Thursday, October 8, 2015


October 9th is John Lennon's 75th birthday and, to celebrate, here's a (slightly edited) post that originally appeared here back in 2009...

When John Lennon died he became an instant martyr:  the peacenik saint—”Martin Luther Lennon,” as Paul McCartney famously put it—thrust up on a pedestal he would have loathed.  But the man never sold himself that way.  “Sing out about love and peace,” he wrote in “Scared”—one of the brilliant songs on his brilliant 1974 album Walls and Bridges—“don’t wanna see the red raw meat...the green-eyed goddamn straight from your heart.”   

Some people, attached to the cuddly mop-top Beatles image, are shocked that Lennon—who was, by most accounts, profoundly idealistic, generous to a fault, fiercely intelligent and a brilliant wit—could also be a perfect idiot:  rude, angry, cynical, cruel, and, on occasion, violent.  That’s precisely why I’ve always felt a profound connection to the man:  He was wonderfully, horribly, fully human—trapped in a yin-yang spiral, constantly seeking transcendence through mind-altering substances, God, politics, family.  Throughout his career, his songs painted the portrait of a man always reaching for Heaven—and often tumbling straight into Hell along the way:  forever questing—desperately, defiantly, and always with a sense of humor—to understand himself.

I was in the fifth grade—just ten years old—when the Beatles made their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in the winter of l964.  I remember sitting in front of the television set during Week Two of the British Invasion.  The previous Sunday my mind had been completely melted by the Beatles first Sullivan appearance.  Oh, sure, if you were a guy you still had to make obnoxious remarks about their haircuts and the way the girls were squealing over them; but the fact of the matter is we were all squealing in our souls.  Sullivan and the Beatles were in Miami that second week and what I remember more than anything else is the song “This Boy.”  Lennon coming in for his solo during the middle eight.  That voice—that achingly honest, angry, wounded voice—rising above the pubescent shrieks:  “...till he’s seen you cry-hi-hi-hiiiiii!”  Unbelievable.  If I wasn’t sure the previous week, I knew it unmistakably in that moment:  I wanted to take guitar lessons.  I wanted to be in a band.  I wanted to be John Lennon.

Looking back, it’s easy to see why I identified with Lennon more than the other three.  Paul was too cute, too perfect, all toothy grins and charming eyebrows.  Even his voice was perfect:  from Little Richard shrieks to the Broadway crooning of “Till There Was You,” he never wavered, he never missed.  Ringo seemed an endearing doofus, possessed of a sort of divine idiocy, shaking his head and making teenage girls faint without seeming to know why.  George was cool, very cool, there was no denying that, but he wasn’t a leader:  He was more the Tonto, or perhaps Mr. Spock, of the band.  Lennon didn’t have Paul’s good looks or Ringo’s easy charm and he wasn’t the impeccable guitarist George was; but—with that  pointy noise, those squinty eyes, and that aforementioned voice—he radiated attitude and charisma.  Plus you just knew that he was the one the other three looked up to.  

(These, of course, were just images transmitted over a flickering black-and-white screen.  Instant icons projected out of and reabsorbed into the collective unconscious of a generation.  Paul wasn’t just an eyebrow, he was a musical genius.  Ringo wasn’t an adorable dummy, he was a phenomenal drummer, and a great wit, who had the good sense to marry a Bond girl.  As for George, it always seemed he was exactly what he appeared to be:  quiet, efficient, and extremely cool.) 

I remained a Beatles diehard through the group’s awkward and ugly demise—and on into the following decades.  Beatles music—from “Love Me Do” to “I Am The Walrus,” “Please Please Me” to the grand finale of Abbey Road—is woven into my soul.  When the band split, I followed their individual solo careers with equal enthusiasm (although that enthusiasm was occasionally tested).  But the career that meant the most to me was John’s:  his post-Beatles work was more erratic than his work with the band, but it also reached levels of brilliance he never attained as a Beatle.  Taken as a whole, the material Lennon recorded between l970 and l980 is the greatest musical autobiography in rock ‘n’ roll.  His best songs were as honest, intimate—and, occasionally, embarrassing—as diary entries.  Whether he was campaigning for peace with Yoko, primalling with Arthur Janov, on a Homeric bender in L.A. or experiencing the joys of born-again fatherhood in the Dakota, Lennon’s personal story —as reflected in his music—never failed to resonate with my own life.  

