LiveJournal for Evan Dorkin.
|Saturday, January 7th, 2006|
I'm having fun with this, and this particular Failure should be quick and easy to write up, so here you go, earlier than planned, another pitch that ditched -- actually, a pair of pitches. These are from the now-defunct Superman Adventures comic from DC, which was based on the animated Superman show from WB that Sarah and I wrote for.
In fact, the episode we were initially hired to work on was the basis for the first pitch, a story intended for the animated series, using the beloved/despised old Kirby characters of Funky Flashman and Goody Rickles. Paul Dini had asked us about working on the show, and the first thing they wanted us to work on was a plot involving those characters, with the intention to get Don Rickles to voice his namesake. Dorkin and Dyer said, "Don't Ask, Just Write!" And so we wrote. We knew we needed something more than the cameos and the gags, so I worked up a story which involved the Toyman and mob leader Ugly Mannheim (both being used in the animated series), working Flashman's backstory into the Toyman's origin.
Unfortunately, nobody at WB went for the pitch, and the overall idea to do a Funky Flashman episode was ultimately dropped. I have no idea if anyone else took a shot at the idea. Sarah and I were given the Livewire origin springboard as our first gig to flesh out and script, eventually we ened up writing three more episodes of the series. A while later, after Sarah and I wrote the Supergirl issue for Superman Adventures #21, I and sent the Flashman material to DC hoping they'd take them for the comic. No dice. Nobody ever gave us any feedback on these ideas, so all we really know for sure about them is that they didn't pass muster. So, we're not sure how much anyone thought they stunk, or if they were just not of any use. There is a difference. The latter is always nicer to hear than the former, even if you're being lied to, but sometimes anything is better than no feedback at all. Sometimes.
Okay, then. After the pitches, some thoughts on why they may have stunk the house out, and why perhaps the whole idea was doomed from the start. Enjoy, or don't.p Part of the intedned fun of this series is in seeing the good, the bad, and the what-the-hell-were-they-thinking that goes into a given pitch or project.
After a ludicrous attempt to enter into a business agreement with Superman, shady scam artist and "business entrepeneur" Funky Flashman decides that the Man of Steel's image is public domain and therefore ripe for exploiting. Ordering his flunky Goody Rickles to find a toy-making facility to bootleg Superman merchandise, Funky unwittingly plays into the hands of the villainous Toyman. The Toyman takes advantage of Flashman's greed not only to once again wreak havoc with Superman's image and likeness -- but to exact revenge on Funky himself. Years earlier, Flashman, working as an adviser to the gangster Bruno "Ugly" Manheim, helped set up the deal with the Toyman's father that ruined the old man's career and health -- and created the vengeance-minded Toyman. As the Toyman's deadly plot unfolds, Superman is forced to protect his most annoying adversary this side of Mr Mxyzptlk -- Funky Flashman!
Funky Flashman, unscrupulous business opportunist and publicity hound with a heavily checkered past, decides his latest scheme is to capitalize off the fame of Superman. Flashman has hit upon the idea of exploiting Superman's image with a line of Superman toys, games, magazines, comic books and other products, regardless of the fact that he hasn't spoken to Superman about the idea. Flashman addresses his nervous staff from atop a wooden soapbox carried around by his main flunky, Goody Rickles. "Just you wait and see, oh faithful ones -- it'll be the greatest team up in history! Superman and Flashman --the man of steel and the man with the deal! Look up, honored ones --and see history in the manufacturing!" Flashman exuberantly sends his harried staff off to begin work on the line, and then rushes out to set up a meeting with Superman.
Since Superman doesn't have any "people" for Funky to talk to --no business address, no agent, publicity firm, lawyer or representative, it becomes apparent to Funky he'll have to pull a stunt to meet the man of steel. After having Rickles pose as a terrorist about to blow up his offices, Flashman lures Superman over for a "super-power business lunch". Angry, and disgusted by Funky's snake oil sales pitch, Superman turns down his offer and flies off. Funky is sure Superman is playing for more money --"who on Earth would turn down the opportunity to entertain kids and take all their money away for it?". As he looks over product designs (signing his name to his staff manager Kurtzberg's ideas), Funky sends Goody out to secure a manufacturer for the Superman toy line. "I'm not waiting for someone else to try to rip off Superman!", he shouts from his soapbox, "This is the opportunity of ten lifetimes, my fervent followers! Onward!"
