Saturday, February 20, 2016

CRAZY BEGINNINGS

Way back in 1976, a fellow student (and comic book fanatic) at Brooklyn College—his name was Warren Reece—had done the impossible:  he got a job at Marvel Comics, working in the production department.  Given that I'd made several aborted attempts to break in at both Marvel and DC, and that I viewed working for one of the Big Two the pot of gold at the end of the comic book rainbow, this was a most impressive feat.

Warren very kindly submitted some of my scripts to the folks at Marvel Editorial, but I never received a response (which, in some ways, was worse than being rejected), and he later encouraged me to submit some writing samples to Crazy magazine: Marvel’s attempt at a Mad-style humor publication.  Truth is, I had no interest in writing for Crazy—I possessed zero skills in that arena—but, miraculously, editor Paul Laikin bought one of my pitches and, even more miraculously, I got a check in the mail with Spider-Man’s picture on it—so blessings to Mr. Laikin and Mr. Reece both.  

I’d hoped that selling something to Crazy would get me an “in” with the comic book side of Marvel, but it didn’t.  Still, it allowed me to say that I was a (kinda/sorta/maybe/but not really) professional.  It took a few years of repeatedly smashing my head against some very hard walls (rejection is part and parcel of the writer's life; if you haven't got a hard head, you shouldn't even attempt it)—but I finally sold my first "real" comic book script to Weird War Tales editor Paul Levitz at the tail end of 1977 and (after still more head banging) started getting regular DC work in the spring of 1979.

I bring this up because someone pointed me to this page over on eBay, where the art (and very nice art it is, by Tony Tallarico) for one of those Crazy stories—I sold two or three of them—is up for sale.  I'd hardly call my writing the height of sophisticated humor (I wouldn't call it the height of anything!), but it was a start. And for that I'm profoundly grateful.





©copyright 2016 J.M. DeMatteis

68 comments:

  1. Well, I really loved it. It´s funny, it´s wisely funny like a good Mad Magazine. Congratulations for this nice beginning.

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    1. Thank you, Rita. Every journey has to begin somewhere, right?

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  2. That's a nice origin story, and I agree with the previous comment: it *is* wisely funny, which accurately foreshadows what I have come to see as hallmarks of your writing: wisdom and humor (although not always both at the same time or in the same proportions... different stories require different voices, and although you are excellent at letting the characters live and breathe and speak for themselves, DeMatteis writing tends towards wisdom and humor... which, when genuine an healthy, are both fruits of love. Thank you for sharing your love with us!)

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    1. You're very welcome, Mike. And thanks for your kind, heartfelt words.

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  3. Cool kinda-breaking-into-comics-but-not-really-yet story, JMD.

    As far as the material itself goes, it feels like you're speaking with a voice far more cynical than your own. Or maybe you were just angrier at the time!

    That said, the premise seems like your work in a nutshell: how characters would really act. Thankfully, that didn't mean having Peter Parker rob an armored car!

    Best,

    David

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    1. I think he actually DID rob an armored car, David, in an old Lee-Romita story, where Pete had amnesia and Doc Ock took advantage of that fact.

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    2. Ha, that's right, I think he did! But obviously, I meant you didn't have Peter rob a car while fully cognizant of his actions.

      The Dick Tracy bit reminds me ever-so-slightly of the scene in SPIDER-MAN 2 where Peter looks the other way while a guy gets beat up by muggers, then gleefully embraces his lack of responsibility to the tune of "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head."

      --David

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    3. Well, it's a good thing Pete went to ESU on a full scholarship...or who knows what might have happened!

      Y'know there's a guy answering to your description contacting me over on Twitter. How weird is that? : )

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    4. Just your friendly Multiple Internet Browser Man at your service!

      --David

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  4. I don't suppose you have any tips for breaking into comics as a writer in this day and age?

    Seems like the days of sending a letter and script to an editor are long gone.

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    1. It seems that these days the way to break in at the Big Two is to go off and do a creator-owned comic. This way you have something (either printed or digital) to show to prospective editors. Given that—because of the digital world—it's easier than ever to create something and put it out there, it's not a bad way to go.

      That said, I've always been a big believer in taking a chance and writing a letter of inquiry. You never know what connections you'll make that will benefit you in your career. So if you feel the urge to reach out to editors, you should.

      Hope that helps!

