It was, for its time, the coolest comic book on the racks. Lucky for me, having just turned eight years old I was at the perfect age to best enjoy it.
In fact, I already was lusting for the comic by the time it hit my local drug store. The house ad promoting the issue had been running in several of the DC comics for a few weeks, and it intrigued the hell out of me. Back in those days when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, new comic book heroes were very few and very far between, even though 1958 was something of a boom year. DC had a title called Showcase that offered new concepts a try out – usually three issues. Yes, it was joined by The Brave and the Bold, but not until the summer of 1959. Showcase begat the Challengers of the Unknown, Lois Lane, the Metal Men, and the silver age Flash, Green Lantern and The Atom… among others.
Whereas it isn’t hard to get an eight-year old all excited, this comic book had a pedigree that few others approached. It was created by, if you’ll forgive the word, legends. Julius Schwartz was the editor and the ringleader, and he reached for his A team. Gardner Fox, arguably the most accomplished comics writer in American history, did the scripting and he co-plotted it with fellow comics writer and science fiction icon Edmond Hamilton, along with the aforementioned Julie Schwartz. The cover artist was Gil Kane, and the story artist was Mike Sekowsky.
The series was called Adam Strange. It featured a run-of-the-mill Earthling who found himself transported by Zeta Beam to the planet Rann where he fell in love with the chief scientist’s daughter while flying around, usually with her, vanquishing alien invasions and monsters and such. When the Zeta Beam wore off Adam faded back to Earth, usually right after he saved the day but right before he could kiss his lover. That drove him bugfuck, and back on Earth he figured out where and when that Zeta Beam would strike next… usually just in time to save Rann once again.
What made Adam Strange work – in 1958 – was the costume. It was classic science fiction spaceman. Jet-pack, helmet, ray gun, and all red with white accents. It was designed by still another legend, Murphy Anderson. Murphy had been drawing science fiction heroes since 1944. In fact, he drew the newspaper adventures of one of the very first such heroes, Buck Rogers, and Buck’s influence on Adam’s costume was quite evident – and very welcome.
The whole thing started as a contest. DC executive vice president Irwin Donenfeld thought what the world needed was a new s-f hero and he challenged editors Julius Schwartz and Jack Schiff. Jack’s Space Ranger was published in Showcase #15 and #16; Adam Strange lived in the next three issues.
As it turned out, neither character won – yet neither character lost, either. Adam Strange became the lead feature in Mystery In Space, drawn by the near-mythic Carmine Infantino and always occupying the cover, while Space Ranger lived in Tales of the Unexpected. For the record: Space Ranger also was created by Gardner Fox and Edmond Hamilton, but the two were as different as night and day. The main difference: Space Ranger was rather typical, and Adam Strange was exciting.
Both series lasted until the mid-60s. By that time, the United States and Russia had sent a passel of humans (and a few dogs) into outer space, and the reality of what you could see on the home screen was vastly more compelling than 1950s science fiction heroes.
Of course, in comic books nothing ever goes away, and here Adam got the best of the Ranger. Adam Strange remains a vital force in the DC Universe to this day, and now Adam Strange is going to enjoy something of a starring role in the latest DC teevee show, Krypton. Mindy Newell reported on this Monday, although she revealed only a fraction of our deeply existentialist conversation.
I’m glad to see Adam is still around, but I’m reminded of DC publisher Jenette Kahn’s reaction to the character back in 1977 when Jack C. Harris and I discussed a run in the revived Showcase. She took home a couple bound volumes from the library, read them over the weekend, came back and pronounced it “dated.”
Yup. It was. And that was the point. But DC needed to develop its astrophysical borders, so Jack pretty much kept the story, which also featured Hawkman and Hawkwoman. We renamed the series Hawkman, and it did okay.
Amusingly, Hawkwoman (or Hawkgirl) will be joining Adam Strange in the new Krypton series. This will not be the same woman from the current DC/CW teevee shows as these shows (except Supergirl) inhabit a parallel universe in which Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman do not exist.
Turning 50 doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. In fact, those typical black-and-white “50 years old” party decorations, suggesting that the celebrant is “so old,” seem out of place to me. Fifty can be fun. Fifty can be optimistic. Isn’t Hollywood’s most famous re-invented party boy, Robert Downey, Jr. over 50? Isn’t the always-engaging Marisa Tomei over 50?
This year Star Trek turns 50 and the phenomenon never looked better. There’s a new movie, a new fascinating Star Trek podcasts out there. And now, more than ever, there’s top TV show and even new stamps from the U.S. Post Office. There’s a bunch of -notch merchandise from innovative companies like Titan and Eaglemoss.
But it wasn’t always so. Back when Star Trek was turning 20 the future wasn’t so certain. It was a struggle. Fans were ridiculed. The world at large did not associate any ‘cool factor’ to Star Trek fandom.
