DEFIANT DitkoIn the summer of 1992, days after I was ousted from VALIANT, Frank Miller called me. He said he’d heard what they said. He asked me to tell him what really happened.
Frank was very sympathetic and supportive.
Not too long after that, I got a call from Steve Ditko. The new management at VALIANT had dumped him in a callous and demeaning manner (my characterization of the events, not his). And it sounded like it got to him. He sounded depressed. It must have been one harsh rejection. I’m not going to try to quote him, but for the first and only time to me, he said things about people hating his work. He sounded hurt.
Maybe I read too much into it, maybe I’m coloring it all wrong. Maybe Steve would deny the above. I don’t claim to know what was going on in his mind, but that’s what it sounded like, that’s what it felt like to me.
My turn to be sympathetic and supportive.
Not much I could do to help at that point.
But, after we hung up, I gave Frank a call. At that point, Frank was doing a lot of work with Dark Horse. I said, “I don’t know whether Mike Richardson would take my call, but I know he’ll take yours.” I suggested that Frank call Dark Horse Master and Commander Mike and tell him that right now would be a great time for to do a project with Steve Ditko. I thought it would cheer Steve up considerably to hear from Mike, if there was work to be had.
Frank, a good soul, called Mike. Mike is also a good soul, has abiding respect for Steve and his work and was happy to get a heads up about Steve being available. Mike called Steve. Dark Horse indeed, did something with Steve, although as previously mentioned, Steve is pretty strict about what he’ll do and what he won’t, so as I recall, it wasn’t a very extensive project. But, I suspect it felt good for Steve to get an offer right about then.
The next eight months were pretty ugly. It wasn’t enough getting rid of me, the scum who stole VALIANT went for scorched earth. There was a lawsuit. They sued me! Too long to explain here, but it really had to do with establishing a default so that my shares—I owned 25% of the company—would be technically worthless, and therefore could be seized through forced arbitration for nothing! Zero! Giving them the full value of what the shares were really worth.
Meanwhile, the reality was that VALIANT was making $2 million a month pre-tax profit, and they had bids from potential buyers as high as a quarter billion dollars. The greedy pirates wanted it all. They worked hard and played dirty to get it.
I changed my lock at my apartment. I had documents there that proved they had waived all events of default (in order to have a clean balance sheet, necessary for selling the company). Their chief lackey Bob Layton lived in the same building and had a key to the old lock, left over from when he’d showed up on my doorstep with his suitcase and nowhere else to go.
They had ransacked my office, why should I not think they might pay a visit to my apartment when I was away? And steal those damning documents.
I still have the old lock. A souvenir.
I prevailed in court because I had the documents.
But they weren’t done. They had just begun to scorch the earth.
Lots more on all that sometime down the road.
I’ll tell you this much. They managed to get away with a forced buyout of my shares that paid me less than what I owed my lawyers, not to mention the taxes on same. They eventually sold the company for $65 million in stock to Acclaim Entertainment. Acclaim’s stock went up. Therefore, so did the value of the deal, and adding the cash they dividended to themselves before the sale, some tens of millions, the total proceeds to the pirates wound up being well over $160 million.
The man who conducted the sale, Enrique Senior, second in command at boutique investment banking firm Allen and Company, told me that the reason they weren’t able to make the sale at the $250 million level contemplated early in the process by big players like Paramount was that “The creative guy was gone.”
Another Pyrrhic victory for my collection.
Even though I had been cast out of VALIANT, I had to wait four months, according to my contract, till I was free to start again.
One good thing was that VALIANT was so successful that it wasn’t too hard to raise capital again. It’s always hard.
As soon as I was legally free to do so, I started laying the groundwork for DEFIANT.
One of the first things I did was meet with Steve Ditko. We met several times and had a number of conversations. One of them, the first DEFIANT related conversation, I believe, took place in the McDonald’s in Times Square, near where Steve lives.
I wanted to create, with Steve, a character ideally suited for him.
He wanted a character who wasn’t bitten by a radioactive anything, or from another planet, or injected with chemicals. Whatever the character could do that was special, if anything, he wanted to be the result of his own efforts, his own thinking. If empowered, empowered in some novel, creative way by his own mind. And why does it always have to be a young guy? Why not an older man? Steve also didn’t want another muscular bodybuilder type. No mansions, no Batmobiles, no costumes. And no “official” super hero name. A real, regular person name—though he allowed that others who didn’t know his name might call the guy by some more dramatic appellation.
