Tuesday, September 29, 2009


This morning I had a talk with my old buddy—and certified mad genius— Keith Giffen to discuss the current Metal Men story we’re collaborating on.  (We’re doing ten pages a month, illustrated by the amazing Kevin Maguire, in the back of the new Doom Patrol series.)  Back in the 80’s, when we worked on Justice League, Keith and I didn’t talk much at all:  things were incredibly spontaneous.  Keith would write the plot (well, actually, he drew it out, creating a little mini-comic) and I wouldn't see it till it arrived at my door.  Then I'd sit down to dialogue and pretty much write the first thing that came into my head.  Sometimes what I wrote hewed closely to Keith's story and sometimes I created entirely new plot lines and character relationships that had nothing to do with what Keith had done. The real fun was watching Giffen take the twists and turns that I'd injected into the story and build on them in ways that always surprised me.  Then he'd throw it all back in my face and I'd twist it again.  It was an incredibly exhilarating way to work:  no egos involved, we just kept trying to top each other. 

These days, we’re more likely to talk about a series, discussing the characters, the stories, where we want them to go—but, because our approach remains as anarchic as it was back in the JL days, our conversations don’t necessarily reflect what ends up on the page.  Once Keith starts plotting, the final product might have nothing to do with what we've talked about.  Once I start scripting, I'll go off and follow the muse wherever it leads me.  I don't know if that kind of creative relationship would work for other people, but it certainly works for us, pushing us both to be better.  (I think the Hero Squared series we recently completed for Boom! Studios is the best thing we’ve ever done together.  And we’re having so much fun on Metal Men that I’d do it for free.  Almost.)

It still amazes me that Keith and I have been working together this long—more than twenty years, on and off.  Well, maybe it’s not so surprising:  Despite the fact that Keith desperately wants people to think that he’s surly and cynical, Earth’s Biggest Malcontent, he’s actually an incredibly nice guy.  As gifted, and generous, a collaborator as I’ve ever had.  When people ask me what it’s like to work with Giffen, one story always comes to mind.  I’ve told it before—apologies if you’ve heard it—but it really defines the man. 

It’s the late 80’s.  We’re standing in the halls of DC Comics on a Friday afternoon.  Keith is telling me his idea for a new story:  the secret origin of one of our most ridiculous characters, the brain-dead Green Lantern named G’nort.  Keith spends five or ten minutes spinning the entire tale, in detail.  You can see he’s excited.  He likes this wonderfully goofy story and he wants to do it—just the way he’s envisioned it.

The problem is, I don’t like it.  And I tell him that I don’t.

Does Keith get angry?  Does he tell me I’m a talentless jackass who has no right passing judgment on his incandescent genius?  No.  He just looks at me for a second, takes a breath, shrugs—and then launches into an entirely new origin of G’nort, which he’s creating on the spot.  And it’s perfect.  I can’t think of many people who could switch creative gears like that, but Keith has more raw creativity than just about anyone I’ve ever known:  a tsunami of stories and characters and odd, brilliant notions.  

It’s been a joy working with Keith all these years.  But don’t tell him I said so:  it’ll wreck his self-image.

© copyright 2009 J.M. DeMatteis


  1. I'm REALLY enjoying the MM back-ups!

  2. I didn't know all that much about the Metal Men going into the project, Rob, but, as we've worked on the stories, I've fallen in love with the characters. They're a great bunch...and a perfect vehicle for what Keith and I do. I also think Maguire's doing some of the best work of his career on MM. They guy just keeps getting better and better.

  3. I'll have to check those out- I've always dug the Giffen, and Justice League International was the best!

    Hey man, I finally finished Savior 28. I sat down and read the whole series through. (I know it took a while, but I've been working on my own writing.)

    Some thoughts for you:

    -It felt like a loving farewell to the twentieth century superhero.
    -It had more impact on me than (the sort of similar) death of Captain America.
    -I liked the subtleties; like Dennis McNulty being wrong in some of his assumptions. He thinks he sees the big picture, but maybe he's slightly off the mark.
    -Seems like you had more story to tell. However, I liked the 5 issue length. It was just about right for this particular story. A nice little saga.
    - I dug the ending. Very cool.

  4. Very glad you enjoyed S-28, Nicholas. You're right about having more story to tell. The truth is, THE LIFE AND TIMES OF SAVIOR 28 could easily have been
    twelve issues. You're right, too, about McNulty. One of the points of the story is that none of the characters has the whole truth, each one's POV is incomplete.

    I would have loved more room for the ending -- I imagined telling three or four different versions of how Jimmy survived, the same way we had different versions of his origin -- but there just wasn't room in our five-issue format. Sigh.

  5. Glad you tweeted this - I've got to devote an afternoon and scour the JMD archives.

    I just lost a huge eBay auction for a bunch of JLIs. Got to try again... I sold most of my comics years and years ago but have been re-buying the ones that mean something to me over the past few.

    (I did win an auction of your Dr. Fate and Gargoyle mini-series, tho, a few months back. Even better than I remembered - thanks for so many great stories over the years, in general, but those in particular.)

    (And please thank Keith, too, next you see him)

  6. You're incredibly welcome! (That comes from me and Keith.)

    A good part of our JLI run is available in collections. I think there are five or six volumes out already. The softcovers are pretty reasonably priced.