One of the nice things about living a double life as a costumed superhero would be the fact that if one life got too complicated you could escape to your other life for awhile. Unfortunately the titular character of Marvel Comics' "Amazing Spider-Man" can't do that right now. That's because in issue #606, on sale now, writer Joe Kelly and artist Mike McKone kicked off a new storyline that saw the return of Spidey's old flame the Black Cat, AKA Felicia Hardy. CBR News spoke with Kelly about the storyline, as well as his next two Spider-Man tales: a one-off guest starring Deadpool, and a multi-part saga to be published next year.
When the "Brand New Day" era of "Amazing Spider-Man" began back in 2007, several ongoing mysteries were also kicked off. One long running mystery has been what exactly Peter Parker did to erase the world's knowledge that he was in fact Spider-Man. Recently, Peter has re-revealed his identity to his friends on the Fantastic Four and the New Avengers, and in "Amazing Spider-Man" #604, it was revealed that Peter's ex-girlfriend Mary Jane Watson knows that he's Spidey. He wasn't quite so trusting with all his old flames though.
"The Black Cat doesn't remember that Spider-Man is Peter." Kelly told CBR News. "Part of the reason why she's so hot to trot again is because she doesn't know who Spider-Man is anymore. She remembers they were together, and at one point she knew who he was and that's what broke up their relationship. She was really into Spider-Man - not whoever was behind the mask."
When Spider-Man's friend, the Human Torch, found himself with sudden amnesia about his pal's secret identity, he became angry and hurt. The Black Cat had a much different reaction. "For someone like her, not knowing is exciting. It's tough to talk about the Cat and how sexually charged she is without making her sound like she's a ho for Spidey, but I think she's very conscious about how she wants to conduct her personal relationships," Kelly said. "So, something like this is intriguing to her. It's like, 'Hey I got this thing back that I really enjoyed while I had it.' To her, this is a second chance, not at love, but a really good time. And just like last time, Spidey has to decide whether that's something cool for him or not.
"I obviously love writing the Black Cat. I read a lot of the recent Black Cat stories as well as Kevin Smith's 'Spider-Man/Black Cat' mini-series, and I think she's a really interesting and deep character with a lot of layers to her. She's someone who makes choices about what she reveals of herself to certain people," Kelly continued. "In an upcoming issue of 'Amazing,' there's an eight page story with art by Ken Nimura, who drew 'I Kill Giants' for me, and it's about that dichotomy within her. She's a very complicated woman who has chosen to live different lives, and that's fascinating.
"Whenever we write the Black Cat, me and my fellow writers are always checking ourselves to make sure she's not gratuitous even though that's part of her personality," Kelly remarked. "She'll throw out a gratuitous joke because that's what she does. She is one of those characters who use their feminine wiles to distract poor stupid guys like us and she's not ashamed to admit it. I think that's a fun aspect of her character."
In "Amazing Spider-Man" #606 it wasn't just the Cat's personality and her sudden reemergence in Spider-Man's life that proved off-putting. The Wallcrawler was also caught off guard by the fact that the Black Cat had regained her bad luck super powers. "I loved that aspect of her character. It made her unique. It certainly separated her from characters like Catwoman. Plus, this idea that Spidey could be attracted to something naturally bad for him was a great conflict as well. I prefer the Black Cat with her luck powers," Kelly explained. "For Spidey it's a perfect metaphor. You know this relationship is going to go bad, no matter what happens. It's literally smacking you in the face every time you're around her, but she's so irresistible, how do you say no? So her powers work way to well to dump them."
In issue #606 readers caught a glimpse of how the Black Cat's bad luck powers work and their limitations, and in #607 they'll learn more about how the Cat's powers work. "They do have a range and she can kind of control them, but I don't think she ever had as much control over her powers as she would like to say she does. In the next issue she makes a joke about giving someone appendicitis, but I don't think she could concentrate and blow up somebody's appendix. I do think she can intentionally alter the laws of probability," Kelly explained. "It would be interesting to see what happened if she walked through some place like the stock market, but I think her powers tend to be very specific, pretty physical, and affect things in close proximity. So they work great when she's in a fist fight with somebody. Her opponents will be tripping over their own feet."
The Black Cat's bad luck powers weren't the only trouble Spidey had to contend with in "Amazing" #606. He also had to deal with the sudden appearance of the villain Diablo, a centuries old master of alchemy, who regularly tangles with the Fantastic Four. "I was looking for a fun character with interesting powers to use in this short two part story, and Diablo came up. There are aspects of how his alchemy works that ultimately play into why the plot of this story is what it is," Kelly revealed. "Taking his alchemy and putting it through a modern lens where the things he could do would be a lot bigger and visually exciting then we might have seen in the past seemed like a fun challenge as well.
"He does some stuff in the second part of this story that is really cool," Kelly continued. "I think the scene in the first part where he transforms somebody's intestines to granite was a pretty awesome use of his power as well. It's weird science, and with a lot of these villains sometimes the cornier the better because if you can make them scary it's great."
The last corny villain Kelly tweaked and made scary in the pages of "Amazing Spider-Man" was Hammerhead. The writer doesn't have room in this particular story to revamp Diablo to that extent, but he does see plenty of potential in the villain. "I think we can make him a little creepier and interesting and just play him in a different way. The guy is very long lived, so he thinks differently and we don't have to play him as a bank robber or anything like that. He can have other, weirder agendas, and I like those types of characters.
"This two-parter is about Peter and the Black Cat reconnecting and how it's going to work if he decides to go down a certain path. The story with Diablo facilitates that," Kelly continued. "Having finished this story though, I have to admit, I kind of dig Diablo and we might see him again."
