Here’s a pitch I once sent to DC Comics (disclaimer:Superman is the joint property of DC Comics and the Siegel Family):
Superman: Return to Transilvane
The Cowboy-Vampire Wars
By Tom Scioli
Basic premise: Superman is shrunken to microscopic size and shorn of his powers by Brainiac. To get back to normal, he enlists the aid of the nearest people he knows to have mastered the science of shrinking and expanding: the strange folk of the miniature planet Transilvane, from Jack Kirby’s classic two-parter in his run on Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen. Transilvane is a garage-sized planet where its microscopic lifeforms have modeled themselves after the old horror movies projected onto their sky. If you recall, at the end of that story, Superman substitutes the horror flicks with Oklahoma, the musical western. “We’ll revisit it sometime,” promises the narrator at the end of the story. You’d expect that when Superman returns he’d find a planet of micro-cowboys. Not so! On Superman’s return visit, he will discover that his glib intervention has brought about an upheaval to the social order on Transilvane. Three races have sprung up as a result: singing/dancing cowboy monsters, cowboys with small vestiges of their former horror-inspired selves, and the old guard, full-fledged monsters who have bitterly isolated themselves from the world and its cowboy story, holding strictly to their vampiric/Frankensteinian way of life.
Basic plot: Braniac has broken into the Fortress of Solitude and stolen the bottle city of Kandor, along with all its inhabitants. Superman pursues Brainiac to his look-alike spaceship (the one with the robotic skull and tentacles circa 1983), hovering somewhere over the Atlantic. He and Superman duke it out in what seems to be their final battle. For the first time in the pre-crisis Superman’s career, he loses! Braniac hits him with his signature weapon, the shrinking ray, and Superman is placed in the bottle city of Kandor, shorn of powers, but surrounded by friends and family. Maybe Jimmy Olsen is with him, for the added tie-in with the old JO Transilvane story, but I’d prefer he have a female companion for this adventure, maybe Lois or maybe he teams up with a young Kryptonian woman named Zora he meets in the bottle city.
Superman is a can-do guy. No powers? Shrunk to the size of a microbe? No problem. The stolen bottle city is now on display in Braniac’s trophy room. Superman knows that Braniac has all kinds of shrinking and expanding technology in his ship, just on the other side of the glass bottle. “How do I get to the other side?” The Son of Jor-el begins work, with the help of the Kandorians, on a new spaceship (similar in design to the old Supermobile toy from the 1980’s Super Powers line of toys), tricked out with the big trademarked Superman logo on the hood. It has attack capabilties, including a pair of robotic fists mounted on the bottom. It can punch a hole in the bottle wall so that micro-Superman, and his micro-companion can pilot the two-seater to Brainiac’s shrink ray, switch it in reverse, and get himself and the whole city back to normal size. Braniac got badly damaged in the battle, so as soon as he popped Superman in the bottle, he dragged himself back to his restoration/recharging station. This gives Superman and his cousins the time needed to build his spaceship. He bursts through the wall. Flying around the interior of Braniac’s ship, which looks suitably distorted from his mini-perspective, Superman searches for the right piece of equipment, the shrink/expand ray. He finds it, but Braniac, fresh from his recharging chamber, enters the room, and starts zapping away at the mini-supermobile. With no other option left to him, mini-Superman escapes Braniac’s ship. Fortunately, once outside, he finds he is still on earth, hovering somewhere over the Atlantic, and not in orbit, like he had feared.
Zora insists on joining Superman on his mission. She’s a good example of the industrious and scientifically advanced people of Kandor. She’s very enthusiastic, full of Kryptonian optimism. Superman thinks it’s too dangerous for her to come along, but how can he refuse someone the opportunity to leave Kandor. He should take somebody with him.
“What’re we going to do now, Superman?”
“Well, Zora, I know of another planet that also has shrinking and expanding technology.”
“But , Superman, how is this little ship going to get us to another planet? We don’t have enough fuel to leave earth?”
“This planet I’m thinking of is ON EARTH, a planet within a planet.”
DC Comics Presents: Superman: Return to Transilvane.
