***This article contains spoilers for and beyond.***
Since the dawn of the "Brand New Day" era in 2008, things have gone pretty well for Peter Parker. Sure, there have been notable hiccups along the way, but he's got his dream job at Horizon Labs, saved the world with the Avengers and joined the Fantastic Four's Future Foundation — even his Aunt May is now happily married, albeit to J. Jonah Jameson's father.
That changed with last week's Amazing Spider-Man #698, which revealed that one of his oldest enemies, Doctor Octopus, managed to switch bodies — meaning that Doc Ock is running around in Peter Parker's healthy, powerful body, and Spidey is as close to death as someone can reasonably be. And no one else knows. This all leads to December's oversized Amazing Spider-Man #700, which promises another major twist, and also ends the long run of that series (for now, at least — this is comic books, after all), and paves the way for the debut of Superior Spider-Man in January, a new series starring a new Spider-Man (who might not Doc Ock, but is said to definitely not to be Peter Parker), from current Amazing creators Dan Slott, Humberto Ramos and Giuseppe Camuncoli, with the addition of artist Ryan Stegman, recently of .
There's a lot going on with Spider-Man, so we talked to the Marvel senior editor that's been in charage of the character and his world for the past few years — Stephen Wacker — about how long this has all been developing, how this relates to Spidey's 50-year legacy, leaked spoilers, pointed reactions from passionate fans, and more.
page from Superior
Spider-Man #2.Newsarama: Steve, Dan has mentioned that the twist in Amazing Spider-Man #698 has been a long time in the making, dating back to issue #600 in 2009. But obviously plans change and evolve. How long has it — and whatever is coming next with Superior Spider-Man — been in motion at Marvel? We know that , which has been in the works in one form or another since 2010, will reflect the Superior Spider-Man status quo, so presumably it's all been set for quite a while.
Stephen Wacker: It was pretty far back. More than two-three years at this point.
Dan was pitching this story since before “Big Time” even started. However, this story and "Ends of The Earth" were originally going to happen earlier in his run. We went out to lunch (along with executive editor Tom Brevoort and then-ASM assistant editor Tom Brennan) and as we all spoke, the timing just didn’t seem right.
Dan then went home and (like he tends to do) came up with a real left-field sort of plan that became "Spider-Island" and we were off.
But, yeah, I’ve had all this on the schedule for a time.
Nrama: You're someone who monitors things like fan reactions and message boards pretty closely — were you surprised at all by the response to #698? Though I'm sure it was mostly positive, I was taken aback by the more extreme reactions out there, given that it's so clearly the first part of a longer story.
Wacker: I’m rarely surprised about fan reactions anymore. It’s sort of their responsibility to argue and debate. I really love it. Even when I read the real angry fans, it reminds me that the stuff we do, the small decisions we make every day in these cramped midtown offices affect someone’s day.
We’re all really lucky to have a job where the results of our work are visible and get discussed by people. Most people don’t get that sort of feedback or recognition.
Do I wish some people could settle down, unclench and get some perspective? Sure. There are plenty of people who are simply angry we’re even publishing comics when, darn it!, they’ve us many times to “!”, but that’s always been the case. It’s what audiences of all sorts tend to do. People got mad at Shakespeare for simply trying to entertain, too.
Interior art from Amazing
Spider-Man #699.In the end, though, we’re just making comics for you to read, we’re not throwing them at you.
Nrama: Also, how disappointed were you that leaked pages appeared online before the release date of the issue? Obviously knowing the twist ahead of time completely changes the reading experience of that issue, and Marvel had made it that far without any leaks up to that point.
Wacker: I’m probably more Zen about this than Dan is. Of course you want people to experience the story in the natural environment it was intended, but as soon as a book is sent to the printer, it’s out of your hands.
To use movies as an example, printing the book is like the early screenings. People come out of those screening months ahead of time and start talking about it. I’m not sure you can do anything about it since it’s in our human nature to share our experiences.
It’s pretty easy to avoid this kind of thing if you really want to. For many the “spoiler controversy” fits in to their desire to just be angry about ! People love to spoil things and — I believe — they love reading the spoilers. To be "in the know" before others. If you’re the kind of person who searches out comic news, follows comic news sites on Twitter for up-to-the-minute information and spoilers only to be angry when you find it, I don’t have much sympathy.
Nrama: And with any major status quo change to a character like this, there is going to be a segment of the readership who thinks it's just being done for sales, that it'll be overturned almost immediately, etc. Though obviously you can't cater to the most cynical of fans, has the approach to developments like this evolved over the years?
Wacker: Not really. I think this kind of negativism disguised as criticism just eats itself at this point.
Look, in a global sense everything Marvel has done since 1939 has been done for sales. We are a company that sells comics to people in an effort to make a profit so that we can make more. Spider-Man himself was a gimmick in a dying anthology book.
But I also think good art can come from commerce. It’s pretty much the entire history of art. To pretend otherwise is somewhat naïve, I think.
Not to burst anyone’s bubble, but Dan’s job (and my job) is to tell stories that get people interested so that they will buy more Spider-Man comics. That doesn’t mean you are indifferent to the natural creative process and top-shelf storytelling techniques because you need to be good at those things to get people interested in the first place.
This is a story Dan wanted to tell, so I made it my job to make it happen and the company supported it. If we were crassly chasing a buck, you would be reading “Spider-Island 2” next month. (Hmm… actually that’s not half bad…)
Dan and Humberto and Cammo and Ryan and the whole Spidey team are crafting a story that I think are better than just about anything out there and that I hope lots of people like, so you’re darn right it’s being done for sales. So was !
Nrama: On the other hand, major status quo changes (often controversial ones) have long been a part of Spider-Man's history — so is it fair to characterize a story like "Dying Wish," and what's coming next in Superior Spider-Man, as a definite continuation of that legacy? And since things have gone fairly smoothly for him since the dawn of the "Brand New Day" era in early 2008, was it time for his luck to swing the other way?
Wacker: The kind of comics I like are the “what happens next?” kind and Dan is on the same page (it’s probably the only thing he agrees with me on!).
I take seriously the idea that people go to a comic store each week and have hundreds of choices on how to spend their money and choose to buy a book I edit.
With my editorial team (Ellie Pyle, Sana Amanat and Tom Brennan), we try on all of our books to give readers something worth that time and money, an experience that feels “thicker” than you’d get on any comic you could choose. And particularly with Spider-Man, I think there should always be a sense that the ground beneath your feet isn’t solid.
That’s the template Stan and Steve and John invented on the first 100 issues of Spider-Man, and I think with those comics, they changed the way stories are told across all media.
So I have no problem trying to stay true to that.
Nrama: Moving back to Superior Spider-Man, from your perspective, has it been a challenge at all in getting people excited about the book given how much it's been shrouded in secrecy? And how unwise would it be for readers to presume that the twist in #698 even has anything to do with Superior Spider-Man, given how there are two more issues (including the oversized #700) left to go?
Wacker: It’s been hard to the book, but getting people excited hasn’t been a problem. Marvel’s PR guys Arune Singh and James Viscardi have sharpened our message to a fine point, and Dan’s a natural promoter without being as huckster-y as me. He’s also, I think, built up a good amount of credibility with fans and retailers over the years. So excitement was never a concern… living up to it is the challenge!
And to answer your other question: It would be presumptuous to assume ASM #698 gave you a final answer to anything.
Hey before I go… Anyone know anything about “Cardiac”?More from Newsarama:
- SPIDER-MAN's 10 Biggest Status Quo Changes
- Slott Talks AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #698's Big Twist [SPOILERS]
- Slott Debuts SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN and Revives Norman Osborn