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Tom Beland Spins A Romantic Tale In “I (Heart) Marvel: Web Of Romance”

by  in Comic News Comment
Tom Beland Spins A Romantic Tale In “I (Heart) Marvel: Web Of Romance”

Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can. Spins a web any size, catch thieves just like flies. Look out, here comes…Tom Beland? The acclaimed author of “True Story, Swear To God” (who recently spoke about the series in a CBR Chat) is living out his life’s dream this month, telling a full-length Spider-Man story. As part of “I (Heart) Marvel Event,” (whose editor, Aubrey Sitterson, also recently spoke to CBR News) Beland will tell a romance story of Spider-Man and Mary Jane Watson, one of the most popular superhero couples of all time. But for Beland, whose life dream has been to writer Spider-Man, this is more than a love story, as he told CBR News.

“It’s surreal to say the least. It’s pitching for the Giants… quarterbacking the Niners or playing point guard for the Warriors,” Beland told CBR News. “Okay, those teams aren’t the greatest right now… but, to me, those are the teams I’ve followed since childhood.

“This is a character I’ve enjoyed for most of my life. Of all the characters in comics, this is the one I’ve related to the most. Peter Parker was someone who had these amazing abilities, powers that you dream of having, but his normal life was a disaster. It’s one of the few characters in comics who is as interesting out of the costume as he is in it. No one really cares about Bruce Wayne or Clark Kent… even Tony Stark and Steve Rogers for that matter. They’re more like incidental characters who show up in between battles. Tony Stark was interesting during his alcohol problems, but he’s pretty much a rich guy and you can’t wait for him to get into the armor.

“Peter Parker is as interesting as Spider-Man and that’s what is so rare about him.

“So, it’s a great opportunity, because you essentially have two major characters to write instead of just one. Mary Jane is a bonus.”

Still, for a man who has spent so much time thinking about Spider-Man, finally being given a chance to tell a story leads to two possible outcomes: either it’s hard because he has so many ideas vying for supremacy or it’s easy because the ideas are already there. Beland explains, “It’s funny, when you’re not writing Spidey, you have a million ideas in your head. Then, when they give you the chance to actually do a story, those ideas either suck or they disappear from your head. It’s a very intimidating thing to pitch an idea, but in this case at least, Aubrey Sitterson had the general theme for me, which was romance. So, that helped me narrow ideas down. The fact that they wanted to a story that fit their relationship allowed me to get into the same mode as I’m in when I write ‘TSSTG.’

“But I think it really boils down to trusting yourself. I mean, the worst thing that can happen is they say ‘no, try again.’ When you realize the fact that they’re literally asking you to try again and not saying ‘dude, you soooo suck,’ then it gets easier to submit ideas.”

The inspiration for Beland’s superhero work isn’t just his childhood nostalgia; it’s a desire to connect with readers on a more intimate level. He’s happy to also cite some writers doing the kind of work that currently inspires him, explaining, “I think the best writers in superhero writing are the ones who understand that when you make the audience care about the civilian side of the heroes, they care about the heroes themselves. Who cares if Spider-Man gets tossed off a building if you don’t care that it’s Peter Parker who might get killed?

“So, writers like Brian Bendis, Kurt Busiek, Gail Simone, Ed Brubaker, Josh Whedon, Robert Kirkman and also Sean McKeever– those people make you care about the secret identity side of the cape. I’ve seen issues of Daredevil where DD appeared in maybe one panel and the book was great because Brian focuses on Matt Murdock and you care about Daredevil more through your emotional attachment to Murdock.

“Brubaker’s work on ‘Gotham Central’ was fantastic. I’m not sure anyone else could’ve pulled that off. Maybe Brian Wood. To have a book where the ensemble cast consists of characters who don’t wear capes and masks is daunting to say the least. But Ed, man, he killed on that series.

