Aug 8, 2011

Three Spider-Man Fans Get Ready for Spider-Island

In preparation for AMAZING SPIDER-MAN's new event Spider-Island, by Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos, I virtually sat down with two Spider-Man fans whose opinions I absolutely respect, Ben Smith and Ryan Malone. Ben sometimes contributes to The Comics Cube!, and you can see his contributions here. Ryan's from New Jersey and should never be taken seriously. Just kidding! Ryan's been a Spider-Man fan for a long, long time, and he's a smart guy to boot. I picked these two guys specifically because their opinions on Spider-Man differ so much. I "met" these guys on the Comic Book Resources forums some time ago, and it can get ugly there, but see? Here's proof that comic book fans can get along!

Ben loves Gwen Stacy, Ryan loves Mary Jane Watson.
I think this makes me The Jackal. Or Ned Leeds.

One thing that these two guys have in common is that they were both reading Spider-Man when the infamous "One More Day" storyline breaking up Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson hit in 2008. I was not.

We were just supposed to talk about BIG TIME, and the conversation went all sorts of places! Read on after the jump.

THE BASICS

Duy: What was your first Spider-Man comic, and how does this feed into what you think Spider-Man should be? And of course, the next question, what do you think Spider-Man should be?

Ben: My first exposure to Spider-Man in comics was TRANSFORMERS #3. I don't remember what my first proper Spider-Man comic was, but it's safe to say it was somewhere between Amazing #238–289. It was the right time period, mid-80s, and the depiction influences my idea of the character to this day.

Spider-Man is the guy that can never catch a break, but he keeps fighting on regardless, usually with a smart-ass wisecrack while he's doing it. No one aspect of his life should be perfect for long, whether it be job, money, apartment, girlfriend, public perception, and so on.

And Ryan doesn't even have to answer, I'm sure his cherry was popped by JMS.

Ryan: I bought my first Spider-Man comic when I was 8 years old. There was a comic book store literally right up the block from me. It was called Uncanny Comics. The old X-Men arcade game was inside. We'd go in there to play. The '94 cartoon series prompted me to buy a book. It was a Spider-Man issue (don't remember if it was ASM or a satellite) featuring Ghost Rider, and the story took place in St. Louis. I can't remember anything else about it.

The very next book I picked up was by complete accident . I was flipping through cheap back issues and I came across the black costume. The book turned out to be the first issue of the now-classic Firelord story wriiten by a personal fave in Tom Defalco.



Spider-Man vs. Firelord in ASM 269–270 (I think) demonstrates some of the key qualities of Spider-Man. It opens up with Peter in Forest Hills. He's older than he looks in the cartoon. His spider-sense goes off when Firelord passes over him. I got goosebumps as I typed this as this was the first time I read Pete's Spider-sense in use. I remember him laughing it off as the Human Torch. Later on in the issue, they fight and Pete realizes he's outmatched. The FF are out of town. He doesn't want to die and contemplates leaving . . . that is, until he thinks about Uncle Ben and wonders how many people Firelord might kill while he's gone. He opens up his wallet to view a picture of Uncle Ben. He goes back and with cunning and a "never give in" attitude, and he beats Firelord to a pulp.

I just want to interject that the Firelord story is classic to me just because a herald of Galactus eats pizza.

I remember having and loving that Firelord comic as a kid too, even though it's ridiculous that Spider-Man would beat a herald of Galactus. It epitomized another aspect of Spider-Man I loved as a kid, he always won the fight!

That Spider-Man vs. Firelord fight is really polarizing to the fanbase. I think I remember Dan Slott saying that he didn't like it because it was ridiculous. If you guys had read that NOW, would you still have loved it?

I probably still would have, because I'm all for Spider-Man winning any and every time. And isn't it all ridiculous? Spidey is not the most powerful hero, but his combination of speed, agility, strength, and smarts make him a formidable opponent for anyone.

This story is great because it demonstrates so many of Pete's qualities. He's driven to responsibility by Ben. He never gives up nor does he give in, even in the face of death. After years of being the prey in middle and highschool, he'd never submit again, not even to a former Herald of Galactus. He uses his powers and his cunning to beat Firelord. In the end, Peter just beats the crap out of him demonstrating another quality of Spider-Man. Spider-Man is no pushover. He's very powerful. The Kingpin can't beat him up. Sorry... I laugh that off as Pete being young and inexperienced. Heck, he even gets some props from the Avengers who show up after Spider-Man wins.

On a side note, does anyone else feel that Firelord exists specifically so that other characters can say they beat up a herald of Galactus? I've never seen him win anything. I collected SILVER SURFER back in the day. Firelord seemed to exist as a "loser Silver Surfer." Then I read that Spider-Man/Firelord thing, and that just cemented it for me.

His name is Firelord. He lost from the beginning.

MARY JANE 
and the Spider-Marriage

Let's talk about Mary Jane Watson and the Spider-Marriage. What do you guys think of Mary Jane Watson, and what do you think of Mary Jane Watson-Parker?

I used to like Mary Jane a lot as a kid. She represented the hot wife I hoped to one day have. But as I got older, I realized I only ever cared about her because she was Spidey's girl. Beyond her classic "Face it, Tiger" first appearance, she hasn't really ever done much as an independent character that I find interesting. Once she became his wife, she became a plot device, not a character. Usually tedious plots at that.


Mary Jane Watson worked nicely as a supporting character in a nice supporting character cast. She fits in nicely because she's much different than other female characters like (Deb) Whitman (who resembles Peter in many ways) and Betty (who shares common ground with Peter because they work together) and Gwen (who is nothing like MJ; the only thing they really share in common is Peter). The late 60s through the early 80s worked so well because Peter had a rich supporting cast and a revolving door of interesting female characters. Staying true to life, he had a long-term girlfriend and then some minor dates here and there, and that's very true for somebody his age. Mary Jane was, well... she's just a lot more interesting than Gwen. This is one of the reasons Gwen was killed off. The two were headed for marriage and what a boring "normal" marriage that would have been. Mary Jane had minor character development over the years. It's not as great or as moving as many MJ fans would have you believe, but there were certain things that moved her along throughout the years. One, of course, was becoming MJ Watson-Parker.


