It's been six months since Marvel Comics released "Brand New Day," a reboot of the Spider-Man franchise under the watchful editorial eyes of Stephen Wacker and Tom Brevoort.
This relaunch of the franchise was controversial to begin with, starting almost directly out of J. Michael Straczynski and Joe Quesada's notorious four issue arc on "Amazing Spider-Man" called "One More Day," which, among other things, brought Harry Osborn back to life and erased the marriage of Peter Parker and Mary Jane. Fans were not pleased and out for blood before the first issue of the relaunch even hit stands.
The reboot also posed another trial for Wacker and Brevoort because "Amazing Spider-Man" was to be published three times a month. There was a "braintrust" of four writers who would serve as the guiding force behind the franchise: Bob Gale, Marc Guggenheim, Dan Slott and Zeb Welles, and the book would feature art from A-list talent like Steve McNiven, Phil Jimenez, John Romita Jr., Barry Kitson and many more. Six months later, the editorial team has yet to miss a shipping date on the near-weekly book.
Brevoort and Wacker talked to "Reflections" about the trials and rewards of releasing "Amazing Spider-Man" thrice monthly. Not only that, but they also speak frankly about the sales figures that many fans are using as ammunition to call for the cancellation of the title, the reinvention of the Spider-Man letter-columns, and why when Internet trolls are finished with this column they will say that Brevoort hates women and doesn't think there has been a good Spider-Man book since 1963.
What has surprised you guys the most on doing the Spider-Man almost-weekly book?
Stephen Wacker: Well, the schedule sure didn't surprise me.
Tom Brevoort: It is sooo much easier than doing a weekly. We sit back, put our feet up and just relax during that fourth week every month.
SW: Yeah, we laugh at those weekly books. Haha!
Then why not just make it weekly?
SW: Because it is already as hard as doing a weekly book. Putting it out every week at Marvel Comics would make it twice as hard. With so many books every week coming out of editorial already, our production system here isn't quite ready for a weekly.
With Spider-Man being such a big character and touching and affecting so many things, there would just be too much coordination. The writing team is set up differently. The artists are higher caliber, more in-demand artists, and that makes scheduling the thing a real bear and makes the book a real 24 hours-a-day job.
TB: The other difference between doing Spider-Man this way and the other weekly comics that DC has done is that they are all ensemble books. In a pinch, on "Countdown," you could do an issue that was a Jason Todd issue, or a Donna Troy issue or a Kyle Rayner issue, or an Atom issue, and they don't need to connect with one another. You can have four different creative teams doing each of those issues and have the characters meet back up at the end of the month.
"Amazing Spider-Man" has to be about Spider-Man. We can get away with an issue with just a little Spidey in it, but you are really tracking the life of one character, so each issue is like a puzzle piece in it that connects with the issue before it and the issue after it and connect with the larger overarching plot.
You don't have quite as much flexibility as I would imagine you would have on "Trinity" or "Countdown."
You guys are obviously burning through a lot of stories quickly - are there any major stories or plot developments that have come out of left field or happened as a complete surprise?
TB: We started off with a bunch of broad stroke ideas and then people write the stories and new ideas or elements will pop up. I don't think we've had any story elements go wildly away from what we started.
SW: At this point we are working far ahead of what's actually been published. The story running right now, "New Ways To Die," was planned out fourteen months ago. Then, as a group we tore it apart last year at [Comic-Con International in] San Diego and it is just now getting published. Our planning is so far ahead of the publishing that it is hard for those out-of-left-field things to happen.
On the other hand, there have been some happy surprises. (Dan) Slott has come up with some plans for a couple of our new villains in "New Ways To Die" that we didn't have when we went into it. It was something we didn't see coming, and now it has opened up a lot of different avenues.
Speaking of Slott, let's talk the braintrust of him, Wells, Guggenheim and Gale. Are they sticking around for the foreseeable future?
