The Weekly Webbing with Dan Slott: Pulling the Mask Off

Marvel Preview: Amazing Spider-Man #590

Amazing Spider-Man #590

With last week’s Amazing Spider-Man #590, writer Dan Slott adjusted his hat, stuck his chin out in a way not that unlike that of a determined Ben Grimm, and headed right towards that spot of Spider-Man’s recent history where angels fear to tread.

In part one of a story called “Face Front” Slott (with artist Barry Kitson) showed Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four exploring the “Macroverse” in two different time periods. The first – roughly two years ago, and Spider-Man is going maskless with the FF, and his identity as Peter Parker is plainly known to the team. On their return trip, set in the present day, Spider-Man is makes, and the team no longer knows his identity. This point is driven home when, on their return to the Macroverse, statues of the Four and a maskless Spider-Man show an indistinct face for Peter, forcing Johnny Storm to realize that he can’t remember who Spider-Man is under the mask, either – though he knows that he used to know.

Yeah – the “everyone forgot” aspect of the Spider-Man’s secret identity as a result of the One More Day storyline is what Slott is mining in this two-parter. Spidey’s secret identity has been a point of confusion for many fans for the first year of the “Brand New Day” era of Amazing Spider-Man, and has until now, been largely avoided by the creative teams.

Until now.

Slott opened the door with issue #590, and in next week’s #591, he’s going to explain fully how it works.

We spoke with him about the issue, the storyline, and what’s to come.

Newsarama: To start with Dan, I think the biggest question would have to be why in the world you’d even want to touch a story that digs deeply into the whole question of Spider-Man’s secret identity, the nature of the change, and who can remember what and how? It seems like the complaints about the change had quieted to a dull roar, and this storyline seems to pick the scab, so to speak, and could bring it all up again…

Dan Slott: But again, we’ve said it many, many times – and the first time I broached it was in “New Ways to Die” at the end of the first issue when Norman Osborn shows up in Peter’s apartment and it ends with Norman saying, “Parker…” And picks up in the next issue with him continuing, “…where can I find Spider-Man?” Aaand then the internet exploded.

But in the comic, we cut to one of Pete’s thought captions, and he’s thinking, “Ah, right. He doesn’t remember anymore. He has no idea I’m Spidey. Nobody does. Everything we did is still up and running.” Some fans assumed that Pete was thinking about Mephisto – but that’s not the case. That character is not part of that “we”. There’s an untold story that’s set before we took over the book—a secret story where Peter and (spoiler) did something which caused the mind-wipe…

…and in Amazing Spider-Man #591 we’re gonna show you how it works.

NRAMA: But still – it seems like such a dangerous place to play in. It’s something that, since it happened, everyone has their own opinions on how it worked, and you’re going right in there where angels wouldn’t be caught dead with their walking shoes on…

DS: It’s weird. When we did our first issue of Amazing, we included a two page guide to the new status quo, and there was a note in there along the lines of “That’s all you need to know, we’re hitting the ground running!” But everybody wanted to know about the details, the specifics of how things worked, and we just wanted to tell stories. Now it’s come full circle, and I’ve seen people – some of them the same people who complained about that two page sequence– who are now wanting us to skip any explanation of how it all works, and just keep on with the stories.

There are two camps – it seems that half the people are happy that this is finally being addressed, and the other half is wondering why we’re bringing it up in the first place. There is no gestalt-fan-mind – there is no one thing you can do that will make everyone happy.

NRAMA: You mentioned that Peter realized it was working in “New Ways to Die”, but with this story…

DS: With “New Ways to Die,” I just have to point out that we saw that Peter knows what it is, and that Peter is in on it…

NRAMA: Right – but when he’s talking to Johnny in this issue, is this the first time that he’s really run into anybody who had to deal with it one-on-one with Spider-Man? You know, the whole, “I used to know who you were, and now I don’t – why is that?”

DS: Since this two-part story takes place before New Avengers #51, my answer is “yes.”

NRAMA: That was going to be my next question, how two stories with similar thrusts in regards to Spider-Man ended up happening at the same time…

DS: Well, it was all set to come out in March/April, and it’s hard to get all the stars to line up just right. I think there’s this feeling sometimes that editorial and the creative folks at Marvel should just be spot-on-perfect – we should be these ideal beings that can get all these crazy trains to run on time. But the only person who really got that done was Mussolini.

NRAMA: And the cost Mussolini paid is a little more than Marvel is willing to pay?

