Peggy Bechko Wants You to Throw Your Hero Under a Bus

 

by Peggy Bechko

Seriously writers… storytelling isn’t a bed of roses for you, the writer, or for your protagonist – you know, the hero or heroine of the thing.

Oh, wait, you’re telling me that actually it IS a bed of roses? That everything is going honkey-dory? Nice? Cool?

So you’re telling me your manuscript or movie script is b.o.r.i.n.g.

Don’t sit there and squirm and try to deny it. If you don’t know it already (and you should, actually) you don’t grab a reader, whether script reader or manuscript editor, by the eyeballs by painting a bucolic picture of joy and happiness. I mean, really, who wants to read about, or spend two hours in a theater watching a ‘nice’ guy or girl trying to decide on which outfit to wear to prom?

But wait, we’re all guilty of it, we like a character we’ve created. And, well (stub toe in dirt) it is your story after all, right?

Right! Of course you won’t be able to sell it until an alien kidnaps the prom queen or her boyfriend literally gets thrown under a bus by a rival or… well, you get it I hope.

Oh, and the prom queen? She needs to be a closet bitch who schemes to destroy her boyfriend’s future because she’s actually a psychopath and thinks it would be funny. And her boyfriend? Maybe he has a shaved head, multiple heavyweight earrings and a huge tattoo across his chest and is a member of a gang, but he’s unsure of his place with them.

Make your characters interesting and even if they’re vile jerks, they won’t be boring and people will want to follow them to find out what comes next. They’ll hang on every word, locked in with a desire to know what comes next.

But still you resist? Don’t want to ‘hurt’ your characters? Why would that be? Well, for most writers, a little bit of him or herself is in those characters, every one. Even the villains. So, poking at them is, in effect, poking at ourselves. BUT, the good news we can use our old wounds to create mesmerizing characters. And drawing from that well of painful experiences you, as the writer, make people feel. And when you make them feel you have them hooked.

So let’s circle back to the prom queen psychopath. Why is she where she is? What propelled her to this? Destruction for destruction’s sake. Can she be saved? Is she actually the villain? What do you need to pull up from your depths to make her a truly stunning character? Be brave.

Create situations people don’t expect. I watched the movie Life a while back. It was interesting until that tiny (spoiler alert for those who haven’t seen it) space thing reared back and attacked. Then it was gripping. Where was this going? What issues were the crew members of the space station grappling with to bring their experience to bear on corralling this thing?

Get inside your characters.

Get inside yourself.

Be uncomfortable while using your own personal demons to pump extraordinary life into those characters. Do it. Push your characters. Throw them under a bus. The bar for writing is rising all the time. Gather your courage and reach higher.


Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her sensational career HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.

‘The Circle’ is a Master Class in How to NOT Make a Genre Film

by Gerry Conway

Some movies are a master class in how to make a good movie. Some are a master class in cinematography, or the use of soundtrack and score. Some are a master class in shot construction and editing. Some are a master class in screenwriting structure.

“The Circle” is a master class in how not to make a simple genre film.

Spoilers will follow, though if you find yourself surprised by anything in “The Circle,” you’re not really ready for a master class in film. You’re probably still stuck in Introduction to Cinema 101.

Here’s the genre “The Circle” belongs to:

A naive, callow twenty-something is hired for a too-good-to-be-true dream job at a secretive company led by a charismatic father figure and learns there’s a sinister reality behind the charming facade. Complications ensue as the twenty-something decides to expose the illegal doings of the firm, putting herself and those she loves at risk.

That’s a liberal summation of “The Circle” because the second sentence in that paragraph is only weakly implied in the film itself. It’s also, you might notice, a plot summary of the book and movie which exemplified, rather successfully, the genre “The Circle” is trying to fit into (a genre I call “Had I But Known”).

The film “The Circle” wants to be is “The Firm,” with Emma Watson in the part of naïve and callow young Tom Cruise, who discovers the secretive law firm he’s working for has one client: the Mob. A comparison of these two movies, working in the same genre with basically the same plot, provides us with a master class in how not to do a genre film.

