Paul Kupperberg on October 15th, 2021

Be warned:
This is a HORROR story. It contains animal cruelty, blood, and violence (but no smoking!), but no real animals, children, or abusive rednecks were harmed in the making of this story.

From The Charlton Arrow #5, it’s “Skin in the Game,” written by me, drawn by Sandy Carruthers, and lettered and colored by Mort Todd.

Boo!

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Paul Kupperberg on September 12th, 2021
COMICS FEATURE #10 (July 1981)

E. Nelson Bridwell (September 22, 1931 – January 23, 1987) is a name that should be familiar to every fan of DC Comics’ Silver Age. Starting at DC in 1965 as assistant to Superman editor Mort Weisinger, Nelson would spend the next thirty years helping shape the adventures of the Superman family of characters as both an editor and a writer. Nelson had an encyclopedic mind and was an expert on not only DC’s history and continuity, but the Bible and the works of Shakespeares as well, but we knew him mainly as the company’s Chief Continuity Cop.

Nelson was one of the first professionals I ever met, in 1971 when Paul Levitz and I went up to DC to gather news for our fanzine Etcetera (later The Comic Reader). Later, he would serve as my collaborator or editor on two of my early high profile assignments, 1979’s World of Krypton (comics’ first deliberate miniseries) and 1981’s Secrets of the Legion of Super-Heroes. As a writer on his own, Nelson wrote for Mad Magazine (1956 – 1975), created the original Secret Six (1968), and the humor series Inferior 5 (1966) and the Maniaks (1967), as well as writing the Batman syndicated newspaper strip and Shazam! The Original Captain Marvel (1974 – 1978, 1982 – 1983), the Legion of Super-Heroes, Supergirl, and countless other stories.

For all his contributions, Nelson Bridwell kept himself mostly to the background. He was naturally shy and soft-spoken, a man who I sometimes felt wasn’t ever quite comfortable in his own skin (but who was also a practicing nudist), overwhelmed by his brasher and more bombastic bosses, first Weisinger, then Julius Schwartz, neither of whom, I’m sorry to say, treated him with the respect he deserved not only as a person and employee, but for his contributions to the DC mythos.

I don’t know how many hours I spent in Nelson’s office, either on business or just talking comics. He seldom discussed his personal life beyond the occasional mention of his family back in Oklahoma. I don’t remember many fanzine interviews with him over the years, but recently came across this one in the pages of New Media Publishing’s Comics Feature #10 (July 1981), the same issue in which my and Carl Gafford’s 1973 interview with artist Murphy Anderson first saw print (and which is reprinted in my book Direct Comments: Comics Creators in Their Own Words). The ENB interview was conducted by and is © Margaret O’Connell, transcribed by Paul Dini (pre-Harley Quinn, of course).

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Paul Kupperberg on June 11th, 2021

NOW AVAILABLE!

Direct Comments: Comic Book Creators in Their Own Words
The DC Direct Currents Interview Transcripts (1989 – 1991)
Conducted, Transcribed, and Annotated by Paul Kupperberg

Cover by Aalishaa/fiverr
Buffalo Avenue Books
Paperback & eBook
Nonfiction / Comic Book History
192 pages
$16.00 / $7.00 eBook

Comic Book Creators in their Own Words!

NOW AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER: Shipping July 1-ish!
Signed and personalized copies$19.00 (US shipped)
$30.00 (Canada shipped)

or
CLICK HERE to buy the paperback on Amazon.com
or the eBook edition.

From 1988 to 1995, Paul Kupperberg wrote DC Direct Currents, the company’s monthly promotional newsletter. Like several predecessor publications (DC Coming Attractions, DC Coming Comics, DC Releases), Direct Currents was distributed free through comic shops to promote upcoming events, specials, and title launches.

Writing Direct Currents could be a chore; endless capsule descriptions of tortured plot twists…and often, the editors had no plot specifics to share, leaving the writer the even more tortuous task of trying to make nothing sound interesting. But conducting the interviews for the Direct Currents “People at Work” feature, profiles showcasing the writers and artists behind the comics, was always more like playtime. It was an excuse to call and chat with a wide array of creators, running the gamut from Golden Age pioneers to contemporaries, including admired creators on whose work he had grown up. One month, he even interviewed himself.

But only excerpts of those interviews were used in the published profiles, and the unedited transcripts of only twenty-two of the more then ninety interviews survived. Now, newly edited and annotated by the editor, you can read the Direct Comments (along with some rarely seen interviews from the 1970s) from some of the greatest creators of the first half-century of the comic book business, including:

Murphy Anderson
Jim Aparo
Kyle Baker
Brian Bolland
John Byrne
John Costanza
Chuck Dixon
Keith Giffen
Dick Giordano
Mike Grell
Ed Hannigan
Adam Hughes
Carmine Infantino
Klaus Janson
Paul Kupperberg
Lee Marrs
Pepe Moreno
Denny O’Neil
Jerry Ordway
Jerry Robinson
Kurt Schaffenberger
Julie Schwartz
Walter Simonson
Jim Warren

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Paul Kupperberg on May 23rd, 2021

NOW AVAILABLE!

