Saturday, December 21, 2013

PLAYING A LI'L CATCHUP

It's been a busy last few months juggling a lot of things, that I sort of neglected my blog. So now on the eve of our very last story for Batman: Li'l Gotham, I figured I should go back and share some thoughts on all the previous issues I haven't covered here yet. Provide a little insight for how some of these stories came about…


SAINT PATRICK'S DAY (digital issue #7) = Some of the stories based around the holidays were pretty easy to pair up with certain villains. Anything winter would go to Mr.Freeze. Thanksgiving has a turkey so any bird related stories could have Penguin. With this one, all I could think of was the color green for the holiday, and Riddler wears green. Sometimes it's as simple as that. Now Riddler, as I'm sure most writers and fans would say, is probably one of the toughest characters to write stories for. He's a genius, so already he's smarter than…well…all of us. And trying to work in the riddle or puzzle aspect to his crimes can also rack the brain trying to come up with something. But this was a fun one to have Batman go detective trying to solve the crimes, and get a chance to see a lot of the heroes and villains. Having old-school Lobo in this (my favorite version of the character) was from me. And the large backseat in the batmobile gag…pure Dustin. What I'll remember most about this story is Dustin drawing pages in the hotel at Seattle's Emerald City Con. We were already putting out two stories a month, and with no time to spare, he would be at the convention all day, and in the hotel drawing these all night. Not enough gets said for his commitment putting out a monthly painted book. It's not easily done.

EASTER (digital issue #8) = I think this one came about because of the white rabbit being associated with both Alice In Wonderland and Easter. So it would be a Mad Hatter story by default. I was always looking for ways to make these stories fun for Dustin to draw (and for me and the readers to see), so having stuff like the pixelated video game Damian was playing were things always being added in. Same with different art styles and color schemes that would come into play in later stories. Having Damian tackle the Easter Bunny and fight off mind controlled zombunny kids…just your normal type stuff we'd giggle putting into these stories. And even though it's implied that Hatter ate the egg bomb at the end of the story, I always felt they were playing a joke on him and he didn't really eat it. The bomb's ticking sound was all in his mind. We'd always try to skirt the line between implied or fun fights and not gory violence.


APRIL SHOWERS (digital issue #9) = This was always intended to be a 2-part story. "April Showers" being the first part with Mr.Freeze, and the follow up issue would be "May Flowers" with Poison Ivy in an overgrown Gotham from the rain and the plants. What we didn't see coming was Dustin just being overworked with the schedule never allowing time for him to breathe once we started doing two stories a month. So we ended up having a break so he could get caught up, but we'd lose one of the stories this month. So the 2-parter got shortened to 1 issue, which is why Ivy's release from Arkham and quick re-arrest only hinted at what the second issue would've been. One of the aspects I loved most about writing Li'l Gotham was being able to write in familiar nursery rhymes and songs, but adjust them to fit in the story. I got one in here and in other issues as well. Mr.Freeze is probably my favorite Batman villain. Forever always our Charlie Brown in Li'l Gotham, with good intentions but never getting what he wants. And the thank you card at the end of the story, I believe, was drawn in crayon by Dustin's daughter.

CINCO DE MADNESS (digital issue #10) = This issue was spearheaded by Dustin. When we could, we'd sort of divide up stories. He ran with this one and I came in for any additional dialogue or scenes after he finished his first draft. I know Dustin always liked the idea of a Gotham Boys & Girls Club, having a chance to draw Damian, Colin, Tim and the others. The younger kids away from the adults. So this was their chance to shine. Stuff like the scrabble game and taco challenge, again…pure Dustin.


MOTHER'S DAY MANIA (digital issue #11) = We begin with a Paul Dini cameo. Dustin and I loved working with him on Detective and Streets Of Gotham, and it felt like a fun nod he'd be in a scene in an issue with his creations (Harley Quinn and Colin Wilkes "Abuse"). I apologize for the bad pun dialogue I gave him. The more we wrote these issues, the more we wanted to keep putting Damian in them. He's a good obnoxious comedy foil for anyone around him. And I admit, I patterned a lot of him after me (right down to his favorite sandwich from a previous issue, choice of pizza toppings in this one, and that I played the trumpet throughout high school and college). It was very easy to vicariously write through him. Most don't know this, but had we continued to work on Streets Of Gotham if it didn't get cancelled, Dini was planning on doing more with Abuse. Including him having his own costume that would be a unique design variation on Batman. Which is why I thought it would be fun to have that show up in this story when he changes into the new costume. I grew to really love doing this sentimental stories. There's really no space for them in current darker books, but we found they fit perfectly in our Li'l universe.

FATHER'S DAY FUN (digital issue #12) = You can't have a Mother's Day without a Father's Day, so this was sort of a paired two-part story. My original influence for this was the episode of Seinfeld where they couldn't get a table at the Chinese restaurant. With that in mind, I thought putting the two opposing families on opposite sides of the same table would lead to some fun heated dialogue. I think having all the boys cooking for Alfred in the kitchen was Dustin's idea. So goofy yet perfectly fitting for this type of story.


MINAZUKI (digital issue #13) = For the longest time, Dustin wanted to write and draw this issue. The ocean provides for a very colorful visual with all the sea life and Aquaman. That it happened to have giant robots fighting monsters at the same time that Pacific Rim came out, wasn't intentional but a fun coincidence (as we had pitched this story a long time back). I think I was always aware for us not to fall into having a lot of guest staring stories (but cameos yes). I think I wanted to keep the brand very focused on Batman and his family of characters, and I didn't think it would be ideal for it to turn into a Brave And The Bold or JLA book. Especially since there was some thought at one time about doing a separate title with the rest of the DC characters. Still, this was a fun one to do.

INDEPENDENCE DAY (digital issue #14) = I think out of all the stories we did, this one we had the least idea about. When we pitched a year's worth of stories, before it doubled up, we picked out all the main holidays with loose descriptions of what they'd be about. I think we left this one pretty vague in the pitch about bbqs, beach, and fireworks. So when it came time to write it, it was a bit slapdash trying to figure out what the story would be. I think as the stories continued along, I got tired of seeing the same villains in every story. That it would help to space them out so characters wouldn't reappear so often. And also have a chance to rotate in lesser known characters…which is why we get a chance to have Roxy Rocket, Firefly, and Solomon Grundy. Also I'm guilty of these stories being very villain focused. They're so much fun to write, that sometimes it was easy to forget to put Batman and the good guys in them. The "Batdad" line, was sort of my influence of the tv show Alias, where it was very common for Victor Garber's character to be nicknamed "Spydaddy".


GOTHAM COMICCON (digital issue #15) = This was another idea that Dustin had very early in our pitch. To do a story to come out around San Diego Comicon (perfect cross promotion). And Gotham's version of that would poke fun at so many of the things we've experienced in the years going to that show (I can't believe I've gone to San Diego Con 19 years in a row…you see a lot in that amount of time). It would provide a chance for us to actually cameo in our own comic. A chance to have the Grey Ghost show up briefly (no surprise that Li'l Gotham is heavily influenced by Batman: TAS). And ultimately a chance to make a statement and begin the healing process of how fans feel towards comics. We all have favorite characters, creators, and runs. And whenever they stop, we're disappointed, saddened, and angered. But our story would be a reminder that just because the version you like isn't happening; that you shouldn't let that stop you from enjoying those old stories.

TROPICAL GETAWAY (digital issue #16) = Finally we'd have a chance to do a real 2-part story. In the first part we'd have Batman and Catwoman off on their pirate adventure, and the second part would see what the rest of the heroes and villains did while they were away. And anytime Dustin gets to design a new Batman uniform, he always jumps at the chance. This one turned into a bit of an Iron Man (Iron Bat?) design, with the uniform in the suitcase and boot jets. Sort of like Batman Beyond as well.