Whatever you may think of its basic worth, as a piece of genre entertainment, “The Firm” delivers the goods. We’re introduced to a relatively likeable young lawyer, played by Tom Cruise, a recent graduate with tons of student debt, who’s offered a high-paying job at an obscure Southern law firm run by charismatic Gene Hackman. Tom and his lovely wife relocate to their new city, where they’re isolated from the support of old friends and family, and become both socially and economically dependent on Tom’s new job at The Firm. But all is not as it seems and soon Tom realizes that the supportive and enriching company to which he’s attached himself is actually a money-laundering and law-manipulating front for the Mob. Tom’s discovery puts his life and the life of his wife at risk. With pressure from outside and inside the Firm threatening Tom and his loved one, he must come up with a plan to expose the Firm while protecting himself and his wife from retaliation by the Mob and prosecution by the government. He works out a dangerous and elaborate plan to do so, ending in a climactic confrontation with the Firm’s charismatic leader in which Tom’s clever plan triumphs thanks to both his and his wife’s bravery and ingenuity.

It’s a basic pot-boiler plot, and for it to be successful only a handful of key ingredients are required, all of which “The Firm” provides:

1) A likeable, intelligent but naïve hero with a sympathetic goal.

2) An intriguing, not-all-what-he-seems villain.

3) A simple, easily explained crisis (the law firm you’re working for turns out to be a Mob front).

4) Jeopardy to the hero’s life and loved ones.

5) A clever plan developed by the hero to escape the villain’s clutches and turn the tables on the bad guys.

On the surface, “The Circle” also seems to contain all five ingredients– but only if you interpret each ingredient very very liberally.

1) A likeable, intelligent but naïve hero with a sympathetic goal:

Emma Watson plays May, a nondescript millennial in a dead end temp job. We’re supposed to find her sympathetic because anyone stuck in a dead end temp job is supposed to be sympathetic. But what, exactly, makes her likeable and intelligent? (Emma Watson is obviously likeable and projects intelligence, but I’m talking about the character she plays, May, not Emma Watson.) We know nothing about May’s goals or interests other than that she enjoys kayaking. She’s dismissive of the one non-family member who shows interest in her as a person, a childhood friend named Mercer. Her father has MS and May feels bad about that. As far as character development goes, that’s pretty much it. May is a nobody, not particularly distinguished in her ambitions or talents, not particularly likeable. She is, apparently, reasonably good at customer service. Yay for May. If she were played by anyone other than Emma Watson she’d be instantly forgettable. Tom Cruise’s character, on the other hand, is specific, if not particularly exciting: he’s a freshly minted lawyer with student debt and a lovely wife, well-educated and obviously smart, with ambitions and a goal. He may not be original but he has potential and character resources to draw upon. May is a customer support rep with a bad attitude toward one potential friend and a single hobby, kayaking. No potential, no character resources. When she discovers The Truth about her company she has no particular skill set to draw upon to accomplish point five (which will lead to the greatest failure of the film).

2) An intriguing, not-all-what-he-seems villain:

Tom Hanks plays Bailey, the Steve Jobs-esque charismatic leader of the Google-Facebook-Apple tech company “The Circle.” He’s presented as a socially forward-thinking tech entrepreneur whose main skill set, apparently, is the ability to give tendentious speeches to an audience of happy employees. At no time is he shown to be anything other than a lightweight con artist at worst. Despite the film’s heavy handed message that social media unchecked is Bad, and the assertion of one character that The Circle is up to something nefarious, and an unbelievable public display of callously poor judgment, Bailey never does anything on screen that can be described as villainous. He doesn’t threaten May’s life or the lives of her loved ones (in fact, the “villainous” tech that May comes to distrust actually saves her life, and the company’s free health care saves her family from financial ruin and provides her father with treatment for his MS). We are told (again, by a character other than May, who learns and does nothing of consequence on her own) that The Circle and its leaders are up to No Good, but exactly what that No Good consists of, other than exposing the illegal actions of a hostile Senator, we have no idea. As a villain, Tom Hanks’ Bailey is, like May, not much of anything.

3) A simple, easily explained crisis (the law firm you’re working for turns out to be a Mob front).