What follows is one Lennon Freak’s tour of those extraordinary—and shockingly brief—solo years.

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band  A+
After several experimental albums with Yoko Ono and a trinity of brilliant, unforgettable singles—”Give Peace A Chance,” “Cold Turkey” and the Phil Spector-produced “Instant Karma” (all of which are available on Working Class Hero and other Lennon compilations)—Lennon went into the studio and created his first “official” post-Beatles album:  the result was one of the greatest rock albums ever made.  Forget the multilayered production of Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road:  this was music stripped down to bare essentials, with Lennon screaming his way through childhood pain and adult madness.  Along the way he managed to put the final nail in the coffin of the sixties and anticipate most of the major musical trends of the seventies—from singer-songwriter confessionals to punk’s naked rage—all in eleven glorious tracks.  (Each one is first-rate, but “Mother,” “Working Class Hero,” and “God” are the three monoliths that overshadow everything else on the record.)  The dream was over—but Lennon’s idealism wasn’t easily extinguished, as the title track of his next album would make clear.    

Imagine  A-
“Imagine,” the song, has deepened in meaning and significance as the decades have gone by:  it’s become a kind of planetary anthem—and deservedly so.  The more our world appears to spin out of control, the more we need its optimism and hope.  Imagine, the album, is the one time John managed to be both Lennon and McCartney.  In fact, he managed to embody everything the Beatles stood for, offering up angry rockers, idealistic anthems, political diatribes, and heartfelt love songs—with “Jealous Guy,” “Gimme Some Truth,” and “Oh, Yoko” the real standouts.  (“How Do You Sleep?”—Lennon’s infamous attack on Paul McCartney—may have been cruel, but it certainly made for a great track, especially with George Harrison’s vicious slide guitar added to the mix.)  For all that,  there’s something strangely distant about Imagine:  Lennon seems just out of reach.  It’s almost as if, having revealed himself so nakedly on his previous album, he wanted to hide himself behind the album’s icy, ethereal production.

Some Time in New York City  C-
Not quite the disaster it seemed back in l972 (I remember it being one of the first Beatles solo albums—along with McCartney’s Wildlife—that left me feeling both disappointed and depressed):  there’s some great material alongside the political self-indulgence.  “New York City,” “Woman Is The Nigger of the World” and “John Sinclair” are great—and “Sunday Bloody Sunday” is a fierce, honest piece of outrage.  Yoko has one amazing song, “We’re All Water,” and another, “Born in a Prison,” that’s a terrific composition, but a clumsy performance.  The rest of the material fails because it sounds like the Lennons are simply going through the motions.  There may be political conviction at work here, but there’s precious little emotional conviction.  And John Lennon without a heart is a musical Tin Man.  

Mind Games  B+
There’s great writing to be found on Mind Games.  Where Lennon failed himself was as a producer and arranger:  it sounds as if he wanted to get in and out of the studio as fast as possible and couldn’t be bothered building a musical environment worthy of his material.  (Given that, at the time, the U.S. government was hounding him and his marriage was falling apart, perhaps that’s understandable.)  That said, the title track and “Meat City” are certifiable classics, “Out The Blue” is one of the most touching love songs Lennon ever wrote and the rest (with the exception of “Intuition”—a gentle, introspective song that’s undone by a truly dippy arrangement—and the forgettable “Only People”) are all first-rate.  In 2002, Ono released a remastered version of the album that was spectacular, bringing out a richness in sound and texture that wasn’t there in the original.  Which only makes one wonder what this album could have been had Lennon taken his time.

