Dick Giordano asked me to meet him for lunch on May 26th, I believe. He picked an Italian place on Madison Avenue near 42nd Street, about halfway between DC and Marvel’s offices.
He had this news: Gerry Conway had quit the project. Okay. Apparently Roy Thomas, however, had expressed interest in scripting the book. Fine, I said, but he’s going to have to start from scratch. First, we needed a new plot.
By the way, the Marvel Comics of the 1980’s site has it wrong. It says that Gerry was “…asked to plot the epic story with Roy Thomas providing the script.” No. Gerry was the intended writer, plot and script. When he bailed out, that’s when his friend Roy stepped up and volunteered to take over.
The purpose of the lunch was to convince me that Roy could save it in the dialogue. No, not even Roy could do that. Think of the plot as a thing meant to be an airplane, but one look told you it had no wings, no landing gear, no engine and no cockpit. What difference does it make if you have a great pilot?
You cannot imagine how bad this plot was. Last night, Tom Breevort commented:
July 21, 2011 11:51 PM
Tom Brevoort said…
Just to confirm at least one point that Jim makes here, absolutely everybody involved on the Marvel side back in the day agreed that the plot that was submitted for the original JLA/AVENGERS book was a mess. I’ve heard the details firsthand from Mark Gruenwald, Tom DeFalco and others over the years, and this is a point that every telling agrees upon. And the specifics that Jim mentions were inevitably among the points that were raised.
Dick got pretty agitated. He told me, words to the effect that it didn’t matter if the story was crap. You put a bunch of characters together, they fight and it sells like hotcakes. Who cares if it’s crap? All of these crossovers are crap.
I said that the ones Len and Chris wrote weren’t crap. I wrote one, and I didn’t think it was crap. They all should be as good as they can be. Foisting crap upon the readers because it will “sell like hotcakes” anyway seemed like dereliction of duty to me.
Again, I heard all about DC’s in-house political squabbles. Some people were furious, some were smugly cackling and many were all over Dick about what should be done and to whom.
To Dick, the way out was for me to let it go. Just approve the damn thing. As a personal favor to him. The implication was that maybe someday I’d need a personal favor….
The jury can feel free to disregard that last sentence as my subjective impression.
My job was to look after our characters and make good comics. I would not, could not agree to approve a plot that violated our characters and sucked.
Lastly, Dick tried to claim fait accompli. Well, oops, so much of this one is done, we might as well just let it go and button up the procedures on the next one.
Nice try. No way.
We parted with Dick still urging me to reconsider.
A few days later I received the letter Dick must have written upon returning to his office, dated May 26th. Here are parts of it, from the Marvel Comics of the 1980’s site:
“The contract stipulates for example, that each company should appoint a staff editor to each project,… In this case, the editors so appointed were Len Wein (Dc) and Mark Gruenwald (Marvel) … When the plot was delivered, you decided to become personally involved (counter to our previous team-up experiences) and forced my involvement at a hands-on editorial level.”
No, the contract designated me as Marvel’s editorial representative. And, even if it didn’t, what a disingenuous assertion! Was he suggesting that if he disagreed with Len, he couldn’t overrule him, or that if Jenette disagreed with either of them that she couldn’t overrule them? Give me a break. Besides, as affirmed by Tom Breevort, Gruenwald agreed with me.
That paragraph of his letter was designed for the audience at large, many of whom wouldn’t see through it at a glance, implying that I was going out of my way to meddle where I had no right to meddle. Does that suggest an evil agenda on my part to you? I think it would to naïve and non-business-savvy people. Dick was already teeing up the anti-Marvel/anti-Shooter PR campaign.
In fact, his whole letter was designed for PR.
“You had some problems with the plot. The motivation for the events was weak.”
Some problems? My problems with the plot were many and deep, not confined to motivations.
“I agreed with you….”
Right. You characterized it as “garbage” and agreed that it was unusable.
“When we thought we had it de-bugged, Len called you with an outline of the changes, to which you responded positively, saving you felt the changes would work.”
Nothing Len told me on the phone indicated that any of the fundamental problems had been addressed. No changes to those issues were proposed. As I said yesterday, I told him plainly to scrap it and start over.
“Len reported that conversation to me with the request from you that a new written plot be submitted.”
It wasn’t a request. It was a demand. Emphatically delivered.
“I thought this request to be logical but largely a formality and ordered George Perez to start drawing before the new plot was typed. In doing so, I had no intention of ignoring your wishes.”
It wasn’t a formality and Len knew it. I clearly, unmistakably demanded a totally rewritten, usable plot. That would entail major changes, affecting what George would eventually draw.
