The state of the 'Spider-Man' universe

Marvel Comics has a big year ahead for them, especially in film. In just a few short months "Blade II" hits theatres and is expected to be a big hit. But even bigger than that coming this May is "Spider-Man," a movie that is expected to be one of the biggest, if not the biggest, summer movie blockbuster.

With that in mind the editor of Marvel's "Spider-Man" titles, Axel Alonso, has no time for relaxation and the pressure is on. In speaking with Axel about Marvel's plans to capture some of the momentum the movie has and bring it around towards comics we got no sense of anxiety or stress, more an illustration of a man with a plan who has a strong idea of where he wants his titles to go in the coming months.

First for Marvel is the "Spider-Man" movie adaptation written by Stan Lee with art by Alan Davis and edited by Ralph Machio.

"The 'Spider-Man' movie comics present a different challenge than the 'X-Men' comics did around the 'X-Men' release," Alonso told CBR News. "Simply because if you remember the film the characters arrive fully formed. They arrive with their powers intact and therefore you can tell prequels, how they got there, where they went. The 'Spider-Man' movie offers a different set of challenges. It's no secret; it tells the origin. As a result that ruled out prequels. You don't tell a Peter Parker story quite as easily. We've got other books to do that. So the question of sequels and spin-offs, so-on and so-forth, then you sort of ask yourself is it really worth doing a Kraven the Hunter story with a Spider-Man that looks like Toby Maguire? And then going through Sony and all the approvals process and then really at the end of the day are you luring in your best talent? My opinion was no, so what we're trying to do around the time of the movie is remind people we are Marvel Comics and we're doing good, accessible Spider-Man comics."

With the way production goes in Hollywood, shrouded in secrecy and constant changes on the fly, Marvel had to work a bit in the dark to create synergy for their comics line with the movie.

"A portion of the plotting had to go on in advance of us having any sense of what the potential would be for the core-titles to explode like they have. 'Amazing Spider-Man' sales are more than healthy. Same thing for 'Peter Parker: Spider-Man' and 'Tangled Web as well,' a nice pleasant surprise given how idiosyncratic it is and the fact he barely shows up in the book. The reality is that much of our planning took place not knowing how secure we were going to be with our core titles. The books we have planed, again, the key is that they are accessible."

[Spider-Man: Quality of Life]Outside of the movie adaptation Alonso sees their most high-profile project being "Spider-Man: Quality of Life," by writer Greg Rucka with CGI artwork by Scott Sava, which we told you about a few weeks back. Alonso calls it Marvel's "high-wire act."

"The key with [Spider-Man: Quality of Life] is that we're trying to make a mini-movie. Action intro, roll title and credits and a story, for instance, that my wife could get up on Sunday morning, read and understand.

"My opinion was that [Scott's] art was so stunning that it would be exactly the kind of look that might entice people to take a look at the character."

"The bottom line for all these books is that with these stories we're doing we assume that people don't know shit when they go into it. The reality is that 99.9% of the people who go see the 'Spider-Man' movie will not have read a 'Spider-Man' book recently. Let's face it, 'Spider-Man' doesn't need that much of an introduction, we're all kind of familiar with who he is, but you want to be able to have people land on their feet and walk through the story without scratching their heads and wondering."

In addition Alonso is excited to have brought fan-favorite artist Humberto Ramos to the Spider-Man universe for a short run. This May Ramos will begin a 4-issue run in "Peter Parker: Spider-Man" starting with issue #44 on a Green Goblins story written by Paul Jenkins. "Paul is really stepping up to the plate for Humberto on this."

[Amazing Spider-Man #42]As for the core title, "Amazing Spider-Man," May continues a storyline that will help shape the future of Peter Parker's life.

"The May issue catches us in the second-part of an ongoing story arc. This is the hardest one for me to characterize. What Straczynski is doing in this arc, among other things, is exploring the deepening implications of Aunt May's knowledge that Peter Parker has a secret life. Once again JMS is able to think 2 steps ahead of the rest of us and figure out what the real reality would be for this woman. The biggest contribution he's made to the character of Aunt May is to treat her as something other than a doddering old woman. You're going to see her take on additional nuances that frankly I've never seen before in her."

[Tangled Web #14]And finally, the other monthly Spider-Man title, 'Tangled Web,' tells the story of an important early character who helped shape Peter's future as Spider-Man.

"Craftily timed for the movie is a story that features Crusher Hogan, the ill-fated wrestler who got his ass handed to him by Peter Parker, the first person he fought."

The story is written by Brian Azzarello and WWF super-star Raven co-wrote it, art by Giuseppe Camuncoli with a Dave Johnson Cover. Now you may ask yourself, Raven, a professional wrestler writing comics? How did this happen?

"Raven's a big comic fan," said Alonso. "He's been pitching us for a while and struck up a friendship with Brian Azzarello and essentially it all sort of dove-tailed. I was talking with Brian about characters and wrestling stories seemed apropos."

As for the somewhat controversial decision to bring in a wrestler to write a comic, Alonso wasn't deterred by possible negative public reaction.

"There are always going to be people yelling and screaming, 'How dare you hire a WWF Wrestler blah, blah, blah.' Why not? Raven obviously was a creative consultant and co-writer on the story who helps the team realize what it's like to be in a wrestlers boots."

