Stories I Never Told

Stories I Never Told: The Return of Superman

So, now this is happening.

Superman is being replaced…by the Superman of another reality.

Well, damn! I was gonna do that years ago!

See, when John Byrne rebooted Superman in 1986’s famous Man of Steel mini-series, I wasn’t a happy camper. I enjoyed Byrne’s seminal work on Fantastic Four, but I was also a big fan of what he referred to as “barnacles” on the legend of Superman — stuff like Krypto, the Bottle  City of Kandor, etc. To be sure, Byrne (and, of course, DC Comics) had good reasons for the revamp, but to a kid who loved those barnacles something fierce, 1986 was the year Superman went away and was replaced by someone who looked a lot like him.

Years later, I had a notion that if I got the chance, I would tell a story in which Byrne’s Superman is killed by a villain…and the original, pre-Crisis Superman returns from…somewhere to take up the mantle. Pretty simple on the face of it, I suppose.

With the news that DC is doing something similar (though in their case, replacing the New52 version with the Byrne version!), I dug up some old notes on that story idea. Here’s a bit of what I wrote up:

Outside Lois Lane’s apartment building, Clark Kent stood in a phone booth. “Lois? Just call me when you get in, okay?”

He hung up. Leaving the booth, he stood out on the street for a moment. Dressed in a blue double-breasted suit with a blue and red striped tie and horn-rimmed glasses, he was the very picture of the disinterested and uninteresting bystander. With a frown, he gazed up at the floor on which Lois lived. He watched for a moment or two, then, with a deeper frown, shook his head and walked away. He caught a bus on the corner and took it all the way to 344 Clinton Street.

The doorman blinked twice as he held the door open for Clark.

“Something wrong, Frank?” Kent asked. “Uh, no, Mister Kent.” The doorman scratched his head. “You feelin’ okay?”

“As well as I can, under the circumstances.” Kent cocked his head. “Why?”

Frank shrugged. “If you don’t mind my saying so… You look a little peaked. Like you haven’t been eating well.”

“Oh?” Clark thought for a moment. “Well, I haven’t really eaten since Superman died. We grew up together, you know.”

“Really? I didn’t know that.”

Clark grimaced. “Well, okay. Thanks, Frank. I’ll try to look out for myself.”

“Sure thing, Mister Kent.” Frank waved as Clark headed into the lobby. “Oh, and I like your new glasses!” the doorman called.

Clark hesitated, considered turning back, but then kept going to the elevator. Self-consciously, he raised one hand to his glasses. New?

Once back in the apartment, he took the time to do what he had been unable to do before due to time constraints — he searched. He examined the entire flat carefully, pulling open drawers, drawing back curtains, probing in closets. What he found disturbed and baffled him. He reclined in an easy chair in the living room, absently fiddling with his glasses. When he realized what he was doing, he removed them and put them on the end table. Then, feet propped up on the ottoman, tie loosened, fingers steepled at his lips, he settled into a reflective disposition.

Where had the football trophies come from? Surely he hadn’t been a football star in high school—that was impossible. And the clothing was far too flashy, trendy, and noticeable for a mild-mannered reporter. Furthermore, the press credentials listed only the Daily Planet, with no mention of WGBS and the broadcaster’s anchor position.

Most frightening of all, though, was the personal address book, which listed a “Pete and Lana Ross” in Smallville and “Ma and Pa.”

Pete married to Lana? His parents alive?

What was going on here?

Stories I Never Told: Watchmen

Given that this has happened, I guess it’s time to tell this never-to-be-told tale…

A long time ago, I had an idea for a story. The great thing about the idea was that it could fit into any DC comic at any time. Talk about versatile, eh?

Here goes: Whatever DC comic I was lucky enough to be writing, I would start having shadowy figures show up, saying cryptic things. Eventually, I would reveal that those figures were, in fact, the characters from Watchmen. Dr. Manhattan, Silk Spectre, Nite Owl, Ozymandias, Rorschach, the Comedian… All of ’em.

