Marvel’s Robbie Thompson on SILK #1 and his love/hate relationship with the Bechdel Test


Marvel Entertainment

There”s a new girl in Marvel”s Spiderverse and her name is Cindy Moon. Well, new is relative since she was bitten by the same radioactive spider that gave Peter Parker his powers all those years ago. She”s just been off-camera…underground…alone. 

Until now.

Next week Marvel introduces the new on-going series SILK. Written by Robbie Thompson, and featuring art by Stacey Lee, SILK is patrolling the rooftops of New York City and making up for a decade of lost time.

I spoke with Robbie Thompson about writing a new character into the Spiderverse, the benefits and pitfalls of the Bechdel Test, and how awesome fangirls are.

Image Credit: Marvel Entertainment

HITFIX: Before we really get into SILK #1, you”ve written several episodes for the show “Supernatural” that explore the meta-fandom that has popped up in-universe around the Winchester brothers. Is it safe to say you”re immersed in fangirl culture?

Robbie Thompson: Oh yeah. I consider myself a fangirl honestly.

Excellent. One of us… One of us…Does that mean you use Tumblr?

Robbie: Sadly no, I don't. I think I might be too old for it. I think I'm legally not allowed to use it. [laughs] But I get sent Tumblr links all the time because “Supernatural” is such a huge fandom there.

Yeah. Supernatural is actually such a big fandom on Tumblr they've become their own meme, which is that any post will eventually be subsumed into the Supernatural fandom with GIFS.

Robbie: Yeah. They always tell me “we have a gif for that.” I think it”s fantastic.

So, real quick for those who have not read The New Amazing Spider-Man series where Silk was introduced, can you give a little background?

Robbie: Definitely. It all started in the Original Sin story arc, where Peter Parker learned the spider that gave him the fateful bite years ago actually bit someone else before dying. That after person was a really smart young lady named Cindy Moon. After her powers manifested she was approached by a gentleman named Ezekial Sims. He warned Cindy about Morlun and convinced her to lock herself away in a bunker for ten years. After Peter learned of her existence, he went to get Cindy out of that bunker and that began a whole other series of events – the Spider-verse event – which is happening now.

If I can be a fangirl for a second, it is a ton of fun, to see all the spiders come together and mostly get slaughtered by Dan Slott and everybody else!

What's really interesting to me about Cindy”s origin story is that she chose to stay in the bunker. She wasn”t trapped or being held against her will; this was something she was doing for her own safety and Peter Parker comes in pulling a White Knight and she's straight up like “I”m good, thanks.” There”s been some blowback on that. Do you think that her being good at what she does – because she's been in a bunker for ten years with nothing to do but practice – and not being grateful to Peter for saving her all combined into this miasma of “Mary Sue” disdain that seems to be aimed at her?

Robbie: I think a lot of resistance, and I'm speaking myself as a fan, I can't presume to figure out why people will love or hate a character, but there's always a fear of something changing the status quo or “does this new development change how I”m supposed to feel about this character?” And my short answer is no, it doesn't change anything, other then we're getting to see a new character introduced into the Marvel universe that has a really unique position within the lore.

But Silk”s story does not begin and end with being bit by the spider that also bit Peter Parker. We really explore what does it take to make the decision to lock yourself away at such a young age? What kind of lasting effects does that kind of sacrifice leave? In the first arc is Cindy”s made this really big sacrifice and come out of this enormous adventure to discover the family she was trying to protect has disappeared. We also touch on what being isolated for ten years can do to you psychologically, and how do Cindy struggles with finding herself, carving out her own niche in the Marvel universe.

Image Credit: Marvel Entertainment

In the last few months, Marvel has been actively re-orienting to be more inclusive to women readers, for example with the new Spider-Woman. Did you guys discuss the demographic you”re aiming at with Silk?

Robbie: Look, selfishly I want all the readers. I want everybody. Men, women, LGBTQA. I want all of them.

Well, would you say you're writing Silk is as a feminist superhero?

Robbie: Absolutely. One of the things that really attracted me to the book was an opportunity to write a character who made an enormous sacrifice, and is trying to find a way to take control of her life again. And she's trying to figure out the limits of her powers and how she want to present herself as a hero within the Marvel universe.

And frankly, it”s a male dominated market, both character-wise and traditionally market wise. I go to comic shows with my wife and I've been going to Comic-Con since 1998 and the demographic in terms of men and women and diversity has radically changed. But it hasn't in the comics themselves. I think that's something that we got to change, not to chase the market but to just represent reality. I think diversity is important in any kind of artistic expression, because as artists we're supposed to be holding up a mirror and for me, I don't see the people in my world on the page all the time.

