With Joe St.Pierre
To me, David Michelinie is easily in the pantheon of the greatest comics writers of all time. He wrote epic runs on IRON MAN, AVENGERS, and the AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. He was also involved in the creation of some truly memorable characters in the Marvel Comics Universe, including CARNAGE, the TASKMASTER, SCOTT LANG (ANT-MAN), JIM RHODES (WAR MACHINE), and perhaps most notably, everyone‘s favorite wall crawling villain, VENOM!
My very first job as a penciler was written by the man himself–you can imagine how intimidating that was;)–We also worked on my favorite SPIDER-MAN job at Marvel Comics together, which included both VENOM and CARNAGE. Dave has already scripted a story with one of my own creator-owned characters, CRICKET, in THE NEW ZODIAX.
Joe: So let‘s talk about VENOM! There‘s a lot of buzz nowadays about this guy, with the upcoming movie. Lots of people are talking about Tom Hardy (Mad Max) playing Eddie Brock/VENOM, which I think is a huge deal! Paint a picture of Marvel‘s Spider-offices at the time you were there, developing the character.
Dave: (At first) I was assigned to WEB OF SPIDER-MAN. There were three titles at the time, and the editor wanted each SPIDER-MAN book to have its own identity. AMAZING SPIDER-MAN was the standard superhero. SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN was the dark and gritty SPIDER-MAN. WEB OF SPIDER-MAN was the traveling guy. Peter Parker was the photographer who would go to different places and get into all different kinds of things. So there wasn‘t as much freedom as
when I was moved to AMAZING, that was the flagship of the SPIDER-MAN titles. I felt when I was doing WEB, I needed to pay attention to what was happening in AMAZING, and when I was doing AMAZING, now I was what I considered the leader. I tried to be aware of what other (fellow Spidey creative) people were doing, and not screw them over, but I felt I had the freedom to take the guy into a different direction that I felt would be interesting, and so I did.
Joe: If I recall correctly, VENOM first officially appeared in WEB OF, right? That‘s when you were writing it? Was it the symbiote itself, or Eddie Brock…?
Dave: No, that was the character that I was originally going to make VENOM. There were two teaser episodes: one that I wrote myself, and one that I had plotted but left the book before I had a chance to script it. A hand pushes Peter Parker in front of a subway train, and it doesn‘t trigger his spider sense–which I thought was the key. That was the original reason I created VENOM, basically. What if there‘s this character that doesn’t trigger Peter‘s spider sense? And then the other teaser, SPIDER-MAN‘s on the side of a wall, a hand comes out of a window and pulls him off the wall and drops him, and again, doesn‘t trigger his spider sense. That was the original VENOM.
Joe: But the two teasers aren‘t connected to the Eddie Brock VENOM?
Dave: It was supposed to be a woman, originally. I had done a graphic novel called REVENGE OF THE LIVING MONOLITH; in the story there was this woman who is pregnant, she was about to give birth. Her husband wants to get her to a hospital, he runs out on the street to flag down a cab. The cabbie is watching SPIDER-MAN fight the Living Monolith, and he hits the husband, kills him. So the woman is traumatized by this, she gives birth, and her baby dies. She goes into a catatonic state for months, and when she comes out of it, she blames SPIDER-MAN for killing her husband and baby. The rejected symbiote senses her hatred for SPIDER-MAN, and joins with her. That was originally what I was teasing, the woman who would be VENOM. Editor Jim Salicrup wanted to do something special for issue 300 of AMAZING so I said “OK I‘ve got this character, this villain blah blah blah” he liked the idea but he didn‘t think the readers would accept a woman standing toe to toe with SPIDER-MAN, which of course nowadays, that would not be a question. So I came up with the Eddie Brock character and his background, and his motivation. That became VENOM.
Joe: Geez, I love the original idea! It‘s pretty interesting.
Dave: Well maybe I‘ll steal it from myself and use it somewhere. With VENOM, Jim Salicrup was wise enough and kind enough to keep the character exclusive to AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. He turned down people who wanted to use the character somewhere else.
Joe: Oh, there were a lot of requests from other editors and writers to bring him over to their other books?
