WWPhilly: Webheads Talk Spider-Man!

The personal and costumed lives of Peter Parker/Spider-Man collided very early on in his career, with the murder of his beloved Uncle Ben. Since then, Spidey has worked to keep his superhero and civilian identities separate, but fans of the character know he's rarely successful at that endeavor. In fact, part of the enduring appeal of Spider-Man as a character is watching Peter Parker trying to balance his human and superheroic priorities.

This fall sees the release of three stories from Marvel's"Webheads" -- the collective name for the writing staff of "Amazing Spider-Man" -- that intertwine Peter Parker and Spider-Man's lives in dangerous and complicated ways. CBR News spoke with writers Mark Waid, Fred Van Lente, Joe Kelly, and Marc Guggenheim as well as their editor Steve Wacker about these stories, which were announced today at Marvel's "Amazing Spider-Man" panel at the Wizard World Philly convention.

With the "American Son" arc ready to climax and "Amazing Spider-Man" #600 hitting stores in less than a month, things are happening fast and furious in Peter Parker's life. Readers shouldn't expect things to relax any time soon. "Over the last year or so everybody has been figuring out the best way to work together and the best way for these stories to lead right into each other and better serve the soap opera aspects of 'Amazing Spider-Man,'" Steve Wacker told CBR News. "So the actual 'starting gun' of when things took off will be different for every reader but coming out of #600 things aren't slowing down at all."

Spidey's fall adventures actually kick-off in August, in a five-part arc titled "Red-Headed Stranger" that runs through the pages of "Amazing Spider-Man" #601-605. The arc is written by Mark Waid, who penned issue #601, and Fred Van Lente, who tackled the remainder of the story. "Issue #601 is the night after the wedding in 'Amazing' #600," Wacker explained. "We're doing an experiment with passing the baton. Issues #601 and #602-605 all felt like the pieces to one story, so we decided to call the whole thing 'Red-Headed Stranger.'"

Of course, the "Red-Headed Stranger" arc marks the return of someone who Peter Parker shares a long history with, flame-haired Mary Jane Watson. 2006's controversial "One More Day" story altered history so that Peter and Mary Jane were never married, but she remains a key figure in his life. "They lived together and were a couple for a long time," Wacker explained. "She was the woman he loved, so she's definitely one of the most important people in Pete's life."

Mark Waid thinks that history together makes MJ's re-entrance into Peter's life a great dramatic element, especially since it's bound to make Peter Parker feel significantly awkward. The writer couldn't reveal much about how and why MJ comes back though for fear of spoiling things. " We can tell you that she's back in NYC for a purpose that has nothing to do with Peter--or so she tells him--and tells herself," Waid said. "Issue #601 is sort of a prologue to Fred's story - it's a standalone that positions Peter for the next part of his life, in which he has to learn all over again how to be around MJ with ease, if such a thing is possible."

Ever since the events of "One More Day," readers have wondered just how much Mary Jane remembers of the original timeline where her and Peter Parker were married, and whether or not she remembers the circumstances that created the current timeline, where they lived together and eventually broke up. Waid hinted that issue #601 will offer answers to some of these questions and more.

Bringing to life issue #601 is Mario Alberti, the artist behind the recent "X-Men/Spider-Man" miniseries. Waid was very pleased with the Italian artist's work on the issue, especially the ways in which he depicted movement and expression. "Mario's stuff is great. He gets the comedy and the drama both, and he captures both Peter and Spidey equally well," the writer remarked. "He's a find, this boy!"

Steve Wacker agreed. "Mario's published thousands of pages in Europe and I was lucky enough to come across his work at DC where he was doing some covers. Ex-X editor Andy Schmidt showed me a volume of his work and I just fell in love with his style. Any work we can get from him raises everything up a notch."

Mary Jane Watson continues to play an important role in the "Red-Headed Stranger" arc after Fred Van Lente takes over the story with "Amazing" #602. The writer thinks bringing Mary Jane back is particularly compelling because of the unique dynamic it creates between her and Peter Parker. "She's interesting to have in the mix of Peter's life and in a superhero series in general in that she's the ex," Van Lente explained. "She's someone who had a very serious and long term relationship with Peter for many years and it fell apart for reasons that remain mysterious. She still cares about him but she's also acutely aware of his flaws in a way that exes are. So they've got a terrific dynamic that's lots of fun to play with. It's something that wouldn't have occurred to me to be as cool as it ended up being."

Van Lente's portion of "Red-Headed Stranger" also marks the the return of another character into Spider-Man's life, his foe the Chameleon, who's come to New York as a terrorist-for-hire. "We're kind of going back to basics with the Chameleon," Van Lente said. "One of the things I never liked about what they did to the character was that they gave him superpowers, which to me makes him no different than other shapeshifters in the Marvel Universe like Mystique or the Skrulls. So if he has powers, he's not using them in this arc. That's sort of my point with the Chameleon. He's very mysterious. He's told us multiple versions of his background, many of which contradict each other, and as we tried to suggest in the last series I did that featured him, 'Supervillain Team-Up', that's all on purpose. The Chameleon doesn't want you to know who he is and what he's all about. It's possible that guy with superpowers, who is crazy, is not the guy. I'm not saying it is or it isn't, but that's a potential theory."

