Wednesday, September 15, 2021

BEN IS BACK!

Now it can be told!  I'm joining with artist David Baldeon, colorist Israel Silva, and editor Danny Khazem for Ben Reilly: Spider-Man—a five issue mini-series set in the 90s era.  Peter and Mary Jane have headed off to Portland to have their baby and live happily ever after while, in New York, our titular hero is taking his first steps toward building a new life as both Ben Reilly and Spider-Man.  But it's not going to be easy!

So happy to be returning to the Spiderverse for this wonderful project.  You can find some teaser art below.

Ben Reilly: Spider-Man is on sale in January!








Monday, September 6, 2021

THE BIG LEAGUES

Justice League Infinity #3 hits the shops tomorrow—and our story kicks into high gear with the introduction of Earth-D's Justice Alliance and a shocking turn of events involving Wonder Woman. You can read a short preview below.

Join me, James Tucker, Ethen Beavers and Nick Fil
ardi, as our return to the Justice League Unlimited universe continues! 






Saturday, August 21, 2021

BRAZIL!

No, not the Terry Gilliam movie.

I had a wonderful chat with the Brazilian podcast Arte-Final yesterday—and we did a deep dive into one of my all-time favorite projects, the Spider-Man saga called "The Child Within."  We also talked about JLI, my animation work, and other things.  

The discussion is in both Portuguese and English.  Enjoy!


Thursday, August 5, 2021

A GENTLE REMINDER

Justice League Infinity #2 is on sale now.  As our return to the classic Justice League Unlimited universe continues, we find reality breaking apart like a shattered mirror, Superman swept away to a world of neo-Nazis, the Martian Manhunter forced out of retirement by a new threat...and Amazo, the ever-evolving android, may hold the key to it all. 

I co-wrote the book with the great James Tucker, producer of JLU, and the art—very much in the style of the TV show—is by Ethen Beavers, with colors by Nick Filardi and letters by Tom Napolitano.

Hope you pick it up and enjoy the ride!



Sunday, August 1, 2021

IT'S SPIDER-MAN DAY!

Fifty-nine years ago a radioactive spider took a bite out of a kid named Peter Parker and the pop culture universe was changed forever.  In honor of  Spider-Man Day, here's an essay I wrote last year for a Spanish book about the character's history.  Enjoy!




June, 1966. I was standing in the Brooklyn, New York candy store where I bought all my comics and I couldn’t take my eyes off the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #39:  There was the Green Goblin gliding through the sky dragging a bound and defeated Peter Parker—his Spider-Man costume visible beneath his street clothes—behind him.  To my twelve-year-old eyes—conditioned as they were to the pristine DC Comics of the day—this was mesmerizing.  A villain who’d actually unmasked the hero!  A hero so utterly helpless!  As with all great comic book covers, this one fired up my imagination.  I didn’t even have to read this story:  that single illustration, brought to vibrant life by the incomparable John Romita, Sr., suggested dozens of incredible tales that played out in my head.  (This, I later learned, was Romita’s first issue of Amazing Spider-Man.  It looked like he’d been drawing the book all his life.)


I was still a hardcore DC fan then—there was something spooky, almost dangerous, about those early Marvel Comics and I wasn’t quite ready to take the leap—so I resisted buying that issue; but a month later I gave in to temptation and purchased the story’s conclusion:  I was, as the British say, gobsmacked.  Stan Lee’s scripting was so exciting, so nakedly emotional.  And Romita’s interior art—with his dynamic layouts and impeccable storytelling—was every bit as irresistible as the cover that had enchanted me thirty days before.


I tracked down the first chapter, along with many earlier Spidey issues—brought to life by the incomparable Steve Ditko, who co-created the character and plotted many classic Spidey tales—at a local used book store (this was before the days of comic book shops) and lost myself in the magical world that Lee, Ditko, and Romita created.  Peter Parker entered my life then and he’s never left.


As much as I adored Spider-Man as a reader, it was as a writer that I really fell in love with the character.  Peter Parker is perhaps the most emotionally and psychologically real protagonist in any superhero universe.  Sure he wears a mask and swings around on a web-line, but, beneath that mask, he’s as confused, as flawed, as touchingly, wonderfully human, as the people who read, and write, about him.  The book may be called Spider-Man, but it’s all about Peter:  a decent, compassionate young man who’s always struggling to do the right thing.  


