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 

Monday, August 17, 2015


This is a revised and updated version of a post from 2009.  Enjoy!


One of the questions writers often get—from both interviewers and fans—is “Of all the things you’ve worked on, what’s your favorite?”  Well, if you’ve only been a professional writer for a few years, that’s probably an easy question to answer.  If you’ve been doing it for more than thirty five years, as I have, it’s a little harder to winnow things down.

That said, I’ve decided to indulge myself and compile a Top Ten list.   (And, yes, I cheated by occasionally listing more than one story or series in an entry.)  Keep in mind these aren’t necessarily the best things I’ve ever done—I’ll leave that for other people to decide—these are the projects that brought me the most joy, the most creative challenges.  That stretched me—as both a craftsman and an artist.  That were just plain fun.  (I'm just focusing on comic books here:  perhaps I'll do a post about my work in other media another time.)

Here they are, in no particular order:


Back in the mid-1980’s I had an idea for a story called “Silver Shoes.”  It was about a little girl, living with her abusive father, who’s befriended by an old woman named Dorothy.  Not just any Dorothy:  this old lady claims to be Dorothy Gale, from L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz.  After Dorothy passes away, the girl finds a gift the old woman has left behind for her:  a pair of silver shoes (that’s what they were in Baum’s book.  MGM magically transformed them into technicolor-friendly ruby slippers for the 1939 film) that the girl uses to escape her father and live happily ever after in Oz.  It was, I thought, a wonderful idea, but I never did much with it.  I just filed the story away and forgot about it. 

For ten years.

In the mid-90’s I started toying with an idea about a mother who discovers that her abducted son has been taken to a magical world that—she’d assumed—only existed in books.  I named the world Abadazad and began developing the story, but it wasn’t until 2003 that a new company called CrossGen enthusiastically agreed to publish the book.   CrossGen head honcho Mark Alessi recruited Mike Ploog—one of the greatest fantasy illustrators on the planet—to do the art and so began one of the most magical collaborations of my career.  (I also have to acknowledge the extraordinary work of Nick Bell, one of the finest colorists I’ve ever worked with.)

Then, after only three issues of Abadazad—all of them very well-received—had seen print, our publisher crashed and burned:  CrossGen went bankrupt.  I don’t need to go into all the depressing details here but we were eventually rescued from oblivion by Brenda Bowen, who was then the vice-president and editor-in-chief of Hyperion Books For Children.  We signed for a six book series (combining sequential comics with illustrated prose)—with the aim of doing six more beyond that—but, again, by the time the first three books came out we were dead in the water.  The reasons were complex—it wasn’t just about sales—but the bottom line was that the Abadazad series was cancelled.  Again.

It was the biggest heartbreak of my career—I think I’m still in mourning—but I still hold tight to the belief that, some day, some way, Abadazad will be back.  Magical thinking?  Perhaps.  But it’s a magical story.

I can’t talk about  ‘Zad without mentioning another all-ages project:  The Stardust Kid, which reunited the entire Abadazad creative team, features  some of the finest work of Mike Ploog’s amazing career.  (He may have actually topped his work on Abadazad.)  I created the story when my son was four years old, sold it to DC in the 80’s, bought it back, and, by the time it finally saw print, Cody was one of the book’s editors.  (Yes, some tales take a very long time to find their way into the world.)  The final version evolved considerably from my original conception—thanks, in no small part, to Ploog’s contributions—and it’s a fantasy-adventure that I remain incredibly proud of.       


In my early years in comics I blundered along, trying desperately to find my own voice as a writer and ending up sounding like a damaged clone, created from the badly-mixed DNA of Stan Lee, Steve Gerber, Len Wein, Roy Thomas and half-a-dozen other comic book writers I admired.  It’s not that my work was bad—well, actually, some of it was fairly horrendous—it’s just that I hadn’t found the way to fully express myself in the form.  Looking back, I think I was trapped by the super-hero genre itself.  As long as I was writing about the Defenders or Captain America, I would, in some way, be parroting stories, and styles, I’d been absorbing all my life.

Moonshadow changed that.

Someone (and for the life of me, I can’t remember who!) once said that whatever story you’re working on should be written as if it’s the only one you’ll ever tell—pouring all your thoughts, feelings, ideas, ideals, passions, philosophies, hopes and dreams...every iota of Who You Are...into it.  That’s what I did with Moonshadow.  And it allowed me to step outside the Marvel-DC mindset and discover my own voice.

