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Talking With Legendary Writer David Michelinie

Updated: Jan 24, 2020

David Michelinie is an absolute legend in the comic book industry. He has written some of the most famous and popular storylines over his long career. While he has worked for many publishers he is best known for his work at Marvel.

He had an outstanding run on IRON MAN for years. He wrote the popular story "Demon In A Bottle", where he had Tony dealing with alcoholism. He also helped create James Rhodes/War Machine who went on to become a major character in the Marvel Universe. He also wrote popular storylines such as "Armor Wars" and the "Dr. Doom Trilogy".

Next, after writing WEB OF SPIDER-MAN, he brought his magic to AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, where he worked with some of the best artists in the industry (Todd McFarlane, Erik Larsen and Mark Bagley). Over his long run, he married Peter and MJ and co-created two of Spidey's most popular villains, Venom and Carnage. Michelinie's long run on the title is second only to Stan Lee.

Over the years, he has returned to work on Iron Man and Venom and other various books at Marvel. He's currently working on a few project that he will be launching through Kickstarter, so be on the lookout guys.

COMIC LOUNGE: Having written for decades, can you talk a little bit about how you first got started in comics?

DAVID MICHELINIE: Back in 1973 I’d quit my first--and so far, only--”real” job, at a commercial film production company, and had moved back in with my parents in Kentucky. About that time National Periodical Publications (now DC Comics) started what they called an apprenticeship program. Basically, they would bring would-be writers or artists into the offices in starter positions to learn the business before becoming full-time employees. (As far as I know, the only person to actually go through that process was writer Martin Pasko.) I sent in writing samples, but for some reason they bypassed the apprenticeship office and landed on editor Joe Orlando’s “slush pile” (unsolicited manuscripts). Joe’s assistant read them and sent me a note saying that I showed promise but that they couldn’t work with anyone outside the New York City area. So I closed out my commercial writing obligations, put everything I owned in my beat-up Corolla, and two weeks later had moved to New York. I showed up at DC with the assistant editor’s letter and they pretty much had to give me a chance. The rest is history. (Or infamy, depending on what one thinks of my work.)

COMIC LOUNGE: What were some comic books that inspired you to become a writer?

MICHELINIE: I read a lot of everything as a kid, but I truly loved the DC science fiction titles (STRANGE ADVENTURES, MYSTERY IN SPACE) and characters (Space Ranger, Adam Strange, Atomic Knights). As for super heroes, I really didn’t read a lot of the major characters, but gravitated to the more unusual second-stringers: Challengers Of The Unknown, Rip Hunter Time Master, Sea Devils, etc.

COMIC LOUNGE: You’re primarily known for your work at Marvel. One of the books you worked on was IRON MAN, you introduced so many things to the book. One major thing was making Tony an alcoholic, where did the idea for that storyline come from?

MICHELINIE: After five years of writing for DC, I switched over to Marvel and was immediately assigned two books: THE AVENGERS and IRON MAN. I had never read an Iron Man story before that, so the first thing I did was read the last six issues before my first one was due. I saw a guy, Tony Stark, whose world was falling apart: there was a threatened hostile takeover of his company, the government was trying to regulate his team (the Avengers), and his love life was in the toilet. It seemed to me that a real person in this situation would be desperate to find an escape, some way to ease the stress. And since it had been long established that Tony was a social drinker, I thought that having that become Tony’s release valve--and ultimate addiction--would be a logical step. I suggested it to my co-plotter, Bob Layton, he liked it, so we pitched it to editor-in-chief Jim Shooter. Jim gave it the green light with only one proviso: do it well.

COMIC LOUNGE: You also created James Rhodes/War Machine, where did the inspiration for him come from? What was your reaction when you saw him brought to life on the big screen?

MICHELINIE: Technically, I CO-created James Rhodes with Bob--and had nothing to do with creating War Machine. That being said...we saw that Tony Stark at the time was pretty much defined by his Iron Man alter ego: he mostly hung out with other super heroes and even much of his business life revolved around heroes and villains. In our efforts to focus more on the man inside the armor we decided to flesh out his corporate employees and, more importantly, give him a buddy, a pal, a normal guy he could just hang out with and talk to. That was Jim Rhodes. In order to help get the character involved in the main storylines as well we made him ex-military, a strong and loyal guy who could have Tony’s back in a danger situation.

Movie-wise, I was a little disappointed that they kept Rhodey in the air force, rather than making him Tony’s civilian pal. I also thought the first actor chosen had too gentle/soft a voice to fit the character I’d heard in my head when writing it. The second actor, Don Cheadle, wasn’t as physically suited for the comic book image, but had great acting chops for the character. And I thought the movie people finally got it right in “Iron Man 3” when they had Tony and Rhodey fighting side-by-side as civilians, sans armor.

COMIC LOUNGE: What were some of your favorite stories from your time on IRON MAN?

MICHELINIE: Of course, the alcoholism storyline was a incredible challenge to meet--and thus very satisfying to bring to fruition. Many readers thought we were ruining the character, but eventually were brought around to see that we were actually bolstering his deepest core characteristics--his courage and innate nobility--by having him triumph over his most insidious and intimate foe: his own weakness. At the other end of the spectrum, I also thought our Dr. Doom time travel trilogy was a lot of fun.

COMIC LOUNGE: You also wrote one of the most celebrated runs on AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, working with artists such as Todd McFarlane, Erik Larsen, and Mark Bagley. What was your initial thought when landing the job to write Spidey?

