Joe Quesada Talks Re-Teaming With Jimmy Palmiotti For ‘Ultimate Spider-Man’ [Interview & Video]
For a period in the mid-to-late 1990s, Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti were the chocolate and peanut butter of comics. After teaming up to form Event Comics, the duo helmed the fondly remembered Marvel Knights imprint, which did a lot to bring Marvel out of its post-bankruptcy funk. The imprint was so successful that Quesada went on to become Marvel’s editor-in-chief, and eventually the company’s chief creative officer. Palmiotti and writing partner Justin Gray have spent the intervening years working on creator-owned comics projects along with DC titles, TV, movie and video game work.
Quesada and Palmiotti haven’t worked together in quite some time, but they’ve found a venue for a reunion in this Sunday’s episode of Ultimate Spider-Man — based on a story from Quesada and co-written by Man of Action studios and Palmiotti — which finds the titular wall crawler moving to Boston to become its official superhero. ComicsAlliance spoke to Quesada about the origins of the episode and what it was like to reunite with his old writing, art and editing partner.ComicsAlliance: From what I can tell, this is your first writing credit on the show. I’ve seen you credited as a producer, but but not as a writer. Why enter the mix now?
Joe Quesada: It really sort of came about from me having an idea for an episode that would be a real fun, romp story. I pitched to Jeph Loeb and the writers’ room to see if there was any traction. They really liked it, so they were encouraging me to write the thing from soup to nuts. Knowing the job that I have at Marvel, and how much time that actually takes up during the course of any given week, I knew that was going to be really tough to do. So I said, “Look, let me just take it one step at a time. Let me come up with an outline. If you guys approve the outline, let’s see where we go from there.”
I wrote up a tight outline of the actual episode, and it was at that time I knew that there was going to be no way I was going to be able to write a full script. They liked the outline, and it was at that point they said, “Who would you like to have write it?” And I said, You know what? It’s been a while since Jimmy and I have actually written anything together. We’ve written tons of comics together. We’ve edited tons of comics together. We’ve drawn tons of comics together. And I just thought it’d be something fun to do, something we’ve actually never done. Jimmy’s written some animation in the past, he did a couple episodes for some other shows, so I thought, why not give Jimmy the outline. It’s really not unlike the way we used to work. He did an amazing job with it.
CA: For a certain portion of the Ultimate Spider-Man audience, guys like me who were reading Marvel Knights comics when that was starting, this is a reemergence of a team of creators whose names are forever burned together into their memory. Did you guys just fall right into that old rhythm again?
JQ: It was very easy, because he’s just a funny guy. This particular story is really grounded deeply in humor, the humor of Spider-Man. We do several different kinds of stories on this particular TV show; the old, great superhero action-adventure stories with some humor sprinkled in. This was one that was really going to be very tongue-in-cheek and lighthearted. It’s really sort of a, for lack of a better word, a farce, a straight-on comedy episode. Knowing how Jimmy writes, I knew this would be very perfect for him, with some great jokes and gags. We fell right into it. There were very few bumps in the road as far as getting this done. He saw the outline. He understood it completely because we worked together for so long.
CA: The idea behind this episode is that Spider-Man’s going to Boston. How does that happen?
JQ: The actual idea for Spidey moving to Boston was something that initially emerged in the Amazing Spider-Man writers’ room. Guys like Dan Slott, Bob Gale, Mark Waid, Zeb Wells, a whole group of us were in the room, coming up with ideas for Spidey stories in the Marvel Universe. This was a story arc that was pitched, and we weren’t sure when we were going to get to it, because it wasn’t fitting into the regular run in a really organic way. We knew it was a good story but we didn’t know where it was going to fit.