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  5. A website that insists that the Fantastic Four 1961-1989 were the great American novel


    http://zak-site.com/Great-American-Novel/index.html


    jack

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    1. I'm afraid you'll have to elaborate.

      jack

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    2. There's a LOT of material on that site and a lot to take in and digest.

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    3. Fair enough. Pretty interesting stuff, though. I'm not sure he didn't go far enough. Perhaps comics as a whole are the Great American novel. I'll explai..

      What are the odds when the Dr. Strange movie comes out you'll have a mustache and say at the least By the Hoary host of Hoggoth or Praise be the eternal Vishanti?


      Jack

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    4. I shared the website on Twitter and someone suggested that the entire Marvel Universe is the Great American Novel.

      Why would I wait till the movie comes out? I say "By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth!" every single day. And I have an array of fake mustaches to use when I say it.

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    5. It's always Twitter with you isn't it, Dematteis?

      If you focus on the Marel Universe ionly you miss a lot, like O'Neil's GL/GA and the Golden Age Superman. Not to mention the important EC comics of the 50s. And of course the Spirit.



      Jack

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    6. I guess you could look at the MU or the DCU and see them as a (semi) coherent novel. because it's all interlocked. I don't know if you can look at comics as a whole and call it a novel. It's not one story or one over-riding theme or one voice (you can argue that, despite all the writers that come and go, the over-riding voice of the Marvel Universe is still Stan's). There are too many companies, too many points of view, too many genres for me to consider the entire medium a novel.

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    7. I don't have time to really go into this, but that idea plays into the myth of indie comics.

      The fact is Stan Lee was building on Bill Everett and Will Eisner, and even Jerry Siegel.

      Even beyond that building, pushing against the norm still creates a symbiotic relationship, since that rebellion can not exist without it. This concept also goes today for so-called "indie" books.

      What's more Stan Lee is the dominant voice across all mediums with every writer in the medium able to trace roots back to him.

      The coldest fact of all is that across all is that individual style has actually suffered since 1985. Even indie companies have house styles, but more than that across all companies the feel of comics are more the same than all the books just Stan was doing in the 60s.

      Much of this hast to do with with a hand full of inspirations. Then of course there is the homogenization of style across all media, after all every TV station has its style of TV show.

      The most popular small press books of the pars 25 years are The Walking Dead, Hellboy, Sin City, Spawn, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (so that one is a bit older) and all of which are not so far removed from classic comic constructs.

      Much of this also has to do with the fan nature, rabid fans pass along everything and draw inspiration from everything creating a new voice for the medium that grows, changes, regresses, and... well, you name it.

      this is not to say there is no individuality, simply that the comic family may be a tad more inbred than other media.

      The reviled nature of the medium also helps, since it is like putting it in a pressure cooker with each individualization becoming part of the larger scope.

      Not to mention all the jumping from company top company everyone does... and has done for decades.

      Of course none of that really matters since none of this has to do with voice. Many books combine voices anyway.

      The Great American Novel has nothing to do with voices, if I remember my 10th grade English class right (and granted everything taught in that era of your life is meaningless), it is simply and opnly described as a depiction what it is like to live in America at that time.

      With a shared link coming from varied people with common interests as well as diverging, and the ability of characters to change and adapt as their stories span decades, it is the perfect reflection of our country, especially as a reviled medium since we always love an underdog and consider ourselves one even when we are the dominant country on the planet.

      As for any varying voices that just adds to the diverse and often schizophrenic (in the best way of course) of our society.

      Try to remove any emotional constraints from he idea. Comics are all a rich tapestry that reflect the greatest country in world history... deal with it.

      Jack

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    8. I'm sorry if that "deal with it" part came off as jerkish. It was not my intent.


      Jack

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    9. Fascinating POV, Jack. I'm not sold, but that's fine. Doesn't make it any less fascinating.

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    10. No I convinced you. Don't worry I did.



      Jack

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    11. If I were trying to hypnotize you I probably wouldn't have dropped the comma.

      I just think we can all agree that I know you better than you do. You're just trying to be too-cool, or possibly an emotion point since you still work in the medium and don't what to believe that it is set in such a similar realm.


      Point is... I convinced you.

      Jack

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  6. I do twirl my impressive mustache every time I say By The Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth. I save the beard stroking for when I utter the phrase By the many moons of Munnopor!

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    1. Beard-stroking and the moons of Munnopor go very well together.

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    2. First off, the thing to say daily is "Praise be the eternal Vishanti" or "winds of Wattomb" even "By the flames of the Faltine."

      Second, the movie will give opportunity to do it in public without people thinking you have word salad.