Walls and Bridges  A+
Plastic Ono Band is a grander artistic statement, Imagine more universal in its appeal, but Walls and Bridges, a product of Lennon’s so-called Lost Weekend away from Yoko, combines the emotional nakedness of POB with the melody and warmth of Imagine to create an album that sounds better every year.  Each song—even the wonderfully goofy instrumental, “Beef Jerky”—is a gem, with “Going Down on Love,” “Bless You,” “Scared” and the Beatles-esque “#9 Dream” real standouts.  The album closer, “Nobody Loves You (When You’re Down And Out)” is one of the most magnificent songs Lennon ever wrote:  every bit as majestic as “A Day In The Life” and “God.”  It’s Lennon utterly lost at sea:  washed overboard, encircled by sharks, yet clinging to the life raft of his music with his sense of humor miraculously intact.  The production—which has more in common with George Martin than Phil Spector—is perhaps the best of any Lennon solo album.

Rock ‘N’ Roll   B
A heartfelt, but somewhat slapdash, journey through the past.  Lennon is clearly having a great time singing Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry and Fats Domino—and it’s great to hear him so relaxed and playful; but the only really memorable tracks are the album closer, “Just Because”—at the end of which Lennon bids adieu to the audience he would soon abandon for five years—and “Stand By Me”:  the definitive version of an already-classic tune.  

Double Fantasy  A
The first thing to realize about Double Fantasy is that it’s not a John Lennon album, it’s a John and Yoko album:  the first musical union between the pair that succeeds as a sustained work of art and entertainment.  DF  is a concept album (a more sustained concept than Sgt. Pepper), about the Lennon-Ono marriage, with husband and wife offering up alternating glimpses into their lives.  What’s fascinating is that John plays McCartney to Yoko’s Lennon:  she’s the hard-edged rocker (and her music, for the most part, is terrific here), he’s the reassuring balladeer (although the bluesy edge still cuts deep in “Losing You” and the introspective inner-space traveler is very much evident in “Watching The Wheels”).  Taken as a Lennon album, it’s a little disappointing.  Heard as the genuine collaboration it is, Double Fantasy is just about perfect.  Whether the Lennon-Ono marriage was as perfect as the image the pair presented to the world in l980 is—according to some biographers—up for debate.  The power of the music they created together isn’t.  

The John Lennon Anthology  A+
Of all the posthumous Lennon releases, The John Lennon Anthology is far and away the best:  We get startling alternate versions of familiar songs and home demos that reveal the inner workings of the Lennon psyche.  The alternate studio tracks are stripped down and in some instances—most notably the Rock ‘N’ Roll excerpts—they actually improve on the “official” versions.  The home demos are magical:  My favorites are “Real Love”—Lennon, alone at the piano, singing  the song later recorded by his three former band-mates for The Beatles Anthology—and “Serve Yourself,” a gleefully nasty—and sadly prescient—rant against the dangers of religious fanaticism.

©copyright 2015 J.M. DeMatteis

Monday, September 28, 2015


In celebration of the release of Marvel's new edition of Greenberg the Vampire (on sale September 30th)—here's the introduction I wrote for the collection.  Enjoy!


I began my comic book career at DC Comics, working on their anthology books, writing five to eight page mystery stories—well, they called them mysteries, but they were really horror comics, a phrase that became anathema in the witch-hunting 1950’s—about vampires, werewolves, ghosts and assorted Things That Go Bump In The Night.  These short stories were a great way to learn the basics of the craft without being thrown into the deep end of monthly, twenty-two page comic book stories.

At one point, my editor, mentor and good friend Len Wein decided to add some ongoing series to two of his books, Weird War Tales (yes, there really was such a thing) and House of Mystery, and he asked me to come up with pitches for each.  I already had something in mind for Weird War, an idea I’d developed some months earlier called Creature Commandos (yes, there really was such a thing).  Len liked the pitch and we set to work developing the series.  For House of Mystery, Len had a title—“I…Vampire”—and tasked me with coming up with a story that would fit it.  I had that one on deck, too.