I think that’s what I love most about Spider-Man (and why his popularity has continued, pretty much unabated, for all these years):  his humanity.  His decency.  No matter how discouraged he may be, no matter how often he fails, he always picks himself up and tries again; and every time Peter Parker triumphs, it’s a triumph for all of us, because he’s such a wonderful example of the human spirit at its best.  Spider-Man both mirrors our weaknesses and inspires us to reach for our highest ideals—and that makes for a truly timeless character.  


And a massively relatable one.

  

I don’t know if I’d want to spend a Saturday night hanging out with Bruce Wayne or Reed Richards, but I’d most certainly want to spend an evening enjoying a good meal—talking about life, the universe, and everything—with Peter.  I think that’s why those of us who’ve been lucky enough to chronicle Spider-Man’s adventures have simultaneously found ourselves in the character and infused him with our own doubts, fears, and highest aspirations.  As we write about Spider-Man we inevitably merge with him.  And I think Spidey’s millions of fans share the same experience as they read his comic books or watch him bound across a movie screen.  In some strange, wonderful way, we’re all Peter Parker.


I’m honored to have had the chance to journey along with Peter and add to his ongoing, ever-evolving mythology.




©essay copyright 2021 J.M. DeMatteis

Saturday, July 10, 2021

THE SOUND OF SILENCE

 Wishing a happy Silence Day to my Meher Baba Family around the world.

"God is not to be learned or studied or discussed or argued about. He is to be contemplated, felt, loved and lived."

Avatar Meher Baba

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

A LEAGUE OF OUR OWN

A gentle reminder that the Justice League Unlimited universe is back in the new seven issue mini-series Justice League Infinity, which hit the shops yesterday. Co-written with JLU producer James Tucker and drawn by Ethen Beavers, with superb color work by Nick Filardi, the series picks up right where the TV show left off and then explodes across the multiverse.  It's been a genuine pleasure working with James, Ethen, Nick, and our editor Andrew Marino and returning to these classic characters. You can find a short preview of JL Infinity #1 below. Hope you come along for the ride! 





Monday, June 21, 2021

IN THE CLOUDS

This past weekend was the online Cloud Comic Con, presented by the fine folks behind the Glasgow Comic Con, and I had a wonderful conversation with Tim Pilcher, covering many aspects of my career.  You can find it at the three hour mark, below:




Sunday, June 13, 2021

HIS MIGHTY SHIELD

I had a fun conversation with the Capes and Lunatics podcast, discussing my 1980s run on Captain America.  It's embedded below.  Enjoy!


Friday, June 11, 2021

THE STORIES THAT NEVER WERE

Every writer's career, no matter how successful, is filled with "might have beens":  stories that were assigned, but died along the way.  Stories that were repeatedly pitched but never sold.  Pitches that were enthusiastically received and then inexplicably abandoned.  Stories that were purchased but never saw the light of day.  

I started thinking about my "might have been" files this morning when I came across a proposal I did in 2013 for the classic Archie Comics superhero, The Shield.  My Life and Times of Savior 28 collaborator, the brilliant Mike Cavallaro, and I had done a Shield back up strip as part of Dean Haspiel and Mark Waid's revival of The Fox (I actually wrote the final issue of that series) and editor Paul Kaminski—who was a genuine pleasure to work with—asked us to spin the Shield off into his own mini-series, with Terry Austin lined up to ink Mike's work.  I came up with what I thought was a strong concept and, after some discussions with Paul, put together a proposal/outline.  As sometimes happens, I kept getting notes that required shifting the story to the left here, to the right there, and, at one point, I completely reworked the concept from the ground up.  (Many of these notes didn't come from Paul—who enthusiastically supported our work from day one—but from elsewhere on the Archie staff.)  

For reasons I was never clear on, the series was abandoned.

You can read my original outline—and view a fantastic piece of promo art Mike put together—below.  I think it would have made for a very powerful story and, perhaps, somewhere, in some parallel universe, our Shield series made its way out into the world.

I may dig into the files and find more "stories that never were" but, for now, enjoy "American Nightmare."