What Len conveyed to Dick, or what Dick chose to make of what Len conveyed, I don’t know. But the fact remains, no approval was given, tacit or otherwise. I specifically refused to allow penciling to begin.
And, personally, I firmly believe Dick had every intention of ignoring my wishes.
“I understand your conversation with Len to be a tacit approval of our modifications and desired only to keep the project moving. I have since apologized to you for this seeming breach of protocol and trust that this unintentional mistake is note one of the reasons for your rejection.”
The reason I rejected the “revised” plot was that it wasn’t any good. Still.
“Yes, there still remain some questions left unanswered in the plot, but no more or less than are left unanswered in most plots.”
Nonsense. I had never seen such a mess.
“More often than not, these questions are resolved while the work is in progress and I’m sure that you’ll agree the levels of skill possessed by George Perez, Roy Thomas, Len Wein, and myself are sufficient to resolve these plot “holes” to everyone’s satisfaction….”
Levels of skill. Yes, the individuals named had skills. But after what I’d seen to that point and heard at our lunch, I firmly believed that Dick had no inclination to produce a quality product. It would have taken a hell of a lot more than resolving “plot holes” anyway.
“Incidentally, I’m sure that you recognize the difficulty in producing a script that is truly wonderful given the extreme limitations inherent in a team-up venture of this kind; everything and everyone must be left just as we found them and all events and actions must end in a tie.”
Spin control on his “Who cares if it’s crap?” rant. And who says all events and all actions must end in a tie? Superman clearly won against the Hulk and Spider-Man clearly won against Wonder Woman. I wonder if he read my “crap?”
“There were plot weaknesses in Chris’ X-Men/Teen Titans last year, but everyone who bought the book (all those people!) seemed not to care. I didn’t.”
If the plot had weaknesses, it wasn’t for lack of trying. Does anyone think that Chris and Walt slacked off because the book was going to sell like hotcakes anyway? And DC had its shot at identifying plot weaknesses and having them corrected. We wouldn’t have stonewalled them. And many people do care. Dick said he didn’t. I believe him.
“Finally (and at a more practical level), if you insist on starting all over, we will have to name a new creative team as previous commitments will force the withdrawal of all the current team members … Further, I must then insist that you supply a detailed, written list of changes requested.
“The storyline makes sense to me and everyone else here and our contract stipulates that ‘Marvel and DC shall jointly agree on mutually acceptable modifications’ and I can hardly agree with your modification if I don’t know what they are.”
If the “levels of skill” at DC’s command had been utilized to see to it that a good plot had been delivered in the first place, or had been applied during the subsequent three months to creating a new, usable plot, we wouldn’t have had worries about losing the creative team. But, the problem as Dick characterized it was me.
Regarding a detailed, written list: Okay. That would take a while. Being in the middle of convention season didn’t help.
By the way, they knew damn well what the problems were. Dick knew the plot was “garbage.” Could it be that he knew that but didn’t know why? Dick just wanted to make me jump through a hoop and, of course, suggesting in this PR-ready letter that the “modification” I might want was unfathomable suited his purpose: making me seem arbitrary and high-handed.
“Perhaps we should just put this back in the hands of Mark and Len and George and Roy and trust that these seasoned pros, three of whom have worked well for both companies, won’t embarrass themselves or Dc and Marvel. Whichever way you choose to go, I respectfully request that you respond as quickly as possible. TIMES A WASTIN’!”
One last stab at getting me to look away from the train wreck.
Because of the high stakes involved in this debacle, a million dollars of revenue that could be delayed or worse, I went to discuss it with Marvel President Jim Galton. I explained the situation. Dick was right that even a bad book would sell well and make money. I was prepared for Galton to tell me back off, let it go.
I presented my case: that the long term, deleterious effects of publishing “crap,” as Dick called it, outweighed the short term gains. That allowing our characters to be bastardized in a high profile book (or any book) was unacceptable. You know. All the usual arguments for quality and integrity.
Galton couldn’t even name an Avenger. He wouldn’t have known Ant Man from the Vision, so there was no point getting into specifics. By this time, though, he had come to trust me about editorial and creative matters. He told me to, in my words, stick to my guns, damn the torpedoes. You know. All the usual expressions of support.
On June 15th, I delivered a long list of objections.
On July 28th, I received Roy’s new plot. That was a Thursday, and I was off to a convention that weekend. San Diego was the next week.
When I ran into Dick at the con, August 4th, I hadn’t yet read Roy’s plot, and wanted to get comments from Gruenwald before responding anyway.
Sometime after the San Diego Con and maybe another con the next weekend, I was finally back in the office.