BIRD WATCHING (digital issue #17) = With Batman away, it was up to the rest of the heroes to band together. I know originally, Dustin and I just thought of this story as having all the different Robins get together in their clubhouse to protect Gotham. But with so many of the heroes having a bird theme (Birds Of Prey, Hawk & Dove), it was fun to extend the cast in this one. Same goes for the underused villains. This story was top heavy and out of control with the cast of characters, and I'm guilty of packing it with as many as I could think of just to see Dustin draw them. I always liked Penguin's Iceberg Lounge, and wanted to feature it more in one of these stories. And having the heroes arrive as part of the jazzy swing band seemed a great visual (I didn't even realize the Birds Of Prey already had appeared as singers in an episode of The Brave And The Bold, so this ended up being an unintentional nod).

LABOR DAY (digital issue #18)
= I think no one loves the Carpenter more than Paul Dini, Dustin, and I. Created by Paul in Detective Comics and Streets Of Gotham, I always love these sort of fun quirky characters. I also felt this story might be a risk having it center around her, even if the holiday matched up perfectly. She's not as known as many of the villains. But it gave me a chance to show all the villains that she's worked with building their hideouts. It has a very children's book quality to the gag and payoff through the issue, as she's constantly interrupted on the phone. And fun to see Dustin once again, draw a range of characters. I thought it would be fun to give her a Boston Terrier, which is the same type of dog that Paul and his wife own. Hush finally made a longer appearance here to do a riff on the "Who's On First?" gag.


IVY IN THE FALL (digital issue #19) = Another of the stories that Dustin was clamoring to write and paint. Ivy is his favorite character and this became a tour-de-force for his art. To show her in different seasons. Probably the most beautifully painted story he did on our run. We also always liked the Gotham City Sirens, so any time we could do stories that had the three of them together, we'd jump at. This story I probably had the least amount to do. The draft that Dustin provided was so pitch perfect, aside from maybe any grammar corrections or some added dialogue, it was good to go.

HORROR STORIES (digital issue #20) = This was another one that Dustin headlined. And one that actually caught me by surprise. I didn't know he had planned to paint all of the kids' separate ghost stories in a different style. It really made the whole thing very special. I know as it got closer for this story to be worked on, the original idea was to see if we could have Scooby Doo and the gang in there, either as part of the story or even a short cameo with the Mystery Machine in the background. But I think they're so particular on how those characters look and are portrayed (needing to be almost animation on-model all the time), that it was decided against using them here. Also I think since they were going to have Batman & Robin crossover with Scooby in another comic, it might be confusing or steal that thunder. Regardless, this was a ton of fun to work on, as we really played up their exaggerated horror stories.


ALL SAINTS DAY (digital issue #21)
= Since we were now getting close to our full year on the book, we didn't want to fall into the habit of revisiting the same holidays over again. So technically while still a spooky issue, this isn't Halloween but All Saints Day. And keeping with that religious theme, it seemed one of the perfect places to have Azrael show up. Also I think after the nice unexpected reception to Damian's family Halloween (of fighting off reanimated corpses from the Lazarus Pit in issue #1), I was looking to do a much longer zombie story. And I'm such a fan of Talia and Ra's it made for one of the more offbeat shared custody holidays in the comic. I wasn't sure if my playful dig at the New52 being Damian's dehydrated hallucination would fly…but it was all in good fun. Same goes for the 1-900 Kill Robin death call joke (Dustin has a morbid sense of humor…which I fully endorse and enable).

TIME TROUBLE (digital issue #22)
= The Clock King is another one of my favorite villains during his time in Batman: The Animated Series. He rarely gets used in comics but doing a Daylight Savings Time story was the perfect excuse for him here. Also maybe a little too late in our run, I was feeling that Batman wasn't getting as much time in our stories. So I thought here was a chance to not have him partnered up with anyone other than…himself. Lots of Batmen. A fun way to use various Elseworlds versions of the characters (or entirely new like Fruit Batman). I know had we done another year of stories, Dustin and I would've gotten around to doing some in the future with Batman Beyond. Instead, we had to find a way to fit in Old Bruce and Terry near the end of our run.


SANDWICH DAY (digital issue #23) = Sometimes these issues write themselves. Seriously! Not wanting to repeat another Thanksgiving story, it just so happens that November has a sandwich related holiday. So who better than the Condiment King to show up to be angry at the more popular Thanksgiving holiday. Again, the longer we were into our run, the more fun I was having dusting off the more offbeat villains. Also I thought it worked well to have the story about a missing pet; something I think younger readers might sadly relate to. And this quite possibly has the most puns used in any of our stories. Dustin and I would go back and forth in drafts, one-upping each other and adding more puns to the story. The brand new villain, The Zookeeper, was my nod towards the ending of Pixar's The Incredibles (Batman, Damian, and Jerry all ready to jump into action). At one point in the script, I even had Jerry wearing his own mask here at the end, but Dustin didn't draw it in. Probably for the best. heh


WHEW!!! That's all of them…or almost all of them. Our very last issue of Li'l Gotham goes on sale digitally tomorrow. And I'll be back with my final thoughts after that.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

PICK YOUR POISON


DETECTIVE COMICS #23.1

Getting to write Poison Ivy during "Villains Month" started out as a means to explore the extent of Ivy's powers to wild abandon. This was a Gotham without Batman, nor any other heroes around in her story to stop her. A chance for her to run free and do whatever she wants without any opposition, in a city of chaos. And while it started out that way, I also felt some responsibility to give her a revised origin. With the New52 relaunching the entire DC Universe, so many of these villains (Poison Ivy included) became fresh slates again or even for the first time. While it wasn't mandatory to include her backstory here, I felt it was an opportunity I couldn't resist.

Doing any sort of revisionist retelling of a character's origin is a treacherous line to walk. It really feels like a no-win scenario. Change nothing and it's seen as a retread of something everyone already knows. Skew too far off the path with a new take, and readers are quick to hate and want the old version. The approach I chose was to honor the basics of what we know or like about the character, while filling in some history to Pamela's early formative years to show how she became the villain she is today.

Most of Ivy's origins or stories in past comics and cartoons have always shown her already as an adult. But I felt it would add to her story if we saw her as a child. What was her home life like? Her college years? What helped shape and form Pamela before the incident that created Poison Ivy? These were all things I wanted to address. 
Pamela's research would include mammal, reptile, and insect pheromones. But in the end, it would be the plant based vial that would spill on her to trigger her new abilities.

I also felt that past origins for her always had her as more of a victim; poisoned or injected by men she worked with. After becoming a very recognizable feminist icon in comics, I never quite liked the approach of her being used as a guinea pig and injected with the toxin to turn her into the villain. So my approach was to try to make her a bit more self-made. She had bad things happen around her during her early years. But in the end, her own research and development of the power of animal & plant pheromones, and her ambition to use them to great extremes, would be her undoing. In some ways, I wanted to explain her backstory in a very relatable real world approach. The fantastical part of Ivy and her powers could grow out of that.
 
John Kalisz's coloring technique over Javier Pina's art, made these flashbacks really stand out.

I don't know where the idea generated to give Pamela a skin condition during her youth, but it felt like something unique or different to add to her character. As Poison Ivy, being linked towards plants and their ability to feed off the sun, it was a nice way to show the opposite of that as a child. That some extreme case of photodermatosis afflicted her. That exposure to the sun would react to her abnormal immune system, to cause rashes. The very beginnings to show that Pamela's biological makeup wasn't normal. Because of that, she might be interested to pursue botanical research in school as a means to find a cure. It didn't hurt that her mother had a fascination with flowers and gardening that could also be shared. And by gaining an immunity to toxins and viruses through her transformation into Poison Ivy, it would cancel out her adolescent sun allergy (although one might gather that it transferred those rash-like symptoms to anyone she touched).

Going back to the original intent of the issue, I wanted to explore Ivy's powers. While I've always been a fan of her classic green leafy clothing, her redesign in the New52 also had promise. I always saw it as a type of living costume. It's draped in leaves, but that's not all. I wanted to show that she'd be able to access this living suit to grow vines, wooden bark to help shield her, and shoot thorny projectiles out of it. I imagine it can do so much more (generate spores; provide fallen leafs as a smoke screen or camouflage when trying to evade capture; even grow leafy wings to glide or fly with). Very forest nymph qualities. And of course being able to grow sentient topiary type animals from nature around her was a given. 

Ivy's living suit as well as her surroundings, provide her with plenty of means for offense and defense.