And they would be acting totally like typical superheroes. Right down to insipid expository dialogue. Like, “Good thing Dr. Manhattan decided to resurrect the Comedian and Rorschach! We need the team at full strength!” And “This parallel earth is so different from our own!”

In short, I would pissing off a metric ton of Watchmen fans by repurposing the characters in this way.

Until…

Until it’s revealed that these “Watchmen” are actually just denizens of the DC Universe cosplaying as characters from their favorite graphic novel!1 So, yeah, it would basically just be me trolling the fans.

Told Paul Levitz this idea once. He laughed.



  1. Because it has been established that Watchmen exists in the DCU as a graphic novel.

Stories I Never Told: Archvillain

archvillain heads
So, as I indicated recently, the third Archvillain book, Yesterday Again, was never intended to be the finale of that series. I had always meant for the series to go on for quite a while, possibly as many as ten books.

Sadly, reality intruded on my fantasy. The books just didn’t sell well enough to justify further volumes, and the publisher pulled the plug (as is its right).

But I get a lot of people asking me if there will ever be more Archvillain books, and since the answer is “No,” I figure there’s no harm in relating what might have been, had sales warranted. Settle in — this is a long one… [Read more…]

Stories I Never Told: The Never War

DarkseidOh, man. This story, you guys… I really had high hopes for this one.

So, you can’t go anywhere in the DC Universe without tripping over Darkseid, but that wasn’t always the case. Once upon a time, it was rare and special to see ol’ Stone-Face show up in a funny book.

Many years ago, I came upon some article or another that said that Jack Kirby created Darkseid as a sort of space-Hitler. That idea stuck with me. Over the years, Darkseid had become a standard bad-ass super-villain, with powers that approached ridiculous levels. I kept thinking of “space-Hitler” and how Hitler himself had precisely zero supernatural powers — his strength came from his ability to convince people to do crazy things for him. And, of course, from his standing as the leader of a very powerful nation.

I started thinking about what it might be like if Darkseid’s personal powers were scaled back more to what Kirby had originally deployed. And what if he were a political creature, forced to deal with the sorts of diplomacy and tactics Hitler had to deal with?

I thought and I thought and I thought some more, and I came up with Fourth World: The Never War. And since I still have the pitch I wrote for it, I can just show it to you now:

He has spent an eternity searching…

He has slaughtered entire worlds that stood in his path…

Fourth World: The Never War

Now Darkseid’s final victory is within his grasp!

Two hundred and sixteen years in the future, Darkseid, lord of Apokolips, has finally achieved his penultimate goal: the planet Earth is now his to rule. Parademons patrol the skies and Darkseid’s Elite control the world in their master’s evil name. From a new Tower of Rage situated in the ruins of Star City, Darkseid continues his search for the final element to the Anti-Life Equation, the quasi-mystical formula that will enable him to control not merely the Earth, but the entire universe.

With the Earth’s super-heroes dead for decades, it falls to a small group of rebels to remove Darkseid and his ilk from the Earth forever—without firing a single shot or endangering a single life!

Led by a Coluan diplomat named Jento and a mysterious woman named Kay, these rebels must match wits with the most dangerous and powerful villain in the cosmos…not to mention his legions of followers.

THE CONCEPT:

FOURTH WORLD: THE NEVER WAR is an Elseworlds story revolving around the question “What happens when the bad guys win?” It uses the ultimate DC villain—Darkseid—as we’ve never seen him before. In THE NEVER WAR, Darkseid is a schemer, a fascist, a complete and utter reprobate. His power rests not only in the very personal danger of his Omega Effect, but also in the incredible economic and political power that he wields as the rightful ruler of Apokolips and the ruler-by-conquest of Earth. Like Adolf Hitler just before World War II, Darkseid is a sovereign ruler who is being appeased by frightened and cowed governments.

THE NEVER WAR is intense, fraught with peril, and meticulously detailed. It offers a frightening image of an Earth under fascist rule, a planet gripped in alien terror. Visually, the story is both horrific and distinctive. Jack Kirby’s awesome vision of a planet-sized techno-hell is now superimposed over familiar Earthly sights, as Darkseid’s occupation of the planet slowly causes a transformation. Earth is becoming Apokolips; ordinary citizens are beginning to take on the appearance and mannerisms of downtrodden Hunger Dogs.

