What’s SHOOT THE MESSENGER?
Well, AICN COMICS: SHOOT THE MESSENGER is your weekly one stop shop for comic book -EWS. What’s comic book –EWS? Well, it’s our hodge podge of everything not reviews here at AICN Comics. Sure you can find out the @$$Holes’ critical opinions of your favorite books every Wednesday at AICN Comics. But here, you’ll find special reports such as previews, interviews, special features, and occasionally news gathered here from our online brethren at Newsarama, CBR, Wizard, etc. Sure those guys are the best at reporting news as it breaks. Click on the links for the original stories. This column cuts the crap to run down all the vital information for those of you who don’t follow it as it comes in, and serves it all up with that special ingredient of @$$y goodness.
It’s Ambush Bug here with another edition of Shoot the Messenger. Before we dive into the interviews and previews for this week, there are a couple of tidbits I wanted to pass along to you all that you may find interesting.
I was interviewed over at Jazma Online about my upcoming comic VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS: THE TINGLER. Click the link and check out the interview, then hopefully you’ll check out the book when it hits the stands September 30th from Bluewater!
A lot of folks have theories about how to solve the problem of increasing prices of comics. I got an email from one reader who has a decent plan. Click on this link and check out Clay McKinney’s plan on how to bring tons of cash to the industry and therefore lower prices for us. It ain’t a bad plan, in my opinion.
Although not comics related, it’s still damn cool. Chicago indie filmmaker Bennie Woodell is currently filming THE LONG DECEMBER in and around the Chicago area. Below is a preview of his new feature. I thought his last feature FAST ZOMBIES WITH GUNS was damn fun and this one looks to be just as good. Check it out.
And now, on with the interviews!
Hi folks, Matt Adler here. To complete our Clone Saga trifecta, I spoke with Howard Mackie, the co-writer of the new SPIDER-MAN: CLONE SAGA miniseries, and the project's originator. Here goes...
Matt Adler talks THE CLONE SAGA with Howard Mackie!
Matt Adler (MA): Hi Howard. Can you tell us about the genesis of this new series?
Howard Mackie (HM): This project had a long, meandering origin which was born out of multiple conversations, over a period of years, with Editor Ralph Macchio. I would always kid around with him when talking about comic books, “Hey, Ralph…you could always revisit the CLONE SAGA!” WE would both get a laugh, and move on to talking about less serious subjects like politics, war, and famine. Somewhere along the line I discovered a notebook which contained the original notes from the very first meeting at which the clone story was discussed. It is very important to keep in mind that there was no such thing as a clone SAGA back in those days. The original notes showed that the story was planned as a three month event spread across the four monthly Spider-Man titles. That even surprised me. I remembered that we had planned a shorter storyline, but I had it at six months. Anyway, at some point Ralph talked to Joe Quesada, and I got a phone call from Ralph asking if I wanted to do a mini-series showing a version that was truer to what the writers originally imagined. My reaction was to laugh. What you have to know about Ralph Macchio is that he is a notorious practical joker. I am not convinced that this isn’t one of the most elaborate pranks he has ever pulled off.
MA: I remember Tom saying that too…apparently Ralph called him one time to let him know that SPIDER-GIRL was uncancelled, and Tom, convinced it was another one of his practical jokes, hung up on him. What have been some of Ralph's best (or worst) practical jokes?
HM: I would LOVE to tell you, but then I would have to kill you. We all take an oath when we start at Marvel...what happens at Marvel, stays at Marvel.
MA: Ok, so what made you want to do this project?
HM: It was a chance to work with people and characters I really love. Ralph is probably one of the best editors to have ever worked in the business, and as far as comic book writers go--Tom knows where to buy the best pizza in New York City.
MA: How did Tom come on board?
HM: Kicking and screaming! All I will say is that I did the kicking, and you haven’t lived until you’ve heard Tom screaming.
MA: Duly noted! So what made you and Ralph decide to bring him in?