I started working on ideas.
Meanwhile, DEFIANT was coming together. My little core group met several times in marketing whiz Clark Smith’s beautiful apartment on the Upper West Side, laying the business and creative foundations:
|Jim Shooter, David Lapham, Deborah Purcell, Clark Smith|
|Jim Shooter, David Lapham, JayJay Jackson|
Notably absent from these particular photos is Chuck Rozanski, Grand Muckety-Muck of the incredible Mile High Comics, who pitched in and helped us tremendously. We couldn’t have been DEFIANT without him. Chuck has been a friend for 32 years. Great guy, as honest and honorable as they come. He wouldn’t lie to you, about you or for you, no matter who you are.
I had picked the name VALIANT off of a list of suggestions offered me by JayJay. I believe I came up with DEFIANT by myself. Right, Jay?
As for the logo, we sat for a long time trying to come up with an image. I kept making sketches. JayJay kept hating them. She hates everything. Finally, I made a scribbly sketch of a rugged tower that weathered the night and the storm, and as the dawn breaks, still stands strong.
“Give me that!” she snarled. And she made our logo.
Anyway, I came up with Michael Alexander, custom designed for Steve Ditko. Since “Michael Alexander” didn’t seem to be a compelling enough title for the series, I called it Dark Dominion.I used the Nine Choirs of Angels as a structural model:1. Seraphim
There was never meant to be a direct religious inference, though one of the characters, “Mercy” was fond of quoting the Bible, especially the Book of Job. The idea was that these Angelic Ranks were states attainable by human beings. There also weren’t meant to be armies of such people, not even one of each. Very rare.
It was a science fiction take on a Biblical paradigm.
The antagonist, Charles Mal, called Chasm was a “Dominion,” and not nice, therefore a “Dark Dominion.” Michael Alexander was never in any way labeled as such, but I saw him as a “Virtue,” one power level below Mal.
Here are the intros I wrote for them, which appeared on their trading cards:
GLIMMER Michael Alexander
Fifty-four year-old Michael Alexander spent a lifetime overcoming the fears that limit human senses. Now he is able to see the Quantum Substratum of reality—the landscape of the Id—underlying the “hard”world. To normal eyes, he is a slight, aging eccentric, but to the evil things of the Substratum he is a mighty power to be feared. They call him Glare or Glint. The good call him The Light, or Glimmer, as in “glimmer of hope.” He alone stands between this world and those who would reshape it into a Dark Dominion.
CHASM Charles Mal
Charles Mal gained the ability to see the Quantum Substratum of reality through the use of dangerous, illicit, experimental drugs while in college; eventually, he also learned to walk the Quantum Plane. He has used his abilities to make himself rich and powerful. Now he seeks to turn New York City into his private Dark Dominion.
The atmosphere of fear generated by Mal and his lackeys gave rise to a horrific quantum plane “Growth,” fear itself, manifested as a vast, tree-like thing overspreading the city.
I invented a vast menagerie of quantum creatures that were manifestations caused by the effect of human minds on the quantum plane, which slowly develop into causes more than symptoms, as well as places and items:
DARK DOMINION DETAILS
1. FLOWERS OF FEAR
Hideous, noisome blossoms of the Growth.
2. ID WORMS
Offspring of chills that run up your spine.
3. MICHAEL ALEXANDER’S JOURNAL
The diary of Glimmer’s war.
Quantum things that haunt dark places.
5. MERCY’S ATM FOYER
Home to Glimmer’s confidant.
6. DARK POWER
Chasm “speaks fire” and burns Quantum enemies.
They mire the lazy in viscous Quantum mucus.
8. SPIDERS OF ANXIETY
Born of gnawing concern, they scuttle along the edges of perception, weaving webs of dread.
9. EAST RIVER HORRORS
Kin to Murklurks, they grow from the special fear of watery death.
10. SKINNER’S LAIR
A shrine to implements of pain and death.
Spastic, indescriminate destroyers born of irrational anger.
Paranoia-born starers that make your skin crawl.
