Monday, April 26, 2010

It's All Gold: Jim Shooter's Return to Gold Key

Words: Christopher Irving . Pictures: Seth Kushner

Sitting across the table in a café near Grand Central Station is Jim Shooter, former Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics, founder of VALIANT and DEFIANT Comics, former boy wonder behind the Legion of SuperheroesHe’s one of the most controversial figures in comics, a self-made man who grew up in Pittsburgh and struck out as a comic book writer while still in high school; he saved Marvel Comics in the late ‘70s and made them king of the comic book hill, generating a fair share of enemies through his allegedly tough editorial style.

He’s a bit like Charles Foster Kane, except that he's getting his hands back on Rosebud while still vibrant and alive: Jim Shooter has the chance (with Dark Horse Comics) to re-reinvent a classic line of superheroes from the ‘60s, the Gold Key heroes, who he first brought out of deep freeze twenty years ago.

    Even though his hair’s gone salt and pepper and he’s older now, Jim Shooter wants his Turok, Solar and Magnus to succeed with the same energy as his first Legion of Superheroes stories to take off years back.

    Shooter’s relationship with the Gold Key characters started in the 1980s, during his final tumultuous days at Marvel in the 1980s.

“While I was at Marvel, and Marvel was on the auction block, one of the first potential buyers was Western Publishing, which was largely owned by a guy named Richard Bernstein,” Shooter reveals. “He’s a no-holds-barred, tell it like it is kind of guy. He came in and was doing his due diligence and wanted to meet me and the other people. I was introduced to him and we had a couple of long talks, a couple of meetings. At the end of one of these meetings, he said ‘You know, the more I look at this deal, the more I think I’m buying you and a bunch of used furniture.’ He said that, that’s a quote.

    “By ‘me,’ he meant the creative group, and the used furniture. He took the deal all the way to the end, but the Cadence people [who formerly owned Marvel] kept asking for a nickel more and a nickel more. Finally, he said ‘I’m done with this,’ and got up and walked away. He had invested maybe three quarters of a million dollars in accountants and lawyers doing the due diligence, and he walked away from it. That’s how much they pissed him off. I know all that, because not only did he tell me, but the first law firm I hired when I was trying to buy Marvel was Baker McKenzie, and they told me. I said ‘I want to buy Marvel,’ and they said ‘We’ve already tried that once! Here’s the Bernstein file. He paid us $340,000 and then didn’t go through with the deal.’

“New World Pictures, which then became New World Entertainment eventually bought Marvel.”

 Shooter was let go from Marvel in 1987, as Marvel’s then-owners, Cadence Industries, were trying to sell the company. Shooter couldn’t stay out of making comics, and decided to finally become his old boss with a new company: VALIANT Comics.

    “I decided to start my own comics publishing company,” Shooter recalls. “I pretty much forced Marvel to fire me, because I didn’t want to be there any more under the new ownership, and by being fired, I got my severance package.

“Because Bernstein said nice things about me, I called Bernstein and he agreed to see me. I went to see him and he said ‘What can I do for you?’

    “I said ‘I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but you own a bunch of comic book characters.’

    “‘I do?’

    “‘Yeah, yeah, the Gold Key/Dell characters from back in the ‘60s. Some of them are pretty good. What I’d like to do is get the rights to those characters and start publishing them again to build up a company.’

    “He said ‘Screw that, let’s just start a comic book division here at Western Publishing.’ He sent me to meet with his people, to pitch starting a comic book company, a subsidiary, with me running it and owning part of it. The other people at Western weren’t interested in comics at all.  

    “Bernstein told me ‘Look, I’m not going to ram it down their throats, because that never works. So, what’s your next step?’

    “‘License the characters from you.’

    “‘You have no company, no money, you got nothing.’

    “‘That’s true,’ I said. ‘Hold them for me.’