SW: It's kind of an open invitation for everyone. We've had to make some adjustments for Hollywood work and ended up restructuring the schedule a bit. That is why we brought in Mark Waid and Joe Kelly. But in terms of day-to-day, I'm thrilled talking to any of these guys on the phone and hope they stick around for awhile. We've got general story plans up to and beyond #600, so I would imagine that, on some level, these guys will be involved for a bit.
How did you guys pull off getting Mark Waid on the books since he is already working very hard as E-I-C of Boom! Studios?
SW: Mark is one of those guys who, if you call and treat like a human, he is willing to work with you. Tom and Mark go back a long time on a lot of different books, and had a strong relationship on the "Fantastic Four" stuff Mark did back in the early part of this century. I had worked with Mark a lot at DC.
Both of us had always felt that Mark was a pretty natural fit for Spidey. Mark took a little bit of convincing, and felt a little weird putting the character on, but it's come out very nicely so far.
Obviously editorial is having a lot of fun with the books, giving readers fun old-school Easter eggs and editorial asides. Tom, when are you going to get in on that party?
TB: I don't need to get in on the party. I want to do as little as possible. (laughs)
Steve is editing the books on a day-to-day basis and I'm overseeing them, so it's only proper for him to be that voice. Those books don't have to sound like me or have my fingerprints on them. That would be counterproductive. Let's make them good. (laughs)
SW: To pull the curtain back a little bit - I don't write most of those editor boxes.
Those in-story ones come from the writers for the most part. Bob (Gale) has a great one where he made fun of my name in one of the early issues, and I added to it in the credits. But most of that is a voice that all of us have liked on Spider-Man in the past. It's not quite breaking the fourth wall, but the little Bugs Bunny atmospherics are fun.
TB: It's chummier than your average editorial note.
SW: Yeah, chummy. That's me.
TB: I know, given that a lot of readers take our comics very seriously these days, that this can make them angry.
SW: They are already angry with us, and now that we are talking to them it riles them up. (laughs)
On that note, another really fun thing for me, even though it adds to the work, are the letter columns. We make sure they are in every single issue. Like a canker sore that won't go away.
Why did you guys want to bring them back?
TB: Because we liked it.
SW: It's something that comics have gotten away from with the popularity of message boards, but it fits with, as Tom said, the chummy nature of the book. I always liked the Spider-Man letter columns, going back a couple of decades. And bringing them back just felt right.
TB: It helps to give fans a voice and angry fans a place to complain about the book.
SW: I've been able to apologize for a couple of mistakes that would otherwise have fallen by the wayside. I get to make fun of Tom Brennan. It's fun. (laughs)
How many letters are you guys getting?
SW: A lot.
TB: Some of it is just the reality of the fact that, if you run a letters page, you will get mail. The very fact that there is a letters page in "Amazing" every issue, and there are three issues a month, means there is a very significant amount of mail coming in. The fact that most of them are Andrew Shaw every month telling us that the books are terrible and asking why we keep publishing them every month is beside the point.
SW: We love you Andrew!
TB: But at this point, we get more mail than any other book. It has an unfair advantage in that it comes out three times a month and there are three times the chances for the readers to like or dislike something and want to respond.
Now that you guys are six months in, how would you gauge critical and fan reaction?
TB: The response that we see through the mail that we get is more positive than negative. There are certainly negative responses to the book and certain people who are less pissed about what happened in this week's Kraven story and more pissed about a story that came out six months ago. The balance is probably at least 2-1 if not 3-1 positive to negative. You go to certain Spidey-themed message boards and it seems like it is 90-100% negative, but that just happens to be a place where people who don't like the direction of the series congregate.
Hopefully we're seeing a bit of a sea change. I see a little bit of it when I travel out on the Internet. By the same token, if I write something about Spider-Man on my blog, I get 20 posts from people who are irate about Spider-Man, quoting the sales figures and other things.
SW: I was going to suggest that Tom do a blog entry that just said "Spider-Man" just to see the responses. (laughs)
There are people out there who are mad that we are still publishing the book. They've told us how angry they are and that we should stop publishing, and yet we continue to mock them every week by publishing the book.
