By Christian Viveros-Fauné
By Miriam Felton-Dansky
By Tom Sellar
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By Jessica Dawson
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By R. C. Baker
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Dan Slott faces his fans. Plus: Spidey's New York!
Think of a smart kid retelling a favorite adventure story. The breathless investment in each beat of the narrative, the tendency to linger over the suspenseful parts, the full, fresh excitement in a form grown-ups dismiss as predictable. That's Dan Slott, leaning in over a late Le Pain Quotidien lunch, telling me all the terrible things he has done to Spider-Man—and all the hell he's getting for it.
"This is 'Oh, my God, John Wilkes Booth is inside Lincoln!'" Slott says. "It's Moriarty inside Sherlock Holmes!"
He's describing the latest, maddest peril he has crafted to torment the now-50-year-old hero and his fans, and he's as giddy as they are agitated. (And, Jesus, they're agitated.) At the cliff-hanger ending of the supersize, gorgeously drawn, surprisingly expensive ($7.99!) Amazing Spider-Man #700, out the last week of December, Spider-Man's brain is trapped in the dying body of Doctor Octopus—while Doctor Octopus's brain has taken over the virile, swinging body of young Spider-Man. And, as always, "swinging" has a dual meaning in the soap opera life of this most lovelorn of superheroes: Access to Spider-Man's body and life also grants Doc Ock access to Peter Parker's, which naturally includes Parker's supermodel ex, Mary Jane Watson.
"They have a date!" Slott says. "And it gets worse!"
Spider-Man pairing up again with Mary Jane has been a cause taken up bitterly by the comic-shop faithful for 155 issues now, ever since Marvel Comics dissolved the couple's marriage with a bit of hocus-pocus in Amazing Spider-Man #545. Reluctant to have a divorced hero, but also tired of having a drearily married one whose wife was forever getting kidnapped, the company contrived to have Mary Jane do a deal with a (literal) devil to scrap the marriage to save the life of Peter Parker's truest longtime love: his doting Aunt May.
So the death threats Slott has lately been receiving on Twitter and YouTube are as much about what he has done to poor Spider-Man as they are about what he's doing to fans dedicated to Spider-Man's 1990s status quo: He's salting the wounds. On Twitter, a reader expressed a desire to "shove a pencil" in Slott's eye; to less playful threats, he tweeted back: "I'm middle-aged and out of shape. I can't take someone in a fight. But I can sue them."
Forking at his quiche lorraine, Slott seems unshaken. "I read them as a positive thing," he says. "We've got them this hooked. A friend showed me this YouTube video that is the equivalent of 'Leave Britney Alone.' This guy is screaming, 'Why have you done this to Spider-Man?' I'm a horrible human being. I've taken fiendish delight in everyone's pain and suffering."
That delight is apparent throughout the 70-odd issues Slott has written since joining the staff of The Amazing Spider-Man. (He is now the comic's head writer.) What's strange about the fanboy outrage Slott has stirred this time is that even his detractors admit the actual comics themselves are good. A typical review of issue 700, on Ain't It Cool News, acknowledges that "the story was handled fairly well" and "hit on some very emotional levels" and even conceded "Maybe, just maybe, it's possible that Dan Slott isn't a total douchebag." Still, the post's author snarls, "Killing off Peter Parker and replacing him with a megalomaniac is quite possibly the worst idea since the clone saga." (If you don't know about Spidey's "clone saga," we'll spare you.)
"We're a crazy medium where people put on skintight costumes, climb up walls, fly, and shoot things out of their eyes," Slott says. "If there's any part of you that goes, 'You can't do a brain swap!' then you should go read Great Expectations." He rattles off a list of other fantastic story lines from his run on Amazing: "If you say, 'You can't give everyone in Manhattan superpowers!' or 'You can't create a doorway that takes you 24 hours into a future where Manhattan is destroyed!' remember, this is the Marvel Universe. We have mutant children raised by talking cows. We have teleporting dogs. It's fun."
It's somewhat fitting that the masked vigilante's 50th anniversary is marked with such discord. After all, in the comics, TV shows, and movies, Spider-Man is perennially detested by the powers that be. (Although "real" New Yorkers, usually central casting construction workers and crane operators, are always there to shout that he's all right.) Here, it is the fans howling for Slott's head and/or eye, fulminating with the recklessness of Spidey-hating newspaper coot J. Jonah Jameson, the flat-topped editor played by J.K. Simmons in the Sam Raimi films. Just as Jameson's Daily Bugle rages that Spider-Man is a "menace," these fans insist that "douchebag" Slott—a man whose apartment is as decked out with Spidey swag as a 10-year-old's bedroom—must hate Spider-Man.
The high-profile cock-up of Julie Taymor's Broadway Spider-Man didn't elicit this crowd's fury. Neither did Hollywood's recent re-re-telling of the hero's origin story. (How many times have even non-Spidey fans had to sit through Uncle Ben's death?) But movies and musicals are less intimate pop experiences than a comic crafted by a handful of creators. As an audience, the couple hundred thousand still ponying up $3.99 per issue are probably closer to the producers of their culture than any other—save maybe those Game of Thrones fans George R. R. Martin has knighted at barbecues.