Emma’s Landing
Cover by Rick Stasi
Crazy 8 Press
Paperback & eBook
Young Adult
154 pages
$13.00

Signed and personalized copies are available directly from me
$16.00 (US shipped)
$27.00 (Canada shipped)

Payable to PAYPAL.ME/PAULKUPPERBERG

CLICK HERE FOR THE PAPERBACK ON AMAZON.COM!
CLICK HERE FOR eBOOK!

We don’t always get the family we wish for…
But sometimes we get the family we need!

Emma Candella has a lot on her mind.

Her parents are missing on a humanitarian mission in a faraway war-torn country, and she’s been uprooted from her life as a popular middle school blogger in New York City to stay with a grandmother she hardly knows on a lake in a remote corner of the Florida Everglades.

Heavy on mosquitoes and alligators, the town of Land’s End lacks the necessities of everyday life for a big city girl like Emma…including WiFi and an internet connection.

Making friends with her neighbor Carlo from across the lake, Emma is introduced to the lore of the Everglades at Land’s End, including that of P-Alonso, the hermit who lives deep in the swamp and who is said to be immortal. But it’s not until she finds the two hundred and fifty-year-old Candella family journal that Emma begins to understand her heritage…

… And when a child’s cry on a dark and stormy night sends her out onto the lake to help, she finds herself rowing farther than she ever expected to go… all the way back to the eighteenth century where she meets her ancestral namesake and finds herself fighting to save the future of the Candella family!

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Paul Kupperberg on May 1st, 2021

(This essay was originally written for a collection spotlighting the artists who followed Superman co-creator Joe Shuster on the comics and syndicated newspaper strip. A small portion of the piece was cannibalized for the “My Favorite 13 Win Mortimer Golden Age DC Comics Covers” column on the 13th Dimension website celebrating Win’s May 1 birthday.)

Sometime in 1982 or 1983, I don’t remember exactly, I was up at DC Comics’ offices at 75 Rock, dropping off some scripts and waiting to pick up a check from editor Julie Schwartz. He was off somewhere when I showed up, so I dropped my briefcase in his office and loitered in the corridor to wait for him.

Well, I never made it to the corridor. While I was putting my briefcase down, I’d glanced at the stack of art boards laying on top of Julie’s in box.

It was the pencils for a Supergirl story by Winslow Mortimer that I had scripted for an upcoming issue of Superman Family. I scooped the pages from the desk and started flipping through them. It was the Master Jailer story from either #219 (June 1982), “Prison Bars Do Not a Cell Make,” or #220 (July 1982), “Battle Beneath the Brooklyn Bridge.” I had never seen the artist’s pencils before, only the finished pages after they had been lettered and inked by Vince Colletta.

I’d always liked Win Mortimer’s work. I grew up on his mid-1960s work for DC Comics, mostly humor strips like Plastic Man, Stanley and His Monster, Fox and the Crow, The Adventures of Jerry Lewis, and Scooter, but he also worked on the occasional superhero book like The Brave and the Bold and the Legion of Superheroes. I’d also spot stories by him in Gold Key horror titles like Boris Karloff’s Tales of Mystery and Ripley’s Believe it or Not.

Mortimer was already assigned to the Supergirl strip when I took it over from Martin Pasko with Superman Family #217 (August 1982). I was thrilled to be working with him. One of the best parts of breaking into the comic business when I did in the mid-1970s was that most of the artists I grew up reading and admiring, many of them founding fathers of the business from the 1930s and 1940s, were still at their drawing boards.

Julie returned while I was looking through the penciled pages.

“Like those?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “I’ve always like Mortimer’s stuff. I thought Marvel was wasting him on Spidey Super Stories.”

“I thought you liked the newer, flashy artists.”

A year later I would have told him I worked with new, younger editors but still enjoyed working with talented old farts like him (Julie started at DC in 1944, when he was twenty-nine years old, just a couple of years older than I was when this conversation took place), but I was still a relatively new writer in his stable and intimidated by his reputation so instead I said, “Sure, but I still enjoy the classics too.”

Win Mortimer wasn’t flashy. He was, in fact, the opposite of flashy…which is not to say dull. Like many of the artists of his vintage, his art was like a classically cut suit, fitted perfectly to its subject and tailored to the needs of the story. He didn’t have to bedazzle his creations with sequins and gold piping to enhance them. They spoke for themselves.

James Winslow Mortimer was born May 1, 1919 in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Art was in his blood as his father supervised the poster department of a Hamilton lithography company, where Win worked during his summer breaks from high school. After graduation, Win enrolled in New York’s Art Student League, returning home at the outbreak of World War II to join the Canadian army. He was discharged in 1943 and went to work designing posters for the Ministry of Information. But once the war ended, the job market grew crowded with returning soldiers, so Win went south once again to New York, then the center of the publishing industry. He was hired by National Periodical Publications’ editor Jack Schiff in 1945. Because his status as an immigrant required he show a steady source of income to stay in the U.S., he was hired as a staff artist in the National Periodical Publications (DC’s former corporate name) bullpen, finally going freelance in 1949.

