It's the Spidey storyline Marvel Comics has hyped for months -- originally under the title "Dead No More," and now under its true name, "The Clone Conspiracy" -- and "Amazing Spider-Man" writer Dan Slott and Marvel Senior Editor Nick Lowe are ready to talk all about the October-debuting story in the latest "Next Big Thing" conference call with the comic book press.
Marvel PR's Chris D'Lando opened up the call by asking Slott how much the "divisiveness" of past Spider-Man clone stories have influenced "The Clone Conspiracy." "What's the rail you don't want to touch? The third? 'Clone' is the third rail of Spider-Man," Slott answered. "It's the, 'Oh my god, what are you doing, why? That's always the most fun place to be, dancing precariously towards the third rail."
"The whole story -- there's so many parts of it -- that Dan had to convince me of over the last two years," Lowe added. "Dan literally started prepping me for that story that long ago. I know it's been living in his head even longer than that. There are so many elements of, 'I don't think we can do this story.' And he just kept at it."
Slott discussed his longstanding fondness for the Jackal as a villain, saying there are many aspects that make him "the worst." "This is a guy that was your creepy teacher in college, and now he's your villain. That's terrible. And the first time you met the Jackal, he's not only cloning you, he's cloning your dead girlfriend. That's super-creepy!"
Lowe announced that in "The Clone Conspiracy" #1 there will be a special back-up story starring Gwen Stacy. "You are going to see a back-up story drawn by legendary Spider-Man artist Ron Frenz, that is going to re-open a big part of Spider-Man's history," Slott disclosed. "It'll show you something that's been hinted at, but never seen before. And it's a lot about Gwen."
D'Lando asked about Slott working with "Clone Conspiracy" main series artist Jim Cheung for the first time. "This is the first time I've written a story where Jim's drawn interiors," Slott said, crediting the full artist team of Cheung, John Dell and Justin Ponsor. "While this is going on, this is the core Spider-Man title. This is the book you have to read. There are other books that are going to tie into this -- 'Prowler,' 'Silk,' 'Amazing Spider-Man.' You want to read this book. This is gorgeous."
Slott talked about how the "Amazing Spider-Man" tie-in issues will work with "Clone Conspiracy" main series. "Every issue you read of ['Clone Conspiracy'], there's going to be a major surprise, where you'll say, 'I want to know more about that,'" Slott explained, saying that the "Amazing Spider-Man" tie-in issues will be done-in-ones that help answer some of those questions.
Refusing the notion that Marvel has disclosed too much about "Clone Conspiracy" already -- like the return of Doctor Octopus and presence of a Gwen Stacy clone -- Lowe said, "We have so many surprises up our sleeve as this story goes along, that's only the tip of the iceberg."
Speaking of Doctor Octopus, Slott said fans of "Superior Spider-Man" won't want to miss "Clone Conspiracy."
Lowe talked the connection of "Prowler" to "The Clone Conspiracy." "Prowler is back up and moving around," Lowe said, after the character's apparent death and promoting the upcoming ongoing series by Sean Ryan and Jamal Campbell. Lowe said the series picks up story threads not only from "Amazing Spider-Man," but also from the Mark Waid and Chris Samnee run on "Daredevil."
As for the "Silk" tie-in with "Clone Conspiracy," Lowe said that J. Jonah Jameson will have a major part in the story (as he has since the beginning of the series). The Jackal has brought both Jonah's wife Marla and their adoptive daughter, Mattie Franklin, back from the dead.
Slott talked Jackal's new motivations. "He's not really thinking of it as cloning, but really bringing people back from the dead," Slott said. "He's on a bit of a power trip."
First press question, from Marvel.com: How big will the cast for this story be, and how new reader friendly will it be? "We're sending 'Clone Conspiracy' #1 off to the printer this week," Lowe said. "After reading another time through the issue, we spend very little time on the recap page recapping much, because Dan made it so new reader friendly." "We even go old-school with some of the little tiny yellow boxes," Slott said. "We are going to hold your hand and walk you through this. You can walk right in with 'Clone Conspiracy' #1."
In terms of the cast, "It's quite large," Lowe said. "It's Peter Parker's story, but a lot of your favorite supporting cast from [Slott's] run -- a lot of it takes place in San Francisco." "If you're a Spider-Man fan from way back, no matter when you started Spider-Man in the 50 years, one of the things, sadly, is that so many people die," Slott added. "We're bringing people back in the pages of this book."
Next question, from Word Balloon: Is it easy to keep finding new things to say about these characters? "Dan is really good at that," Lowe said, pointing out that Gwen Stacy was only around for about 90 issues in her original incarnation. "One of the cool things is getting a little bit more modern lens of Gwen Stacy and who she is. It's been really great to read that."
