Friday, September 11, 2009

Bet Somebody There'll Know the %#*&in' Brooklyn Alphabt

Have I mentioned that I'll be at the Brooklyn Book Festival this Sunday, September 13 at the Moonstone Publishing booth, starting at around noon? And that I'll be signing copies of Captain Action and anything else you care to shove under my pen? I'm just being rhetorical, of course; I know I haven't. But now I have, so if you're in the Borough Hall area and like books, I hope you'll come around and say hello. As one Brooklynite to another, you know what I mean?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

It's a World of Krypton Afterall...

An introduction I wrote last year for DC's Superman: The World of Krypton trade paperback:

© 2008 DC Comics

Whenever I’m asked about Krypton, the first question I ask is, “Which Krypton?”

There have been a lot of them over the years, one for practically every artist who ever drew Superman. The default image of Krypton for me will always be Wayne Boring’s, the lead artist on Superman for most of the 1950s, the decade in which Krypton received a lot of play in the developing Superman mythology.

Boring’s art had a distinctive and, even for its time, dated look, a very old school, 1930s pulp illustration sensibility. His people were stiff and posed; his Earth-bound cities heavy, buildings looking like they were carved from great slabs of granite that could withstand Superman lifting them by their corners to move out of harm’s way. His Krypton, on the other hand, was sleek and delicate, boasting gleaming, graceful minarets towering over spotless streets filled with streamlined art deco vehicles.

To me, Boring’s art represents the very essence of Krypton, that world of supermen that spawned my favorite comic book character.

But that’s just me.

As I mentioned, every artist brought their own interpretation to the page, particularly Curt Swan, Boring’s 1960s successor as lead Superman artist. And that’s not to forget the contributions of Al Plastino, George Papp, John Forte, and the rest. And, after 1978, film designer John Barry’s Krypton in Superman: The Movie added yet another version to the popular imagination. As did John Byrne’s 1986 Man of Steel miniseries.

I’ve even had the opportunity to put my 2¢ into the ongoing development of Krypton. In fact, my very first assignment for DC Comics in 1975 was writing a ten-page “World of Krypton” story for Superman Family.

I was following in some big footsteps with my little ten-pager, as the stories in this volume illustrate. Since the early 1970s, then-new Superman editor Julie Schwartz had been presenting the semi-regular tales of “The Fabulous World of Krypton: Untold Stories of Superman’s Native Planet” as a back-up feature in Superman. Julie packed “The Fabulous World of Krypton” stories with such luminaries as Dennis O’Neil, Dick Giordano, Cary Bates, Gray Morrow, Gil Kane, Michael Kaluta, Marv Wolfman, Martin Pasko, Dave Cockrum, Dick Dillin, and many others.

Each short, six or eight pages long, took on some aspect of Kryptonian history or culture from the very beginning, as in “A Name Is Born” (Superman #238, June 1972) with the meeting of the aliens Kryp and Tonn – and thank goodness for the future of the universe that two genetically compatible humanoid aliens of the opposite sex just happened to get stranded together on this uninhabited paradise of a planet – to the very end, “The Greatest Green Lantern of All” (Superman #257, October 1972), in which we learn that Green Lantern Tomar-Re used his power ring to keep Krypton from exploding long enough for Jor-El to finish his rocket and send Kal-El, whose destiny the Guardians of the Universe had sensed, to safety.

In between, other stories told ecological or political parables, such as “The Doomsayer” (Superman #236, April 1971) and “And Not A Drop To Drink” (Superman #367, January 1982) or set up small tales that brought Kryptonian history into line with other events in the DC Universe, like “The Last Scoop on Krypton” (Superman #375, September 1982).

The latter was a specialty of E. Nelson Bridwell, Julie Schwartz’s assistant editor and DC’s reigning king of continuity. Nelson liked nothing better than taking a whole heap of events, bits of business and facts from stories and tying them all together into a nice, neat package. Nelson’s knowledge of DC history and continuity – not to mention the Bible and the works of Shakespeare, but that’s neither here nor there – was encyclopedic and he wanted everything to go with everything else.

