CAPES, COWLS & COSTUMES >> New Year’s Wishes

I thought for the first installment of 2009, we might try something a little different (and slightly longer). Rather than reviewing novels that they may have written, I’ve asked my colleagues in the 150ish-member strong International Association of Media Tie-In Writers to answer a couple of questions about the characters and books they would like to write, as well as to share some of their wackiest experiences dealing with unreasonable or just plan dumb editors and licensors (with names changed to protect the innocent … and the likelihood of these guys ever getting work from those same dummies again).

Keith R.A. DeCandido, whose most recent novels include STAR TREK: A SINGULAR DESTINY, SUPERNATURAL: BONE KEY and CSI: NEW YORK: FOUR WALLS, and who edited many of the Marvel novels produced by Byron Preiss for Berkley Books, said, “Well, the ideal choice would be my favorite superhero of all time: Spider-Man. Except, I’ve already written him. My first short-story sale and my first novel sale were both Spider-Man, so I’ve kinda already done it.

“But I do have an X-Men story I’ve been dying to tell, and maybe someday I’ll get to. It’s about a mutant with a weird form of telepathy that enables him to periodically copy the personality of someone he’s exposed to — a power he doesn’t realize he has, and one which causes a severe crisis of identity once he realizes it.”

Author of the recent comics novels 52 and INFINITE CRISIS, as well as the DAREDEVIL and GHOST RIDER novelizations, Greg Cox said, “I have a distinct weakness for the spooky heroes: Doctor Strange, The Spectre, Dr. Fate, Morbius, etc. I got to play with The Spectre a little bit in my INFINITE CRISIS novelization, but I’d love to explore the creepier sides of the Marvel or DC universes some more. In the meantime, however, I just got to write a Phantom story for Moonstone, which was fun.  Beware the Ghost Who Walks!”

J. Steven York, author of novelizations of the THE AGE OF CONAN: THE ANOK HERETIC OF STYGIA trilogy and novelizations of the MECHWARRIOR: DARK AGE #20: TRIAL BY CHAOS said, “I’m partial to team books and/or those with a strong science-fiction element: Iron Man, Green Lantern, Legion of Super-Heroes, etc. But I have to say the one I’m most disappointed I never got a chance to write: The Fantastic Four. I love the juxtaposition of those mind-boggling Jack Kirby science-fiction concepts with such great and well-defined characters who function as a family, not just a super-team. And there’s just no better villain than Dr. Doom. I like him best when his honor and pride force him to straddle the line between good and evil. I see Dr. Doom as a tragic character, a potentially great man poisoned by his own pride. That’s what makes him fun.”

“Well, I got the chance to write a novel based on a superhero whose persona was a perfect fit for my style of storytelling: Wolverine,” said David Mack, author of many STAR TREK novels, including the recently released DESTINY trilogy and the acclaimed VANGUARD series, as well as the Wolverine novel ROAD OF BONES. His first work of original fiction, a supernatural thriller titled THE CALLING, will be published this July by Simon & Schuster.

“I co-wrote and sold an unpublished Batman script about a decade ago,” Mack said. “If there’s one comic-book character I’d still really like to write for above all others, it would be Batman. I have this old proposal in my files for a ‘what if?’ origin story that sets Batman’s genesis in a war-torn former Soviet puppet state, such as Georgia or Ukraine, and bases his story on the concept of redemption, rather than on vengeance. I could imagine that story working in an updated form set in the Middle East. Running a close second to ol’ Batman would be Iron Man, followed by Doctor Strange.”

Brandie Tarvin, who has contributed short stories to the BLUE KINGDOM anthologies PIRATES OF THE BLUE KINGDOM and SHADES AND SPECTERS admitted, “If I had a choice, I’d like to write an ensemble piece for the Teen Titans. I enjoy telling tales about those characters, heroes or otherwise, who haven’t been fully explored in other media. Groups like the Teen Titans — or even single heroes who don’t fit the standard Superman/Wonder Woman/Batman trio — really deserve a chance to shine. The best part about it is that lesser characters can often go places, character development-wise or plot-wise, that you can’t get away with for the big names. An author can really drag out the angst or play in a new sandbox.”

Yvonne Navarro, whose more than 20 books include the novelizations of HELLBOY and ELEKTRA, simply said, “I would so love to do a novel about Nightcrawler,” while Bob Greenberger, whose credits include numerous STAR TREK novels as well as this year’s mammoth THE ESSENTIAL BATMAN ENCYCLOPEDIA and HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY novelization, said, “Lots of great choices, but I would think Green Lantern given the cosmic scope and camaraderie inherent in the concept. It was always the character I wanted a crack at editing and never had the chance.”

