Legendary writing duo Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis have spent over two decades applying their unique blend of humor and action to superheroes at both DC and Marvel, as well as creating their own superhero universes. We sat down at Baltimore Comic Con to talk about their current book, Larfleeze, the evolution of their creative process, and the upcoming Justice League 3000.
J.M. DeMatteis: DC came to Keith, not me.
Keith Giffen: I was doing Threshold, and we needed a backup book. Dan DiDio called me up and said “Well, what about Larfleeze?” I said well, that could be awkward, that’s Geoff Johns’ character and Geoff was still doing Green Lantern at that point, and Dan told me it was Geoff’s idea. [Geoff] emails us every so often with encouragement, says how much he likes the book, so it definitely wasn’t something we picked. I never thought in a million years I’d be doing anything from the Green Lantern universe, let alone something called Larfleeze.
JMD: Keith called me up and said do you wanna do Larfleeze with me, and my response was “Who?” Because honest to God, I had never heard of Larfleeze. The way we work is pretty spontaneous anyway, so we sorta just make it up as we go along, which is what you’re supposed to do in great fiction.
KG: If our names are going to be on the book, you kinda know what to expect. If our names are on the book, it’s going to have a sense of humor.
KG: I said on Larfleeze, I’m sticking him way out on the edge of the universe. I’m doing all new stuff.
JMD: What we do is so singular — this way we can go off in our little corner and think up new things and be as silly as we want. I say silly, but if you look at the plot, it’s actually a pretty straightforward cosmic adventure. It’s sort of like Jack Kirby as done by Monty Python or something. You have all this silliness layered on top of a fairly solid cosmic story.
KG: And we still haven’t figured out what the book is about. According to you –
JMD: I’m writing a book about Stargrave, featuring Larfleeze.
KG: And I’m plotting a book about Wanderer, featuring Larfleeze.
AB: Poor Larfleeze!
JMD: Neither one of us is writing Larfleeze. He just happens to be there.
KG: He was going to, we had huge plans for him, but he showed up in one of the Green Lantern books, and I just don’t want to go through that process [of trying to fit in the continuity].
JMD: I love G’Nort, I’d love to do something with him, but if it’s going to get us in a continuity snafu then we’re going to step aside.
AB: You guys are obviously comfortable with the futuristic team dynamic, and space-based adventures. What kind of team dynamic can we expect from Justice League 3000?
KG: Tell us what you think when you hear our names.
AB: Something really grand in scope but also silly.
JMD: That’s actually it, exactly. It’s not going to be as broad as some of the other Justice League stuff was. The character dynamics will be very similar. But the universe that it’s set in is a darker universe.
KG: It’s not all grim and gritty. I can’t do grim and gritty in a comic book. But I will admit that the fourth issue of Justice League 3000 is probably the darkest story I’ve ever written.
KG: When Paul Levitz ended the Legion, he ended it on a very ‘is it live or is it Memorex’ kind of note. He implied it could be the Earth 2 Legion, it could be a story told, and then left it up to us. So we’ve pretty much got a clean slate going into the 31st Century. I will say that there is nothing having anything to do with the Legion of Super Heroes appearing in Justice League 3000. I only took one name of one planet because it’s the coolest planet name ever. And I’m not going to say which one it is. But that’s it…This way when — because it is ‘when’ — DC will relaunch the Legion of Super Heroes eventually, that’s a clean book, and no one else will have to worry about stuff that we established.
AB: You guys have been working together for so long. When new ideas come up, is the process still the same as it’s always been for you?
JMD: When we first started out, in a way there was no process. We have a process now, but we didn’t have one in the beginning. [Former DC Comics editor] Andy Helfer was the process. He hired Keith, he hired me, he hired Kevin [Maguire]. We were cranking stuff out; there was five years of a lot of Justice League books. Keith would write the plot and send it to me, and I say this to people and they think I’m making it up, most of the time I had no idea what was going to be in the story until the plot showed up.
JMD: (laughs) That’s not true! It’s a great story. In fact, we never met until just the other day, here in Baltimore. (To Keith) We worked on Dr. Fate at the same time. We met up and talked face to face.
KG: We did?
KG: Are you that memorable?
JMD: (laughs) We did meet. But the truth is we’d only really see each other at the DC office on payday or something. People have this image of us sitting in a room together as a comedy writing team, but it never happened. In those days, I’d see the plot, I’d write the script; and God bless this guy because the fun of working with him is, sometimes I’d stay very close to the plot, but other times I’d throw in 20 other things that weren’t in the plot, or write subplots, and he was always okay with it. Keith is the most creatively generous human being I’ve ever worked with.
These days we will talk more before he starts plotting a story, but even then we may have a conversation and by the time he turns in the plot it has nothing to do with what we talked about. That’s part of the dynamic and part of the fun of what we do, because we’re always surprised.
KG: We still argue about who came up with ‘Bwa-ha-ha!’
JMD: We don’t know who did what.
KG: I swear I saw it the first time in the ‘Moving Day’ issue, with Beetle and Booster; he swears it was in the plot first…But it doesn’t matter because what we do together is better than what either one of us can do alone.
JMD: I always say that my job is to take one good joke that Keith has, and then beat it into the ground for like six months.
AB: Thank you for doing that.
JMD: (laughs) I think I saw ‘Bwa-ha-ha!’ in one panel, and I thought that’s great, so I started using it again and again and again.
AB: When you did the Batman: Brave and the Bold cartoon, you put the “One punch” joke right there in the episode.
KG: I can’t believe that’s still got legs. We put that in there as a throwaway gag! I think a lot of what made that memorable was the way Kevin Maguire drew it. Beetle reaching under his mask to rub his eye, and Black Canary’s horror that she missed it – Kevin had a lot to do with that. But the fact that it has lived to this day, I can’t believe it.
JMD: Well the fact that any of these stories are in a lot of ways as popular or more popular now than when they came out just boggles my mind. I get people coming up to me saying, “Oh I just started reading this last month!” I can’t believe it.
AB: To close out, what’s the thing that you’re most excited about for Justice League 3000? Is there anything special you’re hoping lands really well?
KG: It’s really going out and building the world from scratch, that’s what excites me about it.
JMD: We have these characters that everybody knows, and yet it’s them but it’s not them. And that’s all I’m going to say – it’s them, but it’s not them! They’re in a universe that’s clean and new. It’s not the 31st Century you saw before, so we get to build the characters and the universe from the ground up. With the iconic characters.
KG: Normally it’s like, you can have Wonder Woman but –
JMD: (laughs) She would show up for like an issue and then she’d disappear.
AB: Is there anything outside of JL 3000 you’d like to mention?
JMD: Trinity of Sin: Phantom Stranger is out monthly, and I’m taking over Justice League Dark at issue #24. I have a new series coming from Dark Horse next year. I just finished a big animated movie that I’m very excited about, but I can’t talk about it.
AB: Again, thank you guys so much for sitting down with me.
JMD: It was a pleasure.
Justice League 3000 debuts from DC Comics’ New 52 in December 2013, co-written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis and illustrated by classic JLA artist Howard Porter. In the meantime, you can catch Keith and J.M.’s usual antics monthly with Larfleeze.
Many thanks to Karen Dorula and Scott Berry for assisting with this interview.