My good friend and talented colleague has a new story in this year’s Batman 80-Page Giant. And it’s called “Fearless”.
I have to admit, I’m very sensitive when it comes to titles. My very first comic, GROUNDED, was originally supposed to be called POWERLESS.
Even though it was based on a screenplay titled POWERLESS that I wrote in 2001, I had to change the name because Marvel did a mini-series called “Powerless” the same year GROUNDED came out. (Ultimately, I think I wound up with a better title than Powerless anyway).
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work the other way around. J. Michael Straczynski wrote (well, or at least started) a storyline in Superman called GROUNDED. Was DC forced change it? No.
I doubt JMS was aware of GROUNDED. I’d be surprised if people at DC weren’t aware of it - if not the many fine DC editors I’ve worked with, then their legal department, which I’m sure has to vet the various trademarks they use. But, you shouldn’t feel bad for me a tear for me over this any more than Dr. Doom should have shed a tear over 9/11.
I can’t tell you how many writing students I’ve had fear that their concepts will be stolen. And I’ve felt that way myself. I was devastated when Sky High came out, and was convinced that the storyline was ripped off from GROUNDED.
I still get a bit upset when I see another project with a similar concept to mine (‘68 and Garth Ennis’ Stitched come to mind as being a little too close to GRAVEYARD OF EMPIRES).
As I’ve had more experience in Hollywood, I’ve come to realize that ideas don’t come out of thin air. There is such a thing as the Zeitgeist, and if you look at history, there are an unbelievable number of cases of parallel inventions. (Caleb Calls this “Multiple independent discovery and recombinant conceptualization”) People do steal ideas, but it’s much more likely that someone else just beat you to the punch.
Regardless of whether an idea is similar to yours or not, you can’t let it bother you. You should write every project as if it’s the last thing you’ll ever do. But once it’s done, once it’s out there, you need to let go of it. If you’ve only got one good idea (and I believe most people don’t have much more than that), you’re never going to succeed as a writer.
Ideas are easy. It’s execution that’s hard. As someone who thinks that my strength is coming up with high concepts, that’s not an easy thing to say.
If concept is less important than execution, than titles are even less meaningful. I remember feeling frustrated with Boom! when UNTHINKABLE came out at the same time as two Mark Waid books, one called Irredeemable and another called Unknown. No one’s been a bigger hero to me and champion of my work in comics than Mark, but I still worried there’d be confusion.
Then I remembered that one of my favorite Mark Waid storylines was a Fantastic Four run with Mike Weiringo called “Unthinkable”, and I realized what a big hypocrite I was.
I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t some trepidation on my part that FEARLESS is finally being collected in trade paperback…
…at the same time Marvel is releasing a Fear Itself tie-in called “The Fearless”. Someone at Image even suggested to me that we send them a cease and desist letter. Even if I didn’t think that would sabotage my career, I still wouldn’t do it…having felt what’s it’s like to have to change a title, I would never want to subject other creators to that same feeling.
I’d also be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit surprised when I picked up the above comic, BATMAN’S 2011 80 PAGE GIANT, and saw there was a story by Caleb Monroe entitled “Fearless”. Worse, as I read it, I saw that the main character had his ability to experience fear surgically removed (if you haven’t read my FEARLESS, it’s about a vigilante who takes a drug that negates his ability to experience fear).
Let me back up for a minute and explain who Caleb is. Caleb was, until this week, an employee at Meltdown Comics, my local comic shop when I’m in LA. He also hosted the late lamented Meltcast podcast with Chris Rosa, Sam Humphries and Aaron Brewer.
He’s worked harder than just about anyone I know at breaking into comics.
He wrote THE REMNANT for Boom!
Based on an idea by Stephen Baldwin, it should rightfully have been the kind of disaster that happens when a celebrity dabbles in comics (especially when said celebrity has strong religious views he wants to impose on his audience.).
Instead, The Remnant turned out to be a gripping thriller.
The Remnant also marked was the American comics debut of Julian Totino Tedesco. Along with fellow former Meltdown manager Matt Gagnon (now Editor-in-Chief at Boom!), I have Caleb to thank for Julian, who went on to bring UNTHINKABLE and RIFT RAIDERS to light.
Caleb followed up the Remnant with Hunter’s Fortune, an all-ages adventure book from Boom! Caleb pulled off the rare feat of crafting something you could both show to your children and enjoy as an adult.
I was excited to hear that Caleb was making his DC Debut with the Batman 80 Page Giant. The 80 Page Giants have been one of the few places DC has been giving a voice to new talent. Earlier this year, my good friend and critic Abhay Khosla and my friend and DECOY artist Andy MacDonald told a kick-ass Jimmy Olson story in a Superman 80 Page Giant.
Caleb had not only earned this shot with talent and hard work, but he also is one of the nicest guys in comics. You can’t spend more than a few minutes with and not notice his big heart. It’s this genuine good nature that makes his comics voice unique and makes it impossible not to root for his success.
Well, almost impossible. When you are sensitive, paranoid artist like myself and until you see a his name associated with a title and a concept that cuts so close, things can get dicey.
But even if Caleb was a no-talent, lazy writer with a bad disposition, I’d still have to admit the following: Fearless is a great title, but one that I don’t own. Neither do I have the a monopoly on the idea of removing someone’s ability to feel fear (part of the inspiration for FEARLESS was a plotline Don DeLillo’s White Noise that involves a drug given to terminally ill people that takes away their ability to fear death).
Without spoiling Caleb’s story too much, the protagonist’s willingness to have his capacity for fear removed is just one of many brilliantly ruthless things he does in order to pursue his childhood dream: becoming a supervillain worthy of defeating Batman.
Caleb has a number of things worthy of envy his “Fearless” story, and sharing a title with me isn’t one of them. He’s proved the maxim that a good superhero comic has more ideas on one page than entire screenplays do in 120 of them. He’s created one of the most memorable new Batman villains in years. And he did it all in 10 pages.
I’m still annoyed with Caleb. But not because he “stole” a title. I’m annoyed because he just plain out-wrote me. And I couldn’t be prouder.
Do yourself a favor and pick up Caleb’s issue, and keep your eye on him. He’s a talent to watch.