It might have been rushed, I don't know. I've read certain era's of ASM going back to ASM #1 but I have admittedly, not read the entire series (few have). I'm not familiar with the late 80s. I liked MJ Watson-Parker. Ben mentions that he likes Peter to win all the time. The marriage was a win. I don't believe she was a plot point. She was a faithful companion to Peter. She didn't complain as half as much as the Anti-MJ/Marriage fans would have you believe, and she gave Peter things to live for, a life and a family, added responsibilities, instead of things to die for (his uncle's memory, his aunt).

I want Spider-Man to win, not Peter Parker. At least not for long.

Ty Templeton once said to me that the death of Gwen is a perfect ending point to the series, if you should choose to end it at all, because he thinks that the point of Spider-Man is "Spider-Man always wins, but Peter Parker always loses." What do you think of that?

Ty Templeton is a wise man.

Well, another thing to add: MJ was able to bring Pete out of his shell a bit. A great example is ASM #136. MJ and Pete are strolling the twon having ice cream and heading back to Pete's apartment. Pete tells MJ he's buying an Ella Fitzgerald record and MJ laughs and tells him that he has potential if he'd just loosen up. Pete laughs and says that he's a college junior majoring in physics; he's meant to be tense. MJ's great because she's different. Pete's more comfortable around Betty and Gwen and less comfortable around MJ. She brings him out of his nerdy shell a bit and allows him to have a little fun. I think that's great.

A large part of the initial concept of Spider-Man is that he's allowed to grow and age. Exactly how far do you think this should go? (Because obviously, we can't get to death. Which leads us to something I know you guys disagree on.

Peter was aged to his mid-20s, and that's where he's been. If you add up fanboy calculations, he's about 28. That's a fine age for the character. Like Spider-Man editor Steve Wacker believes, I also think Peter works best in his mid-20s. I like mid to late 20s. 25 to 27 is where I think the character should be. I don't ever think he should be allowed to age into his 30s. A 28-year-old can contemplate "getting older" so if that's what fan's want, they can get it right now if a writer chooses to explore such an option. For clarification, Steve Wacker has said that "mid 20's" can range from 23 to 28 years of age. I have a unique take on the age thing. I personally think that Pete works best 25–28 as I mentioned above, but I also think he works just as well at 18 (maybe even better). So 18 or 28? HAHAHAHA! Who needs the middle?

Ryan, I know you feel strongly about the Spider-Marriage. Can you articulate those feelings for us, and how did you feel when it came to an end?

As a young lad, I had no idea comic books were so... mature...real...and we all know that there isn't one comic book character who is more real than Peter Parker. When people fall in love and their mature enough to begin a family, they begin a family. Peter loved MJ and tried a couple of times and than they got married. When I picked up clone saga era books I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I loved the content. I'd tell my little friends that Spider-Man was so freaking cool. Cooler than all the others... he's fighting himself and evil and he's married and getting laid all the time. This is awesome! The Spider-Marriage continued the natural progression that started with Stan and Steve, and continued throughout the following decades I enjoyed the two struggling to get by as a YOUNG married couple. I think it was crucial that Peter had a wife to come home to at the end of Torment and when Norman Osborn returned. MJ was supportive and again, didn't bitch about half as much as some (who probably didn't read most of the marriage) would lead others to believe. In SPIDER-MAN BLUE, she listens to Peter recount his entire love affair with Gwen Stacy and at the end of the story what does she do? She consoles him. Why? Because she loves her husband.



Peter is about to get killed by Morlun in the...ah...artistic JMS misstep known as THE OTHER. and what does she do? She attacks a freaking force of nature to save her husband. Why does she do this? Cause she loves her husband. Houses and apartments are burnt down, she never complains. She works on broadway (not sitting at a window)... these are just a few examples to disprove the notion that Peter was married to this awful thing...sometimes I scratch my head at the vitriol the marriage gets online. I really honestly believe people just started reading at the onset of BND. Cause they just don't know what they're talking about. I'm not saying MJ didn't have her moments. But isn't that normal/expected in any relationship? Isn't that healthy drama for a book that needs romantic drama? That always utilized it?

The fact of the matter is the character works single and he works married. The marriage was just as much a commercial success as a single Peter. The marriage didn't stop millions of people from buying Spider-Man #1 did it?

I think the sales would agree with you. It just ends up working for different audiences.

Well, there was a drop in sales. OMD was a jumping-on point but it was also a jumping-off point. If you look at ASM and the satellites pre-OMD to post-OMD with just the thrice-monthly then the numbers are even more compelling. Anti-OMD guys just looked at ASM dropping, I don't know why they didn't look at the satellites. The three monthly pre-OMD Spidey comics should have been compared to the thrice. SENSATIONAL SPIDER-MAN was selling about 45,000+ estimates I read pre-OMD. That alone could compete with ASM now.

We can't compare those, because the entire comic book market has gone down significantly since then, not just Spider-Man.

We shouldn't compare them four years apart, but one year apart? I'm not endorsing comparisons like this now at all. ASM is a sales success. Big Time has gained readers, like myself. I'm just surprised the detractors didn't look at the whole picture. I'm sure Steve Wacker isn't.

Ryan, I don't think you can compare the satellites to the ASM sales. I just don't think it's the same. ASM is ASM. It's like comparing Shadow of the Bat to Detective Comics.

No, you have to look at all the books that come out in a month pre and after OMD. You had readers who read ASM plus the satellites. After OMD, all Spidey fans had was ASM. That should've helped the books.