Let me take you back for a minute to Jimmy Olsen #142-143, recently reprinted in the Jimmy Olsen Adventures by Jack Kirby Volume 2 trade paperback, and soon-to-be-reprinted in the Fourth World Omnibus hardcover series. This two-parter is, for my money, THE highlight of Kirby’s wild Jimmy Olsen run. It’s a great concept with great execution. In this story, there’s a mysterious NASA scientist, who built a planet the size of a house. It was an experiment in creating new forms of life. The scientist, Dabney Donovan, was a bit of an eccentric, and is never actually seen in the pages of the story. He populated the small planet, Transilvane, with amorphous microbes, which had the ability to slowly change form. On the skies of this small world, Dabney Donovan projected the old Universal monster movies. The microbes began to imitate the images they saw. They slowly evolved into a race of vampires, werewolves, mummies, and Frankensteins. To avoid a prophesied armageddon, they built spacecrafts and traveled to the larger world, Earth. They expanded themselves to full human size and encountered Superman and his pal Jimmy. Superman helped them avert their doomsday. They returned to their small planet. At the end of the story, the King of Comics added a neat twist. Superman changed the movie that was projected onto Transilvane’s skies. He substituted the old horror movies with “Oklahoma,” the wild west musical. In the final panel of the story, Kirby writes, “Perhaps, some day soon, we’ll all take a ‘small’ trip to Transilvane—and see the changes wrought by Superman’s substitute psychology!!!”
Well, we never got to see those changes. DC has done a post-Kirby Transilvane story. It was an excellent story, reintroducing the concept of Transilvane with some new twists. But it’s been a while — over ten years. This is one of my favorite Kirby concepts, and it’s worth re-introducing to a new generation of fans. The last time DC re-introduced Transilvane, it was part of post-crisis continuity, shorn of any direct link to the previous Kirby story, as if the Kirby story never happened. Well, I’d like to, if possible, place this story in pre-crisis “Kirby Kontinuity.” In this new story, what I’d like to see happen, is when Superman returns to this world to ask their aid in getting him back to normal size, he finds, not the race of midnight movie monsters you’d expect. As the story progresses, by necessity Superman delves deeper into the politics of this world. He finds that the movie he projected onto this world has had unintended consequences, further fracturing the society on this planet into three groups:
a. The Old Guard, who still embrace the dark side, the vampire horror way of life
b. The Halflings, who are the monster cowboys, somewhere between the horror movie, and cowboy musical life
c. The New Breed, those who are almost totally cowboy, with only the tiniest visible vestiges of their pre-cowboy, monstrous appearance.
We could have a few musings on politics, tangential references to racism, homophobia, the religious right, some cool horror movie action, and maybe even some post-Brokeback cowboy jokes. The idea is to basically have a ball with this story, as Superman tries to prevent all-out war with the three sides. He needs the three of them to unite, since each faction has one piece of the shrink/expand technology know-how. Of course, Superman wants to bring peace to this world, because that’s just the kind of guy he is. But the fact that peace will give him what he needs to get himself back to normal, and possibly restore the rest of the bottle city of Kandor.
It’s a three-sided war. Dragorin gets secret intelligence regarding the location of the cowboy vampire leader and his elite guard. That will be the place to strike. Superman isn’t involved, but the Transilvane version of the Invisible Man who travels with Superman, is a spy who brings word of where the cowboy vampire leader will be. The Invisible Man is a triple agent, secretly taking orders from the Halfling leader. He brings it to the New breed, the regular cowboys, too, so that the Old Guard and the New Breed will come, guns blazing, thinking to strike at their mutual enemy, but instead, unknowingly strike at each other. The Halflings don’t show up. They stand back, waiting until after the battle to reveal themselves. The New Breed think that the Old Guard are Halflings, due to their vampiric appearance. They start shooting. The Halflings watch the battle they secretly engineered from afar. The Old Guard think the New Breed are Halflings, due to their cowboy appearance. They start hexing, biting and fireballing
Before the battle Superman pieces together the last bits of the process to get him back to normal size (and his powers back). He’s able to leave Transilvane, and pursue Brainiac and help his people, the rest of the bottle citizens. He’s tempted to abandon the hard-headed Transilvanians. Zora says, “They’re hardly even human – just microscopic blobs of protoplasm.” But Superman makes a speech about all the forms of life he’s encountered and if these creatures don’t constitute intelligent life, he doesn’t know what does. They’re every bit as human as any Kryptonian, or any earthling.
Superman is caught in the middle, trying to break the battle up, trying to avert catastrophe. Superman has a hunch, and spots the Halfling leader hiding in the distance. Superman grabs each of the leaders of the three factions. He brings them to the front lines (like the old Superman comic from WW 2). He shows how their soldiers are killing each other. He reveals the Halfling leader’s plan to get his two enemies to kill each other off. Superman forces them to make nice, realizing how much they all have in common, and how they can live in peace.
Newly-restored to normal size, Superman is on the warpath. He’s going to tear Brainiac a new one. He finds the Brainiac ship and starts zapping it with his heat vision. Of course, Superman’s quarry eludes him. Braniac knows when to count his losses and escapes into hyperspace. But at least Superman managed to bring peace to Transilvane, and get one of his bottle city companions back to normal size. Superman and Zora have a bittersweet conversation over Superman Brand Hot Cocoa back at the Fortress of Solitude, ending the roller coaster ride story on a quiet note.
