Link to FB post on Neal Adams Appreciation Group, Dec 28, 2014
Anon 1: Michael Netzer…if you wouldn’t mind, could you share your recollection of your involvement with the Ms. Mystic situation?
Michael Netzer: Happy to, […]. It’s a long story and it might take a little time to condense it properly. I’ll post it soon.
Anon 1: Thanks! I was a kid in ’83, I think it was, when the series was announced as Neal’s big return to regular comics. We all know things didn’t go as planned…I thought the character had potential though. Neal has talked about it but I’m interested in hearing your story.
MN: It’s been some time since I’ve thought or talked about it, […]. I’ve told my side in the past but when I thought of linking to it to answer your question, I realized it doesn’t tell the story the way I see it today. So I’ll take a chance and try to tell it again with the perspective that the passage of time adds. I’ll preface by saying that it seems to me to be a lot like how Thor and Iron Man might get into a fight sometimes because of a misunderstanding, or the weight of circumstance between them, before they find themselves teaming up again to thwart a bigger danger. They might never forget why they fought and can take the liberty of exchanging smart alecy remarks from time to time. But intrinsically, they’re on the same side, and ultimately both have an abiding sense of respect for the other, though they don’t always show it outwardly. The difference here is that there is a student mentor relationship that imposes an additional set of values that the relationship between two equal peers is free of. Though ultimately, the weight of the difference between them, although always there, diminishes in time as a student comes into their own.
It starts about the time Jeanette Kahn became publisher at DC around late 1976. Vinnie Colletta was art director and was working with me on the Wonder Woman story that he inked. On one of my visits, he told me that the new publisher would probably like some proposals for a new female superhero, and asked me to come up with a pitch. I was about 20 and lacking the type of experience to compete professionally on that level of creating a new character and story line, but I must have had a lot of ambition because I took it on and told Vinnie I’d have an idea for him in a couple weeks. I hadn’t yet thought about the creator-owned ramifications of giving something like that over to DC. At that first moment, I just felt flattered that Vinnie would turn to me for it, as I was sure he also asked others. On the way back to studio I saw Greg Theakston and told him about it. He suggested I should be careful about doing something like that alone. I wasn’t phased much by his concern, so when I got back at my desk in the back room at the studio, I already had an idea and started doing some character drawings. I thought of a character that would be “the spirit of the Earth” type. A girl who grew up with senses and abilities like making plants grow quickly or making it stop raining if she tried hard enough. She’d later discover that she was a re-incarnation of a witch that was burned at the stake in a previous life because of having these abilities. She’d grow up to realize that her consciousness was one with the consiousness of the Earth and that her ultimate mission this time around was to stop civilization from destroying itself and the planet they lived on.
I also thought she could be connected to Rama Kushna from Deadman, or that she would actually be a physical embodiment of her, for DC continuity, but wasn’t sure how that could work out yet. It was all happening quickly, within an hour or two and I hadn’t had enough time to think it through. I had just finished the Starspawn 4-piece portfolio for Bob Keenan, one of Sal Quartuccio’s friends around then. That simple body figure with the long hair seemed like a good place to start for a character design, and I began working out a costume that would preserve that look, that I thought had an ethereal feel that expressed the character well. It’s one of the few things that was preserved from my early ideas on it, and still strongly resembles what Ms. Mystic became. Here are a couple of shots from that portfolio.
As I’m at my desk doing these sketches, Neal comes to the back room, sees me doing them and asks what I’m working on. Maybe Greg had already told him or maybe not, I don’t know. But I was a little concerned about how he’d react, mainly because of the talk about Vinnie at the studio. There was a general consensus that he wasn’t suitable to be art director for DC, and I suppose part of it was that he was thought to have more often diminished from the qualtity of artist’s work rather than add to it. As I also remember, Neal had pretty much dealt directly with his editors and avoided direct dealings with him on covers and projects he was working on. With that in the background I told Neal about his offer. Neal looked at my sketches and then, to my surprise, suggested that we do it together because I wouldn’t have the experience to go it alone. He said it would be a much better project if he wrote it and I drew it and that he’d be able to negotiate a much better creator owned deal with DC for it than I would. He then extended his hand out for a handshake and said “50/50 partners, what do you think?”