Chameleon's actions in "Red-Headed Stranger" have consequences not just for Spider-Man but also for New York City's new Mayor J. Jonah Jameson and his administration. "We definitely flesh out Jonah's administration and his staff. We did quite a bit of research on how the New York City Mayor's office works in order to do that," Van Lente said. "There's a character we've affectionately dubbed 'Eddie Haskell' [who made his debut in the recent '24/7' arc] who is actually the Deputy Mayor of Operations."

Wacker noted that Fred Van Lente is young enough that he didn't get the Eddie Haskell reference at first. "I just want to add that I was too young to get it too. Old people suck!"

"The Mayor has a number of Deputies and the Haskell character is particularly important because the New York Police Department falls under his jurisdiction," Van Lente continued. "He's also got the Office of Emergency Management and the Counter Terrorism activities of New York City under his wing. That plays a huge role in this arc because of who the Chameleon is working for. These are not nice people."

The supporting cast of "Red-Headed Stranger" is rounded out by a number of characters including Flash Thompson, Glory Grant, Peter Parker's roommate Michele Gonzales, Harry Osborn, some new characters (who will be introduced in "Amazing Spider-Man Annual" #36) and J. Jonah Jameson's Anti-Spider-Man Squad. "They'll be getting a brand new look and brand new gear," Van Lente said. "The gear makes them less of an Anti-Spider-Man Squad and more shall we say a Spider-Slayer Squad?"

Van Lente designed his portion of "Red-Headed Stranger" as an intense espionage thriller and is happy to have Barry Kitson bringing the arc to life. "Barry has got such a wonderful clean storytelling style and his acting is terrific. This story arc is very character oriented and involves a good 60-70 percent of the book's supporting cast, if not more. So he's kicking butt there," Van Lente stated. "I've seen some of the action sequences coming in as well and they're great too. Chameleon has been completely redesigned by Barry Kitson and he looks awesome and scary."

In the final chapter of "Red Headed stranger" Van Lente rewinds things and detail the events leading up to the arc. "It's a prequel that explains what Mary Jane has been up to this whole time and why she decides to return to New York," the writer explained. "It also features the White Rabbit," a female villain who recently appeared in the pages of Van Lente's "Dark Reign: Mister Negative" miniseries.

Once "Red-Headed Stranger" wraps, Van Lente fans will have a little wait for the writer's next Spider-Man story, which is tentatively scheduled for December. "It involves another classic villain," the writer hinted. "But this character won't have as quite a radical makeover as the Chameleon."

September also sees the beginning of a new two-part arc which runs through "Amazing Spider-Man" #606-607 and marks the return of another one of Spider-Man's old flames, Felicia Hardy -- the Black Cat. "I like having fun with the Black Cat. She's a great character," Steve Wacker said. "She was the character that loved Spider-Man. That was such a great angle on the ever present love triangles in Spider-Man; to have a character that just dug Spider-Man was terrific."

Joe Kelly is the man tasked with bringing the Black Cat back into Spider-Man's life, and the writer was happy to have the chance to do so. "There's a lot of stuff that makes the Black Cat a compelling character to write," Kelly told CBR. "After Spidey #600 there are a lot of ladies floating around his life and Black Cat especially just messes up that whole dynamic. And I just love that she's a wild card. There are a lot of ways in which Peter Parker is reserved and traditionally she's pulled this wilder side out of him. So in the land where Mary Jane is back I think it's good to have the Black Cat really messing him up and playing with his emotions."

The Black Cat has such a profound effect on Peter Parker because people are often attracted to the things they don't have. "He's all power and responsibility and she's kind of throwing responsibility out the window. I think that pulls at him and I think that's what his wild side wishes he could be," the writer explained. "He totally has that wild side. We've seen it, and the very fact that he dresses up as Spider-Man is proof positive that he has a wild side. He's spent so much time keeping it in check though and balancing it against other responsibilities that somebody who is just crazy and lives life uninhibited is something that's very attractive to him. And as a writer that makes her a really fun character to write."

The Black Cat began her career as a costumed criminal, but she's since reformed. Nevertheless, an impulsive, hotheaded streak sometimes puts the character in situations that aren't entirely heroic. "I really like Felicia as somebody in the middle, but I think she's a good person at heart," Kelly said. "She writes her own rules that are allowed to change without notice but overall she's a good person."

When Spider-Man encounters Black Cat, he'll be curious as to what personal rules are currently guiding the former thief. "Black Cat drops in and that knocks him totally off balance. Basically, he's he's got to not only wonder about his feelings and how his heart races when he sees her, but he's also not sure what her motives are when he catches her in the middle of a breaking and entering scenario," Kelly explained. "So there's a lot of self doubt and self checking by Spider-Man as to what his and her motivations are. He wonders a lot, 'What am I doing with myself?'"

