Marc Guggenheim on Spider-Man: 'Character Assassination'

Marc Guggenheim on Spider-Man

Amazing Spider-Man #584

2008 has been a status-quo shaping year for Marvel’s flagship character and their thrice monthly title, The Amazing Spider-Man. The onset of the ‘Brand New Day’ storyline featured the return of classic Spider-Man supporting characters as well as a return to a more classic version of the titular superhero—including a change in marital status. As the year winds down, the final acts of a number of various subplots have begun their final movements towards another year of new stories; what started as a ‘Brand New Day’ for everyone’s favorite web-slinger concludes in ‘Character Assassination’. Written by Spider-Brain Trust member Marc Guggenheim, the story looks to answer the year long mysteries surrounding the Spider-Tracer Killer, the identity of Menace, and just who will be the new Mayor of New York City.

Newsarama contacted Marc Guggenheim to discuss his upcoming arc on Amazing Spider-Man.

Newsarama: Well, first things first, what’s your upcoming ‘Character Assassination’ arc on Amazing Spider-Man all about?

Marc Guggenheim: Basically, this January will be roughly one year’s worth of Amazing Spider-Man since the advent of ‘Brand New Day’ and there has been a whole year of subplots that have been introduced to readers: the mayoral campaign, the mystery surrounding the identity of Menace, and the mystery surrounding the ‘Spider-Tracer Killer’.

I think a year, especially when you publish one book three times a month, is plenty of time for subplots to run— and everyone working on Amazing was in agreement about that. About two summits ago, we sat down with a single agenda of bringing these three subplots in for a landing. The idea that came out of that meeting was the notion of “What if we took all three of these storylines and combined them together into one big, widescreen-style epic?” Essentially, we hammered down—beat by beat—the entire arc which I went back to Los Angeles with and completely threw it out the window, breaking and re-breaking the story. I actually kept re-breaking the script over and over until I had refined the story quite a bit. So, the initial mission statement of the arc is exactly the same—we’re tying up the loose ends of the past year of Amazing Spider-Man subplots. By the end of ‘Character Assassination,’ you will know who wins the mayoral election; you will know who Menace is; and you will know who is responsible for the Spider-Tracer killings. But the process of exactly how we get there has been something that I’ve been playing around with a great deal.

As for the reasoning behind the rewrites, I tend to like to “let the story tell itself” so to speak—and in this case, again, I did a lot of re-breaking and rewriting because we really wanted the arc to be as good as it could possibly be for the fans; I wanted to give everyone the best possible representation of the story that I could possibly tell—but it’s been a tremendous group effort at the same time.

NRAMA: The stories seem to indicate the mayoral race and the identity of Menace are somehow linked. There have been several interesting scenes with Harry Osborn and his girlfriend, Lily Hollister, as well. Is there going to be some serious “shock and awe” that turns a lot of heads when the identity of Menace is finally revealed? Is it really Harry? I mean, Norman seems to think Harry’s been in his “Goblin Lab”…but Harry doesn’t seem to be in the loop…

MG: I can pretty much guarantee you that there will be people who are truly surprised and there will be people who will be like, “Oh, I saw that coming in the first issue…” and everyone in between. The thing that I’ve learned, not just from writing comics but also from writing television programs like Law & Order, is that you can fool some of the people some of the time—but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. A long time ago, I sort of gave up on the notion that there was an absolute jaw-dropping surprise for an entire readership or audience. Let’s suppose the book sells one hundred thousand copies—there’s no way I’m going to fool one hundred thousand people; I’m not a politician.

The goal, first and foremost, is to tell a satisfying—entertaining—story. I do believe that even if you’re the most clever person around and you figure out the ‘whodunit’ and you’re not surprised—that shouldn’t prevent you from enjoying the story. The Sixth Sense was a very enjoyable, successful movie despite the fact that there were plenty of people, including myself, who saw the ending coming.

Another important thing I’ve discovered is that in any form of entertainment, when you sit down to a movie, read a comic book, or watch a television show—there are two types of people: there are people who sit down and want to be entertained and there are people who want to be impressed but don’t actually want to be entertained -- their enjoyment comes after when they pick the movie to shreds. So, bottom line, much of the experience of ‘being entertained’ comes from the attitude you come into it with. But I digress...

Amazing Spider-Man #585

NRAMA: Well, let’s shift to the ‘Spider-Tracer Killer’; the killings don’t seem to be related to anything particular going on in the book—and the focus seems to shift in and out with some degree of irregularity. Are there going to be moments in the story that reign this subplot in for readers?

