Interview: Jim Shooter on Dark Horse’s Gold Key Relaunch

There are a select few individuals in the comic book industry that can be termed "legends", and Jim Shooter is among them. Breaking into the industry at the unheard age of 14 in 1966 by writing for DC's Legion of Superheroes, Shooter's star quickly rose, eventually becoming Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics, and completely revamping the company in his 9-year tenure through the late 70s and '80s.

In the '90s, he went on to found his own comic company, Valiant Comics, and as part of that venture, he revived a group of classic characters from Gold Key Comics, which operated from the '50s through the early '80s. Among these properties were Magnus: Robot Fighter, Doctor Solar: Man Of The Atom, and Turok: Son Of Stone. Shooter eventually left Valiant, and the company later closed down, but the aforementioned trio, along with The Mighty Samson and soon even more Gold Key characters, are slated to be relaunched by Dark Horse Comics starting in July . I spoke with Jim about his plans for the relaunch and what coming back to these characters means to him.

 


 

Matt Adler: How did you become involved with the upcoming relaunch of the Gold Key characters at Dark Horse?

Jim Shooter: Dark Horse Comics Master and Commander Mike Richardson and I had been talking about the possibility of my redeveloping the Dell/Gold Key characters for years, but for various reasons—I had other commitments, he was busy—we never got around to it.  Then, last July, I needed work and it so happened that he was ready to pull the trigger, and a couple of weeks later, at the San Diego Comic Con, we announced the project.

MA: What is your role in this relaunch? Are you solely a writer, or are you also functioning in an editorial/overseeing capacity?

JS: Mike said this would be the “most entrepreneurial thing” I had ever done, and making that statement to a guy who has started three publishing companies is going some.  Our understanding is that I will redevelop or create the properties in this line, write as many scripts as I can, and when I need help, I’ll supervise the writers we bring in.  I am of counsel with regard to other editorial matters, which means that Mike and Dark Horse Senior Editor Chris Warner, who is coordinating this project, check with me regarding artists and other significant creative decisions.  So far, I have been very happy with everyone/everything they’ve proposed, with exactly one exception, and in that case, they respected my wishes.

MA: The four titles announced are Doctor Solar, Magnus: Robot Fighter, Turok, and Mighty Samson. Are you going to be personally writing all four of these each month? How can you fit so much on your plate?

JS: At the Diamond Retailers Conference in 1992, both Stan Lee and I received Gemmies for Lifetime Achievement.  After the banquet was over, Stan and I made our way through the crowd to each other to exchange congratulations.  I had just gone through a month during which I’d written six books.  It nearly killed me.  I asked Stan how he could have possibly written double that number every month for ten years or so, during the first decade of Marvel.  He said, “You put a lot more into it than I ever did.”  That is the best compliment, the highest praise I’ve ever received in my life, coming from my childhood idol, and one of the greatest of all time in anyone’s book, and the greatest of all time in my book.  It’s also baloney.  Stan’s work was so revolutionary, so wonderful, that I don’t for a moment delude myself that in terms of effort or in any other way my work should be mentioned in the same breath.  

But, anyway…I can write some number of books fewer than six a month and survive.  We’ll see what that number is as we roll along.  I’ll get help when I need it.  There are some great writers out there that I’m comfortable working with who will come to the rescue.  And show me up, probably….       

MA: Can you tell us a little bit about who these characters are and what makes them appealing?

JS: Here’s an excerpt from my Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom series overview:

Imbued with godlike power during the catastrophic failure of a thermonuclear fusion experiment, Doctor Solar is now the world’s only hope against science run amok.  Don’t think it hasn’t.  Supercolliders in use today could conceivably create black holes, magnetic monopoles or so-called “strange matter” that could destroy the planet.  Transhuman, or “H+” engineering, nanotechnology, humankind’s increasing ability to impose its will on nature, and more present terrifying possibilities, including the means to empower evil.  With the fantastic strength and awesome energies at his command, Doctor Solar battles super-enemies and forces beyond ken to defend our very existence.  

Immeasurable might, amazing intellect and profound knowledge of the factors that shape the universe make Doctor Solar nigh invincible, the “God of Energy.”  But he is a man as well.  His humanity is what keeps us safe from him.  

His greatest power is focus.  Solar is a hero like no other.

Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom brings all the mind-bending potential of cutting edge science to bear in thrilling, epic-scale super-hero action.  

In Doctor Solar’s own words:

“I am the Master of the Unified Field.  The God of Energy.  The living embodiment of the power of the sun.  The most powerful being in the universe, unless there is a God Almighty at the end of time, when all of reality collapses into a Singularity.  I am the Man of the Atom.” – from the secret journal of a scientist empowered by a thermonuclear cataclysm—Doctor Solar.

Here are excerpts from my Magnus series overview:

Magnus, a flesh-and-blood man who battles machines evokes John Henry, the steel driving man, the student who stood up to the tank column in Tienanmen Square and Grandmaster Ludek Pachman who played chess against a powerful computer—and won.

