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Slott Revisits Spidey’s Earliest Days in “Learning to Crawl”

by  in Comic News Comment
Slott Revisits Spidey’s Earliest Days in “Learning to Crawl”

In 1962’s legendary “Amazing Fantasy” #15, writer Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko showed readers how a chance encounter with a radioactive spider and a moment of selfishness transformed teenager Peter Parker into what would become Marvel Comics’ flagship character, the Amazing Spider-Man. The origin issue ended with Spidey performing his first heroic act, capturing the burglar who murdered his Uncle Ben and embarking on a career of super heroics in the pages of the ongoing “Amazing Spider-Man” series that followed.

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This May, “Learning to Crawl,” a five-issue, monthly ‘flashback’ storyline taking place in “Amazing Spider-Man” #1.1 through 1.5, Dan Slott and Ramón Perez will reveal a portion of Peter Parker’s heroic journey readers of those early issues never got to see. We spoke with Slott about the arc, which takes place after “Amazing Fantasy” #15 and between the events of the first three issues of the 1960s volume of “Amazing Spider-Man.”

CBR News: “Learning to Crawl” seems like a pretty special story — what inspired it and how long have you had the idea for it?

Dan Slott: The idea for this story came about two years ago. We were gearing up for the 50th anniversary of “Amazing Spider-Man,” and we were talking about stories we could do. One of the things that came up was the idea of revisiting the origin. What if we told a ‘Spider-Man: Year One’ style story?

As a fan, there’s certain things about revisiting origins that scare me. I hate it when all this extra ballast is attached onto something so beautiful and elegant. Plus, Spider-Man has one of the best origin stories of all time. So my take was always that we leave everything we know as sacrosanct. That’s the way it happened, and we look at what kinds of stories could be told during that time frame.

If you essentially got to start a new Spider-Man film franchise, what would be the story you would tell? I was thinking about that for a while and I didn’t quite have it. Then, when we were well into the 50th anniversary, I went, “Oh! I know how to do this!” Then it became this idea I just could not let go of. Every now and then, I’d go back and scribble out more ideas for it, and more “puzzle pieces” would fall into place. It was this project that keep building and building and what better time to do it than when you relaunch with “Amazing Spider-Man” #1? We can go, “Okay, here’s the hidden story.”

So “Learning to Crawl” uses “Amazing Fantasy” #15 as a jumping off point and heads off in its own direction, then?

Everything that happens in “Learning to Crawl” you can consider canon. This happened, and it tells a story that takes place the second after “Amazing Fantasy” #15 ends. The closing shot of “Amazing Fantasy” #15 is Peter Parker walking into the distance, having learned the lesson of great power and great responsibility. The opening of this series is Peter Parker walking towards us. So the camera is on the other side now as he’s wondering now that he knows that life changing lesson, what does he do next?

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That’s the opening moment. This story happens right after “Amazing Fantasy” #15 and concurrently with “Amazing Spider-Man” #1-3. Those four issues are the Bible, and this is the story that you never knew and it’s happening when the camera wasn’t rolling before. Important things happen. Things that you knew had to have to happened — and now you’ll see them unfold in ways that will hopefully feel true and surprising in how revelatory they are. It really gets to the heart of a new hero finding his way.

Over how much time does “Learning to Crawl” unfold?

Even though we’re saying it’s a Year One story as shorthand, this is really the first 60 days of Peter being Spider-Man after the events of AF #15.

And thanks to Marvel’s sliding time scale, Spider-Man’s early days are only a few years ago for the character as opposed to decades for the reader —

It’s about 12-13 years ago. That’s the current measure of Marvel sliding time; everything happened 12-13 years ago. As the Marvel Universe has grown older, there have been many years where that scale was five years, or seven years, or nine years. Now we’re up to 12-13. Or else, how do you explain Julie Power growing up? Or Franklin Richards getting a little older, and Valeria Richards being born? There are markers in the Marvel Universe, and we’re up to 12-13 years ago.

So Peter will have access to things like cell phones and the Internet.

