Marvel Comics Press Conference: Spider-Man Unmasked

Thu, July 6th, 2006 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Arune Singh, Staff Writer

It's that time again, as Marvel has invited all the major comic book news sites to one of their action-packed phone conferences, but this time Marvel may be dealing with the biggest company event in recent history: Spider-Man has been unmasked! As readers of "Civil War" know, the government is pushing a superhero registration act and it has divided the Marvel Universe, with Captain America against the proposition and Iron Man supporting it. On the latter's team is Spider-Man, who was convinced by Tony Stark (Iron Man's alter ego), to reveal his identity to the public as a sign of goodwill and to create a positive image of superheroes (this happened in "Civil War" #2). It's not too often that the Internet is truly "divided in half," but this event itself has ploarized the majority of fans, making "Civil War's" big question ("Whose side are you on?") even more relevant to readers.

To field the questions being asked by fans, Marvel assembled some of their biggest talent, from Spider-Man writers J. Michael Straczynski (know as JMS, and writer of "Amazing Spider-Man") to Peter David (writer of "Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man) to Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (writer of "Sensational Spider-Man"). Editor Axel Alonso came along, along with a bevy of Marvel staffers. We've just concluded our live coverage, but you can also check out our recent interview with Aguirre-Sacasa, who spoke about the changes in Peter Parker's life.

After introductions were made, Marvel and the creators got down to business, addressing the repercussions of Spider-Man's big decision.

"He may have invested himself in the wrong side," said JMS of Peter Parker. Spider-Man will begin to question whose side he is on, coming into conflict with Tony Stark, and wondering how to fix the mistake he may have made.

Peter David hasn't tackled the "reveal" in his storyline, as he wanted to wait a bit after the "juggernaut" of the initial reveal to tell his story. In a couple of issues we'll see if Peter Parker can retain his job as a teacher, as some parents may not seem him as a role model, and David promised that parents will have good reason to worry, including "several Mysterios converging around the school." While some might say that Parker should just quit his job, but David acknowledged that villains could still terrorize his former students, and he'll have to deal with a tell-all book written by a former flame (familiar to Marvel fans). David promised lots of fun mixed with the very serious ramifications of the story being told in all the Spidey titles.

Sacasa's upcoming "Sensational" series will deal with how those villains come back into Peter Parker's life, with Chameleon organizing a group of villains "to attack Peter's life in a very personal way."

There is a lot of coordination between all the writers, and while most storylines are discussed with the editors, some may evolve out of conversations between the writers.

We'll also probably see Peter take some heat for past crimes that Spider-Man believed to be responsible for, and Sacasa added that all the little people in Peter's life will also feel a bit of betrayal and confusion, with their own questions for Peter. JMS feels that these personal conflicts were more interesting than the legal battles, so he'll be focusing on the nuances of Peter's life.

While Peter may question his decision, that doesn't mean we'll see Cap or Iron Man as villains: the writers affirmed that everyone is operating out of good intentions and that it would betray the characters to make them seem like bad guys. "These guys are some of the building blocks of the Marvel universe," said Peter David, who feels it sends a bad message to readers if the bad guys are the ones cooperating with the law, so there will be a lot of gray area explored in all the "Civil War" tie-ins. "It's very difficult to figure out whose side you are on."

JMS said that Peter will question Reed Richards, AKA Mr. Fantastic, as to his feelings on the matter and we'll see a reference to Reed's Uncle, who was a victim of the McCarthy era, though Reed will see it quite differently. It's going to highlight how personal this big event is and why all the writers feel "Civil War" is such a unique event.

As to the writers' reactions to the reveal of Spider-Man's identity, Peter David felt it was an interesting change and thought about a lot of new directions and ideas, which he didn't mind at all. He knows that a character like Spider-Man is big and writers may have to "roll with some punches." David loves the "exciting" possibilities that have come out of the story. Sacasa added, "How did I get so lucky to be on the Spider-Man books when the most momentous thing in his history is happening?" He's glad to be part of something so large, that is a bit frightening and exciting at the same time, and he's even gotten contacted by an old college roommate. "It's going to be really cool," said JMS.

J. Jonah Jameson's reaction to Spider-Man's secret identity will be explored in one of the books, though that's being coordinated right now. The relationship with MJ will also be explored, as she's now Spider-Man's wife and not just an actress.

The dichotomy between Spider-Man's secret identity and superhero life have always been a big part of the character, but the writers feel this change, making them almost one, moves the character into a place where you can tell even more exciting stories. "It's the same situation that anybody, who finds themselves without anonymity, has," commented Peter David. "You're on all the time. You're on 24/7." He compared Peter to a big celebrity who finds himself unable to shop in the grocery store without being accosted by strangers.

"It adds layers of complication to both sides of his personality," added JMS. The insults to Spider-Man will also hurt Peter more, as it's not just going to bounce off him anymore, as he'll hear things such as "Peter, you suck." David laughed and added that he's used to it, but it's still jarring.

Sacasa also added that, "It humanizes Spider-Man."

While fans clamor for change, their reaction to that change is often mixed, and the writers feel that they're taking Spider-Man in a very "organic" direction. David added, "Fans may say they don't want things to change, but if you don't change, they drift away in favor of something exciting and different." While Peter may not be the nerd being beat up anymore, who has "secret" powers and abilities, JMS feels there's still a lot in Spider-Man for all fans to find relatable. "How many of us have not made a good or bad decision thinking we're doing the right thing?" he asked.

Some fans have argued that this story goes against the old Spider-Man adage that "with great power comes great responsibility," but the writers feel that "Civil War" simply adds new meaning to the phrase. "Responsibility is the core of the Civil War story. Does it lay with the country, with the law, or with one's self?" asked JMS.

Marvel Comics has long term plans that they're sticking with and it's not going to be dictated by next year's "Spider-Man 3" film.

Asked if there's an "exit strategy" for this story or if Peter will be assuming another identity, the writers deftly deflected the question with some humor. "If we told you, we'd have to kill you and maybe Peter." But the story will play a major role through next year, with Spider-Man and friends dealing with the fallout from his unmasking.

And finally, when asked if Spider-Man would have been unmasked if "Civil War" hadn't happened, JMS said "probably not" at the current juncture, but didn't deny the possibility it could have happened later.

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