Despite all the business news in the comic book industry, the stories do continue, especially the adventures of Spider-Man, who gets his story told just about every week of the month.
So it's time again for our Weekly Webbing, as yesterday's Amazing Spider-Man #604 finishes up the "Red-Headed Stranger" storyline that not only brought back Mary Jane Watson, but also established a new status quo for the Chameleon in a story by "web-heads" member Fred Van Lente.
Still involved in espionage and identity theft, the Chameleon also gets a creepy thrill out of messing with people's lives after he brutally kills and replaces them. In the last issue of Amazing Spider-Man, the Chameleon replaced Peter Parker and took some actions that should have serious consequences for Peter and most of the people he cares about, including his new roommate Michele, his best friend Harry, and his former flame, MJ.
It's all bringing the Spider-Man series closer to the over-arching theme called "The Gauntlet" that officially begins in November and stretches into next year, as a slew of classic Spider-Man villains start showing up in the web-slinger's life again.
For this installment of the Weekly Webbing, Newsarama talked to Van Lente about the return of MJ, the re-imagined Chameleon, his upcoming take on Sandman, and the series of villain origins he'll be writing for Web of Spider-Man beginning in November.
Newsarama: Fred, since we're toward the end of the "Red-Headed Stranger" storyline, what can you share with us about your thinking behind Mary Jane's return and how you approached it?
Fred Van Lente: Well, I sort of showed up at the Spider-Man summit with everything up until #600 pretty much plotted out. I think that Dan [Slott] was probably just starting to do the script for #600. So the last thing we knew, really, was going to be Mary Jane showing up, and we went from there.
The back-story of how Peter and Mary Jane split up is yet to be told, but we knew what it was. And we were all working from the same back-story, even though we're getting it at a slightly different pace than you guys are getting it.
So what I was originally doing was an issue that was supposed to be for Amazing Spider-Man: Extra that was an all-Mary Jane issue that was going to explain why she decided to come back to New York City specifically and basically tell the story from her point of view of what led up to the moment where she caught Aunt May's bouquet.
Cover: Amazing Spider-Man #615Nrama: And that issue's going to still happen, right?
Van Lente: That's going to be Amazing Spider-Man #605, which will be an epilogue to the whole Chameleon storyline.
Nrama: Once you got your teeth into MJ -- and I probably shouldn't put it that way...
Van Lente: [laughs] What are you implying?
Nrama: Sorry. But this is your first time writing Mary Jane, right?
Van Lente: Yes, I think you're right. Yeah.
Nrama: How did you go about discovering her voice? Was it a combination of taking who she was before and trying to figure out who she would be now, with this new situation?
Van Lente: I was a hard-core Spider-Man fan from way back, so to me, what I always liked was the original concept that [Stan] Lee and [Steve] Ditko always had for Mary Jane, which is this sort of unattainable ideal for Peter, that she's too beautiful for him, that she's too famous for him, that she's too accomplished for him. And I kind of wanted to put her back on the shelf. She'd been the long-term girlfriend of his that he was so intimate with, yet I felt like you should put her back on the shelf and let him know what he's lost. There's an old saying that happy people make for bad drama, and one way to look at Peter's life and think about how needled he is. I mean, you don't want to go too overboard and make his life a complete disaster, but I think there's something very poignant about having that lost love in front of him all the time, and that's going to tug at his heartstrings and hopefully at the readers' heartstrings at the same time.
That's not to say that Mary Jane doesn't feel a similar way toward him, and that's something we explore in Issue #605.
Nrama: Are we going to find out more in Issue #604 about what MJ knows?
Van Lente: Well, I think that if there was a lingering question in people's minds about what she knows about Peter's secret identity, that will definitely be put to rest in Issue #604.
Nrama: One thing that people had questions about was how Spider-Man got out of the acid. Will that be explained?
Van Lente: That's the opening of Issue #604.
Nrama: And there's another female in Peter's life now, thanks to Chameleon, so will we see the repercussions of what happened with Michele?
Van Lente: Yes.
Nrama: And what about Chameleon's attack on Harry? Is that going to be part of this issue?
Van Lente: Maybe. Chameleon definitely did a number on Peter's life, and there are going to be ramifications for that in the series, even beyond #604.
