Sometime in February, 1984, my secretary (it was okay to say “secretary” in those days) the wonderful Lynn Cohen told me that Bill Sarnoff was on the phone. Not his secretary, Bill Sarnoff himself, holding for me.Great Scott!
Bill Sarnoff was the Big Cheese, I forget his exact title, of the publishing arm of Warner Communications. Among the operations under his purview was DC Comics.
Bill introduced himself, as if that was necessary. What he wanted to talk about was licensing the publishing rights for all DC characters to Marvel Comics.
Holy hegemony, Billman!
Bill said, more or less, that Marvel seemed to be able to turn a substantial profit on publishing comics, as opposed to DC, which consistently lost money, a lot of money, and had for a long time. On the other hand, LCA (Licensing Corporation of America), Warner’s licensing arm did very well with the DC properties, while Marvel “didn’t seem to do much licensing.”
I guess the few million a year we made from licensing, mostly from Spider-Man, seemed paltry to him, what with the fortune that just their big four, Superman, Batman, Robin and Wonder Woman brought in.
I told him I thought Marvel would be very interested, and that I would discuss it with Marvel’s President, Jim Galton.
So, I did. I told Galton about my conversation with Sarnoff. Galton said he’d give Sarnoff a call.
The next day, I went upstairs, poked my head into Galton’s office and asked whether he’d called Sarnoff and, if so, how that went?
Galton said he told Sarnoff we weren’t interested.
I was stunned. Why not?!
Galton said—and this is prima facie evidence of the fact that he missed Comic Books 101 in publishing school—since DC books weren’t selling, “those characters must not be any good.”
Trying not to sound too crazed, I explained that they were great characters and that the DC editorial people were, frankly, doing a pretty poor job with them. And that we could do better. A lot better.
I talked him into calling Sarnoff back and telling him we’d give it some thought.
I left his office with instructions to put together a business plan and present it to Joe Calamari, Executive V.P. of Business Affairs.
It took me about three days to put together a presentable plan.
The first part of the business plan was the publishing plan. I decided that we should launch with seven titles and build from there, if all went well. The titles were:
LEGION OF SUPER HEROES
I projected that we would sell 39 million copies the first two years generating a pre-tax profit (gross revenues less cost of goods sold, royalties, staff, SG&A, etc.) of roughly $3,500,000.
That was huge money for a comic book publisher in 1984.
That was with just the original seven titles—no expansion of the line—though if we were doing that well, obviously, we’d add titles. Slowly and carefully, if I had anything to say about it.
I anticipated adding one editor, two assistants and one production person to start.
I presented the plan to Joe Calamari, as ordered. Here’s my cover memo:
Calamari enthusiastically endorsed my plan.
Galton was still skeptical. He thought my projections were crazy high. He sent the plan to the circulation department to review.
Somebody leaked. Rumors spread.
My first clue was when John Byrne showed up in my office one day with his cover for…
It wasn’t a sketch. It was a cover. Might even have been inked, I forget. I don’t have a copy of the thing, but I’ll bet Byrne still has the original. Somebody should ask him to display it on his site if he hasn’t already.
He had a story worked out, too, as I recall. He reallyreallyreally wanted to do Superman.
I think I remember Byrne telling me once that he had watched the first Superman movie over 1,100 times.
When the circulation department said they had completed their analysis of my plan, Galton called a meeting to discuss it. Besides Galton and me, Ed Shukin, V.P. of Circulation and Direct Sales Manager Carol Kalish were present. I don’t think Calamari was there. V.P. of Finance Barry Kaplan might have been.
Galton asked what Shukin’s take on my numbers was. Shukin said the numbers were “ridiculous.” Galton sort of smirked at me.
“We’ll do more than DOUBLE these numbers,” Shukin said.
Oh, my stars and garters!
And so, negotiations with Sarnoff began in earnest. I was a spectator at that point. The suits took over.
Very soon thereafter, First Comics launched a lawsuit against Marvel Comics and others, alleging anti-trust violations, among other things.