They chew and suck on the fixated.>
Quantum authors of sudden chills.
Envy-born Quantum shrews.
Eviscerating stabbers bred by emotional trauma.
Unctuous, putrid run-off from defilers and their victims.
Vicious Quantum eggers-on spawned in hordes by batterers.
The things that go bump in the night.
Dark Quantum creatures of the sky that flit menacingly on the fringe of awareness.
Vicious Quantum hell-hounds lurking in the dark.
The offspring of gluttony, they flit across reflective surfaces, not quite seen.
Vile, chaotic, irredeemable taunters of the deranged.
The spawn of forbidden temptations.
Stinging, scratching punishers of mistakes and failings.
Id-made grabbers you allow to drag you into depravity.
Born of guilt, they flog you.
Haunters of ancient places.
Squirming, virulent brain-worms.
Quantum builders of crusty, ugly psychological shells.
They revel in foulness, wallow in filth, and thrive in Slymooze.
Given form by defilers, they plague guilt-ridden, debased victims.
Dagger-toothed Quantum things that inflict painful pangs of doubt.
Quantum torturers made manifest by self-loathing; the pain they cause is like being flayed alive.
They coil around and constrict your will.
37. MITES OF INFERIORITY
They tickle and itch your flaws, eroding self-esteem.
Kin to Mites of Inferiority, they bite and suck away sexual self-confidence.
Piercers of the sense of purpose, feeders on the will.
Quantum torturers of unrequited lovers.
Nettle-like Quantum scourges of those who deem themselves inadequate.
Searing Quantum igniters of mass violence.
Thorny briars cultivated by long-term hate.
Quantum-spawn of excessive ego.
Mysterious nocturnal biters and stingers made manifest by the id.
Other peoples’ id-wrought blights that they shift onto you.
Plus a cast of dozens.
After negotiating with a slew of potential investors interested in funding DEFIANT, it came down to two candidates. Patricof & Co. and the River Group. I ultimately went with the River Group. The deal was finalized at the offices of McFarland Dewey and Co., the investment banking firm representing me, while their 1992 office Christmas party was going on just outside the room we were in.
Should have gone with Patricof. Big mistake going with the River Group. But that’s a story for later.
The River Group owned a trading card company, so the first issue of Dark Dominion, #0, was done as a trading card set that could be assembled in an album into a comic book. I wrote it. The script is available for download in the sidebar.
Steve Ditko drew it. Or he started to.
|A scan of the original painted color art.|
I know I’ve told this tale before, but….
Halfway through the book, Steve came to the office to see me. He gave me the pages he’d done and said he couldn’t do the rest of the story.
Because, he said, the story and the character were Platonic and he was Aristotelian.
“You’re gonna have to explain that to me, Steve.”
Simple. Plato believed in the world one can’t see as well as the world one can. Aristotle believed that what you see is what you get. Period. Dark Dominion was Platonic, and therefore, anathema.
I argued. You can’t see viruses, I said, but they can make you sick. And what about all the other things invisible and unknown to Aristotle that have since been discovered?
He wouldn’t budge.
I did get him to agree not to leave me high and dry on #0, after we’d already solicited it, after we’d advertised the fact that he was doing it.
He reluctantly agreed to finish the book.
Steve didn’t do any more work for DEFIANT after that. Not because there were any hard feelings either way, mind you. He had plenty of offers around that time and we didn’t really have much that interested him.
We remained, and remain friends.
OVER THE WEEKEND: Designing the Spider-Man Balloon for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
NEXT: I’m Not Sure – Check Back Later
P.S. Today is Veteran’s Day. In the Preface of Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. said this about this day:
“…So this book is a sidewalk strewn with junk, trash which I throw over my shoulders as I travel in time back to November eleventh, nineteen hundred and twenty-two.
I will come to a time in my backwards trip when November eleventh, accidentally my birthday, was a sacred day called Armistice Day. When I was a boy, and when Dwayne Hoover was a boy, all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.
Armistice Day has become Veterans’ Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans’ Day is not.
So I will throw Veterans’ Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don’t want to throw away any sacred things.
What else is sacred? Oh, Romeo and Juliet, for instance.
And all music is.”
He got through to me, for sure. He’s right. We should cherish sacred things. I kept silent and still for the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour today.
May you be well.