See, I think that's an X-factor. We think it should have helped the books... but they all of a sudden had three ASM comics to pick up in a month. I think that going twice-monthly would hurt sales on individual units, much less sales.There's also no telling how this does on the TPB market, which has gone up for ASM considerably since they did thrice-monthly. Plus, there's that whole "no set creative team" factor. It's obviously gotten more success under a singular writer.  There was one month in the 90s where GEN13 #13 came out in three separate 10-page comics. The sales figures said that if you added up all the sales on the individual units, it would have been the bestselling comic that month. Now, I don't think "adding it all up" is the solution, but I do think that you take hits on one issue with the more issues you put out.

I did the research on the Diamond sales. Thrice a month ASM did better than ASM, and the two satellites previously.

I've done my own research to find the opposite, Ben.

There's also the fact that all the data is skewed. Not only are the numbers we get pure preorder numbers, but there are more TPBs out now with the thrice-monthly ASM. It's easier to wait for the trade (which is what I did.) Also, one year ago, digital wasn't really an option. Now, day-and-date digital is an option. I expect sales on the print copies to go down even more. And they know that, so they cut down the print runs and they sell out.

Good point about digital, Duy. TPBs have also affected single issues significantly. But I disagree with you on your assertion that the married versus single status works for different audiences. I think we have one audience, and most fans read the book regardless of status quo. I wouldn't be shocked at all if hardcore marriage fans read the book right now. I'm a hardcore marriage fan that's reading the book. And even with my qualms, I have no intention of dropping the book. It's a good book under Slott and Wacker and company. With all this said, I understand that it was a status quo and that the marriage was a particular quo that eventually needed to end. I was not happy at how ended with the two not remembering they were married as the marriage was important to me, as well as Peter, who called upon his love of MJ to carry him to victory when faced with insurmountable odds. The marriage also continued the track of the "non-pushover, never give up, romantic" Peter we've read for years. When the marriage ended, Peter changed and changed dramatically during BND. With the exception of five or six stories, this is my least favorite era of ASM. Dan Slott has "fixed" many issues that I had with BND but not all of them. MJ is nowhere to be found, and in her few appearances she's laughed off living with Peter (OK, not so bad, but still shitty) and had her walk over to Pete like a two-bit hussy and yell Pete's ear off for not telling Carlie his secret. What the f*ck? And at the time, I thought this was a good move because at least MJ showed she cared. That's how bad their relationship is right now. Makes me sick.

I can also easily say that marriage didn't make things easier for Pete. Their lives got harder and they relied on one another. It was great, until it wasn't (thanks, Fred Van Lente, ASM 604). Also, the romantic drama that's followed the marriage doesn't hold a candle to the marriage.

I think Ryan probably remembers the idea of the marriage as being better than the actual stories were. The stories were largely unreadable.

The stories were largely unreadable to you. I'll also note that by "stories" do you mean all the stories that came out during the marriage era or stories that focused on the marriage?

The marriage era in general was uninteresting, uninspired storytelling. There is nothing that stands out to me, other than the excellent Fraction annual, and some JMS stuff. McFarlane's stuff did not age well.

Ben, you didn't think the Clone Saga was innovated inspired writing?



To this day, I've still never read the Clone Saga.

So how can you legitimately say that the marriage sucked/there were no good stories when you didn't read a bunch of it?

I don't think reading the Clone Saga is going to swing me in the other direction.

Fair enough, though I doubt your lack of reading was restricted to just the Clone Saga. 

For my part, I think that Ben Reilly, the single Spider-Man, was more interesting than the married one during the Clone Saga, though that has all to do with his completely different personality and almost little to do with being single.

Many stories that focused on the marriage, especially J.M. DeMatteis stuff, was brilliant. JMS, DeFalco, and even Mackie and McFarlane also crafted great stories during the marriage era. Some stories were more marriage-centric and others had absolutely nothing to do with the marriage. PETER PARKER: SPIDER-MAN #95 is a great example of how the marriage could be used and how it could be avoided all in one issue. The issue starts out with Pete and MJ and moves to Pete and Betty Brant seamlessly (and then ends with Norman and Peter stuck in an elevator).

It's that same large and interesting supporting cast that got shoved out of the way for Mary Jane "the wife". More time had to be spent developing her, since her character was flimsy at best: party girl with a troubled past. They'd get into arguments and make up on the same page, to introduce tension, but not too much, because they're married now. It added nothing to the books and took a whole lot away.

Mary Jane's main "problem" is the same as most supporting characters in that she's only interesting in how she interacts with the main character. The mistake was that they tried to elevate her to a main character, with her own subplots, and she wasn't capable of that.

I agree with your assertion regarding supporting characters. MJ is about as great as she is when she interacts with Peter. As kid and a young adult, I enjoyed those interactions and you didn't.

Ben, I know you love Gwen Stacy. Do you think she would have made a good wife for Peter instead of Mary Jane?



I don't agree with Peter being married at all, Gwen or not. If Marvel had decided to marry Peter and Betty Brant at some point, then the results would have been the same. Either way, the only thing about the characters that make them worthy of attention above and beyond a regular supporting character is being Spidey's girl, not the characters on their own merits. Not to say they don't have their own merits, but nothing beyond supporting status.

Wait, what about Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane? They had their own series that ran for decades. And what about the Black Cat?

I said "most" supporting characters. Some obviously can and have made the jump to main character status. I would argue in the case of Lois and Jimmy, that those books would not survive in today's comic market. Black cat is a possibility, depending on the creative team, because she is a costumed adventurer. That's the key difference. But it needs the right approach

Ryan, you mention that the marriage was the logical next step in the progression of Peter, and that you think 28 is a good age for Peter to be stuck in. For someone like Spider-Man, who's going to keep going well and well after our kids give their kids their comics, doesn't that kind of make him stuck as well?

There's an important distinction to make. The marriage was "a" logical next step, not "the" next logical step. As for age, I like Spidey to be a bit older. I'm fine with him being 25 (as that is a bit older) but you bring up a good point. Whether its 25 or 27 or 28 the character is going to be stuck at that age. If so, why not put him at an age where he simultaneously feels young and old. I suppose 25 is fine. The age thing doesn't bother me like it bothers others. The only time it really bothers me is when the character acts "younger" than he should, both as Spider-Man and as Peter Parker.

