The celebrated Mr. K spotlights comics that just didn’t make the grade…
Back in January, columnist Paul Kupperberg took you on a tour of 13 comics he was involved in that never made it to print. It’s a fascinating look at the inside of the comics industry, so by all means click here to check it out.
Now, he’s back with his fave 13 UNPUBLISHED DC COMICS PROJECTS, which date from the Golden Age to the 21st century. Paul was involved with a handful of these, but mostly not. Either way, it’s another really groovy glimpse behind the scenes in big-time comics.
By PAUL KUPPERBERG
Unpublished projects abound in the comic book industry. There are as many reasons for a series or a special not to happen as there are series and specials that do happen.
I’ve had my fair share of comic book scripts that weren’t published. I could write a book. In fact, I’ve written two books of those unpublished stories (with a third in the works), 2015’s The Unpublished Comic Book Scripts of Paul Kupperberg (click here) and the newly released Son of the Unpublished Comic Book Scripts of Paul Kupperberg (click here), about which you could read more on my website, PaulKupperberg.com, or you could comb the entries below for the not-so-subtle and self-serving (i.e., please buy my books) clues I’ve included.
So, without any undue ado, MY 13 FAVORITE UNPUBLISHED DC COMICS PROJECTS:
Justice Society of America, “The Will of William Wilson” (1946). This lost tale from comics’ Golden Age came to light over 20 years after its creation when then-fan and DC “apprentice” Marv Wolfman was assigned the task of cutting up what he described as a “postal cart” full of original comic-book art that was due to be incinerated. The art was for all sorts of unpublished (but bought and paid for) stories that had been stamped as “Written off,” as in being a tax write-off, or liability. Marv salvaged hundreds of pages from destruction, including about a dozen from the 1946 Justice Society of America story, “The Will of William Wilson.”
Eventually, through swaps and trades (Marv was not the only fan/apprentice saving precious artwork from DC’s fiery furnaces… and yes, DC had furnaces; what do you think happened to Leo Dorfman?), most of the tale ended up in the hands of fellow fan Mark Hanerfeld (you may know him better as Joe Orlando’s inspiration for the House of Secrets host, Abel). He later sold to JSA writer and fan supreme, Roy Thomas and yadda yadda yadda, it finally did see print in the one-shot Last Days of the Justice Society of America (1986). And since this column’s already a bit pluggy, I might as well mention again JSA: Ragnarok, my original JSA novel, also available on Amazon (click here). Thank you for your patience.
Marvel and DC Present the Uncanny X-Men and the New Teen Titans #2 (1984). No, they didn’t. It was the most eagerly awaited crossover event since the previous year’s critically acclaimed Marvel and DC Present the Uncanny X-Men and the New Teen Titans #1, but at some point, the Marv Wolfman/George Pérez project fell victim to intercompany squabbling over a JLA/Avengers crossover, which George was also drawing. X-Men/Titans #2 was supposed to feature the villainous machinations of Brother Blood and the Hellfire Club, a never-to-be-seen match made in hell that still has fans pining.
Checkmate Annual #1 (1989). What the–? I came across this item researching the column and as the creator and writer of the original Checkmate series (#1-33, April 1988–Jan. 1991), wondered if this actually was news to me or if I just forgot because, you know, it was over three decades ago: “A 64-page annual was planned for 1989 featuring information about the fictional agency and its members, with a backup story involving the character Judomaster.” Whatever. Sounds like it would have been a cool book, though.
Showcase #50, “Yankee Doodle Dandy” (1964). Readers were promised “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” a new spy thriller starring Professor John Dandy who uses a chemical spray to become the blank-faced Yankee Doodle, a “master of disguise,” according to the cover copy… but what they got were decade-and-a-half-old reprints of King Faraday, a character created by Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino for the short-lived 1950 title Danger Trail. Yankee Doodle Dandy was created by DC editor Larry Nadle, who died before the story could be completed. (Note from Dan: Dandy later popped up during Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol run.)
Sugar and Spike, Vol. 2 (1980s). One of the best and most charming strips ever in American comics was Sheldon Mayer’s Sugar and Spike, starring toddlers Sugar Plumm and Cecil “Spike” Wilson, next door neighbors and best friends. Their own title ran for 98 issues over 15 years and was only canceled because of the writer/artist’s failing eyesight. Years later, after corrective cataract surgery, Shelly was back at the drawing board and turning out new Sugar and Spike stories for the overseas market, an assignment he continued to fulfill until his death in 1991.
