Other People’s Toys

A. LEE MARTINEZ FUN FACTOID:  I almost wrote an Iron Man novel.

This was a few years back when the original Iron Man movie was about to come out.  Or maybe it had just come out.  Little hazy on the details, but I remember that some tenative steps were taken between me and a publisher to write an Iron Man novel.  It wasn’t going to be an adaptation, but rather, an original story.  I even wrote and submitted an outline.

I don’t quite remember the exact details of the story I had in mind, but I know it revolved around espionage, both corporate and governmental, and attempts to recover a lost alien robot.  The robot, for those who have enough of a knowledge of the Marvel universe to even care, was an inactive Kree Sentry.  Basically, I imagined an Indiana Jones style story where Tony Stark has an adventure, foils the bad guys, fights the reactivated Sentry.  Also, Iron Man’s love interest was going to be a Skrull spy in disguise.

The deal stalled, and I don’t remember why.  Just sort of sputtered to a halt.  It happens.  Still, it would’ve been cool, I think.

I was also approached once to write a Brutal Legend novel.  That fell apart quickly though, and I didn’t get nearly as past the tenative stages.  While I wasn’t a fan of the game (how could I be?  It wasn’t even out yet.), it might’ve been fun.

The near-adaptation I bemoan most though is the Heroscape novel I might have written.  This one was purly my idea, and my agent even went so far as to approach the right people and express my interest.  Regrettably, that interest wasn’t reciprocated.  No one with the power to authorize such a thing seemed to think there was a demand for a novel based on one of the greatest board games ever.  Too bad because I guarantee my Heroscape novel would’ve been amazing.

But thinking about these potential projects, I can’t say I’m disappointed that they didn’t work out.  The money would’ve been nice, and while it might have been cool, it would have been work for hire with no real control over how it came out.

I’ve never really understood people who aspire to write Superman, Batman, or some other character not of their own creation.  I understand doing it.  I even understand enjoying it.  It can be fun to play in someone else’s sandbox and enjoy their toys.  But in the end, those toys will never be yours.  You’re just borrowing them for a short while.  Of course, if you’re an aspiring comic book writer, you really don’t have much choice.

Even more troublesome to me is the invention of an original character that you surrender all control over.  Steve Gerber had this problem with Howard the Duck.  He had very little control over Howard, and he only wrote Howard stories if Marvel allowed it.  I’m not villainizing Marvel for that.  You know the deal when you write for Marvel (or DC).  Yet making that deal is usually easier than living with it.

Two of my favorite new superhero characters, Blue Beetle (DC) and Gravity (Marvel), currently languish in editorial disinterest.  Blue Beetle’s comic was one of the last ongoing titles I enjoyed.  After its cancellation, he was moved to Teen Titans, and as much as I wanted to like that comic, I just don’t have any interest in any of the other Teen Titans.

Gravity had a terrific debut miniseries, and then…he just sort of vanished.  Gone.  He’s coming back, this time in a team comic.  But again, I doubt I’ll have enough interest in the rest of the team to care.

I find it tremendously annoying, and I’m just a fan of these characters.  I can’t imagine being the creator behind them, having lost any creative control over them, not even being able to ensure that they will get any real exposure at all.  Even worse, there’s the very real threat that someone somewhere will decide to kill or maim these characters in the service of more popular characters.  Either that, or just disappear into obscurity.  Either fate sounds lousy.

I’ve had a few books optioned for film, and it’s certain that however these films turn out, I’m cool with.  But that’s because my characters and my stories will still exist.  The movies might be very similar.  Or they might be entirely different.  But the books, the original characters and worlds, will still exist.  No one is going to write a dark and gritty reboot of Gil’s All Fright Diner or the Mack Megton story where zombie cannibals attack Empire City.  Not on my watch.  Not as long as I have a say so.

Although if Marvel came to me and asked me to write a Devil Dinosaur or Man-Thing story, I’d be up for it.  And if DC ever gave me the green light to write a Kilowog . . . well, that ain’t going to happen.

But it’d be awesome if it did.

Fighting the good fight, writing the good write,


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  1. Sean
    Posted May 16, 2010 at 12:31 am | Permalink

    Even as a mere aspiring writer, I can totally understand the thought of not wanting to play in another person’s sandbox. Even the most expensive sandbox with the softest sand imported from tropical beaches comes with rules that you didn’t make. I’ve always loved reading comics, but when a friend and I started experimenting writing existing characters on our own (I took Havok) I never really enjoyed any of the little exercises or adventures we made up. I was much more interested in my lightning throwing, teleporting super-teen rockstar I had created. And that’s with my FAVORITE made up universe. I can’t imagine trying it with something like Star Wars or Star Trek. That would feel like a chore or even work!

  2. Rippley
    Posted May 16, 2010 at 1:11 am | Permalink

    Does Heroscape have a large fan-base? I don’t see this happening. I think you would have made a lot of money off of Iron Man. In fact, I positive I would have gone to the movies six or seven times to watch an A Lee Martinez revision of Iron Man. You seem to do a great job reinventing characters. Also, it would give me ammunition against your view on contemporary comic book movies. I think you might stumble into the same pitfalls those other writer fell into.

    • A. Lee Martinez
      Posted May 16, 2010 at 1:36 am | Permalink

      I think you’re entirely right that it’s easy to stumble into superhero movie pitfalls. I think a big part of that is because of the format change of a serialized presentation versus an extended, watch-in-one viewing format. Plus, if I was being paid to write an Iron Man novel or movie, I’d be obliged to write something the editorial staff would want.