And during those days, DC Comics was creating top-notch Star Trek comics. Looking back (at the future) through the lens of 2016, these adventures covered a perplexing time for the franchise. Spock was dead, Lt. Saavik had crashed the party, the main characters were all dealing with aging and career issues and interesting original characters were added to the mix.
I think it might be my favorite period of the Star Trek mythology. So instead of celebrating Star Trek’s 50th Anniversary like everyone else at the Star Trek: Mission New York convention later this week, let’s instead celebrate the 30th Anniversary of Star Trek’s 20th Anniversary…and specifically DC Comics’ Star Trek.
Marv Wolfman was essential to DC’s acquisition of the Star Trek license. Working on the Marvel Comics version helped him develop a unique perspective for successfully adapting the property into comics. Marv offered these great insights:
“I was a huge Star Trek fan. Still am, actually. I had written the first few issues of Marvel’s Trek but in analyzing it later felt everyone who handled Trek comics was doing it wrong. We were all trying to mimic a TV show’s four act structure and tone. We were all telling too many stories on the Bridge when we had an unlimited SFX budget. If they had the means they would have done other types of stories, but they were restricted by budget. Also, TV shows have tons of talking scenes, because that’s cheap to produce. Talking scenes in comics is visually boring, so I wanted more action and wonder.
“But Trek was pretty much dead at this point in comics and the first Trek movie (I wrote the adaptation for Marvel) didn’t offer much hope. But then I got the chance to see an early advance of the second movie and went back to DC saying we needed to get the license. I remember Jenette Kahn (DC’s President) didn’t think there was any hope for Trek back then (and most would have said she was right) but I was a fan and said this one was really good and I had a way of fixing it. Jenette may have disagreed but she trusted me and approved us getting the license.
“I brought in Mike W. Barr to write it, as I knew Mike loved Trek as deeply as I did. My thought was to handle the book like it was a comic, not a TV show. Have continued stories. Don’t structure it like a TV show. Have emotional characters and bring in new characters with whom we could tell stories we couldn’t necessarily do with the regular cast, which we couldn’t change. I wanted the cast off the bridge and on planets, and I wanted the problems to be big and not easily solvable. One of comics’ strength is building up a universe and there was no reason to keep it small because the TV show did.
“And all of that had to be done while 100% honoring everything else that made Trek great. Great characters and thoughtful SF stories. I thought we did it and the book sold amazingly well.
“I believe later on the approach was altered to go back to more of TV’s four-act structure, ignoring what made comics work, but as sales dropped that approach was changed back to what I had pitched and what Mike Barr wrote. I think whatever you do you need to remember to use the strength of comics.”
Next I turned to ComicMix‘s own Robert Greenberger, who has long been engaged in Star Trek fandom (be sure to read his Notes from a Final Frontiersman column). Robert was an editor for the DC Comics Star Trek series. I had a lot of questions for him:
Ed Catto: Rereading the first fun DC Star Trek comics, it still seems fresh and exciting to me. At that time, Spock was “dead,” the main characters were dealing with both middle age and career issues and the series introduced several new characters. What was it like to develop the series at that time?
Robert Greenberger: Marv Wolfman lobbied DC for the rights, feeling he didn’t have a real good chance to work with the characters when Marvel had the license. He and Mike W. Barr both worked under the far more restrictive Marvel license and so they wanted to see what they could do unfettered. The absence of Spock was seen as more of a creative challenge than anything else, since removing such a key figure changed the group dynamic. It also let Mike explore Saavik as a character.
EC: Can you tell me about the challenges you faced?
RG: When I arrived in 1984, the book was about six issues along and Marv and Mike were in a nice groove, developing their original-to-the-series characters, to round out the ensemble and have people they could actually do things to. A third film was being planned but we knew nothing about it at the time so continued to try and fill the gap after Star Trek II with interesting stories. Some of it felt like vamping and required some inventive thinking which is where, I believe, Mike hit on the idea for a Mirror Universe saga.
EC: At that point you were celebrating Star Trek’s 20th Anniversary. Just how different was that from the 50th Anniversary we’re celebrating now?
RG: Paramount Pictures chose not to do too much special for the 20th. There was some licensed merchandise but it wasn’t as big a deal to them. Len Wein was writing the comic for me at the time and we agreed we’d do a special story for that September. I got to use extra pages and he came up with “Vicious Circle!” a fun sequel to “Tomorrow is Yesterday,” allowing the TOS-era crew to meet their film series counterparts.
Paramount finally made a big deal on the 25th and now, the 50th. I’d love to have been involved with this year’s celebration since some transmedia storytelling could have been fun.
EC: I really liked the artwork on the DC series. What can you tell about working with talented guys like Ricardo Villagran, Tom Sutton, Gray Morrow, Curt Swan and even Eduardo Barreto?
