Shooter Takes on "Mighty Samson"

Dark Horse Comics and Jim Shooter continue their revitalization of classic Dell and Gold Key characters in December with the debut of "Mighty Samson," a post-apocalyptic adventure first imagined by Otto Binder and Frank Thorne in the mid-1960s. Though all the titles in the line represent a fresh start for the characters, unlike the already-relaunched "Doctor Solar," "Magnus, Robot Fighter" and "Turok, Son of Stone," Samson was not one of the characters Shooter had previously reinvented during his days with VALIANT Comics, meaning that the veteran writer is offering a new take on this powerful hero for the first time.

In the new continuity, as in the old, Samson is a man of terrific strength who protects the N'Yark tribe from the rival Jerz, as well as a number of other threats that exist in a world 500 years after an unknown disaster obliterated the modern world, leaving the few survivors to piece together new societies. CBR News spoke with Shooter about the project, which he is co-writing with J.C. Vaughn and is illustrated by Patrick Olliffe with covers by Raymond Swanland.

CBR News: Three of your Gold Key relaunch comics are in stores now. How has response been so far to Doctor Solar, Turok, and Magnus? 

Jim Shooter: Gratifying. A lot of people love these characters. I've done a few conventions and appearances since these titles started coming out, and people seem genuinely excited about the books. The biggest complaint I've heard is, "More, faster." Some wonderful supporters have even started a web site dedicated to the line: www.dark-key.com. Interest seems to be growing. A few weeks ago I was 50 e-mails behind, now suddenly I'm 500 e-mails behind. It reminds me of the days at VALIANT, years ago, when suddenly letters and phone calls to the office started to increase dramatically. No e-mail back then. God, I'm old. 

There was a very early creative change on "Doctor Solar," with Roger Robinson taking over for Dennis Calero after the first issue. Does something like this disrupt the momentum you're building with this and the other series, or is it something you can roll with fairly well? 

I don't think it was disruptive. Rog is outstanding. I usually don't read the printed copies of my books because, a) I wrote it and I already know what happens, and b) if I do look through it, all I see are the fumbles, interceptions and dropped passes - my own, especially, and sometimes the artist's. But, the other night, I was just too tired to write anymore or do anything else useful, so for some reason I picked up my comp copy of "Doctor Solar" #2 and read it. It had been long enough since I'd written the script, so I was able to read it with some detachment, like a normal, real person reading it. I thought the art was great. Excellent storytelling, great action and wonderful acting. I wrote Rog a rave fan letter! 
Samson is the first of this set that you had not previously worked on at VALIANT. Is there a different thought process involved with reinventing a character for the first time rather than working with heroes you'd had a previous interpretation of and having to create yet another new version? 

Mike Richardson, Dark Horse Master and Commander, told me "all new." So, with Magnus, Doctor Solar, and Turok, I had to put my earlier work at VALIANT out of my mind and start from scratch, back at the source material. But, other than that, no real difference. With each one, I try to distill the essence and represent it well. Peripheral things and details can be changed if it helps. When I was Editor in Chief at Marvel, the "Incredible Hulk" TV show debuted. Some Marvel staffers were outraged and bitter over the fact that Universal had changed some things - like how Banner got irradiated, his first name being David, etc. I wasn't. They couldn't have an above-ground nuclear bomb test in a contemporary series, could they? What was important to me was that they captured much of the essence - a scientist named Banner, in times of stress gets big and green and powerful and smashes things. Could it have been better? Of course - but I felt that they made a fair adaptation. I hope my updating and redeployment of the Dell/Gold Key characters captures all that people love about them, brings them into the 21st Century and fulfills their destinies.

With "Mighty Samson," we're looking at a world 500 years after the fall of civilization. What does the world look like at this point? What are the customs, what technology has survived, etc.?  It took about 300 years after the fall of Rome to reach the nadir of the so-called Dark Ages, when few people were literate, much science and technology had been lost and the world, or Europe, at least was a benighted place. It took Samson's world 450 years to bottom out because there was farther to fall from the Doomsday Cataclysm in the early 22nd century. For 50 years, humankind has been making the beginnings of a comeback. Some tribes have advanced enough to do more than scratch a meager living from the devastated Earth, and become strong enough to prey on weaker neighbors. The technology available is varied.

Here's some copy from my series overview:

Thermonuclear destruction nearly ended life on Earth. No one knows how or why it happened - the answers are lost in antiquity.

At first, the few survivors tried to preserve the shattered remnants of civilization, but soon the struggle to merely maintain existence exist overwhelmed loftier goals. A new Dark Age descended upon the world.

Small bands of survivors gathered. Some united into tribes. One such tribe, called the N'yark, occupied the Island of Broken Towers.

The N'yark Tribe suffered hideously for many generations, preyed upon by monstrosities against which they had no defense, hunted by semi-human carnivores and forced to pay tribute to powerful, marauding tribes from the north and west.

This is from the introduction at the beginning of the first script:

At the time of Samson's birth, in a few places, humankind is just barely beginning to emerge from the utter depths of the Dark Age. A few tribes have slowly grown in number and prosperity enough to think beyond the next day's sustenance, powerful enough to prey upon weaker neighbors.

