Dragon Con 2019: Peter David talks Symbiote Spider-Man, 2099, & Hulk.

by Harlan Ivester on August 30, 2019

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to talk with Peter David at Dragon Con 2019, where he sheds some light on the comic book industry and his contributions to it. Before you go ahead, I just want to say thanks again to Peter for giving us his time and being so welcoming. Read on!

CTG: Hello, everyone. My name is Harlan Ivester, from Comics: The Gathering, and I'm here with Peter David at Dragon Con 2019. Let's see, Mr. David, you have been writing from the comic book industry for a while now. How is the industry and community better today compared to you know, when you first started?

David: Well, I don't know if it's better. It's certainly different. The internet has changed things, essentially in that anybody who wants to get the material out now doesn't need Marvel or DC or even independent comics to do it. They can just put stuff right out onto the internet, and get it out to millions of people. So it's become a more of an everyman industry than it was my first year.

CTG: And how did you get into comics?

David: Well, I've been into comics, generally speaking, ever since I was a kid, right? I first got into it, because of the old George Reeves Superman TV series, which always ended with the announcer saying, “Superman is based on the character appearing in Superman magazine.” As a kid, I would go, “There's a Superman magazine?!” I had no idea. You know, to me, Superman was the guy on TV. Now this, of course, was before DVRs or video cassettes or Blu Ray or anything like that. At that time, if I wanted to experience an adventure with Superman, I could put it on at four-thirty on channel eleven every day and that was it. But I figured if I had magazines, I could experience an adventure with Superman whenever I wanted to pick up the magazine and read it. So that's what got me into comics in general and superhero comics specifically. I got into the comic industry in the early 1980s… when I wound up working for Marvel Comics in what's called the Direct Sales department. Direct Sales is the department that is responsible for getting comic books into comic book stores. By “comic book stores”, I mean, stores that just sell comics— not 7-11, not Walmart. I mean, you know stores that are specifically comic book stores. And my job was to get the comic books to their distributors who in turn got them to the stores. And it was very exciting job. And I did that for five years, but the writing eventually took over and I became a full-time writer.

CTG: So, in that regard with the Internet, and how the industry has changed, what do you still hope to see change about it? Is there anything you want to see improved?

David: Honestly, I'd like to see more people reading. I mean, the problem is— is that so few people will nowadays, if you look at book sales. I'm not going to get these numbers exactly right, but I'm in the general ballpark, which is that 5% of the population is responsible for 85% of the books that are purchased. So few people read nowadays that it's really kind of alarming. I mean, when I would take my daughter to a playground – this was a few years back, my fourth daughter. I would see all these kids running around with Spider-Man t-shirts and – and Captain America sweat jackets and baseball caps. And you know, I would do what any middle-aged man does. I’d walk up to kids and playgrounds, and I’d chat with them. And I'd say you know, “Yeah, I see you – you've got a spider man T. Are you a fan of Spider-Man?” The kids go, “oh yes,” and I’d go... I'd say, “Well, how do you experience Spider-Man?” “Oh, I play the video games. Oh, I watch movies. Oh, I watched the TV show.” And I'd say, “Do you read the comic books?” And they go, “No.” You know, when I was a kid, the only way to experience a Spider-Man adventure was to read the comic book. Cartoons eventually started properly, but at first comic books were the only source of these ventures. Now, they are such a distant second, it's depressing. I was in a comic book store, some years back, and a kid wandered in with his mother, and he noticed a rack of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle comic books. And he said, “Mom, look, there are Turtle comic books too!” Same thing, you know? He had no idea that the comic books were where the Turtles originated. To him, it was in cartoons. And I would just like to see America get back to reading, and I'm worried that that's not going to be happening anytime soon.

CTG: Do you think part of the problem is accessibility?

David: No, I think part of the problem is that more and more Americans are just frickin’ illiterate! That they see reading as this hardship that they are required to do when they're in school. Right? You know, to them reading is work; reading is what they have to do when they're studying for a test. Reading is what they do when they're doing their job. Reading is not something they do for leisure. That's why it broke me up when parents were furious over their children reading Harry Potter. They go, “I don't want my kids reading Harry Potter. They're going to become Satan worshippers!” And you know, or they're going to start practicing witchcraft. Okay, first of all, there is no Satan worshipping in the Harry Potter movies. Second, if a parent— if a single parent can show me a kid waving a stick, saying wingardium leviosa, and causing someone to levitate, then I will lend credence to these objections. But in the meantime, these kids were willing reading eight and nine hundred page books. Your kid is reading a book! Why are you objecting to this, you freaking moron?! You know, I mean, this is how stupid Americans are. Their kids are excited about reading, and they're concerned because they think their kids are going to start practicing sorcery. Oh, my freaking God, how dumb do parents have to be?