RG: Ricardo was living in the NYC area in the early 1980s landed some work at DC, which led to Marv offering him Trek. He relocated to his native Argentina and we used DHL to make the monthly schedule. He needed the reference but smoothed out Tom’s pencils. Tom was a tremendous storyteller and I loved working with him, but the likenesses were never his strong suit. Eduardo Barreto stepped in for one story and if I could have, I would have shackled him to the Engine Room – I adored his Saavik spotlight, but he was in such demand I couldn’t keep him.
When I could, I spelled him with people like Gray Morrow and Curt Swan who handled the work really well. Then I lucked out with Gordon Purcell on Trek and Peter Krause on TNG, young guys who gave it their all and it worked.
EC: You’ve been involved with both Star Trek fandom and comic book fandom for many years, Robert. Can you compare and contrast the two fandoms?
RG: Comic book fandom was a direct outgrowth of science fiction fandom whereas Star Trek fandom splintered from SF fandom since they were looked down on for preferring filmed SF to prose. It was far more broad-based and in many ways welcoming so it grew faster than anyone could have imagined. The passions and infighting remains exactly the same, though.
EC: How does Star Trek fandom react to Star Trek comics?
RG: When there was nothing else regularly published, it was most welcome. Many didn’t like the inaccuracies in the Gold Key books but it was all they had between the infrequent Bantam novels throughout the 1970s. The Marvel series was much better received but suffered from inconsistent creative teams, an editor who didn’t know the property well, and a license restricting them to whatever was established in The Motion Picture. When DC arrived, they had a much broader contract and an editor, Marv, and a writer, Mike, who knew and loved the material. They got to be consistent, which the fans responded to. When I took over, I had a smooth-running operation and the fans continued to support us. Today, IDW feels the same love thanks to Mike Johnson’s stories.
EC: There’s a plethora of Star Trek podcasts now. Do you listen to any of them and what are your favorites?
RG: I honestly listen to exactly one podcast (totally unrelated to comics or Trek) despite having been interviewed for several. I respect Michael Clark, over at Visionary Trek, whose The Captain’s Table podcast has been good to me.
EC:Star Trek has had such a long history in comics. What are some of your favorite Star Trek comics over the last 50 years, and what do you think is the secret ingredient to adapting Star Trek to comics?
RG: I was honored to find six stories I was involved with make it to Comic Book Resources’ recent Top 10 Star Trek Comics of All Time list. My personal favorites are things like Star Trek Annual #3, by Peter David and Curt Swan, Debt of Honor with Chris Claremont and Adam Hughes, and The Modala Imperative miniseries by Peter, Michael Jan Friedman, and Pablo Marcos since it crossed TOS and TNG using Spock as the lynchpin. I enjoyed Glenn Greenberg’s Starfleet Academy run at Marvel and various stories from the other publishers.
Comics is not television and the action and special effects translate differently. To me, the secret sauce in the comics is keeping the focus on characters, working with the ensemble and serializing subplots so you can really explore issues in ways a 60-minute episode of two hour film cannot come close to working with. This way, we offer readers a different experience and shine the spotlight on different facets of the crew or races that make the universe so incredibly fascinating.
EC: Thanks, Robert and Marv. I wonder if Star Trek is one of those 50 year olds that wish to be 20 again?
I had a close friend and brother-in-arms named Larry Schlam, an attorney who specialized in juvenile rights. He later became a law professor and a lecturer on that same issue. He had been a doo-wop singer in Brooklyn, but that has no relevance to this topic. As it comes to us all, Larry died last year.
Back in 1971 or 1972, I was with Larry at his office in downtown Chicago. We were working late – to the extent that we were actually working – and I left around 10 PM. As I walked towards the elevators, I saw one about to close and, like many late-evening neurotics, I was convinced that was the last elevator for the night. I shouted “Please hold the elevator!” and a giant mitt popped out to hold the door open. I trotted into the booth, turned to thank my benefactor, and found myself face-to-face with Muhammad Ali.
I did a double-take that might have impressed Moe Howard. Ali let out a gut-level laugh, flashing that famous smile. I thanked him – I think in some version of English – and mumbled something about inspiration. He thanked me. It wasn’t the longest elevator ride in history, and I would have paid good money if the machine got stuck for an hour or two.
As it happened, Ali was in the building to meet with his lawyer, whose office happened to be next door to Larry’s. I had met the lawyer several times; this will become significant in a few paragraphs.
Like many baby boomers, perhaps most, to me Muhammad Ali wasn’t merely a boxer and a political activist and a humanitarian. Muhammad Ali was a legend, a living super-hero whose costume was a pair of Everlast shorts and two bulbous, cartoon-like gloves. That’s all he needed. Shortly after he became the youngest American to win the heavyweight title I read he often worked out at a gym on East 63rd Street, near the bank that held my family’s account. Every time I went there (admittedly, not all that often – protohippies didn’t have a lot of money) I would gawk up and down the street on the off-chance I could catch a glimpse of The Champ. Sadly, that didn’t happen until the elevator incident.
