Friday, May 19, 2017

Interview with J.M. DeMatteis! On his Marvel & DC hits, his latest at IDW, and more!


I just wrote a feature on J.M.'s first superhero work in the post before.
Here's the questions John Marc DeMatteis graciously OK’d:
Cecil
1. I think one of your thematic abilities involves discovering a character that might have been, alternative takes of who they might have been, when corporate trademarks were editorially guided to be written “a certain way.” “Going Sane” is a story that became a Batman/ Joker story before it became the essence of “Kraven’s Last Hunt,” which then transformed once more essentially into “Going Sane”: your favorite mainstream superhero story.
J.M.
Stories, like people, have a natural growth curve and we have to honor that as writers. That story led me from Batman to Spider-Man and back again (with some other twists along the way). Since “Going Sane” and “KLH” are two of the best superhero stories I’ve written, I’m glad I had the sense, and patience, to let them guide me along, instead of trying to control them.

2. Tell me about another one of those kinds of discoveries that started on one character, and found its way to another:
Your Life and Times of Savior 28- your favorite superhero story- began as an aborted story arc leading to Cap #300. I know you’re glad with how things turned out anyway for the story- so poignantly built with 9/11 amidst its plot.
Scooby Doo Apocalypse, with Keith Giffen and Howard Porter

J.M.
Savior 28 did indeed begin life as a Captain America story, one that, I think, would have been revolutionary for its day. But the Powers That Be said no and I crept off into my little corner and sulked for a while. But the story wouldn’t let go and I continued to play with it, rework and rebuild it, for something like twenty five years. By the time I pitched to IDW, with my friend Mike Cavallaro attached as artist, it had evolved into what I think is a far better story. By creating a new universe for the story, as opposed to placing it in the Marvel or DC universes, I was able to tell the story with complete freedom. Also, the changes in the world conspired to make it a better story, as well.

Come to think of it, I’d like to see what Savior 28 would make of Donald Trump!

And, yes, I think this is the single best superhero story I’ve ever done…and one of my all-time favorite projects. I’m very proud of it. Happy, too, that Mike Cavallaro and I will be doing a new project for IDW this year. Not related to S-28, but I think it will be a lot of fun.


Cecil:
(I also love that you wrote the first two Batman/ Spider-Man team-ups.) But for company boundaries, Spider-Man – what kind of Leaguer you think he might’ve made for a four, five issue arc? Ooo, around #41-44.
J.M.
Given his sense of humor, I think Spidey would have fit right in with our League. He’d have a blast with Beetle and Booster.

3. What was your source of Blue Beetle’s voice? (My money’s on “you at 23-27 or so” :-D)
He’s a comedy character masterpiece.
J.M.
My source was him. The goal for me is to get the characters talking and then follow their voices. That said, I think all of the League banter was influenced by my life growing up in Brooklyn; especially a gang of friends I hung out with in my late teens/early twenties.

4. Was Despero’s attack one of your favorite stories? Ooops, I meant the first one, but it must’ve been one of Keith’s at least, because by Breakdowns, guess who was back in town?
J.M.
That Despero story is a favorite of many people. I think the fact that the seriousness, and the scale, of the story created a stark contrast with the lighthearted nature of the book. I have to admit that part of me viewed that story as a satire on the “grim ’n’ gritty” stories that were so popular back them (including my own work!). This interior monologues—“I am Despero, I am death”—were a slightly tongue-in-cheek riff on Kraven’s Last Hunt. At the same time, the story worked as a straight adventure and I always loved the ending, where J’onn, making a huge sacrifice, telepathically convinces Despero that he’s won.

5. What was it that made Mercy so different than most comics offerings of the time?
J.M.
You’d have to answer that. For me it was a continuation of what I’d begun with creator-owned projects like Moonshadow, and Blood. A way for me to express my thoughts/feelings about (to steal a phrase) life, the universe and everything.