Popular culture (such as it is), dress, and daily interaction have become a strange, frenzied amalgam of Earth and Apokolips. Graffiti on walls reads “The New Gods are dead.—Nietzsche” and “Pink Floyd and the Darkseid.” The resistance working against Darkseid uses the phrases “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” and “Smells like victory” as counterphrases to identify sympathizers.

In the same sense as Watchmen, THE NEVER WAR presents a fully-realized world that could be our own.

For the first time, we will see Darkseid clash with characters who are not on his level. Historically, Darkseid has been portrayed in the midst of powerful characters—the New Gods, the Justice League, Superman, the Legion of Super-Heroes. In THE NEVER WAR, we see Darkseid’s effect and impact on ordinary human beings, as well as the lengths to which they must go if they hope to defeat him.

At the same time, we find ourselves lost in a world of feints and blinds, strikes and counterstrikes, betrayals and sacrifices. Darkseid’s agents—Kanto, Baron Bedlam, Kalibak, and others—wage a constant war against the Earthlings. Their madness is a symptom of their leader’s own ego, and they are a constant threat to the rebellion and to the innocents of Earth.

With the recent boost given to the Fourth World by the announcement of John Byrne’s tenure on the title, this is the perfect time to merge the phenomenal popularity of Darkseid with the attraction of an Elseworlds book. Like the best of spy thrillers, THE NEVER WAR is a taut, suspenseful story of a world on the brink and the brave people struggling to save it.

Kingdom Come shows that fans love future stories as tales that cast characters in a different light. FOURTH WORLD: THE NEVER WAR provides a totally new look at Jack Kirby’s characters by portraying them in a new world and new time.

THE BACKSTORY:

Some time ago, we learn, Darkseid realized that he would never be able to defeat Earth’s super-heroes. However, as an immortal, Darkseid always has time on his side. After studying Earth’s history, he noticed that super-heroes tend to appear in “Ages,” densely-populated clusters of time when, for one reason or another, the superhuman population rises.

With this information, Darkseid discerned that his best course of action was…to wait. For a century and more, Darkseid focused his attentions elsewhere throughout the universe, tracking down and taking the other pieces of the Anti-Life Equation. Meanwhile, on Earth, the great heroes of this Heroic Age ascended to the peak of their power and time in the sun…

And then fell.

Old age, natural attrition, disease—these factors and more slowly took their toll on the heroes of Earth, whittling down the super-hero population until it was nearly zero.

Then Darkseid struck—swiftly, savagely. He eliminated the rest of the super-humans and took over the planet. Now there was only one more piece of the Anti-Life Equation left. It was hidden on Earth and Darkseid literally had all the time in the world to look for it….

THE STORY:

As the story begins, Darkseid has ruled the Earth for more than thirty years. Rebels on Earth have just been able to confirm that long-held rumors are actually true: Darkseid is on Earth to complete the Anti-Life Equation, and he is getting closer every day.

When this information is smuggled off-world, a panic ensues among the civilized planets of the galaxy. An Alliance of Free Worlds (among them Daxam, Colu, Tamaran, Almuric, and J586) has come together with the purpose of stopping Darkseid. A direct military maneuver is out of the question: with the resources of Earth and Apokolips at his command, Darkseid could repel most attacks.

And so the Alliance listened to the plan of a man named Jento, a Coluan outcast who had studied the social sciences rather than the “pure” physical sciences. Jento had a plan, a diplomatic solution that could remove Darkseid from Earth permanently, without bloodshed, without risking a single life other than, perhaps, his own.

In desperation, the Alliance agreed to Jento’s plan. Now Jento held in his hands the fate of billions, not to mention his own life. For his plan required that he meet face-to-face with Darkseid himself, and trick the dark lord without being killed for it!