The marriage could be perceived as a logical next step, but that doesn't mean it was a good decision creatively.

Ben discovered him when he was single, Ryan when he was married, and I started reading him in that limbo period in between. At the same time, Ben likes Peter single, Ryan likes him married, and I don't really care about him being married or not, though I just find the stories where he is single more entertaining. How much of our views on Spider-Man do you think has to do with how early we discovered him?

I think it has everything to do with it. I discovered Pete when he was married. That's "my" status quo.

I think when you discover the character probably forms a majority of your view of the character for the rest of your time reading the books. It can't be a coincidence I love single Spidey, Black Cat, Hobgoblin, Cloak and Dagger, so much. Mary Jane is largely absent during that time period as well.

ONE MORE DAY
and
BRAND NEW DAY

If I remember right, Ben, during that time period, MJ was being used as a monkeywrench, kind of a way to really screw up what's going on in Peter's life. Moving on from that, I wasn't there, and you were both there for it — what did you think of ONE MORE DAY — just ONE MORE DAY, the story?



I knew exactly where OMD was going and how they were going to undo it, I just thought it was going to be Dr. Strange doing the undoing instead of Mephisto. I don't have any moral problem with how it went down, I just think the rationale for Mephisto to do it was weak, and the dialogue worse. Believe it or not, I was hesitant to see the marriage end, but I was intrigued by the little snippet at the end.

As a self-contained What if? story, OMD was cool. I liked the whole "alternative Parker" and the desperation Peter felt. I loved BACK IN BLACK and how that led to OMD. I appreciated just how dark the book got. With that said, I knew what was coming. I knew the marriage was ending and even then, I realized the marriage had to end. The problem with OMD was BND.

What did you think of Brand New Day as you were first reading it, and what do you think of it now in retrospect? Name some pros and cons.

I didn't read the entirety of BND because of how bad certain parts of BND were. As a subscriber, I tried to drop the book immediately after OMD happened. For some reason, I got the first three months of BND free. I wonder if Marvel subscriptions realized there might be a backlash and tried to keep as many subs as they could. Probably not, I might have just gotten lucky, for lack of a better word.

The first page of BND was enough to make me sick. Not only does Peter not remember his past, he also doesn't remember who he is. I mean "macking with some chick"? Wow... just wow... I can't remember what else happened in those first couple of months. I was mortified by it all. Yes mortified. The character that i grew up reading and loving for years and years and years had changed. I personally felt he was ruined. I was angry and sad and I felt betrayed. And then... I...ah...got over it. But that took the whole three years.



I liked the opening of BND, but I was a big McNiven fan at the time, so that was an influence. Overall I just felt like Spider-Man was back to being the lighthearted jovial character I remembered, it felt right. JMS had taken things so dark and so troubled and so far away from a character I enjoyed anymore. It was trauma after trauma, with super serious dialogue.

I enjoyed the start of BND so much that I was determined to support it, even though future storylines were admittedly not very good. Bob Gale wrote some horrible stuff. Menace was dumb. Freak was laughable. The often-mentioned Paper Doll arc was a highlight. I was starting to waver in my resolve, but then NEW WAYS TO DIE came out, they wrapped up all the garbage tracer-killer and Menace stuff, and I was fully onboard after that.  



As BND continued I picked up issues here and there. "Peter Parker, Paparazzi" was the first arc i liked. Dan Slott graciously signed a copy at NYCC for me. NEW WAYS TO DIE was the next arc. I liked it but was upset that Norman didn't know who Peter was. I just think that's dumb. I tuned in for ASM 600 because I knew MJ was coming back. Again, with the exception of 604, I was mortified. It seemed Dan and Steve just really didn't give a shit about MJ/marriage fans. I understand why certain fans are pissed. I was pissed back then too. After issue 622, the worst single Spider-Man issue I've ever read in my life, I left Spidey till GRIM HUNT. I read ONE MOMENT IN TIME (OMIT). Mortified. Again, just no respect. And yes, I'll use respect, respect your fan base that keeps you afloat. Still, OMIT did what I needed it to do. It perserved as much continuity as it could. I didn't read the end of BND. It seemed right not to. I enjoyed certain issues of BND. I did, but looking back, I can easily and confidently say it's my least favorite era of Spider-Man ever.

It's also worth noting that I had zero online presence until ONE MOMENT IN TIME. I had no influences either way from online sites.

Unlike you guys, I hadn't been reading Spider-Man when OMD happened. It was the one story you both liked — the Paper Doll arc by Dan Slott and Marcos Martin — that got me into it. Martin drew me in with his artwork and Slott kept me with the characterization. Leading me to ask, how much did Slott's issues of BND stick out to you? Was he the right person to take over the series as a regular writer?

Slott and Van Lente had some great issues thrown in the mix during BND. I'd say Slott's my favorite writer out of the group. He seems to write Peter consistently and his "take" on Peter is close enough for my "take" on Peter. Reading Dan's interviews helped me get back into Spider-Man for Big Time. I was at a place where I was going to leave the character and, subsequently, the (CBR) boards for a long long while, or I was going to give Big Time a shot. I was sick of complaining. I had made my points. Dan's good will at NYCC also made me scratch my head and think, "Why not give this guy a shot? He's a good man." So Dan Slott is definitely my Spidey guy out of the BND group of writers. Not just for that stuff, but the PaperDoll arc, and NEW WAYS TO DIE are great Spidey stories. Bravo sir. By the way, one out of two of those stories work if Pete's married. Just saying.

I always thought Slott's stuff was the best, I'd look for his name on the book. I thought he "got" the character going back to his SPIDER-MAN/HUMAN TORCH mini. I also liked Waid's and Joe Kelly's stuff. I loved the Black Cat stuff. Sure, it was a "regression", but that's when the character was at her best.

From SPIDER-MAN/HUMAN TORCH by Dan Slott and Ty Templeton

What does everyone think of post-OMD MJ?

