CCI: Day's End: The Webheads On "Amazing Spider-Man"

Sun, July 25th, 2010 at 1:39pm PDT

Comic Books
Dave Richards, Staff Writer
83

In 2007's "One More Day" storyline in "Amazing Spider-Man," Spidey's life was turned upside down when magical machinations literally erased his marriage to Mary Jane Watson. While Peter Parker and MJ still had a life together - they just never got married - the fallout from this storyline established a new status quo for "Amazing Spider-Man" where Peter Parker's life was once again troubled not just by the day to day problems of his costumed life and secret identity, but by romantic triangles and misadventures as well. It also opened the door for Pete to reconnect with old members of his supporting cast and bond with brand new ones.

Marvel Comics didn't want to just set up a new status quo for "Amazing Spider-Man," though - they wanted to establish an entirely new era! To accomplish this, they canceled everything other than "Amazing Spider-Man" which was turned into book that shipped three times a month. The new, rigorous schedule meant that there wouldn't be just one writer on "Amazing," but several. Dan Slott, Bob Gale, Marc Guggenheim and Zeb Wells were the initial writers tasked with the job and in January 2008, they kicked off the "Brand New Day" era with issue #546. Several months later, the "Amazing Spider-Man" writing collective grew when Fred Van Lente, Mark Waid and Joe Kelly joined the book's writing staff.

By October of this year, the Spider-Man writing team, AKA the Webheads, will have produced a historic 101 issues (not to mention 3 Annuals, 3 EXTRAS!, A Free Comic Book Day one shot and several miniseries) in three years. They'll have also reached the end of the story they wanted to tell. CBR News spoke with Slott, Wells, Guggenheim, Kelly, Waid and Van Lente about the experience of writing "Amazing Spider-Man" during the "Brand New Day" era and what fans can expect from their final issue #647, which was announced today at Marvel Comics' Spider-Man panel at the San Diego Comic Con.

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CBR News: So, with the release of October's "Amazing Spider-Man" #647, you guys will have done 100 issues in 3 years. How does that feel?

Marc Guggenheim: I can't speak for anyone else, but it feels like "Brand New Day" has been going much longer than three years. I'm sure that's at least in part because we had our first summit as a team, what, almost a year ago?Before "546, the first BND issue, came out.

Marko Djurdjevic's covers for ASM #642 - 647

Dan Slott: We were working on this in 2007, while Axel Alonso's teams were still working on "Back In Black" and "One More Day." The first assignment I turned in was the Free Comic Book Day issue which came out May 5th, 2007. Oy! We've all scaled a mountain together, haven't we? With Steve Wacker as our fearless Sherpa!

Zeb Wells: I was the rookie that had to be dragged up the mountain and lost his nose. Steve just informed me our first Spider Summit was November 14 - 16, 2006. I remember how intimidated I was in the room. I don't think I said three words. Everyone had so many ideas so quickly and Bob had written "Back to the Future." I was right to be intimidated.

Mark Waid: I'm not really winded, but then again, unlike Old Man Slott, I've only been around for the last 70 or so. Nonetheless, it's a hell of an achievement and it's all due to the blood, sweat, toil and tears of the one man who's been there since the beginning: editor Steve Wacker. To whom my instincts now tell me I no longer owe twenty bucks.

Joe Kelly: It feels fantastic, but it was grueling work. It almost ruined my marriage. I had to write, like, a dozen of them. The horror...the horror...

Fred Van Lente: I will also add to that list our redoubtable assistant editor (and editor of our companion book, "Web of Spider-Man," :::cough cough:::) Tom Brennan and, of course, the primary letterer of the series, Joe Caramanga, who deserves some kind of hazard pay. Or the letterer equivalent of the Purple Heart. Or both.

Slott: And Corry Petit, who was our hard - working letterer at the top of "Brand New Day."

Wells: Yeah, I think Wacker and his team had to bear the brunt of this insane undertaking. I know I personally played villain to the schedule much more than I played victim

ASM #647 also marks the final issue of your work together as a team. Why end things now? Is it simply a case of having told the story you wanted to tell and wanting to go out on top, or are there other factors involved?

Waid: Andrew Garfield asked for a clean sweep. It's in his contract.

Van Lente: I told you we should have thrown all our weight behind Donald Glover.

Kelly: Steve hates us. That's pretty much it.

