SPOILER WARNING: The following contains spoilers for "Amazing Spider-Man" #588 and "Amazing Spider-Man Extra" #3.
Spider-Man is just one of many superheroes operating in New York City, but despite the town's enormous size, the wall-crawler's adventures certainly have a way of making a lasting impact on the Big Apple. "Character Assassination" came to close in Marvel's "Amazing Spider-Man" #588 (and a special 16-page coda in "Spider-Man: Extra" #3), and the aftermath shook the city to its core. CBR News spoke with writer Marc Guggenheim about the arc and some of its fallout.
In the earlier chapters of "Character Assassination," the truth about the two big mysteries that had confounded Spider-Man since his Brand New Day status quo began last year finally came out. It was revealed that the villain Menace was actually Harry Osborn's girlfriend Lily Hollister, and that she was using her alter ego to secretly advance her father's campaign for Mayor of New York City. It was also revealed that the Spider-Tracer Killings, a rash of serial killings where Spider-Man's signature tracking devices were found on the bodies, weren't killings after all, but attempts by rogue members of the NYPD to frame Spidey by leaving Spider-Tracers on the bodies of already-deceased individuals.
The Spider-Tracer Killings and Menace became entwined in "Amazing" #588, when two NYPD officers tried to arrest Peter Parker's friend Carlie Cooper and keep her from exposing the truth about the "killings." Carlie's arrest angered Lily Hollister, who turned into Menace and attacked the cops for trying to imprison her friend. Spider-Man arrived on the scene and tried to stop Menace's rampage, but she had the upper hand over the exhausted wallcrawler. Fortunately for Spider-Man, Harry Osborn had decided to do something about his finance's villainous alter ego. Operating under his former guise as the Green Goblin, Harry showed up in the nick of time and subdued Menace. Then he did something unexpected: the Green Goblin helped Spider-Man, who he claims to hate, escape the cops who were waiting to arrest him.
Marc Guggenheim told CBR News there's a very good reason for this surprising turn of events. "There's a certain amount of personal responsibility [Harry] feels insofar as Spidey is in this predicament with the cops because of his fight with Menace, and Harry feels that the Osborn family is responsible for Menace and her actions," the writer said. "So I think more than anything, Harry saving Spider-Man was an attempt to balance things and not leave him in a worse position than the one he finds him in."
Harry's subduing of Menace happened on Election Day and had the unintended result of outing the villain's identity to the world. When Menace's father, Bill Hollister, learned of his daughter's secret identity, he refused the office of the Mayor, which he had won thanks during the day's electoral results. "Bill is basically devastated," Guggenheim said. "We have a huge supporting cast and people have a way of retreating into the background and then coming into the fore. We haven't seen the last of him, however. That having been said, we won't be seeing him so much that we'll have to change the title of the book to 'The Amazing Spider-Man & Bill Hollister.' But that's not for lack of wanting on [editor] Steve Wacker's part."
Hollister refusing the office of the Mayor means the position is currently vacant, but it won't stay that way for long. "It's funny, just this morning, my editor Steve Wacker emailed all of us the page of art where you find out who becomes the Mayor," Guggenheim said. "So it's definitely in the pipeline. There is a grand plan here and it's all going according to what we worked out a year ago."
At the end of "Amazing" #588, Peter Parker's roommate, police officer Vin Gonzales, takes responsibility for his part in the Spider-Tracer Killings conspiracy by arresting the head of the cabal, Detective Sergeant Palone. This clears Spidey for the killings, but doesn't solve all his problems with law enforcement. "Spider-Man is still an unregistered hero and still enjoys a lack of popularity among the NYPD. One of the things I think would be fun would be to try and rebuild Spidey's relationship with the NYPD, but that's a long, difficult road given everything that we've done to him and everything that's happened to him since Civil War," Guggenheim explained. "The other thing to remember is that even though the Tracer Killings have been 'solved,' the negative feelings on the part of the NYPD that lead to the whole conspiracy are still present. The whole Tracer cabal came about because the NYPD was really sick and tired of Spider-Man basically screwing things up for them and those feelings haven't gone away."
"Amazing" #588 also saw Peter Parker and Harry Osborn discussing the nature of their friendship. "That was a scene that Steve Wacker really pushed for and encouraged me to write," Guggenheim said. "In my first draft, I had a version of that scene which ended a lot sooner and Steve said, 'No, take some more time with that scene and let it continue to play out.' So Steve got me some extra pages, and it's to his credit because I'm reasonably proud of that scene. It's because we haven't seen Peter and Harry's relationship elaborated on or illuminated in that way in quite some time. So it was fun to take that opportunity."
In that final exchange between Peter and Harry, Peter made the observation that they - and the majority of their friends -- had some type of issue with father figures; whether an absent father or an abusive one. "I'm not big on outlines or pitching. I really like to discover things at the scriptwriting stage and the realization that all these characters have father issues was one of those happy discoveries," Guggenheim revealed. "I think it's to the good of the overall issue and the arc, since it comes at the end of it. This is the capstone on the arc and it's the fact that all these characters have something in common. When you start to see all these connections, that's when things become really enjoyable."
In the final scene of "Amazing" #588, Lily Hollister thinks she's getting a chance to resolve her father issues by gaining a new one that accepts her. His name: Norman Osborn. "That's going to be one of those be careful what you wish for scenarios," Guggenheim remarked. "So it's going to be a very fun situation."
