Saturday, March 28, 2015

Bob Layton Interview!

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 They gave us unlimited access to unpublished material from their vaults by the likes of unpublished Blue Beetle and Captain Atom stories by Steve Ditko, and a host of others titles.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 for news and updates, convention appearances and more!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The L.A.W. #6: ...And Order!

Well, Beetlemaniacs, here we are...the final issue of Bob Layton and Dick Giordano's "The L.A.W." Most of the plot threads seemed to have wound down last tissue, but like the great Yogi Berra said, "It ain't over till it's over"

After the events of the last 5 issues, a battered and bruised Question finally returns home to his apartment in Hub City. Removing his mask, returning to his identity as Vic Sage, he contemplates whether or not he should tell this story, share the truth behind what happened. It might win him a Pulitzer Prize...or it might destroy him, and many others. In the end, he sits down at his computer and begins tying.

After Avatar's plot failed, the heroes reconvene at Peacemaker Project HQ. Blue Beetle is rushed to the infirmary for medical treatment, having suffered massive electrical shock shutting down the G.O.R.T., while Judomaster retires to his quarters to meditate, promising there will be much to discuss when he returns. 

After the others debrief, Questions pays a visit to his old friend the Blue Beetle. While the medical team has cleared him, Ted is not exactly "OK". Question is concerned that Ted isn't wearing a mask, openly showing the Peacemaker staff that he is Blue Beetle. Ted doesn't care. He's tired of secrets, tired of shouldering the burden of Dan Garrett's death, tired of living in the past. He decides it's time to stop being Blue least for a little while, while he sorts his life out.

Nightshade reappears, only to say she won't be staying long. She's uncomfortable with her new form, and wants to find a way to restore herself, but first she needs to give Uncle Yves (who's been waiting at Peacemaker HQ through all of this) an explanation. 

Mitchell Black goes before Peacemaker's governing body to request that he be relieved of duties so he can return to what he knows best...practicing medicine. The request is denied. The men behind the Peacemaker Project feel his humanity sets him apart from previous Peacemakers and makes him an invaluable they're not willing to give up just yet.

Then, everyone gets back together one last time...well, nearly everyone. 

Captain Atom, drained of his energy by Avatar, is stuck in a liquid state! He's alive, but just barely. Judomaster asks everyone to give him some privacy, but Question is permitted to stay behind and witness what will happen. Rip spends hours speaking to Captain Atom, reviewing his history, reminding him not just what happened but what made him the man he once was. Slowly but surely Captain Atom is able to reform himself, in a fancy new costume too! 

And with that we're reminded that "the events of the last few weeks had inexorably altered our paths...taking us in new, unforeseen directions." 

Finally a series of short epilogues reveal Justine and Sarge Steel continue their May-December romance with a ski trip...travelling on her private plane! We see that Salt was once a resident of Nanda Parbat, and has lived for centuries. He now stands by his friend Rip Jagger, the Judomaster, as he continues on his quest to save Tiger, aka Avatar. 

And lastly, in a cabin in the Himalayas, a man is trying to hire guides for a mountain trek. The man? Avatar. His destination? 

WOW! This really was a fun re-read...though a little sad at the same time. I said before, when this book first came out, I had mixed feelings. As excited as I was to see Blue Beetle, Captian Atom and the Question together...they weren't the versions I was familiar with at the time. I'd been so used to seeing the fun loving, wise cracking, Ted Kord of the JLI this was a bit of a shock. It's funny to me now though, writing this blog and going back to revisit old comics, as I realize that the tone in this book was a bit closer to the Charlton or even DC's Wein/Cullins series than I realized at the time. Curious how your perception can change or be influenced.

Seeing these heroes reborn, rejuvenated...kinda makes a guy wish there was more to it. Some kind of follow-up, another mini-series or monthly to tell us what happened next? Sadly...that was not meant to be. In fact, quite a few things about this series didn't turn out quite as expected. How do I know? I spoke with Bob Layton himself! Come back next week and check out my interview with Mr. Layton for all the details!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The L.A.W. #5: To Serve And Protect

We're nearly there! Bob Layton and Dick Giordano bring us the penultimate issue of their Charlton Action Heroes in the DCU series "The L.A.W.". The villain Avatar has managed to take control of the G.O.R.T. satellite with the help of a traitor inside Peacemaker HQ. Will our heroes be able to put an end to his plan once and for all? Read on...