Artist Ramón Perez and I have had long emails about this. [Laughs] There are certain things you have to turn a blind eye to, like the Fantastic Four’s flight going up at the end of the George W. Bush era, or that Obama has been the president for half of the Marvel Universe’s present day time. There’s stuff like that which you don’t really look at, but when you get to stuff like cell phones and Google, the answer is, “Yes.”

The way you have to look at it, though, is you can have movies like “Pulp Fiction,” which is clearly set in the mid ’90s, but has a ’70s vibe. You can have animated shows like the Bruce Timm/Paul Dini “Batman” show, where the style, aesthetic and the vibe are clearly late ’30s/early ’40s, but you’ll have important plot points based around VHS video tapes. There’s a mix.

In “Learning to Crawl,” you’re very much going to see a Peter Parker and Spider-Man who are drawn the way they appeared in “Amazing Fantasy” #15 through “Amazing” #1-3. Peter will have the big glasses, the red tie and the sweater vest

So Ramón is going for a Ditko vibe with his art?

Yes! Hopefully there will be a Lee-Ditko vibe in the art and story. Then, when you meet our new villain, hopefully he’ll feel like he was created during that run.

You guys are swinging for the fences, then, in terms of character creation, because that’s an era where some of Spidey’s best and most classic villains debuted.

[Laughs] Yes! We’re not aiming low! This is risky. We’ve sent notes to each other that were like, “No big challenge there!” [Laughs] That’s the goal and the hope, though — to constantly show with everything that we’re doing the reverence we have for that era, but at the same time hopefully taking you to new places and telling you a new kind of story.

Can you offer up any more hints or teases about this new villain and how they operate?

He’s a new villain, and you’ll learn more about him in a short prelude story by me and Ramón that comes out in “Amazing Spider-Man” #1. What you’ll see in that story is how this character was looking at the world when the events of “Amazing Fantasy” #15 took place.

This new character is going to stand out from Spider-Man’s other villains. When you read X-Men stories and they flash back to the past, they want you to think a villain is really important by showing you they were there for all the key events, they usually end being someone like Mister Sinister! This is not the case with “Learning To Crawl”. In this story, what we end up with is a villain who’s very much in the vein of Electro or Sandman. He’s just a villain you haven’t seen yet before. Why you haven’t seen him since this story will actually be a story point.

He’s not a behind the scenes mastermind type.

No, he’s not a behind the scenes mastermind. This is someone who organically fits in to who and what Spider-Man is about.

What I can you tell you about him is, when you think of all of Spidey’s classic villains — Spidey was like a scrawny, 15-year-old kid in a costume who the Flash Thompsons of the world would pick on and make him feel awful during the day. Then, as soon as he’s out of school, he gets to put on that costume and the people he’s beating up on are adults and authority figures. Everyone’s older than him. He’s punching up adult crooks like the Vulture and Doc Ock.

This villain’s different. When J. Jonah Jameson first starts his crusade against Spider-Man, it’s because, as far as the world knows, all Spider-Man is and all he’s ever been is an entertainer. Jonah’s initial campaign against Spider-Man is about, “Don’t hold this guy up as a hero! Hold up my son, who’s an astronaut, as a hero! This kid’s a performer and kids could get hurt emulating him.” That is a big part of Jameson’s initial crusade against Spider-Man. “If people try to act like this Spider-Man clown, they’re going to get hurt.”

Cue our new villain, who is someone Spider-Man’s age. For Peter, it’s like, “Wait a minute — this stuff happens to me in the school yard, and now it’s happening in my super hero life? What’s going on? I’m fighting a kid; someone just like me!” There’s a big reason the person is just like him: They’re emulating him. “That Spider-Man guy on TV is cool! I want to be like Spider-Man!” It is Jameson’s worst fear. He nailed it. He said some idiot kid would try to be like Spider-Man and do stuff, and here you go.

Which, of course, plays to the classic Spider-Man theme of responsibility.

Yep! [Laughs] Because who’s responsible for this kid doing what he’s doing? Peter Parker.

How big a role will Spider-Man’s established supporting cast have in “Learning to Crawl?”

