Friday, January 19, 2007

Freefall in Crimson

And a quick tip of the battered fedora to the first faithful reader who can tell me where the title of this post comes from.

Well, I asked for questions and you were quick to raise them, so let's dip into the ol' virtual mailbag and see what we've got.

Award-winning Science Fiction writer and regular reader Michael A. Burstein writes:
Len, do you recall when we met, and I told you how much your Crimson Avenger story stayed with me all these years? It still stays with me. I'd love to know any details that you recall of how you came up with, developed, and wrote that story.
I appreciate the question, Michael, because that particular story stays with me as well. For those of you who might be new to what we're talking about, the tale in question is "Whatever Happened to the Crimson Avenger?" and it was one of a series of similar "Whatever Happened to...?" stories that were running in the back of DC Comics Presents for a number of years. I think the name of the series is pretty self-explanatory.

I no longer recall why I chose the Crimson Avenger to kill off, other than that the character was essentially redundant, really only a poor man's Batman, and that I'd already killed off his sidekick, Wing, in my first Justice League of America story. What I do remember is spending almost an entire day carefully plotting out this eight-pager with the late but always legendary Julius Schwartz, perhaps the most influential editor in the history of comics, and in many ways my mentor. The original plot involved a gang of terrorists taking over the Lincoln Tunnel and holding it for ransom, threatening to blow it to kingdom come. The Crimson Avenger confronts the terrorists, saves the tunnel, but loses his life in the process. Happy with what we'd worked out, I went home to write the story.

I was about halfway through the script when I had one of those moments of epiphany that terrifies a writer. The story didn't work. There were holes in the plot bigger than the Lincoln Tunnel itself, holes that Julie and I, in our enthusiasm over devising various individual bits of the story, simply hadn't noticed. My problem? It was the middle of the weekend and story was due Monday and in those days one did not, simply did not, call one's editor after business hours to tell him we were in trouble. I paced around my office in a blind panic for an hour or two, trying to figure out what to do. Finally, I decided the only thing I could do was to replot the story, write the script, and then suffer Julie's wrath on Monday. Which is what I did. Well, the first two parts anyway.

I arrived at Julie's office as scheduled, handed him the script, then sat down in his guest chair to wait, as was our custom, while he edited the script. I think he was on page five of eight when it finally hit him. Julie looked up at me in confusion. "Wait a minute," he said, "This isn't the story we plotted last week." I gulped. "I know," I stammered, "But the story we plotted didn't work, so I fixed it." Julie stared at me for several seconds, then said, "You...fixed it?" I was about to struggle through my apology, when Julie smiled, and said, "In all the years I've been editing comics, you're the first writer who's ever done that." "Done what?" I asked. "Noticed something was wrong with a plot and took it upon yourself to make it right," he replied. "I can't count the number of times a writer has turned in a script that made no sense whatsoever and, when I would ask why the story was incomprehensible, the writer would reply, 'Well, that's the way we plotted it.' But you fixed yours. Good for you."

I like to think that was the moment Julie stopped looking at me as one of those new punk kids who were invading his business, and started to think of me as a writer.

The story itself was illustrated by Alex Saviuk, who I believe still pencils the Sunday Spider-Man newspaper strip, and inked by Dennis Jensen, who has long since left the business, and was reprinted in DC's Year's Best Comics Stories of 1981 digest collection.

Hope that answers your question, Michael. And thanks for stirring up some very fond memories.



Anonymous said...

It's the title of a John D. MacDonald book.

Do I get a no-prize? :)

Anonymous said...

I will not acquiesce in on it. I think warm-hearted post. Expressly the designation attracted me to be familiar with the intact story.