Tom spent the better part of a year, almost every day, talking about the deluge of hate mail we were going to hit coming out of "One More Day" and going into "Brand New Day." That's probably a lot of the reason we let there be a little bit of air between the end of "One More Day" and our first big storyline and just let the writers play around in the world a little bit. This affects a lot of readers, and no one here went into it blindly.
And was it as bad as you were warning everyone it was going to be, Tom?
TB: At least the first couple of weeks after that last issue of "One More Day"...
SW:...before anyone read the comic...
TB: ...it was pretty bad. It's long since leveled off. It now tends to be the same guys, who are clearly passionate about it and love and care about Spider-Man, saying the same things over and over again. In many cases they don't even read the comic.
Here's a key piece of advice for letter writers. If you are just sending a letter about a comic book we published six months ago, we're not going to print it. If you are saying something that has relevance to the story we are telling now, we are more likely to print it. We could be printing letters about the story we published six months ago until the end of time, but it doesn't help anything. If its obvious you've read the comic and not just the solicits and then got pissed about what you think it is going to be, we're more likely to pay more attention to what you're saying. But sending me the same letter every month more or less with three words changed and bullshit sales figures attached to it does not change my mind about anything.
Well, even though "Amazing Spider-Man" isn't selling the same numbers it was under Straczynski, its still selling much better than the other two sister books were, right?
TB: It's selling at around the level that "Amazing" sold under (J. Michael Straczynski) before going into a year's worth of "Civil War" tie-ins and "Back in Black."
It's also still higher than, sorry Brian, "Ultimate Spider-Man."
SW: Is it?
TB: Yeah, and we have been for awhile.
Quite honestly, while it is nice that fans are using numbers to boost whatever arguments they have, they don't have a full understanding of what Marvel's financial goals and expectations for the book are. Even the numbers they get are only best-guess estimates cobbled together based on rankings. They are a guess. And they are always wrong.
They are also just direct market numbers. We did a promotion online when we started Brand New Day where we offered a year's subscription for a bargain price. The response to that was overwhelming. We got a huge circulation spike from subscribers, and these are numbers you will never see online.
Everyone is saying the book will be cancelled any day now. I could float the book on my subscribers alone at this point.
Yes, it is always nice to watch the clock ticker go up and down, but the business discussions are internal, and fans are not privy to that. They don't have all the facts.
SW: We could have easily gotten a substantial bump on the book by having sixteen issues tie into "Secret Invasion." Spidey has tied into everything for the last three years, and that was under one of the biggest writers in the industry writing the book. But we made a choice based on the fact that we were asking fans for a huge financial commitment already by buying the book three times a month that we were not going to cross it over with another huge thing that you also had to buy to understand what was happening.
The sales would have gone up, but everyone would have bitching that the book was tying into the big event. But I guess they win the numbers argument for the day since we didn't make the easy choice.
I look at it all as very cute. (laughs)
What has pleased you guys the most about "Brand New Day," not from an editorial standpoint but as a fan.
SW: The artists.
I think the book looks terrific right now. When Johnny (Romita Jr.) gets back into the fold in a few weeks, people's minds are going to be blown. I don't know how people can be a fan of Spider-Man and not be over the moon at how the book looks. From McNiven, to Salva, to Jimenez, to Bachalo, to Kitson, to Martin - it's been a real murderer's row so far.
Marcos Martin's stuff on the book was a real hit for fans.
SW: He is a real find. One of the most interesting guys working right now.
That was seen as a risky move because his stuff was so exaggerated that people were afraid it wouldn't fit in with the rest of the artists. Tom worked with him on "Doctor Strange" and I was a huge fan, and getting him agree to not only do that first story but to come back and do some more - it was just great and I'm thrilled it worked out. He is a real capital-J "genius".
Tom, what are you happiest about?
TB: They are going to kill me online for this - but fine.
