Thursday, March 29, 2012


This week Marvel released a trade paperback called Captain America: Death of the Red Skull, which collects the stories from my final year writing the Cap series:  an ongoing saga (illustrated by the excellent British artist Paul Neary) that chronicled Steve Rogers’s final battle with his longtime foe, Johann Schmidt.  Along with yours truly, you’ll also find several other familiar writers in the collection—there’s a Bill Mantlo fill-in issue, a Mike Carlin follow-up—and one name that has been baffling people for years:  Michael Ellis, who shared writing credit with me in my final issue, Captain America #300.  Ellis’s name had never appeared in a Marvel Comic before then and he vanished immediately thereafter, leaving a star-spangled mystery in his wake.  With the release of the Cap tpb, I think it’s time to reveal the shocking truth about Michael to the world.  (Okay, it’s not really shocking, but I’ve got to get you to the next paragraph, don’t I?)

I had, as mentioned, been nursing my story along for many months and the plan was for the Cap-Skull epic to reach its climax in a double-sized Cap #300 that would see the Red Skull die (a death that was—in my mind, at least—for real.  Well, as real as a comic book death can be.)  Steve Rogers, after (at the time) forty-plus years of solving problems with his fists, would then begin to wonder if there was another way to live his ideals and create positive change in the world. In the proposal I presented to my editor— the late, great Mark Gruenwald—Cap was, ultimately, going to disavow violence as a tool for change and start working for world peace.  (Keep in mind that this was at the height of the Reagan “evil empire”/cold war period, so it was a fairly radical idea for its day.)  The world would then turn against Cap, his own country rejecting him as un-American, other world leaders shunning him, the super-hero community aghast at his position:  the only allies Rogers was going to to find in his quest for global transformation would be the Sub-Mariner and Doctor Doom. 

This was the period when the Bucky of the 1950′s, Jack Monroe—aka Nomad—was Cap’s partner and Jack was going to be manipulated by Cap’s enemies, turning Nomad’s hero worship to hate.  In the climax, we’d find Cap speaking to his few remaining supporters at a New York rally.  Nomad, perched on a roof across the way, would fire three bullets into Steve Rogers, assassinating him.  Only then, with Cap dead, would the world realize what they had.  In tribute to this great hero, all nations of the world would lay down their weapons for one hour and, for sixty short minutes, the world would know peace.

Of course I didn’t expect Captain America to stay dead—he was one of Marvel’s first, and greatest, heroes after all—but I was hoping the death would stick for a while, at least.  I even selected his replacement.  At first I toyed with the idea of Sam Wilson, the Falcon, becoming the new Cap, but, as I recall—and, let’s face it, it’s been a while—I finally settled on Black Crow, a Native American character I’d created for the book.  Who better to represent America, I reasoned, than one of the first Americans?

Gruenwald approved all this, I wrote the double-sized Cap #300, went ahead and plotted the next two or three stories in the arc; but editor-in-chief Jim Shooter, hearing what we were planning, shot the idea down. Jim said, essentially, that my idea violated Cap’s character, that Steve Rogers would never act in such a way.  Shooter then cut the story in half and rewrote some of my dialogue (or perhaps it was Gruenwald under Jim’s direction).  I left my name on the plot, but told Mark I wouldn’t, couldn't, take credit for the altered script.  Gruenwald suggested I use a pseudonym and came up with the name Michael Ellis, which is from a classic Monty Python sketch:  he's a man who's often mentioned but never actually appears.

I was angry at the time, so angry I quit the book, but, looking back, I see that Jim—a superb editor who really helped me along when I was starting out in the business—was just doing his job as custodian of the Marvel Universe, supervising a stable of idiosyncratic writers and artists and protecting Marvel's characters as he understood them.  The truth is, if you have one of your major icons questioning violent confrontation as a viable solution—and deciding it’s a fruitless pursuit—you're questioning the essence of not just the entire Marvel line, but the entire superhero genre.  Which, of course, was my intention.