HM: I don’t know that there was much “bringing in”. Tom’s name was associated with the project from early on. Like I said, it was a meandering road which lead to this project, and in the earliest discussions I probably said, “Ralph, you could get me and Tom to revisit the Clone Saga.” I chose ME, because I know me best of anyone, and Tom was the only one of the original writers doing regular writing work at Marvel. Also, Tom and I continued to talk on a semi-regular basis throughout the years. The reality is that memory is a funny thing. Even Tom and I remember certain story points differently. The goal with this mini-series was get back to basics, to strip away the extraneous stuff that got layered onto the original story, and to present the cleanest possible version of what was a pretty simple story at heart.
MA: Did you give any thought to bringing in Marc DeMatteis as well, given how important his role in the original saga was?
HM: If we had moved beyond two writers, I am not sure how we would have chosen amongst the many writers involved with the Clone Saga. Marc contributed to the story, but so did Terry Kavanagh (it was HE who suggested it in the first place), Dan Jurgens, Todd DeZago, Tom Lyle…who am I forgetting? I loved working with, and respect, every one of those guys. Some of my fondest memories of working in comic books come from sitting in meetings, talking on the telephone or just being around all of them. It was decided that it would be best if only two writers collaborated on this mini-series.
MA: Makes sense, given that Tom has been writing SPIDER-GIRL for more than a decade. Although Marc DeMatteis has been contributing more and more stories lately... did you hear he's going to be doing a Kaine story for the first issue of the new WEB OF SPIDER-MAN series?
HM: I heard Marc was writing a Kaine story, and I am looking forward to reading it when it comes out.
MA: Have you been surprised by the fan response to the announcement of the series?
HM: Yes…pleasantly so. I don’t know if you surf the Internet at all, but the Clone Saga has not always had the best rap. The thing that struck me in reading various things on the Internet is that people would complain about the Clone Saga, and then go on about how wonderful Ben Reilly was. There is a big movement of “Bring Back Ben Reilly” folks. Of course without the Clone Saga, there would be no Ben Reilly, so I found that very curious. Anyway, this is a chance to give the fans of Ben Reilly another chance to see him in action.
MA: Yeah, I have seen a lot of that “love Ben, hate the Clone Saga” stuff. I guess the thing is that because it went on for so long, it became so many different things to so many different people. I mean, was it a story about the relationship between Peter, Ben, and Kaine? Or was it a big Maximum Clonage style enhanced cover event? Or was it about making Ben "The One True Spider-Man"? Or the return of Norman Osborn and the miscarriage of the baby? All of these perspectives may have been true at one point or another, right?
HM: Yes, these have all been true at some point in the story. What you describe are the capricious winds that blew at the writers. What Tom and I are attempting to do with THIS mini-series is strip away all the eventness--all the extraneous stuff--and tell that simple and exciting story that always dwelled at the core of what the writers intended.
MA: I see what you mean about the capricious winds. You could have liked Ben as the Scarlet Spider, but disapproved of him replacing Peter Parker. Or you might have liked Ben as Spider-Man, but were displeased with how the Saga was resolved. Do you think having all those wildly disparate elements/phases makes it more difficult for readers to embrace the original Saga as a whole?
HM: Yes, and that is why I think the original, short, simple and direct story should have been stuck to. Even if it had not ended the way some of the readers had wanted, it would have been a tighter story. One that could have been more easily resolved. Plus, I try not talk about "readers" as though they ALL agree on all things. This is an issue that the comic book industry has struggled with for years. Do you listen to the most vocal readers--those willing to post online--and then adjust your storylines according to their wishes? Or do you try to contrive a story that stands on its own merits? The Clone story became the Clone Saga because the powers that be got cold feet based on initial impact from a vocal group of readers. When the story was begun we knew it would be controversial, and that was part of the point. We needed a story that would draw attention to the Spider-Man line of books in the way that Death of Superman drew attention to the Superman books.
MA: How does your collaborative process with Tom work? What are his strengths as a writer, and how do they play off against yours?
