NOW IT CAN BE TOLD!
I couldn’t have been more excited when I got the script for an issue of Justice League Adventures I was to draw that featured guest stars Blue Beetle and Booster Gold and was written by Keith Giffen. Beetle and Booster were key players in the much-loved 1980s incarnation of the Justice League comic book, that mixed drama and humor in a Buffy-esque sort of way with a League comprised of B-listers like Beetle and Booster, Guy Gardner, Fire & Ice and others with serious mentors like Batman and the Martian Manhunter. It was gloriously absurd stuff, and was written by J.M. DeMatteis and… Kieth Giffen!
Justice League Adventures was the tie-in comic to the then-current Justice League animated TV series, and was in continuity with that show rather than the “mainstream” DC Universe Justice League comics. In his story “Wannabes,” Keith brought his magic to the animated incarnation of Justice League, and had Beetle and Booster at the beginning of their superhero careers encountering the experienced Justice League. Beetle and Booster spent the story bickering in their best style, and the sparks flew in hysterical ways as the Justice League reacted with exasperation at their antics. Plus, Keith Giffen indulged his love of obscure, ridiculous characters and used the existing DC super-villain group The Demolition Team as the bad guys. It was great stuff. I was so excited to draw it, and my love for the material showed page-by-page in the artwork as I worked through the issue.
What could go wrong?
Just as Wannabes was being completed, we got word that Booster Gold was actually going to be used in an episode of the animated TV show upon which the comic was based. The Justice League animated series was given a makeover and was becoming Justice League Unlimited – featuring a much larger cast of DC Heroes, and one episode was to focus on Booster Gold. Great news, right? Extra publicity for us! Not so fast…
There was concern expressed by the powers-that-be at DC Comics that Wannabes might conflict with the show’s depiction of Booster both in terms of his visual appearance and in terms of story continuity. My position was… “who cares?” The Atom appeared in the tie-in comic before being used on the show, and his costume was different and was written with a distinctly different characterization when he appeared on the show, and the world didn’t end. If Wannabes appeared when scheduled, it would be almost a year until the announced TV episode would be completed and would air. By then Wannabes would be such old news I couldn’t imagine anyone really caring about whatever minor differences might exist between the two versions of the character.
But that’s not how the powers-that-be felt. It was decided that Wannabes would be shelved until the TV episode aired and we could see whether the comic represented a calamitous continuity error. I was terribly disappointed, as Wannabes was my favorite work on the Justice League Adventures series to date – story and art – and while I was paid for my work I really wanted it to be seen!
So a year goes by, the TV episode aired, and it turned out that their version of Booster was almost identical to ours. Not surprising really, as it was based on the same source material. The visual character design was similar to mine, and the character was portrayed as an attention-craving newbie working with the League and could easily have been seen as a follow-up to the comic’s “first meeting” story.
Good news, though, right? Now there’s no reason not to publish Wannabes, which had been gathering dust on a shelf somewhere in DC editorial. Right?
Not so fast!
When the Justice League TV show changed to Justice League Unlimited the comic was re-branded as Justice League Unlimited as well and started over with a new #1 issue. DC used this re-branding as an opportunity to bring the comic in-line with it’s new Johnny DC brand for all it’s animation based titles and kids books, which included cutting the page count of the stories from the DC-standard 22 to 20, and using those two extra pages for a kids-friendly letter column section. The result of which was that the Wannabes story was now two pages too long to fit the new format. I never understood why it why it would have been such a big deal to cut a couple of pages of in-house ads from the issue or cut the letter column for one issue, but this problem kept Wannabes from seeing the light of day for another three-and-a-half years, until the Justice League Unlimited TV show was coming to an end and the tie-in comic was being wrapped up as well.
Finally motivated to use the paid-for inventory stories that were sitting around unused (there was more than one – I actually had drawn TWO of them!), these stories saw print as “untold tales” of the Justice League, and the length problem was solved by cutting two pages from the story. I wasn’t happy about the cuts, but I was happy that at least the bulk of the story finally was to be seen by an audience!
Wannabes finally saw print as Justice League Unlimited #43. The pencils from this story – including the two missing pages – are up in my gallery. Give ’em a look!
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