Saturday, January 17, 2015
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
I’ve been lucky enough to write for some first-rate animated shows over the years and one of the very best of them was Justice League Unlimited. I scripted seven episodes of that series—including an adaptation of Alan Moore’s classic “For The Man Who Has Everything”—but there was almost an eighth. One day, way back in 2004, I got a call from two of the show’s incredibly talented writer-producers, Stan Berkowitz and Dwayne McDuffie. They’d cooked up an idea—based, in part, on the Oreo addiction Keith Giffen and I had given to J’onn J’onnzz during our original Justice League International run—and wanted me to develop it into an outline. At first I thought they were putting me on—the story, especially J’onn’s arc, was pretty outrageous, even by Giffen-DeMatteis standards—but they were dead serious. I remember sitting in my office taking notes as the two of them laid out the beats of the wonderful, and very funny, plot—which, had the episode made it to air, could have been the JLU equivalent of Star Trek’s “The Trouble with Tribbles.”
I say “could have been” because, after I fleshed out Stan and Dwayne’s tale and wrote a detailed outline (trying to do justice to the brilliant absurdity of their idea), the Powers That Be gave “Misfortune Cookies” a very enthusiastic thumbs-down and the story was consigned to limbo—and that’s where it’s been for the past decade. When I came across the outline the other day, I thought it would be fun to rescue this oddball story and share it here at Creation Point. So I invite you to turn on the television set in your mind, unleash your inner animators and enjoy this lost episode of Justice League Unlimited.
And let’s not forget that JLU and all the characters are ©copyright 2015 DC Entertainment.
JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED
by J.M. DeMatteis
INT. THE WATCHTOWER/LOUNGE - DAY: ELONGATED MAN, BWANNA BEAST, FLASH and BOOSTER GOLD horse around like a bunch of slacker frat-boys, complaining about the other Leaguers and wondering why J’onn called them together. E-Man has no idea why the others are there, but he’s sure that J’onn has finally recognized his brilliance and is moving him up in the organization. “Brilliance?” Booster Gold asks. “What brilliance? You’re a rubber band.” E-Man says he’s a master detective -- and he’s got the license to prove it. “License?” Booster snorts. “You cut an ad out of the back of a comic book and mailed in two dollars.” “That’s how much you know,” E-Man replies, smugly. “It was five dollars.”
Before the inane conversation can continue, a very grim MARTIAN MANHUNTER enters the lounge, carrying a bag of Oreos (not mentioned by name...but clearly identifiable by their look); he munches on the cookies continuously -- also exhibiting a few minor, but noticeable, nervous tics -- as he addresses the group.
J’onn tells E-Man and the others that the League is involved in a very delicate diplomatic situation. Two alien races -- the feline Hasssa and the not-remotely-humanoid SHROND -- are on the verge of war. In a last ditch effort to preserve the peace, each Empire is sending emissaries to the Watchtower in hopes that the League can mediate the dispute.
“Why us?” E-Man asks, reaching for one of J’onn’s cookies. J’onn grabs E-Man’s hand and squeezes, hard: E-Man yelps...as the Martian casually explains that the League has credibility, neutrality, “and most important,” he adds, letting go of E-Man, whose aching hand expands and contracts, expands and contracts, “respectability.” (“That’s what you get,” Flash whispers to E-Man, “for not saying please.”)
“So,” Booster says, “we’re doing security, right?” “So,” J’onn replies, “you’re doing security, wrong.” Bwanna Beast gets very excited, thinking that means they’re the ones J’onn is picking to do the actual negotiations. “Even I’m,” Booster says, “not stupid enough to believe that.” “Thus exhibiting a level of self-knowledge,” J’onn interjects, “that I thought was beyond you.” “Thanks,” Booster replies. “I think.” Flash: “If we’re not doing security...then what?” (E-Man, meanwhile, snakes a long, rubbery finger toward the cookies...J’onn, noticing this, actually bares his teeth...and Ralph quickly withdraws his hand.)
Without missing a beat, and with complete calm, J’onn says: “We cannot risk any of you embarrassing us or jeopardizing this negotiation...and so...you are all ordered off the Watchtower, until further notice.”
The others protest and whine -- but J’onn’s intimidating glare is enough to get them moving toward the transporters. After they leave the room, J’onn stands silent for a beat, then devours the remaining cookies in one massive mouthful. CUT TO:
INT. THE TRANSPORTER ROOM - DAY: The disgruntled and embarrassed Booster, Bwanna and Flash prepare to be beamed out. “Dontcha think,” Elongated Man observes, “that J’onn was acting a little weird...even for J’onn?” “Face it, Ralph,” Flash says, “you bring out the worst in people.” E-Man’s nose begins to twitch. “I smell a mystery,” he says. Flash: “I hate it when you do that.” E-Man: “It’s one of my most charming traits.” Flash: “You don’t have any charming traits.” But E-Man’s not listening: he’s lost in thought. “Coming?” Bwanna Beast asks. “I...ah...left something in the Lounge,” E-Man says. “You guys go on ahead.” They beam out and Ralph stands there, pondering. As he does, another one of the teleporters kick in...and a six foot tower of Oreo packages appears on the pad.
A moment later, JOHN STEWART/GREEN LANTERN enters the room -- “Didn’t J’onn tell you to get lost?” he barks -- heading for the cookies and picking them up. “Those are yours?” E-Man asks, amazed. “What’s it to you?” GL says, leaving. E-Man’s neck stretches across the room, he flattens his head and slips it under the door and out into...
EXT. THE CORRIDOR - DAY/CONTINUOUS
...where he sees GL walking down the hall, ferociously munching Oreos; only GL suddenly morphs...back into the Martian Manhunter. And, off E-Man’s confused expression and twitching nose, we --
EXT. SPACE - NIGHT: Two alien ships in orbit around the Watchtower.
