Friday, November 6, 2015


This is an edited version of an essay that was originally posted back in 2010.


Avatar Meher Baba's Tomb-Shrine

In 1988, I made my second trip to Meher Baba’s Tomb-Shrine (also known as the Samadhi) near Ahmednagar, India.  I’d been to Meherabad for the first time in the summer of 1987 and was planning a return trip the following July.  But in early March of 1988 something strange happened:  One morning I woke up—abruptly yanked into awareness—to hear a voice:  very clear, very powerful, as if someone was in the room talking to me.  Only the voice wasn’t coming from across the room, it was coming from inside me.  It was coming the center of my chest, from my heart.  I don’t recall the exact words, but the message—actually, it was more like an order—boiled down to this:  “Come to Meherabad.  Come now.”  Those words had such force, such impact, that I couldn’t ignore them.  Oh, I tried to.  There was no way I could just drop everything, get on a plane and go to India.  I had work, I had obligations.  Even if, by some miracle, I could go, the ashram where most visitors to the Samadhi stay during their pilgrimage was only open until March 15th.  (After that, the Maharashtra heat becomes unbearable.  The Meher Pilgrim Center doesn’t reopen till the end of June.)   If I was going to travel around the world, I’d need to stay for at least two weeks, not swoop in and out like some spiritual lunatic.   Nope, no matter what that voice was, no matter where it came from (a passing angel, my unconscious mind or Meher Baba Himself), I was ignoring this order.

But the thing is I couldn’t ignore it.   It was as if the order itself contained the ability to execute it.  As if each of those words, spoken in my heart, were energy-eggs that cracked open and provided the strength and will for me to (with seeming effortlessness, I don’t recall there being any blockades along the way) rearrange my life, race to the Indian Consulate for a tourist visa, buy a plane ticket and—within a few days—fasten my seat belt for a journey to Bombay (which, for the record, didn’t become Mumbai till 1995).

By the time I arrived in India, I was—as I’d been the first time around—a sleep-deprived wreck (I’m not one of those people who can sleep on airplanes.  I’m from the fitful dozing school).  I hustled from the international to the domestic airport, waited the requisite interminable hours, then took an Indian Airlines flight—aboard a small, propeller-driven plane—to Pune.  From there, I rickshawed to a taxi stand and began the long drive to Ahmednagar.  You can imagine the shape I was in when I got there:  it was as if I was a creature molded from cracked glass and every step brought me closer to totally shattering.  But, after arriving at my destination and settling into my room at the Pilgrim Center, I couldn’t go to sleep.  However exhausted I was, I had to make the trip up the hill to Meher Baba’s Tomb-Shrine.  I had to lay down my head at his feet and say, “Baba, I’m here.  I listened to the voice, I followed the order, now wrap your arms around me and flood me with your love.”  (One thing you have to grok in order for this story to work:  Despite the fact that He died in 1969, my experience with Avatar Meher Baba has been that He’s very much alive, and incredibly accessible.  Master and companion, guide and best friend.  And MB’s Tomb-Shrine is, for me, like a direct radio link to that Living Presence.  You don’t have to believe that—feel free to think I’m completely nuts (you won’t be the first)—I’m just asking you to understand it.)

So up the hill I staggered, into the Samadhi I went.  But there was no love-bomb waiting to engulf me, no warm arms waiting to envelop me.  The instant I rested my head against the cloth-covered marble, it was as if a Cosmic Hand sliced open my mind, reached in and untapped a psychic geyser that had been waiting years to explode:  all my self-loathing—every wretched program that told me I was small, insignificant, unworthy, a hopeless waste of space on the planet—erupted up and out, wave after wave of psychic sludge:  pitch black, oily and utterly repugnant.  I felt poisoned, toxic, as it flooded every cell of my body, every corner of my soul, washing away all other thoughts and feelings, every other aspect of Self, until all that remained was the Black Sludge of Unworthiness.  How bad was it?  I remember noticing a bug crawling across the Tomb floor and feeling that the only difference between us was that the insect had more of a right to be alive than I did.

Devastated, I staggered out of the Samadhi and down to my room. wondering why the hell I’d dropped everything and raced across half the world only to be spiritually ambushed by a God who suddenly seemed less-than benevolent.

Once I was rested, free of jet lag and psychic aftershocks, I began to understand what had happened.  I’d been with Meher Baba long enough to know that one of His methods is to shine a light on the shadowed corners of the soul, corners we’re often not even aware of, peeling back the hardened layers of psychic excrement that cover up the Divinity we all are.  Magnifying those aspects and dragging them to the surface of our minds allows us to work with them more directly and, ultimately, dissolve them in the light of awareness.  By letting me see the Black Sludge in its full, flowering ugliness, Baba gave me the tools to deal with it in a conscious way.  Twenty-seven years later, I can’t claim the Sludge is gone—I suspect that, being human, I’ll always carry echoes of it, sometimes faint, sometimes loud—but, since that day, it’s certainly diminished in power.   