Slott: I can't speak for the other guys, but it'd be nice to get some sleep. I like sleep. I remember sleep. Sleep was nice.

Wells: I blame Mephisto! HAHAHAHA LOLZ! HAHAHAHA! I should hang myself.

Dan, Marc and Zeb, you guys have been with the book since it began it's three times a month model. How does it feel looking back at where the book was when you started and where it is now?

Guggenheim: I'm sure reasonable minds (i.e., the Internet) will disagree, but I think ASM's been very different since BND began. I'm not even referring to the undoing of Peter's marriage (i.e., the third rail of comics), but rather the general "back to the basics" approach that the book has employed throughout the run of BND - the return of a large supporting cast, focus on Peter's personal life, fun villains, etc.

Slott: Yeah. "Fun villains." I remember in the beginning where it was decided "No Spider - Villains for half a year, make up your own." That was a little daunting. Fun, but daunting. Hell, just being in that room, knowing that you and the other guys were "Amazing Spider-Man" writers. That's the thrill of a lifetime. There's about 50 people in the world who can say that. That's crazy. That's surreal. It's intimidating. It was nice to know you were starting off with a support group. I love these guys.

"Amazing Spider-Man" #648 marks the next era of the title

Wells: If Dan was daunted, he didn't show it. He came into the room with 5 - 6 ideas for cool new characters that just felt like Spidey villains. He was born to write Spider-Man, and he does it with an enthusiasm that's infectious. I remember when we made the BND announcement in San Diego he'd brought us all a CD with every song that had mentioned Spider-Man on it. He also talked me off the ledge a few times when I was writing my first arc. He's a good man to have on your side.

Mark, Fred and Joe, you guys came aboard later, but quickly became vital parts of the team. What was it like becoming a part of an already established writing crew?

Waid: At first, I felt a lot like Cousin Oliver, but I just kept my head down and stayed my normal, indescribably humble self. I kept quiet. Not like that Van Lente guy. He was all, "Can I get that for you, Mr. Wacker?" and "What would you like in your coffee, Mr. Waid?" All the time. He wouldn't shut up.

Van Lente: Waid kept making arcane references to things like "Cousin Oliver," which I just had to Google to figure out what that is ("Brady Bunch." Nice, Mark. That's a step up from Eddie Haskell, at least...), so I assumed dementia had started setting in. I made sure to check to make sure his IV bag was filled and his meds were laid out in the correct order during the Webhead retreats.

Waid: Okay, seriously, I was the one in the room who was, very quickly, the very best at pitching ideas that had either been done to death during the '90s when I wasn't paying attention, or "clever" notions that had already been rejected throughout the previous year. And it's very intimidating to pitch ideas to Bob Gale, who wrote my single favorite movie of the last thirty years, which is, of course, "Bordello of Blood." Eventually, though, I got in the rhythm. But Wacker runs a good room; always light - spirited and energetic. One of the great advertising men of all time, David Ogilvy, who generated dozens of famous ideas and images, once said the truest thing about creativity I've ever heard: "The best ideas start as jokes." Wacker brings the funny.

Van Lente: It was a very loose room, full of writers with no turf to protect and no interest other than to tell the best damned possible Spider-Man stories. Getting together as a group and talking story will be what I miss most about not being on this job.

Kelly: In all seriousness (please see my first two answers for non - seriousness) it was great. The guys are exceptional collaborators, generous with their ideas, smart, fun and welcoming into the BND playground. Plus, I got the benefit of a new status quo without having to be the guy who pulled the trigger! Best of both worlds!

Looking back at the complete run of this three times a month era, what are some of the favorite stories you got to tell, and what are some of your favorite tales that your colleagues wrote?

Waid: I think my favorite that I got to tell was my very first one: the one that introduced J. Jonah Jameson, Sr. Working with Marcos Martin was a career goal. Value-add: it's my first experience in years and years in creating a character who wasn't immediately erased from continuity the moment my back was turned. Props to Tom Peyer, who was the first to ask me in conversation, "Hey, have we ever met JJJ's dad?"

I'm also particularly proud of Spider-Man meets Stephen Colbert. "Colbert loves the script, he has no notes," were the sweetest, most uplifting words Wacker ever spoke to me, because as a huge Colbert fan, I was worried sick that the whole experience might go horribly awry. Instead, it really clicked

(thanks, Patrick Oliffe!). It's not the best comics story I ever wrote, but it may be the best one I ever wrote in the least amount of time.