MG: I really don’t want to spoil anything, quite frankly. I mean, when you have a subplot that’s been running for about a year—and we said this from jump, we were very clear between ourselves and, I think, with the readers—that there will be some issues where the Spider-Tracer killings are in the forefront; there will be other issues where the subplot recedes to the background; and there will be other issues where it’s not mentioned at all. You will see, in the build-up to ‘Character Assassination’, the Tracer killings come more to the forefront—so we are building up to a payoff. You would kill us—and rightfully so, we would deserve to be killed—if, for an entire year, publishing Spider-Man three times a month, we were guilty of over-exposure as far as the Spider-Tracer killings were concerned. Readers would get to the point where they’d say, “Enough already.” So we’ve been very judicious about when we’ve mentioned the subplot and when we’ve chosen to focus on it—but coming into ‘Character Assassination’ you’ll be hearing more about it because we want to ramp up the tension and have some momentum going into the arc.

NRAMA: Speaking of tension, are things going to become increasingly tense between Peter and Harry in the coming months? Or will their friendship continue to endure?

MG: Good question—I’m not sure if I can answer that without spoiling anything in the upcoming arc. I’m even having trouble coming up with a coy one-liner… (laugh)

NRAMA: (laugh) Well, they’re still ‘BFF’, right? But now, there is the uncomfortable tension that Lily has added to the mix recently during ‘New Ways to Die’ and let’s not forget Harry’s strange aversion/ fixation with his father…

MG: Yes—he feels the pull of the Goblin’s gravity, if you will; and he’s seems to be doing things that he doesn’t seem to recall later. There are all sorts of emotional pitfalls that exist along the road that Peter and Harry are walking—sometimes, throughout the arc, they walk it together and other times, they do so separately. I think one of the more interesting aspects of this entire arc, which we introduce in the first issue, is that in the back of Peter’s mind he wonders if Harry might be Menace.

NRAMA: They seem to have this very strong “back and forth” dynamic now—is there going to be some payoff in regard to Harry’s previous death?

MG: A lot of that is going to be handled by Dan Slott in his upcoming two-parter that focuses on Harry. Hopefully, readers will come into ‘Character Assassination’ without a lot of questions regarding Harry and his return at the end of ‘One More Day’.

NRAMA: In regards to the mayoral race subplot pitting Bill Hollister against Randall Crowne, there seems to be a situation involving news media that is strikingly similar to polarized nature of the news media during our recent presidential election. Will the best man for the job win the upcoming race for Mayor of New York City in Amazing Spider-Man? Or is this going to be one of these ‘bait and switch’ types of stories where the candidate who seems great might not be so great after all?

MG: That’s a good question. I guess to answer that question you have to treat it like it’s any other campaign in the sense that reasonable minds will differ over who the best man is. I will say this, however: you haven’t gotten all the necessary information by this point to be able to really determine who ‘the best man’ is. I would like readers to reserve their judgment in regards to who the best man really is until you see who wins the election at the absolute end of the arc—readers may change their mind as to who they think the best man is by the time they read ‘Character Assassination’.

Amazing Spider-Man #587

NRAMA: In the latest issue of Amazing—Peter is trying to get a job as a cab driver. What’s next? Will Spidey be delivering pizzas? Or is his job at Front Line going to become more prominent?

MG: Well, the whole Peter/ Pizza delivery boy thing was done in Spider-Man 2 so that’s probably not going to happen. Yes, we’ve seen Peter trying to make ends meet through a number of different types of jobs—that kind of variety is fun but the key to keeping this bit of story light is by not overdoing it. He’s been a member of the paparazzi, he’s worked at a comic store, and now—he’s freelancing for Front Line and driving a cab. Basically, it’s one of those things where it’s fun until it stops being fun, you know? We have to draw a line at the point where we’re no longer amusing the readers.

NRAMA: Now that ‘Brand New Day’ and the initial arcs are reaching a culmination—a year after ‘One More Day’—and everything is under one ‘Amazing’ logo—do you feel like the controversy of the status quo change is in the rearview mirror now?

MG: No, I don’t—and I have to say I’m very surprised. I knew there would be controversy; I knew it the second Joe pitched the events of ‘One More Day’. I was like, “Oh boy.” I honestly thought that a year in—and away from ‘One More Day’ and with a year of all these stories that the controversy would have died down and it hasn’t.

I don’t really read the message boards anymore but I do participate on a retailer website that allows industry professionals to talk directly to retailers. The same thing I keep hearing is that people don’t feel like this is the “real” Spider-Man because he’s not interacting with the Marvel Universe and it’s post-‘One More Day’ and the continuity doesn’t add up chronologically and that the whole situation feels expendable.