Of course it didn’t hurt that I was working with Jon J Muth, as brilliant an artist as the medium has ever seen.  His work always challenged me.  Dared me to be better.  I hope I did the same for him.

Nearly ten years after the original Moonshadow series saw print, Muth and I reunited for a one-shot graphic novel called Farewell, Moonshadow that I think is, in some ways, even better than the original run. 


If I was forced to pick a single favorite on this list, it would probably be Brooklyn Dreams.  In an odd way it’s the same story as the one I told in Moonshadow, only it’s not presented as a fairy tale set in the far reaches of space, it’s a (very) thinly-disguised autobiography that takes place on the streets of Brooklyn.  I remember working on the script and feeling scared to death because BD was the single most personal piece I’d ever attempted.  The main character’s name may have been different, but it was my life I was writing about, in shameless, intimate detail.  I’ve learned, over the years, that being terrified is usually a sign that I’m on to something good.  It was certainly true in this case.  

When I was developing Brooklyn Dreams, I had a certain art style in my head.  In fact I knew exactly how I wanted the book to look, exactly how the drawing should interpret my elliptical, and time-jumping, story.  When I first laid eyes on Glenn Barr’s work, my head nearly exploded:  What was there on the page was what I’d been seeing in my mind all along.  And Glenn’s uncanny resonance with the story remained, and deepened, throughout our collaboration.

Chemistry between a writer and artist can’t be created.  It’s either there or it’s not. I’ve worked on projects where the script was strong, the art was strong, but that indefinable magic between writer and illustrator simply wasn’t there and the story just died on the page.  Not so with Glenn Barr.  Our collaboration was instant magic—and, for that, I am forever grateful.

4)  DR. FATE

Dr. Fate is a DC Comics character who’s been around since the l940’s.  In l987, I revamped the character—with considerable help from the frighteningly-creative Keith Giffen—for a mini-series and then, some months later, continued the story in an ongoing series, wonderfully illustrated, with both humor and humanity, by Shawn McManus.  I’d hazard a guess that most comics fans have never read our Dr. Fate run and that many who did were baffled by it.  I understand their confusion:  Our Fate series wove together mysticism, sit-com silliness, super-hero action, romance, Eastern philosophy, infantile toilet jokes and Serious Musings On The Nature Of Existence.  But that’s exactly why I loved working on it. 

It’s a rare occasion when you can work on a preexisting DC or Marvel character and be allowed to completely stamp it with your own unique, and very personal, vision.  It couldn’t have happened with one of the Major Icons, and I’m not sure it could happen at all in today’s comic book climate.  But the 80’s were the “anything goes” era in modern comics.  Writers, artists and editors were willing to push the boundaries to wonderful (and sometimes ludicrous) extremes.   It was an exciting time—and Dr. Fate was an exciting project.  My editors—Karen Berger and Art Young—gave me the freedom to follow my muse wherever it led me.  And, no matter what bizarre twists and turns the scripts took, Shawn was always there to bring them to vibrant life.


When people talk to me about my super-hero stories, they inevitably bring up Kraven’s Last Hunt as an example of my finest work—and who am I to argue?

Well, I guess I have to.

I think the best mainstream super-hero story I ever wrote was "Going Sane," which originally ran in four issues of DC’s Legends of the Dark Knight.   Here’s the premise:  The Joker kills Batman—at least he believes he does—and, with the primary reason for his existence eliminated, the villain’s mind snaps.  Of course the Joker is already insane, so when he snaps...he goes sane.  Joe Kerr soon creates a new life for himself, complete with an office job and a loving fiancé.  Batman, meanwhile, finds himself recuperating in a small town, far away from the madness of Gotham—and has to reassess his life and his identity.  When the two finally come back together at the story’s end, well...if you’re as sentimental as I am, you just might find yourself shedding a tear for the Joker.

Again, no comic book story can succeed without the artwork—and the amazing Joe Staton (the guy has drawn everything from Scooby-Doo to Green Lantern) turned in some of the finest work of his career.  



I’ve written more Spider-Man stories than I’d care to count.  No matter how many times I walk away from the character, I keep coming back, because he’s real to me.  I don’t think there’s a character, in any super-hero universe, more psychologically nuanced, emotionally-compelling and wonderfully-neurotic than Peter Parker.  To this day I don’t think of Peter as a fictional character:  I think of him as an old friend.