INT. WATCHTOWER - TRANSPORTER ROOM - NIGHT: A grim John Stewart stands watching as the two alien emissaries beam in. The HASSSA EMISSARY is a catlike female, very fastidious (in fact, she’s constantly licking her own fur), extremely polite and respectful...but with a hint of ferocious danger beneath the surface. The SHROND EMISSARY is a ten-eyed, ten-tentacled ball of multilayered, constantly-oozing jello. His voice is like a sustained burp. (He doesn’t smell all that good either.) Before GL can greet them...
...the emissaries take one look at each other -- and explode into raging combat. GL tries to be diplomatic at first (which goes completely against his grain), attempting to calm the Hasssa and the Shrond down without resorting to force: it doesn’t work; in fact, he’s getting pounded in the process. Finally, John uses his power-ring to subdue them both, imprisoning the emissaries in ring-generated cages. “And I’m not,” GL roars, “letting you out till you give me your word that there’ll be no more violence!” “This,” the Hasssa hisses, as if it’s all GL’s fault, “is how you greet dignitaries from another culture? This is how you define...diplomacy?” There’s alot John would like to say, but he forces and smile and replies, “No. But, you see, I’m not a diplomat. Let me take you to someone who is...”
INT. WATCHTOWER/MAIN CONFERENCE ROOM - DAY: J’onn (who keeps surreptitiously slipping Oreos from his cape and downing them), FIRE, ICE and THE ATOM await the arrival of the alien emissaries. “Gonna be a tough negotiation, J’onn,” Fire states. “Think you’re up for it?” A few nervous twitches from J’onn, then he fixes Fire with a lascivious stare: “I’m up for anything you can think of, baby,” he growls, seductively. Before the shocked Fire can respond...
...Green Lantern enters with the Hasssa and Shrond emissaries and J’onn strides forward to greet them. (Fire turns to Ice: “D-did you...?” she stammers. “Did I what?” Ice responds. “Never mind,” Fire says. “I must have heard him wrong.”)
GL, extraordinarily relieved to have the Martian take over, introduces J’onn to the emissaries. “J’onn J’onzz will oversee the negotiations,” Stewart says. “And with his skills, I’m confident that we’ll quickly reach an amicable, and peaceful, solution.” (“Is it just me,” Atom whispers, patting his belly, “or is J’onn getting a little -- ?” “You know,” Fire says, noticing now, “he is.” And we see that J’onn actually has developed a small pot belly...which he didn’t have in the teaser. “Don’t say anything to him,” the ever-innocent Ice says, “we don’t want to hurt his feelings.”)
The Hasssa Emissary takes J’onn’s hand in hers -- “The Martian’s reputation precedes him” -- shakes it. We HEAR a CRUNCH. J’onn opens his hand: there are two crushed Oreos there. He downs them, crumbs flying everywhere, the Hasssa appalled as some land on her fur. “A pleasure to meet you, Ambassador,” J’onn says, through his stuffed mouth.
(In the midst of this, Elongated Man enters. GL sidles over to him. “What are you doing here?” Stewart growls. “Something’s up with J’onny-boy. I don’t know what, but -- “ GL doesn’t let him finish: “You screw this up in any way, Dibney,” he whispers, “and you’re history, do you understand that?” “But -- “ “Just zip it and let us do our jobs.” Then GL looks down at the ground...
...and sees an empty Oreo package there.)
The Shrond Emissary wraps several of its tentacles around J’onn’s arms. “Even in the farthest reaches of the Shrond Empire,” he burps, “we have heard of the great Martian Manhunter. We shall see,” he continues, glaring at the Hasssa with several of his eyes, “if he lives up to his reputation.” We suddenly HEAR J’ONN’S TELEPATHIC VOICE: “What a positively revolting, malodorous creature.” “What did you say?” the Shrond burps, not sure if he actually heard it. J’onn looks surprised. “Why, nothing, sir,” he says innocently. (The Leaguers have heard it and are sharing concerned looks.)
“Now,” J’onn says, addressing the other Leaguers, “if you will leave us alone, I think we can begin the...” J’onn stops suddenly: He’s looking a little green...even for a Martian. His body begins to pulse. We HEAR a RUMBLING SOUND from his stomach...
...and J’onn vomits, all over the alien emissaries.
Everyone stands in shocked silence, especially J’onn.
And then Elongated Man leaps forward. “Oh...oh, Ambassadors,” he exults, “I’m stunned...amazed...humbled!” “Y-y-you,” stammers the Shrond, “are?” “This is something I’ve heard about, read about, but never actually seen...” “What is?” the Hasssa asks, Martian spew oozing down her face. “Why,” E-Man says, with melodramatic emotion, “the...the fabled Heave of H’ronnmeer.” (H'ronnmeer, by the way, is an established DCU Martian god.)
“The Heave of H’ronnmeer?” John Stewart asks. A rubbery elbow in the ribs from Ralph. GL: “Oh. The Heave of H’ronnmeer.” “Of course,” E-Man continues. “One of the greatest honors a Martian can bestow upon another sentient being. Why I’ve known Mr. J’onzz for years and he’s never once heaved on me...no matter how much I begged him to! You two are so incredibly fortunate.” “Really,” says the Shrond, impressed now. The Hasssa bows to J’onn. “Then this is indeed a fortuitous beginning,” she says...
...as Ralph leads the two emissaries toward the door, yammering as he goes: “Now let’s get you two cleaned up...grab a quick bite to eat....maybe unwind and watch a little television.” “Television?” the Hasssa asks. “The highest reflection of Earth culture,” Ralph says, ushering them out the door.
After Ralph and the emissaries exit, GL and the others turn, extremely worried, toward J’onn...
