Weekly Webbing with... Marc Guggenheim & a Spidey #598 Peek

Weekly Webbing with ...Guggenheim

Amazing Spider-Man #588

This week saw the conclusion of the “Character Assassination” arc in Amazing Spider-Man #588, bringing storylines that have been running since the start of the “Brand New Day” era of Spider-Man, starting with issue #546. In no particular order, the storyline written by Marc Guggenheim with art by John Romita Jr. cleared up the identity of Menace, resolved the New York City Mayoral election, showed who has been behind the Spider-Tracer killings, saw a resolution to the relationship between Harry Osborn and Lily Hollister…and a whole lot more, most of it centering around how Spider-Man can take a beating and still get up and fight.

While we’re working to get into a weekly rhythm with Amazing Spider-Man editor Steve Wacker for a Q&A, all parties agreed that this week, rather than talking to Wacker, time would be better spent chatting about “Character Assassination” with Guggenheim to get the inside scoop on how he pulled together all the threads of the last year and a few odd months, and his view of where this stand now for Spider-Man.

Newsarama: Marc, Character Assassination pulled together a lot of strings that reach back to the very start of Brand New Day. Before we get into it any further, we have to ask, how did you manage to end up the guy who, well, pulled it all together?

Marc Guggenheim: I drew the short straw. Isn't it obvious? Seriously though, I think it was a combination of two things. About three Spidey-summits ago, I came in with a full head of steam about bringing a lot of our plotlines in for a landing. I just felt that we shouldn't have subplots running for significantly more than a year. Everyone agreed and someone -- I forget who -- suggested that we wrap everything up in a single arc. And just prior to that, Steve Wacker had tapped me on the shoulder as the next guy to write the next "tentpole arc" which, as luck would have it, turned out to be this "tie up loose ends" arc. But the short version is that I drew the short straw.

Amazing Spider-Man #587

NRAMA: Sorry to hear that (laughs). Looking at it all - the different components of the arc that played out here - Menace, the election, Harry, the Spider-killer plot - when it came down to you writing “Character Assassination,” was it a case where you had to get the "pieces" from the other members of the Web Heads, or were these larger story beats not "owned" by any particular writer, and you all knew them inside and out?

MG: All of the components were things that were worked out by all the "Web Heads" over the course of our various summits and hundreds of emails. A lot of it went back to our very first Brand New Day summit. I don't think that any one of us had "ownership" over one particular component or another. We all knew everything equally. Though I have to say that Dan Slott in particular was very helpful to me whenever I would get things mixed up. Over the course of writing "Character Assassination," Dan fielded a lot of panicked, confused calls from me and he was very patient, listening to crazy ideas and setting me straight when necessary.

All of this is, of course, to throw the entire braintrust under the bus if you didn't like "Character Assassination." But if you liked it, it was all me.

NRAMA: We've all heard stories of twists and turns in stories between the planning and execution, but given the old pros you guys have become at planning, were there any with the elements that “Character Assassination” resolved?

MG: Hmm. Not really. I mean, the outcome of the election changed from our original plan that we came up with, like, two years ago at the first Spidey summit, but we've known what the outcome we ended up with would be for about a year now. In other words, even where we deviated from our original plan, we've had a new plan in place for quite some time.

Amazing Spider-Man #586

NRAMA: So Lily always meant to be Menace?

MG: Yes. She's named after my oldest, Lily, who I can swear is a menace. There's even a picture of Spider-Man chasing her in New York…

NRAMA: Was Hollister always going to win (and turn down) the mayor's office?

MG: Not always, but that's been the plan for quite some time. I can't elaborate further without spoiling who will eventually become mayor, but I can say that Hollister's win as a result of the so-called "Spider-Bump" was something that's been in place for a long time.

NRAMA: Bigger picture-wise, we’ve talked about the “tying up loose ends” aspect of the arc, but what was the larger "mission" behind “Character Assassination” for Spider-Man?

MG: Well, there were two missions, really. One that was stated and another that was more "covert." The stated mission of “Character Assassination” was that we would tie up all of the long-running subplots that started with the beginning of Brand New Day. The whole time, however, we were also setting up new plots -- throwing new balls in the air -- but we didn't publicize our intent to do that. We'd much rather see everyone surprised by the fact that, for example, Norman reaches out to Lily at the end and takes her into the Osborn fold.

NRAMA: Where did the arc put Spider-Man, in your eyes? What's changed for him?

MG: That's a tough question, honestly. All Spidey stories -- and this holds true for any of the "icons," Marvel or DC -- offer, as I believe Stan Lee put it, "the illusion of change." Did C.A. change Spidey as a character fundamentally? No. I'd be lying if I said it did. But I think it changed the people around him quite a bit. The biggest illustration of this, perhaps, is Harry. Harry has seen Spidey beaten to a pulp and then, the very next day, sees Peter Parker very badly beaten. Does he buy Pete's story about getting into a bar fight? It's left ambiguous for a reason.

Amazing Spider-Man #585

And while I'm on the Peter/Harry of it all, not only might Harry suspect Peter of being Spider-Man, but Peter is left to wonder if the guy in the Goblin mask was Harry. We're adding a lot of suspicion to both sides of this friendship.

