Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Wizard Features That Never Were: Infinite Crisis Director's Commentary

Started re-reading Infinite Crisis for the first time in awhile earlier this week, and I was reminded of a question I haven't been asked in quite some time, but got all the time from message boards and elsewhere back around 2006-2007: When is that Infinite Crisis Director's Commentary coming?

It was a fair question.

For one thing, an Infinite Crisis Director's Commentary was actually advertised in the next issue box for an issue of Wizard during the summer of 2006 as well as in Previews and elsewhere. For another, as the guy who had done the previous two Director's Commentaries for big DC events--those being Green Lantern: Rebirth and the original Crisis On Infinite Earths, two of my very favorite features I did for Wizard for entirely different reasons--it made sense that I would be the guy to ask.

It wasn't a question I could really answer back then, other than to say, "Stay tuned," but I figure enough time has passed now that the story can be told.

See, an Infinite Crisis Director's Commentary does exist--and I'm not talking about the one DC did for the trade, I'm talking about a bonafide Wizard version that was conducted by yours truly with writer Geoff Johns and artist Phil Jimenez (I believe I may have even gotten a quote or two from George Perez, who ended up drawing portions of the book, but I'm not entirely certain). Unfortunately, it doesn't exist as a written document anywhere, just on a bunch of audio tapes that I'm pretty sure I don't even have in my possession anymore.

Here's the skinny...

A month or two after I had completed the Crisis On Infinite Earths Director's Commentary, then-Wizard editor supreme Brian Cunningham assigned me the Infinite Crisis gig. I was grateful to BC for putting a bit of time between the two articles, because those fuckers were exhausting (they generally involved at least five-six hours of phone interviews, then going through upwards of 80 pages of transcript highlighting the stuff you wanted to cut/keep, then massaging the "keep" text, then usually up to a dozen rounds of revisions and more cuts because there was never enough room, not to mention tagging art, writing an intro, working on sidebars, etc.). At the time, working on the Director's Commentaries was a bit of a badge of honor for me, as I believe only myself and my predecessor as a staff writer, Rich Ho, had ever actually done them. Eventually, the wealth got spread around a bit, particularly once I started doing the equally time-consuming Wizard Retrospective (which I invented, so toot toot)...but I'm digressing.

I was excited to work on the IC Director's Commentary in particular because Geoff and Phil were (and are) two of my closest friends in the comics industry, so I was looking forward to the three of us getting on the phone and goofing off. I also saw it as a kind of neat bookend to my career at Wizard up to that point, since my very first writing assignment the week I was hired as a research assistant was speaking with Dan DiDio, Judd Winick, Greg Rucka and Geoff about what would eventually become the Countdown to Infinite Crisis one-shot, and then I had done a large chunk of the IC coverage that followed, including the rad Secret History of Infinite Crisis, which was kind of a warm-up for the Director's Commentary. I was jazzed.

So of course Murphy's Law kicked in and everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.

To begin with, Geoff was entering one of the busiest phases of his career (it's still going), getting 52 up and running while also working on three ongoing books and doing that Hollywood stuff he does. Phil was in transition mode, picking out his next project and also teaching art classes as well as dong Hollywood stuff of his own. So suffice to say, getting either of them pinned down for a long enough period of time was difficult enough--getting both of them on the phone for more than a half hour was next to impossible.

We scheduled and rescheduled the call a number of times. It was nobody's fault really that we had so much trouble getting things going, that's just the nature of working in an industry like comics, where nobody works 9-5 days and priorities have to be in constant flux.

While we were playing phone tag, the feature was scheduled and advertisements were placed in Previews despite me not actually having anything on tape or paper.

The deadline for getting something done was fast approaching, so we ended up scheduling two separate two-three hour calls for a Saturday and Sunday (which was not typical protocol at Wizard, as we didn't like to bug creators on weekends--also, I liked to sleep--but this shit had to get done). However, to further complicate matters, Megan and I were still in a long distance relationship at the time and I was driving to Connecticut to stay with her in her dorm that weekend. Something that actually simplified things was that Geoff was visiting his parents in Michigan that weekend, so at the very least we didn't have to negotiate east coast/west coast time, but it also meant we would all bit the bullet and do the interview as early as possible.

So that's how I ended up spending a Saturday morning on the Connecticut College campus before any of the hung over students in the surrounding rooms were mobile sitting up in bed with an earpiece in using the Wizard company cellphone telling Phil Jimenez to stop laughing so loudly because he was going to wake up my girlfriend.

Against all odds, we got the first interview done, but something went wrong and we had to cancel the Sunday session. I got back to work and the issue we had been working on was already off to the printer with an Infinite Crisis Director's Commentary I only had half-done being touted in the next issue box. I was getting a bit nervous and so was Brian.

Later that week (I think), we finally finished up the interview and I sent it off to be transcribed. That took another week.

Then Brian told me we weren't doing the article anymore.

More accurately, he told me we couldn't do the article anymore in that issue. During the time I had been wrangling the interview, provisions had to be made in case it didn't come together (and for awhile there it wasn't looking good). At this stage in the game, those back-up plans were ready to go, and neither Brian nor I were confident enough in our ability to turn the IC story around quickly enough to shut those down. So we decided to take a mulligan on the advertisements and push the story back a month.

Except we forgot the next issue was the year ender.

And then the issue after that was the year preview.

We tried to justify fitting the feature into both of those issues ("The best of 2006!" "Before you get your first look at 2007, say goodbye to 2006 in style!"), but in both cases, we were already way over page count. Eventually we resigned ourselves to the fact that we had missed our window and the Infinite Crisis Director's Commentary was not going to see the light of day--at least not in Wizard proper.

See, we had just done a collected edition of all the other Director's Commentaries to that point (including the two I had worked on), and figured when we did a second volume, we'd include the Infinite Crisis one as a never-before-seen feature that would really sell the book.

Then we never did a second volume.

After the crunch of getting the back-to-back year ender/year preview died down, it hit me how much time not only I, but Geoff and Phil, had devoted to this feature that now seemed to be DOA. It was frustrating. Geoff and I actually got into a bit of a shouting match over the phone--something that had never happened before that and never has since--about the feature not getting printed, but it took all of about ten minutes for us to settle down and apologize to one another.

And that was that.

It sucks too, because that would have been a great Director's Commentary. There was some cool stuff about everything from the original fate of Nightwing to what real-life cathedrls Phil used as design templates for the scene where all the heroes go to church before the big fight.

C'iest la vie. Maybe someday I'll find those tapes and do something with them. Until then, I hope everybody who asked me this question now knows the answer.


Mart said...

Interesting stuff but I don't get why the 'director's commentary' (how I hate the term, this is comics, not film!) couldn't, in fact, go in a random issue - this is the age of trades, after all, the story is still out there and constantly being bought.

What a pain for you all!

Ben Morse said...

"Director's Commentary" just sounds cool.

Unfortunately, the nature of publishing (at least how it was at Wizar) was that every month you had XX pages to fill and XX+1 things you wanted to do. Once you miss a window, it's hard to get it back. We were both blessed and cursed to have so much great material back then.

Mart said...

I work in publishing too, but what I was getting at was, why was it felt that there was only a window of a couple of months? If we have a great piece in prospect, we can always come up with some reason to justify it. Anyway, cheers now.

Ben Morse said...

No, I get you. What I'm saying is, it was less about justifying the piece being in period, more about the fact that we had finite room and other more timely things that were also pretty cool that needed space as well.

Mart said...

Ah, the other side of the equation! Gotcha, thanks Mr Morse!

Dan Coyle said...

Actually, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission is more appropriate for Johns and Infinite Crisis at this point...