    “He said ‘All right. I’m going to bet on you. I will hold those characters.’ He called the head of licensing, an older man, I forget his name, and said ‘These comic book characters? How come I didn’t know we owned them? We’re giving them to this guy, Shooter. You don’t license them to anyone else, you understand?’ He does this in front of me. ‘Consider them off the table, they’re committed. When Shooter gets ready to publish, he’s going to get back to us.’

    “Sure enough, Western gets a call from Marvel, wanting to license the old Gold Key characters. Then they get a call from DC wanting to license the old Gold Key characters. Then they get a call from Mike Richardson, Dark Horse, wanting to license them. Western turned them all down, and turned down lucrative offers. This licensing guy must have called me once a week asking ‘Are you sure you’re going to do this? Because I’m sure I could have a deal.’

    “After I went through the whole deal of trying to buy Marvel, an abortive attempt to buy Harvey Comics, and then the process of raising the money for VALIANT, finally, I was ready. It was almost two years before I could get those characters. Almost two years. I went to the American Booksellers Association annual expo, and found Bernstein in the Western Publishing booth. I went up to him and told him ‘I’m ready to license those characters from you.’

    “I do remember the name of the man who was in charge of Western’s licensing at that point, Jim Pisors.  Bernstein called him over. ‘Pisors! He’s ready to license the characters. Shooter will tell you what the deal is, just write down what he says.’”

    “I came up with very fair terms, and, as ordered, Pisors made the deal.”

    VALIANT needed funding and, in the days of comics position as collectibles, as well as a burgeoning speculators market – not to mention Shooter’s track record with running Marvel – Shooter turned to a venture capitalist group. According to him, there were conflicts of interests from early on in VALIANT’s life.

“The board of directors consisted of Michael Nugent and Melanie Okun, the two principals of Triumph Capital, the venture capital firm that had funded us, plus VALIANT’s three operating partners, Winston Fowlkes, Steve Massarsky and me,” Shooter notes. “Winston and I had found out that Massarsky was sleeping with Melanie Okun! Winston objected strenuously.  Me too.  Talk about a conflict of interest, improper behavior….

“The board convened and because Massarsky sided with his girlfriend, Winston was fired by a three-to-two vote, rather than, say, Massarsky and Melanie stepping down from the board, as they should have. At that point, they wouldn’t dare fire me, and I used my clout to get a generous settlement for Winston—so he left reasonably content—and a number of concessions like better heat and air conditioning for the office.”
“What the venture capitalists did was put in their own guy to take Winston’s place as our financial officer—first a guy named Ted Pincus, and later Fred Pierce. They worked for VALIANT but also served as spies and watchdogs for the venture capitalists. Fred wasn’t bad. Fred didn’t just sit there; he worked his ass off and did a great job. He became in charge of our print production, dealing with shipping and buying paper and such…big business management, which was fine. He learned the comics biz on the fly and did it well.”

The early VALIANT books were licensed comics from Nintendo and the World Wrestling Federation; even though Shooter held the Western licenses at the time, and had a successful track record as a superhero comics writer and editor, he was over ruled.

“Massarsky, his bedmate Melanie and her partner venture capitalist, Michael Nugent, who controlled the board, decided that we should get a license to do Nintendo comics.  Why?” Shooter poses. “Because Massarsky represented Nintendo as a lawyer for music and entertainment!  So he’s on both sides of the table making a deal with himself, getting a fee from Nintendo while being on our payroll. He made a deal with himself for us to do Nintendo Comics, and forked over $300,000 of our money to get the license.  That was 25% of our total capital, a good bit of which came back to Massarsky’s pockets!

“P.S. by contract, Massarsky was supposed to give up his legal practice once we’d started VALIANT, but he didn’t. Only the board could enforce the contract, and his side controlled the board, so self-dealing was okay for him, I guess. I didn’t want to do Nintendo, I wanted to do superheroes, which was why I went after the Gold Key stuff. Anyway…Nintendo comics failed. But then Massarsky made another deal with himself—because he was on both sides of the table—with the World Wrestling Federation. The WWF was represented for licensing by Leisure Concepts International, and Massarsky did legal work with LCI.”