Writing the Bruce Wayne scene might've been my favorite for the issue. Ivy always struck me as someone that could quietly be one of the most powerful in the DC Universe if given the chance. I think it's easy to see the giant gods and cosmic threats as all-powerful, but her ability to control minds through pheromones has such wide ranging potential. Getting a few people or even one head of a company under that control, could raise or ruin a business very quickly. Or get her into places she couldn't or shouldn't be. Her powers are like having the keys to the kingdom. So why wouldn't she think like a business woman and try to use it initially to benefit her employer and herself?

Also in a sly way, I think it was my way to explain away how Batman might be one of the only people immune to her powers. There's always been a great flirtation between Ivy and Batman throughout past comics; alternating between being seduced at times but also has been shown to be unaffected by her powers. By keeping her research as a proprietary right to Wayne Enterprises, it leaves that door open for Bruce to investigate her findings further. For the Dark Knight to realize how dangerous her research is, and probably come up with an antidote so he's not affected. A very unassuming way to explain if he ends up being the only person immune to her, without her specifically knowing the reason for it. But that's just the backstory in my mind.

Working on this issue would be nothing without the other people involved. Javier Pina and John Kalisz made a perfect artistic combo on this issue. Javier had done some nice work on Birds Of Prey. And John I've worked with in the past on my runs with Detective Comics and Streets Of Gotham. I remember when John wrote me to ask how I wanted the coloring to go on the flashbacks, I think I wrote in the script to make it lighter and almost pastel looking so it would offset the current parts of the story. He basically replied by saying he had an idea he'd like to try and see how it turned out. And I think it's probably the most talked about art of the issue. The way it looks almost watercolor in appearance, the implied paper texture grain apparent, and the lack of hard panel borders. It turned out so beautiful. Jay Fabok turned in a visually arresting and enticing cover that really pops in 3-D. Taylor Esposito added some nice design work for lettering the credits and the captions through the issue. And working with my editors Joey Cavalieri and Kyle Andrukiewicz was a neat process as I was constantly bouncing ideas off them until the story took shape.

A couple other behind-the-scenes moments...

I think readers assumed we were blowing up another Wayne Tower in this story, as it's constantly blown up across other issues and titles. Rather this was the Wayne Enterprises R&D facility, formerly the Kane Chemicals building before the merger. Batman Group Editor Mike Marts got in on the fun by helping with design suggestions, passing back and forth photos of various real constructed buildings out there to give Javier some thoughts as he designed it. Looking at these buildings these architects created is a work of art in itself.


Originally the story would end with Ivy's jump off the GCPD building and she would float away into the night air on a giant dandelion. It was a visual I always thought might look cool, that I hadn't gotten around to using in Li'l Gotham and thought I'd try it here. But after seeing it, it just didn't fit the scene as well as I'd hoped. So we made the decision to show Ivy swing off into her Green Kingdom on a vine. But here's that original version…



Monday, September 9, 2013

INTO THE GREAT BEYOND - PART 2

Wrapping up my final thoughts on some of the larger stories that would've comprised my "Recruitment Drive" extended arc for Justice League Beyond. After such a long stretched out "Konstriction" story, made longer with how everything got spread out in release; I made a concentrated effort that adding new members to the League would happen in quicker shorter stories. A new Flash, Captain Marvel, and Lobo would at this point be part of the team.

At one point, I even considering adding Martian Manhunter but in a much different format. I thought it possible that in his martian race, their people would eventually fade away into ghosts as they lived into old age. I thought it only made sense with his intangibility powers of being able to disappear, that it would be a precursor towards how they'd fade away in death. So if I added Martian Manhunter to the team, he would be sort of an "Obi-Wan Kenobi" type…a ghost that would appear in the Watchtower to provide a voice of experience. But he wouldn't be able to do more than that. But once I found out that Martian Manhunter would be used differently in the Superman Beyond storyline, I just nixed that idea.

But here are the last of the larger ideas that we never got to…


SUPERWOMAN / BRAINIAC / LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES

 
Anyone that knew Supergirl from the animated continuity, knew her struggles to fit in on the Justice League and her longing for something more. She decided to travel into the far future (much further than the Batman Beyond timeline) to join up with the Legion Of Superheroes, and with a budding romantic relationship with that future version of Brainiac; leaving her cousin Kal behind. And that was the last we saw of her. But the story I had planned would be the next large arc. Here's my original outline to her story:

In the far future, Supergirl is dating a fellow member on the Legion who happens to be a heroic Brainiac. His death leads to a Brainiac War, with multiple versions of Brainiacs across multiple realities and timelines being drawn to the future, all with the intent of killing Supergirl.

The idea was that by introducing love into the equation of an artificial intelligence, it damaged Brainiac's programming and caused a sort of rift amongst all the different versions of Brainiac. They'd travel to the future to kill the perpetrator, leading to the destruction of the Legion. Going against the very guidelines set up by the Legion not to affect the past through time travel, Supergirl makes a last ditch escape to jump back in time and find a way to fix things. To warn her past self not to go to the future (feeling responsible for setting all this in motion). But something goes wrong with the wormhole and she ends up in the Beyond timeline. It's in her past, but not far back enough. Her Legion ring is damaged so she's now stuck permanently. Luckily her cousin Kal is still alive but he too is older than last she remembered.

Since she wasn't able to stop herself from going into the future, she now goes to Plan B. She'll need to find the Brainiac of this timeline and upload a program (virus) into him that essentially stops Brainiac from ever creating the version that she fell in love with. It will prevent it's creation which led to its destruction that creates the Brainiac War in the first place. Essentially, this is like some future norplant story to stop Brainiac from ever reproducing both good and bad versions of itself.

In the Beyond timeline, Brainiac is living a quiet peaceful existence having turned a new leaf. It's come to the realization seeing its past failings, it sees the solution to humanity. Instead of attacking and trying to end them, it's up to Brainiac to evolve them. To "upgrade" humanity so they're part of the equation rather than the problem. It's decided to share its technology with everyone for the advancement of the planet. The truest of altruistic intentions without any trappings of money or power. Much of Neo Gotham and even Metropolis owes its technological advances to Brainiac, regardless of how Bruce and Superman feel about their past adversary.

Brainiac now resides in his own living city. An island of technology and high rise buildings. It's a part of everything there and also it's own individual amongst it. A nation or island unto itself. Supergirl with the JLU travel to the city for their mission. To confront Brainiac, explain the situation, and hope it understands why they must do this to him.

The Legion ring that Supergirl was given to her by the Legion Brainiac as a show of love and acceptance to the team, actually contains part of Brainiac's technology in it. So when Supergirl traveled back in time, a future version of Brainiac came with her. And even though the ring is damaged, it still allowed for a new female Brainiac emissary to emerge who is tracking down Supergirl. The ring is left with Bruce Wayne to study its technology, not knowing the secret Brainiac it's about to unleash in the cave. The Emissary is able to tap into the Batcomputer to gain access to information of this timeline and become even more powerful. It leaves to go hunt down Supergirl in Brainiac City.

When Supergirl confronts  Brainiac, the fear is that he won't accept. That he'll decide his time of peace has expired and it should go back to its evil ways, collecting technology, and killing their hosts. Instead Brainiac understands the proposition and agrees to the procedure. But not before the Emissary arrives with it's own plan. Not just to kill Supergirl but to mate with Brainiac and start breeding new offspring. To take over the planet with multiple Brainiacs, and then the galaxy.

Both Brainiacs are stopped, possibly sacrificing itself. Brainiac City is destroyed and sinks. And Supergirl joins the team, heartbroken for the loss of her friends, her love, and her life in the far future. But hopeful for new opportunities to reconnect with her cousin Kal. And of course, that young Batman is kinda cute. Supergirl would have an updated costume and name, now going by "Superwoman".

With this longer story arc, there's no need for a Beyond: Origins, since much of it will be covered in the actual story about Supergirl and her decision to go into the future with the Legion.