In the years before I broke into comics, I wrote a host of short stories—all of them hurled out into the slush piles of various magazines and subsequently hurled back—and one of them was a unique take on the vampire story:  “Savage Wolves” was the tale of a bloodsucker named Oscar Greenberg, a neurotic, reclusive Jewish writer—part Woody Allen, part Stephen King, part J.D. Salinger—who lived in New York’s fabled Dakota building, cursing his fate and dealing with (among other things) his annoying live-in nephew, his gorgeous vampire girlfriend, a very overprotective mother and an animated corpse.  As noted, “Savage Wolves” never sold to any magazine (although I do recall at least one very appreciative rejection), but, soon after writing the short story, I took a screenwriting course at The New School in Manhattan and used that as an opportunity to convert the Greenberg story into a movie script (well, the first fifty or so pages of one).  One of the things I discovered when I read the script aloud to the class was that it was funny—the dialogue got laughs, the good kind, which surprised me.  I knew the characters were experts at the kind of Brooklyn badinage that was part of my world growing up, but hearing the appreciative laughter of my classmates made me, dense person that I am, realize that what I was writing was a horror-comedy:  a mix of genuine scares and character-based humor.

So I trotted into Len’s office and told him the Greenberg tale, hoping he’d want to use it as the basis for the new “I…Vampire” series:  he didn’t.  Len was looking for classic horror, not a modern day version of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, and so I came up with another pitch which, with Len’s guidance, became the “I…Vampire” that still haunts the DC Universe today.  

I forgot about Oscar Greenberg for a couple of years until, having made the pilgrimage from DC over to Marvel, I found myself sitting across the desk from Denny O’Neil, legendary writer, editor and one of the smartest humans to ever work in this business.  Denny was seeking one-shot stories for a black and white magazine called Bizarre Adventures and, once again, I dusted off the tale of my Jewish vampire, sketched it out for Denny and waited for him to reject it, as Len had.  To my delight, he didn’t.

Denny paired me up with the brilliant Steve Leialoha, who brought my script to life with a perfect blend of humanity, horror and whimsy.  The story appeared in an issue of B.A. that headlined an adaptation of Stephen King’s “The Lawnmower Man” (since Oscar was partly inspired by King, that seemed fitting) and that, I thought, was that.

Except it wasn’t.

Soon after that issue of Bizarre Adventures saw print, people in the Marvel office started coming up to me to say how much they’d enjoyed “Greenberg”; telling me how funny, how offbeat, how unique it was.  I was delighted, but baffled.  Why was this story getting a reaction that none of my other Marvel work had?  I had no clue then, but, looking back, the answer is obvious:

I’d been at Marvel for over a year by the time the Greenberg story appeared, writing a number of monthly comics, trying desperately to evolve my craft—sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing spectacularly.  It’s not that the work was bad—well, some of it was, but I’m gratified to know that my runs on Defenders and Captain America are still held in high regard—it’s that my stories were a sometimes-obvious mixture of all my comic book influences:  Stan Lee and Jack Kirby via Steve Gerber, with hearty helpings of Thomas, Wein, Wolfman, Englehart, Moench and other writers whose work had inspired me along the way.  I hadn’t yet discovered a way to absorb those influences and filter them through my own distinctive point of view.  I hadn’t found my voice as a writer. 

With “Greenberg the Vampire,” I found it without even trying.  I wasn’t working within the confines (many of them, I later realized, self-imposed) of the Marvel Universe, playing with tried and true superhero tropes in a genre I loved perhaps a little too much.  I wasn’t creating a story reminiscent of some Old Classic I’d loved as a kid.  I wasn’t trying to be Kirby or Gerber (as if anyone but Kirby or Gerber could!):  I was just being myself.  Telling a tale that could only have come from me, in a voice that was uniquely mine.  

I was so excited about the way the story turned out, and the enthusiastic reception it received around the office, that I went to Jim Shooter—the extremely tall and extremely talented man who’d brought me to Marvel in the first place—to pitch him a Greenberg graphic novel.   Jim turned me down—and, really, who could blame him?  As a one-off in the back of Bizarre Adventures, “Greenberg the Vampire” was a fun little experiment.  A full-length story in Marvel’s high-end graphic novel line?  No way.

