Wednesday, July 23, 2014

HAPPY BIRTHDAY BATMAN!

Well, today is Batman Day (yes, there is such a thing) and the fact that all of Comicdom is celebrating the Dark Knight’s 75th Anniversary (he doesn’t look a day over thirty) got me thinking about my history with Bruce Wayne.  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 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, eleven 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 probably 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 remember staying 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 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 out of all the 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 doing 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 the 2003 Justice League/Spectre mini-series Soul War.  More recently, Batman appeared in an issue of Phantom Stranger and, this year, Keith Giffen and I launched Justice League 3000which imagines a future 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.



I’ve got a couple more Batman-related projects in the pipeline, but I can’t say anything about them till they’re officially announced.  (And the first announcement won’t arrive till Spring 2015.)  “Comic books?” you ask.  “Animation?”  I’d love to tell you, but I’ve been sworn to secrecy.   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.

Happy Birthday, Bruce—and many more!

©copyright 2014 J.M. DeMatteis
Batman and his pals ©copyright 2014 DC Entertainment 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

SILENCE DAY


“I have come to sow the seed of love in your hearts so that, in spite of all superficial diversity which your life in illusion must experience and endure, the feeling of oneness, through love, is brought about amongst all the nations, creeds, sects and castes of the world.

In order to bring this about, I am preparing to break my Silence. When I break my Silence, it will not be to fill your ears with spiritual lectures. I shall only speak One Word, and this Word will penetrate the hearts of all men and make even the sinner feel that he is meant to be a saint, while the saint will know that God is in the sinner as much as He is in himself."

Avatar Meher Baba

Monday, July 7, 2014

STRANGER THINGS HAVE HAPPENED

For those of you who have been wondering what the future holds for the Phantom Stranger now that his monthly is coming to an end, the answer is right here.

How's that for short and sweet?

Sunday, June 15, 2014

PODCAST THERAPY

I recently had a wonderful, and lengthy, conversation with the fine folks at the Comics Therapy podcast.  You can hear it on their site or via the embedded player below.  Enjoy!  Big thanks to Andrea Shockling and Aaron Meyers for a stimulating, thoughtful talk. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

IT'S LEN WEIN'S BIRTHDAY!

In honor of my old and dear friend Len Wein, who turns thirty-nine today (hey, it worked for Jack Benny, didn't it?), here's an edited excerpt from an introduction I wrote for a recent hardcover collection of Len's Spider-Man work.  Happy birthday, Len.  Here's to (at least) thirty-nine more!


***

In the late 1970’s, when I was taking my first, very awkward, steps as a comic book writer—until then I’d been making my living, such as it was, playing in rock and roll bands and dabbling in music journalism—I had a very simple rule that served me well:  The editor is always right.  I was hungry to work and the men and women sitting behind the desks, handing out the assignments, held the keys to the kingdom I so desperately wanted to enter.  More important:  they had knowledge and experience that they were willing to share. 

Over the years young writers have occasionally come to me for guidance and some of them, when offered advice, become instantly defensive, wasting their time and mine by explaining exactly why they don’t need to take that advice, why their stories are just fine, thank you, and shouldn’t be altered.  “Well, if it’s just fine,” I’ve often wondered, “what are you coming to me for?”  I never saw things that way.  I wanted to learn, I wanted to grow as a writer and soak in all that wisdom my editors had amassed.  If one of them said, “No more than thirty-five words per panel, no more than 5.5 panels per page,” well, then, I went home and counted every single word, averaged out my panels. If I was told that my dialogue was flat, I reworked it.  If the brilliant (in my own mind, at least) sequence I labored over all night didn’t work, I cut it.


The truth, of course, is that the editor isn’t always right—sometimes he’s spectacularly wrong—and it’s a writer’s responsibility to stand up for himself and his work and, when necessary, challenge his editors; but a neophyte writer still grappling with the fundamentals of his craft would do well to save his battles for a later date.  One thing I intuited in those early days was that no matter what the editor asked of me—shy of requesting something morally or artistically abhorrent, which, for the record, never happened—I could take it as a challenge and, more important, learn something from it.  Those early years at DC Comics were my Comic Book College:  I was an over-eager freshman and, happily, I had some superb Professors.