Russell Davis, author of TRANSFORMERS: ANNHILATION, TRANSFORMERS: FUSION and RED EDEN (with Gregory Simay), chose an old favorite: “I’d love to do a Batman novel, but I think covering new ground would be very, very difficult. A lot has been done with that character already. Still, it might be interesting to do a story on Bruce Wayne leaving Gotham and starting over somewhere else, when the city has turned its back on both him and Batman. Perhaps where he confronts a new villain, rather than one of the more familiar foes.”

David Seidman, who has written books based on characters from King Kong to Mickey Mouse to Spider-Man, as well as characters who have nothing to do with animals, would also have to go bats. “If I’d had to pick one, it’d be Batman, because of the story that I have in mind: Take the money away. Strip him of the cash that pays for those wonderful toys. How would such a change affect his relationship with his employee Alfred, with his still-wealthy allies Nightwing and Robin, with the enemies that he has to defeat even though he’s losing his resources, and even with his own alter ego of Bruce Wayne? Oh, the tale I could tell!”

The prolific Jeff Mariotte, author of SPIDER-MAN: REQUIEM, 30 DAYS OF NIGHT: ETERNAL DAMNATION (with Steve Niles) and CSI: MIAMI: RIGHT TO DIE, also added his vote for the Dark Knight. “I’ve written comic book-based tie-in novels using Spider-Man, 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, Gen13, Superman — along with Phantom Stranger, The Demon, Jonah Hex, El Diablo and Scalphunter, which was really fun — so I’ve been able to play in that world quite a bit. But I still haven’t had the chance to do anything with my favorite superhero: Batman. One of these days! I’d also enjoy writing about Daredevil and/or Doctor Strange.”

Matt Forbeck, whose novels include BLOOD BOWL, MARKED FOR DEATH and SECRET OF THE SPIRITKEEPER, decided to make his Marvel: “Flat out, I’d snatch up Spider-Man. I learned to read with Spidey comics, and I’ve been hooked on the character since. Should I ever have the shot at such a book, I’d love to tackle an ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN novel. Brian Michael Bendis has done a great job of bringing the character back to his teen-angst roots while updating him for a modern audience in the comics, and I’d love to tackle that same angle in prose.”

Author of THE BLOOD ANGELS OMNIBUS and STARGATE SG-1: RELATIVITY, James Swallow’s choice is based on an old love rather than on the character’s newfound popularity. “I’ve been a comics reader since I was a lad, and my experience writing comics characters has all been prose or radio, although not in the traditional spandex ‘n’ capes sense: I wrote novels and audio dramas featuring future lawman Judge Dredd and clone soldier Rogue Trooper from 2000 AD. But if we’re talking superheroes here, it would be Iron Man, without doubt. Tony Stark’s alter ego has been my lifelong fave, and the recent uptick in old Shellhead’s popularity thanks to the movie has made me a happy fanboy. I’d write him in something that mixed techno-action with some 007-style globetrotting, giving Stark a chance to be a hero inside and outside the red-and-gold armor. And maybe a classic villain or two.”

From the author of UNHOLY: HAUNTED LANDS, the third volume in his FORGOTTEN REALMS trilogy, Richard Lee Byers, comes another lifelong favorite: “There are so many great characters, but I guess I’d go with Doctor Strange. I’ve got a strong idea for a story. I’m reluctant to lay out all the details, but it would pit the character against a challenge unlike any he’s faced before and give me a chance to play with diverse elements of the supernatural part of the Marvel Universe. If I couldn’t have Doc, I’d go with Batman, another lifelong favorite.”

As for wacky experiences in the tie-in field, most writers have a story to tell:

“Marvel insisted there be no references to Nazis ever. Seriously,” said DeCandido. “Made it real hard to do a Captain America novel, because the Red Skull was off limits. We managed to use Baron Strucker in a bunch of different books, but only in his role as the head of HYDRA, and then we could only refer to his background as being a ‘Prussian war criminal.’”

Cox concurred with DeCandido’s choice of wacky interference: “Headache-wise, Keith beat me to the punch on the Nazi thing. It still amuses me that I had to turn Baron Wolfgang Von Strucker from an ex-Nazi to a Prussian war criminal of unspecified political orientation. Beyond that, I don’t want to bite the hand that feeds me.”

DeCandido also had a hand in (but not on) another headache involving a Marvel novel, this one written by Richard Lee Byers, who remembered, “I wrote an X-Men novel called SOUL KILLER. The cover artist painted Storm with a big ass. The editorial powers that be felt it was an inappropriately big ass. So they covered it with a black circle. But you can’t just have a black circle in the middle of your cover illustration for no apparent reason, so they put the author’s name in it. Thus, my name’s right on top of Storm’s ass.”

