Since Spider-Girl's debut 12 years ago, the ongoing series, starring May "Mayday" Parker, the teenage daughter of Peter and Mary Jane Parker, has retained a hardcore and loyal fanbase that has saved it from cancellation time and time again, making it the envy of every fan with their own favorite-yet-endangered series. But this August sees the publication of Spider-Girl: The End, bringing to a close May's long-running adventures. And the just-released cover of the November Previews shows the launch of a new Spider-Girl series, not starring May, but rather the new character Arana who has been foreshadowed as taking the Spider-Girl name in the recent Grim Hunt storyline. I spoke with series writer Tom DeFalco to learn more about the end of the series he's worked on for more than a decade, and how he feels about the new character taking her place.
Matt Adler: We now know for certain that this arc of Spectacular Spider-Girl will be the final one. Why is this a bigger deal than the average title that comes and goes?
Tom DeFalco: The fact that Spider-Girl is a big deal to me is because it is probably the last monthly comic book I will ever write for Marvel Comics. It’s a big deal to our fans because Spider-Girl is the longest running female super-hero comic in the history of Marvel Comics. The first story was cover dated February 1998–although it actually went on sale in 1997–and the character has been around ever since.
MA: You say it's probably the last ongoing you'll ever write for Marvel; what do you attribute that to? Is it the phenomenon of editors looking for the "new discovery"?
TD: I think there are a number of factors. For one, tastes change. I like to do stories that are paced a lot faster than the current style. I hate to see comics that have people standing around talking like they’re in a radio drama–a drama that is told entirely through dialogue. I actually enjoy a good radio drama, but radio is radio and comics are comics. I prefer to keep the action flowing with visual bits or sequential story-telling. I also go for broader action and emotional scenes.
Comics are very expensive these days so I believe we have to pack as much story as possible into the pages. Some people like the way I write. Others prefer the current style of writing and vote with their wallets. Since Spider-Girl has been around for so long, I must be appealing to some readers.
Another factor is that I doubt many editors are currently reading my stuff. They remember me from when they were growing up and just assume they won’t like my writing now that they’re older. They think of Spider-Girl as a comic for “young kids” and don’t think I’m capable of producing work for their “more mature” titles. I can understand why they feel that way.
Please don’t misunderstand me–I’m not griping. Comic book editors have a rough job. They put in a lot of hours and need to be committed to their titles. They need to work with people that produce the kind of material that they want. If they aren’t familiar with my work, they have no reason to hire me. That’s just the biz!
MA: The current storyline features a gang war between the South American crimelord Black Tarantula and Maggia boss Silverback. What are the stakes our heroine has in this?
TD: As someone who has been given great power, Spider-Girl believes that she has to protect lives–all lives–and that includes innocent civilians as well as gangsters.
MA: Is it purely altruistic though? She seems to have developed some close personal ties with the Black Tarantula.
TD: Yes, Spider-Girl has developed some personal ties with the Black Tarantula, but he recently threatened to kill if their paths ever cross again.
MA: Besides the gang war, May is also dealing with her out-of-control clone (who also happens to have the powers of the Venom symbiote). What made Mayhem (AKA April Parker) turn bad?
TD: Mayhem/April grew up in test tube. She’s Mayday Parker without the nurturing, morality or sense of responsibility instilled by her parents Peter and Mary Jane Parker. (By the way, are you absolutely sure that April is the clone?!?)
MA: You've also brought a significantly older Punisher into the series, who has just come out of retirement to settle this latest gang war. Garth Ennis has also played around with the idea of an older Punisher by keeping his Vietnam roots in regular continuity; do you think there's a particular appeal in an older Frank Castle?
TD: I think Frank Castle is just an interesting character–whatever his age!
TD: I think Gerry Conway deliberately created the Punisher to be the Anti-Spider-Man. In many ways, Spider-Man was born out of Jewish guilt. Frank, on the other hand, comes from Catholic guilt. He believes in punishment and redemption–both for the criminals and himself–and I have always been fascinated by him.
MA: There's a conversation between Spider-Girl and Mayhem where Mayhem talks about modeling herself after the Punisher because the world is getting grimmer and grittier, while May counters that they must lead by example and not simply follow trends. Does this reflect how you feel about the Punisher as a character, and the trends in modern comics generally?
TD: Uhhh… you do realize I wrote both speeches!
MA: Sure, but in this case it's the protagonist arguing against the grim 'n gritty trends, a theme I recall being echoed in yours and Ron's Thunderstrike series. Put another way, do you see any problems with how characters like the Punisher have shaped those trends in modern comics?
TD: As a fan and writer of hardboiled fiction, I honestly have no problem for what passes as grim ‘n gritty in comics. However, when it comes to a monthly comic book, I prefer to write characters like Thunderstrike and Spider-Girl who are heroes that really strive to act heroically. I have a very selfish reason. Readers only spend fifteen minutes or so with a comic book. I spend days, weeks or–in the case of characters like Thunderstrike and Spider-Girl–years with these characters and their stories. I need to like them as individuals. I have to believe in their message–which is to protect the innocent and defend the helpless. Violence is always their last resort, not their first.
MA: It seems to me co-plotter and artist Ron Frenz has been going into overdrive in recent issues, particularly with his design work on everything from the older Punisher, to Mayhem's new look, to the costume of mystery man Wildcard. Can you share what it's been like behind the scenes, seeing this stuff come in as Ron comes up with it? Do you give any input?
