Saturday, January 31, 2009


The best part about being a freelance writer is that you sometimes never know what you're going to be working on next. (Conversely, the worst part about being a freelance writer is that you sometimes never know what you're going to be working on next.) Wednesday I was working on a Superman children's book (The Kid Who Saved Superman, coming from Stone Arch Books in Fall '09, part of a 48 book series featuring Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman; I'm writing at least four other books in the series as well), Thursday on a Bart Simpson comic book script, and today, I'll start on a new script for a Scooby Doo comic book story. Friday I went into New York and bothered everybody at DC Comics; everyone needs a hobby.

While I was there, my editor, Harvey Richards, showed the pencils for the last Scooby script I had turned in, "Sunday In The Park With Scooby." Fabio Laguna, who's from South America and whose work is new to America comics, did the art and did it so nicely, I just had to share a few pages (as ever, just click on a page to view it in a larger size). The story is scheduled to appear in Scooby Doo #143.

"Sunday In The Park With Scooby"
(c) respective copyright holders

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


About a year and a half ago, I wrote a short story for an upcoming anthology from Moonstone Books about vampires (coming out this year, I believe). The story features a reporter for the Weekly World News (my former employer), Leo Persky, who writes under the byline Terrance Strange. The first line of the story is, "First thing you’ve got to know is, everything we publish is true," and with that premise in mind, Leo's sent to a small town in West Virginia (the town is real, I lived there as a kid) to check out reports of a vampire. After a long, sweaty bus ride, Leo arrives and goes into a bar for a drink where he promptly pisses off the locals and gets the crap beat out of him:

© Paul Kupperberg

There’s an old chestnut I’m always seeing in mystery novels where the P.I. stirs the pot by charging around like a bull in a china shop and, when someone tries to kill him or beats him up to warn him off, he’s happy, figuring it means he’s getting close to cracking the case.

I might’ve been close.

Or maybe I’m just an obnoxious prick most people naturally want to pound on. Either way, I got my nose bloodied, one eye blackened, a lip split, a couple of ribs that felt like they were rattling around loose in there, plus a swell assortment of bruises, abrasions and contusions. And arrested.

On the upside, my knuckles were unmarked. I never got in a shot.

I was booked, photographed, fingerprinted, then given ten minutes with a wad of paper towels and a sink to clean myself up before being planted in the interrogation room, i.e. a table and two chairs in the corner of a file room.

Much as I was ready to stereotype him as a small town hick lawman, Lieutenant Ward Baker of the Morgantown P.D. was anything but a Sheriff Hogg-type. He was well-spoken, immaculate in his pressed uniform, and polite. He offered to send me to the hospital if I wanted medical attention (I declined), then listened patiently to my side of the story.

“You said ‘anal probe’ to those guys?” he asked, not bothering to hide his grin.

“Yeah, well, in retrospect...”

“Look, Mr. Persky, you don’t strike me as a naïve man,” he said, the local Appalachian twang still in his voice, just buried, like the coal in the nearby mountains, under an Eastern education and a few years living someplace else. “You start poking around in this sort of nonsense, you’re not going to make any friends around here.”

“Lieutenant Baker,” I said with a smile that caused me to wince from my split lip. “I’m not really interested in making friends here or anywhere else. I’m funny that way. All I want to do is get my story and get the hell out of Dodge, so let me spell it out:

“You have yet to indicate in any way, shape or form that you think I’m a lunatic or a fool from a fake-news supermarket tabloid looking to shake up some bullshit for the sake of a story. Well, okay, I am, except for the ‘fake news’ part ... but, unless you happen to know that vampires, Bigfoot and/or aliens are real, your first reaction’s going to be that I’m some crazy conspiracy theory nut. I’m not naïve, you’re right, and I know what people think when they talk to me.

“Take you, for instance. You’re looking me straight in the eye and treating me like I’m a rational human being. Know why? Wait, that’s rhetorical. Because you know I am.

“So, what’d you want to tell me about the vampires?”

Baker leaned back in his chair and folded his arms across his chest, spending the next few moments chewing on the inside of his cheek and looking at me. I didn’t interrupt his revelry.

“By rights,” he said, “I should toss your ass in the can for a few days or boot it out of town.”

“Haven’t you read the Patriotic Act? We don’t have any rights left.”

He shook his head and said, “Shit.”

I smiled.

“Shit” always meant they’d caved.

He said, “Come on.”