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    3. You've really got to give Stan credit for coming up with this stuff.
      He filled my adolescent soul with mystic pop poetry!

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  7. Spider-Man: Exiled- The continuing adventures of Ben Reilly while in his self imposed exile.

    The Beloved Spider-Man- The stories of Spider-Man and MJ if they were still married.

    Superman: Silver - Stories with the imagination of Superman in the Silver age... but with modern storytelling techniques and characterization.

    Captain America: Domestic... Bliss - The tales of Ca and Bernie Rosenthal marries. A sitcom type thing, but still comic-bookey.


    The comics that should be pitched in the future by JM Dematteis.


    jack

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    1. Great ideas, Jack...especially EXILED (which is essentially what we wanted to do with THE LOST YEARS back in the day) and SUPERMAN: SILVER, which sounds like incredible fun. I suspect your favorite is the Cap and Bernie series, which I also think would be the hardest sell on your list. But, really, great stuff!

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    2. actually, Spider-man: Exiled would be the one I would want the most. There is no Ben Reilly anywhere to be seen in comics. Not to mention the possibilities for stories are near infinite. It would be great way to add story diversity to comics mainstream. Let's not forget that I have wanted that since... well, a long time.

      The Beloved Spider-man is actually the closest second, to me Pete and MJ need to be together. This is also the most likely give the vocal fan support for the marriage, and the sales success of Spider-man: renew your vows and DC's Superman: Lois and Clark. It would probably be a breeze with the right pitch.

      Cap and Bernie, could also easily start as a backup feature in one of the other books, well... the marvel ones anyway(And if they charge me $5.00 at some point there sure as shootin better be some extra pagees or I am out.) Even if Mike Zeck did dash some of my Bernie dreams last weekend... he should be the artist.

      I'm on board with all of these, it's the guys on top you have to convince. What's more this is not the place to convince them... go man, go!

      just remember this if the Scooby thing goes south, or goes so north they want to give you more projects.



      Jack

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    3. I will ponder all this, Jack. And they really are great suggestions!

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    4. My two favorites of that list would be Cap, obviously, and Superman Silver. I haven't followed Spider MAn in years.

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    5. I especially love the idea of SUPERMAN: SILVER.

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    6. It actually may be best not to do Superman:Silver come to think of it. I'm sure that would sell well, and be a good read, but with DC's oddities these days it may be a tough sell. I still don't know what is to become of the Pre-Flashpoint Superman after rebirth.

      While it seems like the logical idea, it may be better to take one of those forgotten silver age space characters and just craft something around him using the same ideas. You could also have more leeway with what you can do.

      That having been said, something probably is lost in not doing Superman.

      To be fair though, there is no reason that the other three couldn't have as similar feel. Okay... Spider-man exiled would be a bit out of context in the long term.



      Jack

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    7. To be fair (assuming my last post went through my computer is acting oddly) there may be a better name than Superman: Silver. I'm just not sure it would bring people in.

      I do think it would be best to place it in the 50s though.

      Jack

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    8. I think a series like SILVER would sit comfortably outside of continuity and wouldn't be a problem for the Powers That Be. (In our imaginary world where they approve the idea.) Sure wouldn't be a problem for me!

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    9. And I think there's something magical in the SILVER title. That said, maybe you could call it SUPERMAN: IMAGINARY STORIES.

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    10. Superman: Imaginary stories is a great title, but it sounds like an anthology that brings back elseworlds.

      Superman: Silver, come to think of it, sounds prestigious. Like it is something special. It certainly would make people want to read it. I just don't know if it announces what it is. Would Superman; Atomic Age do better? Of course, despite the fact that I just wanted to conjure thought of the Silver Age and couldn't think of anything, maybe it was a happy accident.

      The way to make these happen is obvious.

      You start with Superman: Silver and and TYhe Beloved Spider-MAn (that one might really need a name tweek).

      You go to DC and say, Jurgens return to an older Superman is doing (probably did by that time) well, how aboput we expand the brand. After all Superman's 80th anniversary is only 2 years off. Let me tell a tale with Silver Age Superman concepts, but with characterization and perhaps ab it of story structure more attune to Marvel in the 60s or later. Give me a mini series to start then we'l see how it goes.

      Spider-Man starts the same way, pointing out the success of Jurgens work, but also of Slott's Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows. The through in how vocal many of the fans are about wanting the marriage back. This would be a nice way to make them (us) happy without having a big long to-do or alienating those against. Also point out that you wrote one of the most beloved Spider-Man stories since Stan Lee, which also ushered in the marriage's legitimacy, then many other well regarded Spidey stories since.