There are fifty million different criticisms of the book. Reasonable minds can disagree about how many of those criticisms are actually valid. I will say that, out of all the criticisms of ‘Brand New Day’, the one I absolutely disagree with is the notion that this is not Spider-Man. I understand all the complaints about ‘One More Day’—I really do; those complaints didn’t fall on deaf ears. However, the one thing that ‘One More Day’ didn’t do was alter continuity as broadly as people think that is has. All that happened was that Mary Jane and Peter didn’t get married. They still dated, they still were in love, and they even still lived together. I always tend to get myself into trouble when I talk about ‘One More Day’ because it’s ‘One More Day’—how can you not get in trouble for talking about it? (laugh)

All the stories that took place—happened. It’s unfortunate that people think otherwise; the plan wasn’t to undo twenty years of continuity—Marvel Comics just chose a different direction for Spider-Man. If you want to still complain about ‘One More Day’—go ahead, I get it—but I’d rather you beat us up for what the story really is. If you want to quibble about Peter Parker making a deal with the devil then so be it. But don’t go saying that hundreds of issues of comics “didn’t happen” because they did.

NRAMA: But isn’t that sort of “deal” a natural human reaction—Spider-Man is just like you and I when it comes down to brass tacks, right?

MG: Well, it’s still a fair criticism—even though I don’t agree with it. I definitely understand why it’s still being discussed. But when someone says, “You’ve negated all these years of stories,” that’s simply not true.

I can tell you—I’ve been reading Spider-Man pretty much my entire life. Half of it, he was single, and the other half of it he was married—I came into this situation basically as an agnostic.

NRAMA: That’s a great way to put that—this sort of unwillingness to commit to a side…

MG: It just kind of fits. And that’s truly how I felt until I started writing the character. I also tend to describe the act of writing a character like driving a car—in this case, Spider-Man just handles better in terms of the outcome of ‘One More Day’.

NRAMA: Since these storylines are planned out so far in advance these days—how much conference do the writers on Amazing Spider-Man take with one another? Are you constantly e-mailing and on the phone?

MG: We’re constantly confirming with one another and there is some sort of e-mail exchange every single day. That’s just the oil in the machine that makes sure that the thing keeps moving—it’s like daily maintenance. Then there are the self-generated phone calls—like right now—I’ve been talking with Dan [Slott] quite a bit because of his work on the Harry Osborn arc that precedes my arc on ‘Character Assassination’. There are semi-monthly conference calls that bring together all the writers and the editors for the book; and there are the twice a year summits that we’re all physically in one place for. There is a great deal of coordination put into these books and communication is constant.

NRAMA: Are there any specific villains that you’d like to get your hands on that you haven’t had the chance to work with just yet?

MG: I wish I could get my hands on Kraven but he’s dead.

I remember being at the first ‘Brand New Day’ panel in San Diego a couple of years ago—and we were talking about this sort of thing and one fan mentioned the Rhino and everyone groaned. At that point, I sort of took it upon myself as a challenge do something cool with that character. So I’m trying to figure out a way to make the Rhino cool—and that still remains as something I’d like to tackle. I think Joe Kelly did an absolutely brilliant job of rehabilitating Hammerhead in a way that no one saw coming. That was easily one of the best “super-villain makeovers” ever. I really want to give the Rhino that same sort of love.

I also have an idea for a really cool new super-villain. All the classic super-villains have some agenda for hating Spider-Man—and now I’ve come up with a new villain that has a really good reason to hate Peter Parker. I really hope to get that ball rolling sometime this year.

NRAMA: Do you find the nature of a story arc being a standard size—like six issues—to be confining or do you find comfort in that? Lately, it seems that the writers on Amazing Spider-Man have been breaking up the issues with degrees of variation—single issues, two-parters…

MG: Oh yeah—we’re changing things and working with pacing that best suits each story. You know, it’s funny; I really struggled with structure both as a reader and initially as a writer until Marvel started publishing some stuff from the ‘80’s—particularly Chris Claremont’s work on Uncanny X-Men—I realized that comic books have always had story arcs naturally written into them. There’s no great re-invention going on here other than the fact that we label stories more now as “Part One of Four” so now we all know that there is a set ending. The other difference is that now—the writers sort of have to plan a little farther ahead with the story by establishing the parameters for the story.

NRAMA: Do you think this sort of planning leads to more concise writing?

MG: I think that depends on the writer; in some cases, I think it leads to less concise writing. It depends on how the individual writer operates and what their work ethic is like. I personally try to pack as much story as I can into each individual issue.

NRAMA: Well now that you guys are a year passed ‘One More Day’/ ‘Brand New Day’—what can you tell us about the start of 2009 for Spider-Man? Are there any big Spider-Man villains returning?

MG: Well, I really don’t know what I’m allowed to divulge here—but…yes, there is going to be someone big returning—an old time Spidey-villain we haven’t seen in quite a while who is basically getting a “super-villain makeover”. Also, keep an eye out for Ana Kravinoff—or who we affectionately call “Little Kraven” around the office; she’s going to start paying off in a big way. Whoever becomes the Mayor of New York City is going to impact Spidey’s life in a huge way—and at this stage in the story readers won’t even be able to guess how that’s going to pay off—and there just might be a wedding.

Part one of the 5-part (four of story, one interlude) appears in Amazing Spider-Man #584, which is due in stores on January 21st.

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