As you can see, I cheated here.  I didn’t select one story, I selected six.  (I could easily have added more:  Spider-Man:  the Lost Years comes immediately to mind.)  The multi-part story collected as Kraven's Last Hunt—illustrated by Mike Zeck, at the top of his form—was the first super-hero story I wrote that allowed me to bring the lessons I’d learned writing Moonshadow over to the Marvel/DC mainstream.  (I wrote a lengthy, and, I hope, interesting introduction for the collected edition, detailing the story’s genesis.)   “Best of Enemies” was the culmination of a two year storyline (and a two-year collaboration with one of my personal comic book heroes, Sal Buscema) exploring the relationship between Peter Parker and Harry Osborn—and it’s my single favorite Spidey tale.  “The Gift”—illustrated by one of the all-time great Spider-artists, Mark Bagley—featured the death of Aunt May (don’t worry, she got better) and its publication resulted in one of the highlights of my career:  a phone call from comics legend John Romita, Sr. telling me that the story had moved him to tears.  “The Kiss” topped that, because I actually got to collaborate with Romita, Sr—on a short, sweet story about the last night Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy spent together.  “Spider Dreams” was my chance to say thank you to Peter Parker for all he’s given me over the years, both as a reader and a writer, as well as an opportunity to pay tribute to his web-headed alter ego and the men who created him.


In the 90’s I did a number of projects for DC’S Vertigo line, but I can’t think of one that means more to me than Seekers Into The Mystery.  This was another case where the comics industry—specifically, editors Karen Berger and Shelly Bond—gave me a chance to write exactly what I wanted, in exactly the way I wanted.  No constraints, no directives.  And I got to do it in collaboration with the cream of the Vertigo crop:  Glenn Barr, Jon J Muth, Sandman’s Michael Zulli and Scary Godmother’s Jill Thompson.  

The series—centered on a soul-sick, failed screenwriter named Lucas Hart—touched on everything from the toxic effects of sexual abuse to the omnijective reality of UFOs; from the pain of divorce to the descent of the God-Man.  If I was listing these projects in order of preference, Seekers would be very close to the top. 


Remember when I said that Moonshadow was the first project that allowed me to find my own voice as a writer?  Well, I lied.  (Or, as Mr. Spock might say, I exaggerated.)  A couple of years before Moonshadow, I did a story for Marvel’s black and white anthology magazine, Bizarre Adventures, about a reclusive Jewish horror writer who also happened to be a vampire.  I’d toyed with the idea as both a short story and a screenplay, which may explain why the characters hit the page fully alive and acting like, well, real people.  There was none of the clunky dialogue that was littering my super-hero stories.  Folks around the Marvel office responded very nicely to the story (which was beautifully illustrated by Steve Leialoha) but it was a one-shot deal...and I quickly went back to scripting earnest-but-awkward super-hero stories.  (The problem certainly wasn’t my passion:  I was pouring my heart into those stories.  It’s just that my craft hadn't yet caught up to my aspirations.)

Then came Moonshadow and the breakthrough that saved me as a writer.

Around the same time, I was renegotiating my contract with Marvel and I asked then-editor-in-chief Jim Shooter if I could do an Oscar Greenberg graphic novel.  He said yes (I’m sure he was just being nice.  He couldn’t have possibly believed that a story that was a cross between Portnoy’s Complaint and Dracula—I didn’t come up with that description, Dwayne McDuffie did—would sell).  I called up a young artist named Mark Badger (at the time, we were working together on a mini-series called The Gargoyle—which just missed making this list) and Mark happily signed on.  Badger went on to become one of my favorite collaborators ever.  He’s a unique talent, a brilliant storyteller and his work on Greenberg was superb.

Greenberg allowed me to get in my little boat and push out into uncharted waters.  To try new things, explore new voices.  I’m delighted that a new edition, collecting both the original black and white story and the entire graphic novel, will be out in the fall. 


