Van Lente Brings Jackals, Gypsy Moths & Barbarians to "Spider-Island"

"The Naked City" is the title of both a classic 1948 film and the subsequent 1958-1963 television series it inspired. Both are about police detectives solving crimes in New York City and both are famous for the closing line, "There are eight million stories in the Naked City; this has been one of them." In the New York City of the Marvel Universe, there may very well be more than eight million stories. However, these days, those individual stories almost all share a common thread as many of the Big Apple's residents, thanks to a mysterious epidemic, now have or are dealing with those who have developed powers similar to Spider-Man's. This is the premise of "Spider-Island," the current Spidey-centric event storyline running in "Amazing Spider-Man" and several supporting miniseries.

Writer Dan Slott is handling the main story thread in "Amazing Spider-Man" while a host of talented writers are tackling the tie-in stories. One of the most prolific of these writers is Fred Van Lente, who penned the Jackal story in the "Spider-Island: Deadly Foes " one-shot (in stores now), the "Spider-Island: Spider-Woman" one-shot (in stores September 21) and a two part story arc in "Herc" #7-8 which Van Lente co-wrote with Greg Pak (in stores September 14 and 28). We spoke with Van Lente about all three tales.

The overall premise for "Spider-Island" is one which appeals to Van Lente, who is especially happy to be part of the "Deadly Foes" one-shot which features two full length stories: a Hobgoblin tale by writers Dan Slott and Christos Gage and artist Giuseppe Camuncoli and a story by Van Lente and artist Minck Oosterver about the man who set "Spider-Island" into motion, the villainous Jackal. In many ways, Van Lente's story is similar to the work he did on the early issues of the most recent volume of "Web of Spider-Man," where he re-examined the origins and motivations of several of Spidey's classic foes.

"I love writing villains in general," Van Lente told CBR News, "and the Spider villains are among my favorite bad guys of all time, so it was fun to take the Jackal and kind of do a long-form origin story with him. There is something weird about this obsessive idea of cloning people like your enemies and the girl you're into. The Jackal believes everybody should get cloned, and he's not afraid to do it.

"I think the Jackal has the potential to be a really interesting adversary. I'm sort of playing up his craziness. I'm assuming the Jackal is the only person who could actually follow his scheme in 'The Clone Saga,' and it drove him crazy," Van Lente continued, joking. "It's the most confusing and intricate revenge scenario. There are a lot of psychopathic villains, but 'The Clone Saga' revenge is truly nuts. If you try to read the logic around it, it really does read like the ramblings of a schizophrenic. So that's my attitude about the Jackal; he makes the Joker look sane."

Van Lente's Jackal story, titled "What I did for Love," examines how the villain's rivalry with Spider-Man began and shows how the Jackal benefited from the aftermath of a recent story in "Amazing Spider-Man."

"For people who are recent Spidey fans or people who missed the whole 'Clone Saga,' this will give you an idea of who the Jackal is and what his motivations are. It also reveals some new stuff, like the motivation behind 'Spider-Island' in the first place, which makes this issue a must buy. It will also introduce a new character to the Jackal mythos and the Spider-Man mythos in general," Van Lente said. "This story takes place before 'Spider-Island' even starts. It connects the current 'Big Time' era with the 'Brand New Day' era by showing how the Jackal reconnected with the Spider-Man clone Kane after Kane dug himself out of his grave at the end of the 'Grim Hunt' story arc from last year. I really enjoyed what Joe Kelly did in that story."

In "Spider-Island: Spider-Woman," Van Lente gets to make a call back to another, much older Marvel story by bringing the title character (AKA Jessica Drew) face to face with the Thing. "The idea for this story came from Dan Slott. As most longtime Spider-Woman fans know, the character's first appearance was in 'Marvel Two-In-One,' where she was working for HYDRA and fought the Thing. She and the Thing and Alicia Masters got caught up in an adventure in London where Alicia was turned into a spider creature," Van Lente said. "That leads Reed Richards to think, maybe Alicia is the key to unraveling or curing 'Spider-Island,' so he sends Spider-Woman to go get her. Unfortunately, Reed is not the only one who has realized this."

The mysterious other person who realizes Alicia Masters possible importance to the 'Spider-Island' epidemic dispatches one of Spider-Woman's old foes to take care of her. "I love dragging out all these insect themed people, and for this story we dragged out Gypsy Moth. She's a character I like because I love rehabilitating these sort of D-List villains like The Spot and White Rabbit," Van Lente said. "Gypsy Moth has perhaps one of the most challenging super powers to make cool in that she has total mental control over clothing. That's a fascinating concept. Giuseppe Camuncoli, my great artist, and I have done our best to make her bad ass."

Gypsy Moth won't be the only former adversary Spider-Woman has to contend with in her "Spider-Island" one-shot as the Thing will also be playing the role of antagonist in the story. "I unfortunately cannot reveal why without spoiling it for folks. Let's just say their dynamic in this story is hostile This is really more of a Spider-Woman story that the Thing guest stars in. Really, the focus is on her," Van Lente said. "Parker Parker was simply bit by a radioactive spider. What's interesting about Jessica is that she has spider DNA as part of her genetic make-up. In many ways, she has more in common with the spider creatures running around Spider-Island than she does with humanity. That's an interesting dichotomy we're exploring in her story."

While those character moments are important to Van Lente's story, action fans need not worry. "This is a beautiful looking book. The slugfest with the Thing is in the Mighty Marvel Misunderstandings Manner," Van Lente said. "Spider-Woman and Gypsy Moth are both flying characters, so we're able to do a really cool aerial dog fight. I've never done that kind of story before, but Camo [Giuseppe Camuncoli] is pulling out all the stops, and we're having some great aerial combat, which should be really neat, beautiful and graceful."

As for "Herc," the series Van Lente co-writes with Greg Pak, the Brooklyn-based titular hero won't escape "Spider-Island" unaffected, either, tying into the event with issues 7 and 8.

"Herc is a pretty straight forward concept. He's an urban barbarian; a guy who used to be a god and is now slashing up crime with a sword in Brooklyn. He still has a connection to the gods, though, and we'll see Spider Gods aplenty in the 'Spider-Island' story," Van Lente stated. "Plus, Herc will be duking it out with the X-Men, which is a lot of fun. The story is being drawn by June Brigman ["Power Pack"], who is one of my all time favorite artists. She's doing an incredible job."

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