One test of anti-competitive market dominance is market share of 70% or more. At that time Marvel held a nearly 70% share, 69-point-something. DC was around 18%.
I think it’s safe to say that when you’re being sued under anti-trust laws, it’s a bad time to devour your largest competitor.
On the other hand, there is the “we-have-a-clue-and-they-don’t” or “superior acumen” defense. We considered arguing that defense and pressing on with the deal.
But, no. Ultimately, the suits and lawyers decided to play it safe and backed away from the DC deal.
P.S. First’s suit was nonsense. They alleged that we had flooded the market. Our actual increase in releases published during the “flood” year from the year before? Six. Six issues, not series. They alleged that we had used our dominance to fix prices with World Color Press to inflate their costs. In discovery, it came out that we were paying more than they were! (And that news made Galton and the print production people very peeved!) Etc.
I’ll write more about the First suit someday. Enough about that for now.
Net result, no SUPERMAN –First Marvel Issue! Too bad. It would have been fun.
MONDAY: The Famous ROM #1 Cover That Wasn’t, Jim Owsley’s Alleged Humor and the Devil’s Due
There certainly does seem to be resentment from Byrne regarding Jim, and from what I've seen he can have a petty streak. He definitely can't stand to be wrong. Givin the talent and accomplishments the guy has, it makes you wonder where the thin skin and pettiness comes from. That being said, I think he has really been put in a bad light. I mean the guy is entitled to his opinion, if he doesn't like latino women with bleached hair, whoop de do. Political Correctness does more harm than good IMO, so I'm probably not the one to ask.
Back to the resentment Byrne has for Jim–we have to remember that Jim was givin the EiC position at a very young age. Through the years I've seen this situation several times; Someone is put in a position of "power" in their 20's, and they alienate subordinates. Not saying they aren't capable of doing the job, but at that point in their life they just lack the experience and finesse to tell people what to do without pissing them off. They over compensate for their age, demand instead of earn respect–whatever. I'm not slamming Jim by any means, so please don't take it that way. I've heard Jim himself say "Maybe I was too young." I'm 100 percent sure that Jim was more than capable as EiC. The turnaround at Marvel under his watch was nothing short of amazing and I'm sure he had to use the "or else" tactic sometimes to make it happen. Middle Management is a bitch, especially if you are younger than most of the people that work for you.
Byrne is arrogant and petty and a few other things, if you want to know just search his really offensive comments. I once read on his site how he equated using the words word bubbles and word balloons the same as using the words black or nigger.
The man is talented i give him that but i dont think he liked being told what he could or couldn’t do by anyone. Its odd how rival companies always seem to have a chance to swallow their competitors but dont. Coke could have bought Pepsi a long time ago but didn’t.
Cliffy, if you want to see John Byrne going after Jim Shooter in a comic book, dig up Legends 1. There's a character that's a tall man, resembling Shooter, who finds a star brand like device, and he starts ranting about how he has the power to create a new universe. In a battle with Guy Gardner, he ends up blowing off his own hand. I was a big fan of Byrne back in the day, but he does seem like he can be pretty petty.
yes a mix of shooter and starbrand, byrne is famous for things like that.
He is known for making the dr doom that interacted with Arcade in X-men a robot
he thinks certain characters belong to him especially the Fantastic Four and Wolverine
And the best part (for me anyways) is that Captain Marvel(shazam) would have finally been published under his name once again
Think if this went through and than Shooter was able to buy Marvel some years later. The face of comics would be forever changed for the better by far.
Dear valerie21601 and Jim,
Dave Cockrum talks about Nightcrawler and Wolverine (!) as LSH universe characters here.
Jim, on the next page he talks about the apartment he shared with you.
The creator of Nightcrawler was Dave Cockrum. I think what you said may be true, that Nightcrawler might have been intended for use in the LSH. A little help, please, historian types?
Interesting choice it would have been to see.
