The Kid Who Took Over: The Extraordinary Career Of Jim Shooter
Jim Shooter was born on September 27, 1951, in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. Less than 15 years later, he was a comics professional. Less than 15 years after that, he was the editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics. Shooter's legacy may look very different to different comics fans, but nobody has ever had a career in comics that looked like his.
At the age of twelve, Jim Shooter reignited his interest in comic books after a hospital stay. This being the early 1960s, he noticed that Marvel Comics were written with a level of depth that DC Comics lacked. He figured if he studied the Marvel style for a year, he could get a job writing comics for DC, who needed more of that Marvel influence.
It's not really a strange a plan for an adolescent kid to come up with, but the bizarre thing is that Shooter actually made it happen. He submitted some stories to DC in 1965, at the age of 13, and started working for them in 1966. He was soon the main writer of Legion of Super-Heroes.
Some of his earliest Legion stories loom especially large in that team's history. He introduced Karate Kid, an early martial arts superhero; Princess Projectra, the illusion-casting heir to a planetary throne; and Ferro Lad, a mutant who hides his ugly face beneath a mask; and he brought more angst to the Legion than the team had ever previously had. He also introduced the Fatal Five, a team of villains, and the Sun-Eater that they were assembled to fight. Then of course Ferro Lad sacrificed himself to defeat the Sun-Eater, long before superhero deaths were a common occurrence.
Shooter also brought death and drama to the Legion of Super-Heroes through stories of the Adult Legion. By having Superman encounter older versions of the characters Superboy knew as teens, Shooter created a sense of destiny, and even mortality, for these futuristic heroes. Take, for example, Chemical King, whose death was established as inevitable by an Adult Legion story before he was even introduced in the timeline of the regular Legion.
In 1969 Jim Shooter graduated from high school. He was accepted into New York University, but he'd also been offered a job at Marvel Comics, so he decided to forgo college. He also had to stop writing for DC, as he was now a full-time writer and assistant editor for the competition.
Marvel's top editorial job was like a revolving door in the '70s, with Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Gerry Conway, and Archie Goodwin each taking a turn after Roy Thomas stepped down. So it wasn't all that shocking, even though he was barely 27, when Shooter become Marvel's Editor-in-Chief in 1978.
Shooter held that job for nine years, during which time he oversaw some of the best work in Marvel history, including John Byrne's Fantastic Four, Chris Claremont's X-Men, Roger Stern's Avengers and Spider-Man, and Frank Miller's Daredevil. His tenure was notable for his rigorous exercise of editorial control, with many creators citing Shooter as a reason for parting ways with the company, including Byrne, Steve Gerber, Marv Wolfman, and Gene Colan.
Shooter was all about shaking things up and making things happen. There were rumors that he wanted to replace every Marvel hero with someone new, and while he didn't quite manage that, he did create the New Universe, though it never measured up to the old one.
He also wrote Secret Wars, a year-long crossover series that was created to tie into a Mattel toy line. It was a crossover event on a scale that was previously unheard of in comics. That such events are now accepted as a normal part of the superhero genre might be Jim Shooter's most enduring legacy. And while the first Secret Wars was almost entirely contained in its own series, Secret Wars II, also written by Shooter, crossed over into every Marvel book, thus making it the true forebear of crossovers to come.
After leaving Marvel, Shooter co-founded the original Valiant Comics, as well as doing work for Dark Horse. But whatever else he does, he'll always be remembered for bringing high drama to the Legion of Super-Heroes, and for bringing high stakes crossovers and the possibility of real change to Marvel, and to superhero comics as a whole.