Editor Schiff started Win at the top of the NPP heroes totem pole; his first credited work appeared on the 12-page story “The Batman Goes Broke” (Detective Comics #105, November 1945), written by Don Cameron. More stories followed for Superman, World’s Finest Comics, Star Spangled Comics, Mr. District Attorney, and Real Fact Comics. He was also assigned to draw the prestigious Superman daily newspaper strip from 1949 to 1955.

But where Win would leave his mark would be those covers.

Some three hundred and fifty of them, between April 1946 and June 1956, for Detective Comics, All-Funny Comics, Star Spangled Comics, Real Fact Comics, Adventure Comics, World’s Finest, Batman, Action Comics, Mr. District Attorney, Gangbusters, Strange Adventures, Superman, Superboy, and House of Mystery. He would also be DC’s choice to illustrate a series of one-page public service announcements featuring Superman, Superboy, Batman, and other DC heroes created in conjunction with the National Social Welfare Assembly to tackle such topics as racism, civic, social, and personal responsibility, and safety tips. DC received requests for hundreds of thousands of copies of these pages from schools and civic groups, getting Win’s work into the hands of kids who didn’t even read comics.

Comic book covers were once the single most important part of a comic book. In the age before the Diamond catalog and the direct market, the cover was the one chance to “market” a comic to its young readers, typically eight- to thirteen-year-olds. A kid had no idea what to expect when they walked up to the spinner rack or newsstand so if a cover didn’t grab them at first glance, they would just move on to one that did.

The comic book industry discovered this with its first hit, Action Comics #1—featuring Joe Shuster’s iconic image of Superman smashing a car against a boulder while frightened felons flee—was a newsstand sell-out, but the Man of Steel didn’t appear on the cover again until Action #7, by which time the publishers had received enough sales reports and newsstand feedback to know they had a hit on their hands. Beginning with the tenth issue, Superman was receiving at least a mention on every cover and, as of #19 he became its permanent resident when they saw that covers with Superman outsold those without.

Because of their importance, publishers assigned covers to their top artists; Alex Schomburg at Timely in the 1940s, Neal Adams at DC in the 1960s, Nick Cardy in the 1970s, the decade in which over at Marvel Comics, Gil Kane was the dominant cover artist.

What all these artists had in common was the ability to create not necessarily the most dynamic covers (although they could all deliver on that front when necessary), but the most intriguing, the ones that made readers reach for a comic book on the newsstand, asking “What’s going on?” or “How can the hero get out of this mess?”

Probably thanks to his training as a poster designer during the war, Win understood as well as any artist that a picture was worth a thousand words (fitting, for the co-creator with writer Otto Binder of the strip Merry, the Girl of 1,000 Gimmicks)…it just had to be the right picture. Modern comic covers are explosive images, highlighting violence, musculature, and cleavage, but the covers of the Golden and Silver Ages told a story. Win’s art wasn’t flashy, but it told the story at a glance.

Take, for instance, his cover for Adventure Comics #182 (November 1952). At first glance, you think you’re looking at a scene of Superboy hiding on a ledge below a bunch of boys on a rooftop overlooking a city. But take a closer look and you realize the building is crumbling and Superboy isn’t hiding but holding up the wall and preventing the kids—who are, at that very moment, mocking his Clark Kent alter ego for being afraid of heights—from plummeting to their deaths. Win angles the shot from above, emphasizing the dizzying height, fitting the five figures, a skyscraper roof, and an entire city block in the background without having to crowd anything in or cheat to sell the idea. It’s a sweet little bit of storytelling in a single image.

Or how about the cover of Star-Spangled Comics #65 (February 1947), introducing “a thrilling new series of smash adventures starring Batman’s famed partner in peril, Robin the Boy Wonder in solo action!” It features Robin literally stepping out from Batman’s shadow to take his place in his own feature. Simple and sweet.

A lot of the cover images were symbolic, having little or nothing to do the stories inside. The Man of Steel/Dynamic Duo team-up book World’s Finest featured a series of such “buddy covers,” including Superman, Batman, and Robin admiring their own images on a brightly lit Times Square billboard (#64, May-June 1953), or the trio fishing on a boat, with the embarrassed Superman and Batman looking on with their scrawny little catches while Robin hauls in a big fish (#43, December-January, 1950), or Batman cheering on his young sidekick in a victorious game of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em robots against Superman (#45, May April-May 1950).

Win was no slouch when it came to portraying action. Action Comics #165 (February 1952) shows a startled Man of Steel being punched so hard by “The Man Who Conquered Superman” that he’s sent crashing through the brick wall behind him. On the cover of Batman #46 (April-May 1948), the Caped Crusader and Robin dangle precariously from a ladder (presumably from an off-panel Bat-copter) over a prison yard, pinned in a spotlight from the guard tower controlled by armed prisoners. For Action Comics #153 (February 1951), Clark Kent’s suit is being shredded by the barrage of bullets from gangster’s Tommy gun, revealing his Superman costume beneath it to the shocked Lois Lane.