In the end, though, I'm happy the story was bounced, because, eventually (and a very long eventually it was, too:  it took twenty five years), I turned the whole thing into The Life and Times of Savior 28, a piece of work I consider one of the high-points of my career.

As for the mysterious Michael Ellis, he made one more appearance on the four color stage.  A few years after the Cap debacle, Andy Helfer (one of the best editors who ever sat behind a DC desk) asked me to dialogue Justice League of America #255 over a Gerry Conway plot.  Having just finished Moonshadow and Blood:  a tale—two deeply personal and creatively life-changing projects—I wasn't sure if I wanted to keep writing superhero comics and so I was reluctant to use my own name. (Sounds astonishingly stupid in retrospect, doesn’t it?)  Paul Levitz, who was running the DC ship in those days, heard about this and decreed, in no uncertain terms,  "No pseudonyms!"—and, with the next JLA issue (Andy convinced me to stick around), I was back to being me. So the second coming of Michael Ellis wasn't the same as Cap #300, where I took my name off because my story had been turned inside out (and sideways) by The Powers That Be. Conway's plot was excellent and my dialogue was exactly as I wrote it. I was just going through an odd creative crisis that, happily, passed. In fact, a few months after writing the finale for Conway's JL Detroit era, I found myself working on a revived, revamped Justice League with mad genius (and all-around swell guy) Keith Giffen and embarking on one of the most wonderful gigs of my career.

Michael Ellis hasn’t been seen since—but he’s always waiting in the wings.  Just in case.

©copyright 2012 J.M. DeMatteis

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


My old buddy Danny Fingeroth used to edit a terrific (and now, sadly, defunct) magazine called Write Now!  Back in 2005, Danny asked a group of professionals, including yours truly, if they had any advice for fellow writers, especially those beginning their careers.  This is the answer I gave him then.  Rereading it today, I realized I’d offer the same advice now (not just to you, but to myself:  I'm in need of constant reminders)—which is why I’ve decided to share it here.
The best advice I could give to any writer—aspiring or otherwise—is simple:  follow your bliss.  Yeah, yeah, we've all heard the old Joseph Campbell cliche a thousand times...but it's a cliche because it's true.  Let your passion guide you and you can never go wrong.  It may not lead you exactly where you want to go, but it will always lead you someplace good; and sometimes your final destination will be better than the one you originally had in mind.  
Don't get sidetracked by practicality.  You're a writer.  If you were practical you'd be doing something else.  Let your passions carry you forward and don't listen to the Naysayers and the Practical People who are always around to tell you exactly why your dreams can never be realized.  I'm here to tell you that your dreams can be realized, if you pursue them with all your heart and soul.  Follow your bliss.
As for business advice...well, here's something it took me years to figure out:  Always remember that you're a freelancer.  Work for as many different companies as you can.  You're out there on the front lines chasing your dreams and trying to make a living and your loyalty should always be to the work and to your collaborators—the artists, writers and editors who are an intimate part of your creative process.  Don't fool yourself into being loyal to a company.  Companies aren't people, they're entities.    
I'm not saying that you can't have a terrific relationship with Marvel or DC or Dark Horse or Whoever.  I'm just saying that you have to remember that the relationship isn't with a name or a's with people.  And people come and go.  The company you think you work for on Monday can be a completely different place on Tuesday:  That editor-in-chief who thought you were a genius?  Fired.  The publisher who understood your creative vision?  Gone.  And the next editor-in-chief, the next publisher, could very well decide that you're a talentless neophyte or a tired old hack and toss you right out the door.
You're a freelance.  Always keep your feet in as many doors as possible.  This way, when one of them slams, you won't be standing in the hall alone and confused, wondering how the hell you're going to support your family. 
And when that door does slam...and, at some point in your career, it will...don't give up.  Hold on to your dreams.  Believe:  in magic and miracles and your own ability to manifest your dreams.  
Follow your bliss.     
©copyright 2012 J.M. DeMatteis