                                  THE SHIELD:  AMERICAN NIGHTMARE


American Nightmare #1—

Begin with the Black Tom explosion that killed Tom Higgins, then jump to big action sequence of the Shield in action at the tail end of War Two—also establishing the Eraser as a soldier-for-hire, willing to work for Nazis, or anyone else, for the right price...then: 

It’s VJ Day.  The war is over.  Joe Higgins marries Andrea Horowitz:  they grew up in the same neighborhood, he’s loved her for years.  Joe still plans on being the Shield but he naively believes that the end of the war is the beginning of a new American dream.  In the next year he finds a happy balance between his identities.  Andrea—like the spouse of a policeman—always worries—but still counts herself blessed.  Soon, they have a son, William.  Joe and Andrea have never been happier.  Two years go by.  Then...


1948:  ...there’s a devastating attack on the Higgins house.  (Masterminded by the Eraser.  This will be a major action beat.)  When the smoke clears...


...Andrea is dead and Joe has just managed to save his boy.  (The Eraser escapes,)  Joe’s utterly devastated, heartbroken.  Convinced now that he can never have a normal life, that his son will never be safe with him around, Joe—with the FBI’s help—hands the boy over to another family to raise anonymously.  He buries his life as Joe Higgins and fully embraces life as the Shield.  The dream of a happy family, prospering in post-war America—being lived out by returned soldiers all across the country—can never be his.


But someone is going to pay for what’s been done. Joe Higgins may be dead, but the Shield is going to find the Eraser and make the bastard pay.


American Nightmare #2: 
The Shield—half mad with grief—goes out to hunt for the man who killed his wife; becoming wild, reckless, out of control...his handlers at the FBI worried about him.  (Perhaps instituting a plan to terminate him if he gets out of control?)  Joe manages to break the Eraser’s international organization, but, for all his efforts, Shield can’t find the Eraser himself.  The Bureau tells him it’s time to let go and move on and, to their relief, Shield agrees; but, in his heart, he knows he’ll never give up.


Time passes:  Shield encounters the Eraser several more times down through the years—from the fifties into the early sixties (each encounter playing up some pivotal moment in our history—Korea, the space race, the Cuban Missile Crisis, etc.) but can never stop him.  The Shield, by now, has erased any trace of his civilian ID.  Doesn’t even like people calling him Joe.  He’s a mask and a costume, a human weapon, not a man.


Throughout this, we intercut with young William, who grows up in a loving family—but always misses parents he doesn’t know but still remembers; especially the father who, he believes, is alive out there.  But time is cruel and memory dims more each year.  (I’d also like to contrast Shield’s involvement with these pivotal world events with William’s:  the “civilian” POV vs. the superhero POV.)  Then it’s...


1963:  The Kennedy assassination.  (And perhaps the Shield is in Dallas?)  The world in chaos. Nuclear devastation always a heartbeat away.  The public is questioning authority in a way it never has before—and people are even questioning the need for a being like the Shield:  Is he a dangerous weapon in the hands of government fanatics?  A super powerful lunatic who’ll turn against them?  There are some conspiracy theorists who even claim the Shield was involved with the assassination itself. 


The Shield, too, is questioning his own role.  What good can he really do in a world spiraling out of control?  Did he, Joe wonders, make the right choice all those years before when he left his son and lost himself inside the costume?  In the winter of ‘64, he decides to contact William—to be a man again, not a mask—and reach out to his son.  That’s when...


...the Eraser—who will not allow Joe to reconcile with his son, the very thought maddens him—springs a TBD trap:  Joe is caught. 


American Nightmare #3:

We open with a huge, and brutal, action beat as the captured Shield breaks free.  He and the Eraser go at it, Shield desperate to make this animal pay for killing Andrea; but Joe’s own rage makes him sloppy and we end with the Shield plunged into suspended animation:  body frozen, mind awake.  Tormented and tortured by the Eraser who—despite many opportunities—refuses to kill the Shield.  (We’ll learn later that, for all the hate in his heart, Tom Higgins still loves his son, in his own warped way.) 


