What if Spider-Man wasn't able to fight off the sinister tugging of the Venom symbiote, and was fully immersed into that liquidy black alien the way Eddie Brock and others have been?
In classic Marvel Comics continuity Peter Parker was able to fight it off, but in the new limited series Spider-Man: Spider's Shadow he didn't - and the repercussions of that will be explored by Spider-Man: Life Story writer Chip Zdarsky with artists Pasqual Ferry and Matt Hollingsworth.
Newsarama spoke with Zdarsky about this deep-dive into What If? territory and the writer opened up about his connection with Spider-Man, how he sees Spider's Shadow as a horror story, and why despite this being an alternate version of what happened, it's still true to who Spider-Man and Peter Parker are.
Newsarama: Chip, it's great to have you back on Spider-Man. Before we get into the book itself, what is it about Peter Parker that you've found such a groove with?
Chip Zdarsky: It always comes back to the relatable-ness of the character. He desperately wants to do right, for the world and for his friends, but he's his own worst enemy, shouldering the weight of the world. There's that sometimes tricky distinction between being selfish and putting your oxygen mask on first that he always messes up, y'know?
Nrama: Yeah, we've all been there.
In this new limited series, you're exploring the idea of what if Peter couldn't shake off the Venom symbiote and it became a permanent thing.
How far into writing Spider-Man: Spider's Shadow did editor Nick Lowe tell you this is all wrong and they'd need to make this a What If? story?
Zdarsky: Nick is a saint and a gentleman and I won't have you besmirch him with lies.
Nrama: I kid, I kid...
Zdarsky: That being said, he kept insisting he couldn't take my calls because of "COVID protocols," which is weird since you can't get it over the phone?
Nrama: Getting a bit more serious, what about this conceit attracted you so much?
Zdarsky: Oh, jeez, a bunch of things.
I'd been talking to Marvel for a while about doing What If? style projects and my big sticking point was that I wanted them to have several issues, not just the classic one-shots. Being able to dig in on a story instead of having it be half exposition-dump, y'know?
So, once they agreed to that, I realized that this would be the perfect story to tell out of the gate. It was a previous What If? concept that I could really dig into and flesh out, and it hit a tonal place that Spidey comics don't normally go into - something darker, tinged with horror. Having recently worked on Silver Coin for Image and Stillwater for Skybound, I've been finding myself more drawn to those kinds of stories.
And really, the 'black suit saga' at its heart is horror.
Nrama: This idea was touched on somewhat way back in 1989's What If? #4 when you were around 14. What do you think a 14-year-old Chip would do with the Venom symbiote?
Zdarsky: It would 100% replace my old crying blanket!!
Nrama: Ok, trying to be serious again... how does this alt-history What If? concept open new doors for you - and how do you balance it from getting too wild?
Zdarsky: Well, you should go a little wild with stories like this, because they're places where you can do anything. The trick is to keep the focus on Peter as much as possible and make it a personal story, a personal struggle. We don't have the symbiote taking on cold war Russia or blowing up the planet or anything. This is very much a Spider-Man story. But one where everyone is expendable.
Nrama: Marvel has described your story as one of the "most ruthless" Spider-Man stories ever. Can you pinpoint one or two things from the book that you think is the most ruthless?
Zdarsky: Not without spoiling things! Let's just say that at this stage, the symbiote doesn't have a healthy respect for human life.
Nrama: You're working on this with Pasqual Ferry and Matthew Hollingsworth - and surprisingly, this was the first time Pasqual's done any major work for Spider-Man. As a Spider-Man vet yourself - heck, you told his Life Story! - how's he doing so far - and what makes him a great fit?
Zdarsky: Pasqual is the best! He has such a fresh line, with some really amazing character acting. His Peter Parker especially is perfect. The story is essentially set in the 80s when the original issues took place, and Pasqual has the ability to tap into the feeling of that era of comics while serving it up in a modern style. It's pretty amazing.
And my god, Matt Hollingsworth. Getting to finally work with him and see his perfectly thought-out palettes is a real career highlight for me,
Nrama: Last question, Chip… What are you aiming to say about Peter in this kind of story?
Zdarsky: That no matter the situation, no matter the timeline, he's forever Spider-Man.
Keep abreast of Spider-Man: Spider's Shadow and all of the wallcrawler's upcoming stories with our list of all the new Spider-Man comics, graphic novels, and collections in 2021 and beyond.