The Badass Interview: Marvel Comics’ Christopher Yost and Ryan Stegman

Marvel's bringing back the Scarlet Spider, and he's coming to Houston!

As a Houstonian, I was pretty well stoked to discover that we're getting our own superhero. Kaine is cleaning up his act and moving to Houston to fight crime as the Scarlet Spider. Marvel Comics' Christopher Yost and Ryan Stegman came to Houston's Alamo Drafthouse to introduce the new run and answer a Q&A for the audience. A question tons of audience members had is how to represent the Scarlet Spider in Houston, one of the most spread-out metropolises in the country. He can't exactly swing from building to building across Houston the way Spider-Man can in New York. It would seriously take him weeks to swing from Sugerland to Kingwood. Yost and Stegman guaranteed that Houston will be accurately represented, and that Kaine will improvise, for instance jumping on the side of an 18-wheeler in a future issue in order to traverse the city. But they guaranteed that they'll try to make him as "web-slingy" as possible considering the locational challenges.

Yost and Stegman both commented on the fact that Houston is a really unique city, with its own very specific tone, and they have every intention of capturing that within the run. Yost said, "We really want people to be able to pick this up and go 'Wow, that's my town.'" Stegman spent much of his trip in Houston checking out the architecture of the city, taking pics and notes in order to visually represent H-town with accuracy.

Yost said he and Stegman love having the ability to write the comic in Houston, because it's a brand new universe for Marvel, so the possibilities are endless. He said, "No one had dibs on Houston, so we can do whatever we want here." The response has been great and they think it will lead to other comics being centered in other untapped cities in the future. They intend to use the oil-centric economic scene and scandalous Enron history of Houston as a way to bring Roxxon Energy Corporation to the fore of Kaine's circle of nemeses, which is a pretty rad idea. Drug cartels and human trafficking are other Houston-specific crimes the Scarlet Spider will be tackling.

I had a chance to speak with Yost and Stegman before the Q&A. Check out the interview below!

When did you first encounter Kaine as a reader?

Yost: At the very beginning, I was a reader. I was right there from the ground floor. 

Stegman: I didn't read his run when it first came out. I just read it recently. It was really long and I never knew which issue to read next.

What made Kaine choose Houston?

Yost: Well, he’s a villain. He’s a bad guy. So he has to avoid a lot of people. So at the end of “Spider-Island,” he’s surrounded by The Avengers and Captain America and all these heroes, and basically if they find out who he is, they’re going  take him down and put him back in prison. So he’s got this new lease on life, and it's basically like he just survived cancer. And he doesn’t particularly want to go to prison. So he does the smartest thing he can, which is to get out of the country. So he heads down toward Mexico, but on his way there, he runs into a little bit of trouble in Houston. He saves a life there and thinks to himself, "I'll never be a superhero, but maybe I don't have to be a villain," and he decides to stay in Houston. 

Scarlet Spider and Kaine are both names from one of the less popular runs of Spider-Man. Why did you decide to keep them alive?

Yost: Well, after the whole big “Brand New Day” storyline, it kind of re-engineered Spider-Man’s story. He became a fairly big member of the cast. We entered a situation where we realized we could try to shed light on the whole Spider-Man story with Kaine. You know, if you’ve got all of Spider-Man’s powers, but didn’t have the upbringing with Aunt May and the pancakes and Uncle Ben and all those life lessons, are you still Spider-Man? Can you still be a hero? If you had a terrible upbringing, but have that DNA, what do you do? So in this book, not only is it a story of redemption, but it gets into nature versus nurture, as well.

How important will Houston be as a setting? Is it generic like Marvel's New York, or is it more specific, like Gotham in Batman?

Yost: We’re doing our best to make it more specific. Because everybody feels like they know New York. You pick up a comic, watch a movie or TV show and it’s set in New York and you’re like, “Oh yeah, New York. I totally know New York.” Because you know what the Empire State Building looks like, the Statue of Liberty, all of that. In Houston, there’s not a lot of landmarks that are immediately recognizable to outsiders. For us, we’re really going to get it as accurate as possible, because the city really does have its own kind of feel. The setting will have that specific Houston feel; we’ll do our best to get it as authentic as possible.

You spoke a little bit about Kaine being a villain and a killer before. What’s his attitude now?

Yost: Well, it’s not like he’s waking up in the morning saying, “I’m going to be a superhero. I’m going to be the best man I can be!” He really doesn’t think that way. That’s not how he was brought up. In Issue #1, he breaks up a drug deal, but he doesn’t do it because he’s against drug deals; he does it to steal the money, because he needs money. It’s really going to take him a while to get into the hero mode. He just thinks about everything differently from Peter Parker.

Kaine has a pretty convoluted history. Are you guys working with what’s been written before, or are you making a fresh start of it?

Yost: You don’t need to know anything to pick up Issue #1. We explain how he got here and who he is the best we can in the first few pages. We’re really doing our best to be fresh with it. I mean, this is a character with all of this history and crazy baggage, and you don’t need it. This is a guy, and he’s starting a new life. That's all you need to know.

Houston’s off the map when it comes to Marvel villains. Will Kaine be fighting all new bad guys, or will a few famous villains make the trip to Texas?

Yost: In Issue #1 and #2, we have a brand new villain. In Issue #3 and #4 he runs into an older villain you might recognize. But for the first year, we’re going to try to do newer stuff. Because, you’re right, it’s not New York, it’s not a place where he’s going to run into the same bad guys, and that's great. Houston is a new place, and it really gives us a lot of freedom. One of the things that Ryan and I talked about was to try to create a whole new supporting cast, a whole new rogues gallery. We’re really going to do that as much as we can.

What are your thoughts on digital comics?

Stegman: I’ve actually transitioned to digital completely. I write physical copies, but I live in an area where it’s tough to get all the comics I want. And I also like the organization on the application on the iPad. So I buy them all digitally and I hope that Scarlet Spider will have a new life digitally.

Yost: I think digital’s great. I will always love to hold a comic, and same with books, but we’re in a changing world. There’s no reason they can’t work side by side.

Scarlet Spider #1 is on sale now, so check it out and see my glorious city get the superhero treatment!