Once upon a time, the Marvel Universe was home to two famous teenage heroes. When they first started out, these two costumed adolescents disliked each other, but as they grew up, they formed a legendary friendship. Their names are Spider-Man and the Human Torch, but what's happened to their friendship now that the world seems to have forgotten that Peter Parker is Spider-Man? Writer Dan Slott and artist Barry Kitson answer that question and more in "Face Front," a new two-part arc that kicks off in "Amazing Spider-Man" #590. CBR News spoke with Slott about the story.
"Face Front" is the first multi-part "Amazing Spider-Man" storyline since the conclusion of "Character Assassination," which wrapped up a number of major plot threads that Slott and his fellow Spidey creators introduced in January 2008, when they began their run on the Brand New Day era of the classic title. "It really feels like we're heading into our second season," Slott told CBR News. "It feels like we're heading into this new era and with Joe Kelly and Mark Waid on the team we've got some fresh sets of eyes and ideas."
When "Face Front" begins, Spider-Man has a lot on his mind. "There's a lot of big problems and events that happened because of 'Character Assassination,'" Slott said. "Another big point is this story marks the first time in the 'Amazing Spider-Man' title that we're seeing Spidey in the world of Dark Reign. There's going to be a very big Dark Reign note struck in this story."
Spidey won't have too much time to dwell on his problems, though, because the First Family of the Marvel Universe needs his help. "The Fantastic Four need to contact Spider-Man. They need him to join them on their latest adventure," Slott explained. "In the past they used to have his phone number and now they don't. So how do you find Spider-Man and get him to join up?"
The Fantastic Four aren't the only ones who suddenly found themselves with a lack of information about Spider-Man's secret identity. In Marvel's landmark "Civil War" series, Peter Parker revealed his identity as Spider-Man to the whole world, but when Slott and his fellow creators introduced the Brand New Day status quo last year, the entire world seemed to have forgotten who Spider-Man really was. Why this happened is still a mystery, but Slott and his Spider-Man collaborators have been seeding clues as to what's really going on.
"The biggest clue right off the bat came in the second issue of the 'New Ways to Die' arc. We left you on a cliffhanger in the first issue with Norman Osborn and the Thunderbolts in Peter Parker's apartment with Osborn saying, 'Parker...' Then in the next issue he finishes that thought saying, '...what can you tell me about Spider-Man?' Then you see this shot of Peter and his thoughts are 'What we did is still working. Thank god!'" Slott explained. "People have asked me point blank if that 'we' includes Mephisto [The demon lord who appeared at the end of the controversial 2007 Spider-Man storyline, 'One More Day'] and the answer is no, there is no Mephisto in that 'we.' There's something else going on. Spider-Man knows something that the readers don't. So who that 'we' is, is a very important question in the world of 'Amazing Spider-Man.'"
The Fantastic Four find their sudden lack of knowledge about Spider-Man to be somewhat suspicious. The person who's the most upset about it is Johnny Storm, the Human Torch. Readers of Slott's 2005 "Spider-Man/Human Torch" miniseries know the two heroes bonded over the course of their costumed careers and eventually became best friends. "One of the things that happened at the end of the 'Spider-Man/Human Torch' mini was that Peter revealed his identity to the Torch and the FF and he's kind of taken in as part of their extended family," Slott said. "Since the continuity shake up at the end of 2007, that's been taken away from them. Here's this great bond that's been severed, and this is the first time you're going to see a Spider-Man Torch team-up since that happened. There's something very tangible missing, so what does that do to who they are and how they relate to each other? What effect will that have on their friendship?"
The chance to further explore the dynamic between Spider-Man and the Human Torch has been lots of fun for Slott; he's been enjoying the two characters' interactions since he was eight-years-old. "My first intro to the whole Spidey/Torch deal was reading the pocket comics that collected the first year-and-a-half of Spider-Man's adventures," the writer recalled. "There were tales like the story in 'Amazing' #1, where Spidey tries to break into the Baxter Building and join the FF, or the first ever Doctor Octopus adventure where Spidey is thinking of just giving up and passing the buck to the Human Torch. They had a wonderful relationship. Here's poor Peter Parker, who grew up in Queens, and here's Johnny Storm, who gets to travel the cosmos. He gets to have fun and adventures, while Pete has all these responsibilities. So they're these two completely different characters who play off each other in a really unique way. I haven't had this much fun working on a comic in ages. This is a chance for me to get back to the spirit of Spidey and the Torch."
While their friendship may have been characterized by frequent jokes and insults at each others' expense, Slott still feels that the bond between Spidey and the Torch was genuine and very important to both characters. "They've busted on each other in the way brothers or best friends often do. This is the closest thing Spider-Man has to a superhero friend and when you're Johnny Storm everybody knows who you are. How are you going to have a friend who's not a sycophant, hanger-on, or tag-along? So it was fun for Johnny to have a contemporary hero; someone who's his age and willing to bust on him too."
Spider-Man's latest adventure with the Fantastic Four will take him away from his usual stomping grounds. "This is Spidey exploring in space. He's doing cosmic Marvel U stuff, which is something we don't usually see," Slott confirmed. "He's done that type of stuff in the past, but when you pick up an issue of 'Amazing Spider-Man,' you're used to seeing street-level Spidey. This is very much a 'Marvel Team-Up' Spidey. This is very much Spidey as a fish out of water. He's in the FF's neck of the woods."