So there's that. A first pass at a much longer story arc. It would've been about half the size of "Konstriction", but definitely longer than the preceding recruitment issues. And I just liked the idea of someone even further in the future, now stuck in the Beyond universe. And after so much tragedy that befell Superman, he now had a familiar family face to relate to again. To see that his younger "cousin" had grown up since last he saw her. Of course, he is much older as well, so there'd be plenty of humor to be had between the two of them.



WONDER WOMAN
 

I think right around the time with all the press concerning Superman and Wonder Woman pairing up in the New52, there was talk about having Wonder Woman show up in the Beyond universe. I brainstormed some ideas with my editor just to explain the continuity of the character from the Justice League shows and how she wasn't in Batman Beyond. But in the Justice League continuity, they had developed a growing relationship between Diana and Bruce Wayne. With that insight in mind, the brainstorming quickly lead to the idea of them having consummated their relationship with a child.

Now…adding offspring to any established character has all sorts of headaches that come with it. And giving Bruce a kid here, when he already had Damian in the New52 (and Terry was already his biological son in the Beyond universe, even if Terry didn't know it at this point of the story), well…my initial reaction was a groaning reluctance. It felt like ground that had been covered. But then I thought, does it have to be a boy?

Bruce has only ever had sons, either surrogate wards, partners, or biologically (at least in the animated continuity…discounting the Huntress of the alternate comics universe). But here was a chance to try it out. That once Diana became pregnant, and keeping it a secret from Bruce, she decided to quit the League and retreat from the world of man to raise her daughter back on Themyscira. Diana would become queen, to replace her mother. But now some threat would bring the Trinity back together…older Superman, old Bruce, and Diana. And it would concern this daughter, introduced to Bruce for the first time here. Feeling too old to play "dad", Diana would still encourage Bruce to introduce her into man's world, to train her, and at the same time he would get to know her. By the end of the story, she would eventually become the new Wonder Girl. And might depart to go explore the Beyond universe (ultimately joining the Teen Titans Beyond, which was being toyed with as a new comic title they might do).

There was a lot still to be hashed out, but DC was pushing for a Trinity Beyond story to be the first big crossover between all the Beyond titles: Batman Beyond, Superman Beyond, and Justice League Beyond. I think it was going to be a 6 part arc that would last two months. The only problem…every one of our titles was already in the middle of our stories, and planned out for the year. Even knowing this, they wanted to put this Trinity storyline smack dab in the middle of all of our current arcs going on. As if the fans weren't already annoyed by the release schedule of all of our titles grouped together in Batman Beyond Unlimited (including the Origin stories that were sprinkled in), now we'd have this Trinity story on top of things, to interrupt our main stories. I don't think we were halfway through the "Konstriction" arc when this idea was trying to be pushed forward.

Thankfully after a lot of back and forth between all sides, it was decided to wait to do this. There were too many wheels in motion and this would've really thrown a wrench into each of our titles. If it had gone through, the already stretched out "Konstriction" arc would've taken over a year to complete, for something that was essentially a 6 issue story (minus the Origin stories). Whew!

It would've been an interesting story. Some unrequited love between Diana and Bruce. A lot of unfinished business that could only add to the drama. Bruce feeling betrayed by both Diana and Clark. She had kept his daughter a secret, and requested Clark not reveal it to Bruce in order for him to continue his mission as Batman. She would raise the daughter on her island like all daughters before her did. Also without knowing it, Terry would have a chance to spar and team-up with, what would essentially be, his step-sister. All sorts of interesting avenues to explore.

I've no idea if Wonder Woman will eventually show up in the Beyond 2.0 books, but I wouldn't doubt at some point she'll be brought in. Just that I doubt it'll look anything like this version we were starting to set up.


OTHER ABANDONED IDEAS

- The mention of the "Near Apocalypse Of '09" (in the Batman Beyond show) was something brought up as the last time Batman and Talia paired together to fight and defeat Ra's, resulting in his apparent death. But as we learned, he found a way to live and inhabit his daughter's body. I always felt this was a flashback story ripe for the telling, since it was always brought up by the fans of the show wondering what exactly happened (and the show creators always saying they had no plans for it).

- Also I wanted to eventually do a story that showed what happened to the Justice League in the past that caused them to disband or move on. That there would be some great battle that tested them, frayed them, and possibly even killed a lot of them. And afterwards, they never were the same until an older Superman started to rebuild the League. I thought it could be a way to introduce a new villain that was responsible in the past, and now resurfaced in the future, causing Superman to relate what had happened. I always felt this was a huge arc in the making as it was always something the fans wondered about as well, how the future League was so small and what happened to the original League with all its members.



GOODBYE BEYOND

And with that….I bid the future, farewell.

Justice League Beyond was one of those dream projects. Something that started back when Dustin and I were wrapping up our commitments on Streets Of Gotham and Batgirl, and DC asking us what we wanted to do next. First it was to take over Batman Beyond, but then it turned into Justice League Beyond. The New52 wasn't even known at this point. We got to do all sorts of crazy stories, in a future world with open possibilities and less constraints than the regular DC universe. Worked with a whole bunch of great artists. And had a blast!  I look back on my time on the title very wistfully. Someone growing up a fan of all the animated shows during my high school and college years, never dreaming I'd get to play in that sandbox to continue the stories of the characters of those shows.

My thanks go out to my editors at various stages… Hank Kanalz, Ben Abernathy, Alex Antone, and Mike Marts.

To all the artists, colorists, and lettering that brought the stories to life.

And to all the fans that followed our crazy release schedule, whether digitally or in print.

THANKS!


Friday, September 6, 2013

INTO THE GREAT BEYOND - PART 1

To wrap up my experience writing Justice League Beyond, I thought I'd share a peek into the future. The Beyond that I had planned, but would not be.

I think most working writers are hesitant to share untold or unused stories. And they probably should be. Ideas for writers are commodities. We get paid to create them and then they're brought to life. In many cases, if a story idea isn't used, we just file it away. You never know when you might be able to come back to it and use it later in some other fashion (sometimes even for a different company altogether).

When it comes to the stories I was planning for my second year on Justice League Beyond, I don't have that desire to lock 'em away. Some I've kept to myself for personal reasons or possibly to retool later. But most of these are so particular to the Beyond universe, that they just wouldn't be reused anywhere else. They're tied so specifically to that future and to the animated series continuity, that I'm not losing anything by sharing them. Plus I think, it gives you guys a peek behind the curtain to what could've been…


JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED

As one of those continuity geeks that likes to remain as true to the source as possible, I was a bit horrified when I saw the team would end up being called the JLB (Justice League Beyond). I figured, sure, you can keep that as the title of the book since it takes place in the Beyond universe. But the future Justice League were never called that in the show (the same reason Terry wasn't called Batman Beyond in the show). It had always been the JLU. It didn't make any sense for this change. But it was one of those things that got added in in print and not part of the script, while introducing all the members of the team. By the time I saw it, it was too late to change, and was considered such a minor thing that they just kept it. But I just knew any hard core fans of these characters might decry it, just as I was a bit unnerved by it. Not a big deal in the long run, but one of those things I felt like shouting, "I didn't do it!"



STATIC

Fans always wanted to know why Static wasn't on the team, and I always felt that his appearance in the Beyond universe was in a time-travel episode. It could be seen as the future or a possible alternate version of the Beyond future. That's not to say that Static wouldn't be on the team or join the team, but just that he hadn't joined it yet. I kind of imagine I would've gotten around eventually to telling a story with him, but just not in the original outlines I had planned.

 
THE WATCHTOWER 

I never liked the idea of the Justice League's base being located in Metropolis, or any populated city for that matter. As we know with super villains, they're prone to attacking it, and it just puts a city of innocent civilians at great risk. Aren't they in danger enough as it is? So after proving this point at the end of the "Konstriction" arc by having it destroyed, my plan was to have some time off during the recruitment for new members, for Superman to start construction on the Watchtower away from Earth. The original one was seen as a floating laser, pointed at the Earth in the Justice League show (with many governments not at ease with that). So I thought the New Watchtower would best be built on Earth's moon. To really act as a Watchtower to the galaxy, and Earth's first line of defense for any invading force. While they would have access to a jet shuttle, they'd mainly be using some zeta beam technology to transport back and forth between the Earth to the moon. And while I never got the chance to unveil the New Watchtower, I believe the current version of Justice League Beyond 2.0 had it built on the moon as well. Just one of those coincidences, as I never shared any notes or thoughts with the next people in line to work on the title.