VALIANT first paid colorists an hourly rate, and coloring on the Nintendo and WWF books was rendered via watercolor, rather than in a flat traditional manner.

 “We were making it up as we went along,” Shooter admits. “The person I had in charge of coloring was JayJay Jackson. When we first started out, it was at a page rate. JayJay, while wonderful, was a nightmare supervisor, a super perfectionist. She was hands-on with everything. Only she could mix the proper colors for Link’s leggings. She micro-managed all of the colorists, so it was taking them way too long to do a page.  They couldn’t make any money. Then, for a little while, it was somebody’s idea to give [colorists] an hourly rate. Eventually we solved it by having JayJay do other things. Brilliantly, by the way.”

    Incidentally, one of the incoming colorists was aspiring artist Joe Quesada, currently the Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics. Joe’s short stint at VALIANT was during the period where Jim Shooter was slowly bringing the Gold Key licenses to the forefront, pen and legal pad (hoisted on a lapboard) in hand for the first scripts. Aside from the burgeoning VALIANT superhero universe, he was also building a staff.

 “When I knew I was going to be fired from Marvel, I went to the publisher and said ‘The minute I’m out of here, no one’s going to give [artist] Don Perlin work anymore,” Shooter adds. “He’s not a slick artist and not one of the kids or cronies. Romita is overwhelmed. I want to put Perlin on staff and take Romita’s Raiders (who did art corrections and production work) make them Perlin’s Pirates. Let John do the presentation art, and have Don on board for other things.’ I got him on board as Senior Staff Artist and he was safe.

    “Right away, Don starts begging me to hire him at VALIANT. I said ‘Don, are you out of your mind? You’re 62 years old, and this is a fragile start-up.’ Finally, he bullied me into it, and I needed someone to run the production, because JayJay, God bless her, was killing us. We used to call her ‘The Tweezer’ because she was so picky.

Don came in, but it was way too complicated for him, and there were too many moving parts – the production going on, the coloring, the artists who were there and needed help. There were just too many things to handle.

“That’s about the same time I hired Bob Layton. Nobody wanted him at DC, and Marvel wouldn’t renew his inking contract—essentially, they fired him.  He had nothing, and needed a job. My original idea was that Perlin was going to be my production guy and Layton would ink. It turned out that Perlin sat there and drew, and that worked out fine, and Layton loved running the production and was good at it. That got us back on a page rate, and things started going, with JayJay doing the design work and most important coloring. She was also our print production person, and would fly up to Montreal, to Quebecor, [to] press check things.  It put her at something she was great at.”

    The failure of the Nintendo and WWF comic books gave Jim Shooter an opening to finally unleash his superhero line and, in 1991, VALIANT’s superheroes emerged as a line to be reckoned with. Finally free to edit and write the comics he’d wanted to in the beginning, Shooter used Gold Key staples Magnus, Solar, and Turok as the lynchpins of his new universe, benefiting from the equity of the characters.

“Once we started on the superhero stuff, between when I started and when I left…it was the beginning of 1991 through the middle of 1992,” Shooter observes. “From, let’s say, January, 1991 until June to the next year, it was eighteen months… For 540 days, I worked every day. I was in the office Christmas, New Year’s, Thanksgiving. We had Thanksgiving dinner in the office, fourteen of us. I had an artist call and say ‘I’m going to come up and see you.’ I said ‘How about Monday?’

    “‘That’s New Year’s Day.’

    “I said ‘Try me.’ He comes in and there are twenty people there, working on New Year’s Day.  All day. It wasn’t just me.  Lots of us worked long hours and many days, but no one anywhere near what I worked. I worked that 540 days from the moment I got up till the moment I couldn’t keep my eye open any longer. I was the first person in the office (though every once in a while Debbie Fix, my secretary/Managing Editor might beat me in), worked all day, got some pizza or, if there was a story we could discuss over dinner we’d go out to eat and talk while we ate. I’d come back and work until about two in the morning when I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore, sleep a few hours, back in the office by seven, rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat…

    “I went 540 days without getting a haircut, because I didn’t have time. Eventually, I had a ponytail. I didn’t want to have a ponytail, but I just didn’t have time to get a haircut. Every single day, from the moment I woke up, until I couldn’t stay awake anymore (and sometimes I did all-nighters). Other people also put in a lot of time, but not as much as me: JayJay worked long hours, Bob sometimes but not so much (he took vacations)…well, everybody. Like I said, on Thanksgiving day, we had fourteen people there.”