The Circle, the company May works for, is, on the surface, a typical successful and grandiose Silicon Valley tech firm. Its corporate culture is obnoxiously self-satisfied and myopic. Its employees are happy worker bees who believe they’re on a Mission. There’s a vaguely cult-like atmosphere. The employees are naïve, the bosses are manipulative and probably amoral, though that’s implied more than displayed. But that’s the surface reality. Underneath the surface, however, and providing the crisis that propels our hero to take her life in her hands and risk everything to expose The Truth, is the revelation that The Circle is– exactly what it appears to be on the surface: a typical successful and grandiose Silicon Valley tech firm. Wait, what? It isn’t making deals with authoritarian countries to control the citizenry through technology? Its master plan to undermine American democracy is to make it easier and a requirement that all citizens vote? Its worst crime is the enabling of amateur paparazzi leading to the accidental death of a possibly deranged young man? I may be missing something here, but while all of this is irresponsible and potentially dangerous, none of it is actually, ah, criminal. And none of it puts our heroine’s own life or the lives of her loved ones or her future happiness at risk. Which brings us to ingredient four…

4) Jeopardy to the hero’s life and loved ones.

So, once May “discovers” The Truth that The Circle is, in fact, exactly what it seems to be, what jeopardy does she face? What risk is she exposed to? What danger confronts her and her loved ones? In a tense scene, when Bailey and his apparent dark enforcer, Patton Oswalt (yep, Patton Oswalt is Bailey’s “menacing” corporate henchman) recognize that May is no longer a happy employee, they threaten her with– a better job, more money, more freedom. Or, heck, May can just keep doing what she’s doing. Whatever works best for her. We’re just here to see you get back on your feet. It’s a devastating and frightening confrontation. Yeah, no. But it’s completely on a par with the rest of the film. From one point of view, given the behavior of The Circle toward May, she’s the psychotic villain, not Bailey. There is literally no threat to May, no personal or family jeopardy, not even a hint of possible negative consequences if she decides to quit. She isn’t even reminded of legal issues regarding corporate NDAs, though in fact May doesn’t actually have any corporate secrets to expose, good, bad, or otherwise, because remember SHE’S JUST A CUSTOMER SERVICE REP. Which brings us to the last and most disastrous missing ingredient…

5) A clever plan developed by the hero to escape the villain’s clutches and turn the tables on the bad guys.

Before I get into this one, I’ll digress to share a comment a friend of mine once made about “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” a movie that is the Exception That Proves The Rule of genre pictures. According to my friend, you can take Indiana Jones out of “Raiders” and the ending of the movie would be exactly the same. It’s true: if Indiana never became involved in the search for the Lost Ark, how would the ultimate outcome be different? The Nazis would have found the Ark, would have opened it as they did, and would have been consumed by the Wrath of God. Indiana’s involvement changed nothing. To be fair, he did save Marion Ravenwood’s life. She probably would have been killed if Indy hadn’t shown up in Tibet. So that’s something. And maybe the Ark wouldn’t have ended up stored in Area 51. Not that it’s ever mattered. But, essentially, Indiana Jones is irrelevant to the outcome of “Raiders,” and while it works in “Raiders” because everything else is so damned marvelous, normally a genre story in which the hero’s presence is irrelevant to the outcome is what we in the business call A Bad Thing.

May, in “The Circle,” is completely irrelevant to the outcome of the movie. Why? Because in fact she isn’t the real protagonist of the story– she’s at best a supporting character, at worst a minor cog in the arc of the actual protagonist, the man the movie should have been about, the only empowered character in the film who has a functional choice to make and an actual risk to take: Tyler.

Tyler? TYLER?

Who the hell is Tyler? Why haven’t we mentioned this guy before? What does he have to do with all this?

Tyler is a supporting character introduced toward the end of Act One, played by John Boyega in a total of three full scenes, a mysterious and close-mouthed “tech engineer” who for some unexplained reason decides to reveal the Deep Secrets of The Circle to customer rep May. The Deep Secret of The Circle is that they have a lot of underground space for server farms, i.e.: they have room to expand their data storage. Apparently this is a Bad Thing and she mustn’t tell anyone she knows. Oh, and by the way, Tyler is the tech engineer who designed the software/hardware/program/magic that makes The Circle a tech powerhouse. But these days he just wanders around the company campus getting upset by storage space and taking naïve young customer reps into his confidence. Tyler is an enigma. He’s also the Deus Ex Machina who gives May the opportunity to make a Big Speech at the end of the movie while he does the actual work of exposing the Bad Things the company is doing.