The future of the monthly Spider-Man titles looks strong at this point in time. J. Michael Straczynski has re-energized 'Amazing Spider-Man and built the title a new and solid reputation. But how long can we expect him to remain on the title?

"Our relationship is really good," said Alonso. "I foresee he'll be with us for the foreseeable future. It's a great relationship we have with him."

In the past the core Spider-Man titles have been plagued with story ideas and cross-overs that didn't entirely work. 'The Clone Saga' and Aunt May's death come to mind as two of the most obvious problems that faced the line. So, how does Alonso avoid the same traps that previous editors have fallen into?

"When Joe and Bill pitched me the prospect of being Spider-Man editor I thought they were crazy simply because I haven't read Spider-Man in years. They were like, yeah, that's why. I backed into loving Spider-Man as a character. I think that's healthy. I understand who the character is through research and reminded myself of how I felt when I read him as a kid.

"Early on when we talked about writers there was a checklist in my mind of the type of writer I'd want to write the core title, 'Amazing Spider-Man.' It was my feeling that with Paul Jenkins and Mark Buckingham [on 'Peter Parker: Spider-Man'] that it wasn't broke, so don't fix it. 'Peter Parker' had been in many ways the most read Spider-Man book for a period of time. I wanted somebody who'd bring fresh ideas and scope and Straczynski was maintaining my interest and then some on 'Rising Stars' which I thought was a fresh take on superheroes. That was a mean feat because I wasn't really paying that much attention to superhero comics at the time."

So Alonso brought Straczynski in and things have worked out well for Marvel since with unprecedented sales increases. Next up for Alonso was figuring out an editorial approach for all three titles, "Amazing Spider-Man," "Peter Parker: Spider-Man" and "Tangled Web."

"The game plan was that there would be three books and that they'd be completely different. There might be some overlap in terms of readership, but that they would be geared at different demographics. I wanted a no cross-over rule. I didn't want JMS having to coordinate with Paul or anyone with 'Tangled Web.' I really wanted to make sure when JMS came in that he was able to have a clear run at the table. He would come in clean and be able to treat it like the movie it should be."

[Megalomaniacal Spider-Man]Alonso has brought many new creators to the Spider-Man world that you might not expect to find contributing to such mainstream fare. One such book is this April's "Spider-Man, Startling Stories: The Megalomaniacal Spider-Man" by indie creator Peter Bagge. (Bagge spoke to CBR News about this project in January.)

"I see Spider-Man as being a pop icon. I think that often times in comics we, especially people on the inside of the industry, spend a lot of time gazing at our navels and loosing track of the fact that this character resonates in the pop world. This happened for Pete Bagge. When I began my discussions with Pete he was mildly intrigued, but it was when he began talking with friends that he really got excited about the prospect. He began to realize what it meant for him to say that he'd be weighing in on Spider-Man.

"I'm not of the opinion that mainstream and alternative comics are on different teams," continued Alonso. "A lot of people like to stratify it and define themselves by their choices. I don't feel that way. When Pete Bagge decided to do this it was interesting because there was the same type of response to 'X-Force.' People on one end who didn't want anybody like Peter [Milligan] or Mike Allred touching an X-Book or Spider-Man book. On the other hand you had people from the indie school, the vegans so to speak, who presumed to tell Peter or Mike Allred what they should be doing with their time. The thing is, you know, it's comics, it's fun. If I had listened to any of the people who were yelling at me on the left or the right about 'X-Force' we wouldn't have this fun little book and likewise with the Peter Bagge Spider-Man. It starts in a good place, it's got a lot of heart, it may take some detours and curves some people don't want to see it take, but it's a couple months out of Peter's life to do something I think is worthwhile."

While Alonso stayed mum about future contributors to 'Tangled Web," he is excited about what's to come. "I look to have 'Tangled Web' throw a few more curve balls at people."

As for his dream list of people to work with, Alonso has a few people in mind.

"There are a lot of people out there I admire. Certainly if I were to get a call from, not that it would ever happen because he's got attitudes about superheroes, but if I were to get a call from ['Ghost World' creator] Daniel Clowes I'd be very interested by that. I very much like his work. Likewise with someone like ['Love and Rockets' creator] Jaime Hernandez or somebody of that ilk. This is the kind of material I naturally gravitate toward."

In addition to turning around 'Amazing Spider-Man' Alonso was also charged with the job of turning the Hulk back into a character people look forward to reading. For years after Peter David's run ended the book's sales languished and interest waned, but that's all changed now. Alonso brought in acclaimed horror writer Bruce Jones to take over the direction of "The Incredible Hulk" and the book has enjoyed a great deal of success since. It's generated a lot of interest and the book's position on the sales charts continues to climb. As is the case with JMS on "Amazing Spider-Man" fans want to know how long Jones will remain on "The Incredible Hulk."

"As long as Bruce wants to write it he can write it," said Alonso. "His story has a beginning, a middle and an end. In discussions we have a general sense how this chapter ends for Banner and for the Hulk. I think as long as he's writing it I'd like to edit this book because I like this story. He certainly is really enjoying himself and I think it plays to his strengths in many ways."

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