But a few years later—I can be a very patient man—my Marvel contract was coming to an end and I was negotiating a new deal with Jim.  Dick Giordano and Len Wein wanted me to come back to DC and offered me both Justice League and Swamp Thing.  My dear friend Karen Berger was very excited about an original idea I had, an eccentric space-fantasy called Moonshadow.  Given those parameters, there was no reason for me not to return to DC, except for the fact that I was happy at Marvel—enjoying the folks I was working with, the books I was writing—and didn’t feel a desperate need to leave.  Which is why I told Jim I’d be delighted to stay if he’d let me do two projects that would allow me to stretch myself creatively:  the aforementioned Moonshadow (which liberated me as a writer in ways I’d never expected, but that’s another introduction for another company) and, yes, the Greenberg the Vampire graphic novel. 

Jim, to his eternal credit, said yes to both and I began work on a new Greenberg story with a gifted young artist named Mark Badger.  We’d collaborated on a Gargoyle mini-series for Marvel that I remain very proud of and I saw something in Mark’s singular, iconoclastic style that was perfect for my tale of writer’s block, Hollywood seduction and the biblical mother of demons, Lilith:  Mark didn’t just meet my expectations, he transcended them.  Ann Nocenti—another huge talent and old friend—was our editor and she completely understood what Mark and I were going for, both verbally and visually.  Ann supported us, with great enthusiasm, every step of the way.

When the Greenberg graphic novel finally came out, it was no sales sensation—but, again, it was a work that a number of my fellow professionals took to heart.  The late, great Dwayne MacDuffie told me it was his favorite graphic novel:  he called it “Portnoy’s Complaint meets Dracula”—a better description than I could have ever come up with.  I heard from Peter David that Stan Lee—my childhood hero and probably yours, too—loved it, as well.  And I remember being summoned to a meeting with the Marvel Big Brass, where I was introduced to a wonderful man named Don Kopaloff who was, at the time, Marvel’s agent in the movie business.  (He later became my first agent, as well.)  The Brass loved Greenberg and wanted to see it developed as a film:  you can imagine how quickly I finished the half-written screenplay I’d had lying around for seven or so years. 

No, Greenberg never made it to the screen—considering that Marvel has completely conquered Hollywood, never say never, right?—but the two stories contained within this collection remain near and dear to my heart.  Without Oscar, Denise, Morrie, Ira and Mama, I wouldn’t be half the writer I am today.

All of which is my long-winded way of saying how happy I am to see these twin tales back in print.  Hope you enjoy them.

©copyright 2015 J.M. DeMatteis

Friday, September 25, 2015


In honor of Batman Day (yes, there is such a thing—and it's September 26th), here’s an edited and updated version of a piece I posted last year, looking back at my history, both personal and professional, with the Dark Knight…

I’ve loved Batman since I was a kid.  One of my primal memories is being six or seven years old, sprawled out on the living room floor with crayons and a stack of drawing paper, trying to replicate a Dick Sprang era Batman cover line for line.  In many ways, that square-jawed, slightly goofy (okay, more than slightly) version of Bats is the one I cherish more than any other.  I also remember the fangasms I had when, in the seventh grade, Batman came to television:  it may have been campy to the grown-ups, but to naive, overweight, just-turned-twelve year old me this was serious stuff:  comic books come to glorious life in a way they never had before.    

So, yes, JMD the fan has a long-standing, deep connection to Bats but I honestly didn’t think JMD the writer had much of a history with the character—after all, I’ve never written a Batman solo series—until I took a look back at my career and discovered that I've written more Batman tales than I ever realized.  Many more.  And it started with, of all things, a coloring book.

“The Mystery of the Million Dollar Joke” is the first superhero story I was paid to write.  And, yes, there’s a genuine kid-friendly story in there, waiting for you to bring it to life with your Crayolas.  Paul Levitz offered me the gig when I was first starting out at DC and I stayed up all night, hunched over the typewriter (remember those?), banging out the script.  If memory serves, I was paid a few hundred dollars for my efforts—which was just fine in 1979—and I still have a copy of the book tucked away on a shelf in my office.

The first comic book superhero story (y’know, the ones with the colors already provided) of mine that ever saw print was also a Batman adventure, in Detective Comics #489.  “Creatures of the Night”—also edited by Mr. Levitz—had Batman hunting vampires, mainly because most of my work in those days was for the DC horror anthologies and vampire stories were my stock-in-trade.  I don’t remember much about the script beyond the fact that it was illustrated by a Batman artist I admired, Irv Novick, who had nice things to say about it when I encountered him in Paul’s office one day.  Those kind words meant the world to a newbie writer.

