So, how do we follow-up a recap of DC's "The L.A.W."? By interviewing one of the creators involved. The great Bob Layton!
Bob Layton and Dick Giordano
Kord Industries: You've had a rich career in comics; co-founder of Valiant, co-creator of DC’s Huntress, multiple Marvel credits including the historic “Demon in a Bottle” Iron Man story…what led to your work on DC’s “The L.A.W.”?
Bob: Dick Giordano, credited as the father of the Charlton Action Heroes, mentored me throughout my entire career. Unfortunately, we were always positioned at opposing companies throughout our careers. When he was the head guy at DC Comics, I was on contract to Marvel or running Valiant Comics as Co–Founder and Editor-In-Chief. So, when Dick stepped down from his job as DC’s Managing Editor and went freelance and I stepped down from Valiant, we decided to finally work together on various projects. Together, we did several Batman Elseworlds (“Batman: Dark Knight of the Round Table” and “Batman: Hollywood Knight”) and of course, the L.A.W.. Dickie’s passion for those characters had not diminished over the years and he yearned to revisit them once he returned to freelancing. So, I began to put together a pitch proposal we dubbed “The Charlton Project” for the Powers-That-Be at DC Comics.
KI: You did double duty on “The L.A.W.”, writing and inking (with the legendary Dick Giordano on pencils). Were you already familiar with the look and personalities of the Charlton Action Heroes? A fan?
Bob: I was a big Charlton fan since the days of the Giordano Action Heroes. I was honored that he took me under his wing when I was a kid of 19. Dick admonished me, as his apprentice, to learn every single aspect of the business—because that knowledge would insure me continuing to get work when times are tough. I have to say that he was correct. For the majority of my career, I've been able to function as an editor, writer, penciller, or inker—depending on what’s available at the time, thanks to Dickie’s sage wisdom. In the mid '70's, Charlton was struggling to re-establish some sort of footing in the superhero market. Marvel and DC had house fan publications of their own, namely F.O.O.M. and Amazing World of DC Comics. Charlton wanted to establish a fan presence, as well and formed an alliance with my Indianapolis-based CPL/Gang fan publication to produce the Charlton Bullseye. They gave us unlimited access to unpublished material from their vaults by the likes of unpublished Blue Beetle and Captain Atom stories by Steve Ditko, and a host of others titles. While I was producing Bullseye, I began taking on inking work on their anthology books. Though I never actually worked in the Charlton offices. I DID, however, live about two blocks away from their Derby, CT. offices. Plus, I did double duty in my early days as a background assistant with Dick’s close friend and neighbor, Frank Mclaughlin, creator of Judomaster. So, I was thoroughly steeped in Charlton and its lore. It was extremely nostalgic to connect with the Charlton characters after my fan association with them.
Judomaster, and his sidekick Tiger, play crucial roles in the story. Were they your favorites?
Bob: As I stated earlier, I worked as a background assistant with Frank McLaughlin in my early days, so I had access to his insights into the Judomaster character. And, let’s face it, I've always been attracted to characters without super-powers. Just look at my passion for Tony Stark/Iron Man if you don’t believe that.
When I put together the original pitch for”The Charlton Project”, Giordano had the wild idea to have Judomaster currently living in timeless Nanda Parbat. (Something he remembered from his days with Deadman and Neal Adams) Since it exists in a temporal nexus outside of time, Rip Jagger would still be young and alive in present day. I thought that was brilliant and that backstory spurred the idea of an abandoned Tiger turning to the “dark side”. What I wanted to do with Tiger was to show how driven and obsessed he had become about stepping out of his now-legendary master’s shadow. Keep in mind that Tiger learned from example. After the war, when Tiger was denied entry to the country he risked his life to defend, Judomaster dragged him around Southeast Asia for almost a decade in his obsession to find the legendary city of Nanda Parbat. Obsession is the nature of megalomania and insanity. I don’t believe that any would-be conqueror actually thinks out the big picture. It’s all about ‘getting there’
The story includes a few updates, a new BUG for Blue Beetle, an entirely new look for Peacemaker, the transformation of one hero into the story’s villain. How much freedom were you given?