    VALIANT was a cross between a modern start-up business and a traditional comics bullpen. Being a fledging publisher, Shooter was financially limited on what talent he could get, forcing him to make story more of a focus than art – a reversal from the Image and Marvel comics of the time that were marketed on popular artists alone.

“I had no money and couldn’t hire Jim Lee if I wanted to, so who did I get?” Jim poses. “I get kids off the street like [David] Lapham, I get kids right out of Kubert School. I got a bunch of really not-so-good not very well-polished beginners. And, since I didn’t have the good art to play with, all I had was good story. That’s all I had. If they couldn’t tell the story, I was dead. The only way I could make sure that their ugly art (and a lot of it was ugly) could get the point across that I was trying to make, was to have them there where I could look at them, coach them and even lay panels out for them.

“Between me and Perlin, who was great and helped with the new kids, we got the stories told, at least. We had these kids who couldn’t draw well and weren’t great at storytelling. If they had worked at home? Garbage. Even Lapham. The first few issues that Lapham did, I laid out the panels for him, and then he got it. He said ‘I can do it!’ And then he started to do it himself, and quickly got better at it than me.

“Anyway, we kept them close at hand because I needed to get above a certain cut line, and then just had to work my ass off on the story so that the story was so good that it would overcome the lame artwork.”

After his VALIANT tenure, David Lapham eventually forged ahead by self-publishing his crime comic book Stray Bullets, for which he earned two Eisner Awards.

The first issue of Magnus, Robot Fighter was released in March of 1991, and launched Shooter’s new VALIANT line of comics, making the traditional Gold Key characters lynchpins for the entire line. It was followed by a revived Solar, Man of the Atom, as well as original VALIANT characters Harbinger, a team of super-powered teens.

    Shooter’s approach to Magnus has the robot fighter starting to defend robots granted independent thought, while his Solar was a scientist gifted with god-like powers that inadvertently destroyed his Earth. Other new VALIANT heroes emerged: the sax-playing Shadowman, X-O Manowar (a time-displaced barbarian with a suit of alien armor), nanite-powered Bloodshot, and the immortal Eternal Warrior.

“Sales were marginal for Magnus, Solar, and Harbinger,” Shooter admits. “Issue four of Harbinger was the worst we ever did, and that sold 26,000 copies. We were just scraping by. Then, however, the stories caught on, and all of a sudden back issue prices start going up because people wanted them. Collectors start to notice. So, that got us notoriety. It was also at the time that [comic book fan magazine] Wizard was taking off. We got on the cover of Wizard in February of ’92. They, of course, noticed us because our back issue prices were skyrocketing. We made them happy, because there was something going on with our back issues, and they loved that we gave them their cover. That’s the month we took off, February 1992, and I think it was the first money-making month we had publishing.”

With Wizard and increasing back issue values bringing new readers to VALIANT, as well as the August ’92 company-wide crossover Unity, the proof was in Shooter’s superhero pudding. It’s when the comics began to generate a profit that the troubles began for his nascent comics line, according to Shooter.

“Then, we started making a lot of money, right? We did Unity, and the sales were through the roof. All of a sudden, we have two million dollars a month in pre-tax profit rolling in. Two million bucks a month, which was more than Marvel. We were making more than Marvel in publishing. We had eight books, and they had 164. Basically, at that point, the venture capitalists, and my corrupt partner Massarsky wanted to sell the company, and did it in an almost Machiavellian way. Michael Nugent, partner of Massarsky’s wife (Melanie Okun was married to Massarsky at that point), came over to our offices looking grim and said ‘We’re going to have to close you down, essentially foreclose, because VALIANT in debt and in default…’

    “I’m sitting there thinking ‘Why would you close down the place that’s just starting to make the money to pay you back? That’s insane.’ I knew something was up, but I wasn’t savvy enough to quite figure it out. I was also working 24 hours a day. I didn’t have that time to visit lawyers and talk to people, but I knew something was up.

