In the previous post, we broke down an issue of Justice League 3000 and featured Keith Giffen's unique way of plotting (essentially drawing an entire mini-comic). I thought it would be fun to see what a (somewhat) normal comic book plot looks like, so here's the first half of my plot for Justice League Dark #36. Read it through, then look at the actual story to see how our wonderful artist, Andres Guinaldo, interpreted my plot. You'll also get a sense of what it's like scripting from your own outline: dropping certain elements, adding others, discovering new wrinkles you didn't realize were there. The heavy lifting is in the plotting, for sure, but scripting can be a real revelation and help you find the heart and soul of the story you thought you understood. Enjoy! (And let's not forget that Justice League Dark is ©copyright 2014 DC Comics.)
Justice League Dark #36:
The Amber of the Moment, Part Two:
Long After Tomorrow
Half pager. A reverse angle of the last shot in our previous issue: “Camera” is behind Nightmare Nurse, Frankenstein, Swamp Thing and Andrew Bennett (all of them weak, weary, wasted) as they stand at the literal edge of the world: it’s as if a giant hand came and snapped the edge of the planet away. And beyond it? Infinite blackness. Asa realizes that the vortex that opened when the House of Wonders exploded (in the JLD Annual), has carried them to the very end of time. The chunk of rock they’re standing on—let’s call it Nowhere Land (for our own reference, not for the story)—is all that’s left in all the universe. And that chunk, Nurse senses, is being eaten away by Non-Time: bit by bit by bit. Soon it...and they...will be gone.
Close four-shot of Nurse, Frank, Swampy and Bennett: stunned, confused...and, yes, afraid. How the hell did this happen? they wonder. How did they get here? And where are Zatanna and the others?
Long shot—as they turn away from the edge and walk across this bizarre, barren landscape. As we said last month: “...black, blasted rock as far as the eye can see. Not a hint of foliage anywhere. Mountains rise, sharp and jagged, like a shattered sword. The sky above is pitch black: no moon, no stars, not a hint of light. The only illumination comes from cracks and gauges in the earth, spitting up a hellish light that casts shadows—they seem to be alive, creeping and slithering with will and determination—across the world.” Bennett notes that this world...if they can even call it a world...has a rudimentary atmosphere. There’s (barely) breathable air here. And it’s bitterly cold—even for an undead vampire. Nurse senses that the atmosphere isn’t natural...that it’s been magically created. “By who?” Frank asks.
Very close on...something hidden in the shadows, watching Nurse and the others. We can’t see anything except for two inhuman eyes, gleaming with madness, staring out. (This, we’ll shortly learn, is the mutated Felix Faust—as seen on our wonderfully creepy cover.)
Closer on Nurse, Frank, Swampy and Bennett—as Swamp Thing suddenly weaves on his feet, staggers...
Closer still: ...and falls. The others whirl, concerned.
Two-shot of Swamp Thing and the Nurse—as Asa kneels beside Holland—who’s suddenly shriveling, growing thinner, his plant-flesh growing harder, crustier: it’s as if the very life force is being drained from him.
Close on Swamp Thing—even more shriveled. His face sunken, his expression one of confusion and pain. He looks like the plant equivalent of a cancer patient, days away from death. “The Green,” Swampy gasps. “I can’t feel the Green...” And the reason for that is, on this world, there is no green. (Well, for the most part: there’s a twist coming later.)
Another angle—as Nurse calls up the Rod of Asclepius (see reference): Asa holds the glowing rod in one hand while, with the other, she feeds Swampy healing magic that will keep him alive...but only for a time.
Looking up at Bennett, from Swamp Thing’s perspective—the vampire not just concerned about Holland, but about himself. He needs blood to survive and, even though he’s fine now, the time will come when he’ll have to feed. And what then? There’s nothing to feed on here...except the other three. And even if he’d consider feeding on them...they’re not alive, not human, in the conventional sense.
Wider—as Frankenstein helps Swamp Thing to his feet (the Rod of Asclepius is gone now)...
Another angle: ...and the four of them walk on across this inhospitable landscape.
Long shot of Nowhere Land hanging in the blackness of space (it’s about the size of Manhattan island): one sliver of land in an absolutely dead cosmos. The Heavens black as pitch, not a hint of life, of light, to be seen. Time Itself, Nurse says (in caption), is closing in on this barren piece of rock, eating away at it. “But to call it Time is a mistake. It’s more...the absence of time. Non-Time.”