“Speaking as the editorial power-that-was in question,” DeCandido said, “we had to do something. What Richard didn’t mention was that the cover art in question was by Richard Corben, who did not do revisions. And it was a great cover, except for the ginormous ass on Storm — and really, that illustration put the max in gluteus maximus. So we put in a butt-blurring byline burst!”

Davis, a soul of discretion, said, “There are so many to choose from, and few that don’t reveal at least some of those involved. Here’s one: a highly intelligent, technologically advanced, space-faring race is surprised by gravity!”

Greenberger ran into a bit of political correctness that still has him scratching his head: “In my forthcoming Iron Man book, Marvel was freaking out and telling me I could have HYDRA as terrorists threatening NYC, but I could not reference Al Qaeda having done the same in the recent past.”

Seidman’s silliness involved a studio with a security fetish counterproductive to the creation of a good book: “I got an offer to write a movie novelization, but the studio would have let me read the script only once and refused to show me film footage or other visuals. Try writing an entire novel that way, especially when the novel had to be point-by-point accurate to the film. It hurt to turn the job down, because I was dying to write about the movie’s characters, but I just couldn’t produce a decent book under those conditions.”

But Swallow takes the prize, with an entire book slipped out from under him … just as he was about to start writing it: “I’d outlined a novel that had been approved by the publisher and I was just about to start writing it when I was told that the book, despite having already been contracted, announced in the trades and up on Amazon for pre-order, had not been approved by the owners of the franchise. So when the entire plotline of my novel was kicked out because the same story was going to be done in the ongoing comics series, I was forced to come up with a totally new plotline using the same title and race through the usually months-long approval process in a matter of days, in order to keep to the production schedule.”

Next time: More books! —Paul Kupperberg

Buy them at Amazon.

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Comment by Louis Fowler
2009-01-16 12:46:03

No one picked CAPTAIN CARROT?

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Comment by Paul Kupperberg
2009-01-16 13:02:57

Astonishly, no.

Comment by RP
2009-01-16 13:01:50

I always thought THE INVADERS would make a cool WWII book, but the whole “no Nazis” thing would make it tough.

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Comment by Steven Schend
2009-01-16 14:17:30

Paul, I regret not keeping up with the IAMTW digests over the holidays. Didn’t see the query until far too late.

That said, I’d love to write any story with nearly any Legionnaire outside of Matter-Eater Lad or Polar Boy. I suspect I could have some fun with the long-dead Kid Psycho as a deconstructionist story nowadays.

On the Marvel side, there’s so many choices for good characters but my predilections would have me choose either Doctor Strange or Doctor Doom.

In terms of strange editor stories, I’m afraid I have a lack of those. I’ve only gotten to work with very sharp editors like the much-missed Kim Yale when I was the TSR in-house liaison for the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons comic book.

Thanks for the fun column, by the by.

Steven Schend

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Comment by Greg Cox
2009-01-16 14:22:28

To be fair, the whole “no Nazis” thing was nearly thirteen years ago. I have no idea if it still applies.

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Comment by Paul Kupperberg
2009-01-17 14:17:01

WW II’s been over for more than 60 years–I think comics has finally reached the point where Nazis are way out of vogue. Remember: it’s been twice as long since Stan revived Captain America as it was between World War II and that story in AVENGERS #4!!!

Comment by rob!
2009-01-16 22:45:39

Anyone want to write an Aquaman prose novel?


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Comment by Paul Kupperberg
2009-01-17 14:13:23

I tried to write an Aquaman novel but my pen wouldn’t work underwater.

But seriously…! An Aquaman novel would be cool to do, but if given my druthers, I’d probably have to go with Superman as my first choice, followed by Arion and then Checkmate…but Aquaman would be in my top half dozen.

Comment by Allan
2009-01-17 10:37:03

It would be fun to write a novel set in the limbo heroes go to whenever they’re temporarily deceased.

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Comment by Eric
2009-01-18 13:09:01

Thanks for heads up concerning Peter Greenberger’s upcoming Iron Man novel (6/23/09). Can you tell us if there’s any more superhero fiction on the horizon?

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Comment by Rod
2009-01-18 14:15:28

A couple that I know of: Tim Lebbon’s HELLBOY: THE FIRE WOLVES in April and Kevin J. Anderson’s ENEMIES & ALLIES in May.

Comment by Greg Cox
2009-01-19 11:05:12

COUNTDOWN: THE NOVEL, by yours truly, coming in July. (Just in time for Comic-Con!)

And I’m working on the FINAL CRISIS novelization now.

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Comment by Eric
2009-01-19 13:05:39

I wonder if there will be a Watchmen movie novelization?

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Comment by Paul Kupperberg
2009-01-19 16:05:01

I don’t believe there is a WATCHMEN novelization, although there are a couple of “Making Of”type books.

Comment by Greg Cox
2009-01-19 15:39:00

Or a Wolverine novelization, for that matter.

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