(What bad things, exactly? We never find out, but they must be Bad, because they upset Tyler, who’s also upset by storage space.)

Yes, that’s right: Tyler is the one who first discovers The Circle is doing Bad Things (they’re planning to fill storage space with data) and Tyler is the one who puts his cushy non-job at risk when he decides to expose those Bad Things, something he can do because he has the skill set necessary to take action to resolve the crisis. It isn’t even clear May’s own turn against The Circle has any influence on Tyler’s decision. In a scene obviously rewritten and re-voiced in post production, there’s an attempt to show that May persuaded Tyler to act, but it’s unconvincing. Tyler doesn’t need May to persuade him; he was previously trying to persuade her. Tyler acts for Tyler’s own reasons. May’s presence in the story is irrelevant. Through her own actions May has no fundamental impact on the story’s outcome. And unlike “Raiders,” there’s no compensating fun to be had in the rest of the film.

So, there you have it– a master class in how not to make a thriller in the Had I But Known genre. Wait till “The Circle” is on Netflix or Amazon Prime, then watch it back to back with “The Firm.” You’ll learn something.

Whether what you learn is worth the time invested is entirely up to you.


Gerry Conway is one of the Kings of TV and film and comic book writing and also one of our Beloved Leader Larry Brody’s longest-lasting and closest friends. Everybody who comes to TVWriter™ should be reading his insightful blog, where this article first appeared. Learn more about Gerry HERE.

Herbie J Pilato Reads ‘Write Tight’

by Herbie J Pilato

EDITOR’S NOTE: Our bud Herbie J Pilato is a very picky person when it comes to recommending a TV show, film, or book. And a book about writing? Oh my! But here the dear boy is, returning to TVWriter™ to recommend this one book in particular. Take it away Herbie J!


It’s important to write tight.

Not, “It’s SO important to write tight.”

See the difference?

No need to add the “so” and certainly no need to capitalize it like “SO.”

Whether writing a book, nonfiction or fiction, or a TV show, movie or play, scripted, non-scripted, reality, or documentary, keep your dialogue to a minimum; even your stage directions.

Get your point across with less verbiage.  You know: less words.  In other words, cut to the chase…with each sentence, which each line, with each word.

Certainly, there are moments where it’s important to be generous when writing words, as with poetry, or if you’re quoting some great thinker in one of your books or scripts; or if you have created a verbose or arrogant character.

But in general, it’s best to say what you need to say in a short and sweet way – as a writer, a character, or in real life as a candlestick maker – or even if one of your characters in your TV show, movie or play is a candlestick maker.

Utilize your best judgment and discretion.

Or, just use discretion.

Or, use discretion.

Or better yet:

Use discretion.

You get me?

Here’s a wonderful book to help the cause:

Write Tight: Say Exactly What You Mean With Precision and Power by William Brohaugh.

Click on the link and order it.

As fast as you can.

Or just:

Order it.

HERE


Herbie J Pilato is practically a founding father of TVWriter™ and right now his official title is Contributing Editor Emeritus. We’re pleased as all hell to have him back today and are sure you will be too. Learn more about Herbie J Pilato HERE.

What the Latest WGA-MPTP Agreement Means

by Gerry Conway


LB’s NOTE: TVWriter™  has been getting a lot of email asking us – mostly in a more subtle way – what the big deal is about the result of the latest negotiation with the AMPTP and why are we, the members of the WGA, so thrilled about the result.

Good questions, for sure. And my good buddy Gerry Conway has some good answers, right here, right now (and also on his blog, where this short but perceptive reaction originally appeared just a few days ago):


Just got an email from the WGA negotiating committee, and for the first time since I became a member in 1978, I believe the Guild has achieved the impossible– we pushed back against the studios’ greed and intransigence without having to destroy or damage careers and livelihoods in the process.