Next question, from Newsarama: Is "The Clone Conspiracy" at all meant to "redeem" the earlier Clone Saga stories? "This is a really good question on the other side; you'll have to tell us how we did," Slott said. "One of the fun times I had working on this book is picking up characters who people hadn't considered to be a threat, or only appeared a few times -- whether it's Cardiac, or Stunner, or Phil Urich. If you're a character in Spider-Man and you've had a good run, of course you're somebody's favorite. Everything is open, anything can happen."
Next question, from CBR: How long has this actually been in the works, both thematically and plot-wise -- given themes of Slott's run like death of supporting characters, and plot elements like the Rhino's apparent death years back? "It is very much a crazy, threaded, conspiracy theory wall," Slott said. "It's not as bad as Jonathan Hickman, when he walked everybody through his 'Fantastic Four' run on the first day of his first retreat. I've kind of been in the same boat -- my first day, having a meeting back then with Steve Wacker, when I was going to take over the book solo, I had a yellow legal pad and I started walking him through the first six months of 'Big Time," and the next six months, and the next six months. He grabbed it and started flipping through it and said, 'Oh my god, we're not going to get through this in this lunch!' There's been stuff that's long-brewing that I'm really excited to hit."
Next question, from IGN: How does Spider-Man's "no one dies" mantra, adopted during Slott's run, affect this story? "By the time I got to come on the book as the writer, there were graveyards filled with Spider-Man supporting cast. To have one more key member, and at that time it was Jonah's wife, Marla, he just goes 'no more.' I'm Spider-Man. I can do anything. I have these amazing powers. I can fix this. We've watched over the years of the run how 'no one dies' kept changing, because it had to become more realistic." In a story where anyone can come back from the dead, Slott asked, what does that mean to Spider-Man?
Marvel.com asked about the Shocker -- and while he doesn't appear to play a part in this story, Slott said that due to the work done in "Superior Foes of Spider-Man," the next time the character shows in "Amazing Spider-Man" he'll be seen in a different light.
Another question from Word Balloon: What's it like working with Cheung? Slott said every time you get a new page in from him, you lose an hour from just staring at it. Lowe called him a perfect Marvel artist, due to his work's "gravitas" and "aspirational" quality. "To get him to draw this, it feels historic, it feels timeless, it feels classic," Lowe said. "If you're a Spider-Man fan and you're a Jim Cheung fan, you just hit the Venn diagram of awesome," Slott added.
Another question from Newsarama: Is there anyone in Spider-Man's life that he may not realize is already a clone? "Maaaaybe," Slott said, deliberately evasively.
Another question from CBR: How much is death, and dealing with death, a fundamental part of Spider-Man as a character? "From the moment he was created, the thing about Spider-Man -- and it really encapsulated the notion of 'Marvel is the world outside your window' -- Spider-Man stories are not set in Gotham or Metropolis. They're in places you can go and touch. Spider-Man as a character, he's not some modern-day god. He's the person you know, he's the person down the street. We can do crazy things to Peter, we can make him a fish out of water and run his own corporation, and he's always going to relate the way people you know react. There's something so human about Spider-Man. And one of the things we all go through is that we all lose people. It's the most human thing of all. There's a loved one you have that isn't here anymore. No one can feel that the way Spider-Man feels that. On some level, Spider-Man is you. Everyone who gets aboard writing the book, they're going to channel that part of their lives, too, and with it comes so much tragedy for Peter Parker. We're going to delve into that."
Another question from Marvel.com: How are the characters besides Spider-Man dealing with the fact their loved ones come back? Slott said you're going to have to read the story, but you should start by asking how you would react to it -- and how the various Spidey characters would react.
A follow-up question from Newsarama: What's stopping Peter Parker from embracing the fact that his loved ones could come back via cloning? "That's a very good question," Slott answered.
Abother question from CBR: Will any classic Spidey artists other than Ron Frenz contribute to "The Clone Conspiracy"? "We have a current classic drawing the 'Amazing Spider-Man' issues, Giuseppe Camuncoli," Lowe answered. Both Lowe and Slott praised Camuncoli's quality and consistency. "He kills himself to get this book out and it shows on every page," Slott said. "It's so good."
Slott pointed out that some classic Spidey artists will contribute variant covers to the story, including Mark Bagley.
Last question, from IGN: Why the change from "Dead No More" to "The Clone Conspiracy"? "In this day and age, it's so hard to keep things secret," Lowe answered. "When we started talking about this, it was before we revealed that the man in red that Dan's been planting since the beginning of the most recent 'Amazing Spider-Man' #1 is the Jackal. That's why we started with calling it 'Dead No More.' That was our priming the pump before we revealed it's the Jackal. Once you know it's the Jackal, you know there are clones involved."
As the call wrapped, Slott implored Spider-Man fans to add "Clone Conspiracy" to their pull lists. "Reading 'Amazing Spider-Man' is not enough," Lowe said. "The core story is in 'Clone Conspiracy.'"
"The Clone Conspiracy" #1 is on sale Oct. 12.