Sunday, September 25, 2011

THE SECRET ORIGIN OF ABADAZAD

When I was at the Baltimore Comic Con last month, I was touched by the number of people who—despite the fact that it’s been five years since the last new Abadazad material was published—expressed their sadness and dismay over the demise of the series and their hope that, some day, some way, it can return. (Needless to say, I share their sentiments!)  So for all the loyal Zaddites out there, here’s a special gift:  something that sheds some light on the story’s roots and at least hints at where it was headed.  Consider it my "thank you" to all the people who have taken Kate Jameson and her friends into their hearts.

What you’ll find below is my original Abadazad proposal:  the one I sent to CrossGen Comics back in 2003.  The one that fired up editor Ian Feller and publisher Mark Alessi and lured the legendary Mike Ploog back into the comic book field.  (And thank goodness for that:  I can’t imagine Abadazad without our collaboration and friendship.  You're a good man, Mr. Ploog!)

Keep in mind that, by the time we actually started working on the comics, and the Hyperion book series that followed, a number of the ideas presented here were jettisoned:  most notably the scene of Kate sampling from her mother’s liquor cabinet.  (Hey, it seemed like a good idea at the time.)  This proposal was primarily a structure to hang the story on, a way to communicate, in a condensed form, how I saw the characters and what I hoped to do with the series.  If, as we hope, Abadazad does indeed return, the story will no doubt head in directions not hinted at below.

And, for the record:  Abadazad is © copyright 2011 Disney Enterprises, Inc. 

Enjoy!
***

ABADAZAD
An Outline
by
J. M. De Matteis

Once upon a time:

Twelve year old KATIE JAMESON takes her six year old brother, MATT, to a street fair in Brooklyn.  It’s instantly clear—in both the tender way Katie watches over her brother and the light in Matt’s eyes when he looks at his sister—that these two are joined by a profound bond of love.  Their father left years ago, their mother works two jobs...and these two have become partners in survival; seasoned soldiers in the Divorce Wars, who hold tight to each other as the bullets whiz over their heads.

Matt’s on a kiddie ride, Katie watching delightedly as he sails in circles in a mini-boat:  Matt sails around, happy...slips out of sight behind the center pole...sails back into view, happy...out of sight...sails back, happy...out of sight...and then the boat comes around again—

—and the boy is gone.  And he is nowhere to be found.  That day ...or any day thereafter.

Five years later:

FRANCES JAMESON, Katie and Matt’s mother, is a heavy drinker, who has never gotten over the loss of her son:  She still puts up posters in the neighborhood.  She’s got a closet filled with milk cartons with her son’s face on it.

Katie, now a surly teenager whose taste runs to black nails, gothic clothing, and Death Metal, has had enough of her mother’s clinging to the past.  Her oft-repeated—and shockingly heartless—advice to her mother:  “It’s been five years.  He’s dead.  Get over it.”  Frances is at a loss as to how to handle Kate.  (Which the girl now prefers to the more juvenile—or so she sees it—Katie.)  She keeps insisting that her daughter go to a therapist.  “I’d rather jump out a window,” Kate swears, “than go see some stupid shrink.”

But Kate’s cold cynicism masks a teenager in despair.  Riddled with guilt, wondering what she could have done to save her brother.

Frances finds relief (and a kind of sweet pain) in retreating into the Tales of Abadazad:  a series of children’s books—part Oz/part  Narnia/part Doctor Seuss— that she and Matt would read all the time.  Written, between l900 and l920, by Franklin O. Barrie, the twelve Abadazad books chronicled the adventures of a little Missouri girl named Martha, who journeyed, with the help of an Enchanted Blue Globe, into the fairyland of Abadazad.

(No, these books don’t really exist.  They’re my creation.)

Matt’s room, left untouched since his disappearance, is a virtual shrine to the series —with Abadazad dolls, plastic figures, games, cups, posters, calendars.  Thus the room itself becomes a kind of time-portal connecting Frances to her lost child.  To the joy and innocence they shared.