DS: Oh yeah (laughs). We all knew that our stories were going to be hitting around the same time. Brian really, really, really wanted to tell that story, that’s where it fit in his arc, and this is how it shook out. There’s notation in #591 that says it takes place before New Avengers #51. I think the people it honked off the most are the people who live and die by Wednesdays, but for more casual fans, these were March/April books that were a week apart and on the rack at about the same time. In the here and now it feels like a big thing. In a few months, I don’t think it’ll be an issue anymore.

NRAMA: The conversation between Spider-Man and Johnny – comparing and constricting with the opening story that was set a couple of years back…it does come across as a little bit sad. You showed that Johnny and Peter were really good friends in the opening, and later, he said that if Johnny not knowing his identity meant that they could no longer be friends, so be it. Is that just another layer of suck on Peter Parker’s life to add to the other layers of suck that he just has to…well, suck up?

DS: You’re going to have to read #591. There’s a really nice speech in there. I don’t want to talk too much about what carrots we’re dangling, and what stuff we pay off, because I want people to hit #591 clean. But there are some big things that are going to happen in that issue. Big things.

But as far as that sadness that you mentioned, I guess in a way, that’s kind of how I felt having worked on the Spider-Man/Torch miniseries, and having gotten to write the big unmasking scene with Johnny. This new scene is the exact opposite of that – in Spidery/Torch, Pete willingly unmasks for Johnny, and this time out, Johnny burns that mask right off. And Spider-Man has this moment of, “I never thought you’d do that! I mean, my Spider-Sense was tingling, but I never thought in a million years that you’d torch the back of my head!”

So there was that feeling in my heart when I first found out that everyone was going to forget and I went, “But that’ll wipe out my Spider-Man/Human Torch story… Awww…”

Amazing Spider-Man #591

NRAMA: But not wipe out – just have Johnny no longer remember…

DS: Right – he doesn’t remember. That’s one of the things - I feel a lot of people were getting mad about all of this because of the new rules. Everything happened – the Spider/Torch miniseries happened. Johnny used to know. Now he doesn’t. In the past he still knows, in the present he doesn’t. Things happened, but the characters can’t remember it correctly.

NRAMA: But that goes back to the original question of who knew and who doesn’t know now, and the complications that can arise. I mean, in this issue, Johnny and Spider-Man are having this discussion in front of one of the smartest men in the Marvel Universe.

DS: Yes they are, aren’t they? Hmm…

NRAMA: But to stay true to who Reed is, doesn’t that mean that he realizes that he too used to know, and is going to figure it out, and ten seconds later he says, “I’ve figured it out. Why don’t you tell us what really happened, Peter?” It just seems that to revisit this portion of Spider-Man’s recent history could start…things unwinding…

DS: You’re going to have to read #591, because they are having that conversation in front of one of the smartest men in the world – and don’t think that’s not going to have some kind of payoff.

NRAMA: So, in essence, is #591 just all about the secret identity stuff, or is there more to it than that?

DS: There’s something beyond that – it’s something that we’ve been building towards for a while. It’s something that will change the nature of a lot of your favorite Marvel books. Something’s going to happen – something pretty darn big.

I remember an early complaint about the new run of Spider-Man – that we were so focused on our cast and developing what’s going on in our world, people would say that Amazing was taking place in a bubble and not interacting with the rest of the Marvel Universe. We had stories where he’d team up with Wolverine or Daredevil, but for the most part people were treating Spider-Man like it was off to the side.

At one of our recent Marvel retreats, with the rest of the writers, the non-Spidey writers, we told them about this thing we’re doing in #591 –and a lot of them came back with, “I can’t avoid that! We’d have to address that in our books. There’s no way around it!” At the next retreat, the same guys showed up and said that they’d been playing with it, and realized that there was a lot that they could do with it.

When Mark Waid was originally brought on to the team, the stories that he’s done so far –the Betty Brant story with Barry Kitson and the Shocker story with Marcos Martin – those weren’t the first stories he planned out. When he was brought on to the team, he was told what was coming up in #591, and Steve wanted to know how he could play with that. And he came up with all this brilliant stuff for it—and that’s Mark’s “Spider-Man 24/7” arc. The effect of what happens in #591 is so big, it just has to be dealt with – all the Marvel books will have to deal with it.

Boy, do you have to check out this issue. Even if you weren’t there for the first part of the story, you’ve got to pick this one up!

