Friday, May 29, 2015

Behind the scenes of Last Laugh! by Scott Beatty

last laugh
Behind-the-Scenes of JOKER’S LAST LAUGH!
COMIXOLOGY is having a 99-cent sale on JOKER’S LAST LAUGH by pal Chuck Dixon and me, including and all tie-in issues. You can check out the sale below…
So, in the spirit of the Clown Prince of Crime, here’s a little trip down memory lane with Chuck weighing in on some exclusive “Easter Eggs” and little known facts about our DC Universe crossover event!
SCOTT: Hot on the heels of our successful collaboration on ROBIN YEAR ONE, Chuck Dixon and I pitched JOKER’S LAST LAUGH as a “crossover with consequence.” Then-DC Executive Editor Mike Carlin took us out to lunch with Denny O’Neil at The Chili Factory, right across the street from DC Comics’ offices at 1600 Broadway. We were green-lighted immediately.
CHUCK: Jeepers! You remember where we ate?
After we left DC for the day, Chuck had several hours until his train home… so we went to the movies and watched FIGHT CLUB in Times Square. Through a bit of unplanned serendipity, the film’s “Space Monkey” Tyler Durden disciples created a giant flaming smiley face on the glass facade of a skyscraper. Earlier that day, we pitched the Joker jumpstarting the Pacific “Ring of Fire” to spark his own hemisphere-wide smiley face.
The story’s basic premise was that the Joker, believing that he had a terminal brain tumor, launched a megalomaniacal suicide run on the DC Universe, taking an army of Jokerized super-villains along for one anarchic final ride. Obviously, the Bat-Family wasn’t going to let that plan go about unchecked…4971a014ecac32d600d51ee245bfa7a8
Pete Woods started off the story with a two-part opener split between JOKER’S LAST LAUGH SECRET FILES and JOKER’S LAST LAUGH #1. Pete did a TON of design work to set the tone for the series, which began in the confines of the DCU’s meta-prison… THE SLAB.
Slab Security Armor & Tech (PW)
Medical Wing & Medicos (PW)
Every trade paperback collection of LAST LAUGH has omitted the JOKER’S LAST LAUGH SECRET FILES, a book that usually arrived at the end of a crossover. To goose sales, Chuck and I pitched that the SF book come out first and include the opening chapter of LL to make it absolutely integral to the story. We also loaded it with lots of value-added material, including profile pages for villains debuting in the series.
CHUCK: I remember telling an editor I shall not name that LL Secret Files HAD to be solicited as an integral part of the limited series not just a standalone. Retailers and readers needed to know that it was vital they pick up the Secret Files for the whole story. I suggested something like LAST LAUGH STARTS HERE! in the solicitation copy and on the cover. His reply (I will never forget this): “Well, we don’t want to make this more of a shameless money grab than it already is.” I reminded him that DC Comics was a publishing BUSINESS and the idea was to make a profit. I also pointed out that readers would probably want to read the whole story.
Editor Matt Idelson wanted all of the LAST LAUGH covers to be penciled by Fred Hembeck and inked by Bill Sienkiewicz. Seriously. We ended up with Brian Bolland bookending covers #1 and #6, with #2-5 rendered by Scott McDaniel. The esteemed Walter Simonson drew the SECRET FILES cover.
Speaking of Brian Bolland, the penultimate LAST LAUGH #6 cover was actually much gorier in its first draft. Joker’s left ear was partially bitten off and the rest of the Clown Prince of Crime was bloodied up more than what readers eventually saw.
Originally, LAST LAUGH was intended to be a single self-contained miniseries that ONLY crossed over into DC’s Bat-Titles. Someone higher up made it a company-wide crossover. Chuck and I wrote “Last Laugh Rules” for other creators to follow. The basic gist was this: You can have any Jokerized villain you want for your book, except for your normal rogues gallery. Superman could tangle with a Jokerized Angle Man. The goal was to think outside of the box. We had a single caveat: Please don’t use the Joker himself because he’s busy in our story. More than a few writers ignored us and did what they wanted, apparently miffed that LL was interrupting their current storylines. Some were just weary of ANY crossovers since LL came on the heels of OUR WORLDS AT WAR.
CHUCK: It was an easy, low-impact crossover event. Just take one issue and have your hero meet a Jokerized villain they’d NEVER FOUGHT BEFORE. I’d been on the receiving end of these kind of high-concept, one-off stunts before. With enough forewarning I could usually work them into my current continuity without interrupting whatever was going on in my own book. We got resistance from creators and I suspect editors who did not pass our ideas along. To me, as a comic book writer, it would have been gravy. I have carte blanche to use any villain from the DCU I want? Coolness.