I read somewhere that Nightcrawler of the X-Men was originally going to be part of the Legion of Super Heroes but his creator (sorry,I can't recall his name at this time) got into a dispute with DC and made him into a Marvel character. Do you happen to know if this is true?
If Marvel had published the Legion of Super-Heroes, I would have loved to write it, but I doubt that I would have had the time. Paul Levitz, if available, would have been a good choice, but I think my first choice would have been Roger Stern.
If the Marvel version of the Legion of Super Heroes had happened. Did you have any plans to write or edit it?
It was around this time when Paul Levitz was writing it and doing his best work on the Legion, would he have continued on as writer for it.
– Byrne blew up Pittsburgh.
– Debbie had Ken's baby, which grew super fast and burst from her womb, killing her in the process.
– Debbie and Ken's baby is called "Star Baby" and floats around for most of the story as a super powerful head thingy.
– Ken/Starbrand left the comic for most of Byrne's run so Byrne could focus on some character he made up who got his own Star brand (even though there was only supposed to be one in the first place). Ken returns in the final issue where we learn he, the Old Man character and Star Baby are all temporal duplicates and must go back together to close the time loop off for good (a really stupid ending, imo).
It just struck me as having no regard whatsoever for Jim's original concepts and I dislike that. I'd love to know what Jim had actually planned to do with the story before he left.
John Byrne wrote Star Brand 19 and co-wrote The Pitt with Mark Gruenwald. The storyline was "worked up" by Gruenwald and Byrne and, IIRC, one or two others.
And Byrne *clearly* took great joy in mucking with what Shooter created. He has disdainfully called Ken Connell "Shooter's stand-in", usually in close proximity to his explanations of why he made Connell the ultimate villain of his own series.
Did Byrne make every decision solely by asking himself "What would piss off Shooter now?" Doubt it. Did having so many story points present opportunities to piss all over Shooter's creation give him publicly-admitted pleasure? Absolutely.
In short, he comes off as rather a sad human being.
JIm, re Byrne on Star Brand. The rumors that he did a bunch of stuff to needle you are overblown, I think. Ken Connell did blow up Pittsburgh in an issue of Star Brand expanded on in a square bound one-shot, neither I think written by Byrne, although who knows who came up with it. That was a major, line-changing event and would have been worked up by Gruenwald and anyone else who worked on the NewU. Sure, it was your town that got blown up, but that was where Ken lived — it was a stupid short-sighted accident that I think was well in character for Ken as you created him.
Byrne did kill the Debbie Fix character, but he changed her name first.
I would love to read the synopsis. but I can not find a link to it or the synopsis of the Byrne superman any where on the page above. waht am I missing here?
As a long time reader those "very tense" days of comics… and relying on info from comic shops who had no internet… I know that this damn near happened. It's good to read Jim's side of the story. And, I believe it. Some of the best ideas in the world have been shot down by "the suits"!
"Victory" has many fathers, and "Defeat" is an orphan.
And, YES Robin was/is DEFINITELY marketable and among the top four most recognizable DC characters to this day! (Counting the ones with Batman… who has had more cartoon series'?)
Bad management and editorial at DC isn't just a New52 thing. Despite my love for the characters I knew they'd been screwing up for years. There have been precious few great Superman stories in the past 30 years, or more. But … wow!
Why didn't Marvel go after Captain Marvel? That way they'd own the character and the name. And I'd bet DC might have been willing to let him go for the right price back then.
according to some people captain marvel is public domain because his golden age appearances lapsed. of course fawcet didn’t use the name so the trademark was lost and marvel scooped it up. He was licensed to DC in the 70’s but too late to get the name
THAT SAID… I think DC's characters would have benefited greatly from Marvel's villains. DC couldn't create a villain worth a dime. Aside from a few, DC's villains were hard to take seriously. Batman's whole rogue's gallery was just a bunch of ill-tempered burglars in drag. Flash's villains were the most interesting, but seemed more interested in mischief than menace. Green Lantern had only Sinestro and the rest were like the Atom and Hawkman's villains–absurd.