    “The alternative, per Nugent, was that we sell the company immediately. Massarsky seemed all gung ho about that idea.

“Then, Nugent came back to us with ‘great news.’ They had come up with a buyer!  Allen & Company was willing to buy a controlling interest in VALIANT.  In particular, a group of investors at Allen & Company led by…Melanie’s brother.


“So, their plan was that Triumph Capital and the operating principals, Massarsky and me, would sell our stock in the company to a group of investors at Allen & Company. The group of investors would include Charles Lazarus, CEO of Toys ‘R’ Us; Wayne Huizenga, the guy from Blockbuster; Michael Ovitz; Herbertt Allen himself, and other bigshots. Then, the story went, when they were owners, VALIANT would have distribution through Toys ‘R’ Us and through Blockbuster, toys through Toys ‘R’ Us, movies because of Ovitz and, therefore, a bright future. Things sounded good, but what was the deal? Nobody ever told me the deal.

“I kept being shepherded around to meetings and told how great it would all be. I said ‘Show me the numbers,’ but they just kept hammering at me to agree no matter what the deal was, literally yelling at me about how selfish I was being, not thinking about the good of the company and the other people in it, etc. Financial types out there will recognize this as a ‘cramdown’.  At that time, I owned 25% of the company. Finally, I forced them to show me the financial plan, and it sucked. It was really good for Massarsky, his wife and her partner and lousy for me.  But I was presented with this stack of documents at 11:30 PM on a Friday, the night before I’m supposed to leave for the Diamond Distributor’s conference. They told me that the contracts needed to be signed by Monday or there would be no deal and they’d have to shut us down. They figured I’d just sign the things. They didn’t realize who they were dealing with. I stayed up all night with the damn things.  Hell, I was used to staying up all night. These documents were heinous.

“There were representations and warranties that were patently untrue that they wanted me to sign off on, to agree to.

“There were things in there that were totally reprehensible, dishonest, and wrong, but the worst thing was my employment contract. They wanted me to sign a ten-year employment contract with a two-year non-compete clause that excluded every industry I could possibly work in except fast food. It specified no salary and no title. In it there were provisions indicating that the new president and CEO of the company, replacing me, would be Massarsky’s brother-in-law, the leader of the Allen & Company investors. If I failed to ‘engender good morale’, like, let’s say I piss off Bob Layton one day, they could fire me and claw back all my stock with no compensation, leaving me with nothing. If I failed to ‘report’ to this new CEO, or failed to ‘obey’ this new CEO, Massarsky’s brother-in-law, they could claw back all my stock. How long do you think, in that ten year period, it would take for me to piss somebody off? A letterer or a colorist for instance? The janitor? An intern?

“The idea was to keep me captive long enough to sell the company to Paramount for a quarter billion dollars—after which, they could kill me at a whim, get rid of me and keep all the money for themselves. That was the point, to have me hanging by a thread, get the big bucks from Paramount, and claw back the stock so I wouldn’t get any money and they’d get it all. It was Draconian. A two-year non-compete that listed any industry I could work in. So it was, essentially, a twelve-year contract.”

    “So, basically, I read it and told them ‘Do what you have to do, I’m not signing it,’ Shooter continues. “They shuttled me around from office to office, trying to badger and bully. Cramdown. They were telling me ‘You’re being selfish and this is for the good of the company. It’s all standard.’ So they’re trying to ram this down my throat, so finally I said ‘I’m going to take the time to go get a lawyer.’

“I got a lawyer and he said ‘Look, these are reasonable business people, and they’ll make some kind of a deal with you.’