Roy’s plot seemed fine.
Not only that, Roy was and is King of Continuity. He’s the best ever at taking a bunch of random threads and weaving them into a convincing tapestry. He had gone over the existing Pérez pages and figured out a way to make almost all of them usable. Some small portion, I’ll guess two pages total, a panel here and there would have to be redrawn. That’s all.
But around August 22nd, word came that Pérez had withdrawn from the project.
Back to square one.
There was communication with DC, Dick or someone, throughout this period. I was told that they had another artist in mind, Don Heck. I sent over some notes on the new plot, all Gruenwald’s, all minor stuff.
But soon thereafter, DC chose to terminate the series rather than proceed.
The Marvel Comics of the 1980’s site has this to say:
“It wasn’t hard to see why Perez would draw the conclusion that Jim Shooter didn’t want this crossover with him, especially finally approving the story after Perez had taken himself off the project.”
Wrong. I never approved the original plot. I approved Roy’s rewritten plot. George actually bailed after I’d told Roy and Dick that Roy’s revision was directionally okay.
In an interview, George Pérez said this:
“I do not want this taken wrongly because I am a fan of Don Heck’s work. But Shooter knows full well that Heck will never sell the book, not because of any inferiority in Don’s work, it’s just that he is not a fan favorite and with a fan book this is definitely important. He is doing everything in his power to sabotage this …”
Why would I sabotage the project? In what way would that benefit me or Marvel?
“I am not going to let Jim Shooter get away with this, and I’m going to use every available means to let people know what Jim’s done. If people don’t believe what I say, at least I’ve gotten it out of my system.”
Get away with what? Where’s my gain?
I never spoke with George about this, during the brouhaha or since.
All that George heard was what DC people told him. Do you think they told him that I was a steadfast champion of quality and a pillar of integrity who did not want the characters that we, George and I, loved being so ill-used in such a rotten-plot story?
The Marvel Comics of the 1980’s adds this:
“Shooter in the Marvel Age article vehemently denies stalling the project to remove Perez from the book.”
Stalling the project to remove Pérez from the book?! Of course I denied it vehemently. It’s baloney. That would make no sense. Much like Gerry’s plot.
The site goes on:
“Sadly for the fans, Marvel and DC let the project die, each pointing the finger at each other, claiming that they were waiting on the other party.”
I asked for a revised plot on February 25th. A truly revised plot, not one merely festooned with a bowtie, an acceptable revised plot, arrived on July 28th. Who was waiting for whom?
The site finishes with this:
“Michael Eury in his article on the JLA/Avengers crossover in Back Issue #1, presented his conclusions: ‘If I must assign blame as to why this greatest of stories was never told, the culprit is: A clash of editorial styles. These two editorial camps were incompatible.’”
Instead of undertaking the massive revisions necessary, DC tried to jam the plot through. Get an approval over the phone with an unspecific promise to fix things.
That’s how those at fault usually break at least even. Some people will always split the difference.
So, to review:
- Gerry delivered a plot that he put less thought and effort into than he did into his Team-Up story in which Hercules tows Manhattan out to sea and back again. And the plot was late.
- DC sent the plot to me for approval. Had they read it first?
- I responded quickly. Plot rejected.
- Dick admitted the plot was “garbage.” If he’d read it, or anyone there with a brain had read it and therefore knew it was bad, why did they forward it?
- Dick cited internal DC office politics as an excuse. Not my problem.
- Failing that, they had George begin penciling, going for the fait accompli gambit.
- I heard about the pencils being done and objected. I demanded that penciling stop and a new plot be presented as specified months earlier. I hoped that what George had drawn, which was beautiful, could be used, in part at least.
- Dick’s/DC’s efforts to back me down, attempts to convince me that it didn’t matter if the story sucked, and slandering me failed to budge me.
- Marvel President Jim Galton gave me his full support.
- Roy stepped in and progress was made.
- Too late. Pérez quit.
- DC’s half-hearted attempts to revive the project amounted to naught.
- DC canned the project and the series.
- In the end, the termination of the project cost both companies a lot. But I never heard a regret or a complaint from upstairs.
Many times since I left Marvel, at conventions, in fanzines and more recently, online, there have been laments from readers to the tune of: “How can they let (name of creator) do that to (name of character)? How can they let (so and so) ruin (hero or group).
Well, when I was at Marvel, as much as possible, I prevented such things. I rank the JLA/Avengers plot I wouldn’t approve high on that list.
In other words, I did my job.
If that makes me a megalomaniac or a dictator or a Blue Meanie or whatever you want to call me, I’m okay with that.
NEXT: More Strange Tales: War at Marvel