Jim Shooter was editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics for almost ten years. Before that, he wrote a few issues of DD. Here he talks about those issues and some of the other dealings with Marvel during his stay there.
Kuljit Mithra: Before you became editor-in-chief at Marvel, you had a stint as writer of Daredevil (issues 141, 144-151). Were you brought in as an 'emergency' fill-in writer because of Marv Wolfman's departure from the comic, or did you want the writing job?
Jim Shooter: When I was hired as associate editor of Marvel comics in 1976 (second in command to the editor in chief, Marv Wolfman, replacing Chris Claremont, who had gone freelance), I was promised freelance writing on the side. Marvel, not renowned for keeping promises back then, reneged, because cutbacks caused a shortage of work.
A few tumultuous months later, after Gerry Conway quit as a contract writer/editor, leaving us in the lurch schedulewise on a number of titles, I was suddenly pressed into service. Steve Englehart left us at about the same time. I don't think either of those events were my fault -- I was new, and people didn't know they were supposed to hate me yet. Most of the issues I wrote that time were written literally overnight. They probably read like it. After the smoke cleared a little, I ended up with the regular assignments to write Avengers, Ghost Rider and Daredevil. I was also editing forty-five color comics a month at the time.
Mithra: How did you think Daredevil ranked among the super-heroes in the Marvel Universe (as a title and as a character) before you wrote it? After?
Shooter: At Marvel in the mid-seventies, it was common to talk about "first string" books, like the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and The Hulk, "second string" books like Daredevil, The Defenders and Captain America, and "third string" books like Iron Fist, Killraven and (believe it or not) The X-Men. Check it out -- the assignments were generally given out according to the pecking order. Big Shots like Len Wein, Marv Wolfman and Roy Thomas had first pick, and unless they had some predilection that drew them to a lesser title (Marv with Dracula, Roy with Invaders), they took first string books. "Lesser" writers like Chris Claremont, Don McGregor and Doug Moench were stuck with the rest. There were no royalties back then, it was strictly a matter of prestige. Being on a successful book was good for the rep.
Marv once told me that he wanted to write a second string book like Daredevil so he could show the newer and lesser writers how to work with a second- stringer and bring it up.
I thought that first string-second string thing was stupid. I figured that we shouldn't be publishing a book unless it was first string -- and by that I don't mean a best-seller. I mean a book we thought was excellent, regardless of sales, a book worthy of being done well, and therefore selling well, whether or not the audience "got" it. Master of Kung Fu during the Gulacy period was like that -- never a big seller, some of those books were great. Definitely first string.
I wrote Daredevil as well as I could. I thought it could be as important a book as any, that is, it was first-string in my view.
I had trouble keeping up with the schedule, and eventually editor in chief Archie Goodwin (who had replaced Gerry Conway, who had replaced Marv Wolfman) took it away from me and gave it to Roger MacKenzie, who, I believe had done some horror stuff, maybe for Warren, previously. I tried to be an adult about it, and help Roger all I could, but honestly, I didn't much like what he did with it. Then Frank Miller came along...
Frank brought Daredevil clearly into the "first string" by anyone's reckoning. That's where it belongs. That's always been my assessment of the character, even when it was being badly handled.
Mithra: What was it like to work with Gil Kane, Lee Elias, George Tuska and Carmine Infantino on your issues?
Shooter: I loved working with Gil Kane, one of the all-time greats. Lee Elias was brilliant, and a joy to work with, but his style -- the "finish" on his work had an old fashioned look (which old-fashioned me liked!) -- that many fans didn't like. George Tuska was at the end of his brilliant career, he was mostly deaf, communication was difficult, and though he showed occasional flashes of the chops that made him a big name artist in his day, I don't think his work on Daredevil was anywhere near his best. Carmine Infantino's stuff was so stylized, people either loved it or hated it. I liked the look, but often had problems with his storytelling. Carmine was the only one to insist on panel-by-panel directions from me, and he still chose strange shot angles, and misinterpreted many scenes. Everyone else preferred a (tight) plot with some room for them to interpret the story cinematographically. I remember that Klaus Janson inked the Kane and Infantino issues and gave them a wonderful look. Klaus is a genius. He colored those issues, too, I think. I remember telling him many times that some crazy color experiment he wanted to try wouldn't work -- but he'd talk me into it, sometimes by holding his breath 'til blueness set in, and we'd try it. He was almost always right.
Mithra: Do you think Daredevil has a limited rogues gallery? Your issues had Man-Bull, Bullseye, Owl, Killgrave, Death-Stalker... basically villains that had appeared many times in the comic. Was it difficult to write Daredevil? I know Marv Wolfman has told me in an interview that he really couldn't find anything unique to write about DD so he asked off the title.
