“It’s been years since I signed one of these,” David Michelinie said as he autographed my copy of DC Super Stars #16. Then he picked up my copy of Adventure Comics #456. “And I don’t believe I’ve ever signed one of these.”
It was a surreal moment for me. Having loved comic books and superheroes since I was a kid and never grown out of it, I was sitting next to one of the guys responsible for that. Michelinie wrote many of the stories I grew up reading and continue to revisit.
He was among the guests at last year’s Alabama Phoenix Festival, a three-day science fiction, anime, comics, and cosplay convention. Even if you’re not an avid fan of any of those, this year’s event – scheduled for May 30-June 1 at the Sheraton Birmingham Hotel – is worth a visit. It’s an opportunity to hang out with celebrities, sit in on some entertaining and informative panel discussions, and see some things you simply won’t see anywhere else.
And in my case last year, it gave me the chance to meet one of my superheroes. As a nerdy kid who never wanted to do anything other than write, I always read the credits in the comic books my parents bought for me.
David Michelinie was a name I was familiar with from way back.
“I always wanted to be a writer when I was a kid,” he said. “When my friends wanted to be cowboys, rock stars, and astronauts, I was the weird one because I wanted to be a writer. And I became a writer, even if nobody else became cowboys, rock stars, or astronauts.”
Michelinie sold his first story to National Periodical Publications (as DC Comics was then officially known) 41 years ago. “Coming in at the ground level in those days, you sent a script in, and it went into an editor’s slush pile,” he said. “The editor would use it when he needed a filler story.”
His script “Puglyon’s Crypt,” illustrated by Ramona Fradon, was published in House of Secrets #116, which went on sale in November, 1973, when comic books cost 20 cents each. Told that the story showed promise, Michelinie made a decision. “I was in Kentucky at the time. I’m not very ambitious, but I knew this was a great opportunity, and I showed up in New York on DC’s doorstep two months later. When I arrived at DC, I had three goals: sell a story, write a regular series, and create a new series.”
Three more of his stories were published in House of Secrets within the next year, and DC assigned him to two more of its mystery titles, Weird War Tales and House of Mystery. Later, he wrote for Swamp Thing, The Phantom Stranger, and Star-Spangled War Stories, which featured the Unknown Soldier.
He reached his third goal early in 1975 – by which time comics had gone up to two bits – when Claw the Unconquered debuted in his own title. Featuring a Conanesque swordsman and wanderer who concealed a deformed hand inside a metal gauntlet, the series ran for 12 issues. Michelinie wrote all 12 stories and a thirteenth that was never published because Claw got conquered by the DC Implosion — a failed marketing campaign that resulted in the abrupt cancellation of more than 20 series — in 1978.
Starfire, Michelinie’s second series, began its run in 1976. A combination of fantasy and science fiction, it was noteworthy for featuring a female protagonist. The following year, he introduced Star Hunters – a group of adventurers who had been exiled from Earth by a malevolent corporation that had taken control of the planet — in DC Super Stars #16. The team received its own seven-issue series, which also fell victim to the DC Implosion.
In the meantime, Michelinie also wrote adventures of such established heroes as Aquaman, Superboy, Jonah Hex, and Karate Kid. After five years at DC, he moved across town to Marvel and began writing for such now-iconic characters as the Avengers, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Captain America, Daredevil, and Ant Man. He also enjoyed successful runs on the licensed titles Star Wars and The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones. His time at Marvel was distinguished by the creation of Venom, an alien villain whose original incarnation was as a new costume for Spider-Man.
“Did you like how Venom was depicted in Spider-Man 3?” I asked.
“I think they did the best they could within the limits of making a movie,” Michelinie said before adding, “But they didn’t ask me.”
“Having written Iron Man for as long as you did, what did you think of the movies?”
“For the most part, Robert Downey Jr. was the perfect Tony Stark. He nailed it.”
“Of the characters you’ve written, do you have a favorite?”
“Other than those I created, Spider-Man. He’s a real guy.” Michelinie wrote more than 85 stories featuring the friendly neighborhood web-slinger, more than any writer other than Spidey creator Stan Lee.
“Are there a lot of differences between the comics business now and when you started out in the early 70s?”
He was reflective for a moment. “There is a lot less respect for what has gone on before. With a lot of money and the fans, there is much more of a superstar awareness of writers and artists. I never thought about any of that. I just loved what I was doing.”
And so did more than a few of us who grew up on David Michelinie’s stories and characters.