...who is standing in the corner, shoving Oreos down his throat at an alarming rate. They look at him. He looks back: “What?” J’onn says.
INT. A WATCHTOWER CORRIDOR - NIGHT: GL and J’onn (who’s sweating now) striding down the halls of the Watchtower...J’onn, of course, munching cookies all the while. “What,” GL asks, “was that all about?” “A...minor illness,” J’onn replies, “but it’s passed.” “Minor illness?” GL replies. “First of all, I wouldn’t exactly call puking on the ambassadors minor...and, second of all, you never get sick! You’re a Martian!” J’onn stops, and his expression looks first confused, then outraged: “A Martian?” he says telepathically, his thoughts burrowing into John Stewart’s mind (and it’s clearly not a pleasant experience for GL).
J’onn morphs into a distorted, monstrous version of his true Martian form, his voice roaring through GL’s head: “What do you know about being a Martian? What do any of you truly know about me?” GL staggers back, his mind on fire. And, just as suddenly as it began...
...the telepathic assault ends. J’onn returns to his familiar form. Smiles, as if nothing happened. “Why, John,” he asks innocently, “are you all right?”
GL, realizing that something is very wrong, tells J’onn that they’d better get the Atom to look him over. “Nonsense,” J’onn says, “I’m feeling better already and besides...” They reach the lounge door. “...here we are.”
INT. THE LOUNGE - NIGHT. E-Man is with the emissaries, watching TV: the Hasssa and the Shrond completely baffled by what they’re seeing. E-Man: “...and then they vote to see who stays on the island and who’s booted off.” Blank stares from the emissaries. “It’s a metaphor,” E-Man continues, “for the transitory nature of existence. For the cruel twists and turns of fate and destiny.” “Ah,” burps the Shrond, “I see. On my world, we call that...” And he makes an unintelligible series of burps (so intense that Ralph’s rubbery body is blown across the room and plastered against the wall) that are apparently a Shrondian word. “I,” E-Man says, recovering, “couldn’t have put it better myself.” “We waste time,” the Hasssa says, agitated, “with philosophy...when our Empires are on the brink of disaster?”
J’onn enters, a worried John Stewart behind him. “We will waste no more time, Madame Ambassador,” J’onn says, bowing to the emissaries. He asks them to return with him to the conference room, where they can now officially begin the negotiations. But as he does this..
...he reaches into his cape for another cookie. And he’s completely out. A look of panic washes over J’onn’s face -- “Oh, no!” -- and he becomes invisible. The door to the room opens and closes (although the emissaries don’t notice it).
The aliens are understandably upset -- “Where has he gone?” -- but Ralph steps in again, telling them that J’onn is right there. He pretends that, although invisible, J’onn is beside him, speaking to him telepathically. “The Martians are known for being an incredibly...self-effacing race. J’onn believes that, in order to oversee these negotiations properly, he has to remove his own ego from the exchange. He...” Ralph pretends to listen: “What’s that you say, J’onn? Oh...right, right.” Turning back to the emissaries: “He says that this is about you, not him...so he’ll step back and...um...use me as his intermediary.” (“What the devil do you think you’re doing?” GL whispers. “Saving your tail,” Ralph whispers back.)
The Shrond is suspicious now: “Why you?”
E-Man doesn’t miss a beat. “Because of my high intelligence...my brilliant intuition...” He leans in close, speaks in a stage whisper, indicating GL: “...and the fact that J’onn trusts me more than the rest of these bozos.”
The emissaries have no choice but to go along with it. “After all,” the Shrond gleefully asserts, “if the talks succeed, it is to our benefit. And if they fail...well, my people will decimate the Hasssa Empire...and that, too, is to our benefit.”
The Hasssa emissary almost attacks the Shrond again, but Ralph intervenes.
GL then takes Ralph aside and tells him that he’d better know what he’s doing. “You mean you’re gonna let me do this?” an amazed Ralph asks. “You actually trust me?” “Of course not,” GL replies. “But I’ve got to find J’onn. And remember,” he continues, “if there’s an interplanetary war...all those lives are going to be on your head.”
“Hey,” Ralph says, nonchalant, “don’t worry, I -- “ And then, suddenly, the impact of those words hits him. “Maybe Superman should do this.” John looks over at the emissaries. “He’s unavailable. Besides, we change horses now and those two are gonna go ballistic. Don’t screw up, Ralph.” E-Man: “When have I ever screwed up?” Beat. “Don’t answer that.” A disgusted GL turns and leaves. “Heaven help us,” he mutters.
INT. THE CONFERENCE ROOM - NIGHT: The Atom, using what looks like a high-tech pooper-scooper, is collecting samples of J’onn’s “H'ronnmeer hurl” as well as some cookie crumbs; studying the scooper’s LED readout as he does so. “What are you doing?” Ice asks. “I’m not exactly sure,” the distracted Atom says. “Well, that’s helpful,” says Fire. “I think it might be,” Atom says, taking his samples and heading for the door. “Has everyone around here’s gone nuts?” Fire wonders. “He’s trying to help,” Ice observes. “If he really wanted to help,” Fire replies, indicating the vomit, “he would’ve cleaned the rest of that up.” Ice covers the offending spew in ice, which will at least neutralize the stink.
Ice and Fire get an urgent call on their com-links from John Stewart, asking them to meet him outside J’onn’s quarters.
INT. CORRIDOR OUTSIDE J’ONN’S QUARTERS - NIGHT: Fire, Ice and GL converge...GL buzzing J’onn and asking him to let them in. J’onn, in a voice that sounds demented, feverish, demands that they go away, leave him alone. “J’onn, please,” Ice implores him, “whatever it is -- ” “Go AWAY!” he roars. “That’s it,” says an angry and worried GL...