6. I’m sure what you learned from Rod Serling could inform an entire interview.
His work is there, but today, someone could come learn straight from you! October features another of your workshops.

If I were new to Twilight Zone, got any favorites, and how might an Imagination 101 workshop aid in people who envision TV and film scripts. I mean, you build towards the best medium available, but it’s always down to “tell one good story.”
J.M.
You just answered your own question! The forms are different, and each form has specific requirements (no matter what anyone says, there’s a vast difference between writing a comic book script and writing a movie or television script), but, once you master those forms, the story is king. And the essence of story—the big themes, the involving characters, the deep emotions—remains the same, no matter what form you express it in.

As for favorite Twilight Zone episodes, there are too many to list, but a few favorites are “A Stop at Willoughby,” “Walking Distance,” “Nightmare at 20000 Feet,” “Time Enough At Last,” “A World of Difference” and so many, many more.

7. A Spider-Man Q: A character that works well in stories with very personal stakes- the kind to which a reader could relate. Did you in the mid-90’s ever foresee it possible that fans might be happy with single Ben and Pete and MJ with child? When they lost the baby, my wife was so disappointed- and when they dumped MJ after you were gone to other things, she dumped collecting Spider-Man.
J.M.
The plan, from the beginning, was for Ben to become the one true Spider-Man (and all the books to be rebooted with new #1s). Peter and MJ would go off to raise their child and live happily ever after. We could have periodically visited Peter and MJ while building a whole new Spiderverse with Ben. The Powers That Be had other ideas, but I’m happy to hear that Ben is back and getting his own book.

8. We Loved Augusta Wind : The Last Story #1! The recapped history fits a clear introduction of the characters as they prepare for their new peril together, and it’s witty, imaginative. What’s something to look for among the Fallers?
J.M.
Well, all the issues are out now—and the Last Story collected edition will be out in April—so I don’t want to give away specifics. I’d like people to enjoy the book on its own terms. What I will say is that I consider the entire Augusta Wind sagas to be one of the very best things I’ve ever done. Every once in a while a story comes along that really allows me to really get to the core of my beliefs, my views about (and here’s that phrase again) life, the universe and everything, and express them in what is, I hope, a big, cosmic, engaging adventure. I’m so happy with the way this series turned out and I hope that people seek it out. The art alone, by the great Vassilis Gogtzilas, is worth the price of admission.

9. Was The Last Story was planned as a sequel alongside the genesis of the 2013 series?
J.M.
Yes. The first series was meant to be part one. We structured it so that you would get a complete adventure in those five issues, but I knew that there was much more to tell.

10. What’s it like when you’re asked an on-the-nose question that touches on something you can’t talk about, but is, in fact, deeply exciting in its unsettled possibilities? That just happened to me with some Luke Cage questions for Sanford Greene. He laughed and admitted he had a lot of “no comments”- which are exciting in themselves, because cool things are happening.
J.M.
No comment. : )

An aside: I loved Luke in Steve Gerber’s Defenders: I wish he and Red Guardian could’ve teamed-up at least once more in NYC, they were cool together!


11. Your 1997 pop rock album How Many Lifetimes is a great listen. How might your visit to India this November generate material, energy, and perspectives that will go into your double album return to the studio?
J.M.
Sadly, we weren’t able to make it to India in November: a personal situation came up that prevented it. I’m hoping that we can return there sooner than later as I love India and was really looking forward to meeting the fans, as well as making a personal pilgrimage to Avatar Meher Baba’s Tomb-Shrine.

As for that double album…I’ve got so many songs ready to go, I just need to find the time, the money and the right musicians so I can bring the next album to life in exactly the right way.