I became a member at a time when union power in the United States was under assault by the growing countervailing power of mega corporations, and, after 1980, by the resurgent power of a growing anti-worker conservative political establishment. The 1980s was a traumatic time for the WGA, as a series of strikes forced by the studios’ refusal to negotiate fair terms for new media (and even, in the case of VHS sales, refusing to comply with deals they’d previously made) did serious damage to the careers of many writers, actors, directors and craftspeople – as well as to the lives of hundreds and thousands of supporting workers throughout the state. That decade left all the unions in Hollywood weakened and demoralized through much of the 1990s and well into the early 2000s. It took the rise of the internet and the apparent willingness of the studios to try to break Hollywood unions once and for all in the mid-2000s to finally bring writers back together again. The strength the Guild showed ten years ago, and the passion and determination of an idealistic younger generation of Guild members, is why the Guild was able to stare down the studios this year– and force them to blink.

I may be overly optimistic, but I see a parallel between the Guild’s victory over the studios this weekend and the victory of the Democrats over the Republicans in the budget battle, also this weekend.

In both cases the power to force their will upon a smaller, apparently weaker opponent seemed to be with the ruling establishment– the studios in one case, the Republican Congress and President in the other. Yet in the end the power was more apparent than real. Historical forces decide– in the 1980s, history was moving against unions, workers, and progressive politics. In the 2000s, history is moving against corporate economic dominance, wealthy elites, and conservatism. Despite momentary victories– weakening financial regulations, current electoral triumphs– the cultural order that’s held sway since Reagan’s election in 1980 is crumbling. That flush of victory Republicans perceived when Trump was elected may turn out to have been the flush of a breaking fever.

Congratulations to my brothers and sisters in the WGA. May ours be the first of many future victories for workers and unions and people-first policies yet to come.


Gerry Conway is one of the Kings of TV and film and comic book writing and also one of our Beloved Leader Larry Brody’s longest-lasting and closest friends. Everybody who comes to TVWriter™ should be reading his insightful blog, where this article first appeared. Learn more about Gerry HERE.

Dennis O’Neil: The Perils of Captain Mighty

 

Mr. O’Neil is too modest to say this, so we will: “Buy this book!” Because if ever a guy knew how to write the #$@! out of anything, it’s LB’s favorite collaborator whom he has never met:

by Dennis O’Neil

Okay, let’s get this out of the way at the beginning: Yesterday I published a novel. The title is The Perils of Captain Mighty and the Redemption of Danny the Kid. I’ll add one more fact: The original title was The Perils of Captain Power and the Redemption of Danny the Kid, but there were a couple of still active copyrights for “Captain Power” and although these copyrights weren’t likely to cause any problems, they could, and so Power becomes Mighty and we proceed to the next paragraph.

Are you expecting a little chest-beating here? Not happening. Not that I have anything against some self-congratulation and some of the writers I most admire were not above it. To cite three, a trio of my favorite Nineteenth Century scribblers: Charles Dickens (who, according to one source “thrived in the spotlight”); Mark Twain (who, according to another, had a “flair self-promotion”); and Walt Whitman, who sought praise from Ralph Waldo Emerson and got it (“I greet you at the beginning of a great career,” the sage of Concord wrote in a five-page letter Whitman later used to promote his Leaves of Grass.) In my own time, I might cite Ernest Hemingway and Norman Mailer as writers unburdened by crippling modesty. (Anyone with absolutely nothing better to do might list a few more, but let’s hope you’re not that desperate for amusement.)

Indeed, the “book tour” has become a regular part of publishing in which a writer stumbles into a camera’s lens finder or audiences of bibliophiles and, perhaps, if luck is near, scintillates, and then goes to airports.

Ah, but what if the writer is modest? What if that person were taught, perhaps with the emphasis of a branding iron, that gentlefolk do not speak of themselves and never, ever indulge in self-praise. I guess he or she emulates another nineteenth-century New Englander and echoes Emily Dickenson: “I’m nobody.” Or the person does as an adopted New Englander named J.D. Salinger did, buys isolated lodging and hides for a few decades.

A question: Why are the people I’ve mentioned, and others, reclusive? What, exactly, is modesty/humility, anyway? Do such things even exist? I suspect that in my case they’re other words for fear though I doubt that I’ll ever be able to confirm that. We may not always call what happens to us intimidation, we shy ones, and we may not be aware that it’s there. And nobody in particular is doing the intimidating.