Peter is also left to contemplate -- and this gets elaborated on more fully in the coda in Amazing Spider-Man Extra #3 -- how Vin's actions have been impacted by Spider-Man. In Peter's mind, Spidey is responsible for Vin -- and Harry and Lily -- making some very bad decisions. This is a bit of a sea change to the character if you want to see it: Since Uncle Ben's death, Spidey/Peter has associated inaction with guilt -- but the events of C.A. have shown him that his actions as Spider-Man can cause just as much harm. The poor guy, he can't win for losing. (I have no comment on whether that's similar to being a Spidey writer reading the message boards...)

NRAMA: That said, in some ways, “Character Assassination” didn't feel like Spider-Man's story at all, in that he literally started the arc on the run and was reacting to everyone else's actions the whole time. Thoughts?

MG: I guess if that's true, I'd say that the arc was a failure. (Those of you who would like to quote me out of context should stop reading here.) Any Spider-Man story has to be, at its core, about Spider-Man. However, I question the premise that just because Spidey spends much of the narrative on the run and reacting that it stops being a Spider-Man story. You're right that the nature of this story meant that Spidey wasn't as proactive as he is in other stories -- or even as proactive as you'd typically like to see a protagonist -- but that doesn't mean it's not a story about Spider-Man. I think the fact that Spidey is hunted, shot, beaten, etc. and still keeps getting up and moving forward makes for a powerful Spidey story.

NRAMA: True. I’ll give you that. In Part Four of the arc, we saw Harry's tragic fall as he put the suit back on and climbed back on the glider. As Peter later reminded readers, Harry's an addict with at least one substance...is being the Goblin an addiction for him as well?

MG: Absolutely. Truth be told, I don't think I was being subtle about that.

NRAMA: Was putting Harry back in the suit anyone's idea or plan in particular, or was it just something that was going to happen anyway with him being back in the picture, and the pressures he was under?

Amazing Spider-Man #584

MG: We have so many email exchanges, it's hard for me to remember who suggested what ideas, but I remember a separate, non-“Character Assassination”-related discussion about putting Harry on a Goblin glider and I guess it suck in my head because it felt right to me to do it here in “Character Assassination.” Once Harry discovers that Lily is Menace and that she became Menace because of her "exposure" to the Osborn family, I got excited about the idea of Harry feeling responsible to stop her. And once I did, that old "Harry on a Goblin glider" idea came back to me.

NRAMA: Bringing in Lily and her effect in “spoiling” the mayoral election…that doesn’t mean that Crowne's automatically mayor does it?

MG: No. We researched this. If the winning candidate refuses to be sworn in, the losing candidate doesn't automatically get the job.

NRAMA: At the end of the arc, as you said, we saw Norman approaching Lily and bringing her into the “family.” While Norman's an 11 on the crazy scale, where does Lily come in, in comparison?

MG: 10.5.

NRAMA: As you've shown throughout, and really highlighted in these last five issues, she's pretty strong - perhaps even stronger than the original Goblin...

MG: I think she is. She doesn't have Norman's brilliance, or even his ruthlessness, but she was exposed to the latest "generation," of the Goblin serum and, one assumes, it's more effective and gives the person greater strength, etc.

NRAMA: Speaking of Menace's strength, during the fight, Spider-Man compared her strength to Morlun's. Now, no words in comics are wasted…

MG: You haven't read a lot of my work, have you?

NRAMA: (laughs) Well then - why have Spidey use that comparison in particular?

MG: Because -- and reasonable minds will disagree on this -- I think the text of what Spidey "says" is accurate: He hasn't been beaten like this since Morlun. Plus which, that JMS issue, "All Fall Down" (#474) is my favorite non-OMD/non-BND single Spidey issue in recent memory.

NRAMA: So where do things go from here for Spider-Man?

MG: Issue #589? I'm just guessing. (check back today for an exclusive preview of Amazing Spider-Man #589 here at Newsarama!)

NRAMA: Right - The epilogue is in the Extra, right?

MG: Yup. On sale now. Buy it!

NRAMA: What needs to be…epilogued?

FIRST LOOK! The cover of Amazing Spider-Man #598

MG: Oh God, what doesn't? Truth is, I felt I could get 22 more pages of epilogue out of C.A. easily. There are so many character reactions and other tiny loose ends to tie up. First and foremost, I really wanted to resolve what happens with Vin vis a vis the cops. In fact, in my first draft of #588, I wrote a two-page scene where Vin plea bargains. I wrote it as a separate scene to be published in a subsequent issue. I didn't feel it worked within the body of #588 because, chronologically speaking, it would be the last scene and it's not a very dramatic ending, though it's a necessary story point. Around the same time, Steve Wacker approached me about doing an Extra story where Flash comes back from Iraq. Then Steve suggested combining Vin's story with Flash's somehow. I thought on it and came up with a way to tie up Vin's story and another loose end vis a vis Harry in the Extra story.

NRAMA: Okay – that is a lot. So when are you back on writing the series again?

MG: Annual #2. On sale in July. Reserve your copy now.

NRAMA: Looking ahead, are there any plans for a storyline that runs this long again, or have you all learned your lesson?

MG: That depends on whether they expect me to write the arc that brings it to a conclusion. Seriously though, Amazing Spider-Man will continue to have continuing subplots. Knowing us, they'll probably vary in length and I wouldn't be surprised if one or two run this long again. But I won't be the one to write the concluding arc, dammit.

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