...who uses his power-ring to blast the door in. They rush in...
INT. J’ONN’S QUARTERS - NIGHT/CONTINUOUS: ...to find the room in semidarkness. J’onn, sweating, eyes glazed...huddled in the corner, sitting on the floor, an empty Oreo bag on his lap. His belly has grown yet again...hanging over his belt. The entire room is floor to ceiling Oreo packages, some full, some empty. J’onn at first looks embarrassed, ashamed. Then angry: “I told you to go away!”
“How,” a stunned Ice asks, “did you get all these?” “An arrangement...with the manufacturer,” J’onn replies, like a man in a trance. Now it all makes sense to GL: “My God...you’re addicted to the cookies!” Fire and Ice share a look. “Nobody,” Fire says, “gets addicted to cookies.”
“Nobody human,” a voice says. We WIDEN to include the Atom, who walks in carrying a Palm-Pilotish device. “But for a Martian,” Atom continues, “it’s a very different matter. ”J’onn comes out of his stupor for a moment. Gets to his feet. “What do you mean?”
“The long-chain polymers in the cookies,” Atom explains, showing J’onn and the others the technical data on his Palm, “create an extremely powerful interaction with your Martian physiology. This isn’t just some craving, J’onn,” he continues, looking around at the ocean of cookie packages, “this is a life-threatening addiction. Not only that,
but -- ”
Now J’onn gets angry again, interrupting Atom: “It’s nothing that I can’t control. And it is none of your business.” GL gets in J’onn’s face. “Of course it’s our business. You’re our teammate.” “Our friend,” Ice adds. “Not to mention,” Fire interjects, “the little matter of that intergalactic war you’re supposed to be stopping.” The mention of the war seems to bring J’onn back to himself. “Yes, the war...” And then, again, he grows dark, agitated.
J’onn presses a button and a viewscreen comes alive, offering a beautiful view of the Earth, spinning below. “Can it be any worse than what I see from up here, day after day? War. Hatred. Barbarism. I sit here observing humanity’s madness...trying, in my small way to help...but what good has it really done?” He turns toward the other Leaguers now, incredible pain on his face. “You are correct, Atom. I am not human. I feel the Earth’s pain. It gnaws at me. Burns through my nervous system.” He laughs, a harsh thing. Picks up a package of Oreos, plucks out a cookie. With heartbreaking sadness: “And you would deny me this one small pleasure?”
“We’re not denying you anything, J’onn,” Ice says, gently. “We’re trying to help you.”
“I am in command of myself,” J’onn says, stuffing his face now. “I control the cookie,” he continues, shoving more and more Oreos in, “the cookie does not control...” Then he stops, frightened, fully realizing what he’s doing.
“Come on, buddy,” GL says, taking the package away from J’onn. “Let the Atom do what he can to -- “ J’onn savagely backhands GL, knocking him across the room. “GIVE ME MY COOKIES!!” he roars. And the fight is on. GL, Fire, Ice and Atom trying to subdue the Martian...
...the battle carrying them all over the Watchtower: a brutal mess.
INT. THE LOUNGE - NIGHT: E-Man is playing the guitar, singing “Kumbaya” with the two emissaries. At least he’s trying to get them to join in. “What,” hisses the Hasssa, “is the point of this?” E-Man, still pretending he’s talking to an invisible J’onn: “Mr. J’onzz says that music is the universal language...and it will allow us to bond.” “I do not want to bond with you or this Hasssa witch!” the Shrond burps. “You don’t now,” E-Man says, “but after a few more choruses of -- “
They HEAR the NOISE OF BATTLE OUTSIDE. All three rush to the door to see J’onn and the others fighting their way down the corridor...then vanishing around the turn.
“Wait!” says the Hasssa. “Was that not -- the Martian?” E-Man’s eyes goes wild with panic for a beat, then: “No, no, no, that wasn’t J’onn...that was our...our Martian Manhunter simbot. Since J’onn’s our strongest member...we use a robot that simulates his powers to...ah...train the rest of the team. And as you can see, it really keeps the guys an’ gals on their toes.” He looks up at empty air. “Isn’t that right?” He pretends to listen. A smile. “You really have a way with words, J’onny, you know that?”
Suddenly, we HEAR a STRANGE TONE. The Shrond pulls out a bizarre communication device, talks in indecipherable burps. “I have new orders,” he announces. “Good ones, I hope,” Ralph says. “If we have not concluded these negotiations in another thirty of your Earth minutes,” the Shrond burps, “it’s war.” “And I for one,” says the Hasssa, “can’t wait.”
E-Man’s not sure what to do...so he hustles the emissaries back into the room...launching into another, now-frantic chorus of “Kumbaya.”
ELSEWHERE IN THE WATCHTOWER: The battle reaches its climax as J’onn takes Fire, Ice, GL and Atom down...then turns invisible again: gone. “How,” GL asks, “do we find a guy who can turn invisible...read minds...become anyone...or anything?” Atom: “It gets worse.” “What?” “He’s experiencing a physiological meltdown.” “What does that mean exactly?” Fire asks. “It means that if we can’t stop him...cure this thing fast...he’s going to explode -- and he just might take us all with him.”
END ACT ONE
INT. THE TELEPORTER ROOM - NIGHT: More cookies beam in from the manufacturer. An invisible J’onn sneaks in, gathers the packages up, but just as he reaches the door...
...the Atom pops up out of nowhere -- he’d been hiding at microscopic size -- barring J’onn’s path. “I have no wish to harm you, Doctor Palmer,” J’onn says. “I only wish to be left alone.” “You’re dying, J’onn,” Atom says. “Those things are killing you.” “You’re a liar. You just...you just want my cookies...” “Listen to yourself!” J’onn’s trying to think straight, but it’s clearly difficult. “Even if what you’re saying is true,” J’onn snarls, “shouldn’t it be my decision how I live...how I die?” “You’re not in any condition to make that choice.” And with that...