I seriously believe DC's characters such as Aquaman, Hawkman, and Atom can't hold a series because they have no Doc Ocks or Doc Dooms or Magnetos to get fans rooting for them. A hero is only as good as the fans' desire to see their villains defeated.
Not to start a flame-war, but merging the DC characters into the Marvel Universe would have severely hurt Marvel's characters. The power level of the JLA is exponentially greater than the Avengers. An honest portrayal of DC's power level would have been embarrassing for Marvel. (Don't interpret this as "power level = quality.") It's just that DC's big guns function at a much higher scale–and usually at DC's detriment.
But fans at that time were obsessed with stats. And Marvel was ahead of DC because of characterization while DC was scratching it's collective head as to why the more powerful characters held little interest to readers. I think dropping Firestorm or Superman into the Marvel mix would actually raise the status of DC's characters to those who care so much about stats.
The film was very good, they used opening scene from X-Men to try to link it in the film franchise. They also used a lot of key phases from the other films. The troubling part is they trashed the story timeline of the other X-men movies like in X-Men Wolverine you saw Prof. X walking, older, & bald getting the captive mutants on the helicopter then Emma Frost is only a teenager in Wolverine. Also in X-men, Prof. X told Wolverine Magneto and him built cerebro. In this movie they credit, Beast! Finally, you can leave when the credits start because they broke Marvel tradition, no extra side at the end. One humorous scene for the veterans of the other X-men movies, is when Magneto & Prof. X go to recruit Logan, there reactions to him are based on Magneto able to pickup on the metal on his bones & Prof. X able to read his mind.
During the sixties, Marvel comics were distributed by Independent News, owned by National Periodical Publications, same parent company as DC. That came about because Martin Goodman dumped one distributor for another, which soon went under, and his old distributor wouldn't take his account back. Goodman made an eleventh-hour deal with I.N. under some strict limitations. They were doing him a favor. That situation persisted until Cadence Industries acquired both Marvel (from Goodman) and Curtis Circulation. Cadence put Marvel together with Curtis, and that's when the explosion of Marvel titles occurred, sometime around 1970. I forget exactly when.
When Jenette Kahn became publisher of DC in 1976, she asked me what I thought she should do. This was at a party she threw for industry people. I was associate editor of Marvel at the time. I told her DC should end all their titles one month and start over the next month. Keep all the titles worth keeping. Keep what was good about them, get rid of all that was bad — a fresh start. I called it the "Big Bang." Turned out that Gerry Conway had suggested more or less the same thing.
DC didn't do it.
Eight years later, at an executive staff meeting when we were planning Marvel's 25th anniversary, the President of the company asked me if I had an idea for a publishing event to mark the occasion. I suggested that we consider a Marvel "Big Bang" — keeping everything good about and essential to the characters, but updating things like Iron Man's Viet Nam War origin and Reed Richard's World War II work with the French Underground. It took only seconds for the idea to be shot down by the sales department. They said our books were selling so well, over three times better than DC's, that they feared messing with success. So, instead, we created a New Universe.
Doug Moench lived in Pennsylvania and seldom came into the office. He got all his "news," mostly gossip, from assistant editors and Ralph Macchio. Macchio is a big-time practical joker who loves to stir up trouble. My guess is that someone, probably Macchio, took idle office chatter about the idea I'd proposed and twisted it around to bait Doug so they could watch the ensuing fun. Doug seems to have added whatever rumors he heard together with this: I once asked him to make some changes to re-invigorate Master of Kung Fu to save it from cancellation. He apparently considered that "proof."
Some of the things he's said, things I was unaware of until they were reported to me by people who read this blog, are bizarre beyond belief.
Paranoid delusions notwithstanding, there never was any serious consideration given to a Marvel Big Bang while I was there.
Raja, this question has come up several times before on the blog. Here is a link to Jim's answer.
Dear Mr. Shooter,
I Really enjoyed the story & your blog, I do have one question about an interview writer Doug Moench did a few years ago in Roy Thomas's Comic Book Artist #7 about what he called "the Shooter Theory of the Big Bang of the Marvel Universe", in which you would've dramatically change the status quo. Could you tell us what that was about please.
