Near Misses: Part 1
First in a short series of times I almost hit the target
© 2017 Glen Cadigan
Originally posted on Facebook from June 7-9, 2017
Pencils by Francis Manapul, inks by John Livesay, and colors by Brian Buccellato.
Sometimes in publishing, jobs just don't come together for one reason or another. This is the story of one time it happened to me, and I believe that enough time has passed to allow it to be told with some historical perspective.
Back in 2007, Jim Shooter was hired to return to write the Legion of Super-Heroes. This was during the three-boot version that had been launched by Mark Waid and Barry Kitson two years earlier, and his first issue was #37. The artist was Francis Manapul, who was also a part of the creative relaunch. Waid and Kitson had left the series with #30; #'s 32-36 were written by Tony Bedard and drawn by Dennis Calero, with #31 (the prologue to the storyline, "The Quest For Cosmic Boy") written by Bedard and drawn by Kevin Sharpe. I'm pretty sure that Bedard was just filling in until DC was ready for Shooter's run to begin, but I'm willing to be corrected on that point if anyone out there knows something that I don't. (Update: Confirmed by Tony Bedard himself; see footnote below.)
Before anything was written or drawn, Shooter delivered a 16 issue plot outline that explained what he had in mind for the series. It was over 16,000 words long, and you can read it on his blog if you follow the link. I don't know if he had the job before he wrote the plot or if the plot got him the job, but with the Legion's 50th anniversary on the horizon in 2008, having one of the most celebrated authors in the series' history return was, at the very least, a good PR move. People were excited about Jim Shooter returning to the Legion! (Update: According to Jim himself, "Dan Didio and Mike Marts recruited me to write the LSH. I decided to start with an epic. I came up with the 16-parter, proposed it and they liked it.")
Issues #'s 37-40 were drawn by Francis Manapul, as were #'s 42-43, 45-46, & 48-49; Aaron Lopresti filled in on #41, #44 was by Sanford Greene, and #47 was by Rick Leonardi. After the first two fill-in issues, two more were ordered to buy Manapul some time. The first was # 47 (Leonardi's issue), and the second would have come at some point past #50, and it would've featured the wedding of Dream Girl (who was then deceased) and Brainiac 5.
The need for fill-in issues is understandable; these things are done all the time to allow an artist to catch up. But why marry B5 and DG? And what does any of this have to do with me?
Pencils by Francis Manapul, inks by John Livesay, and colors by J.D. Smith.
On April 7, 2008, I received an email from Jim Shooter on this very topic. I had interviewed him in the past for The Legion Companion, so he knew who I was and he'd seen my work. Still, I wasn't his first choice. That was former editor of The Legion Outpost, Harry Broertjes, who had tracked him down in Pittsburgh during that period in the '70s when he was out of comics and interviewed Shooter for the fanzine. They became friends then (and are still friends today), and Harry recommended me for the job. For the record, I am also friendly with Harry, even though we've only met each other face-to-face once. Full disclosure: we still exchange Christmas cards every year!
On the left: the author of this article. On the right: Harry Broertjes, former editor of The Legion Outpost fanzine. The time: 2006, two years before the events in this article take place. The location: San Diego, at that year's Comic-Con International. The photographer: Lorraine Broertjes, who may or may not be related to Harry.
What was that job? Helping him with logistics on the wedding issue. But still, why the wedding? From that original email:
"During his run on the LSH, Mark Waid had Dream Girl predict that she and Brainiac 5 would be married. Her predictions are, of course, infallible. Then, in a subsequent issue, Waid killed off Dream Girl. The spirit of Dream Girl then began to appear to B-5 in dreams. Hmmm.
"To fulfill the prophecy, in issue # 52 of the Legion of Super-Heroes, there is going to be a wedding. Plot and set-up script attached.
"There will be a FOUR-PAGE SPREAD of the wedding scene, showing a plethora of guests. The Legionnaires will all be 'there' -- all having a shared dream of the event, actually. The rest of the guest list is in play. My plan is to include a lot of people, fictional and real. The main criterion for the real ones is that they be dead -- to eliminate any squawking or squabbling from live Legion-associated people."
Imagine you're me and you find this in your inbox. I'm gonna be working with Jim Shooter — on the Legion, no less! Of course, I said yes. In fact, this is what I said exactly:
"Sure, I can help you come up with a list. There aren't as many dead Legion creators as you might think, and the only one I've never seen a photo of before is George Papp, so it shouldn't be that hard. What did you have in mind re: the fictional characters? Supporting characters from this incarnation of the Legion, or supporting characters from every incarnation of the Legion? Or are we even bound by the Legion?"
Before we go any further, a few points: 1) as said earlier, the wedding issue was to run after #50, that's why he said #52, 2) the attached plot and script were for #47, the set-up issue, and the latter contains notes to Rick Leonardi (you can actually read it on www.jimshooter.com; it's one of the scripts on his downloads page), so he knew who was going to be drawing it in advance, 3) the plot for part two, the wedding itself, was included along with the plot for part one, so they were submitted at the same time, and 4) FOUR-PAGE SPREAD!