Cecil (regarding Justice League)
One new thing I’ll take to it: the idea that, at some point, Batman knows how the role goes, and he’s playing the straight man in his undistracted-from-the-case manner, but he’s filling out the scene with things like “Zip it, Beetle!” instead of laughing- yet he appreciates where the humor comes from in his own way. He acknowledges inside when Beetle’s got a good one, even if it’s one more thought to be put aside in his Zen-like manner. He also relies on the way the team mates think and what they know in a terrific fashion. With Beetle, he knows it’s good to have along someone thinking outside the box: they may have a valuable insight born of that tendency.
J.M.
My feeling is that Batman was always in on the joke. He loved being with those crazies, although he’d never come out and admit it.

Cecil:
I wondered if there could be anything like your very favorite Justice League story arcs, from your late 80s-early 90s team, but I could see you enjoying each step in its evolution in wholly satisfying, changing ways. Until it was time to let it be a while- let other creative opportunities happen.
J.M.
I did enjoy the entire evolution, but there are, naturally, favorites. “Moving Day,” the JLE in night school, Justice League Antarctica, Koeey-Kooey-Kooey, all the Guy and Ice relationship stories, “Aliens Night Out” (if that’s the correct name), anything with G’nort in it. Lots more. The less superhero action, the more character-oriented, the more I loved the stories.

Cecil
By the time you did the Deathlok issues, did you have the kernel of your run to Cap #300 in mind – the one that was vetoed, but became Savior 28 in another era?
J.M.
The Cap story started to form right after the Deathlok story; right when Paul Neary came on the book. It started subtly, then led me on and became something of an epic which, as you know, was truncated in the end.

Cecil:
What’s your favorite issue of Man-Thing?
J.M.
I loved the whole series, and working with the amazing Liam Sharp (who’s getting such well-deserved praised for his work on Wonder Woman), but my favorite story was the two-parter that featured Sub-Mariner and the journey back in time to ancient Atlantis. I think we blew the roof off with that one. And the art? Astounding!


Cecil: Spider-Man questions: which do you personally prefer, Kraven’s Last Hunt, or your Spectacular Spider-Man issues with Harry Osborn? I would say your Harry stories were inspired by your favorite and first Spidey comic, ASM #40 (right?) in a big way! I think I”ve found a deeper question, though.
J.M.
Much as I love KLH, that run of Harry stories in Spectacular Spider-Man forms what I think is my best run with the character. Spec #200, with Harry’s death, may be my single favorite Spidey story. (Sal Buscema, one of the greatest superhero artists of all time, knocked it out of the park with that one.) The multi-part “Child Within” is another high-point. But I’d love to see that entire Spec run finally collected. I don’t know what Marvel’s waiting for! And, yes, I’m very fond of Amazing #400—as well as Spider-Man: The Lost Years. I love Ben Reilly, as you surely know.

Cecil:

While J.M. wants readers to enjoy Augusta Wind: The Last Story, released since last fall as a five-issue series by IDW Publishing, it’s such a unique undertaking, and so reflective of its author’s philosophy about storytelling and our future, Outright Geekery feels it deserves mention.
Why Augusta Wind? A lot of novel and impressive archetypes are identified along the way, anthropomorphized in the twisted fairy tale cartoon style of Vassili Gotzillas. Snabbit may turn out to be a reflection of the Creator His/Her Self. Mrs. Plumpkin’s ominous house and yard beside the Valley of the Fallers (from Nightmare) may hold the secret of the Omniphant, whose purpose creates the final peril that makes this The Last Story.

The adventure’s told in insightful details, such as: children LOVE nightmares, they enjoy being scared. But Fallers are people who fell in their nightmares and became trapped in the Valley. Some have climbed out, says Mrs. Plumpkin in #1: “many of those became writers.” Insights move the concepts along, unveiling themselves in each conversation and twist of the plot!

Augusta’s brave struggle to protect her friends and all the stories ever created provides an accessible mode of reconsidering the very nature of the stories we tell. But kids of all ages can follow some part- the visuals carry along a surprisingly clear but evocative story that children can enjoy and follow, but any level of reader could find things rarely, if ever, spoken.
The word play, reflected in the punny names, provides wit and whimsy, and you should really check it out!

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