The Time DC Comics Hired A Child (And Insanity Ensued)
One fateful day, a regular 13-year-old from Pittsburgh named Jim Shooter was reading a DC comic when he thought "Eh, I could do better than this." And then, because 13-year-olds are smug little assholes, he wrote and drew his own comic and sent it to DC. So far, there's nothing unusual about this story. Dumb kids who think they're geniuses account for like 60% of the comments sections on the internet. What's unusual is that DC then hired this child as a writer -- a decision that would, no shit, end up changing comics forever.
NOTE: This article has more F- and R-bombs than you'd expect from the story of a kid who got to write Superman.
Superman's Editor Was Shockingly Abusive To Him
In DC's defense, Shooter may have written that first comic at 13, but he was a grizzled 14-year-old by the time DC offered him the gig. Also, it was 1966, and some people probably still hoped this whole "child labor laws" thing was only a passing fad. Shooter picked DC because he felt they "needed" him, since they were being outsold by those upstarts at Marvel. DC must have agreed, because they put him to work on comics starring Superboy. They also flew him and his mom to New York and even introduced him to Superman himself (or the guy playing him in a musical, anyway). It was a dream come true! Until the yelling started.
According to Shooter, legendary DC editor Mort Weisinger would regularly phone him at home and call him a "fucking moron" and a "retard" over every tiny mistake. It got to the point that Shooter started freaking out whenever he heard a phone ringing, wherever he was, as if Weisinger could find him at school ... which he did, once. The fear of making mistakes, getting yelled at, and failing his poor mother would paralyze Shooter for hours. Then he'd snap out of it and write about Superboy playing baseball with asteroids or something wacky like that.
Weisinger, by the way, knew that the kid needed the money and used that to motivate him. He'd call Shooter his "charity case" and made him feel like he could be fired any minute ... while bragging to other editors about this child savant. Years later, Shooter found out that Weisinger would yell at the only other teenage writer to "write like Shooter" while calling him an "idiot" and a "fucking retard," too.
In 1969, at age 18, Shooter quit DC and got hired as a staff writer at Marvel by Stan Lee himself ... but only lasted three weeks, because he could barely afford the cheap room he was renting at the YMCA. But that wasn't the end of his story with Marvel ...
He Grew Up To Rule Marvel Like A Real-Life Doctor Doom
In the mid-'70s, Marvel was in total chaos: Stan Lee was off Stan Lee-ing in Hollywood, they went through five different head editors in two years, freelancers were getting paid for the same jobs twice, and the receptionist was throwing away subscription forms and pocketing the money. Shooter rejoined Marvel in 1976 and rose through the ranks by doing the jobs no one wanted to do, eventually taking over as Editor-in-Chief in 1978. That was the start of the Shooter Era, a.k.a. the time when half the Marvel staff felt like shooting themselves.
Taking a page from his mentor/abuser, Shooter reshaped Marvel from a hippie commune into a fascist state. He had very specific ideas about what a Marvel comic should be like and made sure all creators followed them to the letter. And if they didn't like it, they could fuck off to DC. As the '80s advanced, more and more creators took him up on that offer.
Many of Shooter's edicts were for the best, like when he forced the X-Men writer to kill Phoenix (giving him his most famous story). Problem was, the creators were miserable. Former editor Roy Thomas said Marvel had become "more callous and inhuman" thanks to Shooter, while artist Dave Cockrum wrote in his heartfelt resignation letter that the jolly Marvel gang was now "a large collection of unhappy individuals simmering in their own personal stew of repressed anger, resentment and frustration." A staffer then snuck that letter into an issue of Iron Man as a gag, so at least someone was having fun at Marvel at the time.
Also, some artists were disheartened to go from drawing comics to drawing art for cereal boxes and stuff. In a New York Times article about the upheaval at Marvel, an anonymous writer lamented that they were "becoming a toy company rather than a publisher." Shooter must have read that and thought, "Hey, why not both?"