Shooter: Daredevil had a limited rogues gallery, true, but you have to understand that during those years, there was increasing concern on the parts of creators about creating characters under work-for-hire, with no compensation. I encouraged everyone to use existing characters until I got a participation plan in place (I was editor in chief by then) and most people agreed. Bill Mantlo was a notable exception. He was a weak writer, so he willingly created characters to enhance his value and endear himself to the company and the editors. He did it no matter what I said. I created a few characters, too, because I was on staff and thought that made it my job. A few people, like Chris Claremont, just couldn't contain themselves. It's tough for incredibly creative people like Chris to rein it in.
I thought it was a breeze to write Daredevil. He's an incredibly rich and unique character, full of possibilities. I found endless potential there. I'm sorry I wasn't in a position to devote full time to it, stick with it and do it justice.
Mithra: There had been some mention in the letter pages that you were planning on bringing the yellow costume back? Was that true?
Shooter: We talked about lots of ideas, but I don't think bringing back the yellow costume was ever seriously considered. The letter columns were often not written by the creators on the book. I never wrote any.
Mithra: By the time issue Daredevil #153 came out, you had been promoted to editor-in-chief of Marvel and you had stopped writing DD (your last issue was #151 I believe). Can you recount how you started at Marvel and how that eventually led to this position? I've read that you got your start at age 13!
Shooter: I started writing Superboy, Legion of Super Heroes, Superman and other titles for DC at age thirteen. I was a regular writer for DC 'til late 1969. In Late 1969, I took a job at Marvel but couldn't find a place to live (I'd worked for DC through the mail from Pittsburgh. Marvel required me to work at the office in New York. I was seventeen, had no money, no relatives or friends in the area. I showed up for my first day of work with my suitcase in my hand, fifteen bucks in my pocket, and no idea where I was going to sleep that night.) I scrounged and scraped, but I ran out of money to pay my rent at the "Y" in three weeks and had to quit and return to Pittsburgh. I did advertising and other work 'til, I think, 1973, when I got an offer to return to DC as a writer. I did. Working at DC wasn't great. I got a little freelance from Marvel, but not much. Then, out of the blue one day, Marv Wolfman offered me the job as associate editor at Marvel. I took it, and moved back to New York, this time twenty-four, and with a few more bucks in my pocket. Marvel was in chaos then. It was hell. It chewed up editorial people at a furious rate -- they'd stay long enough to pick up some freelance, then leave. Two years after I started there, after they'd exhausted every other possibility, they made me editor-in-chief. Roy Thomas had lasted two and a half years, Len Wein eight months, Marv Wolfman one year, Gerry Conway three weeks, Archie Goodwin nineteen months... and I stuck it out nine and a half years. I was fired for opposing the owners who were selling Marvel and screwing the creators and other publishing people under me who had been the owners' golden goose. The owners undercut me to my own troops, saw to it that everything including the Challenger disaster was blamed on me, and, once they were sure that key people wouldn't quit if I were fired, they spit me out like a watermelon seed. They made their money, and the industry is now in the toilet. Told 'em so.
Mithra: What was the main thing you wanted to accomplish as editor-in-chief?
Shooter: Everyone in comics, it seemed, at that time was talking about the imminent demise of the business. Paul Levitz, Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, Gil Kane, everybody. Everyone was talking about getting into animation, or film, or television -- except me and Roger Stern, the two new guys at Marvel. We thought that comics were still at the beginning of their potential, that Marvel could be bigger than Disney.
My goal was to save Marvel, and the industry, both of which were in severe danger in 1978, and build the company and the industry until we took our place among other mass media (as comics have done in Japan) in a way that would be good for the creators as well as the corporate types. I (perhaps naively) thought that if we could prove that comics were a viable business, we could engineer the same rewarding environment for creators as exists in the music, film, television and other mass entertainment media. We got pretty far along. Creators were doing pretty well in 1986 and 1987. We were, in my estimation, about halfway "there." But, I didn't figure on Marvel becoming the target of corporate raiders like Mario Gabelli, which threw everything into a cocked hat...
Mithra: Was Daredevil in danger of cancellation at that time? Is is safe to say that Frank Miller saved the title?
Shooter: I got Frank Miller on Daredevil as penciler around the same time Roger MacKenzie started writing it. For a while, every day or so, the financial officer and/or the circulation VP would insist to me that the book, one of our lowest sellers, ought to be cancelled. I argued to keep it, on the grounds that this "Miller kid" was great, and that the book would catch on. At one point, Frank almost quit because he didn't like Roger's scripts... but I talked him out of it, and eventually editor Denny O'Neil decided "enough already," and moved Roger onto something else. I think the main factor in that decision was a spec plot that Frank wrote -- the first Elektra story. Denny was amazed at how good it was, I was smug about having picked this Miller kid out as a winner, and the rest, as they say, is well-known.
Shortly after Frank took over writing the book, sales took off, and I looked like a genius to the upstairs execs. Frank, indeed, saved the title.