And, as an aside, I’d like to point out that Last Laugh outsold Our Worlds at War by a considerable margin. While LL got short-shrift with a truncated paperback collection, OWAW has been collected again and again in its entirety in multi-volume sets and oversized hardcover editions. Here endeth the bitter tirade.
In one iteration, Superman… not Nightwing… was the hero who killed the Joker in a fit of rage after discovering the body of Ralph Dibny (a.k.a. Elongated Man) stretched across the Golden Gate Bridge with the words “SEE WHAT I CAN DO?” carved into his elongated corpse.
CHUCK: Man, that idea still gives me the willies like it did when you came up with it. I’m actually kind of glad we didn’t do it.
Instead, we settled on Nightwing doing the deed. We weren’t allowed to kill Elongated Man. Our “crossover with consequence” became less consequential. Alternatively, we pitched killing the Joker outright, not having Batman resuscitate him. Our plan was to have new villain Rancor, whose power was the ability to heighten negative feelings all around him, take up the mantle of Mister J.
Rancor (MM)
But… we were forbidden. The Joker sells action figure and peanut butter. Imagine our surprise all these years later when the Joker cuts off his own face and later hacks off Alfred Pennyworth’s hand. And we thought OUR story was edgy!
Most of our scripts were written pre-9/11. After that fateful day, Chuck and I hastily called up Matt Idelson to change the page where a Jokerized Dr. Polaris was crashing passenger planes into one another. In the revised art, Polaris is causing volcanoes to erupt instead.
Former DC editor Dan Raspler lectured us on the science of black holes and singularities, a major plot point in LAST LAUGH:
Dan: Black holes don’t behave that way.
Us: Dan, black holes will behave the way we tell them to.
CHUCK: Raspler.
It was Idelson’s idea to have every issue drawn by a different artist. While it was fun to work with so many creators, the continuity issues were a constant headache.
CHUCK: We kept up with them though and provided any reference they needed. We got some great art but I wish they’d gone with the list of artist we selected (and who were available).
One of those guys, Marcos Martin, so impressed us that he was our first (and only) choice to draw BATGIRL YEAR ONE.
The Brian Bolland cover to JLL #1 was made into a T-Shirt from Graffitti Designs! However, the DC Bullet was swapped out for an eight ball.
We spent an entire day at DC’s offices with lunch brought in order to diagram all the major beats and plot points on a large dry erase board.
CHUCK: Remember we sat with Idelson at a table and each affected editor (and some of them were VERY affected) was called in one by one for us to lay it all out for them. After a while it began to feel like a police interrogation room with Scott and I as the weary detectives. Some of the editors acted like hostile witnesses and I could tell they didn’t want to be there and had no intention of fully cooperating with us despite the months of lead time we were giving them.
For continuity reasons, we couldn’t use the villain Shrapnel, so we created a variation on the same theme: FRAG! You can see him here as designed by Marcos Martin…
Frag1 (MM)
Some self-indulgent fanboy inclusions:
  • Whirly-Bats!
  • Having the Deep Six’s Slig pick up a lost Mother Box. For the non-Kirbyphiles, Slig’s MB “died” in the classic NEW GODS tale “Glory Boat”!
  • Long-suffering villain Multi-Man, a major player in LAST LAUGH, was the MacGuffin in my very first DC Comics story from DCU HOLIDAY BASH III.
In our minds, the Joker sounded like Mark Hamill and attacked each day like the weasels in WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT, reinventing himself each morning.
Joker’s Last Will and Testament is included as a full-page reprint in THE JOKER: A VISUAL HISTORY OF THE CLOWN PRINCE OF CRIME by Daniel Wallace.
The prescription pull-tab logo for the series caused much contention at DC, mainly because the first issue logo was at the bottom of the book and wouldn’t be seen in some retailer displays!
While Chuck ran with many of the lingering plot points in his DC monthlies at the time (NIGHTWING, ROBIN, BIRDS OF PREY), we capped off the series with pitches for several new titles. One had Tim Drake becoming the new BLUE BEETLE for a time. Eventually, the series would feature BB Ted Kord as Fagin-like leader of a squad of young Beetles. Another title, META-MARSHALS, would have followed Shilo Norman and Dina Bell hunting down wayward meta-villains in a DC/Elmore Leonard mash-up. While a third title, THE SLAB, would have been a supervillain take on the prison melodrama OZ.
So now that you know THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY, go download LAST LAUGH and see what all the fuss was about!
In addition to LAST LAUGH, Scott Beatty and Chuck Dixon also collaborated on DC’s “Sidekick Trifecta”: ROBIN YEAR ONE, BATGIRL YEAR ONE, and NIGHTWING YEAR ONE, as well as a 4-issue art on the monthly ROBIN that introduced Kid Kobra and (wait for it)… Mini-Yetis!

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