Rickles pounds the pavement, trying unsuccessfully to get a succession of toy manufacturers to hear him out. Apparently Funky's name is mud in legitimate business circles. Goody is a nervous wreck, terrified of facing his boss with bad news. Loitering away from his car he ends up walking down a lonely street in a run-down warehouse area as night falls. Suddenly a wind-up toy walks over to him from out of the shadows. It holds out a business card, which reads "I have what you need." The card is flipped over, and on the other side it reads "Gimcrack Novelties Ltd. Manufacturers of quality funstuff". The toy turns and walks off. An amazed Goody follows it with his eyes, and sees a small, strange-looking man in the shadows. The man tells him he is Rupert Mantoya, and he has heard through industry spies that Mr. Flashman is looking for a factory to produce Superman toys. He is willing to make the toys, and invites Rickles to see his factory. Goody is a bit leery of Mantoya, but even more nervous about failing his boss, so he agrees to see the factory. Goody drives them both outside of town to an old factory, which is full of equipment and toys. Goody is delighted to have found a taker, and says he'll be in touch. Mantoya remains at the factory as Goody drives off. But he isn't alone, a sinister voice echoes throughout the factory: "Excellent, my friend, excellent. You've performed well. Everything is proceeding according to plan." Apparently Funky is not the only one with a scheme.
Goody hurries back to the office, and Flashman contacts Mantoya and arranges the toy deal, and begins lining up investors. In the meantime, Mantoya agrees to produce prototypes of the toys based on Flashman's "designs". As production starts, Flashman tries to get Superman on board one last time. An annoyed Superman wants nothing to do with the frenetic Flashman. He's not interested in making money from his image, he's not interested in becoming a "property". He just wants to do his job, which Funky is keeping him from. But Flashman won't take "no" for an answer, he'll get around this "technicality" somehow, and puts his phalanx of lawyers on the job to sweat the details. (Is Superman public domain? Funky believes he should be, like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny). What are his rights as an unnatural citizen with no job, address, or true ID? And does he have the cash to fight Funky in court?)
Back at the Planet, Superman, as Clark Kent, begins checking into Flashman's past. He wants to protect Superman's name from Flashman and any others who might try to profit from his deeds. And while he can't do much about Funky as Superman, an expose of Flashman's plans in the Planet might do the trick. Looking through Planet records, Clark discovers quickly that while Flashman is obviously an unscrupulous buffoon, he is also extremely savvy, and has covered his tracks well enough to keep him out of real trouble with the law. His past legitimate business dealings with people such as Lex Luthor and Bruno Mannheim certainly make the "Funky One" suspicious.
Clark investigates around Flashman's office, people scared to talk, afraid. One worker, Kurtzberg, tells him Funky's plans. Only no one knows much about Gimcrack toys.
Goody and Flashman head out to the Gimcrack factory unannounced with possible investors -- (maybe "mobsters" --etc.). Discover the toys being made, but only a few people are around, and the toys are not the ones they designed! Flashman is upset and confronts Mantoya, who does not turn to face him. Funky shakes Mantoya brusquely, and the man's head spins around on his neck to face him. Shocked, Flashman, Rickles and the investors hear laughing coming from behind them. A wind-up toy comes over to them with a business card, which reads: "Playtime is over". On the other side it reads: "The Toyman". From the shadows of the assembly line, Winslow Schott, the Toyman, emerges. Mantoya removes his plasticized flesh face, which resembles a more "human" version of the Toyman's facade --beneath it is a grinning doll-like skull. The body opens and the Mantoy emerges, a dwarf-sized clockwork "blank" the Toyman can dress up as whomever he wishes it to be. The Mantoy wears a suit similar to the Toyman, and the Mantoya body and face lay at it's feet, discarded now that Flashman and Goody were in Schott's hands. The Toyman had learned of Flashman's plans for a Superman line of toys, which gave him the idea to produce a line of deadly Superman toys for sale all over the world. The Toyman wanted to use Superman's image to wreak havoc on the populace --the toys are remote-activated devices that explode, ignite, squirt acid or gas. And Schott wanted Flashman to take the fall, as Flashman was working for Bruno Mannheim when the crime boss ruined Schott's father's toy business. After this he'll personally create a plaything for Mannheim --but first, his followers and accomplices were to pay. Flashman tells him his plan won't work, he'll go to the police. But Flashman isn't going anywhere -- the Toyman decides to kill him and replace him with the Mantoy until the Superman toys come out. Flashmans' joky apologies don't wash with the toy-making assassin.