CTG: Too true. So, what should we know about your upcoming projects?

David: Well, currently, I'm writing a comic series called Symbiote Spider-Man, which is set in the earlier days of Spider-Man, when he was first wearing the black and white costume, and had no idea that it was actually an alien symbiote. So, it's essentially pre-Venom. And the main reason we did it originally was that he was going to be wearing a black and white costume in [Spider-Man: Far From Home] and Mysterio was going to be in the movie. So, they wanted me to do a five issue story in which he's wearing the black and white costume and Mysterio is in it. And I said okay, and I wrote that, and it sold extremely well— extremely well. And of course, Marvel Comics is— something that sells extremely well, what does Marvel do? They make more, but why the hell not? They are a business, I mean. So that is the main comic book project that I'm working on at the moment. I have some others in the hopper that I can't really discuss. I have a movie slash TV project that is currently in development, which I'm hoping will start shooting early next year, called Robyne of Sherwood, R-O-B-Y-N-E, about Robin Hood’s daughter. I have a novel that I'm working on for Krista Warrior President, that I'm having a good deal of fun writing. So those are my projects at the moment.

CTG: As for Symbiote Spider-Man, like you said that takes place, you know, back before Venom even existed. What's challenging about writing a new story that takes place in our established continuity?

David: Well, first of all, you have to do things to make it clear when it’s set, which I wound up doing the very first issue in doing a storyline that… doing a thing that had my editor a little nervous, so much so that he cleared not only up all the way up with C.B. Cebulski, but he also had the lawyers, legal service cleared. Which was, I was originally going to have a fight outside of Blockbuster, but then I saw the beginning of the trailer for Captain Marvel and I went, “Okay, so much for that idea.” And I came up with something that I think is even better, which is that I have a sequence of Spider-Man battling the Human Fly, and we see him running across a rooftop. And he leaps off the rooftop, and we pull back to reveal that he's jumping from one of the Twin Towers to the other. So that was set before 9/11. Now technically speaking, Marvel’s continuity is only supposed to stretch back about 15 years. So, within Marvel's continuity. The superheroes really started after the World Trade Center fell, but my attitude was, we did a whole goddamn comic book that showed our heroes at 9/11, so, no, I'm sorry, the World Trade Center fell after the superheroes were established. That's just a flat out given. So, I figured let's have this set before the World Trade Center. And I wasn't sure how fans were going to react to them. I thought they would say, you know, “Peter David is trivializing the fall of the Twin Towers,” but no, people loved it. Well, no. One person, one reviewer hated— hated the entire series, because of that one sequence. But you know, what are you gonna do? Yeah, but most people seem to go, “Very clever.” They seem very impressed by that. You know, there are certain rules. I mean, he cannot find out within the course of the comic book that this is a symbiote. I have the Black Cat figure it out in the very first issue. You know, he's telling her about it, and she says it's alive. And he said, “No, no, no, it's, it's, you know, it's a special cloth.” And she says, “It's a special cloth that knows what you’re thinking?” He says yes, and she says it's alive. So the Black Cat figures out what Spider-Man did not. Something part of me tends to think was maybe the symbiote was influencing him even back then, preventing him from putting two and two together. I mean, Peter’s a bright guy. He should have really figured out what the hell he was wearing. I really haven't, I haven't touched on that. I may wind up
having that play out in the second series of the book.

CTG: I never thought that the symbiote might be preventing him from putting it together. That's my head cannon now. So, this Wednesday you have an Absolute Carnage tie-in coming out for Symbiote Spider-Man. Is writing a tie-in or a crossover issue any different?

David: Well That one was particularly tricky, because Spider-Man doesn't show up
anywhere. So, coming up with an entire storyline for a Spider-Man crossover in which Spider-Man isn't there was a little bit of a challenge and I really had to make it as interesting a story as I possibly could, so that the fans will get so caught up in the story itself so that they will not be annoyed by the fact that Spider-Man doesn't show up anywhere in a Spider-Man crossover. You know, you're kind of walking a thin line.

CTG: Sounds tricky. But turning back to Spider-Man 2099, how did you feel seeing him on the big screen, back when Into the Spider-Verse came out? I mean, would your version of the character ever have pointed at someone so rudely?