Out in the world, everyone assumes the Shield is dead (the Eraser actually staged Joe’s death, even planted a convincing corpse, thus “erasing” the Shield from existence).  William is recruited by the FBI.  The Shield Formula, we learn, only works with a genetic match and the world needs a new Shield.  William agrees...


Intercut between William taking on the mantle of the Shield through the turbulent 60’s and 70’s (again, playing his beats out against the political lunacy of the day) and Joe’s nightmare at the hands of the Shield.  As William rises, taking, with astonishing grace, to the life of a hero, Joe falls into madness.  (Instead of physical torture, I like the idea of the Eraser using a machine that allows him to enter into Joe’s consciousness, literally becoming the enemy within.)


Joe, unable to bear the pain, has a complete psychological break and retreats into fantasy:  a life where his wife never died, where he raised his son, where they lived happily ever after—but, even there, in fantasy, the Eraser appears, repeatedly, to destroy the dream.  Joe experiences his loss and pain again and again and again.  (This will, again, play off life in post-war America, where so many returned soldiers moved to the suburbs to live their “ideal” lives—that, under the surface, weren’t always all-that ideal.)   


We end, in the early 1980’s, the Reagan years—with William finding the TBD clue that tips him to the fact that his father is still alive and out there...somewhere.


American Nightmare #4:
The search for Joe, leading to his rescue by William.  But Joe has been driven batshit crazy by his ordeal and there’s a battle between the two—during which the Eraser once again escapes—before the son subdues the father and, with FBI aid, gets Joe much-needed psychological help.  It takes two full years in a top-secret government facility for Joe to take the first tentative steps back to sanity...and life. 

William is intimately involved in Joe’s long recovery, but, even when he’s “cured,” Joe—paralleling many Viet Nam vets, who dealt with similar issues in the 80’s—has got a massive case of PTSD.  He doesn’t want to put that damn costume on again, doesn’t want to go back out there into that insane, and dangerous, nation.  “You did a good job, son.  You’re a better Shield than I ever was.”  William, though, is done.  He’s proved his point and, more important, he has his father back.  “You have to do it,” William tells his father.  “You’re the Shield.  All I ever did was emulate you.  Became the man I always knew you were.”  Joe resists, but, before a decision can be made...


...there’s an assault on the complex where Joe has been recuperating. Another huge action beat.  It’s the Eraser and a horde of TBD Red Circle bad guys at his command.  Like it or not, the Shield has to come back now.  Father and son suit up and, side by side, go into battle.


American Nightmare #5:
Joe and William, two generations of Shields, take down the assault team...and go after the Eraser...

...leading to the revelation that Eraser is Joe’s father, William’s grandfather, Tom Higgins.  We learn how Tom survived the Black Tom explosion in a demented state (but transformed by his formula into something more-than human):  angry at the country that branded him a traitor, at the son who “stole” his work and glory.  Joe nearly goes mad again, overwhelmed by the knowledge that his own father, the man he worshipped, is responsible for killing Andrea.  


In a blind rage, Joe nearly murders the Eraser—and it’s William who stops his father from crossing that line—doing something unworthy, not just of the Shield, but of the man behind the mask.  The father collapses, weeping, in the son’s arms.  Eraser is taken off to prison.  (And, I’m not sure how, but it would be very cool if his own memories are erased during the battle, leaving him lost in the fragmented corridors of his own mind.)


In the end, Joe reluctantly takes up the mantle of the Shield again.  William goes off to forge his own path (or perhaps, in some way, joins his father in the fight...?).  But, far more important than that is the fact that these two wounded souls have healed their rift.  They’re family again, after so many long and painful years.  


We end on the Eraser, locked away, lost (as Joe was, in his suspended animation) in a state of absolute madness.  Or perhaps he, too, is living in a fantasy where the Black Tom explosion never happened, and he’s with his wife and young son, living the American Dream...


The Shield ©copyright 2021 Archie Comic Publications

Original story concepts ©copyright 2021 J.M. DeMatteis

Art ©copyright 2021 Mike Cavallaro

Sunday, June 6, 2021

FLAMING SKULLS AND OTHER THINGS

Chris Munn has a new book out called Wheels On Fire: An Unofficial Guide to Marvel Comics' Ghost Rider From 1972—1983.  As the title indicates, it's a detailed, issue-by-issue celebration of the flame-headed supernatural biker first brought to life by Gary Friedrich and Mike Ploog.  Chris was kind enough to ask me to write the foreword to his book and I present it below for your listening and dancing pleasure.  Enjoy!



