The Man Who Killed Spider-Man

Dan Slott faces his fans. Plus: Spidey's New York!

United by a ComiCon-bred- intimacy, the creators and readers share a subculture distinguished by two quirks: 1. Dedication to a print art form that remains the headwaters of the superhero digital pop-culture flood, which means it's possible to believe that Spider-Man being ruined in a comic might, via some trickle-down mechanism, ruin him everywhere. 2. The awareness that comics readers are the pool from which future comics creators emerge, which means readers angry at a story's shittiness naturally assume they could do better themselves. At the end of that Ain't It Cool review, the critic—KletusCassiday—pleads with Marvel to replace Slott, adding: "Contact me if you need to. I have a couple stories up my dirty, whiskey-stained flannel sleeve!"

The stories up Slott's sleeve aren't shitty, though. If you read them unencumbered by pre-existing opinions about Peter Parker's marital status, and with an acceptance that wildness is much of the medium's appeal, the trade paperbacks collecting Slott's issues (such as the huge Big Time Ultimate Collection) are as fresh and lively as any in the wall-crawler's half-century. They're as sharply written as top TV and much more inventive than any of the Spider-Man movies, reading at times like a long, riffing "what if" session: What if everyone in Manhattan had the same powers as Spider-Man? What if J. Jonah Jameson became the mayor of New York? What if Peter Parker weren't always hapless and broke?

"Peter Parker always wanted to be a scientist," Slott says, with a degree of feeling for the character that a "total douchebag" would find impossible to muster. "In his very first appearance, he invented his own web-shooters, and after that almost nothing. All these years, he's been a photographer, which, if you think about it, says very little about what Peter Parker can accomplish. He just webs the camera to the wall, and it takes pictures of him as Spider-Man, and that pays his rent. What a horrible, miserable existence. Sure, you saved the city from Doc Ock, but what have you done with your life? When you go to your college reunion, what do you say? 'Yes, I've been taking pictures of Spider-Man. They're kind of blurry and out of focus, and his head is always cropped out.'"

The Amazing Spider-Man #161 (drawn by Andru and Mike Esposito).
Courtesy Marvel Comics Inc.
The Amazing Spider-Man #161 (drawn by Andru and Mike Esposito).
The Amazing Spider-Man #638 (drawn Paolo Rivera).
Courtesy Marvel Comics Inc.
The Amazing Spider-Man #638 (drawn Paolo Rivera).

So Slott let Peter Parker get ambitious—and much less whiny than Tobey Maguire's take on the character. "Now, with Peter's new job at Horizon Labs, when Spider-Man has a problem with a villain, Peter Parker will come up with a scientific solution and them some peaceful application for his new tech—so he can earn his paycheck. He's found a way to have the best of Peter Parker and the best of Spider-Man and have them work in tandem."

Or at least he did, before Parker's brain got trapped in Doctor Octopus's dying body. That story has been gestating for years, Slott says, but a good jump-on point for the curious is Amazing Spider-Man #698, an accessible read for those not fully invested in the Spidey-verse. After #700, Amazing Spider-Man will cease publication for the first time since its launch in 1963. The cancellation—which is certainly temporary—has incensed the incensible, who are (honest to God) arguing over the permanence of changes to a character worth billions to his corporate owners. Reminding them that even Spider-Man's marriage didn't stick would probably just set them off more. This month marks the debut of Slott's new Superior Spider-Man, an ongoing series about the mad Doctor Octopus's adventures in Spider-Man's body—and, quite possibly, in Mary Jane's.

EIGHT LEGS, FIVE BOROUGHS:

The Arachnid Tour of NYC

The Village Voice: What's Mayor Michael Bloomberg doing in the New York of Marvel Comics?

DAN SLOTT: Emptying Mayor J. Jonah Jameson's wastebasket.

Jameson is the mayor in Marvel New York now. He seems to shift, over the years, from the worst of all yellow journalists to a paragon of journalistic integrity.

I blame Frank Miller. That happened in Daredevil. Before that, Jonah was all: "I ate a bad sandwich. Spider-Man! He must have done something to the mayo!" Anything would set him off. "My son went to the moon and came back, and no one threw him a parade. Spider-Man!" The problem for us now is that with the sole exception of The Village Voice, newspapers are irrelevant. Everyone just goes online. We might as well have Jonah making Betamax tapes or playing on his Atari. The fun of Jonah is he's the biggest thorn in Spider-Man's side, so making him mayor of New York—of course."

Is the money Mayor Jameson has to invest in Spider-Slayer robots and armor some sort of commentary on the real NYPD's billion-dollar para-military budget?

I'm going to say yes because it makes me look smart. But the answer is no. It's just Jonah! What's he going to do when he takes over the city? "We need a Spider-Slayer Army!" Obviously!

Was your idea of what New York would be like informed by reading comics?

I've been here almost 20 years, but, yes, when I was growing up in California, my entire image of New York was from Marvel comics. New York is the extra character in any Spider-Man story. When we did Spider-Island, the cause of it was bedbugs. And a lot of the biggest moments in his life are rooted in New York geography: Gwen Stacy being thrown off the Brooklyn Bridge. In the original comic, it's the George Washington Bridge, because of a story point, but the art was clearly the Brooklyn Bridge, and over the years, that's what it's become. In Spider-Island, we had Spider-Man and Mary Jane fighting giant spiders on top of the Empire State Building. That's always been their special spot. His meeting place with the Human Torch is the top of the Statue of Liberty. When he pledged that nobody else would ever die while he is Spider-Man, he was overlooking Washington Square Park. Everywhere you look, there's something that links Spider-Man to physical New York.

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