Still, none of those can hold a candle to the Slott/Romita Jr. issue 600 extravaganza, or Van Lente's Sandman story, or pretty much anything Joe Kelly writes. I am bitterly jealous of how well Kelly writes dialogue, particularly Peter's. Gives me something to strive for.

"Fun" Fact: My least favorite Spider-Man story that I did was the two-parter in which Peter blew his photography career. (Issues #623 - 624.) Not because I thought it was a particularly bad story - it was beautifully drawn by Paul Azaceta - but because, in retrospect, I really, really mishandled the whole "Peter faked a photo" plot development, for which I apologize from the bottom of my heart to the other writers and to the fans. I still think at the heart of it was a good, clever, very series - appropriate idea - Spider-Man has to throw Peter Parker under a bus to save J. Jonah Jameson - but I'd give anything to be able to go back and rewrite it to make Pete's moment of sacrifice and choice more dramatic. In my mind, Peter wasn't sloppy or stupid - he knew what he was doing violated journalistic ethics, but it was either that or let JJJ be criminally framed for something he didn't do - a classic Spider-Man sacrifice play. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, I did a spectacularly crappy job of translating that to the printed page and ended up accomplishing the opposite of what I'd intended. In my failed attempt to make Peter seem supremely responsible, I ended up making him look incredibly irresponsible - which is a mortal sin.

But did I mention J. Jonah Jameson, Sr.?

Van Lente: I really loved Zeb's Lizard story, Mark's Electro 3 - parter, Joe's Rhino and "American Son," Mister Negative in general, but particularly the story in which Spidey and the Black Cat tag-team him. And Bob's online "Peter Parker" story cleverly incorporated real-world and superhero elements in a way a lot of us mired in this genre would never even think of (meaning me).

One of my favorites I did was the #605 story of Mary Jane solo. I never really got the appeal of the character until I started writing her, and she's so tough, self-deprecating and fun, I can see why the readers fell for her. And in that issue I worked with Javier Pulido for the first time, who knocked the Sandman arc out of the park.

Guggenheim: For me, the high point of the stories I wrote was #574, the Flash Thompson issue. I was honored to get a crack at that one.

And when it comes to the stories the other guys wrote, God, how to choose? I loved Mark's outing of May and JJJ Sr. Zeb's first arc really showed, I think, where BND could go in terms of storytelling. Fred's first arc demonstrated how a Spidey villain - the Chameleon - could be reinvented and made cool, thus setting the table for "Gauntlet." Joe did the same with Hammerhead - and his Deadpool issue is a personal favorite. With Dan - "New Ways To Die." 'Nuff said. Finally, Bob's invention of Freak is my favorite of his work, because it gave us a new Spidey villain that I think is pretty cool.

And even Wacker deserves some credit for his Newsarama interviews, which never failed to

make me laugh out loud.

Slott: That's like choosing your favorite child. With me, the things that stand out the most are the moments. The moment Spidey discovered that while he was away, Jonah became Mayor of NYC! Or right before Pete walked Aunt May down the aisle, where she called him "son" and he called her "mom."Orrrr when Mysterio kicked Spider-Man in his junk. One a' those.

And with the other guys - Joe's two-part Rhino story. Those issues blew me away! I loved Fred's take on the Chameleon, Bob's character the Bookie, when Mark introduced Jonah's dad and Zeb's Lizard story. And I honestly think Marc's issue, "Flashbacks," was - not just for Spider-Man, but for all of Marvel - one of the best done-in-ones we've seen in years.

Wells: There are too many for me to choose from. What's that? I only wrote three? Should I even be here? Regardless, I'm forever indebted to Steve for giving me the opportunity to work with Chris Bachalo, who is a modern master in my opinion and Paolo Rivera, who made every bit of my dialogue redundant with his facial expressions.

With the other writers, Joe's Hammerhead arc was truly exhilarating. How his stuff can be so funny and scary at the same time, I'll never know. Mark's Shocker story and the JJJ Sr. stuff was truly inspired. Gugg's Flash story, 'nuff said. FVL's treatment of the Spot was like a personal challenge to write third string villains better. Dan and JR jr's "New Ways to Die" reminded me of the thrill I got reading "Giant - Size Spider-Man" #1 as a kid. And some of my favorite work from Bob Gale came in the form of a few story - saving notes he gave each of my stories.

