Wednesday, December 21, 2016

JL #45 "Toyman's WAR on Christmas" Afterwards

So....what did you think?

First off I want to thank my cyber friends Tim Wallace and Ashton Burge with giving me two great "variant" covers this time out. Thanks guys, they look great!!

As for my cover, a tip of the hat to Ramona Fradon and Bob Smith, who provided the source for me on Super Friends #24. I originally played with the idea of having a smiling Toyman on a videoscreen ala the Wonder Twins, but I kinda like how the caroling mannequins turned out.

In case you haven't read the story yet, let's continue this discussion WITH SPOILERS after the jump.



For those of you who are fans of the CLASSIC Justice League of America series, you may have recognized this story as being based on "The Man Who Murdered Santa Claus!" from JLA (v1) #110. That story was by Len Wein, Dick Dillin, and Dick Giordano, and is that is why I credited the writer and penciller in the middle of my title page.

If you have not read this classic JLA adventure, it starts with Superman and Batman on their way to an orphanage with a friend dressed as Santa. He is killed by a bomb, and the World's Finest duo calls in their super friends to track down JLA foe The Key. This sets them down a "Twelve Little Indians" type murder spree until the foe is revealed, and the heroes are shown to be alive. As in my story, the unsung hero of the action is the Phantom Stranger. The JLA saves the neighborhood from one last bomb, and then they give Red Tornado his brand new yellow-and-red uniform, telling him about The Meaning of Christmas.

My version of this story goes back atleast 16 years, when in 2000 I wrote my version of Justice League of America (v1) #152 in "my" JL #29. That story, you may recall, introduced Traya into Red Tornado's life. I wanted to introduce her into "my" universe, too, sooner rather than later, so I adopted that story before I adopted this one.

A quick glance at that story and this one should clue you in that I intended them as book-ends. I took Superman out of #29 because I knew I needed him here. (I replaced him with the Martian Manhunter.) This issue's story originally had Wonder Woman and Aquaman taking the place of Batman. And the Flash, to his credit, played the pivotal role of "member on monitor duty." I kept Red Tornado in both because he was the necessary lynch pin, of course.

In the last 16 years I played around with the story, eventually deciding on the Toyman in place of the Key, adding Batman back in, and leaving Wonder Woman out. I changed the orphanage into a Big Brother/Big Sister event; as Superman, Batman, AND Aquaman are all orphans, I figured it made sense. As for Toyman, I thought about having the Toyman and the Riddler team-up, but then realized that it worked just as well if not better with just the one bad guy. I liked how I worked in both versions of the Silver Age/Bronze Age Toyman, too.

The rest of the story I basically kept as it was, although I switched dooms around a little bit more to make Green Lantern and Red Tornado more competent than they were in the original. I played around with the idea of replacing the Phantom Stranger with the Flash, Zatanna, or Supergirl; in the end, however, I liked how he showed up and I figured people familiar with the original story would want to see him.

One more thing. In the original, the man playing Santa Claus is brutally murdered by the Key. I didn't set my scene up in the same way, and I wasn't sure I wanted to play that bit. Then, for some horrible reason I hit upon the idea of a toy bomb getting tossed away from an innocent victim. My mind went to performing sea lions, and I came up with the sacrifice of Blitzen the Christmas Seal.
That whole sequence was NOT easy to write, or draw, or color. In fact, I cried as I wrote it, and again when I drew it. I guess something "works" if it creates an emotional attachment; it did for me. I apologize for the severity of this scene, but I do like how I present it: the shock of the audience, the silence as Aquaman faces the dead body of his friend, the two remaining sea lions trying to console him....somewhat understated, but, hopefully, effective. It certainly gave Aquaman a strong reason to pursue the Toyman. Please let me know what you think.

As for other scenes I think worked well.....I love putting Green Arrow into these types of stories. As Green Lantern and Black Canary do their best to try to explain Christmas and Hanukkah to Red Tornado, GA embodies all that is cynical and rough about us. Yet, you just know he's kidding.
Later, I tried to be subtle about the way the remaining JLAers would show their grief when they think their friends are dead. With Superman it was anger or disbelief. When GL sacrifices himself, both Green Arrow and Aquaman refuse to believe what is happening ("There must be another way---!") With Black Canary, although GA has the strongest grief, I really like how in this panel I show Batman trying to console, Aquaman speechless, and Red Tornado trying to do something to be "human." It occurred to me while writing this story that Red Tornado knows Black Canary longer than any of the others, as they served together in the Justice Society before both joined the JLA. I think I need to write a story about them and their strong friendship.
As mentioned above, Aquaman is the addition to the original Len Wein-Dick Dillin story. So I had to come up with a new holiday menace for him. I decided to be inclusive and add in dreidels. And I got to show that both Red Tornado AND Aquaman speak Hebrew.
After that I was going for a steely conviction from Red Tornado. At this point in the story he has basically seen three of his best friends killed; he no longer has time for GA's complaints or frustration. No, Red Tornado now wants REVENGE. Showing emotion on Batman's cowl is difficult, but I was trying to draw a glance between him and GA kinda showing, "Red Tornado is losing it!"
Later, he is shocked again when GA sacrifices *himself.* All he can do is promise that the JLAers' killer will be brought to justice.

Below is my favorite scene of the Toyman in the story. I think that if super-villains really existed, some of them would KNOW they were "morts" (losers, not as great or well known as some of the better known foes like the Joker, Luthor, and Black Manta). The idea that the Toyman would somehow SUCCEED in killing off seven JLAers would make him so giddy that he would do a jig. Of course, he never *really* expected to succeed. A moment later he faces down the Phantom Stranger and, totally angry and crushed, mutters, "Who are YOU!?"
After the action was complete, I wanted the whole JLA, and not just Superman and Black Canary, to talk to Red Tornado about The Meaning of Christmas. I chose Green Lantern as the spokesman for Christianity, although I almost picked Black Canary. I kinda figured GL hadn't had a lot of screen time, so that was the deciding factor. Of course, I like how Mr. Know-It-All Batman chimes in about Hanukkah, even though he isn't Jewish. And GA's typical "Just get her a gift card" speaks volumes about his personality.

And there we have it....the JLA wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I had to include my two favorite Christmas messages, from Walt Kelly and from Charles Dickens!

Hope you enjoyed it!




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