And for just downright pretty, I point you to the Action Comics #206 (July 1955) cover for the tale, “Superman Marries Lois Lane!” On it, Superman flies off with his bride, an adoring Lois Lane in a beautiful wedding gown, over the heads of the streamer and rice-throwing horde of guests below. His women (and girl) characters were realistic and relatable, but they were always pretty and petite, with a touch of the illustrator’s glamour.

His six-year stint penciling and inking the Superman newspaper strip lead in 1956 to an offer to draw David Crane, a daily newspaper adventure strip syndicated by Prentice-Hall. Most comic book artists in the 1950s still dreamed of landing a syndicated strip; Win would eventually leave his mark on three, including the Toronto Star Syndicate’s Lance Bannon, which he drew after David Crane, from 1961 to 1968.

By 1965, he was also back working on a fairly regular basis for DC and Gold Key, drawing the stories I remember as a young fan. In 1972, he was also penciling for Marvel Comics on Night Nurse, and a number of humor, romance, and horror titles. But Win Mortimer’s main claim to fame to that generation of readers wouldn’t come until 1974, when he was assigned to pencil stories for Spidey Super Stories, a comic book spin-off of the recurring segment on public television’s Children’s Television Workshop program, Electric Company. More than a few lifelong comics fans were first introduced to both Spidey and comic books by that series, which he continued to work on until 1982.

Julie was still grinning at me as I went through the pages. As I said, I hadn’t been working for him long enough to know what that meant, but I did know it was out of the ordinary.

“I mean, it’s all so clean and straightforward. Great storytelling. You can tell what’s going on even without the dialog,” I said. I was reminded of a shot I had called for in my first story with him, one panel out of six on an action page. Supergirl tunnels straight down underground and, in the panel in question, dives up and down in a multiple action shot as she punches holes in a water main; there are four separate images of Supergirl in that panel alone, all fully realized. I’m more considerate of artists since these days—Don Heck once yelled at me for calling for Alexander the Great’s entire army, elephants included, crossing the Alps in a half-page splash panel for a Weird War Tales story—but I never heard that Win complained.

“You hear that?” Julie said in a suddenly loud voice.

I answered like a comic book character. “Do I hear wha—?”

But Julie wasn’t talking to me. He was talking to someone out in the corridor, which I realized as soon as I heard the chuckling over my shoulder. I turned around.

I didn’t recognize him, but something told me I knew. He was in his sixties, with mostly gray hair, a dapper little mustache, and a shy smile. He was shaking his head in amusement.

“I heard, Julie,” he said.

“This young man is Paul Kupperberg,” the editor said. “Writer of your Supergirl stories. Paul Kupperberg, this is Winslow Mortimer, the man who draws them.”

I jumped up to shake his hand and babble my fannish appreciate of his work. Win accepted and deflected my enthusiastic compliments graciously, telling me how much he was enjoying working on my scripts. I mumbled my thanks, but I assumed that Win, being Canadian, was just being polite.

“Aren’t you glad you didn’t say anything bad about the art?” Julie said.

“I don’t have anything bad to say about the art,” I said.

Win and I spoke for a few minutes while Julie busied himself with paperwork. In my younger fan days, I had accumulated quite a few late-1940s and early-1950s issues of Star-Spangled Comics that featured not only his covers, but his Robin and Merry stories. And, always a bit of a comics historian, I knew about his impressive run on DC’s covers and on the Superman newspaper strip. I had recently taken over writing the current syndicated strip, The World’s Greatest Superheroes Presents Superman (originally edited by Joe Orlando and only recently taken over by Julie) and mentioned this to the artist.

“Comic books were always fun, but I loved working on the newspaper strips,” he said fondly. “They were always much more challenging.”

“Did you hear that, Julie?” I said. “If you ever need a replacement…!”

“Who made you assignment editor?” Julie growled.

Win chuckled. “Oh, I like the artist who’s drawing it now. He’s doing a terrific job.”

“You trying to make trouble, Kupperberg?” Julie said.

“No, but you know, Win’s one of the legendary superstar Superman artists.”

“This may come as a newsflash to you, young man,” Julie Schwartz, the living legend, said as he leaned across his desk to me, “but we knew that before you were born.”

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Paul Kupperberg on March 10th, 2021

NOW AVAILABLE!

Son of the Unpublished Comic Book Scripts of Paul Kupperberg
Cover by Rick Stasi
Buffalo Avenue Books
Paperback & eBook
288 pages
$16.00

Signed and personalized copies are available directly from me:
$19.00 (U.S. shipped)
$30 (Canada shipped)

Payable to PAYPAL.ME/PAULKUPPERBERG

Or on AMAZON.COM!

Comic book scripts aren’t written to be read. At least not in the way a short story or a novel is read. A script is work product, a blueprint for the finished comic book. Most of the words that go into a comic book script will only ever be read by three or four people; the dialogue is the only element that survives from the blueprint to be seen by readers.