That first story of mine, “The Stranger,” was notable mostly for being some of the earliest DC work of the late Marshall Rogers (Marshall and I would “team up” for one more story, also Krytpton-related, in the Nightwing and Flamebird feature – the superhero duo of the bottled city of Kandor – I wrote for subsequent issues of Superman Family). My real immersion in the world of Krypton – and the world of Nelson Bridwell – came about two years later when I was asked to script a three-issue run of Showcase, a try-out comic that showcased (get it?!) features to determine if a feature sold well enough to warrant a title of their own. In its day, Showcase had introduced such features as the Flash, Challengers of the Unknown, the Atom, Green Lantern, Adam Strange, and others, running for 93 issues, from 1956 to 1970, before being revived in 1977 for eleven more issues. I wrote the revival’s first three-issue story arc (The New Doom Patrol), followed by a co-writing credit on the epic 100th issue, and then, beginning with Showcase #105, I wrote the next three issue arc, showcasing “The World Of Krypton.”

Unfortunately, the Showcase revival was cut short with #104.

Fortunately, this happened in 1978, the year of Superman: The Movie.

Due to legal entanglements over the Mario Puzo written screenplay, DC could not publish any comics based on the film…but there was nothing stopping them from putting out Superman product based on their own versions of the character. And with that in mind, the Powers-That-Were turned to my left-over and nowhere-to-be-published issues of “World of Krypton,” the life story of Superman’s father (played in the movie by superstar Marlon Brando) all written and drawn (penciled by Howard Chaykin and inked by Murphy Anderson on #1-2 and Frank Chiarmonte on #3), ready and waiting to go.

And that, boys and girls, is how World of Krypton became the very first comic book miniseries.

“My” Krypton was straight out of the stories of the 1950s and 1960s, complete with the fun and goofy elements like the Crystal Mountains, the Flame Forest and, at Nelson’s insistence, such Superman kin as sadistic cousin Cru-El. (Really.) It had all Nelson’s trademark editorial touches, including his adding obscure references, such as Kryptonian words and expressions, to the dialogue that required the addition of footnotes to explain them. But that miniseries, which was kept in print for many years as a black and white paperback compilation published by Tor Books, became, for the time being, the accepted version of Krypton.

One, I’ve been told over the years, many readers considered to be their definitive version as well, just as Wayne Boring’s was mine.

In 1986, John Byrne was handed the task of revitalizing Superman, revamping the character from square one. John opened the landmark Man of Steel miniseries with Krypton’s last moments, offering readers of the new Superman a tantalizing glimpse of a Krypton quite different than what they were used to seeing. His interpretation was a mix of old school comic book science fiction and the frozen wasteland it was portrayed as in Superman: The Movie, taking the cold, sterile Kryptonian environment and extrapolating from that architectural sensibility that a people living in such an environment would themselves be cold and emotionless.

That glimpse brought demands for a deeper look, leading to the second World of Krypton miniseries (1987), scripted by Byrne, with art by Mike Mignola, Rick Bryant and Carlos Garzon. In it, we learn how the deep emotions aroused over human rights for clones once lead Krypton to the brink of civil war and a nuclear blast that destroyed Kandor, causing Kryptonians to turn away from emotion and embrace cold, hard logic so as to avoid a repeat of that great tragedy. And yet, it is ultimately an act of love and personal sacrifice that saves the life of Kal-El, destined to be Krypton’s greatest legacy.

And to readers of that miniseries, the Byrne/Mignola vision was Krypton.

So, what’s yours?

But before you answer, check out the stories in this volume. One of them may contain a vision of Krypton that you never considered before.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Return of...Capes, Cowls & Costumes!

After a long lapse (pardon me for having a hellacious as it can sometimes be), there's a new installment of Capes, Cowls & Costumes my comic book novelization column up at the very fine This time around, I interview comics legend Marv Wolfman (okay, it's really funny calling guys I've know, like forever, "legends," but there you have it) about his role as co-packager/co-editor/writer on the Marvel Novel Series, published by Pocket Books in late-1970s, as well as his comic book tie-in writing since then.

"I didn’t have a great ambition then to write prose, because I didn’t think I’d be good at it," Marv told me. "I was essentially a dialogue writer — comics are mostly dialogue, at least the part the reader is aware of — and was intimidated by prose because I was a reader of Bradbury and others who were so brilliant. But we were young and foolish and agreed to do it so there would be good superhero novels. We hadn’t read any good ones before."

See what else he has to say...