You’ll see a lot of your favorites: J. Jonah Jameson, Flash Thompson, Liz Allen and especially Aunt May. That said, we’re going to meet some new cast members. We’re going to see characters that really should play a big part in Peter’s life, who we haven’t seen because there’s only so much you can show in a comic, especially in the 17-page comics of the ’60s. There had to be stuff going on off screen.

I was looking at some of Ramón’s art today and his layouts and page designs are pretty amazing. I’m excited to see what he does with Spider-Man.

Me too. Anyone who’s read “Tale of Sand” knows Ramón is fantastic. We just started working on the prelude in “Amazing” #1, and he’s already drawn some character designs and things to go, “This is the vibe I’m going for. This is what my Spider-Man is going to look like,” and it’s fantastic. It’s everything you want. It’s the Spider-Man you get from “Amazing Fantasy” #15 onwards, with the big bulbous spider, the webs under the arms and the smaller eyes; clearly, classic Spider-Man. Ramón is going to kill on this.

Ramón and I look at this as, if we do this right, this becomes a perennial. This becomes a thing you can always go back and read, this very timeless story that gets to the core of Peter Parker and Spider-Man.

And the exterior art for “Learning to Crawl” should look fantastic as well, because the covers will be done by Alex Ross.

Yeah — Alex Ross on covers! How awesome is that? He did a 75th anniversary Marvel cover for “Amazing Spider-Man” #1 that looks at all of Spider-Man’s history. Then, I’ve seen his first cover for “Learning to Crawl,” which is just a wonderful, big, glorious shot of the Spidey of the time. I very much want that as a poster. It’s beautiful!

For every issue of “Learning to Crawl,” you’re going to get a gorgeous Alex Ross cover. And I’ve seen a murderer’s row of variants! This is an era of Spidey that really fuels everyone’s imagination, so you’re going to see Marvel’s best and brightest rising to the occasion!

Ultimately, it sounds like you plan for the events of “Spider-Man Year One: Learning to Crawl” will come back to affect the present day action in the new volume of “Amazing Spider-Man.”

Yes! This is going to be running in tandem with “Amazing,” where instead of “Amazing” twice a month, what we’re doing is every month you get an issue of “Amazing” and an issue of “Learning to Crawl,” which will be under the “Amazing Spider-Man” banner. You’ll get that for five months. Then, when “Learning to Crawl” is done, the stories are going to fold into each other. In the very next issue of “Amazing,” you’ll see how “Learning to Crawl” affects the present day.

If “Learning to Crawl” is your first ever Spider-Man story, hopefully it will inspire you to go and not just read the present day stories, but to go back and read the classics as well. This story lovingly puts the classic run of Spidey on a pedestal while, hopefully, at the same time showing you new insights and giving you a new story. And by the time it’s over, there will be a character or two that you’ve met in “Learning to Crawl” who will then move over to the “Amazing” cast, and there will be ramifications.

I’ve just spent over a year telling the adventures of a twisted and distorted version of Spider-Man. This is the exact opposite. This is straight to the core — tapping the purest vein of Spider-Man — all the way to Peter Parker’s heart. This is all about heart. This project is very much a love letter to Spidey. A lot of times, you put on different hats when you write different things for different characters, and I’m very much in the same zone as when I wrote “Spider-Man/Human Torch” on this one. Hopefully, there will be all the bonuses of nostalgia and all the plusses of the new.

In “Spider-Man/Human Torch,” we were telling all these self-contained stories with our title characters, but what we were really doing (and not telling people) was adding to all the adventures and private moments that Peter Parker was having with Johnny Storm. We were revealing more about their relationship that we really haven’t seen over the years; not Spidey and Torch: Parker and Storm. By the final issue, you saw what it was all building towards was Peter revealing his secret identity to Johnny. We couldn’t let people know that, though, when we were promoting the mini, because it would have spoiled the end.

The one thing I can tell you about “Learning to Crawl” is that this is a story where I would love to tell you what it’s really about, but if I did, I’d be spoiling it. It’s building to something that I think Spider-Man fans will care about and appreciate, and I’m very happy that this gets to be Ramón and my version of what we’d do if we got to make a Spider-Man movie.

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