Once on Earth, Jento made contact with a group of rebels, Earthlings who were doing all they could to subvert Darkseid’s tyranny. Led by a blonde woman named Kay, this group has been stalling Darkseid as well as possible for years. Kay herself is one of Darkseid’s favorite concubines, a position that is odious to her, but of immeasurable benefit to the resistance. Another prominent resistor is Boston Brand, Deadman. As an ethereal spirit, Deadman was never eliminated during Darkseid’s super-hero pogroms. He is the perfect spy, often infiltrating Darkseid’s slave camps and monitoring parademon movements as only he can. As he cannot be followed, Brand is most often used for meeting with the most important figure in the resistance—DeSaad.

DeSaad has agreed to work with the rebels as a mole in Darkseid’s organization, only on the promise that he will be granted political asylum once Darkseid is forced off the planet.

In the meantime, though, something occurs which could throw off the entire plan. A splinter group of rebels—who mockingly call themselves “the Forever People”—have broken off from Kay’s group and decided to launch an assassination attempt against Darkseid. The leader of this group—Meta Mike—is one of the few super-humans left on Earth, with weak powers, but powers nonetheless.

One night, Mike and his group do the impossible—they sneak into the Tower of Rage and locate Darkseid, apparently asleep on his throne in the receiving hall. But Darkseid is actually already aware of the plan. Before Meta Mike and his team can assassinate him, Darkseid awakens, eyes slitted to red gashes on his craggy face, and single-handedly slaughters the entire team. The next day, news-nets carry the story of how Darkseid personally executed his would-be assassins, and humans cower as parademons mount the bloodied corpses of the rebels on the gates outside the Tower.

The game has just become more deadly—the stakes have been raised even higher. Jento has committed himself to standing face-to-face with a monster….

Eventually, Jento is granted an audience with Darkseid. As a legal monarch, Darkseid must be dealt with carefully by the Alliance. If defeated legally, he will be an outcast in the galactic community. But many worlds are willing to support Darkseid’s rights, whether out of fear, the hope of currying favor with him, or a simple difference in ethics. Thus, it is not enough for the Alliance to defeat Darkseid physically or militarily. They must conquer him in the legal arena of interstellar law, else he will only strike back harder than ever, and many worlds will not stand in his way.

In the course of the meeting, Jento feigns ignorance of Darkseid’s true intentions on Earth. He presents a treaty signed by all the member worlds of the Alliance. The treaty is simple: the Alliance merely requests that when Darkseid has finished with his business on Earth (whatever it may be) and leaves the world, he never return. DeSaad urges against signing the treaty, all as a ploy on the part of the resistance. They know that Darkseid would rather die than be perceived as a weakling.

Darkseid signs the “meaningless” treaty with a flourish. Jento smiles.

He reveals to Darkseid that an Alliance attack fleet is poised just beyond the moon and that if Darkseid does not abandon the planet now, they will attack.

Darkseid laughs. He has known about the pathetic attack fleet for days, and his finest armada is prepared to launch a defensive thrust immediately, protecting Earth.

Jento’s smile does not falter. “But we’re not going to attack Earth, Darkseid. We’re going to attack—and utterly destroy—the moon. Your armada won’t even have cleared Earth orbit by the time we’re finished. The result will unbalance this entire solar system, destroying the Earth, with you on it, and eliminating the chance that you’ll ever complete the Anti-Life Equation. You might escape through a Boom Tube, but Earth, and its piece of the Anti-Life Equation, will be gone…for good.”

In a rage, Darkseid grabs DeSaad by his collar and hoists him into the air. Slowly, he disintegrates DeSaad, filling the room with DeSaad’s screams and a hellish red glow.

Jento remains passive and controlled. He knows that if he flinches, Darkseid will doubt his nerve, call his bluff, and kill him where he stands.

In the end, Darkseid is forced into a Catch-22: if he leaves Earth, the final piece of the equation remains intact, but he can legally never return to claim it. If he stays, the planet will be destroyed anyway, taking with it his hopes of completing the equation.