It was quite the spot, actually. On the one hand, this seemed like an opening for a little independence, or coming into my own as a creator. An opportunity to spread some wings relative to the Neal-centric work I was immersed in at the studio. On the other hand, it was hard to imagine a better outcome than to partner with Neal on it, considering the regard I had for him back then (and still do). Not only as a mentor of the drawing and storytelling craft, but also as the moral/humanistic magnet and leader that he was to the community of creators. There was also a subliminal father-figure type of relationship, when it came to general advice and direction he gave to a young man still struggling with basic questions of how to conduct himself as a newbie in an adult world. All that said, this happened so fast, in a flash instant of events, that there wasn’t much time to give it any thought – and little doubt which side would win out. I extended my hand in return and we shook on it: “Partners, 50/50” I said, and Neal went back to the front room. The next day he came in with a drawing of Ms. Mystic, with the zippatone on the costume, preserving the direction I’d started with my first sketches, and we were on our way to making this project come to life. He’d handle all the negotiations with DC for a creator owned project.
Now, at the studio, we’d heard, from Carey Bates, as I remember, that Jeanette Kahn was reaching out to experienced industry professionals in order to learn as much as possible about the comics business that she was relatively new to, having been more experienced in children’s magazine area. Some people apparently suggested she talk with Neal, which sent Carey inquiring about it. Neal suggested to Carey that she give him a call. Within a couple of days, they met for dinner to discuss the general state of affairs at DC and in the comics world relative to content, distribution and sales. They apparently hit it off and before you could say cupid, were going out more frequently and for a while became an item. No need to get into that too much, other than that for a certain period of about a year or so they were together at the top of the game for DC. This was the period that Jeanette experimented with Dollar Comics and Neal did the Superman/Ali book.
It was a big year all around for Continuty and the comics industry in general, it seems – and Ms. Mystic became an integral part of it, at least for me. DC approved it as their very first creator-owned project, which is why she appears on the cover in the crowd and is listed on the inside cover of the Superman/Ali book. Neal worked out a plot for the first issue and general thrust for the character. It veered away from the more mystical direction I initially had in mind. Ms. Mystic became part of undefined alien entity, or some such, whose mysterious origins were part of how Neal was approaching a project that he had wider, undefined plans for in the future. I spent the summer of 77 pencilling the first 17 page story for DC. Probably some fo the best pencils I’d done till then, which were mostly inked for the book just as they were. There was a splash page where she first appears in the story that Neal re-did. I liked mine a little more and was sorry to not see it used. I think Neal eventually reversed the angle on it to show Ms Mystic confronting the one-wheeled robot. My focus was more on showing her close up front and center, to get to know the character. It had the regal/mystical feel that I’d first intended for her and it was a very good drawing. Towards the end of summer the job was done. DC paid me for the pencils and the job awaited production. But then something that seemed a little off-to-the-side was beginning to happen with me.
It’s another story altogether but very intertwined to Ms. Mystic, and the project would go on to play a significant role in everything that followed. Towards mid-November, having finished Ms Mystic and the Monel Legion story, I was somewhat at a crossroads. I was putting that two year experience at Continuity into a wider perspective and felt I needed to do a little more with my career and life. This led me to leave the studio on a sudden whim and spend some time in the outdoors of California. The story is well known and no need to get too much into it here. The upshot, relative to Ms. Mystic, was that when I came back a month later, Dick Giordano had left the studio, Neal and Jeanette were no longer together and Ms. Mystic was dropped by DC altogether. I spent the next few years between NY and California – and everything in-between. My presence at Continuity, when I’d come back to the studio was becoming increasingly disruptive. Looking back on it, I can’t imagine how it could have played out differently given the loaded issues that were driving it. On one of my trips back to the studio, Neal showed me he’d produced the New Heroes portfolio with Ms. Mystic as one of the characters, and properly crediting me with co-ownership (image below).
But I suppose I already knew by then that Continuity and comics in general would be playing a smaller role in the direction I was going. By the end of 1981 I left the U.S. on my way to spending some time in Israel to continue the pursuit I started with that first trip to California. A couple of years later, I saw Continuity’s first Ms. Mystic comic book in a used book store in Beirut, where I’d stopped over for a family visit before continuing to Israel. I held onto the book and contacted Neal about it around 1985 from Jerusalem. He offered an explanation about the lack of creator partnership we’d agreed on and the “some layouts” mis-credit, and sent me a payment for use of the pencils. Around 1990, we were in touch again and I eventually moved to NY with my new family for another stretch of work at Continuity. Neal didn’t talk at all about Ms. Mystic with me, but Continity’s books were in peak production and I did a couple of Megalith stories while there. I finally got around to opening the subject with him a few months later. His reaction set me off a little, claiming that what he did with Ms. Mystic was all his and suggesting it wouldn’t be good for me to make an issue of it. It was hard to accept his attitude about it and I eventually left Continuity for a stint at DC, doing some Batman work for Archie Goodwin and Denny O’Neil. I still visited Continuity from time to time and on one occasion, Neal and I went to Mid-town comics for a signing of some Continuity books.