Meanwhile, I’ve published a book and I’d feel better if I knew that, if you read it, you won’t hate me for writing it. But it’s not your fault that you’re intimidating me.

 

 


Dennis O’Neil is one of the top writer-editors in comics, having guided the careers of just about every superhero the world has ever heard of. He’s also a damn fine writer of TV. LB still remembers that time he and Denny collaborated on a series created for the BBC, without ever knowing they were doing so. Or knowing each other either. Ah, the magic of TV! This post was first published in Denny’s column at ComicMix.

John Ostrander: Wait. What Was I Thinking?

by John Ostrander


NOTE FROM LB: John Ostrander didn’t create the Suicide Squad, but he, along with various important partners, made it into something special enough to succeed as a film even though it starred Will Smith. I enjoyed John’s discussion of the evolution of the world’s most heinous super group and hope y’all will too!


On May 23, DC will release the sixth volume in their TPB reprint series of my Suicide Squad work. It’s sub-titled “The Phoenix Gambit” and, as is my wont, I’m going to share some thoughts about the stories therein. This might actually take a few weeks.

The volume covers issues 41 through 49 and, with one exception, was co-written with my late wife, Kim Yale. It was at this point that we shook up the Squad (and the book) to a large degree. When we last left the Squad in issue 40 (and the end of the previous TPB), the Squad had disbanded or dispersed. Amanda Waller was in jail as a result of her hand in executing the criminal gang calling itself the Loa; she just surrendered and, at the time, many people both within the book and without wondered why. Why didn’t she fight it? Why didn’t she scheme to get out of it?

In one of the stories in this issue, Amanda explains why to a friend – she felt she deserved to go to jail, that she had stepped over the line. This re-enforced the fact that, so far as I was concerned, Waller has always had a conscience of some kind, even when she crossed it. I think that’s the main difference between my Amanda and the film’s Amanda – mine is not a sociopath. Please note: this is not a criticism of the film; they wrote the character as they saw her, as they needed for their story. Mine is just a bit different. The first story starts with Waller in a prison cell in Belle Reve and the caption “One year later.”

This was slightly controversial at the time. There were fans who felt this now put the Squad out of sync with the rest of the DCU. Kim and I weren’t overly concerned about that; we figured over the run of the stories, they’d even up. It was important to Kim and I that the time elapse between the end of the last story and the start of this one. Not only did Waller need time out, some of the other characters need time to elapse as well.

Sarge Steel approaches Amanda in her cell. (Steel also works in the Intelligence biz and he and Waller have been at loggerheads since the Squad began.) He could use her help and advice with a problem and makes her the same deal she made others – do the job, succeed, survive, and get time off your sentence.

Amanda smiles at him; she’s been waiting for this or something like it. She has a counter-offer. She gets a presidential pardon; she gets to put a Squad together like before, they work without governmental ties or oversight, and they get a million dollars. Oh, and Batman has to help with the first mission.

This would be one of the big changes in the book; no more Belle Reve, no more supporting cast. Smaller Squad and, for the most part, no costumes. Every day clothes. They were free agents. More expendable than ever and the U.S. Government had less (or no) control over them (and especially Amanda).

These were significant changes. The book was over three years old and time, Kim and I thought, for a shake-up. While the new direction seemed to me at the time to be a good idea, in retrospect I’m not so sure. Fans can be a conservative bunch; they tend to want the same thing each time but different. That’s a hard trick to pull off. Don’t you need the characters in costume to really know who they are? It could be argued that Deadshot’s costume WAS the character. In losing the Belle Reve, we lost not only the Squad’s HQ but a genuine character in the series.

It could also be argued that having the characters running around in costume negated their being a covert action bunch. This seemed more “realistic” although realistic in this context is somewhat malleable. It also got Waller more out into the field as part of the operation rather than waiting at HQ and that seemed to me to be a better idea.

The Squad itself was a somewhat different group. Deadshot and Captain Boomerang were givens and Vixen and Bronze Tiger were regulars although we had messed with Tiger a bit, scuffed up his “good guy” image. They were joined by Count Vertigo and now Poison Ivy and the modern Thugee, Revan, who previously had been a Squad opponent, working with the terrorist group, the Jihad.