We now flash forward to 1978. I was on staff at DC Comics and we were about to release Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams’ Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali. Part of my job was to publicize the book, and like most publicists I was trying to think up a gimmick. Ali was globally known as a man who could out-talk a Dexedrine fiend. The proverbial light bulb lit up over my head, and I called Larry Schlam and asked him to put me in touch with Ali’s lawyer.
I discussed my planned stunt and he was all in favor, and he added a few bells and whistles of his own. He also added the obvious admonition that The Champ might not agree or, if he did, he could change his mind right there at the press conference. Que sera, sera, as both Doris Day and Sly and the Family Stone used to sing.
Still, I was concerned the idea might tank, so I didn’t tell anybody. Not my faithful assistant Mike Catron, not my boss Jenette Kahn nor my co-boss Sol Harrison. As it turned out, Ali had sort of mentioned it to Jenette the evening before, but aside from that the only person who knew about it was celebrity columnist Irv Kupcinet, who stood ready to break the “exclusive” the moment it happened. That’s how you did it in the pre-Internet days.
The press conference was held at the massive Time-Life auditorium, which was filled with reporters, microphones and camera crews. We started the show with Jenette introducing The Champ… and not a single camera crew had their lights on. Jenette was, and certainly remains, an extremely photogenic person but they weren’t there to record her comments. They were there for Muhammad Ali.
When Ali took the microphone, the reporters started shouting out questions about his upcoming fight. And, for the first time ever in recorded history, the man who was called a blabbermouth (with good reason) about as often as he was called a boxer… refused to comment about that upcoming fight with Leon Spinks! This incited the press all the more, and they would not let up. Ali picked up our oversized comic book and said that was the only reason he was there.
He also said he hadn’t read it. That set off my “Oh-Oh” sense (thank you, Len Wein), but the press couldn’t care less. The headline was “Muhammad Ali Doesn’t Speak!”
But the second paragraph of that story read “he was there to promote his upcoming comic book, Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali” and it was on the front page of literally hundreds of newspapers across the planet. Most carried a shot of Neal’s meticulous and beautiful wraparound cover.
Comic books simply did not get this type of exposure in 1978. After the press conference I was offered a job by both Bob Arum and Don King, the two leading boxing promoters at the time and, perhaps, of all time. The next day the head of publicity at Warner Communications called to congratulate me, and then he asked me if I was going to take one of those job offers.
An aside: this wasn’t the first time a convicted murderer offered me a job, but it was the second time I declined a convicted murderer’s offer.Very, very politely.
Given the trajectory of my purposely unusual career, I have been fortunate enough (and, at times, unfortunate enough) to have met a lot of celebrities. Most were normal people; a bit isolated perhaps, but pretty much normal. Muhammad Ali had a presence that I cannot put into words. I think I would have felt the same way had I met the Buddha.
His life speaks for itself, in a tone much louder than any pre-fight couplet ever uttered by the three-time heavyweight champion of the world. He was a man of conviction, a man of principle who overcame racism and anti-Muslim sentiments and pro-war hysterics who took his crown for nearly four years during his prime in payment for standing up for his beliefs. Yeah, that always carries a price. Deal with it. Muhammad Ali did, and he won back his title. Twice.
When I think of Muhammad Ali, I think of the man and not the boxer. When he lit the torch at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1996, he body wracked with Parkinson’s, I was moved to tears. Muhammad Ali, the man, was indeed The Greatest.
I remember back around 1978 when DC Comics publisher Jenette Kahn thought it might be time to replace the Milton Glazer “bullet” logo. Paul Levitz – who may or may not have liked that logo – said consistency is critical to branding and the bullet was only two years old. He turned to their marketing and promotion guy, who at the time happened to be me, and I chirped in agreement.
I wasn’t happy about saying that. I disliked the logo because it boogied up when it was reduced, particularly with those Silly Putty plates World Color was using back in those sing-along days. But Paul was right, and the Glazer logo stuck it out until 2005.
It was replaced by that italicized swirly logo which looked great on the big screen – better than some of their movies. That lasted only a few years and was replaced by the one they are using this week… but not next. Afterbirth is coming. It’s the whole new DC Comics of the week.
The new logo decorates the top of this column. Everybody’s entitled to their opinion. My initial reaction was “damn, these people have the shortest attention span in the history of publishing.” My second reaction was “damn, this logo really sucks.”
My third reaction was it looks a lot like the logo used by a company called DC Shoes, maker of, well, shoes but not comic books. They also make skateboards, which is a bit closer in spirit to comics. Is it close enough to litigate? Probably not, but this is why Unga Bunga invented lawyers. However, the new logo is most certainly short on originality.
Here’s an idea. Maybe Warner Bros. should stop messing around and just put their logo up there, with a “DC Comics” in the banner that runs across the shield. DC is Warner Bros. It’s not just owned by Warners, it’s part of the company.
Oh, and that Warner Bros. shield? They’ve been using it since 1929 with only slight changes. Like, say, doing it in color. And a bit of spiffing up here and there.