TD: Ron Frenz is one of the most underrated artists in the industry. The guy can draw anything! Not only is he a superb visual story-teller and a living idea factory, he’s also a master of design. We discuss every detail of every story and he usually throws a few dozen designs my way every time we introduce a new character. I usually pick the one I like the most –and save the rest for a whole bunch of new characters!
TD: I’ve really enjoyed the chance to use some different muscles with the Lil' Benjy stuff and Colleen is a true delight!
MA: The other back features involve American Dream and Buzz, which tie directly into the gang war storyline. Is part of the goal there to give the story a broader sense of scope by showing how it affects the rest of the MC2 Universe?
MA: The current storyline will be followed by a one-shot entitled "Spider-Girl: The End". Is this merely "The End" because it is the last issue scheduled, or will there be some finality to it?
TD: As far as I know, this will be the last Spider-Girl that Marvel will ever publish or that I will ever write.
MA: Are you leaving room for any last minute reversals on Marvel's part?
TD: No, and I’m not expecting anymore reversals.
MA: Not to go all Dr. Phil, but I think readers are curious to know; how do you, as the co-creator, feel about that?
TD: I honestly don’t know, yet. I’m still scrambling to finish the last few stories under some rather harsh deadlines. While I know Spider-Girl is going away, I haven’t had the chance to miss her, yet. I also believe that Mayday has been around too long to completely disappear. Maybe one of our current fans will eventually break into the business and bring her back for a whole new generation of readers. I just hope I’m around to see it.
MA: We've recently learned that Marvel will be relaunching their Arana character (who, ironically, you brought into the Spider-Girl series as an ally of the Black Tarantula) as the "new Spider-Girl." Can you tell us what you think of this move, both from the standpoint of the creator of what many fans see as the "real Spider-Girl", and as a former editor yourself?
TD: As a creator I’m a little hurt that Marvel couldn’t wait to give Arana our name. On the other hand, the work the team and I have done still exists in comic book collections around the world so it will never be truly forgotten. As a former editor, I think Marvel is committing marketing suicide by switching the name and launching a “new Spider-Girl series so quickly. A lot of retailers and readers aren’t going to realize that Marvel is introducing a “new” Spider-Girl. If they didn’t order or read Spider-Girl last week, they won’t suddenly order or buy her next–even though it’s a “new” character. I believe Marvel would have been better served if they had waited a year or so before re-naming Arana, but that’s just my opinion.
MA: I recall that several years ago when there were rumblings of the same move being made with Arana, one of the reasons most often given was that Spider-Girl was at a disadvantage by not being able to tie-in to the mainstream Marvel Universe. Do you think that argument holds any water?
TD: Not really. I think that certain people like Spider-Man, but will never buy a Spider-Woman or Spider-Girl comic–no matter what universe she’s in! The same could be said for Hulk and She-Hulk…Superman and Supergirl…Batman and Batgirl and so on!
MA: The Spider-Girl board at comicboards.com has been known for years as the central spot for Spider-Girl fans, and there seems to be a lot of despair and anger there these days. Do you have any advice for longtime fans who feel somewhat helpless at these developments?
TD: I think they should focus on what we have–nearly 150 issues of Spider-Girl, plus a whole bunch of other MC-2 material–and just see if they like the new Spider-Girl. If they do, they should support it. If not, that’s the biz!
MA: Do you feel any anger at Marvel yourself?
TD: I’ve spent nearly half my life working for Marvel and I understand why certain decisions are made. I may not agree with them, but I usually do understand them. I am, however, disappointed with the way the company totally ignored the launch of the recent Spectacular Spider-Girl series. They didn’t give us any real support, kept changing the price and format, and suddenly switched us from a regular monthly to a limited series. It was all very confusing to me so I can only guess how the readers and retailers felt.
MA: Do you have any word on the plans for Spider-Girl collections?
TD: Marvel hasn’t told me anything. I just hope they’ll send me copies if they do reprint anything.
MA: Would you be interested in working in mainstream Spider-Man continuity again?
MA: Are you inclined to do stuff that goes against what you may have been typecast as? For instance, if you've been typecast as the "family friendly" guy, would you be interested in doing a Punisher story in the MAX (mature readers) imprint, to take an extreme example?
TD: I’m willing to try almost anything. I look at every assignment on an individual basis and just ask myself one question–can I fully commit myself to it? If the answer is yes–I take it. Otherwise, I pass. I am not worried about being typecast. Every publisher, producer and editor puts you in an easily labeled box. This guy only does hardboiled. This guy is good for situation comedies. I am a very lucky writer. I work for so many different clients that have put me into so many different boxes that I can do almost any kind of material. I’m not sure I’ll still be writing comics in the coming years, but I’ll still be writing.
MA: What other stuff do you and Ron currently have in the works, either together or individually?
TD: Ron and I have been asked to produce another 4-issue limited series for Marvel Comics–one which I can’t talk about now, but I can say it is set in the regular Marvel Universe. In the meantime, I am also writing The Man From Riverdale which will appear in Archie #610-613, the Flying Fool feature in Airfighters for Moonstone and some Star Wars: The Clone Wars stories for Titan.
MA: When can we expect we learn more about this new Marvel project?
TD: If Marvel intends to promote it, I assume they’ll mention it at San Diego. If not, I’ll begin promoting it myself after San Diego.
Matt Adler looks forward to seeing what Tom and Ron have up their sleeves.