# # #

The morgue was in the basement of the hospital Baker had earlier offered to take me to for treatment. It was a big block of a building, up on a hill, about halfway to a bulge in a few miles of road called Grafton, and it stood dark and cold against the evening sky.

Morgue. Basement. Where else? The short of it was, soon me and Baker were standing with the coroner, who doubled as the hospital’s chief pathologist, or vice versa, along with a trio of bodies, covered by nice, clean white sheets in a vestibule outside the doc’s cutting room. His name was Dr. Sanhar Muthupalaniappan, “but you may call me Sandy.” No, I couldn’t. He wasn’t a Sandy. Sandys were happy-go-lucky brown-haired dudes who played tennis and watched golf on TV. I don’t know what a Muthupalaniappan was supposed to be, but just in case it was “alumnus of one of my own autopsies,” I stuck with calling him Dr. Muthupalaniappan.

“We’ve had four cases, all involving exsanguinations via dentally induced puncture wounds,” he said in a pleasant sing-song voice that belonged more to PeeWee Herman than Uncle Fester. “The forensic evidence indicates in each case the bodies were found where they were killed, but the volume of blood in situ did not add up by one third.”

“So someone’s taking the blood,” I said.

“Doesn’t mean they’re drinking it,” Baker said.

“No, of course not. It’s just that no one’s yet invented anything better than teeth to puncture human flesh in order to get to the blood contained therein.”

“Cult killings mimicking vampyric behavior are not out of the realm of possibility,” Dr. Muthupalaniappan interjected with a happy grin.

“Yeah, they are, statistically,” Baker corrected. “According to the FBI, there’s never been an actual, documented cult killing in this country.”

I snorted. “You sleep better believing that, my friend.”

Baker stared, pop-eyed. “Just because there might be something to this vampire stuff doesn’t mean I’m buying into the rest of that garbage you print.”

“We’re getting off the rails here. The topic’s vampires. You got any of the vics on file, doc?”

“Of course, yes. The lieutenant called me you were coming.” He took a step to his left and whipped back the sheet of the nearest gurney. I gave him extra points for style. “May I present Miss Wanda Olivia McMartin, age twenty-three, T.O.D.,” he said, glancing at his wristwatch, “two days and little more than eighteen hours ago.”

Like a vampire myself I went straight for the neck but Muthupalaniappan stopped me, pointing to the south end of the gurney. I indicating her mid-section, then her thighs, getting a negative head shake both times. The young lady had once been attractive enough, but near three days dead from massive blood loss had left her dry and ghostly white. The twin puncture wounds stood out like two pink Good & Plenty (were the pink ones the good or the plenty?) in the middle of a bowl of white ones.

On her ankle.

“What’ve we got here? A sucker with a foot fetish?” I mumbled. I leaned in for a closer look. It took me only a second to know that what I was looking at wasn’t right.

“This isn’t a human bite,” I said to Dr. Muthupalaniappan.

“Of course not. What human would do such a thing? I thought you suspected a vampire.”

“Yeah, but they start as human. They still are, just undead ones who subsist on blood, so fangs aside, the dentations should be human.”

The good doctor grabbed a magnifying glass from an instrument tray and shouldered me aside. He hummed a single note as he poked, probed, and examined the wounds.

“Where were the others bitten?” I said.

“Two neck, one femoral artery, one ankle,” said Dr. Muthupalaniappan. “I assumed there would be some non-human deformation for vampire bites. I have, as you might imagine, scant experience with this manner of homicide. But ... if not vampire, this is some manner of dog bite.”

Baker looked at me, the poster boy for miserable. “A dog bite?”

“Some manner of, yes,” Muthupalaniappan said, “but the canines are in a strange formation.” He popped a collapsible metal pointer from white lab coat, extended the tip and inserted it into one of the bites. He pressed it in, then marking the depth with his thumbnail, pulled it out. It sounded wet. My stomach fluttered.

“Two inches deep. That is one heck of a dog, yessiree.”

“But it’s not a dog, is it?” Baker said.

“Two-thirds of her blood missing?” I said. “Not a dog.”

Friday, January 16, 2009

Hey, Kids, What Time Is It? It's Capes, Cowls & Costumes Friday!!!

For this week's Capes, Cowls & Costumes, I asked some of my media tie-in colleagues which superhero they would like to novelize if given their choice.

Check out what they had to say over on!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Warp Factor 7, Mr. Sulu!