We hadn’t published the story, but I still thought it was a great, great idea, especially being a sports fanatic as I am. I love the idea of a Boston/New York rivalry. Boston’s the perfect place for Spidey to go to if you really want to piss off a lot of New Yorkers [laughs] and Boston folks as well. So I just thought it’d be a great told-in-one episode for Spider-Man. I asked Steve Wacker, who is the Spider-Man editor, if I could use this idea and he said, “Go for it.” The fact that Steve also works for the TV show with us makes it a lot easier. That’s really where the idea for the episode came about. At its basic core, the city of Boston is looking at New York and notices all the cool superheroes are in New York. They don’t really have any superheroes in Boston. So they say, “Let’s get one of our own.” They make Spidey an offer he can’t refuse, and it comes at a time when Spidey is having his fill of New York and decides, why not? Let’s take a chance.
CA: I was going to ask how it all came about because in the comics, you’ve got Aunt May having moved to Boston, so there’s a reason for Spider-Man to go there in that context. So this is a financial consideration?
JQ: It’s a little bit of that. It’s a self-esteem consideration. He’s taken enough of J. Jonah’s yapping and considering him a menace. Nobody’s appreciating him for who he is.
CA: You and Jimmy are both New York guys. Considering the long-standing rivalry between New York and Boston, how were you able to look at Boston in this episode in an objective way, or do you?
JQ: We make fun of both cities. I know plenty of people from Boston. One of the producers on our show, Harrison Wilcox, is from Boston. He was instrumental in helping us with the Boston aspect of the episode. We make fun of everybody. New Yorkers get it and Bostonians get it. It just points out how silly both cities are, and how, at the end of the day, they’re really kind of exactly the same city, only one’s smaller and has a funnier accent.
CA: Spider-Man has a long history of fish-out-of-water stories, basically any time he’s outside of New York. One that I have a particular fondness for is Amazing Spider-Man #267, the one where he goes to the suburbs. There’s the iconic panel where he shoots his web at a tree and it just falls to the ground. Did you take any inspiration from that comic or other comics stories where Spidey’s in a place he’s not familiar with?
JQ: The only inspiration we took, really, was from the Spider-Man character himself and how he would react to situations like this. It’s a very, very simple premise. It’s very much a grass-is-always-greener-on-the-other-side story. Spidey’s posed with this wonderful offer, but in Spidey’s world these things tend to go astray. That’s basically what happens.
CA: You said this is a one-off episode. Does it tie into the rest of the season in any fashion?
JQ: It won’t affect season two, per se. You could pull this episode out and season two is not necessarily affected in any major way. It will affect season three, though. That’s really all I can say. There are some ramifications. The other thing that’s fun about this episode is that you will see a classic Spidey villain that will appear for the first time in the TV show. I also think it’s the first time that the show itself is creating three new villains who have never appeared in a Spider-Man comic before.
CA: One thing about this series in particular is that it really takes place in a larger Marvel Universe with lots of guest stars. Will any other recognizable characters be popping up other than the one villain you mentioned?
JQ: This particular villain will be the only one, and it’ll be an Ultimate version of that villain. The alter-ego name will be recognizable to hardcore Spider-Man fans. The costume of the character will be recognizable, but there will be some changes. Everything else is pretty new. I will say, and I don’t want to give it away because it’s really fun, one of the best things about this episode is the fact that we were able to give Spider-Man some really bizarre, sometimes cool, sometimes unnecessary, gear. Longtime Spider-Man fans are going to see something that’s going to make them smile.
CA: While we’re talking about gear, let’s talk about clothing. Peter Parker has the benefit of not being a fan of the team most Bostonians most hate, the Yankees. He’s a Mets fan.
JQ: He is a Mets fan.
CA: Is he going to show up in Boston in a Mets cap, and is that going to get him in trouble?
JQ: There was a line that made it through every draft of the script until we were ready to actually have the actors come in and read. We decided to take it out because it was a little too insular. It was a big sports gag. The other part of it was that these episodes don’t just play in the United States. They play everywhere. So internationally, nobody would really get the joke. But there was a moment when Spider-Man, in an effort to win over the hearts of Bostonians, basically makes a Yankees joke, and the crowd goes crazy. As much as I hated to do it, we had to get rid of it.
Here’s a clip of Quesada and Palmiotti’s episode, “Spidah-Man,” which airs on Disney XD Sunday at 11 a.m. Eastern.