Four weeks ago, Marvel Comics kicked off "New Ways to Die," the first "Amazing Spider-Man" story arc to feature the Webslinger's classic villains since Spidey's new status quo was established in January. Since then, writer Dan Slott and artist John Romita Jr. have given readers scenes of intense action and startling surprises about a variety of characters including the former Venom Eddie Brock, the villainous Mr. Negative, and Menace, a mysterious villain with a political bent. With "Amazing Spider-Man" #571 --which is chapter four of "New Ways to Die"-- in stores now, CBR News checked in with Dan Slott to talk about some of the revelations in the arc's first half and get a preview of what's coming next.
The presence of characters like Venom, Anti-Venom, Martin Li, Menace and Norman Osborn means one of the themes of "New Ways to Die" has been the nature of duality and opposites. "There are a lot of secrets and a lot of people have dual identities that they want to keep hidden," Slott told CBR News. "I knew going in that there were going to be all these characters where one is black and white and the other is white and black, or there's the old Goblin and here's the knew one. We knew there were going to be a lot of people playing off each other. You've even got the two Mayoral candidates, Crowne and Hollister. There are a lot of opposing forces in this story, in fact the title of issue #571 is 'Opposites Attack.'"
Spider-Man is especially concerned about protecting his secret identity during "New Ways to Die." One of the reasons the Brand New Day status quo was established was because Spider-Man's identity was revealed to the world. In "Amazing Spider-Man" #569, Peter Parker makes a cryptic remark about the work he and someone else did to make sure people don't remember that he's Spider-Man. Parker says, "Everything we did is still up and running. I'm still safe."
Slott cautions readers against assuming they know the identity of the mysterious "we." "I'll say right now it's not Mephisto [the demon lord who took away Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson's marriage in the controversial 'One More Day' story arc]," Slott said. "'We' was a very carefully decided upon word. 'We' could mean one other person or more than one other person was involved."
Another character with identity issues is Martin Li, the philanthropist founder of the F.E.A.S.T. (Food, Emergency Aid, Shelter, and Training) charity. He has a mysterious connection to the crime lord known as Mr. Negative. In "Amazing Spider-Man" #569, readers might have been given a hint about that connection when Martin Li revealed to Eddie Brock that he was engaged in a game of Go with a shadowy opponent whose identity he does not know. "Go is an Asian game with black and white pieces dealing with lots of strategy and capturing things," Slott explained. "We always see the criminal mastermind with a chess set, but this is Martin Li running a homeless shelter in Chinatown. However, Mr. Negative is the crime lord in control of the Chinatown area."
Readers were given another revelation about Li and Mr. Negative's relationship when it was revealed in "Amazing Spider-Man" #570 that Li's office in the Chinatown F.E.A.S.T. Shelter, where he plays his game of Go, also doubles as a highly secure panic room. "The more we get into Mr. Negative, the more fun he's going to be," Slott remarked. "The more layers you pull away from him, the more people are going to see that this is a very unique and weird character that has some ties to places you're not going to expect."
Norman Osborn, the first Green Goblin, is a character who looms large in "New Ways to Die." Norman's son, Harry, took up his mantle as the second Green Goblin years ago and perished as a result, but when Brand New Day began, Harry was alive and well and part of Peter's life. Norman's interaction with his son in "Amazing Spider-Man" #569 left some readers wondering if both Harry and his father are aware of or even remember Harry's time as the second Green Goblin.
"Harry has not made a reference to his goblin past-- not yet," Slott said. "There will be a lot of questions answered by the end of 'New Ways to Die' and there will be a lot of important Harry questions that will be answered in a two-part story starting in December."
Because he's the head of the Thunderbolts program, Norman Osborn usually spends his time hanging out in the team's headquarters, Thunderbolts Mountain, located in the Western half of the United States. But in issue #569, Spider-Man traveled to the newly constructed Osborn Manor, which of course means Norman has larger designs in the New York area, designs to kill Spider-Man. He hasn't come alone. Osborn's brought with him four members of his Thunderbolts team: Venom, Bullseye, Radioactive Man and Songbird.
Songbird may be the most morally upright of the Thunderbolts, but that doesn't mean Spider-Man can count on her for protection from Osborn's vendetta. "As far as Songbird knows Spider-Man is apparently the Spider-Tracer killer," Slott explained. "You'll see some Spider-Man Songbird interaction soon and there's a line involved that should be really interesting to fans of the 'Thunderbolts' title."
Taking out Spider-Man isn't the only reason Norman Osborn has come to New York. "Amazing Spider-Man" #568 and 569 showed that Osborn is a friend and associate of New York City Mayoral candidate Randall Crowne, and the former Green Goblin is very interested in seeing his friend become Mayor. "There's a major political race going on," Slott said. "You're going to have to read about it because when we're done, there will be a new Mayor of Marvel New York. That's going to affect a lot of books: 'Daredevil,' 'Punisher War Journal,' and pretty much every character based in New York."
Judging by his dialog in "Amazing Spider-Man" #570, it appears that Menace, another villain who uses Green Goblin-inspired technology, is also interested in the outcome of the Mayoral election. However, the crook wants Crowne's opponent Bill Hollister to become the next Mayor of New York City. "I think we've learned a very big piece about Menace in that issue," Slott remarked. "I think this is one of the biggest revelations we've seen about Menace in the current run of 'Amazing Spider-Man.'"