I get to play in all sorts of cool creative sandboxes. I've just finished a short story featuring Lee Falk's Phantom and a Scooby Doo comic book script, am currently working on a Batman story book for young reluctant readers (with another one, starring Wonder Woman, waiting in the wings), after which I will hope immediately onto a comic book script for a Bart Simpson story. At the same time, I'll be pondering ideas for Captain Action (revived 1960s action figure with a tie-in comic book).

One sandbox I'd dabbled in years ago was Star Trek, when DC had the license to do the comic book and I wrote a couple of fill-in issues. I was never a major ST fan; I watched the original run of the series in the 1960s and occasional reruns and you can count on two hands the number of episodes of later spin-off series and movies I've seen, and I had no Trek stories I was burning to tell. But my friend Keith DeCandido was editor of, among other things, an ebook series he had co-created with John Ordover for Pocket Books, Star Trek: Starfleet Corps of Engineers, about the engineers and crew of the da Vinci, and mnetioned he was buying. With some help from my friend and ST expert Bob Greenberger (I came up with an idea, he helped me "Trek" it up, pimped my plot Kirk-style, if you will; I myself would have no idea whatsoever what a "Dominion War" is).

What you need to know: the da Vinci is sent to clear some debris from a newly opened sector of space but, as with all things in fiction, even on this routine mission, something goes terribly wrong, but it all starts with a sudden downturn in everybody's luck.

© Paramount Pictures

chapter three

Patty hauled herself into the shuttlecraft’s co-pilot seat next to Soloman and, as it conformed itself to her insectoid body, buckled herself in.

“I have completed the checklist on the external sensor arrays,” she said. “Primary and back-up systems are running, all data-streams feeding to the da Vinci’s mainframe.”

“I’m ready here,” Soloman said, keying his communicator. “Shuttlecraft Franklin to shuttle control officer, we’re set for bay doors open.”

“Roger, Franklin,” came the reply. “Doors opening. Have a safe trip.”

Patty clicked and buzzed with excitement as Soloman piloted the shuttle through the force field that held the vacuum of space at bay. “Some of these ships,” she said, “are remarkable. One would need a lifetime to adequately investigate even a few of them.”

“And we have,” Soloman said with a glance at the time on the console, “less than ten hours to make a sweep of the first half dozen before they start blasting them to smithereens.”

The Franklin drifted from the bay and Soloman lit the thrusters. The da Vinci had settled into a stationary position less than a thousand kilometers from the edge of the debris field, a thin layer of wreckage and dismembered parts from countless vessels that swarmed around the conglomeration of derelict ships like the sargassum that covered the surface of the sector’s earthly namesake.

Patty clicked in regret. “Yes, it’s a pity,” she said. “Some will need to be destroyed to clear the way through the sector, but we’ll try to move those we safely can. Either way, we can’t risk doing anything to these ships until we’ve run an analysis on each and every one we propose to tamper with in order to determine the safety of such a move. At any rate, we’ve known from the start that our mission was to be as much about demolition as hard science.”

“I understand,” Soloman said, setting course for the closest of the derelict ships, a massive dark structure of many facets, an ill-defined smudge that blocked the stars. “A convoy of colonization ships are on course to pass right through the Sargasso Sector and the very conditions that hold these ships block any easy alternate route, preventing the convoy from altering course to go around the obstruction. But that doesn’t mean I have to like the situation. These ships are an invaluable scientific and cultural find. To destroy so many without proper study merely to clear the way for navigation...well, it just feels wrong.”

“I’m sure you won’t find any on board or in Starfleet who disagree with you,” Patty said. “But this colony’s been in the planning stages since the end of the Dominion War, almost two years ago. Those cargo ships are good for barely warp four for six or seven hours at a stretch. If they tried going around the Sargasso Sector, it would add nearly a year to the voyage, time their resources and changing conditions in their destination system don’t give them. Like it or not, they will be passing through this system in less than one month and there better be a clear path for them to take.”

The Bynar nodded and said, “Yes. We destroy them reluctantly.” He looked at Patty with sad eyes, “That doesn’t make them any less gone.”

“No,” Patty agreed and the two crewmates traveled several hundred klicks in silence. Finally, in an effort to lighten the mood, the Nasat said, “By the way, I enjoyed your jest on Tev. Last I saw him, his fringe was still ruffled trying to work out your theory on chance.”

“Well,” Soloman said modestly. “Sometimes it’s hard to resist the temptation to throw the stumbling block of confusion in his usually cocksure path.”

“A clever simplification that makes just enough sense to be irrefutable. Sensor arrays are coming on line now,” Patty said suddenly.

