When industry legend Jim Shooter was named the new writer of "Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes" thirteen months ago, many long-time fans of the 31st century team were thrilled to have someone with such a history with the DC Comics characters guide the Legion through the celebration of its 50th anniversary.
Shooter, who would go on to become Editor-In-Chief at Marvel between 1978 and 1987, made his first big splash in superhero comics as a 14-year-old when he successfully pitched DC four Legion stories in 1966. Beginning with "Adventure Comics" #346, the four books introduced some of the team's most beloved characters including Karate Kid, Princess Projectra, Ferro Lad, and one of their classic super villains, Universo.
In this exclusive interview, Shooter hypothesizes how the relationship with DC Comics may have soured so quickly, as the publisher recently announced the title would end in January 2009 with the release of "The Legion of Super-Heroes" #50.
Initially, Shooter planned on telling a mammoth 16-issue first arc beginning with #37 and culminating in the Universal Annihilation War, but that was cut short by two issues. Shooter told CBR News his run was actually cut short by four issues, which meant he couldn't tell the complete story as he envisioned it.
"I had originally planned and written a detailed plot, over 16,400 words, for 16 issues, but we subsequently added an in-continuity, two-issue fill-in to buy time for [artist] Francis Manapul, who'd already needed to have two issues drawn by substitute artists. That brought the total for the arc to 18 issues," explained Shooter. "The two planned fill-in issues were to be the 'Dream Wedding' sub-arc, drawn by Rick Leonardi, in which Brainiac 5 got engaged to Dream Girl's spirit in Part 1 and got married-in Dreamland-to her spirit in Part 2. The first part got done [in 'The Legion of Super-Heroes'#47, in stores this week], but the second part was axed.
"No, I didn't begin to get in 'everything I wanted.' What saw print was not anywhere near what I imagined or what was called for in the scripts. Not even close."
Despite problems getting the book drawn, Shooter still holds his collaborator Manapul in high regard. "I must add that Francis Manapul is going to be great someday - maybe one of the best of all time," Shooter remarked. "He already shows flashes of brilliance. He works very hard and seems to care a lot - but that and a $1.85 gets you a cup of coffee. As soon as Francis groks what business he's in - storytelling - as soon as he realizes that conveying the story and information clearly, at a glance, is first priority, he'll be a contender. It's not just about making cool shots that vaguely relate to what was asked for in the script. It's about thinking things through until you can come up with just-as-cool shots that effectively deliver all the content required; about making the visual storytelling 'read' effortlessly. Francis is incapable of drawing a dull picture, so if he ever really grasps the importance of the story and science of storytelling, he's going to be a hall-of-famer.
"That's not easy, by the way. Even Frank Miller struggled with storytelling for a while - but once he grokked -- wow."
Shooter says DCU Executive Editor Dan DiDio directed him to introduce a new "Super" to the team, but the would-be Super Lad never made it to the page. "After delivering the first draft of the 16-issue plot, I was ordered by Dan DiDio to rewrite it - for free - to include the introduction of a young, male Super -- note how I'm avoiding using the word 'Superboy' -- as a Legionnaire. So, I re-crafted the plot to introduce a new scion of the House of El, Super Lad," offered Shooter. "Francis and I spent a good deal of unpaid time doing design work. But, ultimately, DiDio and DC decided they didn't want or need a new Super, and I was told to excise the character.
"I think it had more to do with their being pissed at me for complaining too much and too loudly - to DC people only, not to the media - about various glitches and screw-ups than anything else. DC has incentives for licensing of new characters. Super Lad could, potentially be the new Superxxx, and very licensable. Why reward a pain in the ass like me with extra money? They actually fired me at one point for complaining too enthusiastically about a really aggravating snafu. I groveled enough to get my gig back - I have child support to pay - but they took Super Lad away. Then they canceled the book."
Shooter believes the decision to cancel "The Legion of Super-Heroes" has more to do with ending his stay at DC, as opposed to the publisher determining the title has run its course. "An unimpeachable source, an old friend in a position to know, tells me that sales of comics are down in general, and that sales of DC comics are down in particular, pretty much across the board," Shooter explained. "Sales of 'The Legion of Super-Heroes' aren't great, but they're a lot better than those of some of the titles they're keeping. I think canceling the book is a graceful way of getting rid of me. I complain too much and too loudly."
Asked if he felt the influx of Legion appearances in titles ranging from "Justice League of America" and Justice Society of America" to "Action Comics" and "Final Crisis" had anything to do with his book's demise, Shooter said he doubts the "overdose" made any difference.
And while the veteran writer continues to search for answers as to why the book didn't work this time around, at the end of the day, he believes he knows who the real culprit was.
"We blew it," Shooter confessed. "Inker Livesay and letterer Steve Wands did their jobs well, no problems there, but as for the rest of us, if we had done our jobs right, if the story had been good enough, if the story had been told well, if the coloring hadn't been murky, if the covers hadn't been weak, if there hadn't been so many production mistakes, if there had been more promotion, if there had been enough of a buzz, if we'd been allowed to have a character with that Super 'S,' maybe we could have succeeded.
"But let's focus on the real culprit - me. I guess what it really all comes down to is that my work wasn't good enough to overcome all the small problems further down the line. If you're out at first base, it doesn't matter if you slide in at second."
Shooter enjoyed writing scripts once again for a team he has become synonymous with over the years. "I've trained myself to think of [my scripts] as the end product, and I am content that I did the best I could," said Shooter. "I don't even look at the printed books anymore. They make my soul hurt. I think what could have happened, did."
As for his unfinished story, Shooter said "The Legion of Super-Heroes" #50 would provide a resolution to the Universal Annihilation War, the epic battle he had planned for the conclusion of his first arc. "Pretty much everything I did was planned from the beginning," said the writer.
Shooter thinks he and Manapul "created more, built more and left more" for other creators to explore if when DC wishes to revisit the Legion in the future. "I think we left more than anyone else would or could have," Shooter remarked. "Francis is a great designer. The series ends with many possibilities for continuation. I hope someone uses the material we made available and presses on."
But Shooter said that writer wouldn't be him. "No. Not under the same or similar circumstances, anyway," he stated.
As to what's next for the award-winning writer, editor and publisher, Jim Shooter told CBR, "I have several offers - none from DC. We'll see."
DC Comics declined to comment on this story.
"The Legion of Super-Heroes" #47 is on sale now.