A scene in "Amazing Spider-Man" #570, in which Menace attacks Bill Hollister's office but privately expresses support for the candidate, was important for a number reason. "You find out the reason why Peter's roommate, police officer Vin Gonzales, and his partner Alan O'Neil, are always on duty protecting Hollister," Slott stated. "And someone online picked up on something important about Menace in that scene."
Menace's private expression of support for Hollister casts many of the villain's previous actions in a new light. "There's the killing of Councilwoman and Mayoral candidate Lisa Parfrey in our second arc of this year," Slott said. "You've also go the threats against Bill Hollister, and in the first issue of 'New Ways to Die,' Menace blows up a F.E.A.S.T. truck that has a Hollister ad, but he does so in such a way that the ensuing fight with Spider-Man knocks down a building revealing a Crown sweat shop. It looked like Menace was going after Hollister but things got worse for Crowne."
Things got worse for both Spider-Man and Venom at the end of "Amazing Spider-Man" #569, when Eddie Brock was transformed into a new character called Anti-Venom. "His origin is still a little murky but we've seen Martin Li touch Eddie Brock, and by the next issue all traces of his cancer and his former symbiote are gone," Slott revealed. "His white blood cell count and his anti-bodies are better than perfect. Then, at the end of #569, when Venom shows up and the symbiote tries to affect Eddie, something happens and he becomes ANTI-VENOM!"
Eddie Brock's transformation into Anti-Venom endowed him with a number of powers, some familiar and some new. "It appears that which makes Eddie Anti-Venom also seems to mimic all the powers of a symbiote, and gives him some extra powers on top of that -- like a sort of healing and purifying touch," Slott explained. "The suit seems to have restorative powers, but we're going to learn more about Anti-Venom in #571."
While Anti-Venom's powers may heal others, his touch is poisonous to alien symbiotes like Venom. "So, for people who've been complaining that there are too many symbiotes around, here's a guy who might be able to thin the herd," Slott remarked. "If I were Toxin, I'd be heading to the hills, and if I were Hybrid, I'd be hiding."
Eddie Brock's new identity as Anti-Venom has also given him a newfound sense of purpose. "Eddie has always had an element of himself linked to faith and a higher power. When he first got the Venom symbiote, he was praying in a church. He wanted vengeance, and the Venom symbiote was delivered unto him," Slott explained. "Now, despite whatever else you may have heard in other comics, it was the symbiote that was giving Eddie cancer. He asked for vengeance and got this thing that made him ill.
"[Brock] went back to that same church and asked for forgiveness, and got welcomed into the arms of Martin Li. Now he has this thing that cured him and has given him the chance to cure others. For him, this is like a mission from above. This is a bit of a Holy-Roller Venom!" Slott laughed. "He's just as righteous and now, more than ever, he sees himself as the guy in the white hat. It's a white hat that covers his entire body, but he clearly sees himself as a good guy and a holier-than-thou good guy."
If readers thought the first half of "New Ways to Die" was intense, Slott advises them to buckle up because the ride is only going to get wilder in the story's second half. This week's "Amazing Spider-Man" #571 picks up with a face-off between Norman Osborn and Menace. "That's the big fun in issue #571," Slott said. "Luckily, you'll see Norman has his Goblin bag with him. It's not going to be one of those one-sided 'Let's pick on the guy in the business suit' fights. Norman is armed with pumpkin bombs and all kinds of goodies."
Issue #571 also involves a startling revelation. "Somebody will discover one of Spider-Man's biggest secrets," Slott stated. "It's not what you think-- or maybe it isï¿½ï¿½â€šï¿½ï¿½."
The fighting will continue in chapters five and six of "New Ways to Die." "You're going to see lots of brutal, vicious fighting," Slott promised. "We're coming up to one of my favorite issues, #572. It's got all these bits of business that I really like including the Spider-Man Bullseye throw-down."
Slott says "New Ways To Die" is a turning point in the Brand New Day era of Spider-Man. "We started with [all the writers] doing one arc, and then we came up on everyone's second story and we started seeing more clues about certain things," he explained. "And issue #564 was the fun little experiment of could the three Spider-Man writers do one story together? Now that we've passed #564, I think we're on full tilt. We had the Kraven's First Hunt story, which ratcheted things up even more, and now we're in the middle of 'New Ways to Die.' And once you see the Spider-Man stories on the other side, I don't think we let up for a moment.
"There's a Flash Thompson story coming up after 'New Ways to Die.' I think it's Marc Guggenheim's best Spider-Man script to date and one of the best single Spider-Man stories I've read in years. Then we have a two-parter by Joe Kelly. It's a Hammerhead story and it's vicious and intense. It builds off his story in the 'Brand New Day-Extra' special and the art by Chris Bachalo is beautiful. One of my favorite artists, Marcos Martin, is up after that with a great two-part story written by Mark Waid that introduces a wonderful new character that people will immediately freak out over. And another classic Spidey villain shows up. We're for in a really good run of Spider-Man stories."