...a third arm manifests, projecting out of J’onn’s forehead, smashing the Atom in the face with brutal efficiency, knocking him unconscious. The feverish J’onn looks down at the Atom: “I am sorry, Doctor...but no one gets between me and my sweet...” He shoves several cookies in his mouth. “...friends...”
INT. THE LOUNGE - NIGHT: Things aren’t going very well with the emissaries. “What is the point of this?” the exasperated Hasssa shouts. “These creatures,” she continues, indicating the Shrond, “have no hearts, no souls! One might as well negotiate with a rock!” “You,” the Shrond burps back, “dare call the Shrond soulless...when your people are the ones who attack our border settlements without provocation?!” “Hypocrite!” the Hasssa rails. “You arm yourselves with weapons of mass destruction, aimed at the heart of our Empire -- and then wonder why we act to protect ourselves?”
And once again the two ambassadors start going at each other...and this time they each pull out blasters, demolishing half the lounge in the process.
Desperate to stop them, Ralph wraps himself around and around the two emissaries, binding them together, face-to-face: they can’t move, they’re stuck that way. “Release us!” the Hasssa demands. “Or you shall pay with your worthless human life!” the Shrond adds. “I think,” Ralph offers, taking on the tone of a therapist, “that we need to get to the root of your anger. Aggression like this doesn’t just appear overnight, you know. It begins very early in life. Now tell me,” he continues, turning toward the Hasssa, “about your childhood.” And, suddenly, there’s an expression of extreme vulnerability on the Hasssa's face...as if Ralph has just pushed a primal psychological button.
INT. A WATCHTOWER CORRIDOR - NIGHT: Fire and Ice are following a trail of cookie crumbs, searching for J’onn. Ice: “I’m so worried about him, Bea. The poor man is suffering so.” Fire: “Not to sound -- excuse the expression -- cold, hon...but that ‘poor man’ could destroy the entire Watchtower when he melts down...so you might worry about us a little, too.” Ice: “I have to believe that we’ll find him before that ha -- “ And then Ice stops, because she notices (although Bea doesn’t) a cookie...in the corner...floating on the air for an instant, and then vanishing. (It’s the invisible J’onn, chowing down, an almost- empty bag of Oreos in his hand.)
With lightning speed, Ice whirls and blasts the entire area...the barrage of ice outlining the invisible Martian...frozen in mid-bite. “Good girl!” Fire says. “Lantern,” she continues, talking into her com-link, “we’ve found him on
level -- “ But before she can continue...
...J’onn’s body solidifies -- and he effortlessly smashes out of the ice-block, the impact sending Fire and Ice flying. Ice struggles to her feet, imploring J’onn to give himself up. But J’onn is so feverish now, so crazed, that he just picks her up and smashes her against the wall.
And now Fire’s seeing red: “You. Hurt. Tora.” She explodes in an inferno of green flame, barraging J’onn, dropping him to his knees. (Fire being the one thing that can stop a Martian.) Fire’s so angry, she keeps pouring it on and pouring it on. J’onn collapses, toppling flat on his back.
“Stop!” a weak, desperate Ice wails. “You’re killing him!” Fire: “He could have killed you!” Ice: “No! He doesn’t realize what he’s doing! He can’t help himself!” Fire’s anger fades (a little). “You’re right,” she says, grudgingly turning off her flames. “As usual. Come on, he’s down anyway. Let’s get him to -- “
And then, with a speed that rivals the Flash, J’onn’s up and flying past Fire and Ice...knocking them both down again...his Oreo bag, left behind. The two women get to their feet...
...but are knocked down yet again as J’onn super-speeds back INTO FRAME, grabs the cookie bag and super-speeds OUT OF FRAME again. “So much,” says a disgusted Fire, “for compassion.”
EXT. THE WATCHTOWER - NIGHT. A massive Hasssa battleship suddenly warps into orbit around the Watchtower.
INT. THE WATCHTOWER/MEETING ROOM - NIGHT: John Stewart and the Atom facing a large viewscreen, where we see the HASSSA CAPTAIN, looking none-too happy. The Captain says that, if the negotiations fail -- and given the timeframe, they most certainly will -- and the two Empires go to war, the Hasssa are going to use the Earth as a base of operations in this sector. Before GL can protest...
...a massive Shrond battleship appears, locking into orbit beside the Hasssa. “Apparently,” the Hasssa Captain continues, “our adversaries had the same idea.” “The deadline’s not up yet,” GL says to the Hasssa. “There’s still time to work this out. Come on,” he continues, turning to the Atom, “we’ve gotta find J’onn. He’s the only one who can get us out of this.”
INT. ANOTHER ROOM ON THE WATCHTOWER - A LITTLE LATER: GL and Atom enter, John scanning the room with his ring. There’s nothing there but furniture: some chairs, bookcases, a table with a single cookie on it. “Trouble is,” GL grouses, “when J’onn changes form, he actually becomes the thing...down to the last molecule. There’s no way to tell if he’s actually in here.” Atom subtly nods toward the table, then says: “He’s not here, let’s try the gym.” And they exit. A moment later, the table grows a huge mouth...that gobbles up the cookie. And then...
...the door is blasted open by a green ray, Atom and GL rushing back in: “Aha!” John roars. “Gotcha!” But...
...the table gets up (its four legs growing longer)...and runs away, barreling past the amazed Gl and Atom.
INT. THE LOUNGE - NIGHT: Ralph and the emissaries stand in the doorway, watching first the table, then the Leaguers, rush by. E-Man says this is a hugely popular sport on Earth. “Table-chasing. It’s on ESPN more than figure skating. But now,” he continues, putting an arm around the Shrond, and guiding him back into the room, “let’s get back to what you were saying about your father...”