 
LOBO

I'm a bit amused by the backlash of the New52 redesign for Lobo, not that I didn't agree with the outcry, but because he was next in line to be recruited into my future Justice League. And had things continued, I would've debuted my visually different version of Lobo before the one that the rest of the DC Universe is seeing now.

A couple things to bring up on this. My version of Lobo wasn't the one that showed up in the Superman Beyond story. As things go, I had already turned in notes and outlines for my story before Superman Beyond got off the ground. Only later did I find out that Lobo was used in that one, which sort of mucked up how I was going to debut him in JLB. Chalk it up to the common occurrence of various creative teams not really knowing what everyone else was doing, as well as outlines and notes turned in in advance getting lost in the process of getting stories out in a timely fashion. When I saw Lobo's Beyond appearance in print, visually I was disappointed. He didn't look very different from how Lobo had always appeared in the comics. For my version, I was looking at playing with his age and appearance some. He still would be the recognizable big bruiser that we know and love from his appearances in Superman TAS and Justice League. But I wanted to show how the years has visually changed him. In my mind's eye, I saw Lobo very much like Ron Perlman's "Clay" in Sons Of Anarchy. Older, shorter hair starting to grey but keeping the black mustache, and wearing a bandana. He'd be a bit paunchier in his midsection. But still a hardened thick brute.

As for the why and how he'd be on the team…I thought he'd be a true wild card. Someone quick to argue and ruffle feathers. Someone in it for himself. But someone whose power would be desperately needed on a team starting to rebuild. That the dangers in the Beyond universe were so great, that they'd feel the need to recruit outside their comfort zone. If you remember, Lobo had tried to join the League in the show, but was turned away. So I thought it only fair that Superman offer it to him this time, and Lobo's as shocked as anyone.

The following is the full pitch outline to the story…


"THE HUNTING GAME"

The head of a company that produces death traps, has brought together a group of mercenaries. He's created an ultimate death trap with specs provided to him from an interested private buyer. But the buyer requires the device to be tested on the greatest escape artist of all time.

He turns on a remote view screen behind him, where we see photos of Mister Miracle in action…breaking chains, hanging upside down, and getting out of metal containments. Of course, their target isn't interested in volunteering, so they need to go find and bring him here.

Now we get to see who the bounty hunters are:
LOBO, CURARE, and STALKER (mentioned as being killed in the Batman Beyond: Hush Beyond arc but he can mention "the rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated").

After the head of the company dismisses his mercenaries, he calls his buyer to let him know. On the other end, the buyer (who we won't see yet), has his own hunters he'll be using in secret, for his own agenda. The interested buyer is
THE COLLECTOR, a villain with a history of collecting rare species (at one time, he had captured Superman and Lobo since they were both the last Kryptonian and the last Czarnian; and now he seeks revenge in getting them back). The two hunters he's hired for himself are a mystery woman named MATTIE and BIZARRO (who has an alien dog Krypto that will join him).

We cut to the moon over Earth. The American flag is still floating in the moon's low gravity as it's pole sits firmly in a crater. We get our chance to see the completed new Watchtower on the moon. Inside the Watchtower, we see the League has gathered and we can see more of the facility. Superman, Green Lantern Kai-Ro, Warhawk, Aquagirl, Barda, Mr.Miracle, and Micron are there. Only person absent is Terry/Batman. Some of them might be arriving from Earth by Zeta beam transport; a gift from the Rannians and Adam Strange. There also might be a giant viewscreen where we see Aquagirl trying to track down future League members (we might have headshot photos of new members Captain Marvel and Flash,  but also scouting out other possibilities like Aquaman, Deadman, The Question, etc).

The American flag is knocked down when Lobo and the hunters quietly arrive on the moon. They are able to infiltrate the Watchtower as it's still new and not fully online yet. Curare is able to silently slice an opening for her and Stalker to get into the building. Lobo does a frontal assault with his bike, blowing a hole through a wall. His distraction allows the other two to find and capture Mr.Miracle. Superman and Barda both go out to meet Lobo and fight him. Having a large throw down with both of them delights him to no end. Especially with Barda, who he's smitten with.

Inside the Watchtower, Stalker is able to ambush and take out Aquagirl, Warhawk, and Micron. Curare faces Kai-Ro, who she shares a past with (having grown up with him and the monks). This is the first time he's seen "sister" since then, and the new dark path she went down with dark magic that gave her that blue skin. She was part of an assassin's organization until she killed them off, and now she operates as an independent hunter. Just before defeating him, she removes her mask to show him her true face (still hidden from us), so he realizes who she is, and then knocks him out.

Lobo backs off from fighting as he radios the others to ask if they got the "Miracle Man". The jig is up, as Superman and Barda realize they were set up and distracted. Barda runs to go find her husband. But Superman looks down to find his ankle bit on by an alien dog he's familiar with. And when he looks up, he's knocked out by Bizarro. Mattie Hex also enters the scene.

Lobo tells them that they're too late. They already got the package. So their boss wasted his time hiring some extra hunters. She mentions they don't have the same boss. And then Lobo is shot by Mattie Hex with a tranq dart, making him pass out.

Cut to captured Superman, Lobo, and Mr.Miracle in a room together. Superman and Lobo bicker with one another, arguing why is it every time Lobo shows up there's trouble. Lobo shrugs it off and says it's just business, nothing personal (well…slightly personal). It's possible we can reference Lobo's appearance in the Superman Beyond story.

Superman says it looks like Lobo's employer betrayed him. Lobo says it's his funeral if that's the case, but he thinks it was someone else involved. They wonder why they were after Mr.Miracle. Lobo says they wanted him for some death trap they were building. Miracle says they lied to him. That he gets out of everything (and we see he's already gotten out of the cuffs he was in). I know why they needed me…bait. You both must've been the real catch. Lobo groans. Now he knows who it is.

The door opens and we see the death trap company owner and the private contractor…The Collector. The Owner wants to know what he wants to do with them. Collector says he'll keep the last Kryptonian and Cyzarnian, and the death trap. He doesn't need the other so they can do whatever they want with Miracle.

Miracle says they'd be smart to let him go free. They wouldn't like the alternative. "She has a tendency to come looking for me when I don't call home. My wife isn't the greatest negotiator." Lobo agrees out loud. The Owner decides to keep Miracle. That he should be able to find some buyer for him. The Collector takes the other two to his ship.

When they go to his ship, The Collector says he has a special room for them. The last of their kind. The last Justice League. And we see ALL of the members of the Justice League have been captured. He places them all inside the death trap box he had bought. Lobo says he ain't one of them. He ain't a part of the League. The Collector agrees…no, you definitely aren't. You are free to go. And there's some money for your trouble.

Lobo looks at the guy, after all they've been through in the past, how Lobo was caught and almost killed. That he just expects Lobo to forget all that and to leave. Lobo says, "You know me too well. Money talks, Lobo walks. Cya losers." Lobo hops on his bike and takes off. The League are left prisoner.

Time passes and they're out in deep space. The Collector notices something on radar approaching quickly. Doing his best Han Solo entrance, Lobo has come back to attack the spacecraft (after he's rescued Mr.Miracle, which no one will realize until he's gotten inside the craft). And once again, he plays the distraction while Miracle goes inside and is able to release each of the League from their death trap prison. The spacecraft blows up as the League (protected by Green Lantern) are able to escape. They wonder if Lobo died in the explosion.

Back in the Watchtower, the heroes arrive and begin work on fixing the wall and the security system. Lobo shows up and makes a joke about the hole he made. He also rubs it in that he rescued the entire Justice League. That if it weren't for him, they'd still be prisoners in some sick alien collection. Superman responds by saying if it weren't for him, they wouldn't have been captured in the first place. Or have a hole in their Watchtower wall. Lobo says they're welcome.