But sometimes a script doesn’t make it all the way from the larval stage to full maturity as a published story. The reasons can range from cancellation to a change in editor or even format. Son of the Unpublished Comic Book Scripts of Paul Kupperberg contains stories in all those categories, including a three issue Green Lantern story arc for DC Comics’ Legends of the DC Universe that was left without a home after the title was cancelled and a pair of issues of Batman: The Brave and the Bold that didn’t survive a change in both format and editor.

Son of the Unpublished Comic Book Scripts of Paul Kupperberg also contains the original typed and hand-edited manuscript for an unused 1987 Green Lantern fill-in, as well as a never published “Elongated Man” back-up for The Flash, the script for a framing sequence for the short-lived Elvira’s House of Mystery, and stories written for DC’s Time Warp and the Warren Publishing horror magazines.

All scripts except for “The Eyes of the Beholders” are reproduced from copies of the original typed manuscripts or reformatted from surviving electronic manuscripts.

Son of the Unpublished Comic Book Scripts of Paul Kupperberg
TABLE OF CONTENTS

“Emerald Interlude”
A 3-issue story arc originally intended for LEGENDS OF THE DC UNIVERSE
Art by Peter Doherty & Joe Rubinstein © DCE
“The Eyes of the Beholders”
A never used late-1980s fill-in for GREEN LANTERN
Art by Rick Stasi & Bruce Patterson © DCE
“The Eyes of the Beholders”
Scanned from the original script, including hand edits by editor Julius Schwartz
Elongated Man in “One Night in Cairo”
Unused back-up story originally intended for The Flash #270
Unpublished framing sequence for the 1980s ELVIRA’S HOUSE OF MYSTERY
“The Shape in the Stone”
Unused script co-written for Warren Publishing with Bob Toomey
“Messenger of the Gods”
Unused script for Time Warp
Duel”
Unused Batman and Guy Gardner script for BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD
“To Crime or Not to Crime”
Unused Batman and Plastic Man team-up for BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD

Still Available:
THE UNPUBLISHED COMIC BOOK SCRIPTS OF PAUL KUPPERBERG, Volume 1!

Featuring 5 scripts for the never published NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERBOY #55 and the canceled pre-CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS reboot of SUPERBOY and SUPERGIRL in DC DOUBLE COMICS!

Available on Amazon.com!

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Paul Kupperberg on November 23rd, 2020

After 15 Years in Limbo…

JSA: RAGNAROK is finally available in paperback and eBook!

SIGNED & PERSONALIZED COPIES
$18 (shipped)
Pay to PayPal.me/PaulKupperberg
or available on Amazon.com

JSA: Ragnarok by Paul Kupperberg
Cover by Daerick Gross Sr.
Crazy 8 Press
Paperback & eBook

In the closing days of the second World War, the Justice Society of America prevented the villainous Wizard from unleashing a deadly magical evil upon the world.

But it didn’t prevent him from making a deal with the devil… a deal that may now doom the JSA!

In New York, Mister Terrific barely survives an attack by the Tigress. Across town, Power Girl is grounded by the power of Count Vertigo. In Keystone City, Jakeem Thunder and his magical Thunderbolt face off against Blackbriar Thorn. In Blue Valley, Stargirl feels the power of the Geomancer.

Why have the villains of the Injustice Society of America suddenly declared war?

The answer spans the globe, as in faraway Casablanca, a collector of antiquities is murdered by a mysterious woman thief for what appears to be a minor Roman relic. And on a German waterfront, an old man kills a young man to steal a World War I artifact.

These events and others soon point legendary heroes Green Lantern, Flash, Wildcat, and their JSA teammates to the Wizard and a threat they believed they had destroyed in the last days of World War II. But now the Spear of Destiny, the powerful mystical weapon once wielded by Adolph Hitler himself, has again surfaced… bringing with it an evil from out of the JSA’s past and the promise of a fate worse than death! Now Mister Terrific, Power Girl, and the other members of the world’s first super team must break an evil half century old pact… or be doomed forever to a living hell.

Order from Amazon.com
or
SIGNED & PERSONALIZED COPIES

$18 (shipped)
PayPal.me/PaulKupperberg

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Paul Kupperberg on November 6th, 2020

Special Sneak Preview!

Chapter 1
Today

On days like this Michael Holt was glad he’d decided not to die. That the early autumn air was pleasantly crisp after a brutally hot and sticky New York City summer was only one factor contributing to his contentment. The foliage in Central Park in the heart of Manhattan was just beginning its seasonal color changes, greens morphing into blazing reds and oranges, falling to carpet the park’s East Meadow.

It was one of those rare, perfect New York afternoons, the kind you usually only saw in movies with soundtracks by Gershwin. But today wasn’t a movie, only the life that Michael was living, and, for once, it felt good.  For the moment, he was happy.

Well, okay, very content, which was the closest thing to happy he usually got. But it was hard to be anything else, what with the happy shouts and cheers of the kids at play all but drowning out the sound of the traffic on nearby 5th Avenue.