But on one of these visits, I picked up a few of the new books, including Crazyman #3. As I was skimming through them on the bus ride back home, I saw the reference there to a mid-east terrorist operating in NY, who had both my previous and new names (in Israel, I’d changed it to the Hebrew-transliterated Netzer, which was how I was credited in the Megalith stories). It was hard to believe what I was seeing at the time. It seemed like the worst smear someone could concoct because most industry insiders and a lot of comics fans who noticed my return under a new name, knew about my journey to the Middle-East and travel from Lebanon to Israel. There was also already the first terrorist attack on the WTC and there was a general leeriness of more of the same to come. It seemed to me that anyone reading that book and not knowing me personally could suspect there was something to it because Neal had known me better than most people in the industry. I spent the next couple of months in a sort of personal dilemma and asked a lot of colleagues about it, none of whom thought that it was funny. When I called Neal, he seemed to mock me a bit, saying that maybe there was something wrong with me for not being able to take the joke. Larry Hama was the only person I talked to who suggested there was good reason to forgive and forget. But it was too heavy and intense a situation for me to listen to his reasoning behind it, which in retrospect may have been the more sensible thing to do.
I didn’t set off to file the lawsuit against Neal over it. There was a chain of events and momentum that was getting out of my control and I wasn’t in a state of mind to stop it. A casual conversation with a lawyer in my Queens neighborhood led to him doing some legal research on case histories for libel. He turned it over to another lawyer who specialized in intellectual property rights regarding Ms. Mystic and they connected to two issues. They were pulling too strong and had personal interests that were getting out of my influence. The decision to go with the lawsuit wasn’t so much an issue of me against Neal anymore, but more about them against a business opportunity. Neal’s responses and the seeming disregard he had for our relationship didn’t seem to help either. By the time we met with lawyers for the discovery process, my work at DC had come to a halt, mostly due to the pre-occupation with it. I returned to Israel with my family in late 93, and left the proceedings in the hands of my lawyer. He became busy with other much bigger cases and pretty much neglected mine after I left. When the summary judgement came, the Ms. Mystic copyright case was dismissed on the Statue of Limitations – and the decision that no one would take the Crazyman reference seriously, also shut the case on libel.
Truth to tell, I was pretty relieved with the outcome, though I didn’t show it at the time. I didn’t really want the confrontation but I admit that I allowed it to escalate. It was clear that things would never be the same again but they hadn’t really been the same for more than a decade anyway. The next couple of years were probably a healing and recovery period for both of us. A time to put it all into a better perspective and try to understand why it happened. Time can do wonders for the soul and looking back on it with the passage of years, I began to understand Neal’s reason for doing what he did. The direction my life took when I first changed course in the late 70’s was a part of me that I really couldn’t bury by settling down to a family life and ignoring it. Reminds me a little of the reason Carradine went after Thurman in Kill Bill. She wasn’t supposed to settle down to that wedding. But superheroes, like Iron Man and Thor, don’t usually kill each other in a fight like this. A few reciprocal bruises are mostly enough to bury the hatched and move on.
There was also the fact that in the end, Ms. Mystic was, in its totality, an exclusive Neal Adams production. The difference between layouts and pencil credits is a minor issue in the big picture. Neal made the character what she is, regardless of the initial input I had into her. And there’s the weight of the student-mentor relationship that cannot be completely put aside. Neal’s contribution to the industry in general, his efforts on behalf of creators that have immeasurably helped generations of artists, the debt that most of us who worked in his vicinity owe to his generous gifts of guidance and experience – all add a massive weight to the equation of this story that helps balance things out – but ultimately still keeps a lot of us in the red with him. A type of debt that’s not likely to be ever repaid. For me specifically, when I consider the totality of interests that attract me, including his science project and the general outlook and concern he showed that we could have for trying to make the world a little better – which ultimately helped set me on that journey in the late 70’s, and the altercation we had that was designed to not let me forget all that…well, I don’t know why I should really have any complaints about anything. And considering that I don’t think the wider story this revolves around is over yet, and that there’s still a lot of work to do on it, everything seems to be on a good course and everyone is settling into their personally chosen and appropriate place in life to pursue it.
And I do get some minor satisfaction after all, because it is my Ms. Mystic sketch on its Wikipedia entry :). At least for now.