Kate tells her mother that keeping the room untouched is sick:  “Throw that junk out and get on with your life.  Abadazad’s just a load of mindless crap.  There’s no such thing as ‘happily ever after,’ Mother.  Haven’t you figured that out by now?”  But that doesn’t stop Kate from slipping into Matt’s room in the middle of the night, remembering hours spent under the covers with a flashlight, journeying to Abadazad with her brother.  To lock herself away in that room is one of the few joys—however bittersweet —of Kate’s wounded young life.

Meanwhile, the woman in the apartment upstairs, an old African American woman in her seventies named MARTHA, corrals Kate for tea.  Kate has always avoided the old woman (something about her gives Kate the creeps) but Martha’s invitation comes at a moment when Kate is feeling extremely lost and vulnerable—and she accepts.

Over tea, Kate notes a variety of Abadazad collectibles in Martha’s apartment.  Martha, with conspiratorial glee, tells Kate that they’re not collectibles...they’re the Real Thing.  “Straight from Queen Ija’s palace in Inconceivable.”  “Excuse me?” says Kate.  Martha, in fact, claims that she is the little girl from the books; that she related her adventures to the man her father worked for, Franklin O. Barrie, who then wrote up the tales, changing Martha from a little black girl to a little white girl because “let’s face it, no one in l900 would’ve bought it otherwise.”  According to the books, Martha—who was six years old in l900—should be over a hundred by now.  She’s not older, she insists, because Abadazad exists outside of time.  You don’t age while you’re there.  Eventually, Martha claims, the pull of adulthood, of life in the Real World, drew her away from Abadazad.  “But Queen Ija and the Two-Fold Witch told me that when my time came, I’d be with them again.  Reborn—a girl again!—in Abadazad.  And, oh,” says Martha, tears streaming down her cheeks, “how my heart longs for that day.”  

Kate is heading for the door, sure that she’s dealing with a certifiable lunatic, when Martha lurches after her, waving a bony finger in her face.  “Your brother,” the old woman insists, “is alive.  He’s been kidnapped by the Lanky Man.”   (One of the main villains of the Abadazad tales.)  “He’s found a way to cross over into our world...he’s been stealing children...pure-hearted children like your Matt...and heaven only knows what old Lanks intends to do with them!”  Martha says she only recently became aware of the Lanky Man’s excursions into The Real World —“If I was younger, I would’ve sniffed him out sooner!”—but she’s helpless to stop him.  “I’m too old,” she admits.  “But, you -- !  With my help you could cross-over to Abadazad, tell Queen Ija what’s happened.  She’ll help you find your brother and stop Lanky from -- “

Kate, cutting Martha off, thanks her for the information—and bolts.  This woman, she thinks, is totally bent.

Several days later, Martha passes away.

And leaves Kate the Blue Globe.  Martha’s note informs Kate that this is indeed the magical device that—according to the books—can transport a person into Abadazad.  Kate, of course, doesn’t take the thing to be real; just another reflection of the poor old woman’s lunacy.  And yet, something about that globe seems...strange.  Seductive.  Magical.  Kate, feeling like a fool for believing in the Globe for even a split second, stuffs the thing in the closet and forgets it.

Until one night—after a fight with her mother which ends with Frances, drunk and weeping, stumbling into bed—the Globe begins to glow...the light seeping out of the closet, flooding the apartment...drawing Kate to it.  And there, in the depths of the Globe, she sees her brother...and then she sees THE LANKY MAN (ten-foot long pipe-cleaner legs, eight bony arms, a top hat that rises into forever, and a nose so pointy you could sew with it), laughing at her.  She freaks, drops the Globe, it bounces away, then ricochets out the window into the alley below:  Shatters.

Kate decides to follow her mother’s lead.  Angry at Frances and herself and desperately trying to deny what she’s seen in the Blue Globe, she opens the liquor cabinet and attempts to get drunk.  Despite her look of Gothic Terror, Kate’s a pretty straight kid, not into drink or drugs:  One sip and she’s sick to her stomach.  In her disgust and confusion, she trips on a lamp-cord...topples out the window.

But she doesn’t fall.

Because the Blue Globe has re-formed itself...risen up out of the alley.  It bathes her in its blue light, holding her there, in mid-air, then sails through her bedroom window, carrying her safely inside.

Kate is awestruck.  Then, all at once, she remembers the words from the book, the magic words that, if one’s heart is pure enough, true enough, will get you into Abadazad:  She speaks the words.  And she’s sucked into the globe.  Into Abadazad!