Barda approaches him. Lobo's expecting thanks for rescuing her husband. She thanks him the only way she knows how, by punching him in the jaw and yelling thanks by walking away with her husband. Lobo is still smitten as he growls back. "That's a helluva dame. Does she have a sister? Or even a hot mom?"

The rest of the League go back inside the Watchtower, leaving Lobo and Superman alone. Superman gives him a death stare, and says at one time, Lobo wanted to join but they wouldn't allow it. Now Superman extends his hand in a handshake gesture. "Seems I was wrong about you then. And now." Lobo chuckles, "Naw, you were right. But don't make me go all misty eyed in my old age."

Superman starts to walk away as he says, "You're welcome to join the League…" Lobo looks cocky. Superman smiles and finishes his statement as he walks away, "Associate Member". Superman continues, "Don't call us. We'll call you. And thanks."

Lobo steps over to the fallen American flag. Picks it up, and sticks it back into the ground of the moon, knowing he's being watched by Superman.  After Superman leaves, we see the flag pole has been bent a little as one last dig towards Superman, and Lobo flies off on his space bike.

As an Epilogue, we show some sort of space cantina. On the wall are posters and holographic images of various "WANTED" signs and rewards. Some of the aliens have already been caught (maybe even The Collector has a sign on there that is stamped with "DEAD" on it). Our female hunter grabs a sign that shows Lobo's face on it with a reward. Someone behind her asks if she's looking for a job. She says she's always looking. They tell her this is a tough business to be in, and she might not be up for it. She responds that her family has been in this business for generations. and they've done just fine. They ask her name and she tells them. "Name's Mattie…
MATTIE HEX." And that's the stinger we end the story with.


 

So there ya go.

Lobo would've also gotten himself a Beyond Origin story. One that would show what he'd been up to in the years after his last Justice League appearance through to the Beyond timeline. The battles he'd been in, the people he'd come across, the jobs he'd be hired for, the universes he'd destroyed or saved. A real tour-de-force for the character. For a short origin like this, it would've been fun to get an artist that was known for working on him…maybe a Simon Bisley, or Val Semeiks, or Keith Giffen. It would've been a nice nod back to their work over the years.

In Part 2, I'll be going into more heroes that would join in the "Recruitment Drive" arc. And some other big stories that were planned in various stages.

Monday, August 26, 2013

JUSTICE SERVED - "BEYOND ORIGINS"

The origin behind the Origins. About midway through working on the first arc for Justice League Beyond, it was decided that it might be worthwhile to do some origin stories for the members of this future League. We wouldn't have to retell Terry/Batman or Superman, since their origins are known enough. But this would be a good chance to showcase the other members, most of whom new readers might be unfamiliar with if they hadn't seen their brief appearance on those few Batman Beyond episodes. The fun thing creatively about this, is most didn't have any backstory established. So it would be a chance to flesh out everyone and give more depth to their character.

I guess the problem, or the challenge, is that this came sort of suddenly. I'm sort of a stickler for planning things out as much in advance as I can. I'm quick enough to roll with the punches if something is sprung on me. But I also think it's more of a benefit to the company as well as the people involved working on these (and to the reader), when we have time to plan it out. When the Beyond Origins were decided upon being placed in-between the ongoing digital issues of JLB, I knew it would be seen as an interruption. Anything shoved in can hurt the flow of an ongoing story, especially one that was being released semi-weekly in small 10 page doses already. Add to the fact that we thought we'd launch as a JLB solo book, then pairing up with Batman Beyond, adding Superman Beyond, and now the Origins…essentially we'd all be vying for space once the "Unlimited" print issues came out. There were times where all four were in the same issue (four separate 10 page stories) and it aggravated not only the fans but I think those of us that worked on it as well. Consistency and momentum is a cherished thing to a reader, so these added hiccups would be unfortunate.

Even though the Origins would be added late, Dustin and I were still well enough ahead of writing JLB that we could try to integrate the stories. In fact, the entire "Konstriction" script was finished by the time Dustin started drawing pages. We could now introduce things in their Origins that we could allude or tie-in to the regular ongoing story. I always love continuity nods like that because it makes the world feel that much larger and integrated. So that is the reason why you get things like…Aquagirl being kidnapped as a child to be raised as a Female Fury (only to symbolically join the Furies when attacking the giant snake on Apokolips later with the Justice League). Helping set up Barda's banishment from her homeworld and why it's that much more painful when she goes back and finds it destroyed. Micron was an athletic football player in high school that always wanted to play quarterback, which he'd get to live out when he'd toss the book controlling the snake in a Hail Mary throw into the Boom Tube "endzone". Just a few of the examples.

After the "Konstriction" opening arc was done, the Origins would continue. And it could be something I could plan for a lot better from the start. The next story arcs would be shorter during the "Recruitment Drive" arcs, and would be a way of introducing new members to the team as well as their Origins that followed. Of course, plans change. And no sooner than I was setting up the origins for the next batch of added characters, that it got decided midway through that they wanted to stop them altogether (I think in an effort to wrap up everything in a clean sweep before they'd head into the relaunch. I just didn't know it at the time). Such is the way things can be.

So contained below are my final thoughts on those Origins that made it and those that didn't. Add to the fact that some of them never did get printed in the comics even though they were released digitally. In sad irony, two of these not only became "Digital First" releases…but "Digital Only" since that's the only current way to read them. I'm hopeful they'll eventually collect them into print in a future trade paperback.


BEYOND ORIGINS:  KAI-RO

 
Out of all the newer heroes in the future League, the Green Lantern kid was probably Dustin and my favorite. He was younger, had more tranquil Buddhist leanings, so we could really play that up in forming his backstory. And I just love the real process of how they find the next Dalai Lama. The tradition and ritual aspect of it. The spirituality. It makes it fascinating even before you bring in any superhero aspects to it.

A lot of the things that happened in this story, I have no idea how they came about. I do a lot of free thinking when it comes to story creation. And a lot of ideas seem to just form right out of the ether. Kai-Ro is one of the many Green Lanterns. But that his ring would be the one that John Stewart lost, was a nice way to bring the Origins full circle. It started with John losing the ring and it would end with the ring finding Kai-Ro. Setting that up in advance was a bit of kismet. 

The other thing that came as a bit of surprise was creating an arch-villain for Kai-Ro. That this wouldn't just be his origin story, but that of the villain Curare. I always loved that silent female assassin in the show. Always wondered what her backstory would be. And being able to show these two growing up together would add a bit of tragedy to where each of them ended up apart. Their stories might be my favorite contribution to the mythos behind the characters during my entire run on Justice League Beyond.

Creatively speaking, most of the Origin stories would be a chance to have other artists draw them. But for this one, it was something that Dustin wanted to draw. It didn't hurt that we were both fans of Avatar The Last Airbender and Kai-Ro was it's spiritual predecessor in a way (since his show appearance came out years before Avatar). And at the time we were writing this story, the idea to help his Origin stand out from the rest of the "Konstriction" issues that Dustin was drawing, was he would paint it in watercolor. But the familiar adage of "things change" surfaced again. Batman: Li'l Gotham in the interim got the greenlight and then Dustin was too busy watercoloring that to keep on schedule to do the same here. So instead, he just left Kai-Ro's story in pencil, I inked it, and we got our old "Streets Of Gotham" colorist John Kalisz to reunite with us to color it. It turned out pretty beautiful regardless.


BEYOND ORIGINS:  FLASH
 
I had a lot of fun working on this new Flash. While I didn't grow up a reader of the character, I know Flash has one of the most adamant and faithful fan bases in comics (in all his incarnations). So more than anything, I wanted to be very respectful to the history of the Flash. It's a legacy based character and that continues even in the Beyond future. And while most of the other Flashes were the result of lab accidents, I liked the idea that there was something special about Dani. That she was able to tap into and see the Speed Force at a young age, and her fandom and appreciation of it would bestow her with its powers when the time came. I also wanted to have her family involved. So many heroes have to keep their identities secret from those they love. But given the work that her father did and how closely her mother was to her, I thought it would be better if they were just as involved in her superhero life to try to be as active participants and help her out. I think it sends a good message that way.

