WEEKLY WEBBING with VAN LENTE: Running The GAUNTLET

WEEKLY WEBBING with VAN LENTE: Gauntlet!

Beginning this month, Spider-Man is running into his deadliest foes as Amazing Spider-Man enters a series of storylines with an overarching theme called The Gauntlet.

From the Rhino to Electro to the Lizard, the more familiar rogues who dominated the Spider-Man title before its status quo change in January 2008 will return to plague Spider-Man. While the issues in The Gauntlet aren't all one story, the subplots running through all the issues wearing the banner will have "hints of a mystery that's going to grow and grow until it comes to a head" in spring 2010, editor Steve Wacker told us when the series was announced.

And as all these villains show up in the main title, the monthly Web of Spider-Man comic will be telling up-close origin stories about each of the Gauntlet villains. Fred Van Lente, one of the writers who make up the "Web-Heads" who currently write Spider-Man, is guiding the origin stories in a way that tells a new story while reviewing who the villain is.

For this installment of Weekly Webbing, we talk to Van Lente to find out more about his Web of Spider-Man origin stories, learning how characters like Man-Thing show up in Spider-Man's universe – and how Morbius might just share his opinion on Twilight.

Newsarama: Let's talk about all these villains you're focusing upon in Web of Spider-Man and Amazing Spider-Man. What's the inspiration for going back and re-telling origins that have already been told. Or is this something new?

Fred Van Lente: Well, in many ways it is something new. It's an enhancement on the original origin, a lot of which for the Spider-Man characters were one or two or three panels long. You know? Guy gets hit by lightning. Guy gets rhino suit. Special effects master decides to become costumed criminal.

So, while the beauty of the characters, particularly the villains in The Gauntlet, is their simplicity, we thought there was a way to update their origins for modern times while, I should say, not contradicting what happened in the past, and tell individual story from their point of view.

Nrama: Are villains something you enjoy in particular?

Van Lente: I do. The project that got me noticed by Marvel was a series I did in 2003 called The Silencers with Steve Ellis, of Zuda High Moon fame. And we did this series we created about superpowered mob enforcers. And that's what led me to Marvel. And then one of the first projects I did for Marvel was called MODOK's 11, this story with an eclectic collection of Z-level villains.

So yeah, I love villains, and telling stories about them and criminals. I feel like when they're in Spider-Man, they react to Spider-Man. He's the main character of the story, and we focus through him. What we're doing with the Web of Spider-Man during The Gauntlet is we're telling stories about these people from their point of view. So you are going to get a completely different slant on who they are and what they're all about.

Nrama: The first one's Electro. What can you tell us about what we'll learn about the character?

Van Lente: The villains are definitely an eclectic bunch of personalities. Some are very tragic. Some are not very bright. You may know which one I'm referring to there. And some of them are just out for a quick buck. And I think Electro is definitely one of the latter.

I think the point of the story is we're taking that attitude and contrasting him with another character. One of the fun parts of the series is you'll be seeing the Spider-Man villains interacting with different aspects of the Marvel Universe, outside the realm of Spider-Man.

In nature, it's called "electromagnetism." And so Electro is one half of that. And if you think about who the other half of that would be, prominent in the Marvel Universe, you'll get a very good idea of where that story's going.

Nrama: So that's this week's issue of Web of Spider-Man that we'll see those two characters interact?

Van Lente: Yes, it is. On sale tomorrow.

Nrama: The next villain we'll see is Rhino, right? Is this his origin story?

Van Lente: Sort of. In the cracks of continuity, fun stories can be found. The first time we see Rhino in Amazing Spider-Man #41, Peter Parker sees a news report where Rhino is charging across the Mexican/United States border to come to New York City to kidnap John Jameson. It takes him the entire issue to charge across the Eastern half of the United States to get to Jameson. And my thinking was, what was he doing south of the border before we first saw him in Amazing? And Spider-Man fans can sleep at night, because now you will know.

Nrama: Can you give us a hint about his stint in Mexico?

Van Lente: He was involved in a Central American civil war. It was one of the first jobs he had from the scientists who created him.

The first story about Electro, and most of the subsequent stories, are drawn by Barry Kitson. And we had a great time working together on the Chameleon arc.

This story, however, about the Rhino is actually drawn by Nick Dragotta, who did an excellent job on the Spider-Man episode of Marvel Zombies Return. So I'm very excited to be working with him again.

Nrama: Does this civil war play into his motivation?

Van Lente: It does and it doesn't. Like I said before, the motivations of some of these guys, a lot of them are simply motivated by money and power and their own feelings of insecurity. That's often a theme of crime stories. The great thing with crime stories, what you tend to do, is you have a criminal main character who may not be the most sympathetic character in the world. And how do you make him more sympathetic? You pit him against a character who is much worse than he is.