My first full-length superhero story was also edited by Paul and also featured Batman:  Brave and the Bold #164, “The Mystery of the Mobile Museum,” teamed Bats and Hawkman (a character whose solo feature I wrote for a short time in World’s Finest) and the story was hardly classic.  What was classic was the artwork, by the great  Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez.  He took my script and raised it up to another level entirely.

I didn’t encounter Batman again for another seven years, when he joined the ranks of the Giffen-DeMatteis Justice League—but he was an integral part of that series throughout its five year run.  Of course our Batman was a little different from the grim ‘n’ gritty avenger that the brilliant Frank Miller unleashed on the world the year before JLI debuted.  Our Bats had a sense of humor—incredibly understated, true, but it was there—and, though he’d deny it to his dying day, he enjoyed the idiotic escapades of Beetle, Booster and the rest of our quirky, and wonderfully obnoxious, cast.

In 1993, I came at the Bat sideways, via the Superman mythos, for an Elseworlds story called Speeding Bullets (art by the hugely-talented Eduardo Barretto).  SB posited a universe where the rocket from Krypton was found not by the Kansas Kents but by the Gotham Waynes.  The baby was christened Bruce and, after being traumatized by his parents‘ murder, the boy grew up to be a flying, super-powered—and extremely angry—Batman.  And, if Kal-El was Batman, how could Lex Luthor not be the Joker? 

A few years later—tied to the release of the third Batman movie, Batman Forever—came Batman/Two Face:  Crime and Punishment:  a serious exploration of Harvey Dent’s split personality (building on a wonderful story written, a year or two previously, by Andy Helfer—and featuring dynamic, emotional art by Scott McDaniel) and that was followed, in 1994, by a four-issue Legends of the Dark Knight arc, brilliantly brought to life by Joe Staton, that may be my absolute favorite of all the mainstream superhero stories I’ve written.  “Going Sane” featured a Joker who believes that he’s killed Batman.  With his mortal enemy gone he has no reason left to live—and his mind snaps.  Now, if we snap we go crazy—but if the Joker snaps...he goes sane.  What came next was a tender love story—a tragedy, really—about a gentle man who doesn’t know he was once a homicidal maniac with a permanent grin on his face.  At least he doesn’t until Batman returns to Gotham and all hell breaks loose.  The story also focused on Bruce Wayne’s relationship with the doctor who brought him back from the brink of death and, I hope, revealed a Batman whose greatest weapon was his compassion.

The next year, the amazing Mark Bagley and I had the pleasure of teaming up Batman with my old pal Peter Parker in Marvel’s Spider-Man/Batman:  Disordered Minds.  This was followed, two years later, by DC’S Batman/Spider-Man:  New Age Dawning (beautifully illustrated by Graham Nolan).  To say that it was a kick teaming up two of my all-time favorite characters—and doing it for both Marvel and DC—may be the Geek Understatement of the Century.

I didn’t return to Gotham until 2002, when I scripted another Legends of the Dark Knight arc—a Robin-centric tale, with art by the terrific Trevor Von Eden, called “Grimm”—and wrote my first Batman graphic novel, Absolution (with rich, painted art by Brian Ashmore):  a gritty story of justice and redemption that found Batman traveling to India in search of a holy woman...who just might be the terrorist Bruce Wayne has been hunting for over a decade.

Around the same time, Bats appeared in an issue of Justice League that I wrote, during Grant Morrison’s run, along with an issue of The Spectre and the 2003 Justice League/Spectre mini-series Soul War. More recently, Batman guest-starred in an issue of Phantom Stranger and Keith Giffen and I sent Batman’s DNA into the far future in our ongoing Justice League 3000/3001which imagines a Batman very different from the one we all know.  This is a Bruce Wayne who wasn't traumatized by the death of his parents—in fact he can't remember their murder at all—and that lack of a motivating tragedy has altered him in fundamental ways.

