Talking about Spider-Man with Editor Axel Alonso

By now most of you reading this will have seen "Spider-Man 2." And as you know, the movie has been breaking records left and right, including a new one this week when it passed the $200 million dollar mark in a record nine days. Spider-Man is the latest pop-culture phenomenon and it shows no signs of slowing down, with anticipation already running high for the next chapter in the film series.

Until then, film and comic fans alike have plenty to keep them busy Spidey wise. Marvel Comics publishes numerous titles to appeal to a broad spectrum of the reading public. Whether you're a long time fan, a one-time fan returning to comics, or a parent trying to find the right Spider-Man title for your young one, Marvel has covered all their bases. CBR News recently spoke to Marvel Editor Axel Alonso, who edits "Amazing Spider-Man" and "Marvel Knight Spider-Man" among others, to learn more about the current state of the line, what parents should know about their books and what long time fans can expect to see story wise in the coming months.

Alonso said that each title in their line has a distinct flavor and that they have at least one that will appeal to any sort of fan.

"The tone and timber of these titles are all different," Alonso told CBR News from his New York office. "What ["Amazing Spider-Man" writer] J. Michael Straczynski is doing is different from what ["Marvel Knights Spider-Man" writer] Mark Millar is doing is different from what ["Spectacular Spider-Man" writer] Paul Jenkins is doing, but it was done that way for a reason - there's no point in carbon copying. All you'd get then is a bland product line,

"'Amazing' is the book that's the canon. It's the place where the major events happen and where Straczynski plays with the full context of the Marvel universe.

"'Spectacular' is the sister title. It's skewed toward a slightly younger reader. It's meant to be, perhaps, in some ways a place where fans can expect to see the old classic villains popping up." It should be noted that "Spectacular Spider-Man" is edited by Tom Breevort.

"The 'Marvel Knights Spider-Man' was basically our dirtier, grittier Spider-Man," continued Alonso. "That came from an interest by Mark and Terry to do a Spider-Man book that read like a movie itself. Relentless pace, never slows down, you really feel the body blows. It was geared toward people who wanted a sort of manic energy from their Spider-Man book. People who understood this wasn't functioning in Marvel U proper and aren't bothered by that."

And there are more Spider-Man related titles such as "Ultimate Spider-Man," the new "Amazing Fantasy" and "Marvel Age Spider-Man" to name just a few. One limited series currently on store shelves is the "Spider-Man/Doctor Octopus: Year One" by writer Zeb Wells and artist Kaare Andrews, a good choice for fans of the movie who'd like to learn a bit more about villain.

"'Doctor Octopus: Year One' was put together when we looked at the pantheon of villains in the Spider-Man universe. Whereas it's fully understood what the Green Goblin is and what he represents to Spider-Man, the sonless father to Peter Parker's fatherless son, Doctor Octopus was a slightly less defined character," said Alonso. "That's not to say there weren't great Doctor Octopus stories, by a long shot. One of my personal favorites was when he married Aunt May back when comics were $.20 cents. So again, no misunderstanding, there were great Doc Ock stories out there, but he wasn't coming in to focus in quite the same way as a lot of other villains.

"In conversation we began to realize Doctor Octopus is like Peter Parker, they're birds of a feather. They could have been the same thing in many ways. They're both science geeks who through science ended up being something more than just nerds and 98 pound weaklings. They've both been in the situation where they've had their glasses crunched under the foot of a bully. It's just that they ended up in very different places and how was that the case. What Zeb and Kaare are doing in the book is really trying to show the unique place that Doctor Octopus has in Peter Parker's life and vice-versa."

Historically Doctor Octopus has been something of a goofy character. Short, stocky, weird hair cut, funny glasses, he's not your typical villain, but with the character getting the big treatment in the film, suddenly a whole new side of the character has emerged and that's something Marvel has worked on in the comics as well.