I don't find her likable. I wonder if MJ's poor characterization is done on purpose. It's that bad. The first we see of her is with some toolbag named Bobby Carr? She's been portrayed horribly throughout BND and BIG TIME. I'm disappointed, as one of the reasons I returned for BIG TIME was to see MJ in the "confidante role" Dan Slott said she'd be in. To this point, that's been a complete lie on Dan's part. Irks me a bit too. 

I don't see a purpose for her to be around. All it does is piss off the fans that want them married, and I personally don't care if she's in the book or not, so who are you satisfying in this case? I don't believe the scenes with her are as offensive as some perceive them to be though.

We'll get to one of those scenes in a bit — what about Carlie Cooper, Peter's new girlfriend?



Carlie Cooper is an interesting thing. I think people were bound to hate the next girl regardless.

Carlie just sucks. This character is a mess. Her hair got longer and her boobs got bigger because dudes on the Internet complained she looked like a dude (myself included). 

The McNiven version is my baseline for the character, so all the subsequent times she was drawn like a boy I just chalk up to bad art.

If I hear her called CSI sleuth one more time, I'll—there's nothing interesting about this character. Everything she does annoys me, even the roller derby thing. Everything!

I knew she was slated to be the next girl from the beginning, but they messed up by stalling it for so long. The character was kind of stuck waiting in limbo for them to decide to put them together. I really don't like or dislike her, I'm ambivalent.

I see no connection between these characters. No intimacy. MJ and Peter had that. They had history. They endured Gwen's death together. She stayed with him that night. They had something going in, and they built on it. Even Ben admits that JMS wrote a nice marriage between the two. The dialogue created an intimate loving environment. A nice place to go when the Sinister Six are trying to kill you.

I will admit that the more people blast her online, the more I want to like her. I agree with Ryan in that he shouldn't be tied to one girl. Defeats the purpose of him not being married.

BIG TIME



How much were you looking forward to Big Time?

I was already high on the book, so it wasn't overwhelming anticipation for Big Time, just the next book to get. I was excited to see Dan Slott getting the full reins.

I was looking forward to Big Time because I wanted to see how it would differ from OMD. I read Slott interviews, and some of the themes Dan talked about seemed pretty neat. So I was pretty excited.

How has Big Time, as a whole, been so far to you?

I'm a little behind on Big Time. Overall, it's been good to excellent of what I've read. It's stumbled a bit lately while Slott works on Spider-Island.

As a whole, Big Time has been good. Not great. Not bad. Good. I have issues with every issue, but for every negative aspect I discern, there's a positive aspect. For example, I have no idea why Caselli draws Peter like a Jersey Shore character, but his action scenes are stunning and his Spider-Man is awesome. I don't like how easygoing the Horizon job is, but I like that he's working in science.

I can't help what I don't like. I don't actively look for things to dislike. That's just not the way I live my life. What I can do is find the good in the book, the good that doesn't jump off the page. It's there. Life's like that, and comics are no different. Oh and I love love love love love the new Hobgoblin and the concepts underlying it. Bravo, Dan Slott!!!

What artists from BND do you wish stuck around during Big Time? (Mike McKone for me)

Mike McKone definitely. I loved his Spider-Man. Chris Bachalo. His SHED work made me a fan of his when I never was before, to the point where now he's a favorite, but I think he's just gotten better and better too.

I know he wasn't a big part of BND, but Steve McNiven is just amazing. Maybe my favorite artist in the industry. Paolo Rivera's up there. Wish they kept Barry Kitson.

What elements of BND that Slott erased did you wish would stay?

Peter being single. He needs to play the field. Carlie stinks!

I've seen Slott's portrayal of Peter's sense of humor both praised as "funny" (by poeople like me) and criticized as "overly buffoonish and obnoxious" (by other people). Obviously a wise-ass like Peter will draw these kinds of reactions, but how do you personally feel?


His jokes have tended to be a little more crude than they probably have been historically in the book, but that's my kind of sense of humor so it doesn't stand out for me.

I guess I'm in the middle on this. Sometimes it's funny and sometimes it's buffoonish. Overall, I think Dan's good regarding Pete's humor.

You guys have already answered this partly, but what did you think of the new job as a scientist at Horizon Labs?

I thought, "This can be pretty cool if it's done right." I'm glad Peter has a job. I'm glad it's in science. I'm glad he's making tech. But the execution was off. See, Jonathan Hickman knows how to write science in comic books. It's not Dan's strong point. A guy like Peter Parker has a brilliant scientific mind, but he doesn't know everything. He's centered in the applied sciences, mainly physics with a little bio and chem thrown in. I don't know where he became knowledgeable in rocket science or technology. Anyway, just a pet peeve. Science doesn't work like that. You just don't know everything. Life doesn't work like that.

The job on its surface shouldn't work, but it's been a platform for some good stories so far. I didn't get too hung up on the "sciency" scientist stuff, because it doesn't need to be realistic for me. But yeah, in comics, science is pretty broad. It's basically shorthand for knowing everything as needed.

I don't love the Horizon move because it's too "great" of a job. He comes and goes as he pleases and makes suits at no cost and doesn't show up for days on end. It's too perfect for the hard-luck hero. I know that Dan knows this. I don't expect Horizon to last too long.

I have a feeling Horizon is going to end badly for him.

It's different than Tri-Corp though. (Note: Tri-Corp is another laboratory in which Peter Parker worked in times past.) Some complainers tried to tie the two together. It's different. 

But Peter's smart. He should use his brain.

Yeah, on top of having all these awesome powers he's smart too. And that's what Peter Parker has to offer to Spider-Man.


The new Hobgoblin! You both love him. Elaborate! 



