So, what if when Peter Parker gained those magnificent spider powers he didn't have the guidance of his Uncle Ben who instilled in him the creed, "With great power must also come great responsibility." That's the general idea behind "Spider-Man, Startling Stories: The Megalomaniacal Spider-Man" coming this April from the mind of Peter Bagge and Marvel Comics.
"It's a 'What If' story," Bagge told CBR News Thursday, "where Peter Parker experiences a crisis earlyon that inspires him to 'sell out' and capitalize on Spider-Man's name rather than actually fight crime anymore, only to experience another life changing crisis down the road."
Bagge is best-known for his indie-comic book "Hate," described by Bagge as "the partlysatirical and partly auto-biographical adventures of a young misanthrope named Buddy Bradley." "Hate" debuted in 1990 and was brought to an end in 1998. Where "Hate" was completely irreverent and definitely adult oriented, Spider-Man might not seem like the kind of character Bagge would be drawn to. Most would consider working on Spider-Man a major departure for Bagge.
"I NEVER thought I'd be working on something like this a few years ago! But I'm at sort of at a creativecrossroads these days -- I'm in a state of limbo in many respects -- and as such I find myself more than willing to try my hand at anything, the more 'unlikely' the better."
So, how did Bagge end up working with Marvel?
"[Series editor] Axel Alonso asked me to consider writing a one shot Spider-Man story as part of a series of side projects that allow non-superhero writers and artists a chance to put their spin on existing Marvel characters.
"It's been all Axel from the get-go. I'm SICK of the guy already (joke)! We talked about it off and on for quite a while before a story idea gelled that we both were happy with. I also was very particular about who would draw it, and since none of the artists I had in mind were willing or able to do it I asked if I could draw it myself, and Axel amazingly agreed. I say 'amazingly' since I draw in a very cartoony way that common wisdom suggests most superhero readers are allergic too, though I must say that it's turning out looking more traditional (in a '60s style, at least) superhero style than I thought it would."
Whereas "Hate" is filled with adult humor and situations, understandably Bagge's work on "Startling Stories" had to differ a bit from the tone Bagge set in "Hate."
"While not wanting to totally hem me in, Axel quite reasonably asked me not to push it either," said Bagge. "The book won't be Code Approved, but they still expect kids to pick it up simply because it is a Spider-Man title. As a result, so-called 'adult themes' are used, but not in any detailed or graphic sense.
Bagge admits he never read Spider-Man before working on this project, so he did his research, trying to find the right inspiration for this story.
"I focused exclusively on the early Ditko/Lee issues from the 1960s (as well as a few Romita-drawn issues just to keep up with certain "continuities")," said Bagge, "just to get a firm grasp of what Lee and Ditko had in mind with the character, and why be became such a popular -- and even PROFOUND, to some people -- character. Because of this, my story is rather true (I think) to Lee and Kirby's styles and approaches from that time, though it's also clearly filtered through my own usual approach and style."
Seeing as how Bagge's work has been solidly based in non-superhero comics you might think superheroes aren't Bagge's cup of tea. You'd be right, but not entirely.
"I've never been much of a superhero comic fan at all," said Bagge. "I liked movies and TV shows about superheroes when I was a kid, but there was something about the comics that left me about cold, even as a kid. I felt they demanded too much of the reader, what with the continuity and such, and they had an air of self-importance that I found rather absurd. I suppose all this attention to detail and earnestness was supposed to help with the reader's suspension of disbelief, but for me it had the opposite effect... I was as big of an outcast and misfit as the average comic reader -- and I loved MAD and other comic books and strips -- I never felt the need for the 'power fantasies' that superhero comics are supposed to provide.
"As for Spider-Man himself: I think the whole concept of him being the 'troubled superhero' is a great one, and the tension between his two alter-egos are so strong -- it's like the Superman/Clark Kent duality times ten -- that it's almost comical. It IS comical! And I like Stan Lee's writing in those early issues: he mixed just the right amount of irreverence (for the benefit of cynics like me) with the earnestness that more hardcore superhero fans responded to so intensely. Unfortunately that earnestness got stronger as time went on -- not just in Spidey but in all superhero comics -- to the point where the irreverence got drowned out or eliminated, and thus became completely inaccessible to readers like myself.
With regard to future Bagge editions of Marvel icons, it's possible.
"I talked to Axel briefly of my doing something similar with the Hulk. It's all a big maybe for now."
"Hate" continues to be published once a year under the title of "Hate Annual." Whereas in the past "Hate" focused almost entirely on its star Buddy Bradley, Bagge is exploring a wider variety of story ideas in the Annuals. He's also got plenty of other work to keep him busy.
"I'm doing a monthly comic and occasional feature for a political commentary magazine called Reason, I have a strip coming out in an upcoming Details, and I'm working on another 'Hate Annual', of course."