Kelly: I'm very proud of the Rhino story for sure - which I inherited from Guggenheim! - but honestly had a blast with all of them. "American Son," "Grim Hunt" - all a ton of fun. If it's SPIDEY, I'm proud of it

As for the rest of the Webheads, I honestly dug ever yone's work, but my memory is garbage, so it's hard to pick my individual faves. Zeb's Lizard arc was fantastic and I thought Fred's Chameleon was the best I'd read in decades. Loved Waid's JJJSr. in the sewer story with Marcos...and everything that Bob, Guggenheim and Dan wrote was pure gold!!

We've still got plenty of Spidey action to go before your big finish. What can fans expect from the stories leading up to issue #647?

Waid: After "O.M.I.T.," we still have the big, blowout, million-villain piece "Origin of the Species." Lily Hollister, who has Goblin serum coursing through her veins and whose last name I consistently cannot spell, has given birth to Norman Osborn's baby - and now that baby, sui generis, is the hot potato that the entire underworld is after for a variety of reasons that put Spidey through the wringer and, in many ways, creates a drama that's the culmination of the entire "Brand New Day" era.

Now lets talk about your final number together as a band. I understand issue #647 is sort of a jam issue written by all of you? In terms of mechanics and how it worked is this sort of similar to "Amazing Spider-Man" #564 where three different writers each told a portion of the story? Or was the script for this generated a littlee differently?

Waid: I came up with the part where the cast links arms and sings "It's A Long Way To Tipperary." I don't know if that will make the final cut.

Kelly: We tied "idea flags" to spiders and as they wove their webs, the flags fell off, forming partial sentences. From there, the story was born. Brevoort tied each flag to each spider himself. Serious.

Van Lente: We're in the middle of that process now, but it's pretty much as you describe. It is very much one of those for - every - door - that - closes - another - one - opens type stories.

Slott: I'm really looking forward to it. It's one last jam with the guys.

Guggenheim: I can't believe I was - sniff – even invited to participate. Sniff.

Slott: Aww... C'mon over here! Gimme a hug!

Wells: He's just going to hit you again, Slott. Yeah, that's right, Guggenheim! You know why we didn't want to invite you! Give me a second to cool down here...we're actually still going back and forth on the mechanics. In classic BND style, we should have it sorted out a few days before it ships.

What can you tell us about the plot and themes of issue #647? Is this issue part of the "Origin of the Species" arc? Or is it's own thing? Which members of Spidey's cast play roles in the story?

Waid: As many as we can fit. We want to say aloha to them all and exit gracefully. I would definitely look for at least one person we haven't seen in nearly 100 issues, though.

Wells: #647 will deal with a string or two from "Origin of the Species," but it will also be used to put a cap on the run as a whole. We're looking to find a structure that will let everyone say goodbye to the book in their own way.

Issue #647 may be the final issue of you guys working together as a team on "Amazing Spider-Man," but it's not the final issue of the series. Any hints or teases as to how this issue leaves Spidey and how it sets the stage for issue #648, which I believe marks the beginning of Dan's run as the sole writer on the book?

Slott: Well, I've already written stuff for next March. So if it doesn't end with Pete and Norman Osborn playing Twister in a vat of Jello, I'm hosed. 'Cause that's where I'm picking up from.

Any final thoughts you would like to share about "Amazing Spider-Man" #647 or your work as a whole on the series?

Wells:We had our last conference call a week ago, but none of us could bring ourselves to admit it. Steve had to quickly schedule another one once everything was finished. We weren't ready to let it go.

Slott: This was a really great experience. Everyone was really supportive and inspiring. I'm going to miss being part of this team.

Kelly: The only thing I wanted to add as a final thought was mega - kudos to Steve, Tom and Tom. We writer-types got breaks in between issues and arcs, but editorial as a whole really held the ship together and not only pulled off the herculean feat of putting out essentially 3 books a month for 3 years, but they were good books. And they shook up Spidey's world, suffered the slings and arrows of naysayers, all with an unwavering directive: to take Spidey to new heights and give him a kick ass story. We just helped that along. Seriously, all credit is due to you guys.

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TAGS:  cci2010, marvel comics, amazing spider-man, spider-man, zeb wells, dan slott, mark waid, marc guggenheim

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