But perhaps it hasn’t diminished:  perhaps it’s just transformed.

As the years have passed, I’ve come to believe (well, I think I’ve always believed it, I’ve just come to see it in a deeper way) that these seeming demons, these apparent nightmares born of our unconscious darkness, aren’t really there to prevent us from reaching our true height and power:  they’re here to help us reveal it.  In fact, I’m convinced these devils are actually angels-in-disguise, waiting for the moment when we recognize them so they can spread their wings wide and invite us to fly with them into the heart of a magical, and sacred, universe.   (I’ve also come to believe that it’s ultimately far easier to fly with angels than dance with demons, even illusory ones—that joy is a far more efficient, and delightful, path to awakening than suffering—but that's another discussion for another time.)   

Our true height and power.  I had a memorable glimpse of just how high, just how powerful, we all are two years after my encounter with the Sludge.  It happened, again, in Meherabad—on a December night in 1990.  I had a dream—one of those dreams that seem more real than our waking life—in which I was at an event where one of the Meherabad residents, an extraordinary man called Mohammed the Mast (Mohammed, by the way, was the inspiration for Charlie Limbo in Seekers Into The Mystery), was sitting at a table signing...well, I’m not sure what he was signing:  it might have been books (which, given the dreamer in question, makes sense).  I approached the table, but, rather than sign my book, Mohammed instead scribbled on me, writing his way up from my hand to my upper arm.  When he did that I felt disrespected, powerless, small, ashamed—another echo, I see now, of the Black Sludge—and very angry.  But my anger was so bottled up, my rage so impotent, that I couldn’t express it.  The best I could do was grab Mohammed’s pen and throw it—without even looking—to the floor.  It was a pathetic throw, like something a weak, exhausted two year old would do.  (And that’s pretty much how I felt:  like a vulnerable, utterly overwhelmed child.)   But then...

Then I turned around—absolutely stunned to discover that my “pathetic” throw had sent the pen hurtling across the room, where it smashed into the wall, lodging there with such incredible force that it collapsed the entire thing, not just in the main room where we were, but in the adjoining room, as well.  And, in that moment of assumed weakness, revealed as inexplicable power...

I woke up—not just from sleep, but into myself.  To who and what I really am.  To my true height, my true power.  This wasn’t just an intellectual knowing, this was a visceral experience, an inner vision that touched a deeper reality.  I could see and feel that height, that power—I was that height and power—and it was far taller, far mightier, than anything I could have ever imagined:  like looking down at all Creation from the highest rung on Jacob’s Ladder.  I can’t say how long the experience lasted, maybe just a few seconds, maybe a few centuries, but looking at the universe, and at myself, from that extraordinary height became so dizzying, so overwhelming, that it actually frightened me.

And the experience passed.

But the memory didn’t.  I’ve held tight to that vision, that gift of grace, and treasured it all these years, knowing that my job—no, not my job, my pleasure—is to grow into the height and power that I already am.  Looking back, I see that what I was shown was just what I could handle at the time.  It was only one small hint of my true height.  Jacob’s Ladder extends up into infinity (and beyond, as Buzz Lightyear would say)—and I can, I must, continue to grow with it.    

Understand, please, that this experience wasn’t unique to me.  It became very clear that this is the height we all truly are, the divinity that lives and breathes within every last one of us, if we could only see it.

And, yes, that includes you.

So when the Black Sludge comes calling, remember:  take a deep breath, grow tall.  And don’t be afraid to look down.

Avatar Meher Baba and Mohammed the Mast

© copyright 2015 J.M. DeMatteis        

Wednesday, October 14, 2015


Now that the first trailer has been released, I can officially announce that Batman: Bad Blood is my next big project for the DC animated universe.  A sequel to Batman vs. Robin, the movie reunites most of the crew from that film, including director Jay Olivia, producers James Tucker and Alan Burnett and Jason O'Mara as Batman.  I've embedded the trailer below.  Enjoy!

Thursday, October 8, 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©copyright 2015 J.M. DeMatteis

Monday, September 28, 2015


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Except it wasn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©copyright 2015 J.M. DeMatteis

Friday, September 25, 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


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

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

Below are some photos from our trip.   Enjoy! 

In Avilés—with my beautiful wife, Diane

Wherever I go, there they are

With my Phantom Stranger collaborator, Fernando Blanco

With our amazing host, Jorge Iván Argiz

Gary Frank and Mahmud Asrar drawing their way through lunch

Gaudí's breathtaking Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

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

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

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


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