That’s pushing on ninety years. It has graced the works of James Cagney, Bugs Bunny, Bette Davis, James Dean, Robert Redford and Matt Damon. And Christopher Reeve.
To be fair: there were a very few years when Warner Bros. didn’t exist – they merged with Seven Arts and the logo was altered accordingly. They didn’t make a lot of memorable movies. And when Warner Communications was created, they had a different logo that was used on their stuff for a while, often in conjunction with the famed WB shield. But class won out, and the brand’s brand returned to its glory.
The beginning of each new year fills us with hope for a better future. You’d think that after a while we’d catch on. After all, we have the same exact hope year after year after year. And after we acknowledge our need for such optimism, we go out and shovel the snow.
For some reason I need not investigate, this first week of 2016 has me in the thralls of nostalgia. This disease is common to comics fans; I think it comes as part of our shared O.C.D. But I’ve been thinking about how much fun I had when I was a wee tyke on my perpetual search for new comics.
Back well-before the days I started yelling at the clouds, I lived for The Great Hunt. We had no idea what was coming out each week, although we did know when certain monthly titles usually arrived at our sundry sundry stores. This, of course, was long before Phil Seuling started selling comics to comic book shops (and, initially, comic book “clubs”).
Growing up in a big city I had plenty of options, but my friends and I had to hit many stores in order to make certain we were able to buy everything – well, almost everything – that came out during the week. Some stores didn’t get comics from certain publishers; for some reason, on the north side of Chicago it was particularly difficult to obtain an array of titles from Charlton, Harvey (particularly those titles that weren’t meant to be funny), United Features and ACG. I only knew of one place that stocked the United Features titles and, then, only briefly. DC, Marvel (distributed at the time by DC), Archie, and Dell were just about everywhere. Woolworths stocked those weird I.W. titles.
Back then, new comics came out on Thursdays and we would hit the drug store across from our grammar school while the last school bell was still ringing. Often, we would get there before the clerk opened the bundles so we invested our wait time gazing at the Robert McGinnis covers on the paperback rack. On Saturdays we would take our trek down Devon Avenue where, in the stretch of two-thirds of a mile, there were seven separate stores that sold comics and we’d hit each and every one. There were two other outlets that were in different but nearby neighborhoods and we’d visit them individually or in smaller groups.
This is not to say that we didn’t do other things while on our weekly comics journey. We would lag baseball cards, chomp down Vienna hot dogs and fries fried in lard, tell jokes, play pranks, and generally act our age. We’d wind up at the home of one of our crowd and read our comics and turn our buddies onto stuff we liked, while listening to rock and roll on the radio or on the turntable. And we’d be home in time for dinner.
I remember the day Jimmy Olsen number 57 came out. It was the first comic book I had seen at the 12¢ price point. I gawked at that cover in fear and wonder, thinking DC must have been violating some sort of law by charging more than one thin dime. Shortly thereafter, Marvel (again; distributed by DC) met DC’s action. Dell went up to 15¢ but, as the odd-man-out, they had to recede to the then-common 12¢ cover price.
I should point out that DC upped the price after many months of saying “STILL 10¢.” At the time, I didn’t see that as a threat. My mistake. Inside they ran a message explaining costs go up and when comics got their start hot dogs cost a nickel. When, some 15 years later, DC upped their cover price I was on staff editing publisher Jenette Kahn’s “publishorials.” I topped her piece with the headline “Remember The Nickel Hot Dog?”
A year or so later, Mad Magazine publisher Bill Gaines revealed he tracked inflation with the “hot dog index,” an invention of his own creation. He compared everything to the price of a Nathan’s hot dog when he was a kid. At that time hot dogs went for just under a dollar (New York had what was called “the hot dog tax” where they didn’t tax food under a buck), and comics were 35¢. Of course, we surpassed the relative cost of a hot dog within the next decade and our medium has never looked back.
About eight years later, when DC raised the cover price to 15¢, they re-ran that “Remember The Nickel Hot Dog” letter, pretty much word for word.
Prices go up. Stores go away. We invent new means of distribution. Comics live on.
When he first came to LA from New York, I was the one who drove him around for weeks. He didn’t drive. Who does in New York? I took him shopping to the barbershop, comic book stores, wherever. If he needed to go somewhere, I was his ride.
His first Christmas in California, Dwayne was my date for director Bill Duke’s Christmas party. He and Bill became the center of the evening engaging in a conversation so riveting everyone – everyone – who went into Bill’s huge ass kitchen stayed and listened. In the African American community the kitchen is always the center of a holiday dinner, regardless if you live in a small apartment or a mansion.
This was something else beyond the holiday tradition. Dwayne and Bill were engaged in conversation that made black Hollywood stop put down the chicken and listen.
Black Hollywood giving that kind of attention to some guy they never met? Rare.