      Then you move to Exiled. Start off by slowly referencing Ben, maybe a fond remembering here, a mention there, even a scene where we find out Peter visits Janine Godby. Then you throw in a story about Ben, told to Peter by one of Reilly's friends from the Exiled era. You have to through everything into that story (maybe even talk them into returning letter pages), once they see the success and hope fully a resummoning of the Atypical story Lost YEars was, you do the same thing as Superman:Silver. You convince them to start with a mini and see where it goes.

      Now ap and Bernie. You introduce them in The Beloved Spider-Man. Then you suggest a back up feature with Cap and Bernie, that will be a different tone than the Spider-Man book which fels like a Spider-MAn book... just with Pete and MJ still married and obviously able to move in new directions with out the main universe continuity being at stake.

      simple.



      Jack

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    11. Ah, Jack, if only you were running Marvel it WOULD be simple!

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  8. I think the only imagined problem with the SILVER title is that series of Marvel books where there was a superhero name and a color like Daredevil Yellow, Hulk Gray Captain America White. It would also, in my opinion, be cool if the whole series felt like the 50s but, come to find out, it was present day, alternate universe where stuff moved a lot slower developmentally speaking.

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    1. Well, comic book companies certainly aren't shy about imitating each other, Douglas, so I don't think the title would be a big problem. (Especially since, at the moment, this is pure fantasy.)

      I like the idea of the stories taking place in no defined decade. It would all be about the tone and feel of the stories.

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    2. I wasn't implying you ever say it was the 50s, rather that it was used as a bas line guide for style and existing technology.

      I jut think it would clash and be somewhat distracting to have the internet and modern lingo at the same time.

      Think batman or obviously Superman the animated series, they never said it was the 40s or 50s, but it was clearly influenced by it.I would even say scale it back though because those had mention to cyberspace and the like.

      You know, a baseline idea.

      Of course if you did set it in the 50s you have the added benefit of being able to use still relatively young or at least middle aged Nazi scientists who escaped as villains... and everyone likes seeing superheroes smash Nazis.

      Jack

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    3. The Superman and Batman animated series would be great templates. They have that "no defined decade" feeling I was talking about.

      And, hey, if the decade's not defined, who says you can't slip in a few Nazi villains?

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    4. Then I guess the only question is, shouldn't you be pitching?

      I kicked the ideas around the comic shop yesterday... folks were respective.

      chip-shop-ship, Dematteis.


      It seems like everything is in place.





      Jack

      P.S. to answer your Nazi villain question, as soon as you make a connection to a real life event the time period becomes established in people's minds whether that was intentional or not

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  9. I do like the no defined decade idea. That would be pretty cool.

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  10. This year is the 75th anniversary of Captain America... Perfect time for the Cap and Bernie book. Seize this moment Dematteis. The stars... they are aligning.


    Jack

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  11. There's a new book called SPIDEY that deals with the beginningss of Peter Parker being Spider-Man. I thought it would be awesome. Then, with the first issue there was Twitter and smartphones. ??? It felt jarring and out of place. It would have benefited from the no defined decade approach. I'm really not sure what they were doing there, but I do know that I never bought a second issue.

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    1. That reminds me of, years back, when the early Lee-Ditko Spider-Man stories were being reprinted in a monthly format and someone decided to change the pop cultural references of the original stories and insert more topical ones to make the stories seem more contemporary. All it did was make the reading experience jarring.

      That said, I haven't read SPIDEY, so I certainly can't pass judgement on it.

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    2. It isn't just retellings, it is all forms of media all the time.

      Almost everything is reference based and of the here and now to an alarming degree.

      I remember an episode of All in the Family where Mike complains that he hasn't even seen jaws yet, and of course Amazing Fantasy #15 I believed mentioned the Jack Parr Show.

      These things can be overlooked or assumed that they were made up if you don't get the reference. The story, point, or even joke can still land. Conversely, many, many jokes on television now are dependent on getting a reference for it to work at all, or even make sense in some cases.

      I have not read Spidey #1 (though I have heard that Gwen Stacy attends High School with Peter, which baffles me), but I have read the new Captain America series, which constantly has references to Titter, texting, and even shows those picture things people put in them. Sorry, I don't have a cell phone, let alone a smart phone, so I am in the dark a bit here.

