.

In next week’s REFLECTIONS, Marc Guggenheim returns to go in-depth on his latest television series, “Eli Stone.”

Now discuss this story in CBR’s Marvel Comics forum.

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