In a post back in January, I wrote about a new project that manifested itself in a fairly miraculous way—thanks, in no small part, to the arrival, at my door, of some extraordinary art by Vassilis Gogtzilas.  At the time, I wasn't ready to divulge much about the project—beyond the fact that it's an all-ages fantasy—but now I can happily announce that it's called The Adventures of Augusta Wind.  The story will launch with a five part mini-series, courtesy of those fine folks at IDW Publishing, and, if that does well, there are many more Augusta adventures waiting in the wings.  I'm not ready to give away any story secrets just yet, but I think folks who enjoyed Abadazad and The Stardust Kid will enjoy Augusta Wind, as well.  It's a fairly epic tale, encompassing many strange and fantastic worlds, and...  No, no—I've said too much already.

The Adventures of Augusta Wind hasn't been scheduled yet—I'm just getting started on the opening script—so I don't expect to see the first issue out in the world till at least the final quarter of 2012.  (I will, of course, keep you all updated, both here at Creation Point and on Twitter.)  To tide you over till the girl with the umbrella drifts down out of the other-dimensional skies, here are a few more wonderful pieces of development art from Vassilis.  Enjoy!

The Adventures of Augusta Wind is ©2012 J.M. DeMatteis & Vassilis Gogtzilas 

Saturday, March 10, 2012


I'm incredibly sorry to hear that the artist Jean Giraud, known to many of us as Moebius, has passed away.  Giraud was a genre unto himself:  his work was unique, inventive, mind-expanding and utterly magical.  He broke down barriers through the sheer force and fearlessness of his imagination and inspired generations of creators.  Looking at a Moebius graphic novel you weren't just reading a book:  you were Alice falling down the rabbit hole; tumbling, head over heels, into a strange, and somehow truer, reality.  What a loss.

My heartfelt condolences to his family and friends.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


The ThunderCats return to Cartoon Network on Saturday, March 24th, at 9:30 am and I'm happy to report that the first of the new T-Cats episodes—"New Alliances"—is one of mine.  Here are a couple of preview clips.  Enjoy!

Thursday, March 1, 2012


Once upon a time, the Western—that wildly romanticized, deeply American vision of cowboys, Indians, outlaws and blazing six-shooters—dominated the pop culture consciousness.  I’ve got photos of myself—three, four years old—wearing my Roy Rogers cowboy suit and riding my hobby horse (a golden palomino, just like Roy’s horse, Trigger), galloping off into the far reaches of my own imagination.  Roy was my first hero:  I watched his TV show, played with Roy Rogers toys (one of the few surviving relics from my childhood is an RR action figure:  Roy, atop a rearing-up Trigger, with a big grin on his face, waving.  I’ve lost Roy’s guns and hat, his saddle’s cracked and Trigger’s tail is missing, but that action figure still holds a place of honor on my office shelf).  My sister and I would even duet to “Happy Trails,” just like Roy and his wife, Dale Evans.  There were other kid-friendly westerns I remember from that age—The Lone Ranger, Wild Bill Hickock (with the squeaky-voiced character actor Andy Devine as Wild Bill’s sidekick, Jingles), Davy Crockett—but Roy, Dale, Trigger, Pat Brady and Nellybelle (which, believe it or not, was Roy’s jeep) commanded my heart.  If there was someone I wanted to be when I grew up, it was Roy, the King of the Cowboys. 

