A Dark Knight Ahead
♦ Tripwire welcomes the return of former contributing writer Scott Braden in his first in an occasional series about comic series that never were. First it’s Joe James’ Knights On Broadway…
In 1995, the comic book speculator boom nearly torn asunder the specialty market, leaving many publishers, professionals, and retailers in financial ruin. Then came Jim Shooter’s Broadway Comics, a division of Lorne Michael’s Broadway Video Entertainment, and a comic book company that valued quality –- memorable characters, exceptional storytelling — over quantity. And helmed by a creative dynamo like Shooter, who transformed both Marvel Comics and Valiant into the sales successes they were in the 1980s and early ‘90s, respectively, his newest venture quickly became a publishing house to watch.
First discovered at Broadway Comics’ predecessor, Defiant, writer/artist Joe James was one of a team of select editors handpicked by Shooter to help build the publisher’s super-heroic universe from the ground up. He was also one of the creatives, and spent 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., six days a week, working in the funny book trenches. It was there where his passion for team books transpired into a four-color reality of his very own.
“Well, I think I foisted it upon myself to write a team book,” James remembered. “I was obsessed with team books, and I wanted one of my own. Also, our primary focus as a writing team had been Star Seed and Fatale — big single-hero stories — and I think I wanted to let off some steam and have some fun. Break things. Blow up a city or two.”
Although he also aided in the development of the company’s runaway hit, Fatale, James’ team book was a more personal work, developed by him and Shooter.
“At Broadway,” James said, “there were several concepts that we worked on together, such as Fatale, but we each had our pet projects. [And, team books] were always my favorite comic books –- The Defenders, Uncanny X-Men, etc. So, the chance to finally create and write one was just amazing.
“The initial idea for Knights on Broadway came together on a beach in Winnipeg, Canada. I was reading a TIME magazine article about deadly microbes which led me to a book called The Coming Plague by Laurie Garret. I became obsessed with disease and super viruses, and I wanted to explore that in a comic book. When I was in high school, I [also] came up with a story about a time-traveling knight, so one thing led to another and Knights on Broadway was born. It was originally called City Knights [thenCity Perilous], which was based on the story I came up with in high school and we released some promotional stuff using that title. Suddenly, another comic book company released some promotional work of their own using the exact same name. They did it obviously to get to Jim, so we changed the title. The name was Jim’s idea, but we were working for Broadway Comics, so it seemed right anyway.
“I [really] wanted to call it ‘KOB’ –- pushed hard for that, because I thought it was cooler sounding. But the art director at Broadway thought it sounded too close to New Kids on the Block, which meant something at that time. Finally, I relented.”
In James’ own words, Knights on Broadway told the story of “a genius [pre-teen] girl who has visions of the world ending in a biological apocalypse and decides to form a team to help her stop it. And she might be wrong.” To expand on that, here’s what could be found in a June 1995 Broadway Comics’ press release: “Twelve-year-old genius Tammy is convinced that she is the reincarnation of Morgan Le Fey back to redeem herself. She is also convinced that the end of the world is nigh. With science as her sorcery, she empowers five knights and equips them with super-energy armor. If King Arthur ever shows up, fine. Till then, though, she and her ultra-action force will kick butt as necessary. It’s frequently necessary.”
According to James, the story he and Shooter developed was true to the original concept that first roused him to be a comic book creator. Shooter did make some suggestions, though.
“Editorially speaking,” James explained, “Jim was very supportive and encouraged me to start from the very beginning, ’Tammy is born . . .’, which turned out to be the best way to tell that story. I wanted to tell the origin story in flashback, we were originally going to open the book with the BlackWhite Knight attempting to kill Tammy in a subway station, but it soon became apparent that she was developing into a very interesting character in her own right. We had the makings of a team leader, who, maybe, wasn’t entirely trustworthy. So instead of cluttering her arc up with a lot of present/past back-and-forth, Jim suggested that we just start from the beginning and he was absolutely right. Thus, our first issue became a double-sized comic and we were able to explore her life and touch on some of her pre-life.”
Besides an original story, the Knights also had an original design — one that may have even inspired J. Scott Campbell’sWildsiderz, for that matter. (Check their look and get back to us.)
“They were designed by myself and Jim,” James recalled. “It was Jim’s idea to do the green digital effect.”
Although only three issues of the title were published, James is quick to point out that the entire first story-arc was plotted out for Knights on Broadway. And, what a wild ride it would have been –- for both the Knights and the rest of the Broadway Universe itself!
“We were working towards a change after the first five issues of Knights on Broadway that would affect the Broadway Universe,” James said. “I was really looking forward to that. If memory serves the idea was this: once Tammy used her unstable black hole technology to save the world from the oncoming X Virus, the results would have accidentally created an alternate universe. No one in that alternate version of earth would have remembered what happened, but one character would; Tammy. Wackiness ensues. The early discussions were limited to events in Knights on Broadway, I’m not sure if we plotted out the changes for the rest of the titles.”
From there, who knows? Apparently, red skies and parallel universes were in the series’ future. Dark knights, indeed.
Lost Tales©2018 Scott Braden.