In Abadazad, Kate meets Little Martha—who, after her death, was indeed reborn as a child in this magical land.  Martha takes Kate up the Living Staircase to Inconceivable—the airborne capital city of Abadazad—where she meets the miraculous, whimsical characters she’s read about for so many years, including:

MR. GLOOM:  part man, part dark and thunderous rain-cloud.  A powerful and intimidating figure, like a wild-eyed Old Testament prophet.  Everywhere he looks, everything he sees, is Gloom and Doom and End Of The World.  (His sentiments punctuated with thunder and lightning.)  Yet for all his gloomy talk, his actions are brave and idealistic.  He never gives up hope.
 
MARY ANNETTE:  A full-size, walking, talking marionette, long ago abandoned by the puppeteer that created her.  Though many assume she’s a brainless toy, Mary is shrewd and tough and cynical (far more cynical than she was ever portrayed in any of the books Kate read);  smarter than almost everyone in Abadazad.  But, despite her cynical exterior, in her heart, the puppet’s deepest longing is to be reunited with her mysterious, and long-missing, creator.

PROFESSOR HEADSTRONG:  An over-sized, bodiless head that rides in a clockwork cart.  He’s all logic and intellect; professorial pomposity and arrogance.  Or so he claims.  But he’s really such a sentimental sap that the littlest thing makes him weep like a baby.

QUEEN IJA:  An ageless beauty—like some sublime Hindu goddess—with  blue skin, silver hair, and a third eye, whose feet literally never touch the ground.  Whose winged throne floats and shimmers -- and who speaks, like all true oracles, in unfathomable riddles that ultimately contain the seeds of redemption.  Ija is the youngest daughter of THE FLOATING WARLOCK, Creator of Abadazad, who died, centuries before, during the Great War with the evil kingdom of Horrozad.  (Being dead, of course, hasn’t stopped him from making appearances in Abadazad -- where Floating Warlock sightings are as provocative, and as hotly debated, as UFO sightings are in our world.)

Kate isn’t sure if this is dream, delusion, or reality.  All she knows is that she’s delighted to be there.  And that the company of these odd, whimsical, innocent beings restores her faith and hope.  (Professor Headstrong theorizes that -- from Kate’s perspective, at least -- Abadazad exists on another plane, a dimension of mind and imagination, where thought possesses life and substance.  “What’s dreamed in your world, takes form here.  Of course,” he goes on, “from our perspective, we dreamed you.”)

But the dream is rudely interrupted when The Lanky Man—aware of Kate’s arrival in Abadazad, and sensing that she is a threat to his power—sends his allies, the explosively nasty Rocket-Heads, to attack Inconceivable.  The Rocket-Head army is repelled, but Kate, feeling responsible, sets off—accompanied by Martha, Mr. Gloom, Mary Annette, and Professor Headstrong—to find the Lanky Man and rescue Matt.

Amazing adventures follow (including an encounter with the Lanky Man’s scaled servant, THE BURPING DRAGON, and a glimpse of the Floating Warlock himself, sailing blithely past the moon) and the little group makes amazing progress as they wind their way through Abadazad toward The Wretchedly Awful City (a kind of Victorian nightmare, the industrial revolution gone mad) where The Lanky Man rules over a populace of enslaved, exploited children.

But the Lanky Man—who comes to Kate one night looking like her twin, claiming to be her unconscious mind given form—convinces Kate that all this is a delusion.  At the moment her belief and trust dissolve, so do her friends, so does Abadazad...and Kate finds herself back in the Real World, on the very night she left, feeling desperate, alone.  And uncertain about her own sanity.  She picks up The Blue Globe, speaks the magic words -- and nothing happens.  (Because she no longer has the conviction.)  She curls up on the floor -- and cries herself to sleep.

Kate  awakens in the morning to find her mother collecting the empty booze bottles and throwing them away.  Collecting all the Abadazad memorabilia, too, and packing it in trash bags (inadvertently stuffing an old creased school-portrait of Matt in one of the bags, as well).  She’s decided, she tells the amazed Kate, to take her advice.  She’s called her job and offered her resignation.  It’s time, she says to Kate, to put the past behind them.  They’re going to move:  out of this apartment, out of this city.