Back in the 1980’s, when I was writing Captain America, I hatched a story that would have seen a disgusted Cap turn his back on violence and begin a new life as a global peace activist.  Marvel, unsurprisingly (well, it’s unsurprising in retrospect, it shocked me at the time) said no and I filed the idea away; returning to it periodically over the years.  Freed from the confines of the Marvel Universe, the idea slowly—very slowly, it took twenty-five years!—evolved into a saga, spanning seven decades of American pop culture and politics, called The Life and Times of Savior 28.  Illustrated by the amazing Mike Cavallaro—an artist who was every bit as passionate about the story as I was—S-28 became one of the single most challenging, and rewarding, comic book projects of my career.

I think the story was far more relevant at the end of the Age of Bush than it would have been had it come out in the Reagan Era.  Comic books (and pop culture in general) had become far more violent.  The spandex mindset that, however much we struggle to disguise it, says “All problems are ultimately solved by dropping a building on a so-called bad guy’s head” had become even more dangerous—especially in a post-9/11 world where terrible damage had been done by global leaders who simplistically divided humanity into “true believers” and “infidels,” “good guys” and “evil-doers.”

In the end, though, The Life and Times of Savior 28 isn’t really a story about politics, it’s about one flawed man’s attempt to change himself and the way he sees the world. 

Mike C also drew “That Which Is Most Needed,” a short story that appeared in the first volume of the Occupy Comics anthology.  Well, it’s less a story than an illustrated essay:  an opportunity to talk directly about the value of, and need for, compassion; to bring to life Buddha’s wonderful words:  “That which is most needed is a loving heart.”  Cavallaro's art was everything I expected and far more:  he brought heart and hope to the page in equal measure.  This is probably the most obscure story on this list, but if you enjoy my work, I think you’ll find it worth seeking out.


Okay, so this one’s another cheat:  I’m collapsing my entire collaboration with Keith Giffen into one, but it really feels as if all our work together—from the 80’s Justice League to Boom!’s Hero Squared and our current work on Justice League 3001 (with the hugely gifted Howard Porter)—is one piece.  And that piece exists in its own little universe, far, far away from everything else I’ve done.  

I’ve said it before but it bears repeating:  Keith Giffen is as generous and gifted (well, gifted is too small a word.  Someone once called Keith the Jack Kirby of my generation and I couldn’t agree more) a collaborator as I’ve ever worked with.  If he called me up tomorrow and asked me to co-write a Millie the Model revival, I’d say yes without hesitation.  When I work with Giffen, it’s not about the particular project, it’s about the collaboration itself—and the tremendous fun we have together.  We’ve been going at this, on and off, for more than twenty-five years.  I don’t see any reason to stop now.

I can’t mention Keith without acknowledging Kevin Maguire, who illustrated so many of our stories in a style that many have tried to imitate but no one has ever equalled:  The guy is genre unto himself.  I’d do a new project with Keith and Kevin in a heartbeat.  (And, yes, I still nurture fantasies of the three of us bringing our unique brand of lunacy to Fantastic Four.)


There are other projects that could have easily been on this list—Blood: a tale with Kent Williams, my truncated Man Thing run with Liam Sharp, Mercy: Shake the World with Paul Johnson, The Last One with Dan Sweetman, Doctor Strange:  Into Shamballa with Dan Green, The Adventures of Augusta Wind with Vassilis Gogtzilas:  so many more.  But if I kept adding titles this would be the longest post in Creation Point history.


I don’t want to end this without mentioning a few of the genuine turkeys I’ve birthed over the years.  Like the Marvel Team-Up issue featuring Spider-Man and Robert E. Howard’s King Kull.  (“Hiya, Kingsy,” a time-traveling Spidey exclaims, “what’s the haps?”)  Or the Defenders-Squadron Supreme epic that made almost no sense.  Or the Spider-Man annual that tried to tie up loose ends from the aforementioned Man-Thing series and ended up making even less sense than the Squadron Supreme story.  Or...

Well, I think you get the idea.  

The good news is that the failures can be as important as the successes.  (Although they’re definitely not as much fun.)  When you try something new and fall on your face you exercise creative muscles you never knew you had.  And then you can use those muscles, with far more skill, on the next project.  Of course, sometimes a bad story’s just a bad story—but I have to believe that even the genuine stinkers help us to become better writers.

The truth is that—with rare, and miraculous, exceptions—it’s pretty much impossible to judge your own work objectively.  Some of the stories I’ve listed here might be the genuine turkeys...and some of those stinkers I’m trying to forget might be sitting at the top of someone else’s Top Ten List. 

©copyright 2015  J.M. DeMatteis