Slott couldn't reveal too much about the nature of Spider-Man and the FF's adventure in "Face Front," but hinted that it launches out of something from the final issue of the "Spider-Man/Human Torch" miniseries. "I don't want to say this is a follow up to that, but it does a nod and wink to that mini," the writer teased. "And even though there are some new villains and new things going on in this story, the biggest adversary the characters are up against is their relationship and this horrible secret hanging over their heads, of you-used-to-know-but-now-you-don't."
Spider-Man's cosmic quest in "Face Front" takes him out of New York, but while he's gone, life continues for the members of his supporting cast. "No character is left unturned," Slott said. "There will be important plot developments with Harry, Aunt May, Dexter Bennett, Jonah, Norah Winters, and Flash Thompson.
"There's also going to be some big stuff for Martin Li a.k.a. Mr. Negative," Slott continued. "Fred Van Lente, who's a great writer, is working on the 'Dark Reign: Mr. Negative' miniseries coming up in June, and when people read 'Amazing Spider-Man' #590 they're going to see an important development for Martin Li, which is kind of exciting. He's going have some big stuff to do and a very important part to play in coming events."
The tone of Slott's story in "Amazing" #590-591 will reflect the amount of fun he had writing the book. "It's not that I didn't enjoy working on other comics, but boy there was something magical happening when I was writing this story," he said. "In addition to playing with the Spidey-Torch dynamic, I also got to write scenes with the Thing. For those who enjoyed my run on that series, in the story I think I've written my favorite line of dialog for that character that I've ever written. When you're working on a high profile Spider-Man arc like 'New Ways to Die' there's a lot of pressure, so I haven't had this much pure, unbridled fun since working on the Paper Doll story in Spidey or the last issue of 'She-Hulk.' Reading through the script and the issue I think that comes through.
"I believe it was Steven Soderbergh who said, 'If the quality of a movie were based on how much fun you had on the set, then 'Cannonball Run II' would've been the greatest movie of all time.' That's a funny statement but I think there's truth to it. When I was working on 'The Thing' I said I wanted it to be like mac & cheese, the comic book equivalent of comfort food. And when you pick up these two issues of 'Amazing Spider-Man' that's what you're going to get; this is Crackerjacks with a prize. You give us your $2.99 and you're going to have a fun time. We're going to make it worth your while."
It wasn't just Dan Slott who was having fun working on the "Face Front" two-parter. His collaborator Barry Kitson also had a blast bringing the story to life. "When we first met at the Baltimore convention last year, I said to him that the FF are going to get to go off and have this cosmic adventure with Spider-Man in our issues and asked him what kind of worlds he wanted them to go to," Slott explained. "And he started telling me about all his favorite sci-fi and fantasy stuff and we started putting together ideas. You could just see how invested and excited he was getting that he got to hit those areas and depict things he wanted to draw. It really shows through in the art. The visuals for this story are so wonderful. Barry's awesome. This was my first time working with him, and I can't wait to work with him again!"
Slott promises that final pages of "Face Front" will have a significant affect on the life of Spider-Man. In fact, the story ends with an event that will have repercussions for many Marvel Universe titles. "By the end of issue #591, a major status quo change is going to occur and it's something we've been building to for some time," the writer remarked. "There's so much energy on this title right now and a lot of it is, 'Wow! We can't wait to get to this point!' It will be so much fun to play with all the toys in the toy box once we get to this point. Now that it's here you going to see this thrust behind 'Amazing Spider-Man that's just going to blow everybody away."
Readers will see the direct repercussions from the end of "Face Front" in "Amazing Spider-Man" #592, which begins writer Mark Waid and artist Mike McKone's "24/7" arc. "When '24/7' kicks off, it's a direct response to the big thing that happened at the end of this story," Slott said. "The end of 'Face Front' is the catalyst for the '24/7' arc."
Once "Face Front" finishes, readers won't have to wait too long to see Slott's next "Amazing Spider-Man" issue. The writer will make his return to the title with the giant-size "Amazing Spider-Man" #600. "Spidey #600 is going to be a blast! One of [Spider-Man editor] Steve Wacker's current passions is making #600 one of the biggest, thickest comics known to man and packing it with all-new material. No reprints! Having this giant tome of Spidey-Love barreling at you! I believe we've already leaked that I'm working on a Doc Ock story. And I'm going to sound sappy but I don't care, the first comic I read where I kind of got choked up and cried as a kid was the issue with the death of Captain Stacy. Along with his origin that's my favorite Doc Ock story. I really feel honored to be working with such an iconic and important Spider-Man character-and on a centennial issue!
"Since I'm working on issue #600, I owe it the readers to take my best shot at telling the best Spidey and Doc Ock story I can. The page count on this is enormous and there will be an important moment, a landmark in the lives of these characters. Plus there will be plenty of other surprises and guest stars. I'm really trying to tell a big anniversary story. This is me trying to step up and write a movie-worthy script for a Spidey/Doc Ock adventure, and I'm really excited about that."
"Amazing Spider-Man" #590 swings into stores April 1 from Marvel Comics.