HM: All kidding aside, Tom is without a doubt one of the best STORY guys in the business. I remember in the editorial days—when he was my pain in the neck boss—he was constantly helping writers and editors out of story jams. You would go into his office, shield yourself against his ugly ties, and say, “Tom, I’m having trouble with a story.” Tom would say, “Mr.Howard, tell me what you’ve got so far.” You would then describe the story, or the problem you’d run into with the character, and Tom would lean back in his chair, rock a little, and say, “Here’s somethin’, and it might stink, but…” and then he would help you figure you way out of any jam, or forward with any story. So, working with him has been easy. We start talking on the phone, and usually a half hour into the conversation—after we are done talking about the ”good old days”, fixing the comic book industry, and bringing about world peace—we get down to talking about the story. One or the other of us will start by saying, “THIS is what we’ve got to do this issue…” and then there is just lots of back and forth. This continues in the writing. One of us (and we try to alternate) will write out a real rough outline of the story we talked about, and send it to the other guy. From there it is a layering process until the story is done.
MA: Ok, I realize “fixing the comic book industry” is partially tongue-in-cheek, but out of curiosity: if you had the resources, what would you do to fix it?
HM: I am not being paid nearly enough for this interview--or for the mini-series--to GIVE that one away. Sorry.
MA: Fair nuff! What are some of your recollections of what was going on at Marvel at that time that led to the Clone Saga going off the rails?
HM: Short answer…outside/non-creative influences got involved in the editorial/creative process. As a result the 3 month story arc was stretched out because of a perceived uptick in sales. Then, there was the editorial upheaval, and suddenly we had five EICs, and editors who were not involved in the original concept came on board, and had input into a story they did not necessarily support. This all lead to the story not being allowed to play out as the writers planned it. Had these two factors not existed there would never have been a clone SAGA—just another Spider-Man story arc.
MA: What would you say was personally the worst moment for you? How did you feel about the way it was eventually resolved?
HM: Worst moment? I try not to dwell on those. I far prefer to think about how much fun—despite it all—the writers had working together. Buy me whiskey sometime, and I’m sure I can drag out a few horror stories. In terms of how it was all resolved…I would have preferred that we had a chance to tell the story we had mapped out.
MA: And now you do! So how does this series improve upon the original? How different is it than what saw print back then?
HM: Tom and I set out to distill the story down to its most basic elements. We left out many characters and story threads that originally saw print. This is NOT an effort to squeeze two and half years of stories into six issues, but to get to the heart of the story we originally set out to tell.
MA: Was the Clone Saga intended to be a way to get back to Spider-Man being single, as some have said?
HM: My recollection is that the return to the single Spider-Man did enter the conversation eventually, but it was not the intent of the story when pitched, though it did seem to be an ideal way to bring that end goal about.
MA: Do you recall how that idea came about? Did you support it, and what were your thoughts in general on the issue of Spider-Man/Peter Parker being married?
HM: I cannot tell you specifically how that conversation came about, but I do know that it has been an ongoing part of every Spider-Man writer/editorial meeting ever since Spider-Man and MJ tied the knot.
MA: What were some of your favorite moments from the original Clone Saga? Are 6 issues enough to get everything in?
HM: I am probably not alone with this point of view, but it’s less about the moments than about the characters and some of the themes that were explored within the Clone Saga. Ben, Peter, and Kaine are at the heart of a tale that explores the issues of brotherhood. MJ getting pregnant allowed us to explore many of additional potential conflicts that would enter Peter’s life. Six issues will be a nice way to touch upon some of these themes, but the question to be asked is, “Are 6 issues of Ben Reilly enough?”
MA: What’s been your reaction to seeing Todd Nauck's art as it comes in? Would there be anything you'd like to see him do redesigns of from the original Clone Saga, if not in this mini, then maybe in the future?
HM: Well, the first issue is just about all done, and I’ve been blown away by all of the art. Todd’s pencils…his storytelling…is truly amazing. It brings exactly the right tone to the story, and his storytelling is wonderful. Todd is being pretty faithful to the original designs and that is as it should be for this particular series. As for the future…who knows?
MA: Who are your favorite characters in this series?
HM: That would have to be a toss-up between Ben and Kaine. With Peter they complete this triangle of brotherhood and personality which all had the same genetic roots. I have a particular affection for Kaine, because Terry Kavanagh and I co-created his concept in one of those real moments of creative collaboration that can be so much fun. We really just started spit-balling back and forth about this failed clone…the evil brother…which lead to Kaine…and, of course, the MARK of Kaine.