Why a FOUR-PAGE SPREAD? It was explained to me like this: back in the '60s, Sternako did it in S.H.I.E.L.D.. It requires putting two copies side-by-side, opened to the relevant pages. If you didn't want to buy an extra copy, then I guess you had to flip the pages back-and-forth really fast.
Jim Steranko's four page spread from Strange Tales # 167.
That's a lot of characters! He replied to my reply with some spitballing of names and reasons for their inclusion. They included important people in the history of comics, like DC founder Major Wheeler-Nicholson, Jack Kirby, Russ Manning, and Siegel & Shuster. He also wanted LSH fan Rich Morrisey to be there, and Jim's father, too. Quote, "He has a right. He created the name for 'Otto Orion,' the Hunter."
As far as fictional characters went, he was "...wide open." People from the Legion universe, of course, and maybe some discreetly included characters from the competition. Magnus and Solar were also mentioned, Magnus more so than Solar. It was the sort of thing that artists always used to do in crowd shots, and fans got a kick out of it when it happened. (Tars Tarkas at the wedding of Bouncing Boy & Duo Damsel in Superboy # 200 is a good example of that).
Keep in mind, because Dream Girl was dead, the wedding would have to be to her spirit, and need to take place in "Dreamland," which I guess is pretty self-explanatory. Brainiac 5 was already having visions of her in his dreams, and in order for the Legion to attend, everyone would have to fall asleep together. Maybe B5 would have to come up with some sort of contraption so that everyone would have the same dream; the details weren't discussed.
I had a lot of ideas as to who would attend such a wedding, and I wrote him a really long email about it. I also disagreed that only dead creators should be in attendance, and pointed out that Paul Levitz and Mike Grell were present for the wedding of Lightning Lad & Saturn Girl in the Legion tabloid, so a precedent had been set. Also, the Legion takes place a thousand years from now, and by that point, we'll all be dead, anyway.
And I waited. And I waited. And I waited. I was very excited, and the days dragged on...
The wedding of Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl from the DC treasury featuring Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes. Paul Levitz is on the left, Mike Grell is on the right. Pencils by Grell, inks by Vince Colleta.
Okay, it was only five days, but our previous emails had been of the "next day" variety, so I dropped Jim Shooter a short note on April 14th, just to make certain that it got through. Five minutes later (both literally and exactly), I received a reply that said he'd gotten it and he'd "...been overwhelmed by the current spate of disasters. You'll hear from me soon."
Not a big deal, I thought, so I let him know and waited for a longer response at a later date. On April 21st, it came:
DC fired me today, so if they go ahead with the wedding at all, someone else will be writing it.
Thanks anyway, for the help.
Gobsmacked is a word that isn't used enough. I went from finally getting my name in a Legion comic and working with Jim Shooter to nothing at all. I also don't remember which issue was on the stands at that point, but #39 is cover-dated April, so judge accordingly (my guess is #40). His run had just started, and now it was over! Also, this wasn't public knowledge for a very long time. There would later be rumors online that he'd been let go, only they weren't rumors to me.
I emailed him back to express my shock and ask him what his last issue would be. He guessed #48, but he wasn't sure. As it turned out, it would be #49.
That was the last I heard from him until the following year. In between, the Legion was cancelled with #50, written by "Justin Thyme," an anonymous person at DC who had to wrap everything up in one regular-sized issue. There was no wedding. I reached out again, thinking I might tell people about the FOUR-PAGE SPREAD, since that hadn't been disclosed yet and if I didn't, I thought no one would ever know about it. I assumed that the wedding would've been #50, since it was a big event, and he set me straight on that score.
Pencils by Francis Manapul, inks by John Livesay, and colors by J.D. Smith.
According to Jim, that was his original idea, too, but his editor pointed out that because it would have a guest artist, that would mean that #50 would not be drawn by Francis, and everyone agreed that was a bad idea. So the wedding was scheduled for a later issue.
In fact, there was more going on than I knew! According to an interview that Shooter did for CBR, there were plans to include a new "Super" character into the series. He wouldn't be called Superboy, though, because there were legal issues surrounding that name at the time. Here's what he said then:
“After delivering the first draft of the 16-issue plot, I was ordered by Dan DiDio to rewrite it – for free – to include the introduction of a young, male Super — note how I’m avoiding using the word ‘Superboy’ — as a Legionnaire. So, I re-crafted the plot to introduce a new scion of the House of El, Super Lad,” offered Shooter. “Francis and I spent a good deal of unpaid time doing design work. But, ultimately, DiDio and DC decided they didn’t want or need a new Super, and I was told to excise the character."