This obsession with All Things Old West only intensified with time.  In the fall of 1960, when I was six, there were just three major television networks and, out of all the prime-time shows they had on the air, something like twenty of them were Westerns.  Maverick, The Lawman, Sugarfoot, Bronco, Wyatt Earp, Wagon Train, Bat Masterson, Bonanza:  each one imprinted on my consciousness like a cattle brand.  It’s no wonder that, a few years later, my favorite book was Robert Penn Warren’s Remember the Alamo!  What boy in the early 60’s could resist the tale of the aforementioned Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and a hardy band of sharp-shooting hombres dying in the name of (what seemed like) a noble cause?  
As I got older, though, the Westerns lost their grip on my imagination.  Another television show I discovered at a tender ageThe Twilight Zone—seeped deeper and deeper into my soul because it touched something essential, vital, in me.  Something metaphysical and cosmically true.  Comic books and science-fiction had a similar effect:  they wove so-called fantasy and so-called reality together in a way that spoke to another dimension of existence; one that, even as a child, I sensed lurking just beyond the periphery of my consciousness.  Cowboys?  Not so much. 
The more I learned about the era, especially the genocide we perpetrated on the Native Americans, what little charm the Old West retained blew away like so much sagebrush.  (To read Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is to have your own heart pierced and broken, chapter after chapter.)  Oh, there was the rare Western film that caught my attention—Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (if you’ve never read William Goldman’s screenplay for this classic, which you can find in his wonderful book Adventures in the Screen Trade, do it now), Clint Eastwood’s  brilliant anti-western, Unforgiven—but, for the most part, the genre became a massive turn-off.  To this day, as I channel surf across the cable dial, the sight of a cowboy hat or six-shooter usually makes me move on with lightning speed.
Which makes what happened in October of 2011 very odd.
I woke up one morning with a story in my head.  I don’t know where it came from, I certainly didn’t ask for it to start playing, like a 3D movie, across the insides of my eyelids.  But there it was:  a Western.  Okay, it wasn’t a conventional western—I’m very protective of new stories, so I won’t be sharing any details here—but it certainly had all the staples of the genre.  I watched the movie play out with curiosity and wonder, rushed into my office to write up some notes based on what I’d just seen—and then forgot about it.  “A Western,” I thought.  “How strange!”
Months passed and I found myself in conversation with my old friend and collaborator Mike Ploog.  We’d been trying to find a new project to work on together but, with several ideas pitched across the Atlantic (Mike lives in England), we weren’t getting anywhere.  Then, suddenly, I remembered that Mike loves Westerns.  That he had a childhood love for Roy Rogers that probably trumped mine.  Excited, I resurrected the idea that had appeared—in a cloud of dust, like a fiery horse with the speed of light (to paraphrase the opening of the Lone Ranger television series)—that October morning and emailed it to Mike.   He was intrigued—I knew he would be—we discussed the idea a little and then...
Mike came back to me with his own offbeat Western idea, one he’d been chewing over for years.  And a problem quickly arose:  No matter how hard I tried to get Mike excited about my idea, he returned to his; no matter how hard Mike tried to get me excited about his idea, I returned to mine.  (Don’t worry:  We eventually found another, non-Western story that excited us both equally and we’re developing it now.)  Still, that brief conversation with Mr. Ploog opened up a corral gate in my imagination and I was stampeded by characters, events, details, themes, concepts that I couldn’t—didn’t want to—stop.  Day after day I’d wake up with another Western epic playing in my head; intrigued, excited, obsessed by this tale.  I couldn't get it out of my mind.
And I kept turning to my wife, scratching my head and saying, “A Western?  Really?
But when you’re a writer, you just (to keep extending the Old West metaphor, perhaps too far) saddle up the Story, climb on its back and let it gallop off, leading you down the trail—and this one has been leading me down some very interesting trails indeed.   I’m still not sure what destination we’re headed for but, so far, it’s been a fantastic ride.  The idea could evolve into a movie, a TV series, a novel; but, at the moment, I see it as a comic book, an ongoing.  One I could write, month after month, for the next five or so years.  
“A Western?  Really?

Somewhere in my mind, there’s a four year old, dressed like Roy Rogers, bobbing up and down on a golden hobby horse.
And he’s very, very happy. 

©copyright 2012 J.M. DeMatteis