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JM DeMatteis Talks Justice League International (EXCLUSIVE)

JM DeMatteis Talks Justice League International

Recently, famed Spider-Man, Captain America, and Justice League writer JM DeMatteis sat down with me for an interview about his time scripting Justice League International with Keith Giffen (plotting) and Kevin Maguire (art). JM DeMatteis worked on the series from May of 1987 to March of 1992. The series is known as the “Bwa-Ha-Ha era” of Justice League due to the humorous nature of the series. During their seminal run, they introduced the relationship between Blue Beetle and Booster Gold, as well as creating the character of Maxwell Lord. Below are the contents of my interview with him.

JM DeMatteis
JM DeMatteis

In the 1980s, after the “Justice League Detroit” era failed at DC, you were brought in and tasked with ending the series. Was it a mandate that the majority of the characters were killed off, or was that because you knew Crisis on Infinite Earth was on the horizon so you would be able to have an emotionally shocking ending because you knew of the company-wide reset?

I don’t think the Detroit League failed.  I just think DC wanted to reboot the series and the upcoming crossover—which was Legends, not Crisis—was a good place to do it.  

I was either asked to kill off specific characters or I was just told to kill off a few without specifics and I decided who it would be.  Either way, editorial wanted some deaths.  

Justice League of America #258 (Art by Luke McDonnell)

 

After Crisis on Infinite Earths and the Legends series, you, Keith Giffen, and Kevin Maguire started a Justice League book together. How did editor Andy Helfer bring the three of you together? 

Andy Helfer was the hub around which that book turned: a superb editor and a truly good guy.  His importance to our success can’t be underestimated.  And he was the one who picked each of us for the gig.  Keith, I know, desperately wanted to write Justice League.  He was originally going to write it solo, but he and Andy decided he needed someone to do the dialogue while Giffen plotted.  Since I’d just been working on the Detroit book and Andy and I had a great relationship, he asked me to sign on.  I was reluctant at first, I thought Keith was more than capable of doing it himself, but Andy convinced me.  It took a while for me to settle in, but as the months passed I realized what a fun gig JLI was and I signed on for the long haul.

Kevin was also a Helfer find and he was perfect for the tone of the book.  No one does acting on the comic book page better than Kevin Maguire and, as I’ve often said, if he hadn’t drawn those first couple of years of stories, we might not be talking about JLI today.  Kevin is brilliant and his importance to the book and its success can’t be underestimated.  

Andy Helfer

How closely did the three of you work together when making the book? Who had control over the decisions happening within?

People imagine that Keith and I were huddled together cooking these things up, but, in those early days at least, we were working in glorious isolation.  We’d see each other up at the DC office every few weeks, go out to lunch with Andy and Kevin (who was often there drawing in Andy’s office), but the rest of the time we were home, doing our own thing. But the chemistry between the three of us was there from the beginning.  Something magical happened when Andy put us together—and you can’t fake that, it’s either there or it’s not.

Over the years, as we worked on more projects together—with and without Kevin—Keith and I spoke more often, collaborated more closely, and really got to know each other.  But, for much of the JLI run, we were all like pieces in a well-oiled machine.
The JLI process went something like this:  Andy went over Keith’s plots—which Giffen drew, like mini-comics that were works of art in themselves—then sent them off to me (I often had no idea what was coming up till the plot arrived) and then I just started spinning, getting the characters to talk to each other, playing with the story, adding new elements via dialogue.  The fun was that Keith would then build on things I’d added, I’d build on what he did in the next plot, and on and on, like a great game of tennis.
I’d sometimes have both Keith’s plot and Kevin’s pencils while I scripted, but, because of time constraints, it was just as likely that I was writing straight from Keith’s plots. His layouts were impeccable—Keith’s one of the best storytellers ever in comics—and writing from his plots was, and remains, a joy.  
Andy would then go over the scripts, cutting out some of my excess verbiage (once those characters started talking, it was hard to make them stop!).  If it had been another editor, I might have bristled at that, but Andy was so good at what he did, and our friendship was so solid, that it was fine with me.
Kevin would sometimes draw from just the plots, other times he’d have both the plot and my script, depending on where we were deadline-wise.  In any case, he always brought the story to the next level via his extraordinary visual interpretations.  

Keith Giffen’s plots for JL3000 #12

 
Did you get to choose which characters were chosen, or was that an editorial decision? Was there a list of characters that were off-limits to use in any capacity?