Ultimately, he chooses to leave, more willing to risk his position on Earth than to lose the Anti-Life Equation forever. “Know that this day,” he tells Jento, “you have created an implacable, eternal foe for yourself.”

“I have been respectful and honorable with you, lord Darkseid,” Jento replies. “I ask only the same in return.”

“You would demand respect from Darkseid? Very well, then. But I warn you, Jento Dox—your name will ring a thousand times in my mind ere we meet again, and for each time, your torment will increase. You may consider yourself a marked man…Brainiac.”

And Jento Dox, heir to the Brainiac lineage, can only continue to smile, having won his impossible fight. “I expect nothing less, my lord.”

The story ends with Darkseid and his Elite leaving the planet. Jento remarks that Darkseid will certainly be back someday, treaty or no.

We cut to a two-page spread of the Earth, patrolled by more than a dozen Green Lanterns.

“But we’ve got the Green Lanterns, and they’ll suffice as the first line of defense. Sometimes, when the night sky is clear, you can see one of them, a sparkle of green in the sea of stars. Comforting to know that they’re there, protecting us.”

Back on Earth, Jento watches as Kay flies for the first time in so long, finally able to use her super-powers to their fullest.

I watch Kay as she flies, exulting in the feel of the air currents. She is wild and free and everything that I have never been. She has lived her life for this moment.

Yes, the super-humans will return. Perhaps they will even flourish. And that is a very good thing. For Earth needs her mighty god-children.

The rage of Darkseid is not an easy thing to abate. He will someday return, whether by pretext or by force. And on that day, we must be ready.

His anger will be a most horrible thing to behold. For though he has been beaten many and many a time…

Never has he been so thoroughly bested. To have victory so close at hand, and then have it tricked from his grasp with fancy words and a flourish…

It is something that will haunt him…

…for the rest of his immortal life.

Not much else to say about this. Looking over the write-up now, I can see how clumsy and hand-wave-y it was in places. I still absolutely love the idea, though, and if someone had seen past the deficiencies in the proposal and given me a shot at it, I think I would have knocked it out of the park.

Oh, well. 🙂

(In what has become a weirdly ongoing thread in “Stories I Never Told,” Grant Morrison took a similar look at a Darkseid whose power was largely psychological/political in his Justice League story, “Rock of Ages.” Great story, by the by, and other than the characterization of Darkseid and the future setting, no other resemblance to The Never War. Grant’s is probably a lot better.)

Stories I Never Told: Startling Stories — Rogers

Around the Turn of the Millennium, Marvel experimented briefly with the idea of some slightly “off-brand” versions of certain characters under the banner (pardon the pun that will make itself clear soon) Startling Stories. The idea was, in a nutshell, to take some characters and let a very talented creative team go at them without the burdens of continuity. If the notions panned out, they could be folded into the “official” continuity. If not, well, at least we got a cool story, right?

The first of these was Startling Stories: Banner (see, here’s that pun I promised you). It was a very unvarnished look at the Hulk by Brian Azzarello and Richard Corben. Slightly off-kilter, not entirely bound by continuity, but familiar enough that the differences made the story more powerful.

I came up with two Startling Stories notions of my own. The first was Startling Stories: Rogers. Yes, it was my own weird take on Captain America.

I actually have the original springboard proposal I wrote, so rather than recap the idea, I’ll just present it to you as I originally wrote it back in 2001-ish. And then I’ll be back at the end to talk a little more about it.

Steve Rogers knows all there is to know about being a Captain.

Steve Rogers is about to learn what it means…

…to be America.

STARTLING STORIES: ROGERS

In a hidden government compound in the year 2002, the men in their black, off-the-rack suits once again wake up the Captain. They bring him into the briefing room, remembering the cautions pounded into their heads:

“Do not engage in idle conversation with the Captain.”

“Never answer questions not directly related to the mission at hand.”

“Most important of all, never forget that Captain Rogers thinks that it’s 1947…”

During World War II, Steve Rogers volunteered to be injected with the Super-Soldier Serum, a chemical formula that imbued him with fantastic powers and abilities, making him a one-man army for Uncle Sam.

