By Kiel Phegley
It's been a while since Joe Kelly swung through the Marvel Universe for an extended run, but starting with October 29's AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #575, the writer behind fan favorite runs on DEADPOOL and UNCANNY X-MEN leaps into the world of "Brand New Day" with both feet.
Following up on Kelly's short tale in the AMAZING SPIDER-MAN: BRAND NEW DAY—EXTRA issue, the two-part arc drawn by Chris Bachalo zeroes in on mobbed up Spidey villain Hammerhead. And while many may think the large-foreheaded foe a bit hammy, Kelly sets out to make him a meaningful threat. The writer took time to tell us all about it as well as wax philosophical on what has become a legendary run on the Merc' with a Mouth's first solo series.
Marvel.com: The Spider-Man "brain trust" recently held another summit to plan future stories. Was that your first time meeting most of the other guys on the book in person?
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Yeah. Everybody except Marc Guggenheim actually, who was busy with his big ol' TV show. I was kind of bummed because I dig "Eli Stone," but otherwise that was our first time together.
Marvel.com: What was it like being the new kid on the block, so to speak? The brain trust crew seems like a pretty tight nit unit. Did it help having Mark Waid around to get acclimated?
The good thing is that they're not territorial. Everybody is super welcoming, and they're really very generous with their ideas. That was great. And yeah, Mark and I showed up at the same time, and him and I obviously have a long history together. So to that degree, it was really comfortable. I wasn't the only new kid on the block. Mark and I could be the…new/old kids on the block? [Laughs
Marvel.com: Tell me about your history with Spider-Man. Did you have one run of the series that you read growing up that was a big deal for you?
I read Spidey regularly when I was in Junior High, which was around the mid 80's. Lots of John Romita Jr. stuff. I also read a ton of the 70's stuff that an uncle had given me, and I read that over and over when I was young. In a lot of ways that stuff is more informative to me than the stuff I read in the 90's, so for me personally, I try to approach any character that's new to me like a blank slate. I was actually pretty nervous about starting on [AMAZING SPIDER-MAN] because it's one of the characters that I really love. I've genuinely loved him my whole life, and I couldn't wait for the movie, and was always
gah gah over Spider-Man. So it was tough to disassociate my fanboy stuff from my professional stuff. And then I kind of just embraced that a little to keep the good stuff and chuck out the bad stuff. So although I would like to see the Spider-Buggy at some point, it will not be showing up.
And the humor is really important to me. To get to have Spidey wisecracking and ultimately have it be a cover for his being nervous and not just so he has stuff to say, that's something I hope to bring. [I also want to play up] the darker elements of how his stories play out—to surround him by the nasty and surreal to see him rise up. Hammerhead's not really scary, but I thought he was scary. [Laughs
] But to bring that and modernize it for me so that he actually does become a scary character or making the Vulture creepy as hell—taking what I remember as a kid as being scary and make him something really difficult for Spidey to get past so it feels that way for a modern reader, that's the goal.
Marvel.com: While Hammerhead isn't what most folks would consider an "A-list" villain, did using him as your "in" to the story make it easier to get a handle on new guys like Mr. Negative?
I think I came in at the best of all possible times as a writer because the "Brand New Day" stuff has been on the table for [almost] a year at this point. And they've spent this whole year looking forward with those [classic villains] off the table, so they're starting to seep back in. I get the benefit of "hey, it's a new status quo, and we're messing with it and having a good time" and
the opportunity to bring back those classics and mess with them in a new way. And the fans are excited to see them again.
Hammerhead specifically came up because I wasn't entirely sure what I wanted to do as my first story, but I'd just seen "Eastern Promises" and I was really jazzed about the
idea of getting away from the Jimmy Cagney stuff and modernizing him. I pitched that to [editor] Steve [Wacker] and it dovetailed really well into some of the stuff Dan [Slott] was doing with Mr. Negative. It was a good training wheels, two-issue story to get my feet wet and play around in this new world.