I love the new Hobgoblin. I think he's the best new villain to come out of Spider-Man in the last 15 years! Urich is Pete's age. He's what Peter could have been if he was a loser. I just hope he stays twisted. I don't want him to be another Eddie Brock. I want him to stay evil. I want him to get worse. I really think this character has the potential to be one of the greatest Spidey villains of all time. He's Pete's age. They've known each other for years. Phil is all the power with none of the responsibility. I think he's great. Like I said, I just hope he doesn't get all good or for some writer to justify why he's f*cked up. Just make him f*cking evil. That's why I liked Morlun. He just wanted to kill Spider-Man. That's it. Peter has to win. The stakes are up. And Phil is twice Morlun because he's an actual character with thoughts and feelings and ambitions (evil and sexual ones) and he views the Hobgoblin as a means to achieve these things.

The new Hobgoblin is great. Those that know me know Hobby was my  number 1 favorite villain as a kid, so if I can move past Roddy's "death?" anyone can. I was a little disappointed at first, but this version has a lot of potential. And the whole reveal of Kingsley as the one true Hobgoblin was more about reestablishing the tone of those early appearances, before he became a joke, than it ever was about Kingsley. I mean, when I read HOBGOBLIN LIVES, I didn't even remember the guy!

(Note: The Hobgoblin was introduced by Roger Stern and John Romita Jr. in the 80s, and his identity was kept under wraps for so long, never really being revealed as Roderick Kingsley until HOBGOBLIN LIVES in the mid-late 90s. The replacement of him with Phil Urich caused a stir on the Internet.)

Hobgoblin's motto is "With great responsibility come great power." Do you think that there's credence to the theory that Peter's best villains are twisted reflections of himself? (Doc Ock is what he would have been if he didn't have an Aunt May, Norman is the exact opposite of what he is...)

I think it speaks directly to your point on how great Spidey villains are really twisted versions of Peter/Spider-Man.

Urich has lots of promise, especially as his obsession with Norah continues to grow. I just read the scene with them and Randy at JJJ's press conference. Chilling stuff.
 

After all the work that Dan puts in in the initial story to make it look like the Jamesons are back together to stay, did it make the ending of the next storyline more effective for you?

No, from reading interviews I actually predicted that Marla was going to die. She was easy to kill off. It gave us a great issue in 655 but it felt a bit... I don't know... unnecessary/unbelievable. I just don't believe Peter would take Marla's death that hard. And I didn't care that Marla died. Who cares about Marla Jameson?

I really don't care about Marla. Rereading the opening arc of BIG TIME recently, I almost forgot she was the one that got Peter the job. But the execution of 655 overwhelms any underwhelming feelings about the forecasted death. The characters cared about her, and it was one of the more mind-bending comics in recent memory. It's one comic I will never forget reading for the first time.




655 was great, but it wasn't original. Those stories were Peter laments about all the people he's let down or people that have died because of him... those stories have been done. PETER PARKER: SPIDER-MAN #95 is a great example, and that was late 90s stuff.

While I don't think the whole idea of Peter lamenting about the people he's let down is particularly original, I think the storytelling here was really new, and that's Marcos Martin just plain running with the ball. Dan writes plot-first, so I imagine much of the pacing and pretty much all of the layouts are done by the artist. How much does each of you value the art over the basic premise/plot of the story? Because I think it was Marcos Martin that really carried the bulk of what made the issue special.


As much as writers have become the superstars of the industry this past decade, comic books are still a visual medium, so I think the artist has to carry the bulk of the workload in terms of the final product. In the case of 655, with the majority of the story being a dream, it left Marcos Martin free to experiment and use all sorts of layouts and techniques. He really sold the dream aspect for me, unlike maybe some other stories where they just color the panels in a blue shade to let you know it's a dream. At worst, story and art should be an even split.

655 was a good book. My point was we've seen Peter lament before. We'll see him lament again. This was a good "lament" story. Marcos Martin really knocked it out of the park. I like how Dan threw Charlie in there. That was great. My fundamental problem with 655 was believability. I just don't think Peter would be that distraught over Marla Jameson dying. I don't know. He should be upset. I just thought it was overkill.

After Marla died, we see a whole other side of J. Jonah Jameson. We've seen this side before in other runs, but it's rare that he's ever shown to be this emotional, this compassionate. We're led to believe this will lead to a reconciliation of sorts with Spider-Man, but because they now have different policies on how to handle criminals (Jonah wants extreme force, Spider-Man says no one dies). Was anyone disappointed?

I never really expect Jonah to take it easy on Spider-Man, so I had no expectations otherwise.

I was disappointed, because I've never found the Spider-Man/JJJ relationship all that compelling. The Peter Parker/JJJ relationship was much more compelling till BND when they became family. I'm sick of JJJ at this point.

What do you think of the new costumes?

I've liked the new costumes. They seem to genuinely come from a place of story, instead of action figure directives.

He's an inventor, yes, and he should invent. But going from web-shooters to whole costumes is ridiculous. The voice-activated web-shooters make more sense.


The Massacre storyline is the most serious one, in terms of tone, in Slott's run so far. Do you think it fits in thus far with what he's doing? I always felt like he was trying to bring Spider-Man back to a more lighthearted place, so this was kind of a shock to me.

It's interesting that the more success Peter Parker gets, the more hell Spider-Man seems to be going through. I wonder if this is a concerted effort by Slott to keep a balance in the book. Perfect job, new girlfriend as Peter. Spider-Man loses his spider-sense, Marla dies, Johnny Storm dies, et cetera.

It fit in but it was kind of silly. The whole "nobody dies around me anymore" thing... First off, if anyone knows they can't control death, it should be Peter Parker. It's just a silly thing to say. Peter's smart enough to know he can't control these things. And wouldn't Gwen's death be enough for him to say something like this anyway? Why is Marla the straw here?

Following that, we get another rather emotional issue where Peter deals with the death of the Human Torch and we have ourselves three short stories, each related by a member of The Fantastic Four. My big thing with this issue is that it had Marcos Martin and Ty Templeton in the same book, which to me was dead awesome. Thoughts on this issue?

Awesome artwork by Ty Templeton.

