Van Lente Puts Spider-Man in a Sand Trap

In the current storyline in Marvel Comics' "Amazing Spider-Man," "The Gauntlet," the titular Web-Slinger is facing an onslaught of attacks from his classic foes as seem to keep coming one after the other, with no break in between. To make matters worse, many of Spidey's rogues have upgraded their powers and changed their modus operandis. In "Amazing Spider-Man" #615, writer Fred Van Lente and artist Javier Pulido kicked off a two part tale wherein the Wall-Crawler must face an already powerful foe who appears to have become much more dangerous: Flint Marko AKA the Sandman. CBR News spoke with Van Lente about the arc, as well as the other Spider-Man projects he has lined up for early 2010.

In "Amazing Spider-Man" #615, Peter Parker found himself investigating both a murder-mystery and the disappearance of a little girl named Keemia. He followed the clues in both cases and they combined to lead him to New York City's Governors Island. Once there, Spidey discovered that Sandman had been hiding out on the island with Keemia, who appears to be the super villain's daughter. Sandman quickly grew enraged, not because Spider-Man was going to foil any fiendish schemes, but because he believed Spider-Man was there to take Keemia away from him.

"The thing I liked the most about 'Spider-Man 3' was Thomas Hayden Church's portrayal of Sandman. That really influenced this story quite a bit," Van Lente told CBR News. "It came about because of an image of a girl encased in a giant sand castle that was Sandman, which Javier drew in issue #615. That image was so arresting that I had to figure out what it meant and how I could tell a story that included it. Who was this little girl? And why did Sandman care about her? The answers to those questions, combined with some other discussions I had about Sandman in the context of the 'Marvel Zombies Return' mini-series, is what lead me to do this story."

In "Marvel Zombies Return," the writer's use of Sandman concerned the characters thoughts on killing. "I got in a discussion with one of the editors who didn't like the fact that Sandman had this aversion to killing. There was a scene in the story where Sandman goes crazy when confronted by the Zombie Spider-Man," Van Lente explained. "The editor didn't see how killing would be all that unique to Flint Marko because he was on the FBI's 'Most Wanted List' and his powers certainly seemed lethal. I went back and looked at the original story though and Marko was really only on the 'Most Wanted List' for escaping from prison as opposed to actually killing anybody.

"So that lead me down the path towards thinking about Sandman.," Van Lente continued. "Then when Steve Wacker asked me to write Sandman in 'The Gauntlet' I decided to explore the issue of, 'Is he a killer? Or is he not a killer?' And thus frame him in the context of this murder mystery."

Part of the reason Van Lente felt that the Sandman's morality needed to be explored was that the character has been portrayed a variety of different ways since his introduction in 1963's "Amazing Spider-Man" #4. At various times throughout his life, Flint Marko's been both a supervillain and a superhero. Van Lente sees the character's core personality as being that of a classic science fiction archetype.

"I think Sandman is the classic monster, villain or hero, depending on how you're interpreting him. He's a man made of sand and can't really lead a normal life. His biology is completely different than ours, he looks freakish, and when he goes to sleep, do his molecules stay together? Or does he dissolve into sand?" Van Lente explained. "So he's almost more of a villainous Ben Grimm in the sense that he's somebody who's transformed into a monster by science and has to deal with that."

Marko's transformation into a being made of sand has allowed him to completely alter his physical form, able to be malleable like sand or make his body hard as stone. On the final page of "Amazing" #615 Sandman demonstrated a previously unrevealed power, the ability to create duplicates of himself.

"Javier drew that last page very specifically. You'll notice that Sandman can't create exact duplicates of himself. Javier drew a whole a range of Sandmen in that scene. Many of them have names and personalities, and you'll meet them in issue #616," Van Lente said. "So it's almost like making a photocopy of a photocopy. The image keeps getting blurrier every time you do that. As Sandman is budding these different bodies out of himself, the question becomes, is he dividing his personality as well? And can that lead to some serious problems? You'll find out the answers to both those questions in #616."

Governors Island again plays a key role in the upcoming issue. It's a real New York City locale, and Van Lente enjoyed the chance to use it as a setting. "Governors Island, as those who read the story know, was an Army base and then a Coast Guard station for almost a century. Now, it's open in the summer as a park. You can go there, bike around and have picnics. It's basically this city within New York City that's been abandoned. There's all these crumbling buildings, like we showed in the story," Van Lente explained. "Sandman had to take Keemia some place that was isolated enough that he wouldn't be found out, but on the other hand, for various obvious reasons, I didn't want to take them out of New York City.

"So Governors Island was a neat kind of place. Paolo Rivera, who's a great artist, and I went there and took photo reference," Van Lente continued. "We wandered around and took photos of a lot stuff, and Javier used a lot of Paolo's photos as reference for what happens in these two issues. I always like doing field trips and scouting locations."

Van Lente feels that, if readers enjoyed the Javier Pulido's work in "Amazing" #615, then they should prepare to be astounded by the art in #616. "It's better. I can say that without hyperbole," the writer remarked. "There's lots of Spider-Man versus Sandman action in issue #616. Javier went nuts with the double page spreads. Words will not do justice to those images. So I won't try."

Van Lente's two part Sandman tale comes to a conclusion next week, and he'll return to the title with a short back-up story in February's "Amazing Spider-Man" #622. It's a tale that brings Morbius, the Living Vampire back to the pages of the book where he first debuted as a villain, way back in 1971's "Amazing Spider-Man" #101.

"We wanted to bring all the major villains back in 'The Gauntlet,' and even though Morbius hasn't been a villain for a couple decades, he was launched in 'Amazing Spider-Man.' As the story goes, Stan Lee wanted to introduce more horror elements into the Marvel Universe, but the Comic Code had fairly strict prohibitions against depicting the Gothic aspects of vampirism and monsters. So Gil Kane, who I believe drew Morbius's first appearance and designed the character, gave the character very few Gothic trappings. He dressed him in what looked like a superhero costume, and since Morbius is known as the 'Living Vampire,' he was created by science instead of the supernatural," Van Lente explained. "So the whole idea of Morbius was that he was then going to be launched off into his own book anyway. I believe he took the place of Man-Thing in 'Adventures in Fear' when Man-Thing got his own title. All of this is a long winded way of saying Morbius is technically a Spider-Man character, even though he was an anti-hero in his own strip. He even got his own series in the '90s."

In fact, Van Lente's story in "Amazing" #622 will tie up a loose thread from the '90s "Morbius" series. "It flows out of the Mysterio and Black Cat stories that precede it," the writer revealed. "It also flows out of something that Mister Negative has had since the very beginning of the Brand New Day era of 'Amazing Spider-Man.'"

Van Lente's next Spider-Man tale will hit stores shortly after "Amazing Spider-Man" #622. "It's a done-in-one story that's scheduled for March. Michael Gaydos is drawing it, and I'm very excited about it," the writer said. "It's part of 'The Gauntlet' and brings back another Spider-Man villain. It also features some pretty important guest stars from the pages of 'New Avengers.'"

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