Frank was a kid from Vermont who wanted to be a comics artist. He came to New York in 1977, I think, showed samples to his idol, Neal Adams, and got a world-record savage critique. He quit drawing for a while, sucked it up and tried again. Neal savaged him again, but this time he sought a second opinion and actually ended up getting a small job from Western Publishing, I think. Thus emboldened, he went to DC, and after getting savaged by Joe Orlando, got in to see art director Vinnie Colletta, who recognized talent and arranged for him to get a one-page war comic job. Again emboldened, he came to see the scariest ogre of all -- me. Stunningly to anyone who only knows me by my largely fictional reputation, I was nice to him. Recognizing talent, I gave him a five-page job. He did well, and the rest, as they say, is well-known.
Frank and I were pretty close in his early days at Marvel. I'd like to think he learned something about writing in the course of the many discussions we had. I also think that Denny O'Neil had a lot of positive influence on him and contributed to his development in his early stages.
Mithra: How controversial was the 'drugs' issue of Daredevil? Did you have any problem with it?
Shooter: There was no problem whatsoever with the drugs issue. As far as I know, the first drugs story in modern comics was written by me -- a Legion of Super Heroes story that appeared in Action Comics about "lotus fruit," an addictive fruit. It got no publicity, though it was a huge battle to get it past the Code. Then came the Spider-Man drug issues that ran without the Code. By the time the Daredevil story came along, drug stories were old hat.
Mithra: One thing I've always wanted to ask you... why wasn't Daredevil in the first Secret Wars?
Shooter: Probably because Mattel wasn't interested in including Daredevil as a toy at first.
Mithra: You wrote another DD issue (with Denny O'Neil), #223, which was a tie-in with Secret Wars II where DD regains his sight for a day. Do you think Daredevil's strength as a comic is his blindness?
Shooter: I rewrote Denny's Secret Wars tie-in story because Denny botched it terribly. He didn't care at all about the Wars continuity, and wrote the first draft on autopilot. Denny can hack badly if he's not interested. The Beyonder/Secret Wars II storyline was centered around the concept of desire, or seeking what one lacks, hence the Daredevil story idea (mine).
When I wrote Daredevil, I figured that one of the unique things about him was the way he "sees" things, so I (mostly) chose to unfold the stories from his point of view -- the reader generally learned things as he did. By contrast, I figured that the Avengers required a truly omniscient POV, and that Ghost Rider was most interesting seen from the POV of his opponents/victims.
Mithra: What is your opinion on the Born Again arc by Miller and Mazzucchelli? What issues of DD do you think best represent what the character is about?
Shooter: The "Born Again" story was great. I can't name a "best issue."
Mithra: Looking back, why do you think the New Universe didn't catch on with more fans?
Shooter: The New Universe was dead long before it saw the light of day. Two years before the Marvel 25th Anniversary, when pressed by the president and executive staff for a "publishing event" for the anniversary, I suggested that we might want to commemorate the birth of one universe with the birth of another. Everybody liked the idea. I was given a substantial budget and told to proceed. My assistant, Tom DeFalco asked to be given responsibility for the project. He saw it as a career opportunity -- to have a second Marvel line that he could be editor in chief of. I let him take a try at it. After almost a year, he hadn't come up with much -- no general concept, and only a few lame characters like "Speedball". Because time was getting critical, I got involved, and came up with the science fiction/super hero idea. It was, in fact, what Stan wanted to do back in '61, but he didn't have the science background. Also, anytime you're working with Kirby, you're headed toward fantasy (repulsor rays, Blue Areas on the moon, lost civilizations, etc.) in a hurry. So the Marvel Universe became fantasy-based, leaving the SF idea open. Everybody loved the idea -- think about that -- everybody loved the idea, especially Stan, so off we went. This was about the time that the corporate raiders' attacks on Marvel were reaching a peak. Money was tight because of the millions being spent to defend against hostile takeover. My New Universe budget was cut to nothing. Notice that aside from Al Williamson and John Romita, Jr., who worked on it as a personal favor to me, the New U. creators were staff people, mostly assistant editors, who were working volunteer, creators who were new, or creators who could get no other work. Why? Because we couldn't afford to pay anybody hot or established.
This was also the time that I mentioned before, when I was at war with top management, and the idea of a failure/horror show to pin on me suited them fine. Now, of course, no one, especially not Stan, who isn't one to swim against the tide, will admit to ever having thought it was a good idea.
It's no wonder the New Universe failed. It's more a wonder that any good came out of it at all -- for instance, wasn't that Whilce Portacio's first work?
Mithra: Marvel has entered a deal with Event Comics where some titles, including DD, are going to be produced by them. Would you have agreed to a deal like this when you were editor-in-chief of Marvel?
Mithra: Have your recent ventures in comics (Valiant/Defiant/Broadway) soured your opinion of the comics industry?
Shooter: No. It's a great medium. The business often stinks. We've got way too many wimps and weasels, and way too few stand-up guys. And stand-up women. Boy, does that expression not roll trippingly off the typer... Stand-up people? Well, you get the drift.
Mithra: I've read that you may be publishing your own comic. Can you tell me more about that?
Shooter: Not now. It's getting late. There'll be plenty of publicity about it as we get closer to release.
(c) Kuljit Mithra 1998
Daredevil:The Man Without Fear
Jose Guns Alves
Black and White
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