Do you really think they were going to let that slip away?

Hitler, the men in black tell the Captain, has new allies. He has made an agreement with forces in Colombia to import a deadly drug into the United States. He’s feeding our children poison, Captain Rogers. Something called…cocaine.

Don’t pay attention to their strange clothes and their odd weapons. They may even try to use psychological warfare by telling you bizarre lies, like Hitler is dead, or it’s already past the year 2000.

Don’t listen to them, Captain Rogers. Just do your patriotic duty. Interdict these drug smugglers and come back to base…

So begins Startling Stories: Rogers, an intense, ultra-modern take on Captain America by way of conspiracy theories and the dark side of the American Dream.

In 1945, as it became obvious that the Allies would win World War II, the U.S. government realized that with the end of the war they would also lose one of their greatest assets: the only man to survive Operation: Super-Soldier, Steve Rogers. With hostilities at an end, Rogers would be free to return to civilian life, beyond the control of the military.

So they began a grand cover-up. Rogers was placed in cryogenic freeze (“To help maintain your altered metabolism,” the doctors assured him) in a secret military installation. When needed—by Military Intelligence, by the CIA, by the NSA—Rogers would be thawed, awakened, subjected to briefings that convinced him that it was still the 1940’s…

And then sent out on covert missions against “Hitler” and the “Nazi menace,” threats that had been eliminated years ago.

“Wet works” behind the Iron Curtain. Black ops in Soviet-controlled territories. Even ultra-classified missions in the U.S. itself, infiltrating left-wing groups in the sixties and taking out militias in the nineties. The brainwashed “Captain America” has done it all through the post-War era, the ultimate Cold Warrior, still fighting World War II after all these years.

But then comes a day in the year 2002, when Rogers is sent to combat a growing narco-terrorist cell in South America. On the way, his plane hits rough weather and crashes. Leaving Steve Rogers as the sole survivor…

Loose in an America he could never begin to imagine.

With a wink and nod towards traditional continuity (his code-name of Captain America, his CIA contact named Bucky, cryogenic suspension, and more), Startling Stories: Rogers re-imagines Captain America for the twenty-first century, recasting him as an icon for a nation that is troubled, solipsistic, and deeply cynical. The question at its core: Can the values of the so-called “Greatest Generation” still be brought to bear at the Turn of the Millennium? Or is Captain America’s only function in the modern world to hold a mirror up to what has become a society of extremists and thought-terrorists?

As Rogers attempts to make sense of the new world he finds himself in—as well as the true nature of the government that lied to him—we will learn the answers to these and other questions. By the end of the mini-series, we will have delved deeply into the meaning of America, how it has changed in the years since World War II, and what place a man like Steve Rogers—and the government that spawned him—can possibly have in such a world.

We will also tease the audience with a notion that would be utterly taboo in the Marvel Universe: Is it possible that Steve Rogers (a man born in the 1920s and raised in the 1930s) is a racist?

Startling Stories: Rogers—Hold onto your flags, and get ready for the ride of two centuries.

Whew!

So, let’s get that lingering question out of the way first: Nah, of course Cap isn’t a racist! But it occurred to me that he would be completely ignorant about the progress made in terms of race since World War II. So, I thought I would play around with this and have some fun by showing him being startled and shocked by, say, an interracial couple, or blacks and whites sharing a meal at a restaurant. He wouldn’t say anything, but it would be obvious that was stunned.

His eventual guide to the 21st century (an ex-CIA operative, natch) would notice his reactions, put two and two together…and assume the old man’s a racist. He would put Cap through a crash course in recent racial history, culminating in a video of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

And Cap would turn from the screen with tears streaming down his face and shock his handler (and, if I’d done my job right, the reader) by saying, “This is wonderful. I always wanted the Negroes to have equality!”

The handler would say, “Well, the sentiment is right. Let’s work on the language.”

Most interesting to me from the remove of many years is that my approach here parallels that taken with the Winter Soldier, created years after I conjured this mess. (As with Mark Waid, apparently Ed Brubaker and I are on a similar psychic wavelength.)