That's straight from CBR. This is important because it affects timing. If the wedding couldn't be in #50, then what could? Shooter suggested the introduction of the Super character instead. But he wasn't 100% behind that idea, either. Also, there was the storyline of the war with the ADs to wrap up. Here was his thinking on #50, as expressed to his editor, and later shared with me in an email:
"It would have been more convenient for me to have the end of the war against the ADs fall in issue #50, the intro of Super Lad in issue #51 and the wedding in #52. However, the only big event that would fall in #50 besides the big victory over the ADs would be the return of Cosmic Boy. Big enough? Dunno. We could also do the public announcement of the wedding that issue (it's secret till then).
"If you decide to go with #47 and #51 as the wedding fill-ins and #50 as the intro of Super Lad, then I have a request: would it be possible to have extra pages of story for #49 -- as many as possible (30 story pages would be a dream come true). That way, the end of the AD war wouldn't be too compressed.
"OR... if #50, the intro of Super Lad was a double-sized issue, I'd have space to do both the spectacular end of the war and the intro of Super Lad. I guess that would be my first choice!"
He was told that it would be easier to have #50 expanded to 30 pages than #49, so that's what they'd shoot for. Nothing was written in stone at that point. (Shooter was later told that the request to expand #50 had never been approved; he disputes this). #50 could have the return of Cosmic Boy, the introduction of Super Lad (as he was then being called), or both. Presumably, the war would end in that issue, too. After that would come the wedding issue — or in #52, if the introduction of Super Lad had to be pushed back to #51 because there was too much going on in #50.
Super Lad design sketches, from Jim Shooter's blog.
So what happened? According to Shooter, it went down like this:
"Around when I was finishing the script for #48, which would be shortly after the NY Comic Con that year, they fired me for complaining too much and too enthusiastically (all in-house, only to DC people) about a number of really egregious screw ups on their part which seriously impacted the book. And me. #48, if I delivered it expeditiously, was to be my last."
That's in an email to me. He went on to say, "I asked if I could finish the story, which was supposed to go through #54. Eventually, Mike Marts suggested a 'compromise' -- I could write #49 and #50 and then 'we'll see.' So I was on Double Secret Probation."
Well, we all know that didn't work out. He wrote #49 and a 30 page version of #50, which was then rewritten by "Justin Thyme," who had to cut it down to 22 pages and put all the pieces (minus Super Lad and the wedding) together for the finale of the AD war. With that, the book was cancelled. It wasn't even extra-sized, and Ramon Bachs drew it so that Francis Manapul could get a head start on Flash. It was a pretty anti-climatic way to end the series.
So what went wrong? According to Shooter, (again, in an email to me):
"Changing a story from 30 pages to 22 is a complete rewrite, the way I write, anyway. Can't just cut out eight pages from a story that's tightly woven. It's like building a battleship and at the last minute being told to cut it down to a destroyer. Besides, writing 52 pages, only to be paid for 22, offends me.
"So I quit.
"I had nothing to do with #50. The storyline had evolved enough from my original 16-issue plot, delivered a year-and-a-half earlier (over 16,000 words, BTW), that no one but me could have written anything close to my intent. Haven't read #50 and probably never will.
"That's what happened."
And that's how the story ends. No Super Lad, no wedding, no cameos, no credit for me! My opportunity was gone almost as fast as it came!
Shooter believes the book was cancelled to get rid of him. I believe the book was cancelled to get rid of that version of the Legion, since the original Legion was already turning up in the mainstream DC books and we could all sense which way the wind was blowing. The way I see it, an opportunity presented itself to kill two birds with one stone, and DC took it.
Let me be clear: I'm not pointing any fingers at anyone, or casting any blame. I'm just reporting what happened, not unlike the interview work I did for The Legion Companion, although this time I was (kinda) sorta involved. I thought that people might enjoy my insider's take on events, even if I was only an insider for two weeks! Imagine it was you, and that'll give you some idea of I what I felt like every step of the way.
In the end, I don't know who the artist was that would've drawn the FOUR-PAGE SPREAD, and I don't think that we can assume it was Rick Leonardi just because he drew the first part of the story. It'd be a pretty good guess, and if I had to put money down, his is the name that I'd choose, but it's not a lock that it was him.
Pity that poor artist! The finished product would've been legendary, but the effort required to produce it... let's just say that there may've been another person out there cursing Jim Shooter's name!
This story has been my version of events, from my perspective. I like to think of it as a Batman story told from Robin's POV. Hopefully, there was enough here to make it worth the telling!
Jim Shooter at the 2008 Big Apple Convention in November, months after the events described in this article happened. Photo taken by Luigi Novi. © Luigi Novi / Wikimedia Commons
Footnote # 1: Tony Bedard clarified his role on the Legion, pre-Shooter, in a response to my initial Facebook post: "Yep, I was filling in. And I was more than happy to. LoSH has long been one of my favorite DC properties. Also, Shooter remains one of my favorite writers. I had the pleasure of working for him briefly at Broadway Comics and he treated me wonderfully. I wish his run on LoSH that you're referring to had gone better[.]"
Footnote # 2: Jim Shooter's plot for the wedding issue can be read here, along with that of the issue (#47) that sets it up.