I didn't create this character and obviously I would have said yes if Marvel wanted me to write a book about Skrulls, because no one's talking about Skrulls, dammit! But it”s certainly in the back of my mind as something I think is really important for the book to do.

Now not only is Silk a woman, but she”s a Woman of Color (WOC) as a Korean-American. Were you cognizant of integrating her lived experience into the story?

Robbie: Yes. It's a fundamental part of who she is, whether or not it's going to dictate story. But we're certainly not shying away from it. I've said this before because I've written a few characters that are gay and I always hate when characters show up and say, “Hi, I'm person X and I'm gay.” Who talks like that? A character needs to have an agenda – needs and wants – first, and the rest of that character breathes them into three dimensions. So yes, we have talked about the fact that Cindy is a diverse character in the Marvel universe and it is definitely something that is important to us as part of the comic.

Image Credit: Marvel Entertainment

With how much care you”ve put into this comic, I have to ask. Have you heard of the Bechdel test?

Robbie: Yes. One hundred percent. I have a love/hate with the Bechdel test because on the one hand, I think it's kind of a terrible metric for judging a story and yet at the same time even though it's so simple, when you apply it to the top 100 movies or the top 100 books, most of them don”t pass it. It's just bad. I wish that the floor on these kind of tests wasn't so low.

[Editor's Note: The Bechdel Test asks if a piece of media has two named female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man]

Have you heard of the alternate test the was created after “Pacific Rim” came out? It”s called the Mako Mori Test.

Robbie: No, actually. I have not heard of that.

It's a rebuttal to the Bechdel Test because “Pacific Rim” doesn't pass it. Mako is the only real female character in “Pacific Rim” and fans were very upset that it was being considered a bad movie because of its failure to pass the Bechdel Test. So they came up with the Mako Mori Test. It states you can have only one female character with a name, but she has to have her own story arc that does not revolve around the men.

Robbie: That's pretty fantastic. Again, I wish that the floor on these kind of tests wasn't so low but that's pretty good.

So, does this mean Silk will have lady friends that she can talk to?

Robbie: Oh, yeah. She”s definitely got some people at the office that she can bounce with and we're going to see her interact with a few others…I don't think I'm allowed to talk about it.

And one of the relationships I”m excited to explore? Spider-Man is in the book. And we decided to do something daring, which is actually show them be friends because one of the things that we wanted to explore was, there”s this concept in the world where men and women date, or in some cases like this, they get literally caught up in a massive crossover event. But sometimes that doesn't work out and they remain friends. And there's awkwardness and there's that weirdness, but our feeling was Peter and Cindy are inextricably tied together because of what happened to them. There's really only two members of that club and it felt like an opportunity to actually explore what that kind of relationship can look like; what it can be like to have friends after being…more. It's just something that I think we could stand to see a little bit more of and it was just an opportunity to really kind of explore that dynamic. They still do have feelings for one another, but we can express that in a way that is about friendship and this bond they have that is escapable.

Image Credit: Marvel Entertainment

Having done very fan-girly episodes of “Supernatural,” are you going to try to bring any of the fangirl element into Silk's world? Do we get to see her go to Comic-Con and react to cosplayers dressed as Silk perhaps? Maybe a comedy of errors?

Robbie: Dan Slott actually sent me on photos on Twitter of someone cosplaying as Silk, and that is just the coolest thing in the world. When we were at New York Comic-Con – I did a panel and I'm sitting up there with all these great awesome Spider-Man writers and here are these people dressed up, like there was a Spider-Gwen right there! That's amazing. I went up to Spider-Gwen and asked if I could take her photo. It was fantastic.

And they're so fast! It blows my mind how quickly they can turn around a new costume.

Robbie: Cosplayers are fantastic. I think it's such a great creative expression. And it”s such a huge compliment to that character and hopefully the book. When you see these costumes up close, I saw like a bunch of Victorian steampunk Avengers, and the detail in the costume! I mean it was photo ready. It was camera ready.

But, to answer your question, there's definitely an aspect of Cindy where she's got ten years of pop culture to catch up on. She's got a lot of stuff and the world has changed radically, especially in the way that our culture consumes stuff. She's definitely going to be struggling with some of her pop culture references and trying to find her to sea legs.

So it”s not all super-serious “Where is my family!?” drama, then. A bit of light-hearted poking at entertainment culture?

Robbie: Yeah. And let me just say, it's one thing to kind of try to write and find that tone balancing between heavy and fun, but to have been partnered with such a fantastic artist as Stacey Lee, who can balance it out, to give the heavy moments their heaviness but to give the light moments their lightness just been a real treat. It's such a joy to get her pages and to see how she takes what's on the page and makes it so dynamic. I just feel really, really lucky.

SILK #1 will be in comic shops February 18, 2015!

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