    “‘No, no, no, you don’t understand. This is vicious. This is scorched Earth.’ This lawyer, Ed Kerson from Proskauer, couldn’t accept that we were dealing with pirates. He wouldn’t believe me. He kept insisting that he could negotiate with them.

“Then it got really ugly.  Triumph convened the board, and added Fred Pierce to the board so they’d have enough votes to fire me. As they were doing it, I remember thinking ‘I can sleep tonight.’ I don’t have to stay up all night and finish a script.’

“That’s the first thought that crossed my mind: ‘I don’t have to stay up all night.’ “Fred Pierce’s words to me at that time, exactly, were ‘Jim, it’s just business.’

“Kerson and Proskauer were unable to prevent my ouster. There was an arbitration regarding the value of my stake in the company, but the arbiter was unfamiliar with entertainment and awarded me very little, not quite enough to pay my lawyers, expert witnesses and taxes. After it was over, Kerson actually apologized for not realizing that Triumph and Massarsky were pirates, as I’d said. 

    “Allen & Company had already solicited offers for VALIANT and had several, including one from Paramount for a quarter billion dollars, I found out later.

“After I left, sales were starting to fall, and Paramount backed out, other people backed out. Finally, in desperation, the pirates sold VALIANT to Acclaim for $65 million worth of stock. Soon thereafter, however, Acclaim stock more than doubled, so the value of the deal was $150 to $170 million. Before the sale, Massarsky and company were dividending millions out to themselves, stripping the company of cash, putting $25 to $30 million in their own pockets. How do I know all this? Remember that partner who got fired? When he got fired, because of me, his terms were better, and he got to keep 10% of the stock, and therefore, as a shareholder, was privy to the goings on. He told me everything he was privy to.

“Years later, I was dealing with Savoy Pictures, and on the board at Savoy was Enrique Senior, the second in command at Allen & Company. He was the one who actually conducted the sale of VALIANT to Acclaim, and told me the whole story from his point of view, including the offer. The way he said it was ‘We had an offer from Paramount for a quarter billion dollars, but we couldn’t close the deal.’

    “‘Why not?’

    “‘The creative guy was gone.’

    “Comforting, in a Pyrrhic victory sort of way, I guess.

“So, that’s the story of why I was fired. I’m the only person who didn’t make money off VALIANT…

“They made off, eventually, with something like $200 million. I didn’t get enough to pay my lawyers. If anyone out there says, ‘Well, Massarsky helped build VALIANT,’ no he didn’t. He was running his law practice there and paying little to no attention to the business. He was supposed to give the law practice up and devote himself to VALIANT, but he kept his practice going. He even used the VALIANT postage meter for his legal and personal correspondence

“The minute they got rid of me is the moment he took an interest in the business. All the other people say ‘Layton and Windsor-Smith co-founded VALIANT.’ They weren’t there at the start. They came in later. Windsor-Smith lived in Woodstock, and, yes he did make minor contributions—far less than say, JayJay, Perlin or even my secretary Debbie Fix.  Mostly, he was a pain in the ass. Layton did come into the office and was very good at handling the production, but there was no way he was my ‘co-creator, co-founder, co-architect, whatever.’”

    Not one to give up and go away, Shooter made a return to comics in 1993 with a new company, DEFIANT, which featured an assortment of seven titles that ranged from superhero to action to science fiction. Their first title Plasm, drew the attention of Marvel, and they filed a lawsuit: the basis of the lawsuit was their character Plasmer, an unpublished character that was in development and with “intent to use” in the UK. Apparently, retitling the book Warriors of Plasm wasn’t enough to get Marvel off of their backs.

     “It cost us over $300,000 to defend against their lawsuit,” Shooter said. “Bleed that much money out of a small start-up, and it’s death. Which, of course, was their plan—kill DEFIANT before we could take a big chunk out of their market share like VALIANT did. Also the collapse of the direct market started the very month we launched.”

    After years of publishers catering to the speculative market, with everything from “hot” issues to chromium gag covers to polybagged comics with trading cards and other sundries – the market collapsed in on itself. Still, there were efforts to sell DEFIANT to interested companies, all of which fell through. DEFIANT comics lasted until 1995.

