***This article contains significant spoilers for Superior Spider-Man #22, on sale now.***
Spider-Man and Venom have fought before – countless times, in fact – but never like this. In this week’s Superior Spider-Man #22, long-time Spidey scribe Dan Slott pitted for the first time Superior Spider-Man – aka Doctor Octopus in Peter Parker’s body – against Agent Venom – aka #1 Spidey fan Flash Thompson with a weaponized Venom symbiote. Every Spidey vs. Venom confrontation has proven to lower the home values where they fight, but with the new elements added here it’s proven to be flammable. In this week’s Superior Spider-Man #22 a new arc titled “Darkest Hours” begins, with Slott joined by frequent Spidey artist Humberto Ramos as well as co-writer Christos Gage.
Since its launch earlier this year, Superior Spider-Man has moved at a breakneck pace, with multiple plotlines balancing back and forth between the twice-monthly (and sometimes thrice-monthly!) schedule. In addition to the first-time face-off between SpideyOck and Agent Venom, this issue sees Aunt May’s first meeting with Spidey’s new girlfriend, the return of Cardiac, as well as a familiar police officer getting closer to the truth of who Superior Spider-Man really is. With so much happening, Newsarama caught up with Slott to talk about the events of this issue as well as the story moving forward and even Agent Venom’s recently announced role in Guardians of the Galaxy.
Newsarama: Thanks for doing this, Dan. First off – wow, what an issue. How long have you been angling for Agent Venom to finally cross paths with Superior Spider-Man?
Dan Slott: Actually, we’ve been waiting a long time for Agent Venom to cross paths with any Spider-Man. We’ve been consciously trying to keep the two characters apart. Even when doing “Spider Island” where both were very integral, we did a lot of dancing through the raindrops to keep them missing each other to build up tension for the moment where they finally meet: Flash versus Peter. And now it’s Flash vs. Otto.
Nrama: What does Superior Spider-Man think of Agent Venom at a basic level?
Slott: He knows what any Spider-Man villain would know of Venom. Even back when it was Peter as Spider-Man, he didn’t know Flash Thompson was Agent Venom. He didn’t know there was a good Agent Venom around. If he saw Agent Venom, he would've thought “Another Spider-Man? What’s up with that?” Spider-Man glimpsed Agent Venom early on in Rick Remender’s Venom run but it was Venom in his bulked-out form, so even Peter wouldn’t know Agent Venom was around, or that he was a good guy, or most importantly that it was Flash.
So for Doctor Octopus, he knows next to nothing. In Superior Spider-Man #9, he wiped out all of Peter’s memories. He only has access to whatever memories he accessed before the purge.
Nrama: And likewise, Flash doesn’t realize what – or who – is inside the head of Spider-Man, but what’s going through his mind in that final page of Superior Spider-Man #22 and leading to #23?
Slott: From Flash’s point of view, he’s always been a big Spider-Man fan; not always a Peter Parker fan, but always a Spider-Man fan. To the Marvel U as a whole, they’ve noticed Spider-Man has been going through changes and is acting differently. He’s far more ruthless an far more efficient, but without knowledge of Otto’s actions they just think Spidey has turned a corner and become a different kind of guy. This is Flash’s first run-in with Superior Spider-Man. Who knows what he thinks when he gets to know him.
Nrama: And the third party in this show-down is the most overlooked but arguably the most intriguing; the Venom symbiote. It, like Doc Ock, has attempted to take over Peter’s body – Otto achieving it while Venom couldn’t. The symbiote knows – or knew – that Peter Parker is Spider-Man, but that was before Doctor Strrange cast a spell that wiped out everyone’s knowledge of Spider-Man’s secret identity. So what does the symbiote know?
Slott: The only people in the cast who know are Mary Jane and Carlie. For someone to know now, Peter has to unmask in front of them and then all their memories come rushing back.
In the case of the symbiote, in the “New Ways to Die” arc of Amazing Spider-Man we saw Anti-Venom purge every last trace of the Venom symbiote from Spider-Man’s body. So no, the symbiote doesn’t know.
Nrama: People may not realize this, but you created the concept of Flash Thompson as Agent Venom before you handed it off to be turned into an ongoing series. What’s it like to have the character back and using him like you are here?
Slott: It was fun to help with editor Steve Wacker and artist Humberto Ramos on the new set-up and then pass it off to Rick and then Cullen Bunn in the Venom series where they both did amazing stories. There is fun in seeing a new host. How will Venom react to the mob boss’ son? How will Venom react to Mac Gargan? How will it react to Flash Thompson? Part of the fun of Venom is to see it changing up hosts. Maybe it’s time for Flash’s era as Venom to be over. Maybe it’s time for something new.
Nrama: Or someone! Flash and Doc Ock never had that many run-ins, in costume or in their civilian identities, despite both being part of the bedrock of the Spider-Man cast. Why do you think that was, and what’s it like pushing them into each other like you are?
