Justice League of America: The Nail: The Complete Deluxe Edition

Justice League of America: The Nail: The Complete Deluxe Edition

A KC COLUMN by KC Carlson

I’m not completely sure if all of this is factually accurate. (I’m now getting selectively forgetful about things that happened more than 20 years ago — and embellishing the truth a bit often makes for the better story — so caveat emptor.)


My first memories of meeting Alan Davis, Mark Farmer, and Mike Collins (all British comic book artists of some renown) was at a comic book convention in London in the mid-1990s (probably between 1994 and 1997). It was around the time that DC’s Vertigo line was being launched to huge success, because at one particular event/party I found myself with Alan and Mark and Mike in the corner of a lobby, looking at the huge number of “interesting” looking Vertigo fans. The four of us (mostly in t-shirts or button-downs and jeans) were staring at all of the weirdness in front of us, and at least I was thinking, “What happened to comics?”

A few minutes later, we started hearing that fans were “dosing” drinks with substances other than alcohol and ice, and that at least one DC staffer had been deliberately “dosed” by a guest/fan. After I confirmed that she was all right, I made my way back to the guys — with a slightly unusual request: Was there anywhere in London where I could get some “American” food for dinner? I’d been in town for a day or two and hadn’t eaten anything that was familiar to me other than salad. They chuckled, and after a 10-15-minute walk, I was entering a TGI Fridays. I remember the food being not-so-great, but at least it was familiar. But the conversation (mostly us all just getting to know each other) was even better.

Legion of Super-Heroes #80 cover by Alan Davis and Mark Farmer

Legion of Super-Heroes #80 cover by Alan Davis and Mark Farmer

I had admired Alan and Mark’s work together for several years, and I really wanted them to do more work for DC, other than the occasional Legion of Super-Heroes cover or short story. Mark Farmer was the big Legion fan, Alan would constantly tell me — implying that he was being a true artistic partner by taking on assignments that weren’t necessarily his favorite thing but would make his fellow artist happy. I didn’t buy that for a second… Have you seen Alan’s work on all those LSH covers and short stories?

Don’t tell Mike Carlin or Paul Levitz this, but I made any possible excuse to request “Special” or “Annual” Legion of Super-Heroes issues, because I knew I could count on a Davis/Farmer short story for it — as well as a great cover! And I think Mark even wrote or plotted a couple of them.

I originally started working with Alan and Mark on the LSH covers because regular Legion of Super-Heroes penciller Lee Moder was always just enough behind on his deadlines that I felt that I couldn’t make him the regular cover artist (he did do a handful here and there, early in his run). So Alan and Mark got the call around 1995, and they ended up doing about 50 covers in a row for Legion of Super-Heroes, including long after I stopped editing the title (more on that later).


JLA: the Nail #1

JLA: the Nail #1

One day, in the early/mid 1990s, Alan called me and told me about a proposal that he submitted to Archie Goodwin several years earlier called The Nail, the gist of the storyline being inspired by the famous verse that begins, “For want of a nail the shoe was lost”. Ostensibly, it was a proposal for a Justice League of America project, but once Alan got going, it ended up featuring most of the major DC characters. Sadly, Archie was terminally ill at this time, and not in the office much (he passed away in 1998), so it’s not really known how much of the proposal Archie got to read before taking ill. Since I was Alan’s contact with DC at the time, he discreetly asked me if I could look into the situation to see what exactly happened to it.

Intrigued, I enlisted the aid of Robert (I get to call him Bob) Greenberger, and within a week or so, he had found it in the bowels of Archie’s office. As it turned out, it was quite a task to uncover it, as Bob had also discovered so many plots/scripts for Archie’s main title Batman: Legend of the Dark Knight that that title continued to be published for several years after Archie left staff, simply because of the depth of the inventory.

I was immediately fascinated by Alan’s proposal for The Nail upon reading it. A large part of the fascination for me was the fact that Alan wasn’t just using the current Justice League characters — he was pretty much using every single one of them — plus most of the rest of the DC Universe when he could fit them in. Other characters included members of the Outsiders, the Metal Men, the New Gods, Deadman, Shade the Changing Man, and even the Legion of Super-Heroes. So, since I was going to have to read and comment on it anyway for the LSH content, I decided (if okay with Big Boss Mike Carlin and others) that I would take on the project as editor. Fortunately, I just happened to have a hole or two to fill on my editorial docket at this time. I had also recently inherited the new all-ages title Adventures of the DC Universe — which in the same way as The Nail pretty much potentially featured every DC character that wasn’t in the Superman and Batman casts or (of course) the Vertigo line-up. (I was SO tempted to try to sneak in an animated Sandman, but I was already in enough trouble with certain people.)


There was also something about the inspirational source verse still rattling around my brain. I recognized it as a song with the lyric “For the want of a nail, the shoe was lost…” Where had I heard that before? A few days later, it finally rattled into my active brain. It was from a 1989 Todd Rundgren album called Nearly Human. The lead-off track was called (duh) “The Want of a Nail”. Alan was intrigued by this, so I quickly FedEx’ed the CD to him so he could hear firsthand. I don’t know about Alan, but this weird little connection made working on the project just a little bit more special to me.


JLA: The Nail #2

JLA: The Nail #2

Most of JLA: The Nail #1 went pretty well. It was very hard not to drool on the pages as they came into the office. There was one potentially serious problem that popped up in issue one. Halfway through the book, Alan discovered that he had accidentally mis-numbered one of the pages, making the issue 49 pages of artwork instead of 48. He had already gone through the book to see which page he hadn’t drawn yet could be dropped — but the one he chose was one of his favorites (page 33), with Hal Jordan Green Lantern encountering Star Sapphire (secretly – even to her – Hal Jordan’s love interest Carol Ferris). Alan drew a very beautiful Star Sapphire, which inspired me to attempt to save her.