Putting down the chicken? If I didn’t see it for myself…
Dwayne McDuffie and I were not just friends. We partnered on projects after Milestone. We had projects at Dark Horse and DC. Here’s a kicker. I created those projects, and I brought Dwayne on to write them.
I sold DC President Jenette Kahn a limited series Keith Giffen called the greatest idea since Watchmen. Keith wanted to write it and I wanted Keith to do it but the more I talked to Jenette about the project it became clear to us both this was a Dwayne project if ever there was one.
I told Jenette I was going to ask Dwayne, she was overjoyed, as was I when he said it was a great idea and would write it.
All was good in the hood until the DC editor assigned to the project said “Love this… just not with Michael Davis.” Yeah, I get that a lot. The editor suggested DC buy me out. Dwayne told the editor it was my project and he was not doing it without me.
I took it to Dark Horse and sold it there. Mike Richardson and Dwayne went back and forth as to what the direction the series should take until Mike realized the historical backstory was the story he wanted told. Dwayne didn’t want to tell that story, although I did.
The beauty of Mike Richardson’s insight was the original superhero story was still a doable project. A few years later Dwayne took it back to DC and for a while it was a go, until it wasn’t. This was the when Dwayne was retooling the Milestone and DC relationship and there was real talk and excitement of Milestone entering the DCU.
The project was at one point considered the initial starting point of the combined universes. That Milestone reboot didn’t happen and although there was some movement on the project even after Dwayne passed, the New 52 prevented any further talks. DC was all about the New 52 and this did not fit.
It’s important to me to get these events into the public record because of the narrative forming that erases my contribution from Milestone’s history and left unchallenged that narrative will become truth to most. It’s only a matter of time before Dwayne McDuffie’s problem with Michael Davis bullshit makes its way to a black comics forum. All it takes is someone pointing out I didn’t attend his funeral for a senseless rumor to become a certainty to the sheep who live for such trivialness. After a million sheep blog it so, it becomes so.
I didn’t not attend his funeral, not because there was an issue between Dwayne and I but because I decided to stay with a friend who was asked not to attend. I stood by my friend, I always did.
Those who spread poison about me should understand by now I can prove each and everything I say and just as easily disprove what they say. I see things clearly beforehand because I’m smarter than they are.
They will simply look at this preempted strike as just another stroke of luck on my part.
I’ve been betrayed, stabbed in the back, lied to and about, I’m depressed, alone and if not for the kindness and love of some friends most likely I would be dead. Thinking I’m lucky makes “stupid” too polite a word to use on them.
The truth can be bought. The truth can be killed. The truth can be jailed, silenced, controlled, and changed.
However, I can not be brought, I’ve been jailed, I won’t be silenced nor controlled. Unless you kill me the truth can be proven. I keep everything, forget nothing, and fear nobody.
The day before he died, Dwayne emailed me. He wanted me to see the prototype of the adult Static action figure. Keeping in touch with an enemy especially from your hospital bed isn’t something people do. They do that for friends.
But enough about the election. Let’s go to Gotham City.
Some 25 years ago there was this big hit movie, Batman, directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton, set in the fictitious Gotham City. You knew that, right? What you maybe didn’t know, unless you’re the kind of kid whose mother is forever telling him to go outdoors and get some fresh air, for pity sake, is that we who were charged with producing the comic book versions of Batman very much admired the set design of Anton Furst. Yes – this was Gotham! Ugly and foreboding, its walls high, windows few, designed to keep nature outside, out there, because nature was the enemy, and instead became a maze, a place of gloom, miles of squalor sprawled along the Jersey shoreline, and who knew what kinds of dread lurked in all those shadows?
Maybe we should go to Disneyland instead.
We liked Mr. Furst’s work so much that we asked him to design some Gotham for us, for use in the comics. We couldn’t steal directly from the film, for reasons I’ll probably never understand, but we could put Anton Furst’s sensibility on the page, and so Publisher Jenette Kahn and I asked him to make us some drawings. In time, he did. They still exist. Last time I saw them they were decorating the wall of a DC Comics reception area. Like the movie sets and other renderings of Gotham, the Furst drawings didn’t really show much of the city but they did suggest, or maybe imply, what it would be in its entirety.
In the years that followed, other creators, in both comics and movies, have given us their interpretations of Gotham and it is right and proper that they didn’t remain where we were when we left. What lives, evolves. And I’ve enjoyed my successors’ work; this is not me complaining. But whatever the virtues of these later Gothams, I still preferred Anton Furst’s.
Until the new Gotham came to a television screen near me. This is not the movie city, but our teevee brethren understand that sometimes locations can have the psychological weight of a character – see Holmes’s London, or Philip Marlowe’s Los Angeles, and let’s not forget Middle Earth – and, properly executed, such locations lend not only ambience, but also mood and even a weird kind of credibility to the story; they provide a setting where we can believe that the hero does what he does. They help with that old English class favorite “willing suspension of disbelief.”