It reads like Spider-Man to me again in a way that it hasn't, in some intangible way, for years.
That is not to say that there haven't been tons of great Spider-Man stories in the past 20-25 years, but at some very fundamental or basic level, it READS like a Spider-Man story. To me, Spider-Man isn't about Spider-Man. It's about Peter Parker and his life. His story. Spider-Man is one of the things in his life and we focus on that a lot because that's where the punching and hitting is. So often over the last 20 years, partly because the cast had been whittled down and the soap-opera dramatics had been pared down-it seemed like the book was about Spider-Man and every now and then he would go home, take off his mask for two seconds and have a snog with Mary Jane before going and fighting a villain again.
At the least, this feels like Pete has a life. He's got worries and ups and downs and it's not about being Spider-Man 24/7. There are a lot of other superheroes that are heroes 24/7, and the fact that he is not that is what makes it work for me.
SW: Let me misinterpret this for the Internet and save us some time.
There has never been a good Spider-Man story until Tom came onboard and he hates marriage. (laughs)
TB: Exactly, it's been a 40 year wasteland without me! (laughs) Everything between Stan and Steve Ditko and me.
How do you feel about the additions to the cast since the relaunch?
SW: We certainly are happy with the chess pieces we have on the board. It took some months to get everything into place and, sure, there are some instances where I wish the character was introduced in a stronger beat, but when you are working on something so many times a month you have to stop looking back and just do it. If you feel like you fumbled it a bit, you have to fix it on the next play.
But we have good people in Pete's life who lead to story opportunities that we did not have before. We have a cast where we could place any of them in a room with Pete and get a story out of it.
What's coming up that fans should be excited about?
SW: We have Punisher coming up. There is also a really cool new supporting character being introduced in Mark Waid and Marcos Martin's arc that will also see the reintroduction of a classic Spider-Man villain.
TB: Now that we are past the sixth month mark, you will see more of the classic Spider-Man villains show up. For awhile the classic villains seemed to be showing up in six books a month and were completely different in every book and different in what they wanted. The point of taking them off the map was to cleanse the palate and now we'll start to bring them back.
SW: Like Hammerhead.
Joe Kelly had a good handle on him and combined a couple of HH's continuity contradictions and brought him back in a surprsing way.
TB: Once you read Joe Kelly's two parter in "Amazing" you now have a handle on what Hammerhead wants and who he is. Then, if he appears in "Daredevil" three months from now he will be the same villain.
SW: We will be revealing how Spidey ended up in jail coming up.
What other writers and artists are you itching to get on the book?
SW: I'm pretty happy with who we've had.
Jim Lee, I like. Geoff I like. Bendis I like. Fraction...
Lightning Round! What was your first comic book?
SW: Mine was a collection called "Superman From the '30s to the '70s." My dad brought it back from Vietnam.
TB: It saved his life, right? It stopped a bullet.
SW: Yep, the bullet stopped right at the Orson Welles vs. Superman story. (laughs)
Tom's first comic book was "Warriors of Plasm" #1
What was your weirdest convention experience?
SW: Tom had his breasts fondled by Jabba the Hut! (laughs)
TB: Thank you so much for that. Now people on the Internet are building that visual and putting a word balloon in from me saying "No good Spider-Man books since 1963!"
SW: I was out having a drink and a guy from another convention came and talked to me and some friends, and he seemed like a normal guy.
Then he found out we were in comics and asked "Are they still publishing those?" It was the same conversation you have with everybody. Then he started talking about how he used to read "Spawn" but stopped when he found out Spawn was black. It was mind-numbing.
TB: I probably have those experiences but forget about them.
SW: What about your Ewok massage?
What was your favorite comic book movie of all time?
SW: Did they make a movie of Marvel's adaptation of "The Three Musketeers"? (laughs)
Probably "Ghost World" for me, but the new Batman movie too.
TB: Yeah, the new Batman movie is really good. "The Iron Giant" for me.
SW: That doesn't count! It has to be based on a comic!
I like "V For Vendetta."