Man, I seriously thought I was gonna get fired…
Was coming off a very well-received Black Panther script, and despite the tight deadline and my relative freshness in the game, I’d hit it without much incidence, and was setting sights on the Dr. Strange issue. Honestly, the prospect of writing Marvel’s resident sorcerer supreme didn’t quite match the manic fanboy thrill that came with Black Panther, but knew once I got my hands on the story, falling into it wouldn’t be a problem. At that point, it was really just some unfamiliarity with the character that put me slightly off-balance, even though the opportunity to play with magic was already giving me some cool things to work with. Then Steve Gerber’s original story came in the mail, and shortly after, everything started goin’ a little wrong…
With the Black Panther story, even spanning two issues, it was very clear what would and wouldn’t fit into my adaptation. Essentially, that story was Panther lures the FF to Wakanda, attacks them, and then recruits them to help him fight Klaw. Straight line from one end to the other, with a couple of notable detours and sub-plots along the way, which quickly got excised from my pass at it. Gerber’s “Death Song Destiny” was a lot more complicated, least from a narrative sense. A harmonica imbued with the power of destiny, its young custodian, a master of the mystic arts, an old neighbor of Ben Grimm’s trying to control a wayward teen, and a giant rat, all smashed together. There were just a ton of characters, actions, and directions, almost reaching a point where it was too much stuff to chose from. But hey, nothin’ I couldn’t handle, right? Yeah…that’s what I thought too.
So, when I started to put this together, gave it a tagline, a motto that helped to define and identity the main theme, and what I decided on was, “with magic…anything is possible.” Even have Dr. Strange say so in the actual issue. But, as I’d find out a little later once my enthusiasm gave way to better sense, fun as it was to begin the script with Strange and Ben standing on the surface of the Moon, looking into a giant hole in space, where the Earth was sitting before it was completely destroyed, even the fantastic needs rules. Otherwise, anything is possible, and no obstacle placed in the hero’s path means anything, if Strange can just use a spell to drag him and Ben back through time, so they can fix everything. Which was actually the other twist in my original opening. Sounded real cool at the time, and by itself, still think it is, but in the context, and more importantly, in considering the audience I was aiming at, “thinkin’ without limits” probably came off more schizophrenic than anything else.
But it’s all shaping up at this stage, I have what I believe is a really interesting vehicle to launch the story, and I assume that my editor will want to follow the same train of events (tight outline moving onto first draft) that we used for the BP issue. To my surprise, she tells me heading directly to the draft is fine, and I get a little excited and petrified by this, because apparently, they did really like that Panther script, and/or trust me to some degree. With that on my brain, I dived in headfirst and crafted a relatively complicated crossing of two heroes with a young girl and her mystical harmonica. All types of crazy nonsense, the aforementioned Moon scene, along with a giant serpent, Ben running at Flash-like speed, and an “erasure sequence” that had the Earth gradually scrolling out of existence. Sent it in, confident that it would blow the heads off 10 year olds worldwide, and just patiently waited for my inevitable set of notes.
To say they were substantial is a bit of an understatement.
Now, I realize that given my history of harsh self-critique, it may have looked slightly less severe than I’m making it out, but I swear there was a note for almost every page of this thing. Like the moment when that paper you were so proud to hand in to teacher comes back covered in so much red, it’s almost hard to tell exactly what you did wrong. Because, apparently, the answer to that question is everything. There was just so much that needed alteration, and on such a fundamental level, that I thought every piece of credit or confidence I’d built with that little Black Panther script was erased. AND the notes got copied to other members on the editorial staff (which did happen with the other one) so even more folks could marvel at how screwed the whole thing was. Horrified ain’t even the word, people. I thought they were gonna find somebody else to finish the mini, and send me on back to basic training. Was just really really disappointed in myself, as most of the comments were basically saying the same thing…slow the fuck down.
I’d become so adamant that something “cool” happened every couple pages, I was burying whatever point might’ve been hidden in the overall mess, and trying to tell a story that would’ve given an experienced comic head whiplash, let alone a coveted new reader. It was just sloppy and shortsighted, and as a result, this is the script that underwent the most revision, though to say it was almost completely rewritten is more accurate. So it’s the one I’m least comfortable with, but the one probably the most important, because it showed me some of my limitations at that point. It was a very “rookie” effort, and while I’m glad it didn’t happen with my first script, maybe it needed to go down at this early stage in the game, cause I’m tellin’ you, having the script come back like that, even though it was a first draft, really altered my entire approach. More attention on telling the specific story, and less personal flourishes to make the crowd go, “Oooooh.” Cause I was showing off, and this wasn’t the time or place, and then it wasn’t even being done particularly well.
Thanks to the salvage operation to make the story readable, there are a few scattered bits that I can still smile about. The opener that replaced that business on the Moon came out fairly well, and I still grin at artist Michael O’Hare sneaking Spidey into the background on page 2. There was this little tune that played in my head every time I wrote, “And then Destiny plays the harmonica.” Was listening to Mos Def’s latest album The New Danger quite a bit when I was fixing the original draft, and there’s a song on there called “Sunshine” produced by Kanye West. There’s this real melodic flute on the song that ended up becoming the “theme music” for Destiny’s mystical instrument of the highest order. Know that’s a little strange, but that seemed to be the order of the day with this one.
The page with Ben and Alicia walking down the block, on their way to the diner is important, but not until the next installment, as a cosmetic change here became an important story bit for the Hulk issue. Strange’s intro got changed at the last possible minute, but there’s a close-up panel in the sequence, that I described as a shot of the Doctor looking like a young Sean Connery, with a splash of Billy Dee Williams, creating the most suave human being ever devised, and a sorcerer supreme on top of all that. And getting the chance to give Ben Grimm super-speed, even if only for a couple pages, was pretty cool. But man I’m glad you didn’t have to read this story, as depicted in the first draft, and I think my editors are too. Still, like I said, the whole experience changed my approach for the last two issues, and as of this moment, these columns will no longer contain talk of how much I suck 😉
I can only promise that for next time, along with an explanation of what ultimately happened with that Moon sequence I was so obsessed with…
Back soon, thanks for listening.