Sugar and Spike’s reprinted exploits in several issues of The Best of DC Digest proved popular enough for DC to announce a brand-new, ongoing series. Unfortunately, the plan never came to fruition and the comics world was denied a new, regular dose of cuteness.
Bonus! During my years on staff at DC I made copies of lots of cool stuff, including about 120 pages of those never-published-in-the-U.S. Sugar and Spike stories from the 1980s. Here’s a short one. You’re welcome.
The New Adventures of Superboy #55 and DC Double Comics Starring Supergirl and Superboy (1984). So the plan was, DC cancels Supergirl with #23 and The New Adventures of Superboy after #55 and relaunches the characters in a new, shared 48-page comic featuring rotating a 24-page lead slot and a 16-page back-up. I would continue writing both features, with Eduardo Barreto and Bob Oksner taking over Supergirl and Carmine Infantino and Klaus Janson on Superboy.
Scripts were written for Superboy #55 and the first two issues of DC Double Comics; as far as I know, #55 never made it to Kurt Schaffenberger’s drawing board, but both stories for the first issue of DCDC were pencilled and lettered… and then work came to a halt because of Crisis on Infinite Earths. Both the Maid of Might and the Boy of Steel were retconned out of DC continuity and off my schedule.
What were the pre-cancellation plans for the heroes? Please see the aforementioned The Unpublished Comic Book Scripts of Paul Kupperberg for the (duh) unpublished Superboy and Supergirl scripts, as well as an introduction by John Wells covering the history of this lost project.
Green Lantern. The “Emerald Twilight” storyline in Green Lantern #48-50 (1994) where Hal Jordan became Parallax, was a major pivot point in the DCU… well, at least until the next major pivot point that changed it. But the “Emerald Twilight” by writer Ron Marz wasn’t the “Emerald Twilight” originally planned. That one, written by Gerard Jones, would have featured a civil war between opposing groups of Guardians of the Universe and Green Lanterns, but the story wasn’t deemed interesting enough to run.
Another Green Lantern project that didn’t make it to print was The Green Lantern Saga, a miniseries that told the history and origins of the Guardians and the Green Lantern Corps, written by science fiction author Larry Niven, who would write the 1992 Green Lantern: Ganthet’s Tale.
Speaking of origins, in 1987 I revisited Hal Jordan’s in “Eyes of the Beholders,” an unscheduled fill-in written and drawn to fulfill an editorial edict that all titles have an issue sitting in the drawer in case of deadline problems. My story, told from the point of view of GL’s JLA friends who happened to witness his origin and early exploits, was drawn by Rick Stasi and Bruce Patterson, but has never seen the light of day. Until about a week ago, when I published the script (from scans of the original that includes hand-edits by me and editor Julie Schwartz) in Son of the Unpublished Comic Book Scripts of Paul Kupperberg, along with…
“Emerald Interlude,” my three-issue follow up to “Emerald Twilight,” written for Legends of the DC Universe, which was cancelled before the story (with art by Peter Doherty and Joe Rubinstein) was published.
I wrote yet a fifth unpublished Green Lantern-related story, this one for the Batman: The Brave and the Bold comic based on the animated series. Asked to write stories for Joe Staton to pencil, I came up with one co-starring Plastic Man, and another, with GL Guy Gardner. Alas, due to changes in format and editors, neither was ever used.
Captain Atom Graphic Novel, Miniseries. After acquiring the rights to Captain Atom and the rest of his “Action Hero” cohorts from Charlton Comics in the 1980s, DC didn’t really seem to know what to do with them (other than to not let Alan Moore mess them up for Watchmen, forcing him instead to create analogue characters). One attempt was 1983’s Comics Cavalcade Weekly, which was to star Captain Atom, the Question, Blue Beetle, Peacemaker, Judomaster, Peter Cannon Thunderbolt, and Sarge Steel in short weekly chapters; Superman was thrown in there too, to anchor the title with a known hero.