INT. A WATCHTOWER AIR VENT - NIGHT/ON J’ONN: He’s hidden himself away in the vent. Deathly sick now. Feverish, sweating. Delirious and pathetic. Hands shaking violently...as he licks cookie crumbs off them.
He desperately searches his cape: nothing there. Then he puts a hand to his head and telepathically scans the Watchtower. “No,” he whispers, horrified. “No,” he repeats, “I’ve eaten them all.” He tries his com-link, hoping to reach the manufacturer on Earth: nothing but static. It’s dead.
VERY CLOSE on the panicked J’onn: “I have to get off this satellite.”
INT. THE TRANSPORTER ROOM - NIGHT: J’onn stumbles in. He tries to boot up the teleporters...but they don’t work. WIDEN to reveal GL, Atom, Fire and Ice stepping out of the shadows. “No teleporters,” John Stewart says. “No communication with the outside. We’re stopping this, we’re helping you, here and now.”
“Please!” J’onn begs. “I have to beam out! I have to get my cookies!” “You’ll die, J’onn,” Ice says, her heart breaking, “don’t you understand that?” “If I’m dying,” J’onn growls...
...as he leaps at them, “then I’m taking all of you WITH me!”
As the Leaguers try to subdue him, as he battles desperately against them, J’onn morphs and morphs...from his true Martian shape to the forms SUPERMAN, WONDER WOMAN, HAWKGIRL, FLASH, AQUAMAN. All of “them” speaking with J’onn’s voice. All of “them” pleading -- even as J’onn continues to fight savagely -- to be let off the station.
GL and the others hammer J’onn unrelentingly -- and, given his weakened state, they finally manage to get the upper hand: J’onn falls to his knees, utterly exhausted in mind and body. He looks up at his friends with the pathetic expression of a whipped dog. “I...I give up,” he gasps. At least that’s how it seems...
...until J’onn suddenly morphs into a tiny, winged insect...
...and escapes again. Fire and Ice sprint after him. Atom checks his Palm Pilot-device. “How much time?” GL asks. “Physiological meltdown in approximately...seventy-two seconds.” “We’re not gonna make it, are we?” GL asks. Atom’s stunned silence is all the answer John Stewart needs.
INT. A WATCHTOWER CORRIDOR - NIGHT. The feverish, confused J’onn is running, stumbling -- but, in his current state, he has no idea where he’s going, what he’s doing. And his belly is getting bigger and bigger and bigger...PULSING and CHURNING and RUMBLING.
INT. THE SHROND BATTLESHIP - NIGHT: The SHROND CAPTAIN studies the chronometer: “The deadline is up in two Earth minutes,” he says. “Prepare to destroy the Watchtower and then open fire on the Hasssa ship.” “But our emissary -- ” says the FIRST OFFICER. “Is expendable,” burps the Captain.
INT. THE LOUNGE - NIGHT: Ralph’s got the two emissaries crying their eyes out (and in the case of the multi-eyed Shrond, that’s quite a feat).
“My dad,” sobs the Shrond, “never once took me to observe the ritual slaughter of the Urrpoodooloos...and yet I’ve...I’ve always blamed myself...for his failure.” “It’s all right,” Ralph says, bawling, too (although, in his case, it’s a performance. When the emissaries turn away, he shakes his head and rolls his eyes), “just let it out.”
“My mother,” wails the Hasssa, turning to the Shrond with sympathy and understanding, “put me in the Master Kennel when I was only four sechplatts old...and all these years...I, too, have blamed myself!” “Oh, the horror, the horror,” says the Shrond, feeling a wave of compassion for his adversary. “But that’s no way to live,” Ralph says. “We have to release our guilt and shame...move beyond it.” “Yes,” says the Hasssa, eyes glistening with tears, turning to face the Shrond. “Yes,” agrees the Shrond, looking at the Hasssa with new understanding, “yes, of course...he’s right!”
“Look at us,” E-Man says, melodramatically blowing his nose. “Three different worlds, three different cultures...but we’re all human under the skin...” The Shrond and Hasssa stop crying, fix E-Man with fierce stares. “Figure of speech,” Ralph says quickly, realizing his error. The emissaries accept that -- and begin weeping all over again, even harder. Ralph joins in, puts his arms around the two aliens and says: “C’mon, you sweet, beautiful people -- let’s sign that peace treaty.” They’re just about to put pen to paper when...
...J’onn bursts in. He’s GROANING as if he’s in incredible pain. There’s a psychic wave -- like a high-pitched electronic signal -- rippling from his mind through the minds of E-Man and the emissaries. Driving them to their knees.
GL, Atom, Fire and Ice rush in -- “He’s gonna blow!” Atom shouts-- but they’re instantly downed by the psychic sound wave.
They all SCREAM.
The PSYCHIC WHINE rises and rises and rises to a DEAFENING MIND-SHREDDING PITCH and then:
INT. THE HASSSA BATTLESHIP - NIGHT/CONTINUOUS: The Hasssa crew watches in alarm as the Watchtower is rocked by the force of the explosion. “Are they firing at us?” the Hasssa Captain wonders. She turns to one CREWMAN: “Power up weapons!” And to ANOTHER CREWMAN: “Target the Watchtower!”
INT. THE LOUNGE - NIGHT: E-Man opens his eyes...to find that a) he’s not dead and b) he’s covered in a thick, pea-soup like substance. We WIDEN to see that the entire room -- and everyone in it -- has been splattered with the stuff. (It’s like Dr. Seuss’s Oobleck.)
J’onn is on the floor, in his natural Martian form...looking extremely emaciated; depleted and weak. He GROANS.