Back with our JLD-ers—as wings sprout from Andrew Bennett’s back (there’s a specific look for this so let’s get reference for Andres) and he tells the others that he’ll fly ahead, scout the area. Perhaps there are other places on this god-forsaken rock that are more hospitable.
Angle from behind the group—as Bennett flies off...and our shadowed figure (all we see here is the silhouette of Faust’s head) watches them from the foreground.
Closer on Swampy, Nurse (backs still to “camera”) and Frankenstein—who whirls to face “camera,” hearing something skittering up behind them. Frank’s expression makes it clear that, whatever he was expecting to see...it wasn’t this.
Full page splash. Pull wide—as dozens of rat-sized creatures (Andres: these creatures should look exactly like the Faust creature on our wonderfully creepy cover...but significantly smaller. Faust himself will be along shortly) come swarming out of the shadows, skittering toward—and onto—our JLD threesome, overwhelming them: knocking them to the ground—those intestinal tentacles wrapping around Nurse, Frank and Swampy.
Angle on Frankenstein—as he uses his sword to hack away at the creatures.
Angle on Nurse—blasting some of the creatures away with a spell.
Angle on Swampy—too weak to defend himself as—wrapped from head to toe in slimy tentacles...
Another behind Swamp Thing: ...he’s dragged off...struggling vainly...across the hellish landscape, into the shadows.
Angle on Nurse and Frank—as, free of the creatures, they race after Swampy. Ahead of them we glimpse...something moving in the shadows.
Looking down at Nurse and Frank—as they, in turn, look up in amazement at the (off-panel) thing that’s emerged from the shadows.
Half pager—revealing the full-sized Mutated Felix Faust (as he is on the cover) emerging from the shadows (hanging, suspended, from his web-like tentacles which are attached to an outcropping of rock): Swamp Thing’s body is half in/half out of Mutated Faust’s body, caught in that disgusting web of intestines. The Mini-Fausts are crawling all over their “father’s” body, scrambling back inside him. (Yes, I know it’s disgusting.)
Angle behind Nightmare Nurse as—Frankenstein yelling for her to stop—she runs toward Mutated Faust...
...and leaps into that mass of intestines...
...getting gobbled up alongside Swamp Thing.
Another angle—as an enraged Frankenstein takes a run at the monster (Faust grinning like a loon, eyes ablaze with triumph and lunacy), as...
Wider: ...from another direction, a swarm of bats appears (it’s Bennett—who became aware that his partners were in trouble. And let’s get reference for this transformation for Andres)...
...attacking Faust (while Frank hacks away at him with his sword). But it’s not doing any good...
...because Faust sprays a geyser of steaming poison from his mouth, directly in Frankenstein’s face: the monster, his flesh burning, screams and falls back...
...after which Faust whirls, turning his attention to the bats, spraying more of the poison at them. In response, the bats catch fire...
...and the entire swarm falls, in flames, to the ground...
...becoming the collapsed figure of Andrew Bennett: his body steaming, his flesh seared and scarred.
(Important to note that Faust isn’t just a monster, he’s a magician—and this mutated body is composed of magic. Each tentacle is, in its way, a spell; that noxious spray he spews isn’t just physically painful, it’s composed of dark magic. So he’s attacking on both a physical and metaphysical level.)
Wider—as Faust rears up over the fallen Frank and Bennett (Nurse and Swampy have, apparently been digested) ready to move in for the kill. But...
Closer on Faust. ...he stops suddenly, his expression changing to one of confusion...
Closer still. ...and then absolute horror.
Pull wide—as the Faust-thing explodes (having been blasted from within by one of Asa’s spells): guts and gore spattering in all directions...Nightmare Nurse, holding Swamp Thing, expelled from the creature, tumbling directly toward “camera.” (Did I mention that this was disgusting?)
Angle on the four gore-covered, aching and weary, JLD-ers slowly getting to their feet. But before they do...
...they begin gasping for breath. Not just for breath: they’re suddenly overcome with the sense that their very beings are being drained, bled out. It’s hard to concentrate. It’s as if their minds are dissolving into stardust and soon they’ll be swept away, into the infinite darkness beyond. The atmosphere, they realize, is starting to collapse. Their protection against the ravenous Non-Time will be gone in a few minutes and they’ll be devoured.