I’ve also had the pleasure of writing Batman in animated form—first with multiple episodes of Justice League Unlimited and then with seven episodes of Batman: The Brave and the Bold.  I’m genuinely honored to have been a part of both those classic shows, but I got a special kick out of writing for B & B because it was so reminiscent of the square-jawed, over-the-top Batman I adored as a kid.

This past March saw the release of the direct-to-video animated movie Batman vs. Robin—which explored Bruce Wayne’s relationship with his son, Damian—and I’ve got a another Batman-related project in the animation pipeline, but I can’t say anything about it till it’s officially announced.  All I can say is that my dance with the Dark Knight isn’t over yet—and I hope we keep dancing for years to come.

©copyright 2015 J.M. DeMatteis
Batman and his pals ©copyright 2015 DC Entertainment

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


The jet lag has finally passed and the world has resumed its normal shape, but before I get completely lost in the day-to-day lunacy of the writing life, I want to take a moment to thank everyone involved with the Avilés Comic Book Festival—especially head honcho Jorge Iván Argiz and master interpreter Diego Garcia Cruz—for their incredible warmth, kindness, generosity and hospitality.  My wife and I were greeted not just as festival guests but as family—and we’ll never forget it.  

Thanks, too, to Ramón and Luis at Librería Gigamesh in Barcelona for the tour of that incredible city (and opening my eyes to the wonders of Atoni Gaudí’s architecture), some terrific meals and a very successful talk/signing at the store. 

Below are some photos from our trip.   Enjoy! 

In Avilés—with my beautiful wife, Diane

Wherever I go, there they are

With my Phantom Stranger collaborator, Fernando Blanco

With our amazing host, Jorge Iván Argiz

Gary Frank and Mahmud Asrar drawing their way through lunch

Gaudí's breathtaking Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

At Libraría Gigmesh in Barcelona, with one of Spain's best interpreters
(and nicest guys) Diego Garcia Cruz

One of our many three hour Avilés meals—
with Diane, Jim Chadwick, Rodney Ramos,
Renee Witerstaetter, Kenny Lopez, Heather and Alan Davis

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


I just returned from a magical (and occasionally surreal) journey to Spain where my wife and I attended the magical (and occasionally surreal) Avilés Comic Book Festival, overseen by the amazing Jorge Argiz.  I'll write more about Avilés when the jet lag wears off, but for now I want to share a video of a talk I did at Gigamesh Books in Barcelona (we spent a few days in that wonderful city before we left the country) on Monday night—aided immeasurably by one of Spain's top interpreters, and nicest guys, Diego Garcia Cruz. 

Sunday, August 30, 2015


I discovered today that the fine folks at CD Baby have put all the songs from my 1997 album How Many Lifetimes? on Youtube—which means I can share the music right here, starting with the title track.  Enjoy!  (And if you're interested in buying the album, just hop over to the Creation Point music page.)

Friday, August 28, 2015


In honor of Jack Kirby’s birthday, here’s an essay I first posted here back in 2010.  Enjoy!

Like most people too in love with their own opinions, I’m fond of sweeping statements, and one of the sweeping statements I often toss out when the subject of comic books comes up is this:  Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the two formidable talents who forged the Marvel Age of Comics—and, one might argue, all comics that followed—were the Lennon and McCartney of their medium.  Rock and roll and comic books were two of my greatest passions growing up and the link has always seemed obvious to me.  The Beatles, led by John and Paul, redefined popular music in the sixties, just as Marvel, led by Stan and Jack, redefined comics.  (Not that DC was sitting around doing nothing, mind you...any more than Dylan, the Stones and the Who were; but the Beatles and Marvel, at least in this writer’s opinion, were way ahead of the pack.)  But all that blew apart when the decade turned.

Those of you too young to have been comics fans in 1970—that tumultuous twelve months of Kent State, student strikes and Richard Nixon’s sweaty upper lip—can’t begin to grasp the impact that three words—”Kirby Is Here!”—had when they appeared on the cover of, believe it or not, Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen.  I was sixteen, a devoted Marvel follower, and still naive enough to believe that Lee and Kirby were as inseparable as, well, Lennon and McCartney.  Of course 1970 was also the year in which the Beatles publicly disintegrated, as well.  “The dream is over,” John Lennon sang—and it certainly was.  Across the board.  Across the country.  The idealism, the optimism, the inspired lunacy of the sixties—which had spread throughout our culture via music, film, novels, and, yes, comics—was beginning to turn sour.  Let’s face it:  if Stan and Jack, if John and Paul, couldn’t keep it together, what possible chance did the rest of us have?  (This sounds incredibly silly now, but, believe me, this was an unbelievably urgent question then.  At least to me.) 