This is one of my favorite issues of BIG TIME. Well written and well illustrated. I also liked the nod to ASM #1 in the first couple of pages in the book. Beautiful cover too. But the next issue, the two-parter with the FF, I feel this is when the book loses all momentum. I'm not of fan of Spidey in the FF. With that said, I love what Hickman's doing. I didn't like the arc in ASM. The first issues weren't too bad but the last one was horrendous. The suit is meh.

I know Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four have history all the way back to the beginning, but I really don't think he fits with them. So these issues have been my least favorite so far. I think Spider-Man in the Avengers even makes more sense than FF. I can't explain why. I guess I still think of FF as a famiily book. I love Hickman's run too, so it's a weird disconnect for me.

Interesting, Ben - I never thought Peter fit with the Avengers. He seems right at home in FF, but I admit that a big part of that is the SPIDER-MAN/HUMAN TORCH mini from a few years back.

I think he works well with the Human Torch, because they're practically complete opposites. but as a member of the FF, seems like an altnernate universe story. The Avengers makes more sense to me because the Avengers always should have been the best of the best.

Peter's always been a loner hero. I'd like to see him leave the Avengers.

The FF comic is also the one where we get that "continuity gaffe" about Peter's FF costume. (Note: the FF comic and the AMAZING SPIDER-MAN comic produced two different scenes where Spider-Man gets his FF costume.)

The scene as it is in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN

That caused another stir on the Internet, although I don't really see how or why casual non-hardcore readers would care. (I don't even care.) Should continuity be treated stringently? Should this gaffe have been caught?

Continuity is a tool that should be used to help enhance stories. Once you've gotten to the point that you nitpick every conflict, it's getting too much attention. Marvel used to make conflicts fun, by having fans explain them away for a no-prize. Now it's just tedious and annoying when the fans that have lost any sense of wonder try to pick apart every perceived disconnect between books. What's the point? Congrats, you're superperceptive.

I can't believe that was even a thing. Who cares? I'm with you and Ben 100% on this question. I love continuity as much as the next guy, but it should be treated loosely. Not that I'm endorsing retcons....

This is also the infamous "Carlie Cooper gets a tattoo" story. I thought it was a fun diversionary subplot, but as with anything involving Carlie Cooper, this was really divisive. What did each of you think?


The nerds online blow everything about Carlie so far out of proportion that it's ridiculous. Slott left the tattoo as a purposeful cliffhanger, and they fell right in line perfectly with what he wanted.

The Carlie Cooper subplot with the tattoo sucked. It was just really stupid and I found it really weird that Peter was turned on by the Spidey Tattoo. I cannot stand this character. There's nothing to like.

This is also were they take their relationship to the next level, just in time for Spider-Island, isn't it? What did you think of it at the time, and what do you think of it now that it may be an actual plot point that contributes to Spider-Island?

I'm a big perv, so I'm always glad to see my favorite characters get some action.

The FF arc is also when we start getting the "Infested" backups, showing people around New York getting superpowers. In the first one, we see the return of the Jackal. Thoughts on this would be particularly interesting, since Ben has never read the Clone Saga and Ryan was there for it.

My main memories of the Jackal are obviously the original clone saga, where I just found his obsession with Gwen Stacy creepy and wrong, and even as a kid I hoped he wasn't "using" that clone for anything. Original clone saga was great, by the way. I understand he became more like the 60s TV show version of the Joker in the Clone Saga? Which I didn't read, so I'm coming back to the character pretty fresh, with a untainted version in my head.

He came back as the Joker, but I dunno about the 60s version. I talk about it here a bit.

The Infested minis have been awesome. Seeing The Jackal gave me chills. Great character because he has a healthy hate for Peter and Spider-Man. I'm excited for Spider-Island, in a weird disconnected way because I don't like the idea of people getting Spider-Powers so easily. Pete's a freak of nature, a crazy experiment that just went right. Still, it looks great and having Miles Warren back can only be a good thing.

One of the Infested backups has a married guy saying how he can't get involved in saving people from a fire, even though he has superpowers, because it would be too irresponsible. Earlier in BIG TIME, we also had that one page gag of Peter and MJ laughing at the thought of living together. 

I thought this was really funny. A lot of fans did not.

And of course, there's the Carlie Cooper tattoo thing. Do you think Slott purposely does things sometimes to respond to critics of this new direction, and if so, how do you feel about it?

I don't know if he's specifically reacting to message board complaints, or if it just seems that way because we get direct contact with him and his views on the characters. Obviously, that's how he views the characters, whether it's coming through in the work, or he's discussing them online. I hope he is though, because I tend to believe the more vocal detractors of the book are definitely still buying it each month.

I think if you're going to do things like that, don't freak out in CBR when people complain about it. The scene with the married guy was a clear shot at the marriage. And it was stupid too. I want to make my family proud of me. I have that personal responsibility to my family to do the right thing, and in that case, the right thing for me at least, is to save children from burning alive with my new spider-powers. 
 

I don't know why Dan did that? Maybe to keep the Internet talking. Things quited down a bit during the FF and Avengers Academy arcs. The book went into cruise control for Spider-Island during that period.

Dan and Steve spend a lot of time on CBR, talking to the fans, and dealing with some, shall we say, really hardcore fans with one view for the direction of the book. What are your opinions on them dong this? It seems to me that Steve just manages to brush it off, but Dan tends to be more sensitive about it.

Dan takes it personally. And we all understand why. It's the man's work. I'm glad he's passionate about it. Sometimes though, and this is true to both of them, I don't know why they engage in circular debate with the same old guys. Ultimately, how they spend their time is non of my business.

Dan Slott is just sticking up for his book. He does seem to take some of the stuff personally, but I can't really say I wouldn't either. I'd probably get more offended by seemingly unreasonable criticism of my creative efforts, to the point I'd probably not go to comic websites. So I appreciate them both interacting with fans like they do, even the nasty ones.


And it's not that Steve Wacker brushes it off, it's that he really doesn't care. His position, as I see it, is we put the books out. We try to put the best books out that we possibly we can. We hope you like it. We hope you buy it. If you don't you don't. I think he has a lot of fun with some of the detractors. We used to go at it. I used to have with it. Sometimes I crossed the line, sometimes I felt he did but what, can you expect? I was going at him regarding his work. Things are going to come up. So yeah, even when the surface is scratched, he brushes it off.

