By Tim Stevens
When AMAZING SPIDER-MAN began to hit shelves three weeks a month more than a year ago, the talent behind the endeavor assured readers that though initially absent, the classic Spidey villains would return some day.
Fortunately for fans, that day has arrived. For the Webslinger? Perhaps not so fortunate.
It all began in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #592 when the brand new Vulture nearly got the best of our hero. However, that represents but trickle in comparison to the deluge that begins in #601, the start of the "Red-headed Stranger
"It was always the intention to keep most of the classic villains off the table for awhile since many had been used and abused in recent years in so many of our comics," recalls AMAZING editor Steve Wacker. "We wanted their return to be special and to happen for a reason, and to do that we needed to wean ourselves off of the easy go-to idea of 'Spidey vs insert-classic-bad guy here.' What we've tried to do is rethink the motivations for each of these bad guys so they have more going on than 'I hate Spider-Man.'"
Writers Mark Waid and Fred Van Lente step up to bat first, tag teaming the "Stranger
" storyline, with Waid handling issue #601 and Van Lente wrapping the arc up in #602-604. Of course, the return of big name characters can be fraught with expectation and pressure. For now though, the writers refuse to feel it.
"It's my duty and obligation to constantly try to surprise and delight people with stuff they didn't know they really wanted until I showed it to them," says Van Lente. "That's my responsibility as a writer."
However, before the baddies get brought on, readers will be treated to the long-awaited return of the titular "Stranger
," in question: Mary Jane Watson.
"In this instance, Mary Jane is returning to Peter Parker's life as 'The Ex,' someone he had a very, very serious, long-term relationship with [that] fell apart for reasons that remain mysterious," notes Van Lente. "She's someone who was so intimate with Peter, who still cares for him deeply, but still sees his flaws with a jaundiced eye as most exes do. The new Peter/M.J. dynamic is very cool, very natural, and, most importantly, will have a lot of great Spider-Man stories come out of it.
"Of course, just because she's the ex now doesn't preclude her becoming something more in the future," he adds teasingly.
As if a reunion with his old flame won't provide enough complications, as Spidey, Peter also has to tangle with the Chameleon, back in town on a mission of terrorism for hire as of AMAZING #602.
"The Chameleon has gone back doing what he does best: being a freelance espionage operative," explains Van Lente. "In this instance, yes, he is working for a terrorist organization, and fans will be intrigued—and horrified—to see how his current mission of death brings him into contact with Mayor J. Jonah Jameson and Mary Jane Watson."
While that would seem to be enough for anyone to handle, the storyline heaps on a bit more, in the form of two more secret villains. Van Lente will only hint at their identities:
"One we haven't seen since AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #25—which , in a funny but appropriate coincidence, is also the first time Mary Jane Watson is depicted on panel, I believe. And another—well, I wouldn't call him 'classic.' But I would definitely describe him as 'slick.'"
If Spider-Man manages to survive those encounters, he will next have to tangle with another former love interest, who happens to also be a former villain, as well. In a two-issue arc beginning with #605, writer Joe Kelly and artist Mike McKone reunite Spidey with the sometimes criminal Black Cat. The why of her homecoming and what side of the law she stands on remains under wraps for now.
Then the baton goes to Marc Guggenheim, spotlighting a whole new villain who hates Peter Parker, not Spider-Man, in "Leave Me A Clone." Well, at least Peter thinks the he has never encountered the baddie. The criminal has a different perspective.
"He believes that Peter killed his family years ago and it's payback time," reveals Guggenheim. "He's willing to use whatever means he can think of to achieve that objective. That includes placing Peter's friends and family at risk. To him, they're fair game since he holds Peter responsible for killing his family. He wants to kill Peter Parker and not because Peter is Spider-Man. He doesn't even know Peter is Spidey."
As for the title of the storyline, Guggenheim recommends fans check out AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #36 for some hints on that front.
From there, if Peter dispenses with that threat, he will still have to run "The Gauntlet."
Beginning in November with AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #610, Waid and Guggenheim will present the Webhead with his most dangerous challenge in years, with a storyline made up smaller arcs that reaches all the way into 2010.
As Guggenheim tells it, "Spidey is driving towards, pure and simple, his own death. That's the path that all these villains are setting him on."
"It's fair to say that he's not driving so much as being driven," interjects Waid.
Just who stands responsible for the dangers befalling Spider-Man remains closely guarded by both writers. However, they did prove to be willing to at least offer some hints.
"My arc features an old foe who—previously—had an incredibly dorky costume, but who, properly portrayed, could be as cool as the Juggernaut," Guggenheim divulges. "In the arc, he's going to take on the man who would be his 'successor.' Naturally, Spidey gets caught in the middle and hijinks ensue."
Waid keeps it even briefer:
"When we began talking creatively about who might be in my next arc, sparks flew."
While he might be keeping the villains under wraps, Guggenheim has no problem promising fans that the consequences for this arc will be very real and perhaps go farther than anyone expects.
He points out, "You might think that we'd never kill an icon like Spider-Man, but that's what they said about Captain America, so stay tuned."
For all the latest news updates from Heroes Con 2009 and Wizard World Philadelphia 2009, keep checking back right here on Marvel.com all weekend!
Not a subscriber to Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited yet? Join now!
Check out the official Marvel Shop for your favorite Marvel Heroes!
Download episodes of "X-Men: Evolution" and "Wolverine and the X-Men" now on iTunes!