If Kelly's Black Cat ac sounds like a heavy story of emotional soul searching, it's not. Spider-Man's encounter with the Black Cat depicts the pair in what Kelly describes as a fun, bouncy heist story, which pits them against an old Fantastic Four villain. "'American Son' is so heavy and there's certainly a lot of stuff in 'Red-headed Stranger' that's kind of on the dark side, so I really wanted to do a bouncy, sexy, fun couple of issues. That's the goal for this story," Kelly said.

Helping Joe Kelly achieve that goal is artist Mike McKone. "He draws himself some pretty ladies," Kelly laughed. "He's great with action and Black Cat is going to be gorgeous. So it's just going to be a fun arc and Mike and I have talked about working together with each other for a long time. So it's great that we finally have the chance."

Joe Kelly wasn't able to give the date for his next Spider-Man story, but it does involve the web-slinger running into another crimson clad wisecracker, one that Kelly is known for writing. "I've got a one-off story with Deadpool," Kelly confirmed. "Then it all leads into another major Spider-Man storyline which culminates in my next story."

Following Joe Kelly's Black Cat arc is "Who Is Ben Reilly?", a two-part story that runs through "Amazing Spider-Man" #608-609. Written by Marc Guggenheim, the story explores one of the most controversial chapters in Spider-Man's publishing history, "The Clone Saga." "I've gone back and reread a decent chunk of it and there's stuff in there that's interesting but not always executed as well as I would have liked, but that's true of every comic," Steve Wacker said. "There's a lot to be fond of in that era. I think a lot of readers really came into Spider-Man at that time, and I can understand that. For all its strengths and weaknesses, it was certainly a time when things were happening in the Spider-Man books. Every month it felt like things were going to be turned upside down."

Marc Guggenheim agreed. "For the longest time, I think feelings on the 'Clone Saga' were like, 'Let's keep it over there in the corner and ignore it.' But I think a funny thing has happened over the years, because whenever I do a Spidey panel at a convention, there's always at least one Ben Reilly or 'Clone Saga'-related question. I think that stems from the fact that there are lot of people who were first exposed to Spider-Man when Ben Reilly was the guy wearing the webs. So there's a lot of love for that character and that part of Spider-Man's history. I'm not saying the Clone Saga doesn't have its detractors, but it does have it share of fans."

Guggenheim's original idea for the story that would become "Who is Ben Reilly?" didn't involve Ben or the "Clone Saga" at all. "I often get ideas by asking myself questions and one question I asked was, 'Has there ever been a villain who didn't know Peter Parker was Spider-Man and was just after Peter Parker?'" Guggenheim recalled. "That sounded really intriguing to me because I had seen villains go after Peter, but they're basically going after him in the context of how he relates to Spider-Man. So I thought, wouldn't it be interesting to have a villain who's purely angry at Peter Parker for some reason? It was off that question that I started toying around with the notion of Ben Reilly and that past chapter of continuity."

"Who is Ben Reilly?" spins out of July's "Amazing Spider-Man Annual" #36, also written by Guggenheim. The Annual introduces the aforementioned villain with a personal grudge against Peter Parker. "It's a new villain whose motivation comes out of 'The Lost Years' of the 'Clone Saga,'" Guggenheim revealed. "Over the course of the arc, we'll be revisiting the days of the 'Clone Saga' through flashbacks. What's exciting is that this is the first time in many years that Ben Reilly has graced the pages of 'Amazing Spider-Man.'

"I'm going to do something that I did when I worked on 'Blade', which was tell the story in two time periods. The present-day story is intercut with a separate storyline set in the past. It's something that's pretty atypical for my Spidey work and something that's pretty atypical for 'Amazing Spider-Man' in general. The series doesn't typically play with time that way."

Guggenheim's story arc will also involve the new supporting cast members he introduces in "Amazing Spider-Man Annual" #36. "Those characters will play a big role in the series going forward," the writer confirmed. "I have to speak obliquely because I don't want to spoil the Annual or reveal who those characters are, but it made a lot of sense to raise the issue of Ben Reilly in the context of these characters."

"Who is Ben Reilly?" features art by Marco Checchetto, whose work can be seen in the current "American Son" arc, and promises to be a little darker than Guggenheim's previous Spider-Man stories. However, the writer cautions fans against having any preconceived notions about the story. "There's already a lot of speculation about this arc, which is awesome. But if you think you know where this arc is going you're probably wrong."

Steve Wacker and his Webheads plans to keep the express train of "Amazing Spider-Man" going after the Ben Reilly arc concludes. Check back with CBR News tomorrow for an interview with Wacker, Mark Waid and Marc Guggenheim about "The Gauntlet," another new Spider-Man storyline that begins this winter and runs well into 2010!

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