Art by Mike Ploog

When you’re a young freelance writer, trying to establish yourself in a long-term career in comics, there’s one word that should always, always, be on the tip of your tongue:  “Yes.”  The phone rings.  “Hi,” an editor says, “I need a fill-in issue of Chipmunk Man and I need it by Friday.”  “Yes!”  “Would you,” another editor asks, “be interested in taking over the monthly Herman The Avenger book?”  “Yes!”  “Could you,” a third editor asks, “write a 60 page Ratgirl Annual in the next twelve minutes?”  “Yes!”  Always, always yes—because, let’s face it, you never know when the phone is going to ring again, you never know when the next job is going to appear.  One month you’re so busy you think you’re going to have a nervous breakdown, the next you’re staring at the walls, wondering how you’re going to pay the rent.

I exaggerate, just a little, to make a point; but, when I was starting out in comics, I religiously abided by the Rule of Yes.  So when, in the early 1980s, not long after I’d started working for Marvel Comics, the phone rang and Tom DeFalco—soon to be not just one of my favorite editors but favorite humans—asked if I wanted to take over the writing duties on the Ghost Rider book from the great Roger Stern, my answer, unsurprisingly, was a wildly enthusiastic “Yes!”


The truth is, I wasn’t a major Ghost Rider fan.  Oh, I’d read the early issues, and I was especially enamored of the stories illustrated by one of the true masters of the form, Mike Ploog (what a thrill it was, many years later, to collaborate with Mike on Abadazad and The Stardust Kid), but I hadn’t really followed Johnny Blaze’s adventures after that.  Looking over the recent issues by Stern and Bob Budiansky, I was impressed.  Roger, of course, never failed to deliver a compelling story with equally compelling characters.  Budiansky’s work was new to me, but his ability to provide crystal clear storytelling and expressive emotions—all wrapped in the requisite shadows, fog and bone-chilling mood required for a book steeped in the supernatural—made me an instant fan.


But it was Johnny Blaze himself who hooked me.  I’ve always been fascinated by duality, in the world, and, more significantly, in the human heart.  “Good and evil,” Dostoyevsky wrote, “are so monstrously mixed up in man.”  All of our psyches contain the purest of angels and the most maniacal of demons, the spires of Heaven and the pits of Hell, and our lives can often be a tug of war between those twin forces, as we seek a way to balance and, perhaps, transcend them.  The relationship between Blaze and Zarathos (that’s a name Bob and I cooked up together) literalized that war, but also allowed an opportunity to explore the subtleties within that duality:  Even a demon has an angel in his heart somewhere, and even angels might be tempted by the darkness. 


That all sounds heady and philosophical—and the deeper aspects of the character were certainly a major draw for me—but comics aren’t just about high concepts; they have to offer big action and larger than life characters.  The tug of war between Blaze and Zarathos supplied the ruminative meat, but Blaze’s supporting cast, from the denizens of the Quentin Carnival to the strange and deadly antagonists who rose up to challenge the Ghost Rider, provided the energy and fun.  Adding to that fun was the fact that Bob Budiansky and I were co-plotting the book.  It was the first time I’d actively co-plotted with an artist and it was, from the start, a wonderful experience.  No egos, no arguments:  We’d get on the phone and spend an hour or two throwing around ideas, I’d go off and develop those ideas into a fully fleshed out plot, Bob would pencil the story, bringing it to life in his unique and powerful way, after which I’d supply the finished script.  We could have gone on doing that for years.


That’s not the way it worked out.

The exhilaration of our collaboration didn’t translate into the necessary sales (in those days at Marvel, if a book dipped below a hundred thousand copies a month, it was on the chopping block; today, a book consistently selling in the ninety thousand range, as GR did, would be a runaway best seller) and Ghost Rider was cancelled.  The good news?  We were given significant advance warning, allowing us the time to create a Grand Finale that would write an end to the saga of Johnny Blaze and Zarathos, giving Johnny and his true love, Roxanne Simpson, the “happily ever after” we thought they deserved.


