All Access recently had the chance to talk to Dan Slott about his work on Amazing Spider-Man, the forthcoming Superior Spider-Man, and the controversy over the events of Amazing Spider-Man #700. He also discussed what it meant to be writing the character he grew up loving as well as communicating with men he once considered idols.
Dan Slott started his career writing property adaptations for cartoons such as Looney Tunes, Ren and Stimpy, and others, which his father often read. But when he was brought in to write for Marvel comics in 2004 and turned his focus to super-hero books, his father rarely if ever picked them up. As Slott puts it, they just weren't his speed.
But a week before its scheduled release and in anticipation of all the mainstream media coverage, Slott sent him an advanced copy of Amazing Spider-Man #700, which featured the controversial death of Peter Parker at the hands of Doctor Octopus after a long and intricate plot that saw the two swapping brains. His father called him later that day. Slott answered the phone and before he could even ask, his father gave him his response to the comic.
"Why did you do that to Spider-Man?!"
It's a query he's been bombarded with since the issue was released last week. It's one of those questions that isn't really a question so much as a statement in and of itself, expressing a combination of incredulity and despair. Yet there's also a bit of intrigue in that response, too.
Which leads to the simple answer: it drives up interest. Marvel is anything if not ambitious, and tends to lean towards controversy rather than stray from it. It's part of what's kept them alive in the print industry while stalwart publications like Newsweek
have ceased publication and other magazines have shuttered their doors entirely.
"We don't go small," Slott explained. "When you're coming up on the 700th issue and the end of [Spider-Man's] 50th anniversary, you go for high drama and high opera."
He insists this is the new status quo. This Spider-Man will be the Spider-Man that pops up across titles like Superior Spider-Man and the team-up book Avenging Spider-Man, January's issue of Daredevil, and the various Avengers titles.
Although the reveal of a brain swap between Peter Parker and Otto Octavius came in issue #698 (released late in November), the story actually began three and a half years ago in the 600th issue of Spider-Man. In the issue it was revealed that the title character's longtime arch-nemesis, Doctor Octopus, was dying. Ock launched into a series of desperate, nefarious plans, one of which involved him employing the same technology he used to control his arms to take over all machinery and tech in New York City. He was defeated when Spider-Man used the technology against him, which defeated Doc Ock but also gave him access to Peter Parker's brain waves. And in most of their subsequent encounters, Ock forced Spider-Man to use the technology again and again, giving Doc Ock more information on his brain waves and the keys to his mind.
Slott looks at the two characters as shadows of each other. Both incorporate eight-legged creatures in their motifs and have their origins in radioactive accidents. But they're also, and perhaps more importantly, outcasts in their respective peer groups. They're both ostracized and, at least at the outset, both are out to exact some form of revenge or retribution against those who mocked and dismissed them.
"One of the things you hear Peter say in Amazing Fantasy #15 is 'some day they'll all be sorry they laughed at me," Slott explained. "One day I'll show them all."
But as we all know from reading countless comics, television series, and films that have recounted the origin, Peter experiences tragedy as a result of his inaction and learns the lesson that with great power comes great responsibility. In the pages of Amazing Spider-Man #700, Doc Ock (occupying Spider-Man's body) absorbs this tragedy from Peter Parker's memories and finds himself suddenly feeling the same guilt, remorse, and moral quandaries. It compels him to start doing the right thing.
"The difference is that Peter learned, very early on, the lesson that with great power comes great responsibility," Slott said. "So it's going to be interesting to see how Doc Ock carries on now that he's finally learned that too."
THE REACTION & TWITTER HIATUS
Despite the insistence of angry fans, it's not a story that came on a whim or easily. It's a well thought out and intricate plotline, executed with precision and a purpose. Still, fan reaction has ranged from intrigue to outright vitriol.
But Dan Slott was prepared. Seeing the reactions so many other creators encountered online in the last few years, he thought it best to take a hiatus from social media sites (particularly twitter) starting the day the issue was released until the release of Superior Spider-Man #1 (starring the new Octavius-occupied Spidey) on January 13th.