Normally something of a jock, in fact an uber jock, today Michael was happy to sit back and watch from the comfort of a picnic blanket at the edge of the field. The kids—not his own kids, although they were here under his charge—were having a great time, running themselves ragged in an endless game of serial touch football.

“Yo, Mr. Holt, man,” 19-year-old Tyler Williams called from the line of scrimmage. “I know you’re kinda over the hill, dude, but think you wanna get in the game anyway?”

“Don’t think so, Ty. I’m about two servings of potato salad and three cupcakes past being able to drag myself off this blanket.”

“Uh-oh. That’s gonna cost you in the gym.”

Holt smiled and lay back down. “I’ll worry about that tomorrow, man.”

A 12-year-old girl named Rena came charging up to Tyler and slapped the football from his hands. Another boy swooped in and grabbed it. Tyler laughed, shrugged, and ran off in hot pursuit. Tyler was one of the big successes of the Harlem youth center that Holt funded and oversaw. He had come to the after-school program a sullen fifteen-year old drop-out, already in gang colors and a world of hurt. Michael had assumed Tyler was looking to make trouble or recruit other kids, but the pot-smoking, gang-running, 9mm-toting gangsta found something with the other kids at the youth center that the gangs never provided. Without ever knowing exactly when or why it happened, Tyler shed the colors, went back to school, and was now, four years later, a sophomore at Columbia University on a full scholarship. He earned his walking around money as a counselor at the youth center.

And since he and the two other counselors were taking such good care of the rest of the kids, all twenty of them, ranging in age from 10 to 15, he couldn’t think of a single reason to budge from his place in the sun. The birds were chirping in the trees. Somewhere, a lone raven cried out. Everything was under control. There was nothing for him to do but to do nothing.       

So, he did.      

Michael Holt settled back, hands clasped beneath his head and closed his eyes, letting the sun’s warmth wash over his six-foot two frame, clad in comfortable jeans, sneaks, a Yale sweatshirt, and a denim jacket. He knew he had a lot to be grateful for, certainly more than most people, and absolutely more than the kids he mentored at the center. They had everything in the world working against them, born into lives of poverty, products of broken homes or victims of abuse, tempted by the lure of gangs and the empty promise of drugs.

Michael knew he’d had one cushy life compared to theirs. He had been born into a comfortable middle-class family, an unnaturally gifted student with an eidetic memory, a talent for the sciences, and a natural bent for athletics that he followed to an Olympic gold medal in the decathlon.

Having conquered the Everest of physicality, he turned his sights to business. Michael could easily have ridden his athletic fame to riches, but he couldn’t see spending his life on a ball field or endorsing underarm deodorant, not with the ideas spinning around in his head. He went to school instead, collecting degrees the way other kids collect baseball cards. Engineering at Cal-Tech, physics at M.I.T., law at Harvard, computer sciences at Stanford, medicine at Yale, and on, feverishly trying to stuff the bottomless pit of his mind with knowledge before he hit on the invention that allowed him to become one of the earliest, and certainly most successful, African-American entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley.

He developed the next generation of cybernetic software, the first commercially viable application of a system that controlled robotic devices through mental feedback. His development attracted the attention of every major high-tech company from Microsoft to Hewlett-Packard to WayneTech. Michael had taken his technological achievement as far as he could on his own. The only decision left to make was deciding which corporate monolith he would sell out to. Bruce Wayne himself, CEO of WayneTech and scion of one of America’s wealthiest families, showed up on Michael’s doorstep to personally conduct the negotiations for the sale of his little cyberware concern, cinching the deal.

When he was a kid, Michael had often heard his mother describe people as having “more money than they knew what to do with,” but he could never quite wrap his mind around the concept. After his deal with Wayne, he got it. With an impressive mound of cash up front and a healthy block of WayneTech options and generous royalties cushioning the back end, Michael Holt was rich. Filthy, stinking rich. He had, hey, look mom, more money than he knew what to do with. Michael Holt could afford to do anything he imagined anytime he imagined it.    

He could take care of himself and his family and, best of all, spend the rest of his life sharing all the wonderful things his newfound wealth had bought with the love of his life, his wife, Paula.

Karen Starr just knew this wasn’t going to be her day.

Of course, in all fairness, Karen hadn’t started out a new day with any sort of optimism whatsoever in, well, if she stopped to think about it, it would just depress her more.

Which really was, Karen thought with stoic resignation, the story of her life. A matter of keeping her depression from advancing to the next level. Okay, maybe depression was too tough a word. How about calling it sorrow; or maybe emptiness described it better.

Of course, she was willing to concede that, under the circumstances, maybe she was overreacting. But it really didn’t seem to be asking too much of the powers that be, to ask that if the big things in her didn’t go right, couldn’t at least the little things?

Like the ATM.

How tough should it be to get $60 out of her account? She had her ATM card. Inserted in the correct orientation into the ATM machine. Followed by her PIN number, which was, of course, stupid and redundant. An ATM machine. That’s the same as calling it an automated teller machine machine. The personal identification number number. Machine and number were built into the name. And why the hell was she even thinking about that? The salient facts were (a) she had no money on her whatsoever, and (b) the ATM machine just ate her damned ATM machine card card!