The world itself is a strange and dangerous place. Most of the buildings and infrastructure were destroyed in the Doomsday Cataclysm, but some ruins, and a few semi-intact or largely intact structures remain. Among these structures and ruins, under the rubble, in basements, vaults and storerooms, artifacts from the Age Before can be found. Many are rusted or decayed, of no use, but some usable items can be salvaged. Moreover, ideas can be recovered from scraps and bits. A tattered patch of cloth educes the notion of weaving....

Beasts of many kinds prowl the thickly overgrown ruins - indigenous animals one would expect, and occasionally, mutated versions of familiar creatures. The Doomsday Cataclysm produced isotopes of Extreme Super Heavy Elements, composed of massive, so-called "Fat Atoms," whose aberrant radioactivity persists, inflicting bizarre genetic transfigurations upon living things.

Many mutated plant species grow in the jungles, marshes and wastelands - some wondrous and beneficial, some poisonous to the touch or otherwise deadly.

Humankind is also affected by the lingering radiation. Mutated babies, "cursed ones," are born with fair regularity. Most are not viable, and die quickly. Many others are killed immediately. Cursed Ones allowed to live are usually a burden...and sometimes dangerous.

The Post-Apocalyptic wilds are scoured by sub-human predators - carnivorous, bestial, mutated mockeries of men who hunt in savage packs.

However, the most dangerous denizens of the Post-Apocalyptic world are the TERATISMS - monstrous creatures that mutation alone cannot explain. Genetic AMALGAMS that defy rational conception. Terrifying, powerful, huge, hideous, vicious creatures. What they are and how the came to be are at the heart of this story.

Here's some description I wrote for brilliant cover artist Raymond Swanland:

...there are three general types of animals in Samson's world:

  • Normal, ordinary animals one would find today, like bunnies, squirrels, birds, deer, foxes, dogs, cows, goats, the usual;
  • Somewhat mutated versions of real animals - bigger than usual, oddly colored, slightly different - but these will be rare, and should only be seen when I call for them;

By the way, the real animals seen should be appropriate to the area. No lions or giraffes in New Jersey, please, unless I call for them in the script with a darn good explanation.

Lastly, for now, the weapons used by any and all tribes seen, unless otherwise specified, should be items you could find at the hardware or sporting goods store, etc. No medieval-looking weapons! No medieval-looking axes, shields, spears, etc. No swords, unless I specifically call for one.

These people use as weapons axes of the kind you'd find in a hardware store, fireplace pokers, knives, of course, hatchets, aluminum baseball bats, anything that might have been left over from the apocalypse or remembered and copied. Some might be armed with a section of rebar, or a metal pole that once held up a stop sign. They do have bows and arrows, made in the image of ones used today. Possibly, we could occasionally see one of those high-tech metal bows some hunters use these days. They also make spears, but from found objects. They can't make steel, but they can find it and rework it into arrowheads, spear points, etc. They might use a meathook or a fisherman's gaff. Whatever. No firearms, unless called for.)

By the way, working with me on the "Mighty Samson" is writer J.C. Vaughn, who is excellent. Wait'll you see.

Where does Samson fit into this world? As the story begins, who is he? 

As the story begins, Samson is about ten hours old, son of an older man named Tranquility and his young wife Alma. They are members of the N'yark, a weak and vulnerable tribe, oppressed by, and under attack from, the fearsome hordes of the Jerz, a powerful tribe to the west.

What challenges or enemies will he be facing early on? 
Lots. New ones in rapid succession. Remember the early days of Marvel, when, say, Spider-Man encountered new foes, new dangers every issue? Something like that. This world has a lot of built-in terrors and threats, and more made fresh every day. Dreadnought is a biggie. The irresistibly alluring and deadly Queen Terra, Warlord Sunder, Zarsk the Treacherous, the Fire Men, Sub-human Carnivores.... To quote one of my favorite lines in a song from the Broadway play "It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman," "...it's gonna bring back villainy!" And just who are the mysterious Lore-Speakers?  

You mentioned the two main tribes of this series, N'Yark and Jerz, which aren't too etymologically mysterious, and of course these were established in the classic series. Are there other instances in which you have fun with the future language in "Samson?" 

J.C. and I try to stay in keeping with the nature of the corruptions of language established by the original creator Otto Binder, which make sense in context. To the west of the home of the N'yark in Mrrayill lies Helzkitch and southwest in Jerz is the scholar's enclave, Prinzten.

The Patrick Olliffe cover alludes to the Biblical Samson, as well. Aside from being a spectacularly strong defender of his people, are there other parallels between these two characters? 

I haven't seen Patrick's cover. There are a few logical parallels, but only because there would be - especially since Samson was raised among Lore-Speakers who knew the ancient Biblical tales.

Patrick is the hardest working man in show business. I ask for a shot of barbarians at the gate - he draws the entire army, thousands of soldiers, each carrying a different flag and wearing a different hat. Just kidding - but not by much. His storytelling is exemplary, the action rocks, the acting is right on and mother of pearl, when I asked him to draw incredibly beautiful Sharmaine and wickedly, incredibly alluring Queen Terra, he set new world records. So hot my glasses melted. Even if you don't buy #1, pick it up and look at the last two pages. Glorioski!  

"Mighty Samson" #1 is on sale December 15.

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