Beginning in November, Spider-Man will be running into his deadliest foes as Amazing Spider-Man enters a series of story arcs called "The Gauntlet."
"What is unifying the stories in The Gauntlet is that these threats are building in Spider-Man's life and in Peter Parker's life, and it's going to ultimately end in a sort of personal Gauntlet for Pete," Marvel editor Steve Wacker told Newsarama.
From the Rhino to Electro to the Lizard, the more familiar rogues who dominated his 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, Wacker said, implying that the Sinister 666 is involved.
Mark Waid will kick off The Gauntlet with Issue #611, which will see the return of Electro, a character who was first introduced in 1964. Maxwell Dillon experienced an accident that turned him into a living electrical capacitor, able to shoot massive bolts of electricity and control electrical objects.
As Waid re-introduces the villain after his absence, he begins by establishing the villain's reason for disappearing for awhile. It turns out even supervillains set aside a little bit for retirement.
"He basically had a retirement fund. He's been putting money away -- stolen money obviously -- and over the years, he's been one of the smart criminals who was saving what he's been stealing from banks and savings and loans," Waid explained.
While the idea of a retired villain isn't necessarily new, but Waid said what motivates Electro to return to villainy is something that gives the character a new twist that is tied directly into current events.
"Unfortunately, in the economic collapse, he's lost it all," Waid said. "And now he's on a rampage against all the fat-cats and Wall Street types and banks and corporations that are getting federal bailout money."
Waid said that while Electro is still the same Max Dillon that Spider-Man readers have always known and loved, the villain's personal life and motivations become more defined and evolved in this story. And when the economic situation encourages him to return to a life of crime, his target becomes those he believes are getting away with a different type of crime.
"Electro is sort of the anti-bailout guy because he figures, how dare you call me a criminal, and you're taking money from the feds in bailout dough!" Waid said.
After Waid's re-introduction of Electro, Marc Guggenheim will follow up with his own revamped villain, The Rhino, a character the writer has been wanting to tackle since he received a challenge from a fan at a comic book convention.
"he Rhino actually goes way, way, way back two or three years to San Diego Comic Con, where we had the panel that announced the Spidey braintrust," the writer explained. "At that panel, some fan raised their hand, and I forget how we got on the topic, but he basically said the Rhino was a lame character."
Guggenheim said he took the fan's comment as a personal challenge. "This gives double meaning to why we're calling it The Gauntlet, I think, because it was like he threw down the Gauntlet and was like, can you make the Rhino cool? And more than anybody, I was really, really intrigued with that idea," he said. "I'm very interested in characters who have a big lameness-to-potential ratio. Probably the best example we've seen recently is Joe Kelly's revamp of Hammerhead, which I thought was phenomenally successful, and it proved that Hammerhead had a big lameness-to-potential ratio. And I feel like the Rhino has the same potential.
"The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there were elements to this character that we could work with," Guggenheim said. "You know, at his coolest, he has the potential to be one of Spidey's deadliest, most threatening villains. So I just worked away on it and it was a fun challenge to try to meet."
The writer's two-issue Rhino story will begin with the appearance of a new Rhino in town. "But rather than the tried-and-true 'wipe away the old character and replace him with some new guy we've never met and aren't invested in,' the old guy has a really good reason to come forward and fight to reclaim his mantle," the writer said. "And the reason isn't just comic book plottiness. There's actually a character-driven story behind it. So of course, these two Rhinos are fighting, and Spider-Man is in the middle of it, as happens in comic books. And you'll have to read the arc to see which Rhino is left standing."
While it may seem obvious that the one left standing will be the "revamped, cool" one, Guggenheim said it won't be easy to figure out which one that is. "The goal is to make both of them cool," he said.
The Rhino is another character who has been around a long time, having first debuted in 1966 as Aleksei Sytsevich, who underwent an experiment that gave him super speed and strength.
But with this latest appearance, Guggenheim went so far as to sketch out a new costume for the Rhino. "I always felt like one of the biggest problems with the Rhino was the lame-ass costume. And I'm not much of an artist, as Steve Wacker can attest," he laughed. "I felt like I had to figure out some way to communicate what I was seeing in my head, as far as a way of making a guy in a rhino suit look cool."
But Guggenheim said it takes more than just a new costume to make a supervillain meaningful. In fact, he said it comes down to two basic elements. "I don't want to over simplify this, but if you look at the successful supervillain makeovers over the years, and I'm speaking in the broadest of terms, the two elements you need to address is what makes them interesting emotionally? When Geoff Johns tackled the Flash rogues gallery a few years back, what I think made that whole arc successful was that he really went in and re-examined the psychological motivations of these characters. So that's one element," Guggenheim said. "But another element is to give them a little bit of a makeover from a design standpoint."
The whole Spider-Man team is hoping to succeed at those makeovers as they work on the villains returning for The Gauntlet. As Wacker pointed out in our last interview, "we wanted to sit down and think through each of these villains and find out what their aspirations and goals were beyond just beating up Spider-Man and appearing in a two-part story in a comic book. We wanted to give them a motivation and a life."
"And the goal is always to be as original as possible while serving the story," Guggenheim said. "I think it's going to be a really fun arc because when you're writing these kinds of arcs, the trick is to not just stick the landing on upgrading the villain, but do it in service of a good, original story."