Marvel.com: How does Hammerhead push forward the bigger story arc?
Negative basically gives Hammerhead a lease on life. That little story that was in the BRAND NEW DAY special really underscored what I wanted to do. Part of the reason I think Hammerhead doesn't really work is because he's not the Kingpin. He's not a top-tier villain, but people sort of play him that way. Negative's pitch to him was, "I know what you are, and you know what you are. Stop BSing yourself and we can get some work done. You're a guy who breaks things, so let's make that happen. You could break stuff for me." And it really sings to him as a guy who's screwed up every opportunity he's ever had. [Laughs
] So that character bit fit well into what Dan was working on with Mr. Negative, and I ran with it from there.
Marvel.com: When Steve Wacker originally announced that you were coming on the book, he mentioned that one of the reasons you stood out for this gig was your work on DEADPOOL with Ed McGuinness. Since that original run came out, Marvel's given the character multiple series, and he's become one of the most popular new characters of the past 20 years. What's it like to have something you did become so big for the Marvel Universe and still be landing you gigs years later?
I certainly appreciate that. One of the cool things is that you play with these toys and ultimately they belong to somebody else, and to know that you did something that endures and was able to help keep the character afloat—that's really cool to me. What's nice about the DEADPOOL stuff specifically is that people remember the work that I did. It's not just "Why is this guy still around?" It comes back to "Oh yeah, Joe's run," and that's really cool because I love that book. That was my first real series that I felt ownership of. I had started doing DAREDEVIL right before that and never felt super strong ownership of that book, but DEADPOOL was all ours.
Specifically with [editor Matt] Idelson, we just thought the book was going to be cancelled at six issues and we could do whatever we wanted. Nobody was paying attention, nobody cared, and so it was a great time to experiment and goof around and ultimately write a book that I would like to read. It's great that it's still around and people still care. I think the nice thing, or at least I hope that when people look at the context of my writing career, it's not like "There was DEADPOOL and then 10 years of nothing else and now he's on Spider-Man." [Laughs
] So the good thing is that it's a very cool benchmark of where I was and where I headed. I hope that more of those trades come out because I think people will enjoy those issues again.
Marvel.com: Well, you have done a lot of work in comics, but one thing that those two books do share in common is that you get to stretch your comedy muscles more. Had you been itching for that?
Absolutely. And the fact that I hadn't been able to do that for a while, because the books I worked on were a little more serious or the characters didn't really carry that, is great for me. I'm actually dialoguing one of the AMAZING issues right now, and I get to go, "Oh yeah, I wrote that joke and it's actually funny." That's a really good feeling and one I think I've missed for a while. I can't wait to do more of it. Spider-Man is also a character that really employs that device where you can say more in a comic book than you can in real life. [Laughs
] It's ok to have him do a knock knock joke in one punch.
Marvel.com: After this two-issue arc, have you blocked out what your next run in AMAZING is going to be?
Yeah, I have, and I think it doesn't come out until May. One of the things about these guys is that they have to work so far ahead because of the schedule. And they had really worked out quite a bit of stories that brought them through the end of the winter. So when we had the summit the other day, it was pretty much starting in the March or April issues and bringing them through to the end of the year. I'm really psyched about my story. It's a big showdown that's been looming for quite some time. I can't go into it because it's connected to some bigger stuff going on in the universe, but it's very Spidey-centric, and it has a lot of bad guys in it and a lot of great character stuff related to Peter's inner circle of the cast. I'm not sure if it's going to be four or five issues, but I'm going to figure that out this week. But it'll be a nice solid block – a real complete story, which I'm excited for. And beyond that, a lot of those classics are coming back, and there's a few that I'm dying to sink my teeth into that are really, really cool. And Phil Jimenez and I have talked about a lot of stuff too, so there's plenty of Spidey for me coming down the pike.
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