In the last year of the 40th Century, 4000 CE, the world, and especially the continent-spanning city of North Am, is a near-Utopia.  Humankind has become over-dependent upon its robot servants and unable to fend for itself should those robots fail them, or worse, turn against humankind, as some robots created to possess artificial intelligence have.
 
After a robot rebellion very nearly led to the slaughter of humankind, 1-A, a robot whose artificial intelligence was made to mirror the mind of his human creator, trained Magnus to become the defender of humankind.  When robots arise in revolt again, when any foe or force threatens, Magnus dares to fight back.

In Magnus’s own words:

“The year is 4,000 CE.  When robots rebel, wreaking havoc, threatening to impose a murderous, mechanical tyranny upon the world, I protect humankind.  I was trained from birth to achieve the pinnacle of human potential—steel-smashing strength, a disciplined mind and the will to conquer any enemy.  I am Magnus.  Robot Fighter.”

These are some cobbled together excerpts from my Turok, Son of Stone series overview:

Turok, Son of Stone tells the story of two Pre-Columbian Native Americans swept away by a force beyond comprehension to a Timeless Land.  

Turok is Algonquin, born in what is now Quebec.  

In his time, no native of North or Central America has a metal weapon except him—a seax, or Viking long knife, made of Damascus steel, given to Turok by a Norse trader whom he befriended during his sojourn to Newfoundland, where Vikings came to trade and forage, and where Viking settlements once stood.  The seax is an heirloom, handed down through generations to the trader from an ancestor who, as a mercenary for the Byzantine Empire journeyed as far as Baghdad.  

Another gift from the Norse: while in their company, Turok learned the art of making composite bows with bow staves reinforced with sinew and bone or horn that can propel an arrow nearly half a mile, like the legendary bows of the Turks.  At closer range, they have devastating power, unrivaled by any wooden stave bow.  There is not the like of Turok’s bow in the Americas.

He has traveled far.  Along his path, Turok learned much from the shamans he encountered: first, the secret language they share, but more importantly, that most of what they do is trickery and illusion—though some things he has seen he cannot fathom—and most importantly never to fear the unknown or unfamiliar.  To do so is to give power to the tricksters or more power to what is real but strange.

To banish fear is to be formidable, almost unconquerable.  Now, if he can just keep the young, headstrong Chiricahua Andar out of trouble….

Turok is strong, capable and skilled.  Just a man, but what a man.  Best of all, he’s smart.

There is a new force in the Timeless Land.  A fearless man who will find a way.

In Turok’s own words:

“Far have I traveled from the north and east, and I have learned many things.  In the western desert, I saved the life of a young warrior.  Fleeing the raiders who murdered his father, we sought refuge in a cavern, but we were swept away to a strange world by a magic unlike any I have ever seen.  Here are thunder-lizards and nightmares, miracles and dreams.  For the sake of the boy, Andar, I must find a way back home.  I am Turok, Son of Stone.”

And, here are excerpts from my Mighty Samson series overview:

500 years after the end of the world….

Amid the ruins of a once-great city, scourged by mutated monsters, marauders and savage, sub-human predators, the primitive N’yark Tribe, ekes out a meager, fragile existence.  But from among them arises a champion, gifted with prodigious strength—a warrior who can strike dead the most fearsome beast and stand one alone against a thousand foes.  Named by the Speakers of Ancient Lore, he is called the Mighty Samson—the last great hope of human kind.  

Thermonuclear destruction nearly ended life on Earth.  No one knows how or why it happened—the answers are lost in antiquity.  

At first, the few survivors tried to preserve the shattered remnants of civilization, but soon the struggle to merely maintain existence exist overwhelmed loftier goals.  A new Dark Age descended upon the world.

Small bands of survivors gathered.  Some united into tribes.  One such tribe, called the N’yark, occupied the Island of Broken Towers.

The N’yark Tribe suffered hideously for many generations, preyed upon by monstrosities against which they had no defense, hunted by semi-human carnivores and forced to pay tribute to powerful, marauding tribes from the north and west.

Twenty years ago, Alma, wife of Tranquility, bore a child, an exceptionally large and robust baby boy, who soon began showing signs of unnatural, inhuman strength.  

As his mother wished, Samson becomes the champion and defender of his people.  He means to help them survive, thrive and lay the foundations of a New World, safe from the horrors of nature perverted, and the brutality of the wicked.

“Upon the Earth walks he who slays behemoths with his fist.  Stone and iron yield before the strength of his sinews.  A thousand warriors cannot stand against his strength.  It is given unto him to deliver his people from the beneath the yoke of their oppressors, and no force under Heaven can stay him from his destiny.  He is called the Mighty Samson.” – From the recitations of the Lore-Speakers in the first year of the Age to Come, at the dawn of the Fourth Millennium.

MA: Do you have a personal attachment to these characters?

JS: Did Romeo and Juliet get along?  I have had a personal attachment to these characters since I first read the originals, back before electricity.