      The point is the over saturation of such things at best shows laziness from a writer long with shortsightedness given comics and TV shows don't always come out as soon as you write them. in the worst case it is insulting.

      The assumption that you have to be that ion the moment and popular culture savvy to be liked is not a very positive view. It also takes away space for potential better things that could be there.

      Its the youngest folk wjho should really take offense.

      I am reminded of an episode of the Simpsons where Ned Flanders teaches Bible study, and throws in modern lingo to Agnes dismay, but Jimbo Jones says, "as a young person a need to hear a computer word every few minutes or i lose interest," and as he does Flanders yells, "Mouse pad, skype... SKYPE!" and gets him back.

      Of course I also find it annoying when a period piece pushes the period angle too hard. Like Mad Men, there were times I just wanted to yell, "Okay its the 60s, I get it. Could you get back to the story!" And those can be even worse, because they can fall into stereotypes of what that era was.

      The point is these comics won't get made if you goof around too much here, when you should be working on pitches for Marvel and DC. I'm sure the point is in their somewhere.


      Jack

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    3. Okay, then, I'm off to work, sir! Right now, sir!

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    4. The good news is, for Superman: Silver, is that if the new Rebirth flops they'll be in need of books and the nostalgia thing may be a good selling point.

      If it does well, they will probably want to expand and be open to less conventional ideas.

      As for Marvel... you need to come up with a pitch while there is still room in the schedule.


      Look, you just tell me where to send it, and I put a signed letter from me saying that I approve of the idea(s). That should get those wheels moving right quickly.


      Jack

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    5. I'm not doing any work for Marvel these days, but if that changes (and, the way this business works, it could change tomorrow), it might be worth a pitch.

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    6. Look Dematteis, you forget the fact that I'm backing this... so based on some of their current output they'll shun it... but that SHOULD mean its a guaranteed green light.

      Just remember, I have given you the keys to off continuity comic writing.

      Of course if Superman: Silver gets rolling and is a success, I'm sure Marvel would be more than happy to hear a pitch.

      I suppose we'll have to put a pin in all these frankly great ideas until the opportunity arrives at one company or another.

      5th idea, a cosmic incidents combine the Gotham's of the the Batman '66 TV show and Dark Knight Returns. The two Batman have to live together, fight crime, and face the challenges of everyday life. Obviously hilarity ensues.

      Jack

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    7. Bat Light and Bat Dark as roommates? Wonderful idea, Jack! And it must be drawn by Kevin Maguire!

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    8. How well can he emulate Frank Miller's art for the DKR stuff.

      I just want to see the issues of DKR Batman facing the Caesar Romero Joker as he is challenged to a surfing contest, or refusing to solve one of the Riddlers elaborate riddles.

      Or Or the West Batman trying the right replant to use on the mutant gang leader.

      Chalk it all up as another never-to-be seen classic.

      Strange DC wants to seemingly be super gritty, and Marvel super quirky. Both are really, REALLY annoying when pushed too far. Doc Strange should not quip. Why all the one side ore the other stuff with no middle ground or compromise, what is this politics.

      Jack

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    9. I want this to be a weekly sitcom: Adam West and Ben Affleck in BAT BUDDIES!

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    10. Why don't we wait to see how Affleck does as Batman before you cast him in this. Good or bad, if it doesn't feel like a DKR Batman its a waste.

      But, why give away to an inferior medium? At last it isn't a movie though.

      Jack

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    11. I want the Bat Buddies to be Michael Keaton and Val Kilmer (I laughed out loud when I typed this.)

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  12. I think one of the most alarming things I ever read was from Stephen King who said that in his novel, The Stand, it made reference to the comic book Howard The Duck. King stated that in later editions he changed it to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to make it more relevant to the time period. I was amazed that he would bother and a little dumbfounded that this kind of thing happened. Dude, the novel is done. Stop changing things! Who do you think you are? George Lucas?

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    1. I wonder if he's continued to update the reference in every edition...?

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  13. No idea. I haven't read a King book since From A Buick 8, which I thought would be a Christine derivative, but turned into something fascinating. I think if he did update the comic book reference in every edition they should be up to JLI references by now. :)

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    1. I read a ton of King in the 70's and 80's, then drifted away. A few years back I picked up 11.22.63 and totally LOVED it. Fantastic book, highly recommended.

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  14. You did recommend that to me. I see that HULU has made a mini series of the book. I may have to check this out.

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    1. The show is good. The book is terrific.

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