Spider-Man, Justice League, and Captain America writer JM DeMatteis released his critically acclaimed book The Life and Times of Savior 28 (with art by Mike Cavallaro) 12 years ago. The pitch started life as a Captain America story and evolved and changed over 30 years until it became an entirely new universe. Recently, I got the chance to talk to JM DeMatteis about the evolution of the concept and how it ended up the way it did.
You’ve stated previously that The Life and Times of Savior 28 started life as a Captain America story, correct? How did the story originally happen when contextualized with the Marvel Universe?
I’d been writing Captain America for a few years when I launched a year-long storyline involving Cap’s final—and I really saw it as final—battle with the Red Skull. By the time the story ended, the Skull was dead, Cap had almost died, and everyone he loved and cared about had been traumatized by the event.
What happened in my original version of CAP #300 (which was plotted as double-sized but then cut down to a single issue) was that Cap came to the realization that he’d spent his entire adult life trying to effect positive change through violence. Punching faces and dropping buildings on the bad guys’ heads. As a result of the Skull fiasco, he began to search for another way, a better way, to change the world, eschewing violence and seeking change through peaceful means.
Back in 1980, with the birth of your son, you started reconsidering the amount of violence in superheroes and comics in general. One of these tales was in the Star Wars line of Marvel Comics. Famously, you had your name removed from the story because Lucasfilm wasn’t happy about the nuanced portrayal of violence you presented in the story and demanded rewrites. Did this lost battle affect the way you tried to pitch Marvel a Captain America story about him giving up violence? (Side note, it was Danny Fingeroth who did the rewrites, correct?)
I believe Danny (who’s a good friend) did the rewrites, but don’t blame him. He was just doing what the Lucasfilm people demanded. That was his job.
And, no, that experience didn’t deter me in any way when I was pitching the Cap story. I didn’t even think about it.
You’ve said previously Mark Gruenwald was totally on board with it but Jim Shooter rejected the Captain America proposal. With that kind of editorial power working against you, do you think you could have told the story successfully if he had said yes, or do you think it would have ended up turning out like your earlier Star Wars story?
If Jim (who had every right to reject the story. He was editor-in-chief and it was his job to make those decisions) had approved it, I could have absolutely done it. That said, the writer I was then was different from the writer I was all those years later when I created SAVIOR 28. Looking back I’m glad the story had time to gestate and grow—and that I had time to grow as a writer..
After the story was rejected, you put it on the backburner for a while. Was there any attempt to revive the story before it became The Life and Times of Savior 28?
Yes. Not long after the Cap story sank I came up with the bones of a new version and pitched it to Marvel’s Epic line. I don’t recall exactly what happened—although I vaguely remember the story leaned into satire a bit more, kind of a Kurt Vonnegut take on the material—but it never got off the ground.
I tucked the idea away and I’d periodically dust it off, play with it some more, deepen and expand it, and pitch it. No one I pitched it to ever really “got” S-28 till I pitched it to Chris Ryall at IDW.
In the pages of Justice League America in 1991, you introduced the character of General Glory. Was he an early attempt at reintroducing the concept?
General Glory was (I think!) born of that Epic pitch. But just the bare bones. Giffen and I took it and spun it off into a different direction.
When did you first have the idea to make it into an independent comic as opposed to an existing property?
After the Cap rejection, it was always planned as new, creator-owned story in a universe of my own creation.
When you started working on what ended up becoming the final version, did you put together the pieces of the plot first and then bring in Mike Cavallaro, or did you bring him on extremely early on, work with him on the story, plot it, then send him the script to pencil?
I already had a detailed proposal/outline in place when I recruited Mike. I sent Chris R the proposal along with some of Mike’s recent art that was in the same visual arena and Chris responded very enthusiastically.
Mike—one of my favorite collaborators—did a brilliant job interpreting my scripts, giving them dynamic visual life, designing a horde of new characters for an entire new superhero universe, but the story itself was all mine. There was no co-plotting.
That said, when it comes to comics you can’t really separate writing and art. Both elements have to balance perfectly for a story to succeed, so 50% of the credit goes to Mike.
When did the story turn into a full universe-spanning 70 years, as opposed to a single story told in a shared universe?
That’s just where it led me. S-28’s story was pretty epic and I wanted to give it lots of room to breathe. Along with S-28’s personal story, we were looking at the evolution of both politics and pop culture over the course of many decades and we needed a broad palette.
One of the major plot points of the story is of The Life and Times of Savior 28 is focused around Savior 28’s “Lois” figure and her daughter. Do you think that the story had any impact on Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely when they were writing about Sharon Carter’s relationship with Captain America in Captain America “The Winter Soldier”?
I hate to admit it, but I remember very little about that movie (other than the fact that I enjoyed it), so I can’t comment. But my guess would be no.
A few years after you wrote The Life and Times of Savior 28, you worked with Archie Comics to produce The Shield backup story in Mark Waid and Dean Haspiel’s The Fox with Mike Cavallaro. Did your work on The Life and Times of Savior 28 affect the way you went into writing for The Shield (considering the fact that Captain America was such a similar character that they had to make Cap’s shield round to avoid legal disputes)?
Well, the fact that Mike and I were working together on a patriotic hero certainly created some echoes, but the tone of those Shield stories was very different.
Earlier this year, you posted about the miniseries you and Mike Cavallaro were going to produce for The Shield. Is there anything more you could tell me about that or was the outline you posted the only material made for it?
The outline pretty much lays it out, but that series would have been a much deeper dive, and more in line with the tone of S-28, than the backup stories we did for THE FOX.
Additionally, you wrote that the version you had posted was significantly different from your original version of the story. Could you tell me how you and Cavallaro were originally going to have the story go?
My memory (which may not be correct!) is that what I posted is pretty close to my original intentions but the story went through multiple changes after that, as notes came in from The Powers That Be.
When was that miniseries canceled? Could it be that the reasoning for the cancellation was the then-upcoming Dark Circle imprint spearheaded by Alex Segura? Additionally, if Archie went to you and asked, do you think you and Cavallaro would come back and finish that miniseries?
I never got a clear answer as to why we were canceled. It’s possible that Dark Circle had something to do with it, but that’s just a guess.
And, yes, I would absolutely resurrect that mini if Mike and I were offered the chance!