With the success of both the Venom and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse feature films, Spidey and his extended family had a big 2018. So far Marvel’s Spider-office has entered 2019 strong on the continued success of books like Donny Cates & Ryan Stegman’s Venom, and the expanded profile for Earth-65’s Spider-Gwen due to both Spider-Verse and the Marvel Rising initiative. In a panel on Friday moderated by Marvel associate editor Alanna Smith, Cates and fellow writers Jason Latour (co-creator of Spider-Gwen and consultant for Into the Spider-Verse) and Seanan McGuire (current writer of Spider-Gwen: Ghost-Spider) sat down to talk about what makes their favorite web-heads tick.
After introductions, Smith asked Cates about expanding Venom’s mythology and bringing the character to the forefront. Cates confirmed that there’s still more to learn about the character, and that it’s surreal to get to add to the character and answer questions that he’s had about Venom since he was a kid. The goal according to Cates is to get Venom out of Spider-Man’s shadow, similar to what the recent movie did, and to give Venom a corner of the Marvel U that’s all his own. The writer talked a little bit about the introduction of Null, the God of Symbiotes, and the character’s history and how he created symbiotes by killing a Celestial. The character has been imprisoned and slowly breaking free, over the course of Cates and Stegman’s run, which is all leading to a big storyline that will be announced next weekend. The second arc of Venom, “The Abyss,” completes the fleshing out of Eddie Brock’s backstory, which is not territory that has been covered as thoroughly as Spider-Man’s has. The storyline will show Eddie’s “’Uncle Ben’ Moment” and reveal why he has been concerned about protecting the innocent for all these years.
Spider-Gwen is still bonded to a symbiote in her universe, and McGuire quickly clarified that her symbiote is synthetic, built in a lab. Whether it was built from a true symbiote remains to be seen, though she has no plans to explore that in her run on Gwen’s book. The panelists joked that a benefit of having a symbiote is not having to do laundry. Smith asked what the panelists would do if they had symbiotes; Cates said he would go evil immediately, while Latour said he would make his draw Southern Bastards.
Eddie Brock was recently revealed to have a son, and Cates alluded to the impact that will have on the character and the symbiote. He said that Brock’s morality is vague at best, though the character does try to do the right thing, whatever that is. Brock’s son, Dylan, was introduced at the beginning of “The Abyss.” Eddie knows that he’s Dylan’s father, but Dylan does not. Issue 12 of Venom, specifically “the third panel of page two,” will reveal some big news about Dylan. Cates called the character an integral part of both Eddie’s story and of the overall Null storyline.
Latour talked a bit about what it was like to see Spider-Gwen on-screen in Into the Spider-Verse, and how he came to work on the project. Producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller invited Latour into the process of creating the movie and working on both Spider-Gwen and Spider-Ham about eight months before the film’s release, at which point it was only about 40% animated. Latour talked about loving animation and nearly pursuing that as a career, and said when he started working on the comic book Spider-Gwen that his goal was to make people as excited as he was when he thought about art and animation. The writer said he feels like he’s humble-bragging about the Spider-Verse situation, and that the degree to which the filmmakers were inspired by what he and artists Robbi Rodriguez and Rico Renzi did in creating Spider-Gwen was extremely rewarding. He also joked about wanting to kiss everyone who worked on the movie on the mouth, and said he thought the movie was a watershed moment for comics and comic book movies.
Seanan McGuire spoke about her intense love for Gwen Stacy, and said she had avoided reading any comics featuring Spider-Gwen for a long time as a result of the character’s initial death having been so devastating. McGuire said she was worried about Gwen being ‘chucked off a bridge’ again, but that she changed her mind after she got to know Latour. Gwen was never even on her wishlist of characters to write, McGuire said, because she simply never thought it would happen. She was asked to work on Gwen before she knew Into the Spider-Verse was happening, and also around the same time that the the Marvel Rising initiative was announced. The current series, Spider-Gwen: Ghost-Spider, launched during the Spider-Geddon crossover, but with that event finished McGuire has started picking up the various plot threads that Latour left at the end of his run, which included Gwen going to prison and having her identity revealed to the world. The writer said that Gwen’s next challenge is to figure out ‘Who is Gwen Stacy,’ and how does she make a life for herself given the situation in which she’s found herself. Spider-Gwen: Ghost-Spider #10 is the overall fiftieth issue of Spider-Gwen’s adventures, and McGuire has something big planned that will introduce a new villain to the series.