“So, when you write about that side of a character, you have to get personal and the best way to do that is to add a part of yourself into it. I think what Peter ends up giving Mary Jane at the end of the story is something I’d actually give to Lily, if I were Spider-Man, because it’s a gift that makes sense. I think since I also love to cook, I end up popping kitchen items into the book. I gave Cory Walker (who did a fantastic job and was the best to work with) the Spider-Man popcorn bowl and a Golden Age Iron Man cookie jar to create and I think it adds to the story.

“I love Mary Jane because she fits into every situation. I’ve always been a Gwen Stacy fan, but Mary Jane, to me at least, is the one I’m now glad he ended up with. I don’t think Gwen could handle being Mrs. Spider-Man, living in the mansion as well as MJ can. She’s been a star, but she’s also a bit of a tomboy and I believe she’s more comfortable around men than women. So, I tried to focus on that aspect of MJ. Lily could easily handle a life with Spidey. I put alot of how I feel about her into MJ’s character.”

The next question of course is “what’s the story?” and Beland is happy to explain the basic ideas, and assuage any fears that those old, frustrating tropes of superhero “romance” comics might appear. “Sitterson emailed me one day and told me about the ‘I (Heart) Marvel’ event. He thought I’d be a good fit for a love story about Peter and Mary Jane and he told me that it had to be about why it is these two love each other.

“One thing I didn’t want to do was another scene where Peter goes to Gwen’s grave, in a rainstorm and has that teary conversation about moving on in life. I also didn’t want this to be about saving MJ from a villain. I wanted to focus on their actual lives being entwined and why they still are entwined. It can’t just be about her being hot and great-looking because you become accustomed to someone’s looks over time. There has to be more about a woman than her looks in a relationship as long-lasting as this one has been. But writers don’t seem to focus on that aspect of MJ. It’s usually about getting her in a hot outfit and slinking up to Peter or staring out the window worrying about him when he’s being Spider-Man. I mean, my God, they have to enjoy each other’s company, right??

“So, I focused on Peter trying to come up with something to give MJ for Valentine’s Day. That was the pitch. But along the way, we learn what are some of the specific things that Peter loves about his wife. Plus we’ve got the Mandrill and Dragon-Man to boot!!”

For those continuity buffs, this story will impact the current Spider-Man stories and no, it doesn’t involve mechanical arms. “I believe what happens in the end of the story will go into the continuity of Mary Jane. I could be wrong on that, but I know they loved the idea. I can’t tell you what that is, but I can promise you she’s not getting Mary Jane armor,” smiles Beland.

Joining Beland on “Web Of Romance” is artist Cory Walker, whose work on “Invincible” earned him a lot of acclaim. “I’d never worked with Cory, but I loved his style of art. He reminds me of Sal Buscema’s work, so, to me, Cory represents that era of comics I loved as a kid,” said Beland. “He’d send me the pencil pages and every time I looked at one I’d say ‘I want to draw like that.’ The guy is one of my favorite artists out there because his style is so clean– nothing is over-rendered and tough to figure out. Cory should be working on three books a month and I’d love to work with him again.”

While Beland has no other Marvel projects coming up quite yet, he does have some other books coming out soon and is happy to remind fans that they can meet him in the near future. “I have the next issue of ‘TSSTG #16’ coming out the same day as WoR and there’s a story for Bongo’s ‘Radioactive Man’ that should be out in ’06. I’m also attending WonderCon if anyone’s going to that, stop by my table at Clib’s Boy Comics.”

Still, there are some superheroes he’d like to write and they might not be who you expect. “I’d love to do a ‘Marvel Team-Up’ story, or an ‘X-Men Unlimited’ story would be fun,’ Beland reveals. “Any Marvel character would be great, but someone like Morbius or Man-Thing would be cool too, just because they were these great monster guys of the ’70s.

“For DC, I think I’d love to do a Booster Gold story, or something to do with Clayface. I love Clayface.”

And now you can discuss this story on CBR’s Spider-Man Forum.

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