I admit when it comes to the origin of our future Flash, that I was trying to plan in advance. To actually use this story as a setup to her own series if it ever happened. To use television terms…I wrote her origin as a "backdoor pilot". Everything anyone would need to know about the character, could be setup here…her family, the city she lives in, how she developed her powers; even a brand new rogues gallery that could be further exploited. And maybe at some later date, they might develop her into her own title. That would be a lot of fun to see. But I think their plan is to keep the Beyond Universe small. Superman's own title fell to the wayside, and now it's just Batman and Justice League that are continuing. It's too bad.

The acceptance by the fans for our future Flash was the most surprising thing. You hope to write stories that connect with characters that the readers will enjoy. But the support for Dani seemed like an overnight success. The fan art and tumblr postings were very rewarding to see. That a character that only had a very brief appearance in her JLB story and in this Origin had captured the fans hearts. I've included some of the wonderful fan art below. It's nice to know that she'll live on past the brief time I had to work with her.

Art by Kalinina Valeria - http://creatrixtiamat.deviantart.com      Art by Just - http://xxjust-a-nobodyxx.deviantart.com

Art by Flash Beyond co-creator Jorge Corona


BEYOND ORIGINS:  CAPTAIN MARVEL

This was one I was the most excited about getting to write and turned into my greatest disappointment when it didn't happen. I only hinted at what happened to Billy Batson and Captain Marvel in their JLB story, knowing that I was going to tell it in the Origin. But after completing the Flash Origin was when they pulled the plug, and there was really no room to try to cram it into the "In Gods We Trust" storyline without feeling forced.

In my own mind, I had the origin story planned out that would explain the disaster that happened that was able to merge all the identities into Billy Batson (as well as his sister). That it would be this roulette wheel of powers that could manifest at any given moment…a body timeshare where the heroes (and villain) would have brief moments to appear before reverting back to Billy. It would've been great.

Add to the fact that I planned to have it drawn very retro, just like the character and his early appearances. I thought it would be fun to have a very Sunday newspaper strip style and even dot pixel coloring, to retell the origin of Billy being granted the powers by the Wizard Shazam. And then the final battle with Doctor Sivana that lead to the disaster and transformation into how the character was portrayed in the Beyond universe. I even had an artist already hand selected…Evan "Doc" Shaner. An artist after my own heart that loves the character and could draw in that throwback style. That could finally get his chance to officially draw the original version of the character that we both love. But it just wasn't meant to be. Look at some of the art below that he's done as a fan, and just imagine what could've been...


BEYOND ORIGIN:  MARTIAN MANHUNTER

This was an origin that was brought about late in the process. We had gotten a new editor on JLB, and also at that time, J.T. Krul's Superman Beyond story would feature the Martian Manhunter. There was some talk about doing an origin for him. Of course this is one of the characters who's had his origin portrayed in the comics, so he's not exactly new to the Beyond universe. But it could be an area to play with the continuity, to explain his time in the Justice League Unlimited show and what he'd been up to in the years since that time, leading into the Beyond timeline. While I had come up with a rough outline, it got killed on the vine as soon as all the Origins were abandoned.



Friday, August 9, 2013

JUSTICE SERVED - "IN GODS WE TRUST"



With my run on Justice League Beyond finished, it's time to wrap up some of my final thoughts on my last few stories. It's so weird to look back on this now, only because the team building I had planned for the future League barely got started before the change of direction was implemented. So I only got to add Flash, and for this story Captain Marvel (I know DC seems keen on the rename of Shazam, but it was Captain Marvel in the Justice League Unlimited show…and it's Captain Marvel in my storyline). I had planned to grow the team much more in offbeat ways. A story worth telling in a future post.

I don't know what first prompted me on wanting Captain Marvel to join the team. I guess it was a number of reasons. I've always loved the character as a real throwback to the fun superheroes of the past. It's one of the few that my dad remembers reading as a kid. And as a character of magic, it would be possible for Captain Marvel to still be around in this future (for reasons being…I won't divulge at the moment). I like the idea that he also had some history with Superman. Where things left off in the Justice League Unlimited episode he appeared in, he quit the League and was disappointed in Superman as the hero he once looked up to. I figured with enough time, there'd be a chance for them to consider their past actions and patch things over. And Captain Marvel would feel right to join the League this time around. And I also liked the fact that there was a chance to show Billy Batson and Mary, both still magically young. An age of stuck adolescence. And one of the few age appropriate characters that young Kai-Ro would be able to relate to.
 
Notice some familiar villains for Captain Marvel on the "Wanted" wall?
I also liked the idea of getting out of Neo-Gotham or Metropolis and showing some of the other areas in the Beyond universe. Fawcett City would be one of the few to remain untouched by society. No hi-tech future technology. No flying cars. A city from the past still frozen in time. Very "Mayberry" as I like to put it. I thought it would be a nice clash of cultures for the people living there and the League when they arrived.

For the villains, I always wanted to see more of Alan Burnett's creation of the "Brain Trust". Basically your sort of evil X-Men (or Brotherhood Of Evil Mutants) for DC's Beyond universe. A group that was going around and collecting special powered kids for some nefarious purpose. The shows they appeared in (Batman Beyond and later in Static Shock), they had such a small group. So this was a chance to build them up as well. Add more faculty to this teaching staff. So that's always fun to come up with names and powers to grow the enemy against the League. I even squeezed in a danger room sequence and a Blackbird type jet for them to fly off in, to keep the X-Men motif.
 
As a huge fan of these shows, part of writing Justice League Beyond was always my chance to throw in cameos and nods to not just the Batman Beyond show but the rest of the shows in that continuity. So "Krypto's" appearance here ties back to the Superman animated series with him being Bizarro's pet. I planned for so many of these special appearances to not be throwaways but actually followed up later for a reason. There would've been a story that involved Superman and the League being absent from earth, so in their place, Bizarro (with Krypto in tow) would end up "protecting" Metropolis in his own misguided way. Even though  I never got the chance to continue that story, it was fun to have Krypto in here briefly. I love that slobbering alien dog.
 

More cameos came in the form of some of the other teams operating in the Beyond universe that Bombshell would mention here. Little cues I could plant and come back to later if I wanted, or leave it open for the readers to guess at. I wanted to show that the League wasn't the only team operating out there. There would be others that could pose a threat to the Brain Trust. "The Circus Of The Dead" would be deceased members that formed a group to heroically haunt from the afterlife. Deadman being their leader, with Wildcat, the Creeper, and Vixen in there (which could always lead to some uncomfortable feelings if John Stewart and Shayera Hol showed up again in a story, since that tragic triangle was thought to have already played out).

The Terrific Trio were the media-publicized and disgraced "Fantastic Four" knockoff in the Batman Beyond show, that perished in their only appearance. I thought it would be a fun way to do what comics have always done…when one team is killed, disbands, or disappears; there's always an "ALL NEW" version that takes their place. Their team name would remain, but it would be composed of new members. And mimicking the Fantastic Four, they might have a few visual nods as well. Lead by an older version of Plastic Man (the stretchy Reed Richards of the group), the return of the Earth Mover (filling our "Thing" spot on the team, even though it looked like he died in the show), and Zeta (to keep this a "Trio"…although we maybe could include Ro in the "Sue" role, if it were to be more like the FF).

Bombshell would even mention a new Titans group in passing. At the time I was writing this story a year ago, there was the possibility of there being a Teen Titans Beyond title spinoff I had heard from my original editor. I didn't know who would be on it, neither the team members or the creators involved, or when it would come out, but I thought it would be fun to vaguely plant mention of them here. Of course, I kind of hoped I'd get a chance to write it and had some crazy ideas for it, but things changed. That editor left and any chance for a Titans Beyond title seemed to disappear with him.
 

Green Lantern Kai-Ro really grew into a favorite of mine, as well as Dustin's, while working over the course of this title. I loved the peaceful innocence and wide-eyed optimism that he brought to the team as well as the Beyond universe. And I always felt he might quietly struggle being the youngest member on the team. Maybe having trouble to relate with the adults around him and not really having any friends his own age. So featuring him in this story where he develops his first feelings towards a girl his own age, are moments I kind of miss in comics. There's always this focus on making things dark, depressing, and battle-worn. But it's the little moments of feelings and relationships these characters have towards one another that I always strive to find space for when I write. I want these characters to live and breathe less like action figures. Less like plastic toys being mashed against one another. And more like real people that love, argue, and care for one another. Of course to further complicate matters, is that Kai-Ro's crush happens to be a girl that shares the same body with a few other magical personalities. Imagine a first date between these two with a magical roulette wheel of possibilities of all the other Marvels appearing at any given moment, making every situation uncomfortable. No one said love is easy!

