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), 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.