MA: You mentioned Terry earlier in the interview. What led to you guys becoming close friends? I recall him getting a bit of a hard time from fans at the time (the "Teen Tony" era of Iron Man comes to mind), and I always wondered if he was someone who just never really got to do his thing in the environment of the time.
HM: Terry was, and remains, a very close friend. We started out at Marvel in editorial at about the same time, and the Marvel of that era was like a big family. Terry is also an amazing idea guy--both as an editor and a writer.
MA: What made Ben Reilly such a popular and enduring character that there's still demand to see him all these years later? If there was a Ben Reilly ongoing, would you want to be involved with it?
HM: I think that the writers did exactly what we set out to do—create a credible, likable, sympathetic character in Ben. We loaded him with Peter’s memories, experiences and abilities. Then we developed a true sense of brotherhood between Peter and Ben. The writers made the readers care about Ben. I would love to be part of a Ben Reilly series…especially if I got to keep working with Tom.
MA: We saw that Kaine appears in the preview art; how do you see him as a character?
HM: When Terry Kavanagh and I first came up with the idea it started out with the simple premise of his being a “failed” clone. I love when our heroes come up against their polar opposites. Captain America has the Red Skull. Reed Richards has Dr.Doom. Professor X has Magneto. When Venom was created he seemed to suit that role for Spider-Man. He really was the Anti-Spider-Man in just about every way imaginable. I have always admired the creation of that character. In this story involving clones we were given the opportunity to create Peter’s exact opposite. Imagine Kaine starting out exactly as Peter and Ben. He had all the memories, experiences and abilities, but then it all starts falling apart. He begins to deteriorate. Start with the same Peter Parker basic model and begin corrupting him, and you have Kaine. He sees in Ben and Peter the options for not, “the roads not taken”, but roads he was pushed off of.
MA: I'd always wondered about that, whether Kaine was psychologically the same as Peter Parker. I thought that perhaps the Jackal did not bother to implant a failed clone with Peter Parker's moral upbringing, and that was what enabled him to become a murderer.
MA: Alright, speaking of Kaine, Tom has worked some Clone Saga elements into his run on SPIDER-GIRL; do you read SPIDER-GIRL at all, and if so, what do you think of it?
HM: I love SPIDER-GIRL—more importantly my teen-aged daughters have loved it. I think Tom’s work on that series shows us all what comics can, and maybe SHOULD, be. They are fun, action-packed and filled with characters you genuinely care about. Come to think of it—I hate Tom!
MA: What's it been like returning to Marvel? Has it been good working with the new people there?
HM: Returning? Did I ever leave? It doesn’t feel that way at all. Maybe I have been working all these years under an assumed name? The people who work at Marvel now have the same level of commitment and enthusiasm that all people working in the comic book publishing business have always had. We may not be able to fill the shoes of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, but we maybe try on their socks for a while.
MA: Assumed name? A-HA! Writer X! Wait, no...you're Brian Bendis, aren't you?
HM: Writer X is that X-Men thing they did a few years ago, right? I do keep getting asked that one. I've never met Brian, but has ANYONE ever seen us is the same room?
MA: That’s not a denial! Ok, now when I interviewed you 3 years ago, you said: ”...writing GHOST RIDER made my career in comics, writing SPIDER-MAN ended it--can anyone say CLONE SAGA? As much as I loved working with the characters, editors and fellow creators on SPIDER-MAN, my time on those books have pretty much guaranteed I can never get work up at Marvel again”.
How does the irony of this strike you 3 years later?
HM: Boy, you must have gotten me on a really bad day. That sounds exceptionally cranky of me. Ironic? Yes.
MA: Well, I think the context of the question was whether you enjoyed working on Ghost Rider or Spider-Man more, so it made sense at the time. And let's be fair; who could have imagined Marvel would be willing to give the Clone Saga another shot? Honestly, the most I'd hoped for all these years was maybe some Kaine guest appearances or a trade paperback collection.
HM: As I said, certainly I never imagined it. Then again, at some point I guess I did!
MA: Do you have any other projects coming up? Are there any other characters you're itching to get your hands on, or to return to?
HM: Right now my plate seems to be filling to capacity. Tom and I are in the back stretch on this limited series, and have a few ideas that we want to pitch to Marvel. Tom and I have discovered a mutual affection of the Morbius character. We’re kicking some ideas around.