But our contributions to Ghost Rider were just one small part of a much larger tapestry, and the book you’re about to read will take you on a journey from the story’s beginnings to its untimely end—and surprising resurrection.


So hop on your motorcycle and prepare to roar into the night.  And keep your eyes wide, because you never know what demons will be lurking around the next bend.


Foreword ©copyright 2021 J.M. DeMatteis

Ghost Rider ©copyright 2021 Marvel Entertainment

Art by Bob Budiansky


Saturday, May 29, 2021

STAN BEFORE "STAN"

My son pointed me to this video—based on the comics in the background, it looks like it was filmed in 1966—of Stan Lee in the early days of Marvel's success, before he became the larger-than-life Stan we  came to know and love.  It's like seeing Peter Parker before he transformed into Spider-Man.  Fascinating!

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

TO INFINITY AND BEYOND!


Although I'd dabbled in animation in the 1980s and 1990s, it wasn't until I started writing for the Justice League Unlimited TV series that I fell in love with the form.  JLU was the gig that really launched my animation career—I wrote seven episodes, including the adaptation of Alan Moore's "For The Man Who Has Everything"—and what a great launching pad it was.  The vision of the League that sprang from the creative minds of Bruce Timm, James Tucker, Stan Berkowtiz, Dwayne McDuffie and company was both a perfect distillation of the best elements from the comics and a fresh new take on these legendary characters.  

As time has passed, the show has become a classic—every day I see fans on Twitter clamoring for its return—which is why I'm happy to say that JLU is back.

But not as a TV show.

James Tucker (producer of JLU, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Legion of Superheroes and many more) and I will be co-writing a new series for DC Comics called Justice League Infinity, which picks up where the TV series left off.  Why Infinity?  Because our story is big—and takes our characters across the multiverse in search of...

Well, I don't want to give anything away.  But I will say that the art—by penciler/inker Ethen Beavers and colorist Nick Filardi—is extraordinary (see the pages below) and we're all thrilled to be working with this iconic cast, reviving and renewing the JLU universe.

The first digital issue of Justice League Infinity will be released in May, while the print version will hit comics shops in July.  Come join us on what we hope will be a memorable voyage across the DC multiverse, in the company of some old and dear friends.




Friday, April 23, 2021

SHAMBALLING

While going through old files, I came across this layout I did for artist Dan Green when we were working on our 1980's graphic novel, Dr. Strange:  Into Shamballa.

Dan and I created the story together, then I wrote up a detailed plot and, using my outline as a guide, Dan laid out the story, adding his own twists and turns, and creating thumbnail art for me to script from.  But sometimes, as I wrote from the thumbnails, the story would change (as stories tend to do) and I'd draw these goofy doodles to let Dan know what I was thinking, how I envisioned the new sequence.

Dan then turned my goofiness into breathtaking art.  (Most folks only know Dan as an inker, but his talents are vast.)

Doc never did say "Oy, vey" in the story, though!



Saturday, April 17, 2021

IMAGINATION UPDATE

The Imagination 101 writing workshop originally scheduled for this month has been rescheduled for June.  Two weekends, ten hours, courtesy of the fine folks at Comixplex.com.  My first two online workshops—101 last November and 201 this past March—were a blast:  I had a fantastic group of students, filled with energy and ideas.  Looking forward to jumping back into the infinite pool of imagination in June.

Come join us!  




Wednesday, March 31, 2021

BONJOUR, SPIDEY!



Back in 1979 or so, when I was just sticking my toe in the door at Marvel, editor-in-chief Jim Shooter asked me to write some plots for short seven page Spider-Man tales that would be published exclusively in France, drawn by an artist named Gerald Forton (who, coincidentally, was also drawing the Black Lightning strip I was then doing for DC).  I never saw the finished stories—which were dialogued by French writers—and basically forgot that this chapter in my Spidey history ever happened.

This morning, for reasons that are beyond me, I started thinking about that early assignment and wondering if those stories ever even saw print.  The combination of Google and the hive mind of the Twitterverse returned the truth:  There was indeed a French magazine called TELEjunior that featured not just French-exclusive Spidey stories, but tales of Captain America, the Hulk and others.  I doubt if I'll be able to track down the exact issues where my stories appeared—I'm not even sure how many I wrote!—but it's nice to know they're out there somewhere and that my history with Spidey goes back even farther than I remembered!

