A couple years after The Sopranos cut to black, a comic book publisher had the idea to bring the series back in comic form, much like what’s been done with Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Firefly. They asked me to write a couple one-sheet pitches for a “Season Seven” and a “Season Zero.” The idea soon died a cold death in a publishing pine barren, but here’s what I came up with for What Happened Before. (The Sopranos sequel is here.) Obviously, I don’t own any of these characters, et cetera, et cetera. Enjoy, ya mooks.
The Sopranos: Season Zero
Opening Arc: “Put Or Pay”
Pitch by Jay Busbee
Synopsis: “Sopranos Season Zero” will cover stories of the young Tony Soprano in the early ‘80s, just beginning to make a name for himself in the DiMeo crime family. We see the growth of Tony from young thug to made man, and we see the cost that he pays to get there. Throughout the series, we’ll also see familiar faces pop up in younger incarnations—Carmela, Janice, Bobby, Christopher, Big Pussy, Paulie. And we see the immediate precedents of the opening events of the HBO series.
Storyline: By 1982, the DiMeo crime family is well entrenched in northern New Jersey. All illegal enterprises, and more than a few legal ones—laundries, liquor stores, restaurants—run through the DiMeos, and the area’s living in a time of enforced peace. The centerpiece of the DiMeo family’s activity is the Camden County Incinerator. Built and owned by a DiMeo front corporation, the incinerator has a “put or pay” contract with all local governments—deliver a certain amount of trash to the facility every month, or pay up. (This is, believe it or not, a common practice to this day among incinerators.)
In the course of the story, we’ll meet the current ruling regime of the DiMeo family—Domenico DiMeo, the boss of the family, and the brothers Johnny Boy and Corrado Soprano. We’ll also meet the lower-level muscle of the crew—Vincent Iafrate (a previously unseen character); Silvio Dante; Tony Blundetto; Ralph Cifaretta; Jackie Aprile; and Johnny Boy Soprano’s kid, a burly guy who goes by the name of Tony.
The theme of this story is responsibility—responsibility to one’s self, one’s family, one’s crew. So we’ll be following parallel storylines. Johnny Boy and Corrado deal with their increasing responsibilities as lieutenants under DiMeo in differing ways; Johnny is growing into the role, while Corrado chafes under the responsibility and wants more of the glory. The federal EPA is starting to take a close look at the operations of the incinerator, and starting to ask some questions that the DiMeos can’t easily answer.
At the same time, the junior crew is craving more responsibility, wanting a promotion to the big leagues. One night, Jackie comes up with the idea of robbing the card game of Feech La Manna, a story referenced in The Sopranos series. Here, we’ll see that robbery play out, and we’ll see the consequences of it—the guys take their first steps to being made men. We’ll see here why “Don’t Stop Believin’” has such significance in Tony’s life; it’s the song on the radio playing when they get away from the heist, the moment when the entire world finally opens wide before him.
But from there, things don’t go so well. Corrado Soprano makes a foolhardy move, unleashing the young crew on the EPA and trying to get them to bribe the feds into backing off. Not only does the plan fail, it fails with blowback. When the bribery attempt doesn’t take, the younger crew decides to use muscle—and an EPA inspector ends up dead. This marks the first crack in the DiMeo armor, a crack that will eventually spread and result in the Old Man’s imprisonment, which paves the way for Jackie to take over the family—which is where Season 1 of the Sopranos begins.
The family decides that an example must be made, and orders a hit on Vincent Iafrate. Tony refuses to carry out the hit on his friend, but Ralphie gladly steps up to save his own skin and executes one of his childhood mates.
His friend dead on the floor before his eyes, Tony finally realizes the cost of the dream he’s sought. He spends a long night in Springsteen-esque existential New Jersey angst, finishing out at the boardwalk in a still-dilapidated Atlantic City. As he watches, cranes are building what will become a state-of-the-art megacasino. And he decides he wants a piece of that kind of action after all.