Bob: It was important to update and modernize the characters for a new generation. It’s not like I haven’t had success with that before with such characters like Iron Man, Hercules, X-Factor or Solar: Man of the Atom. But I didn't have the freedom to do that with the Charlton Heroes as much as I would have liked. To be honest, I see in retrospect that the entire project was a big mistake and doomed from square one. Originally, I had proposed it as an Elseworld series that explored the time gap that began when their series' ended at Charlton and the time they first appeared in the DC Universe (about ten years). It's a shame too, because it was a much better story that the one that appeared in The L.A.W.. In fact, we didn't come up with the title of the series. The L.A.W. was the stupid name that the Powers-That-Be at DC Comics came up with after they outright rejected the fifty-plus title suggestions that Dick and I came up with! Fifty-three to be exact. I shit you not. I can show you the original document with all fifty-three proposed titles listed on it.
Also, our original proposal had a darker, more Watchman-like tone to it and took place outside of DC universe continuity. Some of those characters had fallen on hard times and our story was more about them finding their way “back into the light”. In many ways, it deconstructed the super-hero genre in a very interesting way. Eventually, they wind-up trapped in a galactic upheaval that thrusts the Charlton Heroes into an alternate reality—which, coincidentally, was to be the DC Universe. Unfortunately, those Powers-That-Be convinced Dick and me that it would sell better if we set it in the regular DC Universe from the beginning. In order to do that, “The Charlton Project”, as we called it, had to be seriously retooled. Subsequently, it started getting edited by committee, with each editorial department insisting we "Do this" or "Don't do that" and they insisted that the Justice League had to be guest-stars. As a result, the content became diluted to the point that I no longer recognized it as the story Dickie and I had created. At DC, a creator always has to deal with a certain amount of reverence to their history, bureaucracy and red tape. But this project was ‘off the chain’ with bureaucratic foolishness. We were told, at the beginning, that we were going to get some big crossover promotions for the series (since it now guest-starred the JLA) but it never materialized.
After the L.A.W., I left DC and never looked back. And that fiasco almost broke Dickie’s heart in the process. Very tragic.
KI: I’ve been looking back at “The L.A.W.” over the last several months, inspired to re-read it after picking up Grant Morrison’s “Multiveristy: Pax Americana” which also featured the Charlton Action Heroes. Characters like Blue Beetle and Captain Atom had been involved in the bwahahahahaha “Justice League International” prior to your story. Were comparisons to those more lighthearted takes on the characters a challenge at the time?
Bob: No. I just ignored what came before at DC and tried to build on what’s good about the basic Charlton concepts. Do you think I went back and read all the uninspired Iron Man stories that were done before I revamped the book? Not likely. And, as I said, the original story took place in an alternate reality, so none of that mattered.
KI: Was this always intended as a mini-series, or was there talk of uniting these characters in an ongoing series?
Bob: As I stated earlier, the series was doomed before it ever saw print. And, without any promotion or crossover push, the books didn't pull in acceptable sales numbers. It's too bad it wound up the way it did. Dick and I had big plans for those characters down the road in a proposed regular series but that never stood a chance in Hell of happening after the whole editorial fiasco.
KI: So, if you were given a chance to do this story again, would you? Would you change anything?
Bob: Are you kidding? No. But if I did, I’d change EVERYTHING! Ha!
KI: Thank you so much for taking the time to do this! I really appreciate it!
Wow...that was more honest and enlightening than I could have hoped for! I've actually enjoyed re-reading "The L.A.W." now more than I did when it came out, but that's not to say it didn't have flaws or moments that left me scratching my head. And now, thanks to Bob Layton himself, we have some of the answers. What other ideas did he and Dick Giordano have in mind? What were the 53 other titles DC rejected? Maybe he'll be gracious enough to share them at some point down the road.
In the meantime be sure to check out Bob's page boblayton.com for news and updates, convention appearances and more!