She takes the trash bags filled with Abadazad memorabilia—including the Blue Globe, Kate’s passport back to Abadazad—outside...just as the trash collectors arrive to take the garbage away.

But as the bags of trash are hauled toward the truck, one of them opens...and the photo of Matt flutters out, landing at Kate’s feet.  Kate kneels there, holding the picture in her hand, staring at that beautiful, innocent face...realizing that no matter what, she can’t give up on her brother.  Let the whole world call her insane, she cannot close her heart to the possibility that Magic Is Real.  That Abadazad Exists.

“Wait!” she roars, as the garbage truck starts up.  She leaps for it, rummaging, like a lunatic, through the bags, until she finds that precious Blue Globe.  Till she cradles it in her arms:  the Embodiment of Hope (however illogical).  The Doorway to Dreams (however absurd).

She looks over at the trash collectors—and sees, to her fear and amazement, that they’re Rocket-Heads...sent to our world to steal the Blue Globe and prevent Kate’s return to Abadazad.  They scramble toward Kate...

...but, with her faith and hope restored, she says the words...

...and flashes through the Globe...back to Abadazad.

Her companions, she discovers, have been caught by the Lanky Man; so she goes on alone to meet the Enemy...who’s got dozens of children working in a wild Dr. Seuss-like factory, constructing a Rube Goldberg-meets-Jack Kirby device with which he intends to invade and conquer the Real World.

The Lanky Man, we learn, has had his fill of making mischief in Abadazad, of being thwarted by Queen Ija and her allies.  So he’s decided to conquer a world without magic:  the so-called Real World.  The Earth.  But so far he’s only been able to manifest in the Real World for short times; and then, only because of children, like Matt, whose faith in the reality of Abadazad is so strong that he can tap into it, use it as a bridge.

Which is why he’s been kidnapping these children, plugging them in, like human batteries, to his World-Crossing Machine, using their belief to create the permanent bridge between Abadazad and Earth.  Once there, he and his minions will use their dark magic to take over the Real World.  And the machine is almost done.  The day of invasion is almost here.  

Aided by the Burping Dragon (who, we discover, loathes his master and has fallen head over heels in love with Kate), Kate finds Matt, plugged into the machine, unblinking, unseeing.  Beyond her reach (for the moment, at least).  She frees her Wonderful City friends—as well as Lanky Man’s most ferociously-guarded prisoner:  THE TWOFOLD WITCH (a two-headed enchantress—she may, or may not, be the wife of the Floating Warlock and mother of Queen Ija—who has been locked in Lanky Man’s dungeons for thirty years)...

...and ultimately faces Lanky Man himself:  Things don’t look good for Kate when Old Lanks traps her in The Bottle of Sorrows (in which she nearly drowns—quite literally—in her own liquified misery).  But she overcomes the wretchedness, the pain, the cynicism that has encrusted her heart, bursts free of the bottle—and defeats the Lanky Man, destroying his World-Crossing Device and freeing the children.

Freeing Matt.

Kate and her brother embrace—there’s a wave of blue light...

And Kate finds herself back in her apartment, without Matt, facing a very worried Frances.  Kate tells her mother everything.  “Oh, sweetheart,” a profoundly-moved Frances says, “don’t you see?  Your mind created this fantasy to free you of your guilt.  You felt powerless to save Matt, to help him...and so you constructed this fantasy to work it all out.”  “No, Mother,” Kate angrily protests, “you don’t understand.  It really happened!  And Matt, I saw him, he—”  “Come on,” Frances says, pulling her daughter toward the door, insisting that she go with her —right now!—to see a therapist.

Then they hear something in the other room.  They open the door --  and two dozen children come racing out, whooping, screaming, happy.  UNAGED.

Including Matt.

Frances’s jaw hits the floor.  She weeps, laughs uncontrollably.  Embraces her beloved son.

The Twofold Witch performs a spell.  The kids slowly begin to change...becoming the age they’re supposed to be in the Real World.

Martha and the Twofold Witch say they’ll get the other kids back to the homes they’ve been away from for so long.  The Witch asks Kate, Matt, and Frances to please keep the existence of Abadazad a secret.  They agree.  (Well, Kate and Matt agree.  Frances can barely grunt, she’s so stunned.)  “But come visit once in a while,” Martha says.  “You need it, you know—to keep you young.”