And definitely, this is the case with the Rhino story where he's caught in a situation where the insurgents in this country are as despicable as the dictator, who's pretty despicable himself. The Rhino isn't known for his socio-political views. And so he's going to solve some of these thorny political issues by smashing into them! Because that's what he's good at.

Nrama: With Mysterio, who is the next villain in the series, what will we see when we focus on his point of view?

Van Lente: With Mysterio, it's definitely a motivation story. What is was that motivated him to simply decide to give up being a lucrative special effects master to put a fish bowl on his head. Maybe he didn't choose. Maybe he was forced into it. But that's where the fun story begins.

Mysterio is also interacting with an aspect of the Marvel Universe we're not used to seeing him in. Obviously, Mysterio fakes superpowers and fakes magic. This may be an early encounter with him and real magic, which could be creepy and weird.

Nrama: And the next one is The Lizard. His history has been explored quite a bit, has it?

Van Lente: It has, although since he's down there in the Florida swamps, there is a neighbor down there that he hasn't interacted with yet. It's one of my all-time favorite characters and one I've written before.

Nrama: Oh, that's probably one of my all-time favorites too, since it was one of the first comics I read as a kid in the '70s.

Van Lente: Is that right?

Nrama: If it's who I think it is, people always make a joke about the name when I tell them I like him.

Van Lente: [laughs] "I really like the giant-size version myself."

Nrama: [laughs] Should we just out him now? I take it Lizard is going to interact with Man-Thing?

Van Lente: Yes! Although I should say that story has not been written yet, so it's not all nailed down. But that is the plan going into it, and since we're going to have Conner's lab fairly close to Citrusville. There is also something there that the Man-Thing guards, which I dealt with in Marvel Zombies 3, that the Lizard may come into contact with, even if he doesn't encounter Man-Thing.

Nrama: This has got to be kind of fun for you to bring these origins even closer into continuity. Is this something you guys brainstormed about? Or were you given the complete control to come up with how these things tied together?

Van Lente: [Spider-Man editors] Steve [Wacker] and Tom [Brevoort] were kind enough to give me the reins, and I just kind of ran with it. I really enjoy making over villains, you know? It was fun to do the Chameleon and Black Talon in Marvel Zombies 4. I think there's an unfortunate tendency to look at some characters as "lame," and some characters as "cool." And it just feels very high school, where there's this hierarchy of awesomeness. To me, to be blunt, there are no lame characters; there are just lame stories. I think that if you can put some of these great Kirby and Lee creations in a good story, you're going to bring out what's awesome about them, and people are going to forget immediately that they thought that character was made up to be a joke.

Nrama: Did I also see in February solicitations that you're going to write a Spider-Man story with Morbius in Issue #622?

Van Lente: Another of my all-time faves.

Nrama: He's not being revamped, is he?

Van Lente: Not really. I kind of feel like I'm still using him in the Marvel Zombies series, so I didn't want to totally take him off the path he was on. And Rick Remender is currently using him in Punisher. So Morbius is sort of embedded in several books in the Marvel Universe in the moment. This isn't a reinvention of him.

It's sort of an exploration of vampirism in general, and particularly in light of Twilight and a lot of the stuff that's been going on with vampires in popular culture.

Nrama: [laughs] Does Twilight exist in the Marvel Universe??

Van Lente: Uh... well, you know, I just turned in the story, and if it goes in as is, the answer would be "definitely, yes."

Nrama: I suppose Morbius has his own opinion of it.

Van Lente: He does. He does.

Nrama: And as if those weren't enough villains for you to handle, you've got a Sandman story coming up, don't you?

Van Lente: I do. Sandman is in Amazing Spider-Man #615 after Mark's Electro arc.

Nrama: Are you telling his story in Web of Spider-Man, or is that only going to be dealt with in Amazing?

Van Lente: We don't have any plans right now, but beyond the Lizard story, we haven't nailed down everything, because there are actually more villains in The Gauntlet than we have slots for origins in Web.

Nrama: Wow, that many villains in this thing?

Van Lente: Yeah. It just doesn't stop.

The Sandman story I'm going to be telling in Amazing is two issues. Javier Pulido is drawing it. We did the Mary Jane story, and I absolutely loved what he did on that story, so I begged and pleaded for him to be put on this one.

What happens is that one of Peter Parker's close friends, Carlie Cooper, is accused of improprieties at the New York City police lab. And she believes she's been framed. And Peter Parker decides to crack the case. So it's Spider-Man as a detective. And all the clues would appear to point to the Sandman, who may be slightly more murderous in this incarnation than we have seen him in the past. Or not. It is, after all, a murder mystery, and he may not end up being the culprit.

Nrama: This is a slew of villains, Fred. To finish up, is there anything else you've got coming up that you'd like to give a hint about?

Van Lente: Three words: Gaydos. Scorpion. March.

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