Wacker mailed me a giant box of comics while I was in Korea. (Note: Ben is in the US Air Force and was stationed in Korea for a year.)  I mailed him back some arm patches from some of our pilots for his son. He’s a good dude.

Believe it or not, Wacker actually sent me a bunch of comics to my house in New Jersey. We were CBRing one night and talking about Ultimate Spider-Man. He told me he'd send me some of the stuff he read. He sent me that and more. How awesome is that? I hope I run into him at Comic-con to thank him. I gotta get tickets.

Wacker never sends me anything. Rassmfrassm. Anyway, After the FF stuff, we get two issues written by Christos Gage which felt, to me, like an advertisement for AVENGERS ACADEMY. It was followed by the two-part "Wraith" story with the ghost of Jean DeWolff. It felt like a good done-in-two story to me. How do you think Christos handled Spider-Man?


I thought I was going to hate those issues but I actually really liked them. I enjoyed how Pete missed teaching and wanted to teach again. It was cool... except for the giant monster at the beginning of the arc. I don't like Spider-Man fighting all these big giant stupid things with the FF and Avengers. This character works best fighting low level street thugs, crime lords, and guys like Shocker and Boomerang, which is exactly what the Wraith story was and that's why it worked and kicked some ass. The Wraith is a perfect example of what works in Spidey comics. There was something for everyone. Older fans got a little continuity. Newer fans got Anti-Venom. Guys like me get 'em both. We get crime lords and low-level thugs and guys like Anti-Venom and a new Wraith. Really enjoyed these issues.

These issues were okay, but definitely had felt like filler stories as the main team prepares for Spider-Island.

The next issue is even more self-contained - a done-in-one story featuring Betty Brant and focusing on Peter's inability to really be there for his friends. Thoughts?



I did not like the Betty Brant issue. For one, it seemed like a direct rehash of a previous story, I think it was the Obama issue, and I'm tired of the "Peter is never there for his friends" angle, at least as the plot for entire issues. Plus, it focuses on Betty getting mugged, which is supposed to make us what, feel mad at Peter, feel bad for Betty? I don't understand the entertainment factor at play in that type of story. Good character bits, but not a full story there.

I liked the Betty Brant issue. It makes me wonder why Pete doesn't make more time for MJ? Pete and Betty have chemistry. I like these two together. Maybe she'll be there for him when Carlie dies in Spider-Island.

Do you two ever find it fascinating how much you disagree on this character that you both love so much? I mean, even right down to the Betty Brant issue, you two disagree.

There's Spider-Man from a mythos perspective. The nerd who gets bit and looks for fame and shrugs responsibility and his uncle dies because he didn't do the right thing. It's a Twilight Zone episode, a really good one. I think we all agree on the core of the character and at the core, Spider-Man is about a kid who messes up. Stan Lee aged Peter and the character has been through so many eras, so many decades, I'm not surprised at all that we could disagree on certain aspects of the character now, after everything the character's been through.

I don't find it fascinating really. Ryan is just always wrong.

I thought May was ridiculous in the backup story. She needs to leave and thankfully, she is. I liked the back-up with Pete and MJ. I didn't like May telling Pete that "now" he's ready to be on his own. That's regression and bad writing. He was living with May in Avengers fucking mansion with his wife. Even in this new continuity, Pete and MJ lived together in a couple of different places.

I can't be the only one who thinks May leaving is just a temporary thing. It would be incredibly stupid to see her with Spider-powers, but does anyone else think JJJ Sr. is staying? I still think it's only a matter of time before he dies.

Now that you mention it, it does seem like Aunt May is exiting to avoid Spider-May, which I now want to read. She leaves from time to time though, so it's not unprecedented. And it's only a matter of time before JJJ Sr. bites it.

JJJ Sr. is going to go away eventually. that's the thing with modern super-hero comics. I feel that, eventually, everything is reset back to the mythos, or as close to the mythos as you can get. So that's Pete single and young and May at his side, a widow.

Spider-Island. Let's talk about it! What's everyone expecting to see? What's everyone looking forward to? Is anyone getting all the tie-ins?

I'm looking forward to Spider-Island. I'm expecting fun. I'm hoping Carlie loses her powers at an inopportune time. I'm predicting Kaine coming back as Tarantula. I'm predicting he's going to kill Miles Warren's Tarantula. I'm not buying the tie-ins. I could care less what Cloak and Dagger are up to.

I'm looking forward to Spider-Island a lot. I love Humberto Ramos, and it'll be cool to see a Spider-Man centered mini-event. I'll definitely be getting the Cloak and Dagger stuff, I'm not sure what else is involved, but I'm sure I'll give everything a look.

I'm looking forward to more MJ. I just hope she isn't characterized poorly.



Who's been your favorite Spider-Man artist during Big Time and why? For me, it's a tossup between Martin and Templeton. Martin's got the design sense I love so much, but I'm just a sucker for clean, thick, black inks.

Humberto Ramos, hands down. He's stepped his game up and really become a favorite of mine. I think he's just continued to get better and better.



Ryan Stegman floored me. Absolutely floored me. I hope we get more of him in the future.



I was disappointed by Stegman. I like some of his previous work too.

Stegman told me he was dissapointed in you. We all are.

Impossible!

ANYWAY, one final question: Ditko or Romita?


How could I pick between them two? Ah.... Ditko. So much of Pete is the everyman thing and Ditko was a big part of that in drawing him, well... rather ugly. And he created the costume and drew the Master Planner Arc. Yep. Ditko.

I prefer Ditko myself; there was just a quirkiness that I felt was more unique and effective.

I cannot pick between Ditko and Romita. I just can't.

Thanks for taking the time to answer all these questions, guys. With that, I say, BRING ON SPIDER-ISLAND!

To keep up with Dan Slott's run so far, you may want to read the following:

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