Nightshade fights off hordes of Avatar's demons in an alternate dimension. With each wave of the attack she discovers more about herself. With the transformation that has taken place she now controls the shadows to even greater effect. But is it enough she wonders?

In space, the G.O.R.T.'s self defenses are online and firing on the BUG. Blue Beetle takes quick action, launching the BUG's own defense decoys, but he seems to be showing some unusual stress from the mission, and Peacemaker and the Question have taken notice. 

Back at Peacemaker HQ, Sarge Steel monitors the progress of his agents, while making things right with Justine (who he'd accused last issue of being a traitor). He's also had his old hand restored, "getting back to basics" he says...though somethings are changing.

Rip, sits in silent meditation preparing for an journey of astral projection. Using his finely honed mental skills he reaches out across the globe to Avatar, asking the villain to stop his plan of destruction and offering to help him. Avatar refuses.

Peacemaker decides to take risky measures to help take down the G.O.R.T. and takes a solo flight in space. He figures solo, he's too small for the satellite's defenses to lock onto, so he can clear the way for the BUG. 

It's just crazy enough to work...and it does! One page flip later and the BUG has docked and our trio is inside...where more defenses kick in!

Back in the alternate dimension, the Justice League has joined Nightshade in her battle with the Ravanan demons. A few pages later things are looking bad for an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, under heavy attack from Ravanan demons, until the League arrives to save the day...minus Nightshade who is nowhere to be seen.

In space, on the G.O.R.T., Peacemaker, the Question and Blue Beetle find themselves pinned down by the satellite's internal defense systems. Beetle freezes, unable to act, and flashing back again to the fateful day on Pago Island when his predecessor, Dan Garrett, died. Ted Kord is haunted by the idea that he could have acted, done something differently, to save his mentor and he refuses to make that mistake again! 

Charging at a damaged access panel, he tears at the exposed power cables, shutting down the satellite and nearly killing himself in the process. 

Steel tries to reason with Dr. Bhattacarja, but she tells him that her son is one of the many children Avatar "rescued". It gets worse when she explains that her son has a rare blood disease that Avatar has promised to heal, Steel knows there's no persuading her. "Oh, I see. In other words...we're dead." But when word gets back that the G.O.R.T. has been deactivated, Dr. Bhattacarja surrenders, though she worries her failure will upset Avatar and cost her son his life. 

In Pakistan, Judomaster confronts Avatar. In something of a surprise, Avatar concedes his loss, but adds that he is immortal and has all the time in the world to accomplish his plans. With that, he releases the children, including Dr. Bhattacarja's son, to the care of Judomaster. Before their meeting ends though, Avatar swears that he will kill Rip if their paths cross again. For his part Rip reminds his former sidekick that he has always loved him like a son, and will never stop trying to teach him forgiveness.

WOW! This issue was packed with some great character moments! The Justice League's return helped tie up a plot thread, but felt...unnecessary, this has been a great tale of the Charlton Action Heroes...and they've been doing just fine handling a global threat without the assistance of DC's mightiest heroes. Oddly we never saw Nightshade after they returned to our world either. Even though everything felt like it was coming to a close, there is still one more issue...perhaps we'll get some more answers there? You won't have to wait long either...I'll close up this visit with "The L.A.W." next week as I have something special planned for the end of the month! Make sure to check back!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Blue Beetle #4 (Fox) Part 2

Here's part two of Blue Beetle #4. 

It's tough for me to tell for sure, but this story either inspired, or was inspired by, the Blue Beetle radio show! The radio show debuted May 15th 1940, and this issue was cover dated Sep/Oct 1940. Some of the scenes and dialog play out like mirror images! In both, Dan Garret takes on a drug ring...

(click the pages to enlarge)

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Blue Beetle: 1st Thursday with Bob Layton

Over the last few months I've been looking back at DC Comics' "The L.A.W." but Bob Layton and Dick Giordano, here at Kord Industries. I've had the pleasure recently of messaging and emailing back in forth with the very cool Bob Layton (more on that soon!), and in the process added this awesome sketch to my personal collection. Enjoy!