And off they go.  The Lost Kids swept off across the city, across the country, across the world, to be returned to their families.  We glimpse one of those families, grim and gloomy, sitting at dinner.  Then, to their astonishment, the window opens, by itself, and their long-missing daughter flies in, accompanied by Martha and the Two-Fold Witch:  Astonishment fades, replaced by recognition.  Gloom becomes radiant joy.

But there’s no joy greater than Kate’s—as she and Frances and eleven year old Matt begin their new life together.  And Kate knows—to the bottom of her heart, she knows!—that they’ll all live...

...happily ever after.
THE END...?

But must this be the end of the Tales of Abadazad?  No.  Because there are many more stories to tell.  From the starting point of Kate’s journey to save her brother, Abadazad can branch out in two clear directions.  First we have the past:  the twelve original Abadazad books (which, of course, have yet to be written!) created by “Franklin O. Barrie,” detailing Little Martha’s adventures.  And then we have the future:  The continuing exploits of Kate and Matt as they return to Abadazad, again and again, for new adventures.

This first story can be the launching pad for two independent series of tales.  And the magic of Abadazad can go on and on and on, stretching out, like the Living Staircase, as far as Imagination will allow.
***

Hope you enjoyed this glimpse into Abadazad's beginnings.  With Queen Ija's blessings, I'd like to share more hidden Zaddian treasures with you all in the future.  Time (that elusive illusion) will tell.

© copyright 2011 J.M. DeMatteis

20 comments:

  1. Now if I can just get to FINISH the darn thing!

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  2. I'm sure you'll SAVIOR 28 it, JMD--meaning by the time the Story does break on through to the other side, the culmination will be even better than you could have imagined.

    --David

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  3. Thanks, David: I needed that reminder!

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  4. If you just wrote it down, how secret is it really?

    Wishing you nothing, but goodwill and hipness from here to the stars,
    Jack

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  5. Well, Jack, "The Used To Be a Secret But Now It's Not Origin of Abadazad" just didn't sound like a good title! :)

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  6. JMD: Even his secrets have secrets!

    I see your I: VAMPIRE work is coming to TPB soon, JMD. I checked out the new I,VAMPIRE per your recommendation, and it was fantastic! DC is killing the relaunch. Just great stuff across the line.

    Speaking of which, I hear your partner in crime Keith Giffen is going to be writing Superman soon! How cool is that?

    Maybe you guys could team up for a SUPERMAN annual down the line. I know a lot of people have suggested you could bring your trademark BWA-HA-HA to the Man of Steel, but I suspect you and Keith would bring something different to the table...just like you did with JLA/JLI in 1987, and later with HERO SQUARED.

    Up, up and away!

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  7. I wouldn't mind doing a Superman story with Keith, David. Especially if it was something big and cosmic. And if Keith penciled it!? Perfection!

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  8. After seeing Keith's artwork on OMAC, I'd have to agree: a DeMatteis/Giffen Superman cosmic story would be perfection (and a mouthful).

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  9. I'm a HUGE fan of Keith's art, David, and so happy he's drawing again. The OMAC art is amazing.

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  10. Yes it is! I wasn't even going to check it out, but it's been getting such good buzz online. And well deserved!

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  11. Really liked this, thanks for the in-depth look!

    And totally agreed on OMAC - very much enjoying that one, possibly more than any of the other New 52s, and Keith's art is blowing me away. (Not for the first time)

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  12. Yep, Giffen's amazing, no arguing that point. Still hoping the new DC has room for a new Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire project. Time will tell!

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  13. I really hope you get to finish these wonderful stories one day!

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  14. Thank you so much, Ellen. I'm investigating the possibility right now: don't know how it will turn out, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

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  15. I really enjoy these stories. Please continue them.

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  16. Thank you so much for this. I had all the comics when they first came out and you should know they got me through a rough patch in my teen years. I always wondered what happened to the characters and now I know :) If you ever do anything more with this, I will be there!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks so much. Very happy to hear that the story helped you in a rough time. I never give up hoping that we can bring ABADAZAD back in some form...and, if we do, I'll announce it right here at Creation Point.

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