MA: Can you tell us a bit about how their handling at Dark Horse will differ from their time at Valiant and the original incarnations?

JS: Mike Richardson asked me to forget what I’d done before and do it “all new.”  He made me rethink everything, and the books are better for it, I believe.  He also offered some great suggestions which really helped me get a handle.  He’s good.  

MA: How were the artists chosen for these books, and what do you think of what you've seen so far?

JS: Mike suggested Dennis Calero for Doctor Solar and Chris Warner suggested Bill Reinhold for Magnus.  Both very talented guys, both fine by me.

I’ve never worked with Dennis or Bill before, and we went through a short period of adjusting to each other.  They were both confused by a few things I was calling for in my scripts—probably because I was using archaic, old-guy terminology—and, because in some cases, I was calling for things that they’d never been asked to do before.  Once I learned how to describe things in modern English, and once they figured out that I was serious about the unusual visuals I was asking for, we started to click.  

So, the answer is I’m really impressed by what I’ve seen so far, and as we’re getting to know each other, the art is getting even better panel by panel.  Once a good artist really understands where the writer is coming from, he or she can contribute in many more ways.  For instance, in the first issue of Magnus Robot Fighter, Bill added in a bit with an anti-grav cat toy (Magnus has a cat named Tomato) that just great.  It’s a little thing, but it’s the kind of touch, the sort of thoughtful detail that makes a story richer, deeper and real.  In Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom #1, Dennis, who’s trained as an architect, faithfully drew an interior I described in detail, but added a few wonderful touches that I would have never thought of.    

My scripts are very demanding.  I call for a lot of innovative and sometimes complex action.  I ask for subtleties and a wide range of emotions and good “acting.”  I specify a lot of details.  One of my scripts for 22 pages might run as high as 17,000 words, with lots of visual reference embedded.  That’s a lot.  I’ve seen 22-page scripts by other writers that are as few as 3,000 words.  Yes, I am crazy as a loon.  

A lot of what passes for drama these days consists of heroes swearing vengeance through gritted teeth accompanied by standard-fare, boilerplate, stock-shot art.  We’re attempting a higher degree-of-difficulty dive.  A lot of artists, even some big name guys, are incapable of doing what I ask, or just plain wouldn’t invest the effort.  Both Dennis and Bill are really nailing it.

MA: There seems to be a gradual roll-out of these titles, rather than launching them all in the same month. Can you shed some light on the thinking behind that?

JS: There’s only one of me—cue the shouts of “Thank God”—and there was a lot of development time necessary for each title.  I wanted to do it right from the ground up.  For instance, I wrote a 67 page Zero Issue script for Magnus Robot Fighter before beginning on the Free Comic Book Day special and issue #1.  I think it will be published in some form, someday, but I really wrote it for myself, to work out the back story and build a solid foundation.  The Zero issue I wrote for Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom for the same reason was 40 pages.  Crazy as a loon.  But now I know in depth who these people are and how they got that way.

I think it’s better to do a gradual roll out anyway.  Mike and I discussed it, and he thinks so, too.  

MA: It's been announced that more characters will be added to the line; how big do you see the line getting?

JS: As big as we can be and still be good.  Said another way, not very big.  I can’t give you a number of releases per year, but a small number of great books is better than a multitude of so-so books.

MA: There's already been a Free Comic Book Day special released with a Doctor Solar/Magnus double feature written by you. How did it feel coming back to the characters to write that?

JS: I had a ball.  I love these characters.  Writing ten-page complete stories, one for each character was good brain exercise, an interesting challenge.  You don’t see many short-but-complete stories anymore.  It was a good shakedown cruise for Dennis, Bill and me, too.   

MA: Do you have a favorite Gold Key story, either among the originals, or the Valiant era?

JS: My favorite Gold Key story is one of the originals, a Magnus Robot Fighter story entitled Cloud-Cloddie Go Home.  Issue #16, I think.

MA: It seems like your plate is pretty full; is this taking up all of your time now, or do you have other projects in the works?

JS: The Dell/Gold Key line for Dark Horse is all I’m doing, all I want to do and all I will do till Mike Richardson says different.  This is it.

 


 

The beloved character Matt Adler, Interview Writer will sadly not be part of the upcoming Gold Key relaunch.

Comments

  1. corpseed corpseed says:

    I loved the Valiant comics back in the day. Harbinger, Eternal Warrior, Archer & Armstrong, even X-O manowar.. all were awesome. I just hope Shooter updates these characters and plots for a modern audience.

  2. cubsmodano cubsmodano says:

    Can’t wait to start reading these books.

  3. NawidA NawidA says:

    I enjoyed the Free Comic Book Day books.

  4. DARKKEY1 DARKKEY1 says:

    Great information from this interview!..

    It all sounds awesome…I am looking forward to Jim’s new stories

  5. DenverDave DenverDave says:

    Oh man… those VALIANT issues were the best.