Asked about what the craziest thing is that he could see hosting a symbiote, Cates talked about there having been both a Venom dragon and a Venom dog in his run already. He joked about his history of doing bad things to dogs in his comics, and said he didn’t understand the enthusiasm for his writing of Cosmo in an upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy annual. Cates said he wanted to write a scene with a bunch of symbiotes trying to bond to Thanos and the bond not taking because the character is so repellent. He also vaguely teased that “the craziest thing I’ve ever done” is coming up in the aforementioned as-yet-announced big storyline. Carnage is back and wearing Null’s damaged symbiote, the writer said, and it was revealed that everyone who has ever worn a symbiote has a ‘codex’ that was left behind by the symbiote. As of the Carnage Born one-shot, the character will be attempting to take all of those codexes back in order to help heal the Null symbiote. Cates also talked about the recent Ve’Nam story, about a group of soldiers who wore symbiotes in Vietnam. He said the idea for it came from an offhand joke that Jason Aaron made to him during a roundtable discussion, and that the story was basically the plot of Predator.
Smith asked the panelists what they think the art teams on their books bring to the table. Cates joked that he doesn’t allow his artists to talk, before going on to say that Venom artist Ryan Stegman has become one of his best friends. He said their initial conversation about the character lasted for four hours, and that Stegman insisted the entire run of the book be both he and Cates. Latour said he’s had “a really rough time art-wise” when it comes to work-for-hire writing, and he was adamant about making Gwen’s premiere stand out visually from other Marvel books. He said most great Spider-Man artists have a strange, ‘broken’ style, and that he picked Gwen to work on during the original “Spider-Verse” storyline because he was worried someone else would make it terrible. Latour recruited Rodriguez and Renzi because he knew they all had a kindred need to do something different, and he stressed how much fans of Into the Spider-Verse owe to Robbi and Rico for the look of the film. Still fairly new to comics and to Marvel, McGuire talked about having little input on the artists she’s worked with, and how lucky she has been in terms of her artist assignments. Her interaction with her artists has primarily been through Twitter DMs, and she talked about how she has built trust with her artists over the course of their working relationships. The writer praised colorist Ian Herring’s work on Spider-Gwen: Ghost-Spider, and said she was appreciative of Herring and artist Rosi Kämpe for having included the deceased cats of several Marvel staffers, including McGuire’s own, into Ghost-Spider #4. The panelists then joked about being canonically part of the Marvel Universe in different ways, living or dead.
Before going to audience questions, Latour made sure to plug the upcoming Spider-Ham story that he’s writing with artists David Lafuente and Rico Renzi. He said he’s been trying to get a Spider-Ham book made for ten years, which explains the frequency with which the character popped up during his Spider-Gwen run. Latour said the story is the thing he’s most proud of in a long time, and that the backup story, which has not been announced yet, will appeal to fans of the Spider-Verse movie.
An audience member who has dyslexia asked about the possibility of including audio versions of the comics along with the physical books, as he has trouble reading the words and typically just looks at the pictures. Smith said that was a great suggestion, and that people speaking up about what they want and need from comics is the best way to get things done. Cates then gave the audience member some signed Venom comics, saying the writing’s not that good anyway.
Asked about how the writers adhere to the different Spider-Man ‘canons,’ Cates said he gets “beaten up on canon” frequently, but that he just tries to tell a good story and doesn’t worry about whether it lines up with “an annual from 1978.” He likened sticking to comic book continuity to Doctor Who, which has been around for over 50 years but doesn’t strictly adhere to continuity to the disservice of story.
When the panelists were asked which villain they would turn into the world’s greatest good guy and why, McGuire immediately said Emma Frost, because she’s already the world’s greatest good guy. Cates and Latour were quiet, so McGuire said they both say Frost as well. Latour eventually said Duckter Doom (the Spider-Ham universe version of Doctor Doom), and Cates said Thanos, because he raises some compelling points, even if he was not right in Infinity War.
Responding to a question about if the panelists would work in the characters/universe of the other writers, McGuire joked that she literally took Latour’s job, and Cates quipped that he would throw Gwen off a bridge. Latour said he would write a Valentine’s Day special about Eddie and the symbiote, and that Spider-Guin (a penguin version of Spider-Gwen) is the partner of Spider-Ham in the upcoming story, and that together they form “Lethal Web-Ham.”
What are the panelists favorite soundtracks? Cates said he has been writing to the Into the Spider-Verse soundtrack for the past month. McGuire cited the soundtrack to Mean Girls: The Musical, while Latour named both the Black Panther and Spider-Verse soundtracks. Smith joked that she’s still listening to the Shrek 2 soundtrack.
Asked about who they think the best Spider-Man writer and best comics writer ever are, Cates said he admired J. Michael Straczynski’s Amazing Spider-Man run because he swung for the fences every time. Latour said he considered JM DeMatteis’s Spider-Man run to be the best, and that Jack Kirby was the best writer ever. McGuire sheepishly said she thought Jason Latour was the best because he created Spider-Gwen. As the two hugged, the panel ended.
Joe Grunenwald is a writer and editor living in the Pacific Northwest. He’s taller than a lot of people but not as tall as some people.