I told him not to worry. Later that evening I would go through the remainder of that first issue to see if two of the other pages he hadn’t yet drawn could be combined into one page without too much trouble. And, as it worked out I did exactly that — but at this late date I no longer remember which two pages of script were combined. Nor do I know where my copy of the script is. (It’s in one of over 800 boxes of comics related material — including comic books themselves. And, of course, few of the boxes are actually labeled as to what is actually in the box.)

A job well done, I sighed. Most editorial slip-ups were more difficult to fix, but this seemed pretty easy — a job well done. I quickly forgot about it and moved forward. It was to my great surprise that several years later a large package was delivered to the house. I had been away from comics for a few years by then, so I didn’t immediately recognize that the package was sized for comic book art. When I saw it, it made me cry. It was Page 33 of issue #1 of The Nail — except it wasn’t just the page — it was the original art of the page! And it’s inscribed: “To KC: Many Thanks for all you contributed to The Nail. Best Wishes, Alan Davis.” The page was inked by Mark Farmer.

It hangs near my desk with other cherished LSH-related original artwork: Page 16 of Legionnaires #66 by Mike Collins from a story written by me depicting events from an extended date between Shrinking Violet and Bouncing Boy — which may or may not be based on actual people and incidents — and page 23 of Legion of Super Heroes #80 in which artists Lee Moder and Ron Boyd managed to draw me as the official LSH Flag Bearer. (Flag Boy! — Also, I look terrible in spandex!)

The Legion poster by Davis & Farmer

The Legion poster by Davis & Farmer

Also framed there is the two-sided promotional poster for The Legion of Super-Heroes/Legionnaires comics circa 1997 which DC massively under-produced. These giveaways were so popular they were gone within hours of whichever show they were first given out at. This also features art by Alan Davis and Mark Farmer, and I always use this poster as proof that Alan actually loves the LSH (despite his denials!) due to the numerous character-defining artistic in-jokes that are in the poster (I’ll allow that maybe Mark helped on a few). All I did was provide a list of complete, current characters to include. They added the funny!


So, yeah… I never finished editing The Nail. I did indeed leave DC around the time that #1 was being finished, but it wasn’t because I was mad and stormed out or something more dramatic. It was actually because Johanna (then the DC webmaster) put in her notice to leave her job. DC, being DC — I found out that she had done this, when my boss Mike Carlin stormed into my office about 10 seconds after J. tendered her notice, and screamed “SO WHEN WERE YOU GOING TO TELL ME ABOUT THIS?” I had absolutely no idea what he was screaming about, since I hadn’t talked to her yet that morning. That happened a few minutes later after Mike bent my door frame slamming my door on his way out. Mike’s action right there was when I pretty much decided that I was much better off with Johanna than with Crazy Mike as my boss, so I kept my secret about leaving DC for a few more weeks (apparently inadvertently driving Carlin more crazy, or so I was told) and wrapped up as many projects as I could over the next month or two. Weirdly, when I caught my train to Richmond, VA (where Johanna had gone to be close to her folks), unbeknownst to me, Mike Carlin was on the same train (going to D.C., snicker…), so we sat together and hashed out the last crazy couple of months — and ultimately parted as friends.

No bridges were burned at DC either, as I was welcomed back about a year or so later to help with a summer backlash of production work for a number of collected books with old pal and former roommate Dale Crain. Plus, I pulled in several hundred bucks to go towards Johanna and my DIY wedding in NYC (reception next door to the world famous Radio City Music Hall) and attended by dozens of DC friends and well-wishers. Even Mike Carlin was there!

In my absence, Peter Tomasi took over The Nail and was the credited editor (as per DC guidelines). Alan tells me that he and Pete got along famously on the projects, and I couldn’t have been more happy to hear that happened. For a while, I felt some regret not being able to see the project through to the end, but I certainly don’t regret my decision to have left DC to be with Johanna, as we are now in our 18th year of a very happy marriage.


JLA: The Nail #3

JLA: The Nail #3

I got my copy of Justice League of America: The Nail: The Complete Deluxe Edition recently. (If you really love DC comics and their characters, you should buy it because it’s really, really good. Even if I only worked on it for about a year.) I knew that Alan’s introduction for the book was going to be largely about us working out the details for finally getting the original The Nail on track. Alan interviewed me a couple months back, which was fun! I also got to interview Alan live about JLA: The Nail on stage at the Heroes World show in 1998. I wonder if anyone recorded that?

Here’s my theory on why Alan and I work so well together: Alan was born 24 days before me in 1956 — the year that the Silver Age Flash was born! Alan was born 16 days before The Flash’s first appearance. I was born 7 days after. Both of us have great admiration and love for Silver Age comic books.

More weird number facts: Alan Davis was born 18 Jun 56. JLA: The Nail #1 first appeared on 17 Jun 98. What a great birthday gift!


KC CARLSON SEZ: Here’s another weird coincidence: Both my editor Roger Ash and I had minor surgery recently (24 Oct 17). I hope the doctors got our heads on the right bodies this time. It was pretty embarrassing that last time when they got it wrong…

WESTFIELD COMICS is not responsible for the stupid things that KC says. Especially that thing that really irritated you. Alan dropped another surprise on me by way of his introduction for Justice League of America: The Nail: The Complete Deluxe Edition. He’s got a third JLA: The Nail storyline in him: The Final Nail! Maybe I need to come out of retirement for a year or so. (Mostly because I want to read it!)


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