Nrama: I know you mentioned last week that you didn't want Chameleon to just be another shapeshifter who could make himself look like other people. Was there also an effort to really make this villain more of an ongoing threat to Peter?
Van Lente: Yeah, and to me, what was interesting was the idea that he's the first Spider-Man villain, so I wanted to give him a role that he deserved. I guess I see Chameleon as deserving because he's the first villain in Amazing Spider-Man #1, just as Joker was the villain in Batman #1. I wanted to give him that respect. Not that I'm trying to knock anyone else's story, but I wanted to go back to the original conception of him as being this non-powered, master spy who could take on a superhero like Spider-Man, and was still sort of locked in with the espionage community and was still doing this spy stuff.
Nrama: This storyline leads into Black Cat's return and "The Gauntlet." Does it tie into everything that's going to be going on with "The Gauntlet?"
Van Lente: All I can say is read the last scene of #604. That will answer that question quite definitively.
Nrama: What else can you tell us about Issue #605? It's an oversized issue with other stories in it, right?
Van Lente: Yes, #605 is a mega-sized issue. There's one full-length, 22-page Mary Jane story drawn by Javier Pulido, and he just knocked it out of the ballpark. And it also brings back another Spider-Man villain, the White Rabbit. And there's a linking story that deals with even more ramifications of the Chameleon thing, that I wrote and Luke Ross drew. And then Brian Reed did a Spider-Man dating story that is the third story. It's long, but it's not quite 22 pages. So it's an uber-sized issue.
Cover: Amazing Spider-Man #616Nrama: When's the next time after #605 that we'll see another Fred Van Lente story?
Van Lente: Javier and I had such a blast on the Mary Jane story that we're going to be bringing back the Sandman in "The Gauntlet." That's Issue #615 and #616 in December, and it's taken every ounce of my self-control not to do some horrible nerdy joke about the fact that I'm doing Issue #616 of Spider-Man. But that's too much. I've got to resist those urges.
Then Barry Kitson, who did the opening and closing of the Mary Jane story, and I are going to be doing origins of all the Gauntlet villains in Web of Spider-Man, the new Spider-Man story. Our scripts begin in the second issue, which is going to come out in November. So in November, the featured Gauntlet story is Electro, and I'll be doing an Electro story with Barry about his early years and his run-in with one of the most famous Marvel villains of all time. Which one? Pick up Web of Spider-Man #2!
Nrama: And what's Sandman's new status in your story?
Van Lente: Sandman is one of these characters who has gone back and forth for awhile from, is he a villain? Is he a hero? He was an ally of Spider-Man the last time he appeared in a Spider-Man comic, which was in Peter David's Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, and he and Spider-Man were working together.
In "The Gauntlet," we're not quite re-imagining the villains, certainly not anywhere near as radically as the Chameleon got re-imagined here, but they're definitely establishing new status quos for them. And the Sandman of Gauntlet is going to be a villain. And what sets him back on the purely villainous path is, unfortunately, Spider-Man. So tune in to #615 and #616 to find out more.
Nrama: You mentioned honoring that past Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man story, and I noticed in the Chameleon story that you had him pause and almost recognize Peter's name. Is there an acknowledgment here of what has come before despite the "re-imagining" you're doing?
Van Lente: Yes. Because Chameleon, as long-time super-Spider-Man fans will remember, he replaced Peter in Amazing Spider-Man #80, which was a Stan Lee issue. So being the Spider-nerd that I am, I do like to acknowledge these things. Once you get into the area covered by "One More Day," continuity gets a little muddier, although oncoming storylines will clear it up considerably.
The Chameleon is a special case, though, because Roberto [Aguirre-Sacasa] did a storyline post-unmasking, I think in Sensational Spider-Man, where Chameleon gathered together a bunch of villains to kill Peter Parker, whom he now knew was Spider-Man. Like the Fantastic Four story that Dan Slott did, that falls into that whole "doesn't know the secret identity anymore" thing.
So that pause by Chameleon in my story was my way of kind of acknowledging that all these stories happened, but without providing the type of details that are forthcoming.
Nrama: Is there anything else you want to tell to Spider-Man readers as this storyline ends?
Van Lente: The feedback for the Chameleon story has been awesome, and I just want to thank everybody who wrote me and tweeted me and facebooked me and everything. It's really been quite gratifying, so thank you!