"I'd say that he comes across as someone you can't quantify quickly. The Rhino you can, he's a big lug in a rhino suit that knocks things down. But who exactly is Doctor Octopus? What is his character about? He's kind of bounced around through Spider-Man stories and though they've been good, he's never been clearly defined in our minds. One moment he's a homicidal maniac, then next minute he's a bank robber. One moment he's marrying Aunt May and giving Peter sinister looks, the next minute he kills five peoples in cold blood. For us, when it clicked is when we realized that his fascination with science is something that Peter Parker shares. One of the recurring images in this book is broken glasses under foot. It's this notion of being that guy who gets his ass handed to him in the schoolyard and the scars that inflicts. It's how you bounce back from that, or how you don't."

With the recent developments to Doc Ock in "Spider-Man: Year One," Alonso feels he's evolved into a more complex character that you can sympathize with.

"I think that it would be very hard for you to come away from the series without a semblance of sympathy for the guy. Nowhere is it more apparent than in the last issue when the inevitable confrontation between Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus occurs. there's a moment where, and don't get any sexual entendre here, there's a moment of empathy and intimacy."

For a character that's been around as long as Doctor Octopus, it could prove difficult to make dramatic changes this late in the game, but Alonso contends that wasn't the case. It all came together nicely.

"Every once in a while something really clicks in place," said Alonso. "It's no surprise to me that it's the best thing that Zeb has done. One of the things when we were talking this and gelling with ideas is Zeb was somebody I knew would be good for this. He's a naturally funny guy and I thought that it was time for him to show what I had already seen in his writing, that he was capable of pulling off moments of high drama."

So now you know a bit more about the core titles and Marvel's plans for Doctor Octopus, but what about those of you who've been away from the title, where should you begin?

"This is always tricky because there's a great overlap," said Alonso. "As you know all to well, one of the great short comings of our medium is for a large chunk of its history comics were stamped from four to forty. A four year old who has something in common with a forty year old, well, I feel sorry for both of them! It's not easy to just pick a slot, but the Marvel Age books and books like 'Mary Jane' are obviously skewed towards a younger reader. 'Ultimate Spider-Man' is an ideal jumping on point for young folks, let's put it, who are obviously looking for a new story. It's only been around for 50+ issues. So, it's not something one needs to dig into the crate to understand. That's not to say that that book doesn't have a core following of Marvel purists reading it.

"'Amazing Spider-Man' is the essential Spider-Man book. It's the juggernaut that's been around for a while. We handle it carefully and we're lucky to have Straczynski writing it, lucky to have had Romita Jr. drawing it and we're happy to have Deodato drawing it now.

"'Marvel Knights Spider-Man' is for older readers. As a parent, I would probably be comfortable giving it to my 11 or 12 year old after having had a conversation with him, but that's just me. That's definitely skewed towards an older reader.

"'Spectacular Spider-Man,' like 'Ultimate Spider-Man,' is skewed toward a younger reader, but I think that's more likely to catch people who may have a little bit more fascination and interest in continuity, who have interest in 'the event.' JMS isn't interested, or isn't very interested at all, in playing with pre-existing toys. He's much more interested in examining new stuff."

While the above-mentioned titles all compliment one another, they're not specifically tied to each other. You don't have to read "Amazing Spider-Man" to read "Spectacular Spider-Man" and so on. Alonso feels that when you have writers trying to coordinate their stories with each other on a regular basis that "it makes them veer away from what their own strengths can be."

"I think our philosophy has been to try and make sure that the books are independently strong and that we have in our minds-eye some sense as to what reader might gravitate toward it," continued Alonso. "A reader of 'X-Statix' or 'Punisher' or 'Preacher' might find the 'Marvel Knights Spider-Man' book to be the one that raises their eyebrows."

But just because they're not interconnected doesn't mean that events in one book don't drive events in another.

"There will be an event in the pages of 'Spectacular Spider-Man' that is going to spring out of the pages in what's going on in "Amazing Spider-Man," but this is really the first time that we've had any sort of explicit connection between 'Amazing' and 'Spectacular.' It's not a cross-over, because obviously Spider-Man can't cross-over with Spider-Man, but it's a specific thing raised in the pages of 'Amazing Spider-Man' that we feel is better resolved in the pages of 'Spectacular.'"

One aspect of the Spider-Man family of titles that's somewhat overlooked and taken for granted is the incredible stability of the writing staff. J. Michael Straczynski, Paul Jenkins and Brian Bendis have all been a part of their titles for a good long time. In an industry where creative churn is the norm, this stability is a welcome change to both editors and readers.