The view from the Franklin’s window was blocked by the looming blot of the black ship. Soloman deftly worked the controls. “Holding steady at optimum sensor range,” he said. “Scanning for a computer core. Yes, it is a simplification, but once I said it, I started to wonder if it was in fact nonsense.”

Patty cast Soloman a skeptical look. “I have many more legs than Tev. It is far more difficult to make me stumble.”

“No, I am serious. Take the example of a flat two-faced object, such as a Ferengi betting coin. Chance says that in any given set of tosses, the coin will come up heads or tails in statistically equal numbers. It’s either/or, therefore fifty-fifty.”

Patty said, “But that’s the case only in very simple systems. In the case of a poker game and the drawing of a specific card, there are not two choices involved, there are fifty-two, therefore increasing substantially the odds against drawing the necessary card.”

“Ah, but the choice isn’t between picking the hypothetical ace of diamonds against any other specific card in the deck. In any individual example of drawing a card, it comes down to yes, you will draw the ace, or no, you won’t draw the ace.”

Patty waved four of her eight legs at Soloman and turned her attention to her sensors. “I think you’re playing with me,” she said.

“Believe what you will,” Soloman said, but the Nasat was fairly certain she saw the whisper of a smile on his lips as he said it.

# # #

Commander Mor glasch Tev sat at the tactical station on the da Vinci’s bridge, looking as sharp as a Starfleet recruiting poster. Fabian Stevens wouldn’t swear to it, but from the way the Tellarite was briskly keying his way through the weapons system checklist and snapping out comments and commands to engineering, Tev just might have been having fun. The reason Stevens wouldn’t swear this to be fact was that he didn’t think he had ever seen Tev having fun before and therefore didn’t know that he would recognize the phenomenon were he to actually witness it.

Nonetheless, ten hours before the demo was scheduled to commence the commander was on station, checking systems that Fabian had, in fact, checked an hour earlier when coming on duty. And which would be checked again, later in the day, when the beta shift tact officer relieved him. If that wasn’t a party, what was?

“Everything in order, commander?” Stevens inquired.

“Seems to be,” Tev muttered, distracted by information he was studying on one of the displays. “Has the targeting analysis been completed yet?”

“Yes. We’ve located an isolated pocket of derelicts that appear to be inert where we can start. No life, energy, or radiation signals from any of them,” Stevens said. “Six of the ships were giving off anomalous readings, which is probably some sort of ambient energy signature, but we’ve sent Soloman and Patty aboard the Franklin to take a closer look before we commit.”

Tev nodded. He tapped the keypad, then nodded again at the targeting data scrolling across the screen.

“Odds are,” Stevens said, “they’ll check out just fine.”

Tev’s attention snapped from the console to Fabian. “What did you say, Mr. Stevens?”

Stevens said, “I said I’m sure the ships will check out fine.”

Tev narrowed his eyes. “Mm, yes.” Stevens allowed himself a quick grin as Tev turned his attention back to his work. Got’cha, the crewman thought, pleased with his little dig at the itch Soloman had planted in Tev’s mind.

“Targeting is programmed into the firing system,” Tev announced a few moments later. “I’ll send them to the active buffer as soon as Soloman and Tev clear those last six ships.”

“Do you want me to isolate this console to preserve your settings?” Stevens asked as the commander, his task completed, rose.

Tev pondered the suggestion for a moment. “Yes, why not?”

“Sure,” said Fabian, reclaiming his seat. “Doesn’t pay to take chances, does it?”

Stevens could feel Tev’s stare boring through his skull, heard the little rumble of a question caught deep in the Tellarite’s throat, but pretended as though he was unaware of either and went about his business.

Got’cha again, Fabian Stevens grinned to himself.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Later, Schwartz!

It's exactly one month and a day shy of the fifth anniversary of the death of Julius Schwartz, legendary comic book editor, science fiction agent, bon vivant, and a dear friend. I don't remember exactly when I first met Julie, but I had to have been a kid (I started hanging around the DC offices around 1970, when I was 15) and he was, no doubt, the scariest editor I had ever seen. He was Perry White and when the man growled, his writers and artists jumped. I distinctly remember freezing at the typewriter the first time I wrote anything for him; it must have turned out okay because, years later, I was writing a steady stream of stories for him for Superman, Action Comics, DC Comics Presents, Supergirl and Superboy, and, in his retirement years, on his weekly visits to his Editor Emeritus office on the 6th floor at 1700 Broadway, we became even faster friends. When he died, February 8, 2004, I felt as though I had lost a grandfather. I keep a little reminder of him, on a bookshelf near my desk.