Despite the extra pages he got in "Amazing" #588, Guggenheim still didn't get a chance to check in with all the supporting characters he wanted to. So the writer jumped at the chance to tell a 16-page coda to "Character Assassination" in "Spider-Man: Extra" #3. Guggenheim explained, "What happened was the last chapter of 'Character Assassination' could have easily been 22 pages of epilogue. And I had written a two-page scene where Vin was plea bargaining and you find out the legal disposition of the whole Spider-Tracer Cabal. I wrote those two pages as an addendum to my script with a note saying, 'I don't think these belong in #588, but perhaps we can stick them in a subsequent issue of Spider-Man? Like #589 or #590? Contemporaneous with that, Steve came to me and said 'we want to bring Flash Thompson back from Iraq. Would you like to write that story in 'Spider-Man: Extra?' Steve and I got to talking and we thought, what if there was a way to combine this bit of business with Vin and Flash's return?
"So it's sort of like the father figure epilogue in 'Amazing' #588. You start to see these connections between characters like Flash and Vin and where we left Harry. So it occurred to me that perhaps there was a short story to be done about Peter Parker's friends; how their lives have been affected by Spider-Man, how that's not always to the good, and how that affects Spidey. It was an opportunity to provide a little bit more of an ending to 'Character Assassination.'"
The coda of "Spider-Man Extra" #3 finds Vin Gonzales receiving his punishment for his part in the Spider-Tracer Killings conspiracy. Even though he put an end to the conspiracy by arresting Detective Palone, Vin still has to serve six months jail time, testify against his fellow officers, and give up his badge. "What is fun about Vin is that he's a character that's like all of us in that he knows what the right thing to do is but is constantly questioning whether or not he has the fortitude or will power to go through with it," Guggenheim said. "There's something that makes you look at that character and say, 'I wonder what's going to happen. That's the sign of an interesting character in my book. If people are asking questions like that, then I think we're on the right track.
"He's also a good character in Spider-Man's world because he definitely has a strong point of view when it comes to Spider-Man. If you look at all the different characters in Spider-Man's supporting cast over the years, I think the ones you remember are the ones that have something to say about or have a motivation related to Spider-Man. Something about the ththeir character relates back to Spidey and I think that's what makes them feel like an integral part of the cast."
Flash Thompson's point of view on Spider-Man is that the webslinger is a hero, plain and simple. In "Spider-Man Extra" #3, Flash explained to Peter Parker that he lost his legs in Iraq as a consequence of rescuing a fellow soldier, an incredible act inspired by Spider-Man. Guggenheim and artist Patrick Olliffe depicted Peter Parker's reaction the news with two panels showing him completely shocked. "Steve wasn't sure if that moment would play, but I trusted Pat to sell the moment with just a look, and if I needed it there was always Spider-Man's internal monologue to use," Guggenheim said. "In the script, it says the look on Peter's face is the realization that if it wasn't for Spider-Man, Flash would have his legs. And that's a terrible realization for someone to have, especially someone like Peter Parker, who has guilt as the central star in his universe."
Obviously, Peter took what Flash said in completely the wrong way. Flash was inspired by Spider-Man and accepted the fact that he lost his legs while saving a life, a truly heroic thing to do. "I think that's part of the tragedy and dramatic irony of the scene, watching Peter have such a completely different take on things then Flash," Guggenheim remarked. "I think both takes are valid, both men are justified in what they're thinking at that moment."
The Coda ends in a scene drawn by the story's other artist, Fabrizo Fiorentino, which sees Spider-Man walking away, haunted by what happened to Flash as well as Vin's legal problems, which he feels came about because of him as well. "The Coda is pretty dark and somber, but it's not something we pick up and play with down the road," Guggenheim confirmed. "Spider-Man isn't going to be in a funk for the next several months. I figure it was a normal thing in Spider-Man comics to have a story end with Spidey hanging his head and pick up next issue with him cracking jokes while punching muggers."
While that thread might not be picked up in upcoming issues, Guggenheim did seed a number of plot points in "Character Assassination" that will be developed further in upcoming "Amazing Spider-Man" storylines like "24/7" and "American Son." "In 'Character Assassination,' we promised to bring all the major storylines from the beginning of Brand New Day to a close and I think we did that," the writer said. "We even told you who won the Mayoral Election, but hopefully we surprised you with the discovery that even though the election had a victor, it didn't mean New York had a Mayor. In the story, we also threw a whole bunch of new balls up in the air. We are deepening and developing the Harry and Peter relationship and complicating things vis-a-vis things like Lily and Menace. So the goal here is to keep providing momentum. My hope is that you read all these 'tent pole' arcs like 'New Ways to Die,' 'Character Assassination', '24/7', and 'American Son' as well as all the issues in between and see that we're telling one large epic story, not just individualized arcs."
Now that he's finished his first tentpole story for "Amazing Spider-Man," Marc Guggenheim feels very relieved. "This story was tough. It was incredibly ambitious and we had all sorts of scheduling challenges on top of that," the writer said. "I had a lot of raindrops to dance between and I'm very, very happy that it's over. That said, I hope the arc lives up to people's expectations. Every part of it was challenging. Probably the biggest challenge was to tell six to seven issues worth of story in four to five issues. I had a lot more story than I had pages for. The most rewarding part was working with artist John Romita, Jr. Seeing his pages come in would always recharge my batteries and inspire me to keep trucking along."
Guggenheim's next "Amazing Spider-Man" project will be this year's Annual, which hits stores in July. In the months ahead, readers will see work from Guggenheim's fellow "Amazing Spider-Man" writers like Dan Slott, Mark Waid, and Joe Kelly, who collectively plot out Spider-Man's adventures as a group known as the Web-Heads. Guggenheim thinks readers will enjoy their work, as well as the work of the "Web-Head Lieutenants" like Zeb Wells and Fred Van Lente, whose first "Amazing Spider-Man" work, issue #589, is in stores this week. "Zeb is a returning writer and Fred Van Lente is new blood. They're both incredibly great guys and really talented writers," Guggenheim said. "It's fantastic to have a full roster of creators working on Spider-Man."