[SPOILER WARNING: THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS FOR "AMAZING SPIDER-MAN" #671, in stores and available digitally now.]
Thomas Fuller, the 17th century English theologian and historian, is credited with coining the phrase, "It's always darkest before the dawn." It was a proverb meant to comfort people going through trying times; to let them know that good luck is about to come their way.
Right now in the Marvel Universe the people of New York are desperately hoping that's true because the city is in the middle of one of the biggest super-powered crises it's ever seen. Thanks to a virus created by the villains known as the Jackal and the Queen, most of New York's population has been transformed into giant, monstrous spiders. The story of their transformation and the battle for control of New York is currently being told in "Spider-Island," a crossover running through the pages of "Amazing Spider-Man" and several tie-in issues. In today's installment of SPIDER-ISLAND HOPPING, our in depth look at every issue of the main storyline with the creators involved, writer Dan Slott joins us for a look at the penultimate issue of "Spider-Island," "Amazing" #671 by Slott and artist Humberto Ramos.
CBR News: Dan, before the Spider-Island Virus transformed the citizens of Manhattan into giant spiders it endowed them with powers similar to Spider-Man's. You open the issue with Peter Parker's ex-girlfriend, Mary Jane Watson, using her newly developed spider powers to defend a group of people from giant spider attacks. During the fight she says she now understands Peter and gets why he does the things he does. Since Peter had to learn his lesson about super powers the hard way through tragedy, does Mary Jane truly understand Peter?
Dan Slott: Mary Jane has also been by Peter's side and seen things through his eyes. She's witnessed all these terrible moments that have gone on during his adventures and all the sacrifices he's had to make; everything from Gwen Stacy's death to not knowing where he was the night of "Kraven's Last Hunt."
But there's a difference between living through something vicariously and actually experiencing it for yourself. It's a world of difference. I can be friends with a skydiver my whole life. I can see videos of them jumping out of planes, but until I jump out of that plane myself I really don't know what it's like.
While Mary Jane has powers that allow her to understand Peter a little better, we're still not sure we understand how she got those powers. When the rest of New York began exhibiting their early spider powers she was still normal and seemingly unaffected, but now when the other New Yorkers are in the final stages of the virus where they transform into giant spiders, she suddenly has spider powers. What exactly is going on with Mary Jane and her abilities?
At one point in "Spider-Island" you find out the virus is airborne and that everyone should be getting it. Yet, as you point out, it took her forever. She was like the last person on Manhattan to get spider powers. In the issue before this one [#670], Reed Richards has a theoretical window of how long it will take to reach 100% infestation [and] she's there at the last tick of the clock. We will find out in issue #672 what's going on with that.
Fair enough. Mary Jane's powers weren't the only unusual thing about issue #671. Another strange thing we noticed is that people seem to be showing Spider-Man a lot of admiration and appreciation for his valiant attempts to protect the city. Are the people of New York finally starting to truly love and appreciate Spidey or is something else going on?
Right now the only people who are showing this great love for Spider-Man are the one percent that aren't infected. It's the guys who are at Horizon who have obviously gotten the cure, the people in Anti-Venom's church that Mary Jane is protecting, and some of the police and soldiers in the Mayor's command center that were also exposed to the cure. So there ain't that many normal people left! Everybody who's been cured are grateful for all the heroes' help, whether it's Spidey, Reed Richards, Spider-Woman, Gravity, Firestar and everybody who's holding that line.
So even the X-Men are feeling the love then?
Yeah, because the city's been overrun by giant eight-legged monsters! [Laughs] There ain't that many people left. Manhattan is falling.
The chief architect of that fall has been the villain known as the Queen. We talked briefly about her when it was revealed she was the mysterious mastermind who helped the Jackal create the virus, but we'd like to dig a little deeper. What's it like writing the Queen? What do you find most interesting about her as a character?
There are characters that have very clear motivations for what they do. We know what Thanos wants. He loves Death and he's going enact his schemes because of that. We know what Doctor Doom and the Red Skull want. The Queen, though, has a really bizarre "want." She wants to rule a kingdom of insects. [Laughs] That's insane! In those original Paul Jenkins stories with her she's out to take over Manhattan -- and if only the bugs are left -- that's okay. So this is a person who has no problem if the entire world is infected with the Spider-Island Virus. She would love to rule a planet of eight-legged spider-people. This will be her colony. This will be the world reshaped in her image and she thinks that's really great. We had a lot of fun building an entire event around the Queen and the Jackal.
During the "Spider-Island" event many people have stepped up to fight the Queen and the Jackal's scheme. Most of them are heroes, but in issue #671 we saw someone who walked the line between hero and villain doing their part to help out. He's the mysterious scientist who works in Lab Six at Horizon Labs, and in this issue you finally reveal that he is Doctor Michael Morbius, the Living Vampire. We take it you're a fan of the character?