When Peter wasn't contending with the Black Cat and Diablo in #606, he was dealing with troubles from the other women in life. Peter tried to explain to his angry roommate, Michelle Gonzales, that they weren't a couple, when his co-worker, Norah Winters, burst in. This caused Michelle to make some jealous, catty comments, and Norah responded in kind. "I love writing Norah. She can hang out with the guys and has just as foul a mouth," Kelly stated. "You don't know if she likes Peter or not. She's totally playing it as a post modern version of romantic sparring where you're wondering, 'Is she saying this stuff because she likes Pete? Or is she just being a pain in the ass?' That's why I love her so much."
The fact that Norah is currently dating the son of her editor, Robbie Robertson, doesn't necessarily mean that she's not romantically interested in Peter Parker. "She is definitely dating someone, but when she says things like, 'Pete hasn't found the stones to ask me out,' you wonder if she said it just to spite Michelle, or if she was giving Peter a subtle hint," Kelly remarked. "That's the way she rolls. She's a storm. She blows in and makes a mess of things."
Norah didn't visit Peter's apartment in "Amazing" #606 with the purpose of fighting with Michelle. She came to confess that she had sat on an incriminating story about Norman Osborn. "At the end of the 'American Son' arc, Norah received this very creepy e-mail through an encrypted account. It was Norman openly threatening to do bad things to whoever she was. Whether or not Norman actually knew it was her or just knew that he was sending a message to a particular person is unclear, but it turned her off from the story. She chickened out and didn't write anything," Kelly explained. "And from her introduction, Norah has wanted to be the tough reporter. So the next step in her arc is admitting to Pete that she chickened out.
Norah sitting on the Osborn story is something that will play out over time, and just because her confession to Peter was done in a joking sort of way doesn't mean she's okay with what she did. "She's zeroed in on Pete as a potential dumping ground/confidant," Kelly said. "Whether or not she really trusts him or just feels that she can go to confession with him and it won't really matter, remains to be seen. It looks like Norah wears her heart on her sleeve, but I don't think that's true. She plays things a little closer to the vest."
Peter's scene with Norah and Michelle in issue #606 was complicated even further by the unexpected arrival of his ex-girlfriend, Mary Jane Watson, who he ended up accidentally yelling at. Readers can expect more scenes of romantic tension and misadventures in the months ahead, because for the remainder of 2009, Kelly and his "Amazing Spider-Man" co-writers will explore the mess that is Peter Parker's love life. "I love writing that stuff. Women problems are great fodder for comedy, but I also find my own awkwardness around women my entire life helps me slip into that role and relate to the character," Kelly explained. "I always think of him as in high school even though he's not. So whatever girl trouble he's got, it's always the high school version of it in my brain. It may not manifest that way, but that's his reaction. It's always like he's this disaffected man-boy, and that's why Norah calls him her 'Man-Child.' It's because he's not fully equipped to deal with all these romantic slings and arrows, particularly after being in such a long relationship with MJ."
Another one of Spider-Man's female acquaintances played a role in "Amazing" #606, but she'll be causing him superheroic problems instead of romantic ones. That's because the blind psychic Madame Web has been abducted and is being used by her captors to spy on Spider-Man. "It's funny, Madame Web is one of those characters who I remember as a lot cooler than she necessarily was [Laughs]," Kelly remarked. "A blind seer certainly isn't anything new, but something about the visuals of her really struck me as a kid and just kind of stuck with me. I thought it was eerie that she kind of looked like Aunt May. It was like, what's her deal?
"Plus, Madame Web works on a storytelling level. I like any sort of fortune tellers. They're great storytelling devices. You can be really creepy with them, and I really like the metaphor of fate as a web," Kelly continued. "It works really well with exploring the future and Spidey's bigger mythology. Madame Web plays a key part in the long story I'm building towards, which plays out next year. So periodically we'll check in on her, and unfortunately for her those scenes won't be pretty."
"Amazing Spider-Man" #607 is in stores this week and sees the continuation of Spider-Man's female problems. "There's a lot of comedy, exciting stuff, and significant destruction," Kelly hinted. "And what the Spidey-Black Cat relationship will become kicks off in this issue!"
After issue #607 Kelly returns to "Amazing Spider-Man" in November with issue #611, a one-off tale that pits him in quip-to-quip combat with Deadpool, the Merc With a Mouth. "The Black Cat story is rompy in a way but #611 is a full on insanity fest with Spidey and Deadpool," Kelly said. "Eric Canete is knocking it out of the park. He's not drawing it with a cartoony style, but a really fun exaggerated style that goes with the over the top Deadpool component.
"Believe it or not, the Deadpool issue actually does play into continuity," Kelly continued. "The story of Madame Web's abduction continues in that issue, and Deadpool's mission plays into this bigger agenda. So the issue hangs pretty well with the long story, and I think it works pretty well as a standalone."
Once #611 is in stores, fans of Kelly's writing will have to wait till 2010 for his next "Amazing Spider-Man" story, a major chapter of the upcoming storyline, "The Gauntlet." "I guess, technically it's the last chapter, and it's going to be pretty hardcore. We've been talking about this story for quite a long time. Some of it actually predates my involvement with the group, but I think because of what it is and where it's gotten to, it's going to be pretty epic and scary," Kelly said. "It allows us to look at some of the other characters in the Spider-Universe in a different light, and allows us to do some stuff with interesting continuity threads that are just hanging out there. I'm excited about it. It's going to be really bad ass.
"It's a dark 'Spidey's in a hell of a lot of trouble' style story," Kelly said. " It's also a Spidey responsibility story in terms of who gets yanked into the conflict through no fault of their own. It's going to be very cool."