MICHELINIE: I wrote WEB OF SPIDER-MAN for about a year before I was offered AMAZING, so I actually landed two separate Spidey jobs. Spider-Man was the character that got me back into reading comics in college, and he quickly became my all-time favorite super hero. So being offered the writing chores on WEB was a genuine thrill. But being given the opportunity to write AMAZING, to control the destiny of the character in the original Spidey title, was truly a dream come true.

COMIC LOUNGE: You helped create some of the most iconic Spider-Man villains, Venom and Carnage. Where did the inspiration for those characters come from? What were your feelings on the VENOM movie?

MICHELINIE: Whenever I write an established character, I try to focus on what makes him/her unique. And one thing that Spider-Man had that no other character had at the time was his spider-sense. He’d gotten so used to counting on that early warning that dodging danger had become a reflex, like when a doctor taps your knee

to make your leg jerk. So I thought, what would happen if there was some incredibly dangerous villain who wanted nothing more than to kill Spider-Man...but didn’t trigger that spider-sense? What would that do to Peter Parker’s confidence, his belief that he could survive any fight? I thought that would make for some really strong character exploration. The alien symbiote that Peter had worn as a costume had been established as not affecting the spider-sense, and Louise Simonson had recently had Peter reject it. So I took that background, added a human host who also had lethal feelings toward Spider-Man, and Venom was born.

Carnage came about when I realized that a lot of readers were focusing on Eddie Brock’s psychotic hatred for Spider-Man and missing what I had developed as his secondary motivation: a twisted sense of morality, the belief that he had been an innocent whose life had been ruined by Spider-Man, and therefore had a skewed belief that he should protect other innocents from harm. So, I decided to create a character who had similar symbiote abilities to Venom, but with no moral compass whatsoever. I figured unrepentant (even joyous) sociopath Cletus Kasady could provide a clear contrast to the semi-sympathetic Venom.

As for the Venom movie...I thought it was entertaining. I had some problems with the timeline and certain stretches of logic, and of course there were some major changes in Eddie Brock’s insanity. But I understood that Sony was looking for a franchise and would have trouble maintaining stories of a totally wacked-out and murderous “hero”. But Tom Hardy was terrific and, like I say, I was entertained.

COMIC LOUNGE: VENOM is currently one of the best books out at Marvel right now, have you checked it out yet? If so, what are your thoughts on it?

MICHELINIE: It may sound like ego talking, but I try not to read characters I’ve created, or those I’ve kind of bonded with, after I lose control of them. But it isn’t ego, it’s self-preservation. Stories written after I’ve left may be wonderful, innovative, better than anything I ever wrote, and incredibly popular. But they’re never the stories I would have told, the directions I would have taken. Like Jim Rhodes who went from his intended roll as normal human buddy for Tony Stark to being a (very popular) super hero. And Venom who went from being an off-the-wall nut job to being a Flash Thompson hero and a Space Knight. Nothing wrong with those interpretations at all; it’s just that they weren’t the characters that came from my brain and my heart. And reading them would not take me to a happy place.

COMIC LOUNGE: You also married Peter and MJ in ASM Annual #21, which is one of my favorite Spider-

Man comics. What did you think about Marvel getting rid of the marriage? Do you think they should bring it back?

MICHELINIE: Shortly after I was assigned to AMAZING SPIDER-MAN I was told that Peter would be marrying Mary Jane. I hated it. I wanted to write the Spider-Man I’d grown to love as a reader: a somewhat geeky student who had everyday problems--like me! I figured few readers (averaging 15 years old a the time) would be able to identify with an old married guy. But it was going to happen, and I was left with the choice of dealing with it, or giving up my dream job. So I decided to do something different: make the marriage work. Most comic book marriages result in arguments and ultimate dissolve. So I decided to give poor Peter a gift: a bit of happiness amidst his angst and super hero trials. And to my surprise, I had a great time doing it!

So, what did I think of Marvel getting rid of the marriage? Really, was anyone surprised? I just kinda grinned and said to myself, “Yep...” Do I think they should bring it back? Who cares? If they do they’ll just dump it again in their next reboot. Or the next. or the next...

COMIC LOUNGE: Are there any books you’re working on that you can talk about?

MICHELINIE: I recently had success in my first Kickstarter experience, a one-shot called THE LIVING CORPSE: THE HEXX FILES. Artwork is by the long-time Living Corpse creators--Buz Hasson, Ken Haeser and Blair Smith--and it should be out around the end of January. I’m also working on a new BOZZ CHRONICLES story with Bret Blevins, to be Kickstarted and published by It’s Alive! press.

COMIC LOUNGE: What have been the most meaningful moments in your career?

MICHELINIE: 1. Squatting on a subway platform in Manhattan, flipping through a copy of HOUSE OF SECRETS, and being surprised to see my first published story. 2. Bob Layton and I receiving a certificate of merit from a noted alcohol abuse awareness foundation for our Iron Man storyline. 3. Seeing a dozen or more characters I created or co-created on the big screen in popular movies. 4. Having my story poem, “ The Stranger’s Tale”, published in POETIC IMAGES: THE GREAT AMERICAN WEST; having my prose short story, “Lord Pemberton’s Adjustment Service”, win the 2017 Pulp Factory Award for Best Short Story; I know I can write comics--but it’s good to occasionally be reassured that I can write other things as well.

COMIC LOUNGE: What does being a writer mean to you?

MICHELINIE: It means I’m one of the very few and fortunate people who have been able to make a living by doing what they love to do; in my case, telling stories.

#ComicBooks #Comics #MarvelComics

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