La vie n'est-elle pas interessante?


Update:  Thanks to a fine gentleman on Twitter, I was able to locate one of my French Spidey stories.  (As soon as I saw the Alice in Wonderland riff, I knew it had to be mine!)


Monday, March 22, 2021

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CAPTAIN CRANE!

The great William Shatner turns 90 today!  (How is such a thing possible?)  If you want to know why I love the guy, read this.  And for a list of my favorite Shatner performances, click here.

I could have picked a Captain Kirk scene to post here in celebration, but the truth is, however much I love Kirk and Star Trek—and you know I do—Shatner will always be Denny Crane to me.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, AVATAR MEHER BABA!

 “The book that I shall make people read is the book of the heart, which holds the key to the mystery of life.”

Avatar Meher Baba





Tuesday, February 9, 2021

IMAGINING

"JM is a patient and respectful mentor who exudes a genuine love for teaching. I’ve been a working writer for over 20 years, and even I found plenty to take away from JM’s lessons and advice. A better title for the workshop may well be Inspiration 101."

David Baldy, writer/producer ("Wilfred," "Deadbeat") 

The first online incarnation of my Imagination 101 workshop exceeded my expectations and the class will be returning to Comixplex.com in April.  Two weekends, ten hours.  Click here to register. 

And if you've already taken 101, click here to register for March's Imagination 201.

Come join us!   



Tuesday, January 26, 2021

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JOHN AND SAL!


It's been a significant few days in the Spider-Man universe:  January 24th was the 91st birthday of the great John Romita, Sr—the artist whose work made me fall in love with the character when I was in junior high—and today is the 85th birthday of the equally-great Sal Buscema, whose run on Spectacular Spider-Man is the stuff of legends.  Both are among the finest artists—and nicest people—to ever wield a pencil in this business and I wish them the very best.  

Thanks for the extraordinary work, gentlemen.  We are blessed to have you!



Friday, January 22, 2021

ROBERT, ROY AND BARRY






Since it's the birthday of Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian, I thought I'd re-present this essay, from a few years back, about my discovery of a certain Cimmerian. Enjoy!

***

One afternoon in the summer of 1970, I was sitting out in front of my apartment building, flipping through one of the many Marvel Comics I regularly devoured, when I saw an ad for a new title: The image featured a half-naked guy with a sword, rock star hair and a somewhat goofy helmet. I’d never heard of this Conan, nor had I heard of his creator, Robert E. Howard—although the fact that he was mentioned in the ad at all led me to believe I should have heard of him. My ignorance prevented me from being impressed; but what did impress me was the fact that this new comic book didn’t look remotely like a super hero title. In the preceding decade, Marvel had made its name revolutionizing and re-energizing the super hero. No one bought Stan Lee’s line of books for Patsy Walker (well, maybe your kid sister did) or Two-Gun Kid (okay, I occasionally read the Westerns, but only when I was desperate for a Marvel fix), you bought it for Fantastic Four and Spider-Man. But this Conan character wasn’t wearing a mask or a cape and that intrigued me.

(Although I didn’t realize it consciously at the time, I think super hero fatigue was settling over me. In the decade that followed, many, if not most, of my favorite series didn’t star super-types at all. Oh, they nodded in the genre’s direction—they had to—but books like Swamp Thing, Man-Thing, Tomb of Dracula and Master of Kung Fu broke new ground. Even Jack Kirby’s brilliant New Gods material, which, on the surface, looked like super hero fare, was far too specific to the unique cosmic universe inside its creator’s head to be lumped in with Superman and his spawn. But all those titles were yet to appear: at the time, Conan seemed utterly unique to my spandex-saturated eyeballs.)