“What happened,” a groggy John Stewart asks the Atom, as they both rush to J’onn’s side, “to the explosion that was going to kill us all?” “I said it might kill us all,” Atom clarifies. “Might.”
The emissaries, meanwhile, are angry again; they want to know the meaning of this: why did the Martian become visible again and attack them? E-Man tells the ambassadors that this wasn’t an attack. Far from it. “On Mars...perhaps once in a thousand years...someone is blessed this way.” “Blessed?” asks the Hasssa. “You see,” E-Man continues, “Among his people, J’onn J’onzz is considered not just a warrior, not just a diplomat...but a holy man.” “Indeed,” says the impressed Shrond, licking off the pea-soup with his long and disgusting tongue. “But,” E-Man continues, “he’s not just an ordinary holy man...oh, no...he’s one of the very highest of the high priests...a...a Barsoom Laka Laka.” “Barsoom Laka Laka?” interjects Fire. “Unless you’ve got something better,” Ralph whispers, “shut up.”
“And this,” the Hasssa says, indicating the splattered soup everywhere, “is a...Martian blessing.” “Not just a Martian blessing...the supreme Martian blessing -- which is granted only once in a millennium to the worthiest souls. All of us who share in this blessing today,” Ralph goes on, sounding like an overheated, cable-TV evangelist, “are bonded together in spiritual unity...till the end of time!”
The two emissaries look at each other, awed and impressed. “Then our Empires,” the Hasssa says, weeping again, “must never go to war.” “Never,” agrees the Shrond, who also breaks down in tears again. “Oh...I am so happy...”
The Watchtower is suddenly rocked by blasts from BOTH the alien battleships.
E-Man: “Uh...would you both mind telling your buddies out there how happy you are?” Emissaries: “No problem.”
Meanwhile, Atom and GL rush J’onn out of the lounge on a power-ring-created stretcher. “The explosion was his body’s last attempt to purge the toxins,” Atom explains to Ice, “and it didn’t work. If we don’t get him to the lab immediately...he’s a dead man.”
INT. WATCHTOWER LAB - NIGHT: The Atom affixing a device -- like a high-tech version of the classic no-smoking patch -- to a weak, dejected J’onn’s upper arm. “It will take a few weeks,” Atom says, “but this should gently eradicate your body’s dependency on the cookies.” “But can I -- ?” J’onn asks, hopefully. “Not a one,” Atom says. “But here,” he continues, offering J’onn an odd-looking wafer, “this should help assuage your body’s craving for the time being.”
J’onn takes a bite. Grimaces. “Tastes like...cardboard.” “Best I could do,” Atom admits, “given your physiology and my baking skills.”
INT. J’ONN’S QUARTERS - NIGHT: The Martian sits alone, staring at an empty Oreo wrapper. A beat, an inner struggle, a SIGH...then he balls up the bag and hooks it into the trash.
A KNOCK at the door. “Come in...” John Stewart enters: “How’re you doing, buddy?” J’onn: “Did the ambassadors get off safely?” GL: “Still crying alot, but yeah, they’re gone.” J’onn, amazed: “Ralph Dibney did what I could not.” “So elephants can fly,” GL shrugs. “So what?”
J’onn stands and paces, agitated. “I have revealed the darkest corners of my psyche for all to see. I have acted like a buffoon...a madman. I am humbled...and ashamed.” “Of what?” GL says. “Of making a fool of yourself? Happens every day around here. Or haven’t you met Bwanna Beast?”
Another KNOCK at the door...and Ice comes in. She’s brought a huge bowl of popcorn. “Atom says it’s safe,” she sweetly assures him. J’onn eats a small handful. “Not bad,” he admits. “How ‘bout a movie to go with that?” says a voice. WIDEN to reveal that it’s E-Man, Atom and Fire. “Don’t you knock?” J’onn asks. “Of course not,” E-Man says, matter-of-factly. J’onn SIGHS: “Come in, come in.”
The Leaguers gather around their Martian friend: “Face it, J’onny,” says Ralph. “You’re stuck with us.”
J’onn looks at his friends, then down at a cookie crumb on the table. Smiles gently: “I can think of worse fates.”
Posted by J.M. DeMatteis at 4:19 PM
Thursday, December 18, 2014
On television they’re trotting out Miracle on 34th Street, The Grinch, It's a Wonderful Life and seemingly-infinite variations on A Christmas Carol. Here at Creation Point we have our own Yuletide tradition, a short Christmas tale of mine called The Truth About Santa Claus: offered annually as a kind of cyber Christmas present. My way of wishing all of you who visit this site the happiest of holidays and the most magical of Christmases. I offer it again this year—along with a trio of wonderful illustrations by my friend and collaborator Vassilis Gogtzilas. So grab a plate of Christmas cookies, pull a chair up close to the fireplace and enjoy.
THE TRUTH ABOUT
“THERE IS NO SANTA CLAUS!”
He’d been thinking about it for days—ever since he heard Big Mouth Jenny Rizzo announce it on the school bus—and he didn’t believe a word of it, not one word. (Well, maybe ONE.) But Cody had to be sure, absolutely, positively sure—
—and that’s why he was hiding behind the couch at midnight on Christmas Eve.
His mother was there, asleep in his dad’s old easy chair, the reds and blues of the Christmas tree lights making her look peaceful and happy and impossibly young.
The tree, by the way, had not ONE SINGLE PRESENT underneath it.
That didn’t make sense. If there WAS no Santa Claus, if his mother was the one who bought the presents, wrapped the presents, stacked them under the tree, then how come she hadn’t done it? How come she wasn’t awake RIGHT NOW arranging them all?