David: [Laughing] I gotta tell you, Dan Slott was at the Marvel screening for it, as was I. And he was sitting next to a reporter. And when the lights came up, the reporter said, “Who was it who yelled ‘yes’ when the caption said ‘Meanwhile, in Nueva York…’” and then he said, “Oh, that was Peter David, the creator of Spider-Man 2099.”

CTG: [Laughing] I did that in my theater, too.

David: I was so freakin’ thrilled to see Miguel up there, I was just so happy. I was mildly annoyed that Lyla did not look at all like Marilyn Monroe, but I can understand why Sony decided to avoid getting protests from the estate of Ms. Monroe over it. I mean, I'm sure they didn’t give a damn about her showing up in the comic book, but if she's in a big screen motion picture, they might have gotten a tad, you know— letters from lawyers, and who needs that aggravation?

CTG: Right. Well, recent solicits from Marvel show that they're relaunching 2099 in some sense or bringing it back somehow.

David: I was unaware of that.

CTG: Really? Well, I figured I'd asked if there was anything you'd want us to know about that, but...

David: I don’t know anything about it. You tell me what the solicits say.

CTG: Miguel is going to be showing up in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man, and that's about all we know.

David: Wonderful. No, I have no idea what's going on.

CTG: Here's hoping we'll get a new series from you again.

David: Well, you have to understand something. When Marvel… Steve Wacker announced, you know, this is some years ago, that Marvel was working on reviving Spider-Man 2099. And all fandom, upon hearing this, agreed, which is unusual for fans to do. Everyone had the exact same reaction. “I would totally buy Spider-Man 2099 as long as Peter David is writing it.” And the thing was, Marvel wasn't going to have me writing it. They had somebody else working on it. But when all fandom said as one, “We want Peter David writing,” and Marvel said, “Holy crap, we better get Peter to write this.” And I get contacted by the editor who says, “So, you want to write Spider-Man 2099?” I hadn't really thought about the character in something like fifteen years. And I went, “Okay, sure.” And she said, “Good. We need a five page story by Friday. And we’re going to need the first issue by the middle of next week.” And I said, “When is it coming out?” And she said July. And I said, “It's May!” And she said, “Yes, you are really very far behind on your deadline.” So, welcome to comic books, kids. So, for all I know, I'll get a call from Marvel on Monday saying, “Hey, want to write Spider-Man 2099?” I have no idea.

CTG: You say that when they came to you to write that, you hadn't thought about the character in a long time? Especially on such a short notice, what was difficult about coming back to a character that you hadn't touched on in so long?

David: Nothing. I mean, I created him from the get go, you know. All I had to do was sit down, study where Dan slot had left the character in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man and just kind of go from there.

CTG: I see. So, if you're ever feeling creatively stifled, what do you do to kind of get the ball rolling on that?

David: I put all my bills in a stack. And you would be amazed how quickly that manages to penetrate writer's block.

CTG: [Laughing] I've never heard that before.

David: Oh, yeah. That just takes care of it.

CTG: Well, going off topic a little bit into the area of Hulk: of course, everybody knows that you're deeply ingrained in the Hulk mythos. The MCU version of Bruce Banner and the Hulk has been, you know, a little more friendly for a general audience. What do you wish the general audience of MCU movies would know about the character?

David: I would like that if they knew that I created the version of the character who was in Endgame, right? Really thrilled about that. I mean, right down to the glasses, I couldn't believe it. You know, “I spent 18 months in a gamma lab, and this is what I got.” I went, “It's perfect.” I mean, I was thrilled when I saw that they had basically used my merged Hulk as the new movie Hulk. Now, I'm hoping that they wind up doing Future Imperfect, which I think would be freaking awesome. I think Future Imperfect would make a fantastic Hulk movie. I mean, I would even have the trophy room, except, you know, they don't have Rick Jones in movie continuity. So I know exactly who I would have oversee the trophy room. I'd have the Black Widow. An incredibly aged Black Widow. And Bruce would walk in to see and go, “Natasha, but... you’re dead. You died in this world.” And she’d go, “No, Clint died.” And then he would realize he's in an alternate future. Because you know, in that version, Clint died and the Black Widow survives. So that's how I would do that. I would have an incredibly aged Natasha there. I think that would be freaking awesome.

CTG: I agree. Well, it looks like we're out of time. Thank you for joining us. This was a lot of fun.

David: No problem.