Father Issues: Joe Kelly on Spider-Man's 'American Son'

Preview: Amazing Spider-Man #595

Amazing Spider-Man #595 Variant cover

With all the action-packed web slinging and clever joke-cracking, it's easy to miss the deeper themes being explored in a Spider-Man comic.

But with “American Son,” the storyline that starts this week in Amazing Spider-Man #595, the title emphasizes one of the story's central themes.

"Thematically, American Son has a lot of father-son relationships being explored, whether by blood or spiritual or mentoring relationships," writer Joe Kelly told Newsarama of the storyline. "There are several of those kinds of relationships touched upon in this story, but the focal point of the whole story is the triangle of Peter, Norman and Harry."

But the title "American Son" also refers to a new costumed character who has shown up in Marvel's teaser ads. Kelly said that character is part of Norman's vision for the Avengers, and it's all part of the deeper issues being explored in American Son.

"Everybody in the story is confronted with their own beliefs and challenged to think outside the box a little bit, including Norman," the writer said. "He's spent the last X amount of time thinking Iron Patriot was enough -- this thinking that what America needed was a red, white and blue steel fist, particularly after Secret Invasion. But he's rethinking that idea, and he's realizing why the Avengers are so beloved and why you need the dichotomy of an Iron Man and a Captain America. So that's where the genesis for this American Son program comes from."

Amazing Spider-Man #595

But the real driving force in the story will be Spider-Man's resolution to deal with Norman Osborn. In the 24/7 story arc that just finished up in Amazing Spider-Man #594, Spider-Man is dedicating as much of his time as possible to his life as a superhero, but in the end, he realizes that Norman is behind that drive.

"Spidey's really going at it and feels like, what could I accomplish if I was just Spider-Man? He's sort of driven and he doesn't really know why," Kelly said, "and it finally hits him that it's Norman. The fact that this guy who he knows as ultimate evil is basically running the world right now. It really gets its hooks in his soul. So American Son is the story where Peter's plan to deal with Norman takes shape, and it's all because of Norman reaching out to Harry. When he sees Norman make that play toward his friend, it really moves Peter to action."

Other themes of fatherhood come into play as J. Jonah Jameson and his father butt heads in the story. And as readers have discovered along with Peter, Jonah's dad is engaged to marry Aunt May, so there are even more elements of fatherhood coming into play as Peter gets used to the idea of having the man who fathered J. Jonah Jameson as an uncle.

Amazing Spider-Man #596

"Peter has had a lot of father figures in his life -- J. Jonah and Norman being included among them. But 'Senior,' as we've labeled J. Jonah's dad, seems to be a ray of hope for Peter to actually have an older guy in his life who's not so bad," Kelly said with a laugh.

"But the wedding is in the forefront of the story in Peter's personal life. You'll see in the first issue of American Son that Norman, in New York City, has a direct connection to J. Jonah Jameson as mayor. And when those guys all come together, it's like one, big, nasty family reunion," Kelly laughed. "There are a lot of elements in play here as the story continues. Norman is the most powerful guy on the planet, with access to a lot of information, so he dredges up some information about Jonah's dad that Pete has to deal with during the course of the story."

And it looks like there's another character who will be dealing with the idea of fatherhood. As readers have seen on upcoming covers, Lily Hollister appears to be pregnant, so it seems like Harry may have some potential parenting issues of his own. Although Kelly wouldn't comment on the cover image, he said Harry's conflicts are an important part of American Son.

Amazing Spider-Man #598

"Harry's very highly motivated in the story," Kelly said. "You'll see in the first issue that Norman extends the olive branch to Harry. And it's a laughable idea to Harry. He's finally getting his life together and certainly doesn't need to be around dear old dad. But there are other elements that bring the two of them together, and Lily is part of that equation.

"The story's really about Peter, Norman and Harry, and what drives the three of them in the never-ending triangle -- friendship, loyalty and obsession," Kelly said. "Who's obsessed, and who's just being a friend, sort of shift and change during the course of the story. Peter is confronted with a scenario where Harry is telling him, 'Back off. I can handle myself.' And Peter's choosing not to listen to his friend, because he knows Norman so well and he feels like he knows Harry so well. And it's going to open up a world of hurt for everybody. A lot of stuff comes to a head in this story."

But it's not all drama -- there's plenty of action as Spider-Man goes up against various members of the Dark Avengers who defend their leader, bringing Amazing Spider-Man into the thick of Dark Reign and to the center of the Marvel Universe.

"You can't do Norman's story without the Avengers," Kelly said. "So Spidey gets his hand on more than one of them. And more than one of them gets his hand on him. You'll get some Venom in there, and Doc and Bullseye -- all the grittier bad guys are in this one."

American Son will end just in time for Amazing Spider-Man #600, the 104-page issue by a multitude of creators that includes everyone from John Romita Jr. to Stan Lee himself.

Amazing Spider-Man #599

"Issue #600 is its own story, so we wanted to do a really big Norman story leading up to that with American Son," Kelly said. "We felt it was time for Spider-Man to really deal with this. We also wanted to use #600 as not the ending of things, but the beginning of things."

So over the next five issues, Kelly said readers can expect plenty of action, humor and dramatic story twists that will bring change to Spider-Man's world. "I'm really excited about it. It's a fun story. It's like a big adventure for Spider-Man," Kelly said. "There are a lot of surprises. There are a couple of good shockers in the story. Spidey definitely pushes things too far in this story and gets himself in lots of trouble. That's my favorite kind of Spider-Man story, where his reach kind of exceeds his grasp a little bit."

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