Wednesday, November 18, 2015

JL #41 "They Mystery of the Fiery Eyes!" Afterward

If you have not yet read this story, please DO NOT READ THIS AFTERWARD. Skip this article and go down one post to read the story. Then come back. Please!
If you have already read this story PLEASE DO NOT SPOIL THE STORY in any links or shares etc. I went to a lot of trouble to try to write a "real" mystery, and I would like as many people as possible to read it "cold," without already knowing the ending. Thank you!

So, now that my request is out of the way...what did you think? We can talk SPOILERS after the JUMP---!

First of all I would like to offer a round of applause to my "editor," my pal Chris Workman. When I sent him an initial script many months ago and asked for feedback, he was lavish in his praise. That was the first time I thought I might really have something special here. So thanks for the feedback and support, Chris!

Sometimes the stars align just right, and for me that happened for most of this issue. The plot eventually fell into place and I don't think anything was unclear or unsaid. The art always has its shaky pages, but in general I took longer and drew more detail, and I think it shows. I'm pretty proud of this story and right now it is my new favorite.

The first thing I am proud of is the way that I created parallel conversations between Superman and Green Lantern. Last issue I showed the conversation from Superman's side; this time I showed it from Green Lantern's. It took a little bit more work to stage than just a simple conversation, but I do like how it turned out. Here's the actual scenes, side by side:

Within that conversation, my favorite bit was Barry Allen, aka The Flash, quickly finishing his dinner while commenting that the LA Museum of Natural History was less than ten minutes away. I thought that was really funny, setting this story up as another good, old-fashioned FUN adventure.
Likewise, I got a big kick out of teaming Hawkman and Green Arrow together this time. Their "feud" has been around a long time, and I enjoy adding moments to it. This actually arose naturally, as I needed the two women to team up, and then it seemed natural for old pals Flash and Green Lantern to work together. That just left Hawkman and Green Arrow!

Before I get to the reason I had to team up the women, I want to talk a little bit about the Fisherman and the other bad guys. Originally I wanted to use villains who used jewelry or stones as their motifs: hence Dr. Alchemy and Star Sapphire. (I had a page or two background planned to show some unknown boss who hired them to rob the Natural Museum, but eventually cut that...) I thought of Matter Master, but because one mystery reveal would be a Hawk foe, and his powers were similar to Dr. Alchemy's, I decided to leave him out. I thought about Catwoman for a little while, but eventually discarded her because I didn't think she had the power to face off against the heroes, and also because I didn't see her following anybody else's orders. Then it dawned on me: the bad guys would be treasure hunters! And who was more of a treasure hunter than a pirate?
This went along with my simultaneous thoughts about where I was going to send the teams. After I had decided to add the Three Investigators, I knew I wanted to use titles from their series as my chapter titles. I went over the 30 plus book titles and finally the stars aligned again: if I used an Aquaman villain, I could use The Mystery of Skeleton Island! Black Manta wouldn't be caught dead with the other two Morts, so I chose The Fisherman instead.
And that is how I had Hawkwoman and Black Canary fighting him! I knew they had to face him because I came up with a great one of my all-time favorite lines I have written:
Love it!

Now, if you are already familiar with The Three Investigators, you may have picked up on the tip of my hat to a few standard scenes and motifs from their books. For example, I knew I wanted to set one scene at their head-quarters, the Jones Salvage Yard. I knew I wanted to have "an action scene," and that meant I had to use Pete, who was the most athletic one. When I decided to place the last scene in a cave, I hit upon referencing one of their "trademark" moves: chalk question marks!

This scene above is, to me, classic Three Investigators. They were smart! Sure, Bob might have followed some "siren" into the cave, but he knew enough to be careful to mark the way back out! I really felt like I was channeling T3I creator Robert Arthur when I came up with this scene. In fact, of the three chapters, I like the Bob-Flash-GL chapter the most. Maybe because I always had a soft spot for Bob...! 

One last thing about the Three Investigators before we move on to The Big Reveal. I knew there had to be some action at the face-off between the JLA and the bad guys. And if the Fade Away Man is armed with a magical cloak, and he can pull anything out of it he wants...!? I went back to T3I book titles for some more threats...! If I had more space we would have seen the Invisible Dog and the Nervous Lion, too! 

Speaking of the Fade Away Man, I like to think that I kinda sorta foreshadowed him as the shadow protagonist by having the JLA talk about "non-major bad guys" while they were eating lunch....way back on page one! No?

I also like the idea that as a group, the JLA would sometimes fight people they had never heard of. It just so happened that the Fade Away Man was a minor Hawkman villain, but if the Hawks hadn't been in on this adventure, my guess is that none of the others would have known who he was. I thought that was fun!

(Another favorite line of mine originally came right after the panels above, when Hawkman explains who the Fade Away Man is. Green Arrow then quips, "Oh, an art historian gone bad? Watch out!" Unfortunately, I ended up having to cut it for space reasons.)

So...that just leaves The Big Reveal.

Now it can be told: from the very beginning this story was plotted around bringing Brainiac back. If you have read my earlier issues you know that he "died" in JL #26 "The Stormy Return of the Red Tornado!" When I was perusing the Three Investigator series' titles, I came across The Mystery of the Fiery Eye. (That one was always one of my favorites, by the way) But that phrase immediately called up images of Darkseid to me. When you stop and think about it, though, Darkseid isn't the ONLY interstellar bad guy. Hmmm....sounds like a story idea there!

So I built the plot on a few incorrect assumptions. An interstellar teleportation device is not necessarily a Boom Tube. A space-ship might have been made on Apokolips, or on Colu. Brainiac (who had mental powers in some of his 90s appearances) chose a weak-willed bad guy to do his leg work, opening up the equivalent of a locked transporter beam, freeing him. It helped that neither of the World's Greatest Detectives (Batman and the Elongated Man) were in on this adventure.

Go back and re-read the story. I never say that the threat is actually Darkseid. I allow the heroes to continue along that line of thought, but there are several references to Colu in the story. Also, in case you hadn't realized it, the cover image features Brainiac's transistor icon!

I also really really love the following scene. Brainiac announces that he is "on," just like any computer that boots on. He does an environmental analysis, pats himself on the back for employing the four Morts, then turns off his "microphone" so as not to be affected by Black Canary! I don't know about you, but I find this stuff clever.
When Brainiac realizes that he is out-numbered, he decides that retreat is the smartest path. The JLA, momentarily taken aback that it wasn't Darkseid after all, scramble but it is too late.

And then we end with the Three Investigators being voted in as Junior Justice Leaguers. Shall they come back? I would love to try to team them up with Batman and Ralph, maybe?
And the final "secret" of the Laughing Shadow...? Why, it's none other than the late great Alfred Hitchcock!!

I hope you enjoyed reading this story as much as I enjoyed making it. Although it definitely has its moments of bad art, in general I think I stepped it up a notch this time. Let me know if you agree, or disagree. Leave any comments below!

Next time: another collaboration with the great Andy Kapellusch as we illustrate A Universal Truth.
It's a monster of a tale!

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