In the weeks between that first ad and the appearance of Conan the Barbarian #1, I decided to learn more about this Robert E. Howard guy and his helmet-headed creation (after all, if he was good enough for Stan Lee and Roy Thomas, he was good enough for me). This required a mythical journey of my own—to a mysterious place called My Friend’s Book Store. Located on Flatbush Avenue, at the end of a long, dark, and disturbingly spooky, alley that deposited me just a few doors away, My Friend’s Book Store was the kind of place a Stygian wizard might have called home: cramped, moldy, thick with dust. Towers of books—many, if not most, of them science-fiction and fantasy—seemed to rise skyward into faraway dimensions, parallel universes. MFBS was also the only place I’d ever been in my entire life where you could actually see, and occasionally be allowed to touch, precious back issues of comic books. (A six year old Fantastic Four issue seemed so ancient, and so priceless, to me that it might might as well have come from King Tut’s tomb.)

The cigar-smoking owner pointed me toward the Lancer paperback editions of the Conan stories and it didn’t take long for me to fall completely under REH’s spell. It’s not hard to see how a sword-wielding, head-lopping barbarian with a taste for blood and willing women would appeal to an angry, frustrated, hormonally-imbalanced sixteen year old; but, for me, that was only a small part of Conan’s appeal. I enjoyed violent catharsis as much as the next guy, but this was the sixties (believe me, the date might have been l970 but it was still very much the sixties): I’d been raised on “All You Need Is Love” and “Give Peace A Chance.” I’d lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and the Kennedy brothers—watched the horrific images of the Viet Nam War on the news almost every night—and realized, early on, that violence, while a great outlet for fantasy, was an extraordinarily bad choice for reality.

No, there was something else at work in Howard’s writing: his power as a literary shaman. Someone who could rip away veils of time and place, transporting the reader to antediluvian kingdoms—dangerous, mysterious, seductive, frightening—that seemed totally alien yet unnervingly familiar. Losing myself in a Howard story was like losing myself in a past incarnation. I felt as if I’d walked those streets before, seen those faces, encountered those awe-inspiring cosmic mysteries. Howard’s best work was wonderfully unsettling because it brought our assumptions about reality itself into question.

Hooked on Conan’s world, I eagerly anticipated the character’s debut in comic book form.

I wasn’t remotely disappointed.

I was already a huge fan of Roy Thomas’s work—he’d brought new levels of depth and poetry to the universe that Lee, Kirby and Steve Ditko created—but his work on Conan was something new. Free of the Stan Lee Template, inspired by Howard’s evocative prose, Roy brought his own distinct voice to these stories: His writing was muscular, lyrical and wonderfully atmospheric. Reading that first issue of Conan the Barbarian was unlike any comic book reading experience I’d ever had.

Thomas couldn’t have done it without the brilliant Barry Smith, who, more than any other Conan artist, had an intuitive, almost supernatural, ability to give visual life to the Hyborian Age. I bow to none in my admiration for the artists who followed Smith on Marvel’s Conan, especially John Buscema—whose Silver Surfer run I cherish—and Gil Kane—one of the brightest stars in my Comic Gods Firmament; in fact you could argue, convincingly, that their Conan—the character of Conan—was far more definitive. But the universe Conan inhabited? It belonged to Smith—who achieved something no other Conan artist ever has: He managed to simultaneously make the lands the Cimmerian journeyed through seem convincingly real and utterly unreal—as if we were walking through a haze of our own long-buried memories. As if one of the many wizards Conan encountered had exposed us to mystic vapors that unlocked heretofore unknown doors in our own psyches. Looking back, Smith’s early work may seem crude when compared to later efforts like “The Frost Giant’s Daughter,” “Song of Red Sonja” and “Red Nails.” But his abilities as a visual shaman were there from the very first issue.

The Thomas-Smith Conan the Barbarian was a mold-breaker: an important turning point in modern American comics. Considering the series’ lengthy run, Barry Smith didn’t really last all that long on the title; but the fact that I’m writing, so rapturously, about his work more than forty years later is proof of its enduring value. After Smith’s departure, Roy Thomas soldiered on, accompanied for most of the journey by the aforementioned John Buscema: keeping the monthly Conan comic book, and its various spin-offs, consistently smart, exciting, literate, entertaining—and true to the Howard spirit. That Thomas did it, on a variety of titles, for a full decade is a striking achievement.

But the spells that Roy and Barry wove together were, for me, the most enchanting of all.


© copyright 2021 J.M. DeMatteis