Looking Back at the DC Offices Part 3
Looking back, I can clearly see how things peaked in 1986, one of the single most pivotal years in comic book history, but back then it was just a very busy year of really cool stuff happening. With my initial projects now history, I was deeply involved in a wide variety of things. There was a lot of inheriting going on. First, Paul Levitz insisted Dick either produce DC Challenge on a schedule or cancel the round-robin creative contest. After barely managing three issues, Dick was too busy running editorial so handed the completed issues to me and said good luck. Soon after Paul delivered his script for issue #4, he put his manager’s hat on and told me I needed three scripts in a month or he’d kill the book which meant issues 6-8 were written in a bit of a frenzy.
With the success of Trek Marv convinced DC to acquire rights to NBC’s V series but after getting it up and running, turned it over to me. I had already taken over Trek from Mike Barr, as the company shifted away from writer/editors so I was becoming the Licensing Guy.
I was also the continuity guy. Not only was I the one sought out to verify what life was like in the post-Crisis continuity, I was asked to edit Crisis of the Soul the crossover project to continue the commercial success of these events. Despite a wonderful story from Paul, it fell apart after massive editorial indifference so Dick was forced to turn the crossover project over to newly hired Mike Gold, still in Chicago as 1985 ended.
Dick had also approved Secret Origins as a retelling of post-Crisis origins with Roy Thomas mostly writing and editing. The conceit was to tell the stories of the heroes as they arrived in print, starting with Superman. Marketing grew worried as they saw the line-up of Mystery Men and artists commissioned. To keep the book commercially-viable, it was decided up the food chain to turn it into a double-book with me editing the second half, carefully selecting characters to balance Roy’s batting order and make readers want the book. We started with issue #6 and Roy’s retelling of Batman which was a strong way to introduce the new format. It was immediately interrupted with #10 as we used Paul’s suggestion to have four different stories guess at the Phantom Stranger’s origins to tie-in with Legends, the Gold-edited series that brought us John Ostrander and Amanda Waller among other things. That gave me the one chance to work with Alan Moore which was tremendous fun especially when Joe Orlando signed on to illustrate the tale.
Not everything worked for the best. New writer Mindy Newell and I wanted to tackle some heavy issues with a Lois Lane miniseries which we had begun in 1985, drafting Gray Morrow to illustrate the story. What had been an offbeat little project off to the side of greater doings, we were told to hurry up and finish so it could see print before John Byrne’s Superman reboot debuted in summer 1986. Lois Lane became a two-parter, 48-page miniseries that was and is largely overlooked. Another time, Dick introduced me to writer Alex Simmons and had us get to work on a series ideas Alex had. We got to a proposal and character designs from Gene Colan before Paul took one look at it and said it would never sell so that was that.
As Denny settled in, he had inherited Warlord from Ross Andru as the freelance editorial program was winding down but he had no feel for it. One day I was called in to the office Denny shared with Mike Gold and was informed I was getting the series. Much as I enjoyed reading it, I had no real idea what to do with it. “its sales are way down so just ride out the thread,” Mike said. I agreed but asked Denny to handle a few more issues as my first born was imminent and would be distracted for a while so rather than start with #109, I began with #112 and somehow managed to keep the book running until #133, which defied expectation.
I was handed lots of projects. Mike Gold liked to brainstorm and launch series then hand them off before he got bored. As a result, I took over a diverse line of books such as Flash Gordon and Doom Patrol and even MASK, although once we hired Mike Carlin, I actually had someone to foist an unwanted book on. Once, Mike asked what I would do with Captain Marvel and after saying I didn’t really want it, I would do this and that and suddenly I was handed the Big Red Cheese, Roy Thomas, and Tod Smith. It was best for all concerned this never saw the light of day.
The one that got away may have been The Spectre with Steve Gerber. He had a real interesting Miami Vice-type take on the series and was thrilled to be partnering with Gene Colan once more. Work had begun in earnest but he was kept on a tight leash with deadlines and one day decided he had to blow the deadline so he could go to the dry cleaner so he had clean clothes to wear to visit the set of Howard the Duck. He was fired and Doug Moench took over as we started from scratch and while I greatly enjoyed working on that series, it was very different than what we first envisioned.
Next: Marketing Tales