Any number of reasons can be given for why Superman’s power doesn’t work on Transilvane. It could be because of Transilvane’s eternal midnight, or because, Superman and Zora are infested with a Kryptonian parasitic virus he picked up during his stay in Kandor. At the point in the story where they are testing the growth ray on Superman. It hits the kryptonian virus instead (since they are power absorbers). The virus grows big enough that Superman has got to wrestle with it. The virus, when fully grown, will look like Morticoccus from Kamandi #10.
There’s one bit I’m really looking forward to drawing. When Superman arrives, he finds singing cowboy monsters who take him prisoner. He asks to see the person he knew best from his last encounter with this planet, Count Dragorin. The Halfling cowboy monsters are shocked to hear this, because Dragorin is the enemy leader. They see Superman as being part of an enemy conspiracy, a spy. They lynch Superman. They hang him. He doesn’t die of course, but Zora watches as it happens and thinks he is dead. We’ll do what we can to make it as convincing as possible so the readers will believe it, too. When Superman shows up later in the story, we’ll treat it like a visitation from beyond the grave, a ghost, in keeping with the tone of the story, but we’ll quickly reveal that Superman didn’t die after all. We’ll go back to the scene, in flashback. During the hanging, in flashback, we see Superman wondering “Why am I not choking? Are my powers back?” We see his arms tugging at the ropes that bind them behind his back. “Nope! I’d better count my blessings and play dead.” So Superman goes into a dramatic, yet very convincing, fake death. (A big thing in the 70’s was showing covers with Superman being hung, or in other grim, real-world death situations). The reason why Superman didn’t die, is because an agent of Count Dragorin, an agent who WAS a spy, was standing under Superman the whole time, holding him up on his shoulders. The spy is the Transilvane equivalent of the Invisible Man.
Another highlight will be the distorted over-sized perspective during the flight of the Supermobile through Brainiac’s ship to the tombstones of Bloodmoor Cemetary, where Transilvane is hidden. Superman first thinks of visiting Ray Palmer, but he’s too far away, unlike nearby Bloodmoor Cemetary. He thinks he might not have the fuel to make it to see the Atom, but he knows they can make it to Bloodmoor.
Format and target audience: Kirby fans, Fourth World Omnibus readers, Superman fans, particularly of his Silver Age incarnation, fans of the animated series, people who like whimsical sci-fi, fans of Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman run, fans of Alan Moore’s Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow Superman story (particularly in the visual of Brainiac and his ship from that story), fans of Alan Moore’s run on Supreme (and the Across the Universe trade paperback), the indie comics crowd (the same kind of people who buy the Bizarro Comics anthologies, people who want to see the DC Comics characters do things that are true to the characters, but that you really wouldn’t expect to see in their more sober in-continuity stories.
I want the tone to be somewhat similar to the tone of my Image comic, Gødland: jokey and psychedelic, but with its serious/poignant moments. Of course Superman himself will be played straight. The pre-crisis Superman will never be the butt of a joke. I’ll use an art style similar to what I use on Gødland, a slightly skewed version of the Kirby style. I figure we won’t need to go out of our way to explain that this isn’t an in-continuity Superman story, since the Kirby-esque style will tell a reader that we’re in Silver Age territory.
With the release of the Kirby Fourth World Omnibus, the original story will be fresh in the minds of the current audience. Those who haven’t read the original story will be clued in by the flashbacks, or we could forego the flashbacks altogether and re-present the first story in its entirety and this sequel all as one complete trade paperback.
The tinier specifics of the story can be ironed out between us. I figure we could do it as a three –parter, which we could collect as a 72-page prestige format story. I’d prefer pre-crisis continuity, but If you want to place it in current continuity, that’s not impossible, or particularly difficult. We could even expand it with an extra chapter, revisiting the events of the original story. If it is going to be out of continuity, I’d like to ask for a couple of wish-list items. Playing the role of Brainiac, I’d like to use the last pre-crisis version of Braniac, the terminator-looking one with the skull dome and visible electronic brain. I had the Super Powers action figure of this guy when I was a kid. I think it’s the greatest design Brainiac ever had. Any lapses of logic in this story’s current form can be ironed out. I think the essence of the story is strong enough to work. A planet of singing cowboy vampires, cowboy werewolves, cowboy mummies, cowboy Frankensteins? Nobody’s ever done that. It’s only fitting that the world’s first superhero blaze that trail.
I’ve been tinkering with animation lately and I’m finding that basically it’s a collage artform. Here’s a collage that spun off from one of my animation projects. The end product is reminiscent of Kirby’s cover to New Gods #1, which was an atypical cover for him. I didn’t intend to homage that cover, but since Kirby is so much a part of my DNA it doesn’t surprise me.