Almost certainly video’s Gotham is not produced, as was Mr. Furst’s, on a lot about 30 miles outside London. Actually, I don’t know where it’s done, or how. I’m guessing that what we see is an amalgam of sets and street locations and maybe some of that voodoo hoodoo those folks do with computers and green screens. Whatever they do, those folks, it works.
You want bleak. Check your local Fox channel on Monday nights.
We might not know the meaning of life, but a group of scientists working for NASA came up with a definition for it that’s just seven words long: “Self-sustaining chemical system capable of Darwinian evolution.”
I’m a Bruce Springsteen fan, and of course Bruce taught us all how to count to four (One… One – Two – Three – Four!) So I’m pretty good at math, until I get to whatever number is past four. But the number before four is three, and that’s the number of seasons in which I haven’t been able to cross the convention floor without being stopped by somebody to ask what’s up with the new First Comics.
Here’s the bird’s-eye lowdown: I don’t have a clue. I’m not part of the effort. I never was. I did write a tribute for the 31st anniversary edition of Warp, and I helped procure the services of Frank Brunner to draw the cover – go figure; he only drew the insides – and I fussed with my pal Rick Obadiah’s tribute piece because I enjoy fussing with Rick’s work.
But that’s it. I prefer working with publishers that actually distribute their work to the public, and that’s the question that’s most often asked of me. They sell their stuff at some conventions – Chicago’s C2E2 and, I believe, both the San Diego and New York shows and probably others. There I chat with art director Alex Wald, one of the truly gifted backroom people in the comics business and, by the way, a really nice guy, and Mary Levin and I wave and smile at each other, and that’s about it.
Yes, I co-founded First Comics along with Rick Obadiah way back when Godzilla was merely a flaming hatchling. I left the company at the end of 1985, which was prior to Godzilla’s entering adolescence. The lizard needed the room, and I gave him mine. Now he’s making stupid money off of a movie he’s barely in… but I digress. A lot.
I have no claim to the trademark and no equity in the company, which may or may not be the same company as it was when I was there. Overall, I spent more time at DC Comics and I have a similar lack of equity. This is not a problem at all.
I’m not pissed at people who assume I’m involved – actually, I’m kind of honored. But it does get annoying after the tenth or twentieth inquiry. This is why I’m employing this chunk of bandwidth to set the record straight. We’ve started the 2014 summer convention season, and I’ve committed to several more shows in addition to the three I’ve already done this season. See? I said I’m a Springsteen fan.
The really nice thing about all this is that Rick and I have resumed an old First Comics tradition (that’s the first First Comics, not to be confused with First Second Books or, for that matter, the Fifth Third Bank). The first First Comics was founded under the principle that, if you’ve got to have a business meeting, it should be over a truly great meal, and, generally, an unhealthy one at that. Rick’s a New Yorker living in the greater Chicagoland area, I’m a Chicagoan living in the greater New York area, so we get together about three or four times a year. Probably not more, but being a Springsteen fan, I have no way of knowing.
The cool part is that I turn Rick onto great Chicago restaurants, and he turns me onto great New York restaurants. All of these places involve supplication to massive platters of beef. I fully expect a PeTA picket line when I get off the commuter train.
This is a tradition that I’ve tried to port over to ComicMix. My four-color comrade Martha Thomases has been trying to get me to improve my diet – not by edict, but by example. Please do not tell her it’s slowly working. I now actually eat fruit!
I remember during my first tenure at DC in the 1970s company president Sol Harrison took me to the (now closed) Ben Benson’s steakhouse in midtown Manhattan, and publisher Jenette Kahn and I ate regularly at the fabulous Warner Communications dining room in Rockefeller Center, among other such joints. The food was fantastic.
So, in case you ever wondered – and if you have, you really need to get a life – I’m in this business for creative fulfillment, for not always having to act like an adult, for enjoying numerous great and enduring friendships… but, mostly, for the food.
We should have seen this coming. Last fall, Warner Animation unleashed Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1, adapting the first two issues of Frank Miller’s seminal prestige format miniseries. In January, we finally got Part 2, completing the story of 50 year old Bruce Wayne being forced to don the cape and cowl once more, to bring justice back to a crumbling Gotham City. Out now is Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Deluxe Edition, seamlessly editing the two sections into a 148-minute feature.
As previously reviewed, the adaptation is largely successful, recreating the bleak look and feel of a fascist world, protected by a Man of Steel working for a government Wayne no longer recognizes. The story is clearly Miller’s musing on the role of heroes in the time of Ronald Reagan but it is also a thrilling adventure, looking at a bitter, somewhat broken hero who has turned his back on the people he swore to protect. Events and destiny, though, have something to say about that choice.
So, the question becomes, is it worth buying the combined parts in a single disc? As a film, no, not really. Being a successful adaptation, it lays the ground work in the first half so things explode and rush along in the second., Splicing them together, it plays nicely and ramps things up and without waiting six months, delivers on the promised climax. It’s a satisfying adaptation from writer Bob Goodman and director Jay Oliva.
