Taking Justice Into His Own Hands
♦ Tripwire’s contributing writer Scott Braden gives us his latest in his series of features on comic stories or series that never happened. This week it’s the turn of David Michelinie and Dick Giordano’s Deathmask …
David Michelinie and Dick Giordano’s Deathmask
Recognized in comicdom and beyond for his outstanding work on Marvel Comics’ Amazing Spider-Man and Iron Man, among others, David Michelinie is probably best known for his fan-favorite co-creations Venom and Carnage. But, at the turn of the millennium, the acclaimed comics scribe looked to the future – Future Comics, that is — with a trio of uncanny heroes, including the vigilante men call Deathmask.
What was it about Future Comics that appealed to Michelinie as a writer?
“Freedom and ownership,” Michelinie revealed. “Bob Layton and I created all of the characters and we owned the properties outright. We could produce the stories we wanted to tell, the way we wanted to tell them, without any outside interference or restrictions. Plus, if anyone came calling with licensing requests we could make all of the decisions ourselves, maintaining control and assuring a fair share of any profits.”
What’s the secret origin behind the creation of Deathmask? Who was the creative team behind this dark avenger?
“Back in the 1980s,” Michelinie remembered, “when independent publishing was in its infancy, Bob and I were contacted by a gentleman in Michigan with a request to write and draw a graphic novel which this fellow would then publish. Bob had had an idea about a Native American shaman who used real magic to fight crime, a character he called ‘Seneca Blackstone.’ So we fleshed out the character, changed his name to ‘Seneca St. Synn,’ and came up with a plot for a graphic novel we called Sorcerer. The story was pencilled and scripted, but then delays and complications arose and we ended up parting ways with the original publisher. Years later, we offered the project to Marvel, who accepted it but wanted us to add another 10 pages or so to reach their minimum length for a graphic novel. Once again, plotting, pencils and script were done but, for whatever reasons, the book was never published. So, after many more years Bob suggested we publish the story ourselves as a one-shot or two-part comic, selling it over the Internet. I agreed. But then Bob went to Orlando Megacon and got so much enthusiastic response from fans that he came home having decided that we would publish four monthly comics instead! And thus, with the addition of Dick Giordano to the administrative team, Future Comics was born. By then, Marvel had introduced their own character called ‘The Sorcerer,’ and another indie project had come along called (I believe) Saint Sinner, so our guy underwent more changes and saw print as Jacob Nakai, ‘Deathmask.’”
Deathmask comes from a long line of dark, costumed vigilantes. With that said, what made him different from, say, The Shadow, DC Comics’ Batman, and Marvel’s Punisher?
“Sorcery and viciousness,” Michelinie insisted. “The Shadow could ‘cloud men’s minds,’ but that was as far as his preternatural abilities went. Our guy used truly fantastic unearthly powers. And while The Punisher had no problem blowing people away with various firearms, he didn’t turn bad-guys’ knives into steel snakes to run them through, or create mini-tornadoes that sandblasted their skin off. And though Batman had evolved into a scary creature of the night type, he was still bound by his own code of ethics. Deathmask had no such restrictions.”
Here’s a synopsis of the dark hero’s first story arc – courtesy of Mr. Michelinie.
“We weren’t really confined to the current concept of ‘story arcs,’” Michelinie said, “(which are) mainly intended these days to limit stories to four or five episodes so they can easily be gathered into trade paperback reprints. We were doing ongoing stories with subplots that led to new ongoing stories. But our first storyline was generally meant to set up Deathmask’s modus operandi, introduce his vendetta against Las Vegas mob boss Adonis DuLac, establish the conflict he felt about the mysterious mask that gave him his powers but seemed to infect him with savagery, and to hint at the tragedy that changed his life and set him on the road to battling evil.”
Where was Deathmask’s story headed before it ceased publication?
“We were only able to publish three issues before the Bell of Doom rang for Future Comics – but we had also completed two more issues that were then scheduled for inclusion in a digest-sized collection that was ultimately aborted,” Michelinie said. “In issue #3, we introduced a character named Severn Ashe, a European adventurer who collected power objects from an ancient race that had mysteriously vanished. In issue #5, Deathmask and Ashe were to come into direct contact as Ashe tried to steal our hero’s mask. This would eventually have led to the discovery that the mask was an artifact left behind by the vanished race–and possibly channels power from a segment of that race that still exists! Another subplot involved a mysterious pulp-era automobile that was seen in issues 2 and 3. This would eventually have proven to be a relic from the 1930s driven by a smart-ass gangland chauffeur (based on the character actor Alan Jenkins) who would then have become Deathmask’s driver and assistant.”
How did Deathmask fit in the Future Comics’ four-colour universe? How did he interact with the company’s other heroes?
“Actually, we had planned to have the deathmask be the thing that linked all of the original characters in the FCU,” Michelinie said. “The liquid metal that formed the Metallix armour and the technology that enabled McKinsey Flint to inhabit the Edison Wilde android in Freemind were all to be linked to the source of the deathmask power.
“The only interaction we were able to include in Future’s short history was in Freemind #0, where Deathmask and Edison Wilde were brought together when someone tried to steal the Metallix cube, thus introducing our potential audience to elements from the first three of our titles.”
What is Michelinie’s fondest memory from writing the adventures of this anti-hero?
“I think the two things I enjoyed most about the character were: (1) the challenge of making such a ruthless character sympathetic. Mostly this was done by showing his deep and enduring love for his catatonic wife, giving a solid reason for his anger and violence. And (2) slowly solving the ongoing mystery of where his power came from, and why it seemed to be taking over control the more he used it.”
Did Michelinie have other stories to tell with this character? How far did he plot out the series?
“Like I mentioned earlier, we did ongoing stories and included subplots that would shift into the foreground when a previous storyline concluded. So, yeah, I had several ideas I was working on, one that led to the original discovery of the deathmask at the abandoned city of Angkor Wat in Thailand – and how it somehow ended up in a Native American burial mound.”
What other projects is Michelinie currently working on?
“I recently finished a one-shot story for Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors,” Michelinie added, “and have plotted my second story for The Living Corpse, this one the first-ever solo outing for Lilith, goth-girl-turned-vampire and major member of the LC’s supporting cast.”
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