Dave: Yes. Jim wouldn‘t let that happen, and he didn‘t force me to do new stories, even though the character became very popular, selling books. He didn‘t say “OK let‘s do a VENOM story.” Instead, he let me do VENOM whenever I came up with a story that moved the character along, that did something different, that showed something new, and I think that‘s one of the reasons for his popularity. Whenever VENOM showed up, there was something you hadn‘t seen before. It wasn‘t just him hitting people. I developed the character. (Eventually) I had to come up with ideas to make VENOM a hero because they were going to make him a hero, they were going to give him his own series. Initially, I turned that assignment down twice, but then finally admitted, “Okay, with a mini-series, here‘s a way he can ignore one of his two prime directives.” One: to kill SPIDER-MAN. He could ignore that and go with his other, which was he thought of himself as a protector of the innocent. I could play that up.
Joe: Was it an organic process for you to come up with CARNAGE then? Or was that an editorial request, because VENOM was so popular?
Dave: No, no, that was me, because I wanted to point out–because some people missed this–that one of the important elements of VENOM is that he‘s a moral character. It‘s twisted morality. It‘s insane morality. But he has this ethical, moral code, and a lot of people missed that. They just thought he was insane and wanted to kill people. So I figured if I introduced someone who was like VENOM, which I normally don‘t do–I agree with you that if you have too many SPIDER-MANs, then SPIDER-MAN is no longer unique. But if I introduced a character who was the 180° opposite, of VENOM. someone who had as much power and similar abilities but no sense of morals, no sense of ethical behavior, who simply worshiped chaos, that contrast would make VENOM”s “morality” stand out more.. So that‘s why CARNAGE came along, that came out of me thinking about the characters.
Joe: Right, and he also becomes a foil for VENOM himself in certain stories, right?
Dave: That was one of the things I liked, and I thought readers would like it. Y‘know, they’re thinking that VENOM wants nothing better than to kill SPIDER-MAN, so those two are never gonna get together. But what if there was a threat even nastier than VENOM, one that VENOM himself couldn’t abide? I thought readers would love that, and it was fun to write, fun to play with.
Joe: I can imagine. And were you involved with the other symbiotes?
Dave: When Danny Fingeroth started editing, he and I had different ideas. He was the first editor who offered VENOM to anyone. If anyone wanted to use VENOM, that was OK.
Joe: Oh really, an editorial shift?
Dave: Absolutely. And he was the first person to write VENOM besides me, in a graphic novel where he gave VENOM two powers the character had never had before and he didn‘t explain them.
Dave: Now VENOM could sense where Peter Parker was. How? How could he do that? And Danny’s explanation was, “I don‘t know, I just thought it would be cool.” That was the downfall. Danny came on after the three-part CARNAGE story I came up under Jim Salicrup, and Danny left that alone. But I knew what was going to happen. I had opened Pandora’s box. So in another story I introduced four other symbiotes and I wanted to establish since they had been born in Earth‘s atmosphere and were artificially grown or something, the symbiotes turned to dust. I had hoped to establish that you couldn‘t create these things anymore, in the Earth’s atmosphere, and the reason that CARNAGE didn‘t turn to dust was that he was the Spawn of VENOM himself, you know the original alien. So okay, no more symbiotes. And of course that‘s been ignored.
Joe: I see VENOM the same way as characters like GALACTUS or the TASKMASTER. In other words, when this guy shows up–which should be rarely–it‘s an event. SPIDER-MAN‘s life is truly in danger. I mean, I love the SCORPION. He’s one of my favorite characters, but the appeal to me of the SCORPION is other than his threat to SPIDER-MAN’s life. For me, when VENOM showed up, this became a serious problem for SPIDER-MAN, and if not to himself, then his loved ones. Of course, now VENOM has what, 150 issues with his own title? (laughs)
Dave: Apparently. Well, it wasn‘t VENOM most of the time. it wasn‘t Eddie Brock. To me, Eddie Brock and the symbiote–that‘s VENOM. Take John Doe and the symbiote, that‘s someone else. So you get someone with a different background, different motivations and you can do all kinds of different things, but that‘s not VENOM. You‘ve got the costume and the name, and that‘s what’s going to sell books.
Joe: Couldn‘t have said it better. Thanks for your time Dave, I had a blast!
David Michelinie‘s story featuring CRICKET of the NEW ZODIAX is a stretch goal for the NEW ZODIAX Vol. 1 NEW EDITION, available through Kickstarter ‘til October 11th, so order yours now!