NRAMA: Moving on to the big picture, we’ve been talking with Steve and Marc Guggenheim about it, but let’s get your take – you’re going into your second year of Spider-Man now, still with this crazy schedule. Is it still as fun as it was before? We talk to Steve now and again, and sometimes, it wouldn’t be too surprising to hear that the stress got to him, and he’s taken his family and moved to Cheyenne to work at a Blockbuster…but is the stress still as much as it was?

DS: You mean, am I every now and then thinking about buying an open-ended Amtrak ticket, packing up all my things and changing my identity? I mean, just hypothetically speaking? Why no. Those thoughts have never crossed my mind. And if anyone asks, you’ve never heard of Don Scott, either. He’s a stranger to you. (laughs)

But seriously – it’s still a blast. There are some times when you’re in the meat grinder. Working on “New Ways to Die,” and having that come out with four or five issues in a row, with the first and last double-sized… Seinfeld had that joke about Future Me and Past Me, you know? “That’s Future Me’s problem, not mine.” There’s a lot of that going on now and then, where you don’t realize what you’re in for.

But then there’s the flipside, like working on the Peter Parker, Paparazzi issue with Marcos, or this two-parter with Barry, where it is just a joy. You’re in the zone and you’re working on Spider-Man and having a blast. I feel like the last two stories I’ve done in Amazing – even though they were fun stories, they were about answering questions: How is Harry Back? How does the mind-wipe work? As we get ready to head into Season Two, I can tell you that I’m not dealing with answering questions anymore – I’m going forward. And that’s very exciting to me.

One thing that I hear all the time is that people dig getting their Spider-Man comic three times a month. They really like how fast it’s coming out. I think we’re pulling it off in that, as we head into Season Two, we’ve got a very strong stable. We’ve got Marc Guggenheim and myself who’ve been doing this for a while. We’ve got Mark Waid and Joe Kelly with their amazing ideas coming in with a fresh set of eyes. We’ve got our two lieutenant web-heads, Fred Van Lente and Zeb Wells working on some cool arcs. And we’ve got Bob Gale providing his patented sage-like advice. With Steve, Tom, and Tom running a tight ship, we’ve got this machine whipped. And we’ve got some great stuff on the way. I’m really jazzed about Season Two. I think it’s going to take a massive leap forward.

NRAMA: So spill on what’s to come…

DS: There are certain things that we locked up in the toy box as we built this world – so Future Me is loving Past Me for socking those away.

NRAMA: Like what?

DS: Coming up on #600, I get to work with John Romita Jr. on a big Doc Ock story. Awesome! And in the not too distant future, I’ll get to do some Mysterio with Marcos Martin. Both of those assignments are dreams come true.

NRAMA: When you’re talking about bringing those characters back, given how long they’ve been offstage and the fresh shine you’ve put on Spider-Man, does it lead you to take a few more minutes of time and sit down and really make sure Doc Ock or Mysterio fits into the world and is the best Dock Ock or Mysterio that you can have?

DS: Yep. This was always the game plan – working towards the strength of Season Two – let’s take all these classic characters off the map for a while, because too many people had been using them as punching bags. If we had kicked off the new run on Spider-Man by pulling out the regular villains left and right, it would have just been yet another Doc Ock story and yet another Vulture story. Now, there’s a mystery. Now there’s a build up!

By the time I’m done with Doc Ock, I want him to be on the level of a Doctor Doom. I want to really increase his threat level to the point that this is a serious, serious, serious bad guy. But yeah, overall, this time away is a chance to look at all these well-known characters with a fresh set of eyes, to make them important again, and give them weight.

I’m really excited to see what the other creators are doing with the other villains too. We’re on a freight train now. We’re going to blow people away with Season Two.

DS: Right after #591, like I said, we go into Mark Waid’s three-parter with Mike McKone called “Spider-Man 24/7” which will deal with the big changes that happen in #591. After that, it’s Joe Kelly’s biggest arc yet. We’ve had stories before that are our tent pole stories, and this is a huge one – called “American Son,” which will have a lot of Dark Reign aspects in it.

NRAMA: And that leads up to #600, right?

DS: Right. Steve’s working very hard to make sure that #600 is the biggest, thickest Marvel book ever with all new material and no reprints. I look at how much he’s trying to put into this issue, and I’ve gotta tell you – if you’ve ever gone to a deli in New York…he’s putting so much meat in there between the bread. There’s going to be so much stuff in that issue.

NRAMA: It’s going to pop the stitches on my back pocket when I fold it up and try to carry it back there?

DS: Oh, like you’ll be able to fold it (laughs). It’s going to be thick. You might as well just put wheels on it, and ride it around your neighborhood. It’s gonna be a monster.

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