Once the contracts were buttoned up and signed we started work on Superman and Spider-Man. I picked Marv Wolfman to write the book for a number of reasons: he was a marquee name and deservedly so, he was in New York, conveniently, he was absolutely reliable, and most of all because he really, really wanted to do it. Our other two superstars were Roy and Archie. Both were pretty solidly booked up, Roy was in California and Archie was way too slow.
So, we had Marv, a top tier guy writing, John Buscema, our number one penciler doing breakdowns, and Joe Sinnott, our premiere inker finishing. A dream team.
Marv understood without discussion that this wasn’t a writer/editor project, one of those I’ll-do-it-on-my-own-you-check-it-when-I’m-done things. I was the editor on the Marvel side and Joe Orlando was responsible for approvals on the DC side.
Marv started working on a plot. He had a lot of ideas. He always had a lot of ideas.
At his request, we had several discussions about the story. We decided that the main villain should be Doctor Doom, with a DC hench-villain (or villains) to be named later. It made sense. Marvel’s number one villain, Doctor Doom was a worthy foe for number one heroes Superman and Spider-Man together.
One of our conversations took place at Marv’s house one evening, I think. Could be wrong. I remember looking at this huge bottle full of pennies in one corner of his dining room while talking. But maybe I’m remembering that from another visit. Anyway, we batted plot ideas around a lot.
It’s hard, at this point, to recall which bits of the plot were mine and which bits were Marv’s. I suspect that Doom’s plan to destroy the world’s energy supply was Marv’s. That’s a very Marv-like idea, high-concept and compelling.
Somewhere in the middle of plotting, Marv’s employment agreement expired. We weren’t able to come to terms on a new one. More on that later. He, of course, had an offer from DC, and opted to take it.
So, Marvel was obliged to provide another acceptable writer. In a hurry. We were losing time. I didn’t want to fall behind schedule on the first book of the series.
Time for Plan B.
I was the only Marvel writer who had written both Superman and Spider-Man. I didn’t have a lot of time on my hands, but neither did the other leading candidates.
So, I took it on. DC had no objection. Springboarding off of some of the concepts Marv and I had talked about, I wrote a plot and submitted it to Joe Orlando for approval.
And waited. And waited. And called to bug him, though I never was able to get him on the phone. I left messages. And waited.
(NOTE: This particular instance of waiting for a response from DC isn’t the only one in this series of posts. You’ll see.)
Meanwhile, a few interesting things happened….
I spoke with some minion at DC who, per my request, sent over definitive Superman reference for John Buscema. It consisted of a batch of model sheets and drawings by the brilliant José Luis Garcia-Lopez gathered in a binder.
John Buscema happened to be coming into the city from his home in Port Jefferson, 10.000 miles out on Long Island (or so it seemed the few times I drove there). So, he came by my office to visit and pick up the reference.
Sitting in the guest chair across the desk from me, he noticed some Neal Adams artwork amid the clutter….
Neal had sent me a package of a few full size, high-quality reproductions of pages of a project he was working on to show me what he was up to and, I guess, to see if Marvel had interest. Or, it could have been just to show off his new, blue-line coloring technique. Whatever. Anyway, I had these pages of his. The story featured the Frankenstein monster, the Werewolf and Dracula. Classic monsters.
Stan had stopped by my room earlier and seen those pages sitting on my desk. He picked them up and shuffled through them. He did not know who drew them! Now, one might expect that Stan would recognize Neal Adams' style, but no, I swear, he had no idea whose artwork it was! He thought it was a “new guy.” I asked him what he thought of the pages.
Stan was unimpressed. He said, words to the effect, “You need to get this guy to work on his storytelling.” He pointed out several shots he felt were unclear, undramatic, static or weak. One in particular I remember was a panel in which a bad guy—the Werewolf, I think—was attacking someone. The frozen moment in that panel showed the Werewolf in mid-swing of a slashing strike. “Dull” said Stan. He should be either reared back all the way or all the way followed through on the blow. As it was, Stan felt there was no power in the gesture. For all we knew, said Stan, the Werewolf could be about to give the victim a light paw-slap.
So, back to John, a little later….
John Buscema picked Neal’s pages up and shuffled through them. He too, had no idea who had drawn them. John was sufficiently out of touch with most of what was going on in comics (for example, he needed reference for Superman!) that it seemed reasonable that he might not recognize Neal’s style at a glance. Besides, John lived 10,000 miles away.
“What do you think?” I asked.
John said, words to the effect, “This guy can’t draw for &#@%. Look at this figure. He’s not standing on the floor. He’s floating in the air. See that’s what happens when you’re one of those light-box guys. And this figure, look at his shoulder. Is he a hunchback? ” Etc.
“Here’s your Superman ref,” I said.
John started to page through the binder, at first with that casual disdain look on his face that he got when viewing the work of mere mortals. Then, suddenly he started looking closely. His expression changed. He seemed impressed. I might go as far as challenged.
“This guy is good,” said John. “Who is he?”
I told him. As he tucked the binder in his portfolio, John said, exactly, “Any chance we can get him to ink the book?”
(NOTE: I have no idea whether or not Neal, himself, actually drew the pages in question. They were in Neal’s style, but all that means is that they were produced by his studio. They looked like Neal’s work, but they could easily have been done by artists and assistants working for him. Or not. Whatever. If I haven’t made it clear enough along the way in this blog, I think Neal was and is one of the greatest artists and creators ever.)
RE: the plot approval:
Days gathered into weeks, weeks into months. Still no word. Seasons changed. Armies marched. Empires fell. Still no word. Civilizations collapsed. New civilizations arose from the ashes. Still no word. Stars died and cooled. From swirling gases, new stars were born. Still no word….
It’s not as though I were sitting there tapping my fingers waiting. I had plenty to do to distract me. I didn’t follow up relentlessly ten times a day. But I did call Joe Orlando often. “He’ll get back to you.” “You’ll get comments by next week.” “Joe is checking with some of the other editors.” “Any day now.”
What to do? Go over his head? Call Jenette? That didn’t seem right.
Almost exactly four months after the plot had been delivered, after I did finally get relentless, insistent and a little menacing, word came from Joe. The word was “okay.” Plot approved, no comments.
I never did actually speak to Joe. The word came by messenger.
It took DC four months to say yes.
Anyway, I sent John the plot and he got started. Finally. John was fast. I figured he’d make up some of the time lost.
NEXT: The Urge to Kill. Twice.