None better than Len Wein.

When I first began working with Len, he was—despite being just past thirty—already a legend in the industry.  This was the writer who, with the equally-legendary Bernie Wrightson, created the groundbreaking Swamp Thing  series.  Unless you were around when that book debuted, you can’t really grasp how truly revolutionary Swamp Thing was, how different from everything that had come before it.  I remember being floored by the emotional power of the art, the pulp-poetry of the language and the big beating heart at the story’s core.  You couldn’t read an issue of Swamp Thing without feeling something, without being moved. 

If that series was all Len had done, his place in Comic Book Heaven would be secure, but he was also the guy who co-created Wolverine, one of the most successful, and popular, characters in the medium’s history... resurrected and revitalized the X-Men franchise...had memorable runs on everything from Justice League to Hulk, Batman to Spider-Man...and, oh, yes, was editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics along the way.  Len could do slam-bang superhero adventure with the best of them, but the hallmark of a Wein story wasn’t the action, it was that aforementioned beating heart.  All of Len’s best work was, and remains (for he’s as vital a writer now as he ever was), marked by a deep humanity and a profound compassion. 


Which is why, when I entered his office in the spring of 1979, I counted myself among the lucky ones:  I didn’t realize just how lucky until I got to know Len.  There are some writers whose work you admire, but then you meet them and it’s impossible to make the leap from the words on the page to the person across the table:  there seems to be some great cosmic disconnect—and, yes, a great disappointment, as well.  (It’s unfair to expect a writer or actor or musician to somehow be the embodiment his art—the work alone should be more than enough—but we hope for it nonetheless.)  With Len, though, the man and the work were one.  He was just like his stories:  charming, funny, eloquent and all heart.  He extended that heart to me.  There wasn’t a hint of self-importance to the man.  His editing style was warm and welcoming.  He taught through encouragement, enthusiasm.  Even if he didn’t like a particular story—and, believe me, some of my early scripts were massively flawed—he never eviscerated the work, never bullied:  just found a gentle way to guide me out of the morass of my own inexperience and onto solid creative ground.

In a very short time, Len became not just my editor, but my friend and first real mentor in the comic book business.  He saw a spark of something special in my stories and, through his patient guidance, helped fan that spark into a flame.  There I was, an insecure, working class kid from Brooklyn, uncertain of my own talent, wondering if I could carve a career for myself in this wonderful, and hugely peculiar, business—and there was The Legendary Len Wein providing the answer:  “If you want it, you absolutely can.”  

You can’t put a price on that.

©copyright 2014 J.M. DeMatteis  

Thursday, June 5, 2014

ATLANTA—ONE MORE TIME

The advantage of traveling to conventions with my wife is that she loves to take pictures—so here are a few from my Wizard World Atlanta panels, all of them moderated by the hardest working man in show business, Danny Fingeroth.

1939:  The Year That Changed Everything—with Aaron Sagers and Danny Fingeroth



The DeMatteis & Son panel—with Cody DeMatteis and (him again?) Danny Fingeroth


Talking Spider-Man with Mark Bagley and Danny Fingeroth's twin brother, Harvey (okay, it's Danny again)
Atlanta's a beautiful city—made all the more appealing because my amazing son, Cody, and his wonderful girlfriend, Liz, live there.  The convention was fun, the family time was even better.

We may just make this an annual affair.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A WORLD OF WIZARDS

This coming weekend I’ll be appearing at Wizard World Atlanta.  You can find me in Artist’s Alley at table B12—where I’ll be happy to sign your books (and, no, I don’t charge for it).  If you’re at the convention, please come by and say hello.  

I’ll also be taking part in five panels—one of them with my son, Cody—all hosted by my old friend, the lovely and talented Danny Fingeroth.  Details are below.


See you in Atlanta!