Yes! We finally revealed the secret identity of the anonymous member of the Lucky Seven Think Tank. Number Six, the person in the lab next to Peter Parker all this time, has been a complete and utter mystery. We have that one page in this issue where you think we were going to keep messing with you. You finally meet Number 6 -- and he's in a hazmat suit. I just wanted everyone reading it to go, "Really? REALLY?! You're FINALLY showing us Number Six -- and he's in a hazmat suit?" Then the very next page he takes it off. So we teased it out for one more page.
And when I told Humberto [Ramos] that we we're bringing Morbius back to Spidey's world he sent me a note asking if I wanted him in a modern looking costume or perhaps with a leather jacket look? I was like, "No. I want the little red bat wings! I want Morbius. I want the hardcore, bad to the bone, original '70s glam Morbius! That's what I want."
Why do you think Morbius is such a good fit for Spidey's world? Is it because of the science gone wrong aspect of his origin?
Yeah! If you look at the JMS years of "Amazing" it's all animal totems, and the minute I got my hands on the characters I asked if we could put in the original top copy, "Bitten by a radioactive spider. In a science experiment..." All the guys I love playing with are mad scientists or characters that have been affected by science experiments -- because, to me, that's very much Spidey's world.
When you think about all the science characters in Spidey's history you get everyone from the Smythes to the Terrible Tinkerer, to the Jackal, Farley Stillwell, Norman Osborn and Otto Octavius. It just doesn't stop. You could technically go to the Vulture or any guy who builds his own stuff. I love all the mad scientist characters -- and at his heart Morbius fits so perfectly with that vibe.
Speaking of characters that fit into Spider-Man's world, the Thing recently became part of Peter's world when Spider-Man joined the Future Foundation. It looks like the Thing's involvement in Spidey's world has grown even bigger now because he's been a major player in "Spider-Island" and was also a big part of the "Revenge of the Spider-Slayer" story line a couple arcs before that. Given you used to write a "Thing" ongoing series, just how much do you miss the character?
Yes! It's the pain and the phantom limb whenever I wake up in the morning; the itch I can't scratch. I would love to keep writing the Thing. I had so much fun! The dialogue just comes out naturally. I love that exchange they had in "Amazing" #666, where he wanted to date Mary Jane and Peter was like, "Shut up!" It's sad that we're in a world without Johnny Storm, and the next kind of brother-like figure Peter has, especially now with all his involvement with Jonathan [Hickman's] "FF," is Ben Grimm.
Also, as a kid, there were five comics I bought every month. Those were "Amazing Spider-Man," "Marvel Team-Up," "Detective Comics," "The Brave and the Bold," and "Marvel Two-In-One." I always liked it when Spidey teamed up with somebody and I always liked it when Ben Grimm teamed up with somebody. I remember how much it blew my mind when "Marvel Team-Up" and "Marvel Two-In-One" had a crossover. They teamed up to fight the Basilisk for two issues and it was like, "Wow they can do that!" It was amazing.
While we're on the topic of the Future Foundation, let's talk about the scene in issue #671 where Reed Richards discusses the cure for the Spider-Island Virus with the staff of Project Rebirth. We know the scientists at Horizon came up with a cure using the symbiotic suit of Anti-Venom, but the staff of Rebirth developed a cure with the Venom symbiote. So it's the alien symbiote that's the important element of the cure and not anything special about the Anti-Venom symbiote in particular?
Anti-Venom's suit is made of alien-symbiote antibodies. So you have to imagine that Project Rebirth could use the Venom suit; they could somehow use it to create or bring out alien anti-bodies in a small sample. Meanwhile, that's all the Anti-Venom suit is. It has all these amazing properties and its host, Eddie Brock, sacrificed it -- so a large amount of the cure could be produced.
There's no more Anti-Venom, but that doesn't mean Eddie Brock's story is over. I believe I can say this because it was mentioned at New York Comic Con: Eddie Brock has a lot more story in him and he's moving over to Rick Remender's "Venom" series! So Eddie Brock fans, don't despair! More Brock is coming your way!
While Reed is talking to the Project Rebirth staff about the cure he's interrupted by a pretty impressive display of power from the new Madame Web, Julia Carpenter. Just how powerful is she? Does she have abilities we haven't seen her use yet?
We've seen her appear and disappear in Joe Kelly's "Grim Hunt" arc of "Amazing Spider-Man." And we've seen in "Spider-Island" that she still maintains all of her original Spider-Woman powers; the psi-web and so on. She seems to be playing more of an Oracle or Watcher-like role, so we haven't seen her really dish out the powers, but we know she has them.