The Toyman's other workers, who are all clockwork robot devices, surround the men. Rickles asks if he can leave, he's got to take his mother to Bingo the next evening. Flashman's investors pull guns and try to escape, but are put down. The factory kicks into life and drowns out Flashman and Rickles as they plead for their lives. When all looks hopeless, Superman appears. The Toyman's workers and deadly toys are sent after him, and Superman has to fend off their murderous attacks. As he destroys Schott's creations, the madman becomes livid, screaming at Superman that only he can put his toys away. The Toyman attempts to kill Flashman, but is prevented from doing so by Superman (almost reluctantly). In a fiery finale the factory is destroyed. The Toyman dangles from a scaffold above the flames with his midget mechanical doppleganger, and Superman cannot easily get to him as he must deal with rescuing the others. The Toyman chooses to fall into the flames rather than accept Superman's aid. Superman doesn't find his body after rescuing Flashman and his cronies from the inferno. As they watch the factory burn, a smoking wind-up toy walks over to them, holding a card that is --blank.
Later, in Flashman's office, Superman tells the Funky one to stay out of trouble. But Flashman, phalanxed by his lawyers, doesn't scare. Superman has nothing on Funky, who was dealing in good faith with what he thought was an upstanding businessman, he had no part in the toys, and there's no evidence he planned a Superman toy line etc. As Flashman leaves with Rickles for an "impromptu vacation", he cheerfully saunters passed Superman, telling him no hard feelings, perhaps we can do business some other time. Leaning towards Flashman and smiling, Superman flicks his finger against the car, popping the airbags into the unscrupulous windbag and his sidekick.
"Find yourself another boy, Flashman", says the departing man of steel.
Which gives Funky Flashman another brilliant idea...
(and the GET FUNKY sequel:)
Unable to secure the promotional consent of Superman or even "that skinny little Supergirl chickie", Funky Flashman goes for the next semi-best thing -- Bizarro! The funky one gets a hold of the super-throwback and exploits him hoping it will bring a jealous Superman "to his senses". But to Funky's surprise (as well as everyone elses), Bizarro hits it big with teens and sends Metropolis into a veritable Bizarro tizzy, eclipsing the popularity of even Superman. Unfortunately, between the media, the adulation of the teens and Funky's aggressive promotion,"the Biz" becomes an egotistical jerk of truly epic proportions -- resulting in outbursts of celebrity bad boy behaviour that become more and more destructive. Soon Superman is forced to try to stop Bizarro's rampant starpower before the city that can't get enough of him gets way too much for it's own good. Can Metropolis survive a teen idol who doesn't just trash hotel rooms, but instead trashes entire hotel chains?
And there you have it, the sorta-almost-could-have-been return of Funky Flashman and Goody Rickles. Eh.
I'm on the fence on these. There's admittedly no genius in there, but I think there's some solid stuff, and the potential to tighten and punch it up into something. I do think the first storyline is convoluted, but that could have been streamlined with not much trouble. I think. You never know. It might just plain stink on ice. I see weaknesses in both stories from both a narrative and commercial point of view -- Superman is marginalized, humor episodes/stories don't generate much enthusiasm with readers or editorial, two unknown characters and two also-ran characters don't carry as much weight as one or two better-known or more powerful characters, the first story gets bogged down in exposition, and both (especially the first) are pretty lightweight in terms of visuals, scale and super-action. Although the Bizarro story would have lent itself to a healthy dose of the old over-the-top biff-bam-pow, I'm thinking we really didn't sell that angle in the quick pitch. It also has the handicap of being a sequel to a story that failed.
Furthermore, I wouldn't be surprised if everyone concerned thought better of reviving Funky and Goody in the first place. Even if we nailed the pitch and had a perfect idea that may still have been a deal-breaker. WB never ended up going with what was their own idea, I don't think anyone else ever tackled the Funky after we flunked out. Maybe nobody at WB/DC wanted to touch him because he's a Stan Lee parody and the character is considered off limits. And I would think that perhaps Goody Rickles -- (who some of you may have noticed was given the "House Roy" role from Kirby's original Flashman comic) wasn't worth persuing as a character because A) many viewers/readers might not know/remember Don Rickles, and B) Don Rickles might have wanted compensation, or worse, nixed the idea.
In the end, these pitches were a lot of fun to work on. Two ideas rejected, par for the course. We have a few other rejected ideas from our WB/DC Superman days, which I expect to be posting at some later point. In the meantime, I really need to stick to my intended schedule of posting these sorts of entries only once every week or so. Three in three days? I have no will power. I would make a shitty Green Lantern.
LiveJournal for Evan Dorkin.