“We had an offer from New Line Pictures to buy 50% of DEFIANT for nine million dollars,” Shooter says. “That fell through because our investors got greedy.  Then we had an offer from Savoy Pictures to buy 50% for 11 million dollars, but our investors were still greedy. My financial partners kept trying to hold out for more. I kept saying ‘Guys, do you see what’s happening with the industry?’

“I agreed to the Savoy deal on May 22, 1994. On August 24, my principal financial partner was still arguing with them trying to get them to pay his $60,000 in legal bills.    

“It’s an $11 million deal, most of which was going into his pocket! Take the money! Victor Kaufman, who ran Savoy, called me up and said ‘Come back someday without this asshole.’ So, that deal fell through.”

    After DEFIANT collapsed, Broadway Video Entertainment, which had been one of the contenders to fund DEFIANT, had hired some of my creative people because they had a project they wanted them to work on. When I was free of DEFIANT, I got a call from Eric Ellenbogen, President of BVE, who said ‘This team needs a leader.’

    “I said ‘Sure.’ My creatives from DEFIANT and I worked on this licensed project for Harley-Davidson. That went nowhere, but Eric said ‘Let’s make this into a comic book company.’

    “‘You know, the market sucks.’

    “‘Just break even,’ he said.  ‘We’ll make money on the movies and licensing.’”

    Broadway was sold to Golden Books Family, which soon went bankrupt, ending Shooter’s third company. Acclaim, the new owners of VALIANT’s characters in 1994, had tried a relaunch in 1996, and approached Shooter to re-relaunch the imprint with a new Unity 2000 crossover. It was stillborn, as Acclaim went out of business in 1996.

    The Gold Key characters were shuffled around (Magnus had a short-lived revival with defunct publisher iBooks) until coming under the Dark Horse umbrella, pursued by publisher Mike Richardson. After devising a one-page outline as a kind of audition for license holders Classic Media, Richardson approached Shooter to revisit his old friends in a new series of comics from Dark Horse.

“It’s really hard when you’ve done it once, with a redevelopment,” Shooter acknowledges the reboot. “You have to put it out of your head and start clean. Mike gave me this little page he’d written because, at some point, Classic Media, the owners of the underlying rights, asked him what he was going to do with the characters. On the fly, he made up some stuff, good stuff. Mike said ‘I showed this to Classic Media, so start with this.’

“Some of the bones of it, Mike has written, and he’s good. He knows what he’s doing. It’s not stuff I would’ve come up with on my own, but I also didn’t find it objectionable. What I’m trying to do is a whole new take, incorporating the bones that Mike assembled for me, and trying to keep faithful to the originals but present them in a new way. That’s working out pretty well. With the exception of Magnus, I took several steps away in the VALIANT redevelopments. This time, I’m actually sticking closer. I’m finding that I can stay very close to what was originally done, but updated better, and it works with what Mike has given to me.

    “He gave me this one page foundation. I’m writing the story, and no one would look at this and say ‘Mike’s doing all the work, Jim’s just writing the dialogue.’ But, on the other hand, he’s giving me principles that he wanted the books to cover, and that’s fine.”

    The new Solar, drawn by artist Dennis Calero, and the new Magnus, with art by Bill Reinhold, both premiere in a Free Comic Book Day issue before their own series launch, while a new Turok officially makes his debut in August. Unlike with VALIANT, Shooter has access to more accomplished regular artists, as well as the comfort of an established comics publisher. After the controversy and headaches of VALIANT’s final days, Shooter’s earned another shot at the much-loved characters.

    “Am I loving it?”  Shooter poses. “Yeah, it’s great. I’m having a ball. It’s hard because it’s self-inflicted pain here. I want this to be so good, and I’m trying so hard. I need it to be good, because how many more swings at the bat do I have left?”

Special thanks to Jeremy Atkins and Jim Gibbons of Dark Horse for making this essay possible. Look out for Jim Shooter's Secret Origin, a future GNYC essay.