Meanwhile, I have just wrapped up an editorial consulting gig with an overseas graphic novel publisher. I am close to signing a deal with Harper Collins to adapt one of their award-winning YA novels into graphic novel form. I am particularly excited about this, and I will be working on a novel that is real favorite of my wife and two daughters. Meanwhile, I am developing a project, called HITTER, for VIPER COMICS (publishers of THE MIDDLE-MAN GN that spawned the ABC Family TV show) that will be more of a return to the horror/crime roots I explored with Ghost Rider. My editor (and writer extraordinaire) at Viper is a chap going by the name of Dale Mettam (ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES GN for Viper). Dale (I assume it’s an alias) and I are currently kicking around a bunch of ideas to work on together in the future.
MA: Morbius?! Do I smell a Midnight Sons reunion?
HM: I think not.
MA: Crush my dreams, why don’t you? Just kidding. Thank you so much for doing this interview Howard!
HM: My pleasure, Matt.
In most places, Matt Adler goes by the name his mother gave him, but occasionally uses the handle "CylverSaber", based on a character he created for the old Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight game (one telling hint of his overweening nerddom). He currently does IT and networking support for the government of Nassau County, NY, but his dream is to write for a living, and is in the process of figuring out how to get publishers to give his stuff a look. In the meantime, he passes the time by writing for AICN, CBR, and a few other places. He has also written for Marvel Spotlight magazine.
Bug Takes Five with Geoff Johns
Ambush Bug again. This year’s San Diego Comic Con was a pretty damn fine experience for me. It was also hectic as hell. I’d have loved to have sat down with Geoff Johns and talked for hours about his stellar career as DC Top Writer, but alas, he’s a popular guy, literally racing from one panel to the next, so I was only able to chat with him a short while at this year’s con. Below is the conversation we had just before the final DC Panel of the Con on Sunday after the first issue of BLACKEST NIGHT had just been released. Both Geoff and I were showing signs of wear and tear, but from the conversation we had below, you can tell Geoff sure is enjoying what he’s doing. Here’s what Geoff had to say.
GEOFF JOHNS (GJ): So far, so good. I’ve seen a lot of colored Corpsmen around this year.
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): So how’s the Con been treating you?
BUG: How do you feel about the reaction to BLACKEST NIGHT?GJ: It’s been great. It’s overwhelming how prevalent it’s been at the show. I’m just happy everyone’s enjoying it so far. They’re getting into the mythology. It takes things beyond the story.
BUG: It seems like with Hal Jordan, you’ve really elevated him to be a major player again. It used to be the Big Three, and now it’s kind of like the Big Four now.GL: I’m hoping to get the Big Five soon with the Flash.
BUG: I know BLACKEST NIGHT is just beginning, but do you have things planned out for what’s next?GJ: I can’t say much, but I will be on GREEN LANTERN for a long time. I have no plans to leave the book. Next year, GREEN LANTERN is going to be my main focus for the entire year. I’m launching a FLASH monthly book soon and there’s going to be a KID FLASH monthly book by Sterling Gates. Those two books are going to work in unison and explore the Flash in very much the same way GREEN LANTERN and GREEN LANTERN CORPS are tied together right now. They’ll be their own separate books, but then they’ll come together. The idea, some of it comes from BLACKEST NIGHT and REBIRTH, but the idea is to explore what it means to be the Flash, what the Speed Force is, and all that and take it to a different level.
I’ve said it a couple of times now, by my whole thing is, I look at Green Lantern and Flash as two huge pillars in the DC Universe right alongside Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman. It’s time and space, where you have the Flash representing time and that backdrop is time. It’s an epic backdrop. You’ve got all of these heroes and all these villains from time and what time means in the DCU and what it means to us. And Green Lantern is all about space. So you’ve got time and space. And then you’ve got the Good Cop/Bad Cop aspect to it where Barry Allen is very much a Good Cop to Hal Jordan’s Bad Cop. So these two guys are working together. They’re best friends. They’re going to be main characters throughout BLACKEST NIGHT and hopefully I’ll be able to continue writing their adventures for a long time to come.