FRIDAY MAY 30:

6:30 – 7:15PM 1939: BATMAN’S BEGINNING AND THE YEAR THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING WITH J.M. DeMATTEIS, AARON SAGERS AND DANNY FINGEROTH
75 years ago, as fateful events that would lead to the outbreak of World War II in September 1939 were coming together in Europe, the U.S.A. was experiencing an explosion of popular culture. In 1939, Batman debuted in Detective Comics #27; Timely (later Marvel) Comics released Marvel Comics #1, showcasing the first Marvel superheroes, Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch; and Hollywood produced classic films including The Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind and Stagecoach. Discussing historical and cultural factors that made that year so important is a panel including J.M. DeMatteis (Spider-Man; Justice League,) pop culture expert Aaron Sagers and Danny Fingeroth (Disguised as Clark Kent: Jews, Comics, and the Creation of the Superhero.) (A314)

SATURDAY MAY 31:

11:00-11:45AM HOW TO WRITE COMICS WITH J.M. DEMATTEIS, JUSTIN JORDAN, NATHAN EDMONDSON AND DANNY FINGEROTH
Accomplished comics writers J. M. DeMatteis (Spider-Man; Moonshadow,) Justin Jordan (Superman; Green Lantern,) Nathan Edmonson (Ultimate iron Man; Black Widow,) and Danny Fingeroth (Deadly Foes of Spider-Man; How to Create Comics from Script to Print) show and tell you how to write comics and graphic novels, going from initial idea to outline to script to finished story. Plus, the panelists will answer your questions about both the creative and business sides of the comics writing profession, including how to find an artist to work with (hint: a comics convention is the number one place!) and how to write exciting dialogue! (A314)

2:00 – 2:45PM DEMATTEIS & SON: SPIDER-MAN’S J.M. DEMATTEIS IN CONVERSATION WITH ADULT SWIM’S CODY DEMATTEIS
J.M. DeMatteis is one of the most admired names in comics writing with long stints on Spider-Man and Justice League, as well as acclaimed work on his creator-owned projects, including Moonshadow and Brooklyn Dreams. His son, Cody DeMatteis, is a creative force in his own right, including working on Adult Swim’s Off the Air! Today, father and son discuss the ups and downs of the creative life with each other and with comics writer and editor Danny Fingeroth (The Rough Guide to Graphic Novels.) (A314) 

4:30 – 5:15PM THE RETURN OF SPIDER-MAN WITH MARK BAGLEY. J.M. DEMATTEIS, AND DANNY FINGEROTH
[Note: Bagley is appearing only at this panel, not on the convention floor.]
With the recent blockbuster release of the Amazing Spider-Man 2 movie, and the concurrent return of Peter Parker in Spider-Man’s comics, the world is, more than ever, Spider-Man crazy. As if that’s not reason enough to celebrate all things arachnid, 2014 is the 30th anniversary of the debut of Spider-Man’s alien costume (which would become Venom) and the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the controversial Clone Saga! Join legendary Spider-Man comics creators Mark Bagley (Ultimate Spider-Man; Thunderbolts,) J.M. DeMatteis (Amazing Spider-Man; Kraven’s Last Hunt,) and Danny Fingeroth (former Spider-Man group Editor and writer of Deadly Foes of Spider-Man) for a freewheeling discussion of the life and times of Peter Parker’s wall-crawling alter ego! (A315)

SUNDAY JUNE 1:

1:30 – 2:15PM COMICS TO FILM WITH J.M. DEMATTEIS, BOB LAYTON AND AARON SAGERS

With movies adapting comics at what seems a record-breaking pace—with everything from Amazing Spider-Man, Superman, Batman and The X-Men to American Splendor and Art School Confidential—some top creators who have worked both sides of the fence talk about the creative process and the business side of working on characters and properties that exist in comics, as well as in movies and on TV. J. M. DeMatteis (Spider-Man; Teen Titans Go!,) Bob Layton (Iron Man; The Helix) and Aaron Sagers (Entertainment Weekly) talk about their experiences with comics and screened media. Danny Fingeroth (The Stan Lee Universe) moderates. (A314)