Lastly let's talk about the art. Anyone following JLB had seen Ben Caldwell's work drawing the "Beyond Origin" story to Barda. I always wanted to bring him back to draw the series regularly as the ongoing artist once Dustin had stepped down to concentrate on Li'l Gotham. So it was fun to get Ben on this story, with such a wide range of characters to draw and design. It was a bit nerve racking for me, since I was going to end up inking him on this. Artists I like as a fan, always puts more pressure on me to not ink them badly. I'd almost rather sit back and just watch them do the art as a reader. But I felt some ownership of wanting to keep the inking consistency over the ongoing story, that I've been a part of since issue one.

I've included some of the preliminary designs and pencils from Ben during the process of working on this. I think he was interested in doing a very youthful redesign of Captain Marvel, which in any other circumstance in the Beyond universe, would be the right idea to do a different take. But for Captain Marvel, I specifically wanted him to look exactly how we last saw him. That he's a living legend unchanged throughout time, and would still look the same. But you can see some of Ben's ideas in these rough pencils below. And also the great cover, from concept to execution, by artist Khary Randolph!



Thursday, July 11, 2013

TWO-FACE / TWO WRITERS

Concluding the last part of my interview with co-writer Ken Jones on Legends Of The Dark Knight "The Beautiful Ugly". Digital issue #58 goes on sale today at Comixology. So be sure to read that before coming here, as we'll discuss a few story related topics...



Dr. Leslie Thompkins is a character rarely used in Batman. I've always appreciated that she has a history with Bruce. She along with Alfred, were two adult figures in Bruce’s life after he lost his parents. And one of the few in his inner circle that knows his exploits as Batman.

It's funny because originally, our early draft of the script opened the story with her scene and then we find out what happened to Aiden and Marissa flashing back. But as we did more drafts, it was a better fit coming much later, to tell Aiden and Marissa's story in real time. And to actually start our story with Batman in action, making a better bookend to our story.

Talk a little about the inclusion of Dr. Thompkins in our story.


It’s funny because it’s a small scene, but the whole story kinda pivots on it.  Dr. Thompkins is fascinating to me because she’s a gatekeeper to the world of Batman.  She’s one of the few people with open access to him and whom he trusts at their word.

Most of the other characters with that interact with Batman are more directly involved with what Batman does; other masked vigilantes, cops, like that.   But with Thompkins you have this regular, ordinary person in Gotham who just happens to be able to contact Batman whenever she wants.  She’s a very world-building type of character, a bridge between the reality the audience knows and the unique reality of Gotham

Of course, I was completely unaware of Thompkins before The Beautiful Ugly.   But you talked about wanting to include her pretty early in the process. I think that’s a knack of yours; telling stories within worlds—whatever ‘those worlds’ might be—that have a sort of object permanence.  I think it stems, at least in part, from your ability to sort of pull characters out of the ether that make the story realer to that universe.

Sometimes you come up with characters on the spot during our brainstorming sessions that fit perfectly.  It’s a pretty impressive gift.

It's an interesting point about Thompkins as a sort of bridge for the audience and Gotham. In some ways, the few people that Batman keeps close to him (Alfred, Gordon, Lucius Fox, and Thompkins) provide a sort of tether for him as well. A sort of working class humanity aspect to provide insight and rein him in from just becoming immersed in Batman fully. To either remind him to stay the course, or recognize when he's starting to stretch and go too far.


The fate of our lead characters is unknown by the end of our story. Why the choice for this ambiguity?

Actually, I’m more interested in your thoughts on that since the concept and main storyline were your ideas.  In fact, you even had the major beats of the story worked out by the time we sat down to brainstorm, including this sort of ambiguous ending we have.  So Mr. Fridolfs, what inspired you to come up with the story I the first place and what prompted to you take it in the direction that you did?

While not every story calls for it, I do tend to like the idea of not knowing the finality of a character's fate. To leave a little mystery and some areas open for the audience to surmise on their own what might happen. And the way the audience comes to their own conclusion, might stem to their own outlook or perception on things. In this case, it comes down to the jury results. Guilty or Not Guilty. And in either case, I don't know if there really can be considered a happy ending for either party in this.



I know when coming up with the title and the last page of dialogue for this story, who it belonged to felt very interchangeable. That it could just as easily refer to Two-Face as much as it does to Batman. What does "The Beautiful Ugly" mean to you?

I think it’s all-encompassing.  Not just for Batman and Two-face, but for Marissa and Aiden as well. Gotham City too, for that matter. It even extends to the larger concepts of justice and revenge and redemption.  We kind of unpack it all and leave it in the audience’s lap.  But we don’t do it to avoid answering the question.  I think the duality is the answer.  The city, the people in it, and the ideals they’re striving for or running from all contain and compose both beautiful and ugly things.

See, I never even thought to associate Marissa, Aiden, Gotham, or the larger concepts for it, and yet that's a great point! The things one learns after the fact.


Switching topics, there are very few black writers working in comics. And quite possibly none at the Big Two companies currently, which seems pretty unfathomable. For an industry that has so many diverse voices and styles, and as a black writer, how do you feel about this? What do you think you can bring to comics?

Damn the Man, I says!

Actually I think it’s a systemic issue.  Working in comics is about who you know.  Fact of life. And I don’t know why there’s so much diversity on the art side but so little on the writing side except to say that there may be less diversity in the private lives of many comics writers.

On the flip side, comics might not be a readily pursued career path for black writers.  I do know firsthand that there is cultural pressure for black writers—black creators of any stripe—to identify as “black” writers, artists, or whatever.  It’s patently absurd.  It’s a description of a person’s ethnicity and occupation.  But I think it’s a core tenet of the human condition to heap as much cultural baggage as humanly possible on anything and everything we can.  And maybe that results in fewer black writers considering comics.

I'm all about diversity of characters and creators. That each of us brings a whole different set of life experiences, backgrounds, and heritage to the table. That it's fascinating to have as many diverse points of view.


Any final thoughts to having your first big mainstream story published?

It’s very, very cool.  And hopefully, it’s just the beginning. So back to work.


                                                                                                             ____________
 
So there ya have it. It was a real pleasure getting the chance to introduce everyone to Ken, and to especially work on this story together with him. Many a day and weekend are spent hanging out, talking about life, politics, social problems, entertainment, and brainstorming stories. Much of the published work I've done has been through a great filter as I've shown Ken my work, gotten feedback, and opened my mind to the greater process of writing. He's always been a great sounding board if I'm struggling with something or just want to float an idea out there to get his opinion. That we finally got to work on something published together isn't the end of this great journey but only the beginning. And I'll keep you posted what we'll be working on next.

A final bit of thanks goes to editor Hank Kanalz and artist Jason Shawn Alexander. Hank I've been working with on all the digital work I've done through DC in Burbank. I sort of caught him by surprise by sending this story pitch to him out of the blue, not knowing if there were any openings or even if he'd like it. And he was extremely generous and patient getting it all set up. And what can I say about Jason, that I haven't gushed about before? I wasn't quite aware of his work before Arkham City End Game (and a nod to editor Jim Chadwick for bringing him to my attention). But I've gotten to be a huge fan since that time. It can be rare to find the chance to rework with people in the industry. To strike lightning in a bottle twice. We all have separate goals and schedules. Lots of projects being juggled in work and in life. But that Jason found the time to work on this story, I felt very lucky. And he brought his "A" game once again, drawing and inking the characters emotions all over their faces and body language, the weariness of Batman and the city of Gotham, and the fractured soul that is Harvey Dent.

And thanks to all of you that have bought our story, read this blog, and have commented. Every little bit is like fuel to keep the fires burning. And very much appreciated!