Closer—as Nurse turns to see Felix Faust’s head, severed from his worm-thing body, looking up at her: weak, desperate, he informs the Nurse that he’s the one who created this protective bubble in the first place. She has to help him, re-form him, or it’s the end for all of them.
On Nurse—as she hesitates, wondering if she could possibly trust this...whatever the hell it is. But the truth is they’re going to be dead in a minute: their choices are limited. And so...
Wider: ...with her last remaining strength, her last remaining magic, she unleashes wave after wave of healing light...
Wider still: ...restoring Faust, who lays, sprawled, across the ground, muttering incantations. And, as he chants, the atmosphere is restored. They all feel themselves being restored...for the moment, at least. (Asa’s light also heals Frankenstein and Bennett’s burns.)
Nine panels. Three tiers of three. All of them CLOSE-UPS of Felix Faust. In all of them Faust is looking directly at “camera.”
1) Faust begins to calmly tell his tale, but...
2) ...as he does...
3) ...an expression of terrible fear contorts his face.
4) Fear slowly becomes sorrow...
5) ...and the Faust-thing weeps...
6) ...tears (composed of that poisonous substance he spat at Frank and Bennett) streaming, and steaming, down his face. He wails—giving voice to thousands of years of torment.
7) The tears stop and Faust’s expression becomes one of agonized loneliness. For a moment...
8) ...sanity seems to return to those lunatic eyes. And then...
9) ...Faust hangs his head, gazing at the ground. No longer looking “at camera.”
(And here we learn what’s happened to Felix Faust. How his hunger for magical power, for eternal life, led him to eventually uncover a forbidden, and long-forgotten, magic that could corrupt God Himself: Living on for age after age, Faust used the forbidden enchantments to evolve, mutate, in order to survive the harsh changes to the Earth—and, yes, that’s where we are: Nowhere Land is the Earth, or what’s left of it, at the End of Time. Humankind, we learn, long ago left the planet, moved off into the stars—but Faust remained, happy to be the Lord and Master of all that remained (what remained wasn’t much—but he was batshit crazy by this point). Eventually consumed by a cosmic loneliness that drove him even farther over the edge, Faust then began to create these miniature versions of himself...out of his own flesh and consciousness...in order to have some semblance of companionship. Time crawled on and on and, eventually, Death came to the universe. All the life-forms on all the worlds were swept away as Time Itself died...and Non-Time began to consume all life. Faust has struggled to keep this small remaining piece of Earth alive...but he knows that eventually all his struggles will be in vain. Nowhere Land will be consumed, drowned in the Ocean of Non-Time.)
And, off that, we cut to:
Panel one is a smaller panel INSET in the HALF-PAGE panel two.
1) Inset. The Beginning of Time. Night. Exterior shot—of the house we saw last issue: Zatara’s house—which has been magically restored since its destruction by the Mome-Rath. Weird lights flashing from within. Then we’re...
2) Half pager. ...inside—where we find Zatanna in the living room, standing in the center of a magical star-shaped spell (see reference) that floats in the center of the room. Zee, we learn via her first-person narration, has spent the equivalent of a year here (although time flows very differently at The Beginning), first lost in a kind of mad loneliness (that parallels Faust’s), then, finally, finding her center again, her purpose. She’s determined to find a way out, a way home.
3) Closer—as the Star grows brighter and brighter and then...
4) Another angle: ...dissolves: Zee gently wafting to the floor. Sparks of light—like fireflies—swirling around her.
5) On Zee—kneeling on the floor—an expression of concern on her face.
(As she’s been probing the ethers, probing the deeps of Time Itself, Zatanna has become aware of some kind of as-yet-undefined disruption in the Timestream. A kind of chronal aneurysm that may be about to burst. Now, she realizes, this isn’t just about saving herself...this may very well be about saving everyone and everything.) (I’m not sure how much of this I’ll give away here...it may be too soon. In which case, I’ll hint at this without hitting it on the nose.)
Hope you found that enlightening. And if you'd like to know what a full script—art and dialogue, all of a piece—looks like, just click here.
Hope you found that enlightening. And if you'd like to know what a full script—art and dialogue, all of a piece—looks like, just click here.