He got scared. Maybe there wasn’t going to BE a Christmas this year. Maybe Mom had lost her job and they didn’t have any money and so she COULDN’T buy him any presents and—
And then Cody glanced over at the windows and noticed that it was snowing.
Or was it?
If that was snow, it was the WHITEST snow he’d ever seen. It was snow as bright as moonbeams, as bright as sunlight, as bright as...
Quickly, but quietly (he didn’t want to wake his mother), he scurried to the window and looked out.
It was coming down and coming down and COMING DOWN all across town, whirling and whipping, spinning and gyrating, out of the night sky. Glowing so brightly that it almost hurt his eyes to look at it. And Cody saw that it certainly wasn’t snow, and it absolutely wasn’t rain, it wasn’t ANYTHING he’d ever seen before. But each drop, no...each flake, no... each BALL of glowing WHATEVER IT WAS, seemed to pulse and spin, soar and vibrate, as if it were alive.
And the stuff, the magical WHATEVER IT WAS (and he knew now that it was magic. He just KNEW), wasn’t collecting on the streets, wasn’t piling up on the rooftops. It was MELTING INTO (that’s the only way he could put it: MELTING INTO) every house (no matter how small) and apartment building (no matter how big).
EVERY house and apartment building.
He looked up.
And there it was: coming RIGHT THROUGH THE CEILING of Apartment 3F, HIS apartment, swirling, like a tornado of light, around the chandelier and then down, down, down—
—STRAIGHT FOR HIS MOTHER.
At first he almost yelled out a warning, “Mom! Wake up! MOM!” But something made him stop.
Instead of yelling he ducked back behind the couch and watched, eyes peering over the top.
Watched as the light-tornado wheeled around his mother, so fast, so bright, that he could hardly even SEE her. But he COULD see her. Most of her, anyway.
And what he SAW...
The light poured in through the top of her head, through her eyes, through her chest, through her toes. It lifted her up—still sleeping!—and carried her out of her chair and across the room. And as she floated—
—she started to change:
Her hair became white, her nose became red, her belly ballooned like the most pregnant woman in the history of the world. Her feet grew boots, her head grew a hat, her nightgown grew fur. An overstuffed sack sprouted, like a lumpy angel’s wing, from her shoulder. And then—
AndthenandthenandTHEN, it wasn’t his mother there at all, it was him, it was SANTA CLAUS! STANDING RIGHT THERE IN CODY’S LIVING ROOM! Santa Claus who, with a laugh (exactly like the laugh Cody always knew he had, only better) and a twinkle in his eyes (exactly like the twinkle he’d always imagined, ONLY BETTER) reached into his sack and pulled out package after package, present after present, and placed them, carefully, like some Great Artist contemplating his masterpiece, under the tree.
When he was done, Santa Claus stood there, grinning and shaking his head, as if he couldn’t BELIEVE what a beautiful tree this was, how wonderful the presents looked beneath it. As if this moment was the greatest moment in the history of Christmas, as if this apartment was the only place in all the universes that such a Christmas could ever POSSIBLY happen.
And then the MOST amazing thing happened:
Santa Claus turned.
He turned slowly. So slowly Cody couldn’t even tell at first that he was moving at all. And—slowly, SLOWLY—those twinkling eyes, that Smile of smiles, fixed itself on the two boy-eyes peering, in wonder, over the top of the couch.
And what Cody felt then he could never really say: only that it was better than any present anyone could ever get. Only that it made his heart so warm it melted like magical WHATEVER IT WAS, trickling down through his whole body. Only that it made him want to reach out his arms and hug Santa Claus, hug his mother, hug his father (and FORGIVE him too, for running out on them) and his aunts and uncles and cousins (even his Cousin Erskine who was SUCH a pain) and Big Mouth Jenny Rizzo (who really wasn’t so bad most of the time) and all his friends and teachers and the kid in his karate class who always smelled SO BAD and, embarrassing as it sounds, it made him want to hug everyone and everything in the whole world including rabbits and snakes and trees and lizards and grass and lions and mountains and, yes, the EARTH HERSELF.
Cody wanted to hold that gaze, to keep his eyes locked on Santa’s, forever. (Or longer, if he could.) Wanted to swim in that incredible feeling, drown in it, till GOD HIMSELF came down to say: “Enough!”
Except that he blinked. Just once. But in that wink of an eye, Santa was gone. Cody’s mother was asleep in the chair again and, for one terrible moment, the boy thought that the whole thing must have been a dream.
Except, under the tree: THERE WERE THE PRESENTS.
Except, out the window: THERE WAS THE SNOW, the rain, the magical WHATEVER IT WAS, shooting up, like a blizzard in reverse, from every house, every apartment building. Shooting up into the heavens, gathering together like a fireball, like a white-hot comet—
—and fading away into the night: going, going...
Without so much as a tinkling sleigh-bell or a “Ho-ho-ho.”
Not that it mattered.
Cody looked at his mom.
Cody kissed her.
“I love you,” he said. And he was crying. Happy tears. Christmas tears. Like moonbeams, like sunlight. Like stardust.
Mom stirred in the chair, smiled the softest sweetest smile Cody had ever seen. “I love you, too,” she said.
And then she drifted back to sleep.
Cody sat at her feet, warming himself, warming his SOUL, by the lights of the tree.
And soon, he, too, was drifting off to sleep. And as he drifted, a wonderful thought rose up, like a balloon, inside him. Rose, then POPPED—spreading the thought to every corner of his mind. Giving him great comfort. Great delight:
“One day,” the thought whispered, “when you’re all grown-up, when you have children of your own. ONE DAY,” the thought went on...
“It will be YOUR TURN.”
Story ©copyright 2014 J.M. DeMatteis
Art ©copyright 2014 Vassilis Gogtzilas
Posted by J.M. DeMatteis at 12:53 PM