"I think that what it comes down to are the writers and the depths of what they have to say. Certainly Jenkins was around before I was Spider-Man editor. That may just be a character he has a lot of fun with. Straczynski is an amazing writer who has a lot to say about almost anything you want him to. He's one of those writers you could hand over almost any property to. With 'Amazing Spider-Man,' he's managed to deepen the lore of the character. Especially right now, he's looping back in many ways to his first year on the title. A lot of things are coming to a head, let's put it that way."

The last issue of "Amazing Spider-Man," issue #509, not only featured the debut of Mike Deodato's as series artist, but it also began with the introduction of two new characters that will have a major impact on Peter Parker's life. The final page has the masked villains revealing their faces and speculation as to who they are has run rampant. Clearly Alonso won't reveal their identities, but he has been following discussions on the Internet.

"The speculation's been interesting. I will say there should be a payoff for long time readers when it's revealed the complexity of what Spider-Man's dealing with. Certainly, the identity of the person under that mask should raise some eyebrows. This was an arc that was slow in the planning and involved some long, serious talks about its ramifications and what it would do. I think that it's safe to say there'll be a payoff for long time readers, but we're being studious in trying to make sure that it's not something put together purely as a shout-out to long term fans."

The launch of this story purposely coincided with the release of the movie. "The goal is always around the movie that you trot out that you're absolutely sure is going stick and this was one of those," said Alonso. The idea was JMS' and was pitched to Marvel a while back. He ran it by his editor, they gave him feedback, they talked and he wrote. The story was looming, but the company felt releasing it in June, just prior to the film, was the ideal time to do so.

As for villains in the Spider-Man universe, outside of Ezekiel there hasn't been a major Spider-Man villain introduced since Carnage, and Ezekiel is seemingly dead. Alonso says that there are plans to mix things up and introduce some new villains into the Spider-Man pantheon.

"Let's just say we're working on it right now. Possibly two, let's put it this way."

Alonso did share a bit about what fans can expect from the Mark Millar written "Marvel Knights Spider-Man" in the second story arc for the series.

"Frank Cho is the guest artist on issue five and eight. The story is called 'Venomous,' so draw your own conclusions from the title. At one point I was asked by our Publisher Dan Buckley who asked me in an e-mail, 'What villains are appearing in the second arc?' I responded, 'Which aren't.' So, it's a crowd pleaser."

Alonso also teased about a new limited-series Spider-Man project he's waiting for approval on. All he would say is that it's somebody he really enjoys working with and it'll be published in an "upscale format" because of the creative team. Expect to learn more about this series in the coming month, possibly during Comic-Con International in San Diego.

Finally, we close with a discussion of a character who has grown immensely since JMS took over "Amazing Spider-Man," Aunt May. Historically portrayed as a fragile, but loving old woman, there's been a major shift in her character since the "Babylon 5" creator took over the title. There's a renewed strength and smarts found in Aunt May now and yes, she knows precisely what Peter does late at night.

"What I can say about this is within a couple of weeks of working at Marvel, I'm coming up on four years now, I had one of my first conversations with JMS and he told me, 'I want Aunt May to know!' My thoughts were, 'Holy Shit! Oh My God! There goes my job!'" But the long and short of course was that we talked about it and his reasons for what he wanted to do were sound. His reasons for having Aunt May know was first of all, it compromised her because it reinforced the notion that she was a doddering idiot not seeing the truth under her eyes. Further, he found it hard to abide the inherent dishonesty in Peter's life withholding this from his Aunt and the pain and whatever that would cause. After he spelled out his arguments, not the least of which would be the ramifications for Aunt May and how it would make her more of an active participant in the stories as opposed to the passive receptacle of Spider-Man's benevolence, I think it's safe to say that we were sick and tired of her just being portrayed as the woman who needed her pills while Spidey was fighting the Green Goblin. You know the scene, 'Oh no, I've got to beat the Green Goblin and Aunt May needs her pills!' That seems more a conceit of the '50s than the new millennium.

"Look for the Aunt May/Punisher team-up! This time it's personal!"

Special thanks to Steven Gerding at 4ColorReview for his assistance with this piece.

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