But the energy and enthusiasm of those years was still pushing us forward and, in some ways, the creative energy of the early seventies surpassed the sixties.  Sure, the Beatles were a dead issue, but the music Lennon produced in the years after the split, most notably the brilliant John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album, was some of the most powerful, important music rock and roll had ever heard.   (I told you I was fond of sweeping statements.)  And this music was produced as a direct result of Lennon’s boredom with the Beatles, of his pulling away from McCartney’s influence, from the security of success.  He danced out on a limb, the limb held, and the result was Art.

The same can be said of Kirby.  With Lee, he had taken mainstream comics and turned them inside out, upside down, and left his mark forever.  But, as his later Marvel work too clearly showed, he was bored.  How many times can the Thing turn against his partners?  How often can Loki tiptoe past Odin’s bed and usurp the throne of Asgard?  Pretty often—but too often for a restless limb-dancer like Jack Kirby.  As with Lennon, Kirby’s vision was unique, singular; and, if his collaboration with Lee (as important to Marvel’s success as McCartney was to the Beatles’; neither man should be understimated) brought Kirby to new levels, those levels had now been attained, a plateau had been reached, and it was time to move on.  Without collaboration.  Artists, real artists, tend to burn.  When they’ve burned long enough, the smoke starts pouring through their lips and they’ve got to spit the fire out. 

In 1970, Jack Kirby jumped from Marvel to DC and started spitting fire.  The fire was called The New Gods, Mister Miracle, Jimmy Olsen and Forever People.  Books as important to comics as Lennon’s POB album was to rock.  Books that opened new doors, set new standards, did things that comics had never dared to do before.  New Gods was clearly the most focused, perhaps the best of the bunch; Mister Miracle offered the most flat-out fun; Jimmy Olsen was as wonderfully bizarre, in its way, as those Silver Age stories that featured Jimmy turning into aliens, werewolves and giant turtles.  Forever People—which featured Kirby’s cosmic hippies, the embodiment of youth and naivete, idealism and dreams—was my personal favorite; encapsulating, as it did, Kirby’s (and my own) hope for the future.  True, the dialogue in these stories was sometimes awkward—but dialogue was never Kirby’s forte.  Story-telling was.  Spirit was.  Vision was.  And these stories had them all.  They ran, they rambled, they surprised, they exploded.  (The language often did the same thing:  the dialogue, as noted, may have been clunky, but Kirby’s prose was also so wildly passionate, so utterly idiosyncratic, that it achieved a kind of mad poetic grandeur.)  There seemed no definite beginning, middle, or end; there was just the constant search, the quest for an intangible something that could never be defined.  The characters themselves couldn’t be called three dimensional, in the conventional sense, but they existed in a dimension all their own.   Orion and Lightray, Scott and Barda, Big Bear, Serafin, Desaad and, perhaps the greatest villain in the history of comic books, Darkseid:  these were people that I, as a reader, cared passionately about.  I enjoyed their company—and looked forward to their evolution.  Unfortunately, for reasons that I’ve never heard adequately explained, that evolution was cut short.  With the exception of Mister Miracle (which staggered on for several more issues), all the “Fourth World” titles were axed.

But you can’t kill a dream—and these stories live on, resonating not just through the DC Universe but all of popular culture.  The word genius is one that’s often overused, and cheapened by that overuse, but if the comic book business has ever produced a genius, Jack Kirby was it.  And that genius’s magnum opus was unquestionably the “Fourth World” saga.  If you’ve read it before, I urge you to read it again.  If you haven’t read it, I urge you to put aside your preconceptions, grab the first volume of the Fourth World Omnibus and surrender to one of the 20th Century’s master storytellers. 

© copyright 2015 J.M. DeMatteis