Those of you who have followed this blog and my Facebook pages are aware of the long and complicated road to the publication of The Justice Machine: Object of Power graphic novel.
If not, everything you need to know about The Justice Machine can be found here: www.JusticeMachine.com
But to recap: The Justice Machine was one of the most popular comic titles of the 1980s. It debuted from Noble Comics in 1981 at the very dawn of the independent comics era, featuring an iconic cover by John Byrne. The team holds a place of significance in comics’ history as the first super-hero group produced by an independent publisher.
The initial series only lasted five issues (plus an annual) but such luminaries as John Byrne, Bill Willingham, Joe Rubinstein and Jack Kirby made artistic contributions to it.
In 1986 Comico published The Justice Machine Featuring The Elementals four-issue series, which at the time was Comico’s most successful series ever. After that, The Justice Machine became one of Comico’s flagship titles, lasting a respectable 30 issues.
When Innovation picked up the Machine in 1989, the team was reintroduced as The New Justice Machine in a three-issue mini-series. During that time and when the title became a full series, I worked with artist Darryl Banks on establishing a new direction and even a slightly new look for the characters.
Shortly thereafter, as the editor and one of the founders of Millennium Publications, I purchased the Justice Machine property outright from creator Mike Gustovich and again with artist Darryl Banks began work on a new series. Unfortunately, only two issues were produced by Millennium Publications before the comics market crashed in 1993. Like Comico, Innovation and may other publishers, Millennium became a casualty of the industry-wide nosedive.
Fast forward nearly twenty years—Justice Machine artwork was featured in the 2009 how-to book, The Everything Guide To Writing Graphic Novels and that jump-started interest in the property from various quarters.
Inspired by the renewed interest, we published a compilation through Gary Reed’s Transfuzion imprint– The Justice Machine: High Gear Edition Volume One. The TPB reprinted the Innovation New Justice Machine mini-series.
The reprint edition raised the Machine’s profile even higher. After its release, I turned away a couple of offers from RPG game producers and Dynamite Entertainment…actually, I twice turned away offers from Dynamite.
Eventually we accepted a deal from Moonstone Books.
The Justice Machine: Object of Power was originally scheduled to be put out as a mini-series in 2011, on the thirtieth anniversary of the team’s debut—but I had doubts about the format from the very beginning.
Drawing upon my own experiences as comic publisher, I knew that the first issue of a miniseries might garner better-than-decent orders from retailers, but there was an inevitable a drop-off with issue two, and if you were really lucky, there’d be an upswing with the third and fourth issues.
Since the Moonstone JM miniseries was only three issues, we were severely curtailing the possibility of an order upswing. In the early 90s, when there were over a dozen distributors and between four to six thousand comic shops, that second issue drop-off phenomenon could be weathered.
But by 2011, with Diamond as the only distributor and less than two thousand comic shops (recently, I was told the current number is closer to 1500), I didn’t feel the miniseries approach was best.
I suggested to the Moonstone publisher that we reintroduce the Justice Machine as a 48 page special to test the waters. I pointed out if we went the miniseries route, most likely the issue#2 order drop-off would be so sharp, we wouldn’t be able to publish the second and third issues in color, which would then necessitate cancelling those retail orders and resoliciting through Diamond…which would lower the numbers even further.
The publisher blew me off, basically saying he knew best and that my experience was out-of-date.
Hm. My experience as the co-founder and editor of a company that at one time was ranked #12 out of a field of a 120 didn’t rate even a moment of semi-serious consideration?
Peculiar attitude from a publisher whose best-selling title Millennium would have cancelled with the first issue due to lousy orders.
Needless to say, when the Diamond preorders came in for the inaugural issue of the Justice Machine miniseries, it became apparent that after we factored in the second issue dropoff, the scenario would be EXACTLY like I laid out above—the scenario which the publisher had so brusquely dismissed as unimportant.
What little confidence I might have had in Moonstone totally evaporated. So–let me extend a little advice to publishers…if you’re dealing with a creator who has hard, proven experience in the same arena as you, instead of reacting with a threatened ego, just turn down the volume of your inner control freak voice and give that creator enough R-E-S-P-E-C-T to listen to him.
That might save you a lot of hassle and hard feelings in the long run(yeah, I’m talking to you too, Nick).
In any event, over the next couple of years the Justice Machine project staggered around in different directions until the contract term with Moonstone finally expired.