They were also joined by the Atom or, shall I say, an Atom. It appeared that Ray Palmer was killed in an explosion and a new Atom, named Adam Cray, had taken his place. Most the of the Squad members (and many readers) believed that Cray was actually Ray Palmer; they thought Palmer had, for some reason, faked his own death and was now assuming a disguise.

I always felt that the Atom would be an ideal member of an espionage team, especially the Squad. His ability to shrink could make him an ideal spy and so, when he became available to us, Kim and I jumped at the chance – albeit with our usual touch of twistiness.

The Phoenix Gambit also included the Russian equivalent to very early Superman crossed with Captain America, Stanoivolk (“Steel Wolf”). And Batman. Lots of Batman. In fact, the first chapter of The Phoenix Gambit could almost be thought of as a Batman story. He’d stick around for the other three issues as well. No great mystery there – Batman already had a history with the Squad and doing something of a crossover could be a nice way to boost sales, Especially at this stage of the Squad’s history.

Getting ready to write this column (and the next few) gave me a chance to go over the volume myself; I hadn’t read most of these in more than a decade. I think, as a whole, they’re among the strongest in the series. Kim and I were really hitting our stride and there are places where I can clearly see her hand and hear her voice. There’s a place where a drugged and deranged Count Vertigo gets all biblical while in battle. That was almost certainly scripted by Kim; her father was an Episcopal minister and she knew the well from which she drew.

The main artist at this point was Geoff Isherwood who had been one of our inkers for a long time. He gave the art a nice illustrative feel while, at the same time, keeping the down and dirty realism the book required. Luke McDonnell, our original artist, would return here and there but the bulk of the work is Geoff’s and he does a fine job.

Well, that does it for this week, my li’l Squadders. Join us next time when, among other things, we’ll talk about our Secret Origin of Captain Boomerang and how that came about. That’s next week – same Squad time, same Squad channel.

Or something.


John Ostrander is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. Don’t forget to read his most excellent blog at ComicMix, where this piece first appeared. You can learn more about John and his masterworks HERE

Showbiz Agony Dept: ‘Smash’ Creator on Being Fired from Her Own Show

It happens sometimes – the dream turns into a nightmare. Getting a series on the air is a major high. Getting thrown off it, OTOH….

What Came Next
by Theresa Rebeck

So I’m walking to a rehearsal in Midtown, and my agent calls me.

He runs me through one thing and another, and then he gets down to it. Had I heard that Steven Spielberg had set up a project at Showtime, a TV series about backstage at a Broadway musical?

“They want you to write it,” he informed me. “Mr. Spielberg read one of your plays over the weekend, and he called this morning to say that he is infatuated.”

Let me tell you something. When Steven Spielberg calls your agent to say he is infatuated with your writing, that is a good day. The saga of what came next is so long and complicated it would take a book to write it all out. Sometimes I think of writ- ing that book and sometimes I think that writing that book and reliving the whole thing would be somewhat akin to shooting myself in the head. But we’ll get to that.

So I took the job, I wrote the pilot, I created all the characters, I nurtured it through a transition from Showtime to NBC, I produced the pilot, and the show got picked up for an order of seventeen episodes. I was the show runner of the first season, which got terrific numbers and established itself immediately as an international sensation. The show was called Smash.

At the end of the first season, I was fired without cause. No one likes being fired, and guess what, I am no exception. As the dust settled, it became clear that at the management level a lot of dastardly stories had been invented about my character. Sometimes I try to parse them and fit them all back together; I have been, at times, desperate to figure out what actually happened. There was a destructive and incoherent madness to it that resists interpretation.

Mr. Spielberg, to give him much credit, called me the day I was fired and apologized. He told me that he blamed himself. He felt that the politics had gotten way out of hand, and they wouldn’t have if he had been around more. He was probably right.

And, of course, as soon as I was fired, all the men who had conspired to have me removed from my post realized that the show wasn’t going to survive without me and so they slunk away and went off to do other things.

The network then hired a whole bunch of other people to run it in my stead, and it fell apart, and one year after I had made that show into a bona fide hit, it was canceled.

Everyone told me the best thing to do was ignore it and put it behind me.

Then I couldn’t get hired for three years.

Then I fired my lawyer and I fired my manager and I fired my agent…..

Read it all at Entertainment Weekly