Yet he's conscious of the fact that even those who seem angered by the move are still intrigued enough to want to see how it plays out.
"I get a lot of comments and a lot of feedback that have both opinions in the same thing: I love you, I hate you," Slott said. "This is all good, it's all people excited and interested and wondering what's gonna happen next."
It's the hope of the creators behind the project and Marvel as a whole that the intrigue and controversy leads to increased sales and interest in the Spider-Man franchise. That's the whole point: to bring fans in, not drive them away. After all, despite ostensibly murdering Peter Parker, Slott has an enduring love for the character.
"THIS IS THE DREAM JOB."
Slott's enthusiasm shouldn't be interpreted as strictly creative. The first comic he bought at the age of eight was Spider-Man, and he's remained a lifelong devotee since. His online presence features avatars and icons of Spider-Man. He's often seen wearing Spider-Man t-shirts at conventions and public appearances, and that's not for a cheap plug. His instagram username is "Spidey Guy," with a recent photo submitted showing him drinking in public – proudly – out of an older Spider-Man thermos (the picture was captioned "I am so going to murder this cup of coffee"). One imagines his residence adorned with paraphernalia, his bookshelves lined with the web-slinger's various collected editions.
As professional as he tries to be, Slott can't prevent his inner fanboy from slipping out. His demeanor seems to be perpetually jovial and enthusiastic, yet even a simple question about the character and his history elicits a tone of reverence that can't be fabricated by even the most devout method actors.
The fact that he's been able to write over seventy issues of Amazing Spider-Man since he was put on the title in 2008 (which means he's written one of every ten issues of the entire series) puts him in a state of joy and disbelief over what he describes as his dream job. The volume of Spider-Man material he's written puts him just behind Stan Lee and Gerry Conway, both of whom he's had recent interactions with on twitter. When Conway recently tweeted "thank God twitter didn't exist when I threw Gwen Stacy off the bridge," it sparked a conversation between the two where they exchanged mutual admiration for each other's work. It was a conversation that set off Slott's geek endorphins and gave him a natural high.
"Like a giddy idiot I ran over and pulled out my treasury edition of Superman vs. Spider-Man that Gerry wrote and sat down on the bed and read it," he said. "It was like the fountain of youth."
His interaction with Stan Lee came just before Slott's self-imposed hiatus, right on the heels of Lee's 90th birthday. He sent Lee a pre-emptive birthday message. When Lee responded with a jovial zing, it sent Slott into hysterics.
"I wrote back 'I am printing this up now, I am putting it up on the fridge, and that is never coming down'," Slott said.
Lee responded with another tweet, much in the same vein.
"At least you'll have a good piece of writing in your house!"
The real test, though, will come with the release of the first issue of Superior Spider-Man on January 9th. The series' art team include Spider-Man newcomers Ryan Stegman and Giuseppe Camuncoli along with series regular Humberto Ramos, who Slott describes as the "best in comics." He's certainly one of the most prolific, having been one of the key artists behind Amazing Spider-Man since Slott came on board.
"Humberto Ramos was definitely the MVP throughout the entire 'Big Time' run," Slott said in reference to the 2010 storyline where he took over as the sole writer of the book. "He's been the engine in the car that makes us run."
The book has a creative team behind it that is a proven success both in terms of sales and consistency. In the past they've managed to meet expectations of both publishers and fans with a book that was produced on a break-neck bi-weekly schedule. He's confident that once people see and read what they've done with "Superior Spider-Man," they'll understand why they did what they did.
"We have a trick up our sleeves," he said. "And as soon as it comes out people will go "ohhhh" and I can pop up out of the spider-hole."
When he does, for better or for worse, the fans will be waiting.
The Superior Spider-Man #1 comes out in comic shops everywhere Wednesday, January 9th.
For those of you living under a rock this summer, the one and only SPIKE All Access team premiered #700 for the whole world to see. Nice to know we're right smack in the middle of this thing. See moment that started it all…