After that scene with Madame Web we get a pretty fierce battle between Spider-Man and the Tarantula which ends with him being dunked into a vat of the cure for the Spider-Island Virus. That transformed him back into Kaine, one of the Jackal's clones of Peter Parker. Is Kaine back to his former self now?
He's not just his former self. He's better than his former self. Kaine no longer has any of the degenerative icky stuff all over him. Look at him. He looks like a perfect Peter Parker. Taking a dip in that pool has been pretty awesome for him -- so far.
Kaine is an interesting character in that he was brought back during the "Brand New Day" era of "Amazing Spider-Man" and has just stuck around. Why do you think that is? What makes him such an enduring character?
Marc Guggenheim had a jones for Kaine when we we're doing "Brand New Day." Then Joe Kelly really wanted to play with him in "Grim Hunt." His story kept moving along and becoming more interesting. It still cracks me up when I go to shows and signings and there are still fans who read all of "Grim Hunt"-- except the LAST page! That last page has Kaine rising from the grave and it looks like he's mutated and has "Other" powers. You're left wondering if he's now like Peter was during "The Other" storyline. Is what happened to Peter in now happening to him? And just who called him out of that grave?
Then you found out in "Deadly Foes" that it was the Jackal. Who else is going to bring a Parker clone out of a grave? And he mutates Kaine some more. That's why he's called the Tarantula in this story. Joe Kelly named him the Tarantula at the end of "Grim Hunt" so you've got to play fair. It was nice to have it all come together.â€¨There was a moment when "Spider-Island" was in early stages and I was thinking, "What if the Jackal was behind this?" And then it was like, "Oh, and we get to use Kaine!" It was neat to have all these fun pieces to put together.
The thing that proved instrumental in Spidey's victory against Kaine was the return of his spider-sense. It came back thanks to the work of many of Horizon Labs' scientists. Was it always the plan to return his spider-sense at this moment?
Yes! We went 17 issues without spider-sense! We always knew there was going to be that one moment where, when Spidey needed it most, his spider-sense would flare up. But, in typical Peter Parker fashion, when you get a nice happy turn, something goes horribly wrong. In this case we have three characters tuned into the Web of Life in this story. We have Spider-Man, Madame Web and the Queen. When the wonderful guys at Horizon figured out a way to piggyback a signal onto the spider-sense jamming signal and reignite Spider-Man's spider-sense, they really powered-up everybody on that frequency. One of the unintended consequences was that they bumped the Queen to GOD-LIKE LEVELS!
Some people are like, "Why did you go through that whole journey of taking away his spider-sense?" Because now he's got spider-sense and kung fu! It's awesome! No one can mess with this guy! C'mon! Spider-sense and kung fu! I fear for the rest of the Marvel Universe!
It looks like Spidey's going to need his spider-sense and kung fu too because the final showdown with the Queen is almost upon us, and as you mentioned she's now incredibly powerful. Just how dangerous is she?
She's still the Queen, but she now has god-like powers and when you read "Venom" #8 you'll get to see even more of what she's doing. Then come back for ["Amazing Spider-Man"] #672. Do not read the previews for "Spidey" #672 though, if you're going to read "Venom" #8, because it will spoil things! I've been running around the net trying to warn everybody.
Any parting thoughts about "Amazing Spider-Man" #671?
In this issue we see something that might come into play later if people are still alive. Peter Parker made a promise to Max Modell that he would never do anything that would endanger Horizon Labs, yet he's obviously circumvented their security system so that he can go in and out of the vents as Spider-Man. You see in this issue that he's put a security panel in there, but oh no! That's what let the Tarantula in. That might not be good. Peter's got his dream job, so why is he messing with it like this? WHY?!
So there may be a limit to Max Modell's understanding?
Yes! What are you thinking, Peter Parker?! [Laughs]
Finally, let's wrap up by talking about "Amazing Spider-Man" #672, which just went on sale. For those who have yet to read it, can you offer up any teases about what awaits readers of this issue, which is the sixth and final issue of "Spider-Island?"
I said this at New York Comic Con and I'll say it again. I guarantee long term Spider-Man fans at least one squeeee moment You will go, "SQUEEEE!" when you read it. The finale of "Spider-Island" is quite a hoot. It's going to get really big, really fun, or really stupid. Maybe all three. [Laughs] And I enjoy it to bits! Grab on to the roll bar. The last issue is really big. The action and all the moments are gigantic. And Humberto Ramos makes 'em look EVEN BIGGER! There's lots of pay off on stuff you care about. I can't wait for readers to see it!
Check back with CBR in just a few short days for our next installment of SPIDER-ISLAND HOPPING where we cover "Amazing Spider-Man" #672, in stores and available digitally now.