Karen pressed buttons. Enter. Clear. Cancel. One. Nine. Four. Her presses became jabs. Seven. Three. Clear. Clear. Clear. Her jabs became blows and why the hell didn’t they have a “Give Me My Damned Card Back You Stinking Metal Box” button?

Karen Starr was a woman people looked at, men with undisguised lust, women with admiration or jealousy. At five foot seven inches tall and one hundred and sixty pounds, Karen Starr was an impressive and stunningly beautiful woman. Her features were model perfect, her voluptuous figure gym-toned, straddling that fine line between ripped and overdone, her blue eyes dark and intense, peeking out from behind blond bangs.

“My card or my money,” Karen demanded from between clenched teeth.

Her friends told her she had anger management issues. Karen told them to mind their own damned business.

She jabbed buttons. Cancel. Delete. Delete.

She was fooling no one, least of all herself. She was angry. Well, in truth she was sad, and it was her sadness that made her angry. But six of one, half a dozen of the other, right? End result was Karen Starr was a pissed off lady and pissed off was not a state in which you wanted to see her. Especially not if you were a defenseless ATM.

And Karen Starr was jabbing fingers of steel into your poor keypad.

Through your poor keypad.

“Aww, hell,” she snarled, prying her fingers out of the mess of punctured aluminum keys and exposed wires. “Now not only don’t I get my money, but I just bought myself a busted ATM.”

She looked into the video camera mounted over the ATM and stuck out her tongue.

Michael Holt knew he shouldn’t go there, knew it the instant the image of her face formed in his mind, evoking a bittersweet smile.    

Paula. Beautiful, brilliant, pragmatic, perfect Paula.

Michael had met her in grad school, during the year he spent at Harvard studying for his law degree. The moment he walked into the Foreign Criminal Policy class and saw her sitting there, he knew she was the one. A moment of clarity unmatched in his experience, at least until…

She didn’t look up from her conversation with a classmate, hunched forward as though whatever the other woman was saying was the most important thing she had ever heard. Michael was struck breathless. She was beautiful, yes, but that wasn’t what made him fall in love in the space of a heartbeat. To tell the truth, even all these years later, he still couldn’t say exactly what it had been. It was just her. The scientist in him attributed it to pheromones, but he knew better.

And, at the end of that first class, when he timed his exit from the room to coincide with hers and she smiled and, for the first time, looked at him with eyes so soft and yet so penetrating that his heart literally skipped a beat, he no longer cared if he ever defined the attraction. To hell with analysis, the razor-sharp scientific mind of Michael Holt screamed in a skull suddenly empty of all thought but the thought of her. He knew only that he wanted to spend the rest of forever by her side. 

He was amazed a woman like Paula would become his. That’s how lacking in conceit he was. It never occurred to him that she would fall for a handsome and brilliant young scholar and Olympic gold medalist. But from the second class on, Paula and Michael were inseparable and, the day after graduation, to no one’s surprise, they were married. Not too many years later, he was rich, and they had nothing but time to spend together.    

And then…

The last thing Karen Starr wanted to do was trudge all the way back uptown, dig through the clothes in her closet and her pocketbooks in hopes of finding a stash of some forgotten cash, then race back down here to the Village to make her movie.

Karen had been looking forward to this screening of The Big Sleep at the Cinema Village. She’d seen the 1946 film noir classic, directed by Howard Hawkes and starring Bogart and Bacall, a few times on TV and DVD, but never on the big screen. To this day, she wasn’t sure who had done what to whom in this convoluted classic—even Raymond Chandler, the author of the book it was based on, didn’t know who killed the chauffeur—but she knew the anticipation of seeing it in the all-enveloping confines of a movie theater had been the one thing that had kept her going through the last few days.

She checked her watch. Twenty minutes. To get from Greenwich Village to Morningside Heights and back.

Not undoable.

And worth the effort. So, okay, Karen took a deep breath, left a note in the slot of the smashed ATM, and decided to at least try not to turn this anthill of a problem into a mountain of an emotional situation. She had, she knew, a tendency towards the melodramatic. But, hey, looking at the circumstances of her life—strange, to say the least—melodrama wasn’t totally uncalled for.

“Strange visitor from an unknown planet or time or dimension or whatever,” she muttered under her breath as she sought out a deserted doorway and began pulling off her clothes.

It always came back to that day.

That damned Sunday morning, like every other Sunday morning since he had known her, when his otherwise rational wife awoke early and headed off to church. A lifelong Protestant, she would sometimes try to convince her agnostic husband to come with her. He needn’t believe to attend services. It was just something else they could share, but Michael Holt was too much the scientific rationalist to buy into the anachronistic ritualism of organized religion. They seldom if ever argued, but for whatever reason, Michael and Paula got into it that morning with no other result than to make her late for church.

To put her in the wrong place at the wrong time.     

To be on that particular patch of sidewalk at the precise instant an out of control car jumped the curb and plowed her down.