A few months after his death, I started this short story, but I could never quite work out how to get where I wanted with it: Julie Schwartz saves the world from alien invaders. Maybe one day I'll work it out...

© Paul Kupperberg

Late in the afternoon, after his homework was done and his chores completed, 11-year old Julius climbed up the stairs from the third floor tenement apartment he shared with his mother, father, and baby sister to the tar-paper covered roof. In one hand he held a rare treat, an ice-cold nickel bottle of Pepsi-Cola. In the other was an issue of Amazing Stories, a magazine with a shiny, brightly colored cover and thick with coarse, off-white pulp pages. The moment he had seen the magazine with its painting of a monstrous serpent-necked sea creature about to swamp the crude raft on which were perched three frightened men in his friend Charlie’s hands, he knew he had to have it. It was so different from the books and magazines he usually read, the sporting adventures of brothers Dick and Frank Merriwell, the detective stories about Nick Carter, the light-hearted fantasy and fairy tales of the Blue Fairy books he borrowed from the hushed stacks of the New York Public Library, something utterly irresistible.

He pushed open the rooftop door on its squeaking hinges and stepped into the warm, late spring air, just as quickly closing it behind him. It had cost Julius two Merriwell boys and one Nick Carter book for this new prize, but he felt it was going to be worth it. Besides, he had read those books, cover to cover, numerous times. He already knew how Dick and Frank won the big game, how Nick Carter tricked the murderer into confessing to his crime. The sea monster, on the other hand, was something altogether new. Where had it come from? Who were these men? And, there, in the lower right hand corner of the illustration, was that the head of a giant turtle poking up out of the water? What was going on here?

He had made the trade, haggling with Charlie for almost half an hour before the other boy relented, then begged off the game of stickball that was forming outside the building on Caldwell Avenue. He couldn’t wait to get up here, to the roof, to his special, private place where he could always find the peace and quiet to read and open the brilliant red and blue cover of this special magazine and dive into the secrets its stories would reveal to him.

Amazing Stories, it said, in large white letters that splashed dramatically across the background red sky. June, 1926. 25 Cents. A whole quarter for a magazine! Imagine that. He could buy so much for so large a sum, penny candy enough to feed the entire block! An entire day at the movie theater...five trips to anywhere in the whole city, the Bronx, Manhattan, all the way into Brooklyn even, on the trolley or the subway!

And, here, just under the title, in small, neat type, these mysterious words:

Hugo Gernsback

Julius didn’t know who Hugo Gernsback was, nor what an “editor” was. Maybe the person who owned the magazine? He knew what an author was. They were the people who wrote the stories, for which their names were displayed on the cover, like Burt L. Standish, who wrote the Merriwell boys stories. Like there, on the magazine’s lower right corner, “Stories by H.G. Welles, Jules Verne, Ellis Parker Butler.” He had seen books by these names in the library. But “editor.” That was new to him. Maybe papa would be able to explain it, or he would look it up in the dictionary at school tomorrow. Whatever it was, he was sure it had to be important to warrant so prominent a position.

Julius settled on the overturned wooden cheese crate that served as his seat up here in his quiet retreat, his back against the brick chimney stack. He set the Pepsi carefully on the ground, then, wiping the moisture on his hand from the bottle on his trousers, opened the cover of Amazing Stories. The stories were all listed on the contents page, all featuring titles that were, as promised, amazing: “A Trip to the Center of the Earth,” “The Coming of the Ice,” “The Scientific Adventures of Mr. Fosdick: Mr. Fosdick Invents the ‘Seidlitzmobile’,” “The Star,” “Whispering Ether,” “An Experiment in Gyro-Hats,” “The Malignant Entity,” “Doctor Hackensaw's Secrets: Some Minor Inventions,” and “The Runaway Skyscraper.”

A runaway skyscraper?

Julius didn’t know what a “Seidlitzmobile” might be, and, frankly, “Gyro-Hats” sounded downright silly, but a runaway in the world could a skyscraper, one of those impossibly tall buildings that filled Manhattan, go anywhere? Blinking rapidly behind the lenses of his wire frame glasses in anticipation, Julius flipped through the pages in search of this intriguing title.

“The Runaway Skyscraper.” By Murray Leinster.

“The whole thing started when the clock on the Metropolitan Tower began to run backwards,” Julius read and, sucking in a deep breath that he only remembered to release a few paragraphs later, he didn’t look up from the pages of Amazing Stories until he had read through that remarkable story. Twice.