Weekly Webbing: Getting Negative with Fred van Lente

Weekly Webbing: Fred van Lente

Dark Reign: Mr. Negative #1

While Spider-Man’s has been dealing with Norman Osborn and his “Dark Reign” for a while now in Amazing Spider-Man - and will be in the upcoming “American Son” storyline that leads to issue #600, One of Spidey’s foes gets a chance to dabble in the dark world in June.

In the three issue Dark Reign: Mr. Neagitve miniseries, writer Fred Van Lente will explore the effects of Osborn reaching into Chinatown via his surrogate, The Hood. Thing is – a hand that reaches into Chinatown just might be bitten by Mr. Negative, one of the new villains introduced to Spider-Man’s world last year.

We spoke with Van Lente about the miniseries and what Mr. Negative is up to.

Dark Reign: Mr. Negative #1 pencils

Newsarama: First off Fred, in the solicits for Dark Reign: Mr. Negative, you're listed as an “Official Amazing Spider-Man Web-Head,” confirming what Steve and the others have been saying in our regular Spider-chats. When and how did you join the team officially, and what does being a Web-Head mean, anyway?

Fred Van Lente: I was initiated at the official Spider-Summit in March. Other than actually, y'know, writing "Spider-Man" stuff, the Web-Heads as a group plot the overall direction of the series, across Amazing, Amazing Extra and related minis like this one. To make sure everyone is on the same page every one of us checks all (or mostly all) the scripts, pencils/inks and lettering proofs.

Dark Reign: Mr. Negative #1 pencils

So my email traffic has basically doubled since joining. But I'm not complaining -- Amazing is the book that hooked me on comics as a kid, and so this gig is literally a lifelong dream come true.

NRAMA: Was there an initiation ritual upon joining? Any hazing?

FVL: Indeed. Wacker, Tom Brennan, Tom Brevoort, Marc Guggenheim, Joe Kelly, Dan Slott, Zeb Wells, Mark Waid and Bob Gale wore Eyes Wide Shut masks and made me pledge fealty to an entity they referred to as "Jah-Bul-On".

Then we all got drunk and they made me drink something they said was "web fluid".

Except it wasn't web fluid.

It wasn't web fluid at all.

NRAMA: We’ll let that go right there. Moving on to Mr. Negative - how did this project get rolling? Obviously, there's been an explosion of Dark Reign titles, but was this something that was on the master list of Dark Reign titles, or something that you came up with after a sentence that started with, "You know who should get a miniseries...."?

Dark Reign: Mr. Negative #1 pencils

FVL: In the murky gray area between me doing The Spot story for Amazing Spider-Man #589 and the actual declaration of my Web-Headedness, Steve asked me if I was interested in doing the series. The creator-owned series that got me noticed at Marvel was The Silencers, a "super-mob" book I did with Steve Ellis at Moonstone, so I've always loved mixing gangsters and spandex.

NRAMA: With a shared character like Mr. Negative, how does the story for a miniseries such as this come to life? Was this, say, on the agenda at a Spider-Summit so everyone got a chance to weigh in on what you'd be doing with Mr. Negative?

FVL: Mister Negative is very much a creation of Dan Slott (along with Steve McNiven), and Dan graciously spent several hours on the phone with me telling me the character's origin, his complete power set (a few of which I don't think anyone has seen prior to this mini) and the general plan he had for him.

I then combined those ideas with my own research on Chinese organized crime, both here and back in the mother country, and what you have here in this mini -- presented in flashback -- is Mr. Negative's origin, complete for the first time.

Dark Reign: Mr. Negative #1 pencils

NRAMA: Playing a little catch-up here for folks who haven't been following Amazing, can you give readers a thumbnail sketch of who Mr. Negative is - as well as Martin Li? Where is he in his plan to take over the New York underworld?

FVL: Mister Negative is one half of a human embodiment of the Taoist principle of Yin & Yang, the dual nature of the universe: Opposites are complimentary; the one cannot exist without its other.

His public guise is that of Martin Li, the beloved billionaire philanthropist that founded F.E.A.S.T., the charity Peter Parker's Aunt May volunteers for. He has a healing touch that he used to transform Eddie Brock into Anti-Venom in the "New Ways to Die" storyline.