Slott: One of the rare times we’ve seen Flash and Doc Ock at the same time was in the trial of Doctor Octopus, where we see Flash in the crowd of people attending the trial, and thinking “Yeah, this guy has what’s coming to him. So we’ve never really seen Flash and Doc Ock together, one-on-one. Mainly because for 50 years, Amazing Spider-Man was Peter Parker’s book and that was to see Peter interact with others, to see Spider-Man interact; not what would it be like to see Robbie Robertson and Electro. Or Betty Brant to meet Kraven. We actually had to go in and do some serious research to make sure these two hadn’t come face-to-face.
This is part of the fun with Marvel Comics; finding the first time something has happened, because that first time is bursting with new possibilities.
Nrama: In addition to all this, Superior Spider-Man in his civilian guise has Peter Parker launching his own company, Parker Industries. What would you say Superior Spider-Man’s goals are with the company?
Slott: This is a whole new place for Otto Octavius / Peter Parker. It’s something you’ve never really seen in a Spider-Man book: here is Parker Industries. You think of Peter as always just taking pictures of himself for the Daily Bugle to make ends meet, and then he went to work for other companies. People say they want to see the character progress and move forward… well, here you go. It’s taken the aggressive and pro-active hand of Otto Octavius to make it happen. Here is the dawn of Parker Industries!
The funny thing about this arc is that it’s so much more than a Spider-Man/Venom arc; big things are happening, and big things have been happening with every arc. We’re keeping the foot on the gas! It’s fun that a regular complaint of people is that too much is happening in Superior Spider-Man. Every arc has a twist, a big development. It never stops, it keeps ramping up… don’t you dare miss an issue! Even with Superior Spider-Man #22, we’re having Superior Spider-Man fight Agent Venom for the first time, then we have Carlie Cooper doing things, and then Parker Industries, as well as the evil schemes of the Green Goblin. It doesn’t stop!
Nrama: One more thing you have is Superior Spider-Man’s pursuit of one of his employees, but in more than a business manner: Anna Maria, who he’s in a relationship with. We saw Aunt May’s reaction to Anna Maria in this issue, and we’re being promised that Peter’s going to bring her to meet Aunt May as his girlfriend formally. This has more fireworks than some superhero battles; can you talk about this situation?
Slott: For years Aunt May has wanted Peter to settle down; she wants those grandkids. And more than that, she wants to see her son Peter Parker move on with his life. She wants what every parent wants for their child. She’s always pressured him over the years, whether it’s been with Gwen, Mary Jane or Cissy Ironwood. In some cases, she’s been more invested in Peter’s love life than the readers. Sigh.
She knows Peter is happy from her point of view. Peter talks a lot about this girl, and Aunt May does want to meet her. That’s going to happen in this arc.
Nrama: Another interesting pairing is you and Christos Gage. You two worked together before on Superior Spider-Man, as well as Avengers: The Initiative – even doing an arc with Humberto Ramos who’s doing these Superior Spider-Man issues. Can you talk to us about having him with you to tell this story here?
Slott: It’s always great to work with Christos. It’s tough to put out a book that’s two and three times a month. We want to make sure readers get their two issues a month though; we don’t want to drop the ball. By working with Christos, we’re able to work faster and keep the book on the schedule and reading great. He's so good! I worked with Christos a lot on the Phil Urich stuff for the Hobgoblin issues, and when we started talking about the Spidey/Venom throwdown here in “Darkest Hours” he jumped at it. “Let’s do that!”
It’s fun working with him; there’s a lot of back and forth. The way we work is I run the basic story beats for the plot by him, and then Christos might have some ideas he throws in there. Chris will write up the script off the plot, and then I might have some suggestions for script tweaks and then it’s done. We are very in sync, and it’s always a great time. For the Superior Spider-Man Annual #1, we talked over stuff because we really wanted to fold in the events and aftermath of that with the main Superior Spider-Man title and really make it count. So I almost don’t want to tell readers yet, but there’s definite repercussions from the annual.
It’s very helpful to be working with Christos , and I think we get a lot of payoff with issue #24 and then #25 is the oversized finale. We made it to the big #25!
Nrama: Last question, I have to ask: Agent Venom was just revealed as joining the Guardians of the Galaxy book next summer. What are your thoughts on that?
Slott: Well, if you look at things from the Avengers point of view you know they know Agent Venom served with them in Rick Remender’s Secret Avengers run, and Captain America knows he’s a "good" Venom.
But if you have Venom and the symbiote's shape-changing abilities can make it look like anything, and you’re joining a team with Captain Marvel, that Venom probably wants her to think you’re the "good" Agent Venom version.
Who’s to say that "Agent Venom" in Guardians of the Galaxy is Flash? Maybe it’s a way for Venom to take advantage of Agent Venom's status; or... a good way to honor Flash.