Not quite a year after that, Darren Davis of Bluewater Productions and I came to an agreement to publish the Object of Power mini-series as a full-color, 100 page graphic novel.
The release date is June 4th and you can order here:
The ebook edition can be ordered from Comixology, Barnes and Noble, iTunes and Amazon.
It’s quite the relief for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, as a creator I hate having the specter of uncompleted projects hanging over me, especially when they are so close to being done. Dealing with Darren Davis has been refreshingly straightforward.
Secondarily, this graphic novel is a labor of love. With front and back covers by the awesome Jeff Slemons and interior artwork by David Enebral, Ivan Barriga, Jason Jensen, Kirsty Swan and of course, Darryl Banks, there’s nothing NOT to love about the book.
Also, to let my nerd flag fly for a moment—I really love The Justice Machine. I think there’s something ineffably cool (from a nerd’s point-of-view, that is) about owning a super-hero team with the 30-plus year cachet of the Machine.
As an added dash of coolness…I equate my most enjoyable comic-book reading periods with the summer…when I was kid, that was the season Marvel and DC came out with their giant-sized annuals, and you had the time to kick back on sunny days and enjoy them fully without the distractions of schoolwork and chores.
So, having The Justice Machine return in June, on the eve of school being out for summer vacation, just seems so appropriate, I almost get the goose-bumps. Almost.
The Justice Machine: Object of Power is not just a new adventure of the team. The over-arching plot explains, expands and rectifies long-standing mysteries of the convoluted backstory.
In the third issue of The Justice Machine produced by Noble Comics, the team joined New Haven, an Earth organization operated by a mystery man named Hammet Dash. The intention was for the Machine to learn that New Haven was as totalitarian as the Georwell government had been, but those stories were never told. In 1983, after publishing five issues of The Justice Machine, Noble comics folded.
Texas Comics published the Justice Machine Annual #1, which continued the Noble continuity. Another issue was completed, but printed several years later by Innovation as a “Summer Spectacular”.
In 1985, when the Justice Machine was picked up by Comico, it underwent a reboot, partly to accommodate the inclusion of Bill Willingham’s popular super-team, The Elementals but also because of the two-year publication gap between The Justice Machine Annual and issue #1 of The Justice Machine Featuring The Elementals.
In the Comico version, the team joined New Atlantis, a utopian society located on an artificial island created by Dash Hamilton. Despite the similarities to the Noble comics backstory, the continuity established in the Comico series is the one considered official. It’s the one I followed when I wrote the Machine for Innovation and Millennium.
I always had a germ of an idea about blending the two continuities, but I never gave it too much thought.
When Dynamite Comics approached me about either licensing or purchasing the Justice Machine property but with the caveat they had the right to reboot the series, I turned down the offers–twice. Although there were other issues affecting my refusal, I didn’t care for the proposal of rebooting The Justice Machine yet again.
As far as I was concerned, it wasn’t necessary– the original concept of Georwell had never been adequately explored…or its weird connection to George Orwell’s 1984 ever explained.
Granted, it would have been easier just to start over—and maybe do away with that whole exiles-from-a-totalitarian-world origin—but I felt those underpinnings were integral to making the Justice Machine unique among countless other super-hero teams…not to mention making them so fondly remembered after 30-plus years.
However, I did want to make some changes—first and foremost with the Justice Machine’s costumes. Always in the past, the members of the Machine wore individualized outfits but this time around I wanted more a uniform look.
To that end, I wanted them to wear a unifying insignia, a scales of justice within a gear wheel, first designed by Darryl Banks and refined by Melissa Martin-Ellis. The insignia is functional, serving a variety of purposes.
Artist Roberto Castro came up with several renditions of new uniforms for the team, but I preferred the final designs by Preston Asevedo, although he had gone in the direction of individualized costumes first as well. When the new design was finalized, Preston and color artist Deirdre DeLay-Pierpoint stayed as close to the original color schemes of the characters as possible.
While the visuals were being worked on, I crafted the basic storyline, knowing all along the prologue would pick up a year after the last issue of the Millennium series. From there, we would move forward to create a new continuity without violating anything that had come before—including the five issues published by Noble so long ago.
Object of Power introduces a retooled Justice Machine and basically returns the team to square one.
So, where does The Justice Machine go from there?
Anywhere, actually…but when and where is something I can’t predict.
However, we are planning to release new compilations and make available the entire Justice Machine series as ebook editons.
As always, the gears of the Justice Machine keep rolling.