At times, however, Martin transforms into the vicious Chinatown crimelord Mister Negative, who has tangled with Spider-Man several times. Negative has vowed to destroy the Maggia crime family for mysterious reasons that will finally! Be! Revealed! Here!

NRAMA: Taking that last bit - this is what fuels the major storyline for the miniseries, right? The Hood makes a move against Mr. Negative, or threatens his hold on the city?

Dark Reign: Mr. Negative #1 pencils

FVL: Exactly. The Hood controls all of the super villain action in the five boroughs except one neighborhood -- Chinatown. He wants to eliminate that qualifier. He sends in an emissary to negotiate terms of Negative's surrender. That ... does not go well, and so it's all-out war in the streets of Chinatown as The Hood sends a "Shock & Awe"-sized army of villains to take down Mr. Negative, his Inner Demons, and his main enforcer, Hammerhead, once and for all.

Oh, and did I mention Spider-Man gets caught in the middle?

NRAMA: You did. Let's get into the "Dark Reign" aspect of all of this - The Hood is an ally of Norman - as much as anyone can be an ally of him, at least. Does Mr. Negative's battle against The Hood make him an enemy of Osborn, then, or are things more complicated than that in Norman's New World Order?

FVL: Norman is no fan of Mr. Negative, since he sent his Inner Demons to hijack an OsCorp truck in the Anti-Venom story in Amazing Extra.

Although Mr. Negative has no reason to suspect Norman's involvement with The Hood, as the existence of The Cabal is not exactly common knowledge.

On the other hand... that Mister Negative is one clever guy...

NRAMA: Tell us about the Spider-foes that The Hood has with him...honestly, for as tactical as The Hood can be, he's associating with some major losers here..."long awaited return of the White Rabbit." Really? Are you dusting off your Spidey Super Stories for this miniseries?

 ENLARGE IMAGE FVL: I will have you know White Rabbit is a proud J.M. DeMatteis creation from Marvel Team-Up, my good sir! Spidey Super Stories my foot! (Well, maybe "proud" is pushing it. But I think she's awesome.)

The nice thing about The Hood is that he has so many villains working for him that you can kind of mix and match as you see fit depending on the circumstances. When I used him over in Marvel Zombies 4 I had him deploy only horror-themed villains to battle the Midnight Sons.

So in Dark Reign: Mr. Negative I decided to only use Spider-Villains. A bunch were already established as working for The Hood anyway: Lightmaster, Scorcher, The Squid, The Answer (another fave of mine)... I added Speed Demon, White Rabbit... and The Spot, of course, building off his Amazing #589 appearance.

NRAMA: We'd be remiss if we didn't hit on Spider-Man's involvement - he's seen gang wars before...what makes this different? Knowing what he knows, is he seeing the bigger picture here, in regards to Norman's involvement?

FVL: Indeed. Also, don't forget he has a connection to Martin Li through Aunt May. As far as anyone knows, Li is caught in Chinatown when the gang war breaks out...

NRAMA: And looking at the info for issue #2 - Spider-Man is turned, and is an enforcer for Mr. Negative...whaaaa? He can do that to people?

FVL: Rem

Dark Reign: Mr. Negative #2

ember what I said at the outset, about Mr. Slott telling me about some of Mr. Negative's powers people hadn't been that familiar with before? I refer you to the opening scene of #1.

NRAMA: As far as Gang Wars go - they rarely end well...and mixing in with that, Norman's yet to have a serious setback...what can you tease about the status quo of the New York Underworld as this story progresses?

FVL: Hmmm... That's a tough one to answer without giving anything away. I'll fall back on the old standby:

Trust no one.

Dark Reign: Mr. Negative #1 pencils

NRAMA: Fair enough. Wrapping things up, when are you next on the main book, and what are you doing on it?

FVL: August. A major storyline that reintroduces yet another MODOK's 11 alumnus to the Spider-Verse in a major way, and gives Peter Parker a brand new job.

Oh, and as payback for your White Rabbit sass, I think I'll do a story with her in September, starring a female Spider-Man cast member fans have been clamoring for forever.

That'll learn ya to RESPECT THE DEMATTEIS.

NRAMA: I have been schooled.

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