What you also get that’s new is a fun, interesting Audio Commentary track from Oliva, Goodman and voice director Andrea Romano and a second Blu-ray disc containing all the previous features plus a brand new lengthy documentary on Miller. Masterpiece: Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns (69 minutes), narrated by Malcolm McDowell, not only talks to Miller at length but includes colleagues including Jenette Kahn, Editor Denny O’Neil, collaborator Klaus Janson, admirers Grant Morrison, Michael Uslan, and Mike Carlin. We meet the Virginia fan boy who successfully found work as an artist at Marvel, getting noticed for his work on Daredevil, leading to coming over to DC for Ronin then Dark Knight, helping shape the next generation of storytelling. Unfortunately, we don’t see the remainder of his sporadic career in comics and Hollywood.
The documentary makes this worth owning while the combined feature is a more satisfying viewing experience.
Before I Do This Thang for the week: I’ve been getting messages from readers. Apparently, I do have them. Or, as Bob Hope might have said, “I know you’re out there, because why else would Dolores be propping me up in that direction?”
These messages I’m talking about are all “Why do you use so many links?” Clearly, if you’re asking this, you’re not clicking on them. Hint: Some – not all, or even most, but some – of them don’t lead where you might assume they do. They are instead meant to be weird, “disconnective,” hit-or-miss jokes in and of themselves. So, as the most celebrated member of The Hair Club For Men once put it, “’Nuff said.”
Now, on to That Thang. Meaning I have to stop vamping with jokes about what I didn’t learn in San Diego the weekend before last, and, God help me, actually come up with a third and final part of my highly speculative and putatively uninformed rant to go with the first and second parts. [I say “putatively” because Richard Feder of Fort Lee, New Jersey, writes, “Aren’t the comics selling better than ever? What should I do?” (And, no; no link this time. Get off your fat ass and Google it.)]
If you’re just joining me here for the first time, please feel free – unless your ass really is too fat to allow you to lean over and reach your mouse or trackpad – to check out those previous parts. And maybe click on some on those links you’ve been skipping over. Go ahead. I’ll wait. It’s not like I have anything better to do.
Back now? Good.
One thing Iwasn’t joking about last week: SDCC really didn’t shed much light on whether the Big Two might be incrementally but profoundly changing how they think about creating and marketing comics. Specifically, that they might have to take back total creative control from the freelance talent, to better justify their claim that comics help generate new, original movie and TV properties – titles and characters that aren’t mere spin-offs from the oldest, best-known super hero “brands.”
But I remained in the dark not, as I facetiously suggested, because of the conditions endemic to the con itself, but, rather, because the Big Two’s massive “booths” at least appear to still be doing their dog-and-pony shows in much the samo-samo way as they have been since the beginning of The Gastrotrich Super-Star era and the annual “continuity stunt.” You know – the age of what I like to call Michael Jackson Comics. As in, “We’re going to keep rearranging our face because it gets us publicity even though we don’t entertain anybody anymore. (But we do have a few pet chimps who clap for us when we do it.)”
At first, superficial glance, little seems to have changed this year. There were the same long lines of people waiting for something, but you couldn’t quite be sure what because the crowds were too dense. And there were the same old book signings by the Flavors Of The Week – those comic book “creators” who have been rocketing out of obscurity and vanishing back into it just as fast, ever since Hollywood’s “‘bankable’ star” mentality was first applied to four-color pamphlets by, if memory serves, Jenette Kahn. She was the first Big Two publisher to wonder, for example, whether Superman might not sell better if it were John Byrne’s Superman.
And it did.
For a while.
Thirty years ago.
But this year at SDCC, when I took a closer look at those exhibits, and let my eye follow carefully where that long line was snaking to, it seemed as if more and more of those people were queueing up for a chance to glimpse some “teaser” footage from an upcoming movie or TV show, and the lines to buy signed copies of Flavor of the Week’s Superman or Smokin’ Hot Newcomer’s Spider-Man were shorter. The “brand” – the property – was what was making the loudest ka-ching, ka-ching.
But the people who decide what will be presented in these exhibits seem not to notice, and persist in announcing new comic book titles whose selling point is presumably the name of the creative talent rather than the super hero brand. Meanwhile, superhero feature films continue to succeed without being dependent on major stars in their casts, a phenomenon that is a reflection of a larger, industry-wide paradigm shift.
The early warning signs might be barely noticeable, but I really think they’re there. And it’s getting harder not to wonder whether someday – maybe sooner than even cynical me suspects – Disney and Warners will have convinced themselves that they can endlessly exploit their existing brands, through reboots not unlike those in the old annual face-changing stunts, without any help from their four-color pamphleteers. And if their comic book divisions will have ceased to yield new brands they can add to the product mix as break-out hits, they might start to wonder whether all those Flavors of the Week and their pamphlets are any use to them at all.