Work was started on the features, including my 12-chapter, 60 script pages of the Captain Atom serial, some early pages of which were drawn by Jose Delbo before the project was shelved. Needless to say (and it’s for the last time this column, I swear!) that story will lead off my upcoming third volume of scripts, Return of the Unpublished Comic Book Scripts of Paul Kupperberg. And you’re right, I am ashamed of myself.
Of course, Cary Bates and Pat Broderick would launch a successful Captain Atom title in 1987, which would lead to an announced but never published Bates/Broderick graphic novel in 1992, as well as a post-Armageddon 2001 miniseries by Jonathan Peterson and Michael Netzer where the captain would have faked his own death to leave the superhero business.
Space Ranger Miniseries (1992). In 1992, science fiction writer and Darkstars co-creator Michael Jan Friedman pitched a revival of the Silver Age star of Tales of the Unexpected, Space Ranger. Mike’s pitch retained the basic elements of the 1958 Edmond Hamilton/Bob Brown creation—Rick Starr, who hides his intergalactic hero alter ego under the guise of the shiftless son of a rich man—but with more of the punch you’d expect from a hero of the 1990s. Artist John Calimee drew several solicitation pieces (I can only find a tiny scan of one of the pieces online) and it made it into that year’s preview catalogue, but marketing had second thoughts about the viability of the project and but the kibosh on it before we (I was editor) had gotten beyond a couple of scripts.
Superman: The K-Metal From Krypton (1940). Great Caesar’s ghost! A Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster studio story from 1940 that not only introduced “K-metal,” a precursor to Kryptonite, but in which Superman reveals his secret identity to Lois Lane? It was probably the latter — a major change in what had so far proved a successful formula — that caused DC to rethink publishing it. No official explanation has ever been uncovered, but the script and whatever pages had been drawn were stuck in a drawer and lay undiscovered until Mark Waid turned it up buried in DC’s library in 1988. Fortunately, a fan project has since finished and posted the story online using contemporary artists to fill in the missing pages and can be read here.
Wonder Woman, “Nuclear, the Magnetic Menace” (1940s). The first published story featuring the Golden Age Wonder Woman foe Nuclear, the Magnetic Menace was Wonder Woman #43 (1950)… but the villain had actually debuted in an earlier story that, for reasons unknown, was shelved. Unlike the “The Will of William Wilson” JSA story, the majority of art didn’t survive the 1960s “Written Off” purge. The script did turn up in 2003 and portions were printed in Roy Thomas’ Alter Ego, long after he had created his own origin for Nuclear in All-Star Squadron #16, based on the 1950 story.
Batman: Holy Terror (2006). Batman vs. Islamic terrorists? What could possibly go wrong? Fortunately, DC never had to find out because Frank Miller’s proposed 122-page Holy Terror graphic novel, which was announced in 2006, was unannounced by Miller in 2010, then re-announced later in 2010, and finally published in 2011… by Legendary Comics and starring a minimally redrawn vigilante who wasn’t Batman.
The Legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table Treasury Edition (1975). Remember DC’s treasury edition format, those 10” x 14” tabloid-size comics from the 1970s that were mostly reprints (including many of the company’s key Golden Age comics in the Famous First Edition line), but which also showcased the early DC/Marvel crossovers (Superman vs. Spider-Man, et al) as well as Superman vs. Muhammad Ali? Remember Nestor Redondo, the artist from the Philippines who between 1974 and 1976 made a splash on the post Wein/Wrightson run of Swamp Thing and a seven-issue stint on Rima, the Jungle Girl? Mix those together, add scripts by Gerry Conway, and that would have been a four-part series that I’d have liked to see.
— PAUL KUPPERBERG: 13 Comics That Might Have Been. Click here.
— PAUL KUPPERBERG: My 13 Favorite Short-Lived Series of the 1960s. Click here.
Paul Kupperberg has been writing comic books from Archie to Zatanna for 45 years at DC, Archie, Charlton, Marvel, Bongo and others. He is also the author of Paul Kupperberg’s Illustrated Guide to Writing Comics (Charlton Neo Press); I Never Write for the Money… But I Always Turn in the Manuscript for a Check (Comics Career); the comic book industry-based murder mystery The Same Old Story, the short-story collection In My Shorts: Hitler’s Bellhop and Other Stories, and JSA: Ragnarok, all from Crazy 8 Press and all available on Amazon, or signed and personalized direct from Paul (email him at firstname.lastname@example.org for details).