Related: 5 Hilarious Ways Comic Books Failed To Address World Issues
He Invented The Superhero Crossover Event ... To Sell Toys
Let's clear something up: Shooter's Marvel wasn't just focused on selling toys. They were also focused on selling comics about toys. Thanks to Shooter, Marvel ended up developing the backstories and publishing the official comics for both Transformers and G.I. Joe. They also had Rom: Spaceknight, Micronauts, and an obscure property called Star Wars (that last one thanks to Shooter's predecessor).
So when Mattel wanted to produce a superhero action figure line accompanied by some sort of comic, Marvel seemed like the obvious choice. And since Mattel's focus groups showed that boys reacted positively to the words "secret" and "wars," they wanted the comic to be called Secret Wars.
Shooter wrote the comic himself based on Mattel's requests, such as 1) playsets and vehicles had to be incorporated, 2) some characters had to be redesigned according to the focus groups, and 3) there had to be a shitload of superheroes. This last part had never been done on this scale, but Shooter went all in and forced the creative teams for all major Marvel series to intersect -- or "cross over," if you will -- with Secret Wars.
Despite being a pretty average story (at least there was no wife-punching, magical rape, or regular shower rape, unlike in Shooter's other comics), Secret Wars was a hit, and the competition took notice. DC followed up the next year with an even more ambitious series called Crisis on Infinite Earths, while Marvel did an even more shamelessly commercial one called Secret Wars II. Today, "crossover events" have almost completely taken over superhero comics. If an issue doesn't contain vague hints of some universe-shattering event happening in the future, it ain't shit.
Another way Shooter changed the industry started with a silly-ass, disco-loving mutant. In 1979, Shooter oversaw the creation of a new X-Men character called Disco Dazzler to cash in on the disco craze, which was surely here to stay. While Marvel's planned Dazzler records, Dazzler TV special, and Dazzler movie starring Bo Derek eventually fell through (because they were dumb as hell), they did publish a special Dazzler comic directly to comic book stores, bypassing newsstands for the first time in Marvel history. It sold like hot cakes, paving the way for today's comic book distribution model, which requires you to schlep down to a dank basement and negotiate with an apathetic guy wearing a Batman shirt if you want to purchase physical comics.
Related: 4 Ways Comic Books Are Losing Touch With Their Audience
Nobody Wants To Work With The Guy Who Changed Comics
By 1987, Shooter had managed to piss off both his underlings and his overlings at Marvel, so he had to go. He founded Valiant Comics in 1989, but ended up being forced out of his own company four years later. Then he founded Defiant Comics, which defied his expectations by running out of money a year later. He followed that up with Broadway Comics, but their parent company was sold within a year and they folded, too. He made his triumphant return to Valiant (now renamed Acclaim) Comics in 2000 ... for a total of three issues before they shut down, too.
There have been other comics here and there, including a year-long stint back at DC (spoilers: they fired him), but nothing too noteworthy. His most recently published work appears to be a screenplay called The Omega Point, which he actually wrote in 1999 and has been selling as a book on Amazon since 2012.
So that's what happens when your childhood dream comes true while you're still a child, apparently: you get bullied by one of your idols, go on to bully others, become a hugely influential figure in your industry, and unceremoniously fade into obscurity. In his honestly pretty entertaining blog, Shooter often talks about how he was just doing what had to be done. He'd assign himself tasks EICs wouldn't normally do, like writing the toy pitches, the Dazzler movie treatment, or Secret Wars, not to get an extra paycheck (he'd do many of these for free), but in an "I alone can fix this" way. He'd decided these projects "needed" him, like he decided DC "needed" him when he was a kid. But what did he need? Dunno. Probably not for some old fuck to yell at him to the point of trauma when he was 14.
Follow Maxwell Yezpitelok's heroic effort to read and comment every '90s Superman comic at Superman86to99.tumblr.com.
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