      And, for the record, Heroscape is awesome and my novelization would only make it even more so.

  3. Shane
    Posted May 16, 2010 at 1:35 am | Permalink

    Your small sphere of fame continues to amaze me. I agree with the other people’s toys bit- one of the reasons I could never get into fan fiction.

  4. Rippley
    Posted May 16, 2010 at 2:32 am | Permalink

    A. Lee Martinez

    I’m not going to disagree with you about the novelization of Heroscape thing. You seem like the type who might throw away the pre-painted figurines and started anew with your own designs. Hell, I’m assuming you have a Heroscape story already written out–just in case.

    But I’ve also noticed that you rip deep into the flesh of the comic book screenwriter. I mean, you have tons of rules to which you believe they should follow. You might call it constructive criticism, but, I don’t know, Batman isn’t quite magic on the big screen. My feeling on this is that any script you write will either break most of your rules, or, otherwise it’ll come off resembling Terry Pratchett’s ‘The Color of Magic.’ Don’t get me wrong, Pratchett’s book is fun and amazing. The movie, on the other hand, is…um…Well, I can’t think of how to say it without using expletives–It’s no Harry Potter.

    Anyway, crap, I forgot what I was going to say. Something Something hard sell.

    • A. Lee Martinez
      Posted May 16, 2010 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

      I have ONE rule for comic book screenwriters. Superheroes should be involved and have significant screentime. That’s really my only rule. And even that rule is debatable as very few people seem to share it. As I’ve mentioned many times, even comic book superhero fans don’t really seem to care much about superheroics at this point. So my “rules” don’t really mean much.

      Of course, when I criticize from my end, I can do so because I’m an outsider. No one is asking me to write a superhero screenplay and I seriously doubt anyone ever will. And even if I did end up writing one, I’m sure it would change significantly as other opinions entered the process. That’s what moviemaking is all about. It’s a collaborative process.

    • Elizabeth
      Posted May 16, 2010 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

      Hogfather was amazing though…I watch that with my family every Christmas and make every guy I date watch it at least once.

      Sometimes some things translate well and other times they do not. I could see Gil’s All Fright Diner being made into a movie or Monster (in fact I thought that the new series Ugly American was like Monster although it would be A Divine Misfortune that would be the best one for a TV show.) But Too Many Curses or A Nameless Witch would not translate very well.

      • Charmscale
        Posted May 18, 2010 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

        I can see Too Many Curses making a good movie. I think you’re right about A Nameless Witch, though. To much of the awesomeness of the book has to do with the main character’s own internal monologue, and, with very few exceptions, a character’s thoughts are hard to portray in a movie.

    • Charmscale
      Posted May 18, 2010 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

      Wait, someone made some of Terry Pratchett’s novels into movies? Why didn’t I hear about this?

      I wonder if there is anything on youtube…

      • A. Lee Martinez
        Posted May 19, 2010 at 12:49 am | Permalink

        I have two on my Netflix cue, though neither have reached the top yet. I know there’s a couple of live action adaptations as well as at least one animated feature.

        • Elizabeth
          Posted May 20, 2010 at 12:54 am | Permalink

          I know we should get Lee for Christmas!

  5. Rippley
    Posted May 16, 2010 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    My bad, I thought you had other rules. Shows what I know.

    Hey, I’m not saying you wouldn’t be the perfect writer for writing Heroscape or Iron Man or whatever Superhero X. I don’t think anyone here is denying your expertise as a writer. I’m just saying there are pitfalls to playing with other peoples toys.

    But you are right. It doesn’t matter. If you wrote a Heroscape novel or an Iron Man movie, I would read your novel, as I always do. I would watch your movie ten thousand times. I’m a fan. No matter what I say about you, your blog, or whatever. I’m going to be putting money in your pocket. My words are worthless, because in the real world I buy what you write. I’m that lame.

    (You seem touchy, lately.)

    So, tell your agent it doesn’t matter what you write. You have at least one idiot out there who is going to buy your stuff.

    • Charmscale
      Posted May 18, 2010 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

      More than just one. 🙂

  6. Posted May 19, 2010 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    I just read a couple more of your books, “Too Many Curses” and “Gil’s All Fright Diner”.

    I still think “In the Company of Ogres” would make a good movie and I also think it has sequel worthy characters, that’s just me though.

    I am guessing I am falling into the same category as Ripley seeing as I actually tracked down “Gil’s..” on ebay just to get hold of it. (on that same note though, you won’t be making as much money off of me because I always wait until the book is in the more affordable 5 to 7 dollar range. Sorry, some of us avid readers must abide by budgets.

    Don’t take this wrong, I can’t see you writing superhero scripts or books (unless it was a superhero of your own creation). Your ‘touch’ doesn’t really allow for you to stay within the bounds of pre-established characters I would think.

    Have you ever thought of having a honey bee as a or bee colony as a ‘character’? Sorry, I’m a bee conservationist, I think that would be extraordinarily cool.

  7. James K.
    Posted July 23, 2014 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    I’ve read most of your novels and loved them.
    I have played Tim Schafer’s Brutal Legend and loved it. Even though it is flawed in gameplay (is it platform, action or real time strategy) it is totally genius in concept, 1970’s Heavy Metal meets Sword and Sorcery.
    I think you would have be a great choice to author a Brutal Legend book.

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