Her and their unborn child. A son, if it mattered. It was his fault, of course. If he hadn’t been such a hard-headed ass about it, she would have left earlier and would have been somewhere else when the car jumped the curb. He had instigated the argument, hoping to do… what? Change her mind about the existence of the almighty in a five-minute harangue? And how was he supposed to reconcile his arguments against her beliefs, with what he now knew and the beings he’d met?

His last memory of Paula alive was of her face screwed tight in anger, their last words to one another before parting that morning a clipped “You’re just wasting your time,” and an angry “We’ll talk about this later,” instead of their customary “I love you.” His very last memory of Paula, the picture he would see for too many years after her death, was her laying crushed and dead in a pool of her own blood on a sidewalk.     

That was the moment Michael Holt stopped caring whether he himself lived or died.

Also available on Amazon.com

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Paul Kupperberg on October 21st, 2020

While the countdown continues for the Kickstarter campaign for Crazy 8 Press’ Thrilling Adventure Yarns Volume II, here’s a little taste from my story, the sixth outing starring Leo Persky, aka Terrance Strange, investigative reporter for “the world’s only reliable newspaper,” the Weekly World News. Joining me in this titanic tome of tales are stories by my fellow Crazy 8’ers, Aaron Rosenberg, Michael Jan Friedman, Glenn Hauman, Mary Fan, Bob Greenberger, and Russ Colchamiro, as well as stories by David Mack, Paige Daniels, Will Murray, Karissa Laurel, William Leisner, Danielle Ackley McPhail, Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore, Greg Cox, Heather E. Hutsell, Kelli Fitzpatrick, Michael A. Burstein, Richard White, Scott Pearson, and Sherri Cook Woosley… and another previously unpublished story by the legendary creator of Doc Savage!

Thrilling Adventure Yarns II, cover by Cary Carbom

“Man-Bait for the Snake God”

My name is Leo Persky. I’m more popularly known as Terrance Strange, my byline in the Weekly World News, the tabloid newspaper next to the other tabloids at the supermarket checkout. Most people assume that because of our subject matter — the unusual, the supernatural, extraterrestrials et al — that we’re being ironic with the slogan, “The World’s Only Reliable Newspaper.” Ironically, it’s all really, if weirdly, true. Well, except for my byline. And the photo of the handsome, square-jawed adventurer that goes with it. Those came from my grandfather, Jacob, the foremost monster hunter of his day, who thought “Strange” sounded better in his line of work than Persky. So did the News.

“Don’t we have a stringer in Peru we can use instead of flying me halfway around the world?” I asked. Whined.

“If you’d rather,” Rob responded in the tone of voice he uses when he’s about to delight in telling me the even more repulsive alternative he’s got planned, “it is possible to drive from New York City…”

“No.”

“… By bus, to Peru, a total of about 12, 13,000 miles, through South American…”

“Jesus, Rob,” I moaned.

“… Across the 90-miles of roadless swamps and rainforests called the Darien Gap that stretches to the tip of Columbia and…”

I threw my up my hands. “I surrender.”

“You’re getting easy in your old age,” he grinned, exposing the prominent canines that helped fuel the rumors I’d started that he was a vampire. “So. Peru. Up until last week, a country known to be home to 51 indigenous tribes. Now there are 52, thanks to a group discovered high in the mountains of northern Peru by remote mapping drones.”

“And we care… why?”

Rob sailed a photographic print across his desk.

It was a snake.

“It’s a snake,” I said. “I hate snakes.”

“Funny. They speak well of you. Check out the lower left of the shot. See that bundle about halfway down the length of the snake’s body?”

I brought the print closer and squinted at the indicated item. Between the bird’s eye angle and some shadows on the jungle floor, it was hard to make out very many details.

“That’s a man,” Rob said.

“What is? This?” I took a second, even closer look. “Was this taken at some weird angle or with a long lens? Because from this perspective, if that’s a human being, then this snake…”

“… Yeah, factoring in the average height of other indigenous folk in the region, that would make it about 50 to 60 feet long.”

“Holy crap! Amazing, but, you know, cryptozoology isn’t exactly my jam, boss. There’s gotta be somebody better qualified to handle this than…”

He raised a finger to silence me and said, “But, wait! There’s more,” and slid a second photo across the desk to me.

Ten hours and 3,700 air miles later, I was in Peru.

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Paul Kupperberg on August 21st, 2020
From Vigilante #45 (September 1987), art by Tod Smith and Rick Burchett

From July 1985 to February 1988 I wrote Vigilante (#19 – #50) for DC Comics. When that title ended with Adrian Chase/Vigilante’s suicide death, I followed it up with Checkmate!, which carried over several of the previous series’s supporting characters and ran for 33 issues, from April 1988 to January 1991. One of the transported characters was Black Thorn, Vigilante’s female counterpart, co-created by me and Tod Smith and introduced in Vigilante #45 (September 1987). After Checkmate ran its course, I thought I’d try to go for three in a row and keep the thread going with an ongoing Black Thorn series.

It didn’t happen. But if it had, it might have looked something like this…

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