"Infinite…Crisis" sounds like an eternal train wreck. : ) I doubt that anti-trust would be a problem today, and I doubt that it would have been a problem back in 1984.
I remember in the late 1980's there was a rumour going around the comics industry: That Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman were going to be taken away from DC and set up as a separate, more profitable line under the Warner Comics banner. DC would be left with everything else. Does anyone else remember hearing this story?
Wow just think–you could've eventually introduced the DC characters into Marvel via a mini series called "Infinite Secret Civil War Crisis."
Also would anti-trust be a problem today for a deal like that? Even with Dark Horse and Image existing?
Wow, even Bruce Timm is stopping by this blog. That's wild. I feel like reading this is sometimes like SNL, for comics folks – you never know who might drop by.
(I don't know if people still drop by SNL; I'm old and my frame of reference is the old shows.)
Magnus fans, if you haven't seen it, here's Bruce Timm's fantastic Russ Manning tribute to the Gold Key issue of Back Issue:
So Warner would own Marvel characters and would eventually gravitate to DC, like Bugs and Daffy. It boggles the mind.
Hey Jim — Bruce Timm here. As mind-boggling as your "Marvel Almost Bought DC" story may seem, I can personally attest that such sublimely odd "What If" scenarios do indeed occur. I myself was on the very outside edge of a situation where the shoe was on the other foot…
Sometime in the early '90s (sorry I can't be more precise) my boss at Warner Bros. Animation, Jean McCurdy, called me into her office and casually dropped a bomb on me : "Do we have any interest in licensing the Marvel Comics characters?"
I'm guesing she considered me the in-house Superhero Expert or something, because Of my position as one of the head honchos on the animated Batman show. Anyhow, I was pretty floored! It was all kind of vague — don't remember
her exact wording, but the gist was that Marvel was hurting financially, and had sent out a feeler to see if Warners would be interested in licensing some of their characters for animation.
My reaction was two-fold: first I said "Hell yes, we're interested! Spider-man, Hulk, the F.F., all super-iconic, all ready-made for animation." Then I said that if Marvel was financially vulnerable, maybe we should think about acquiring the whole company. Jean's eyes lit up at that suggestion, as you can imagine. My on-the-spur-of-the-moment pitch was that Warners would then own and control all the top superheroes in the world. Probably wouldn't be cheap, but boy, it could sure pay off in the long run.
Long story short, nothing ever came of it. Next time I asked Jean about it she said the idea was a non-starter, anti-trust issues, etc. Dunno if she'd actually floated the idea to Upper Management or not. Like I said before, sorry I'm a bit fuzzy on the timeline — my memory is that this was after our Batman show was already on the air, so that makes it 1992 at the earliest — and it was probably after the Image guys had all left Marvel, but before Marvel was bought out by Toy Biz.
Anyhow, just thought I'd share that. Really enjoy your blog.
Geez… What's up with this anonymous comment above? If you're angry, just be angry.
DC comics suck now. Their 52 idea blows big time!
Dan Dipshit, Jim Lee are both 2 faggots!
Too many variables in that equation. I'd like to think that if anyone with chops proposed anything that sounded groovy, I'd go along with it.
On the subject of whether the British invasion would have happened: Suppose you're EIC and Alan Moore proposes a second wave revival of Swamp Thing, with the revelation that SW was a plant with Alec Holland's memories. Or a relative unknown named Neil Gaiman wants to revive an obscure Kirby character called "The Sandman". Would you green light them?
Simply put, I think Byrne brings it up in a tasteless, self-serving way. Especially since he often seems to be in the process of lambasting other creators when he does so.
Criticizing Byrne for talking about how Kirby was called "Jack the hack" is completely missing the point of why he's telling the stories. He's making the same point Shooter is when he talks about the five dollar bid for a Kirby drawing… that it is sad that there was a time when Kirby was regarded this way, and that it's part of history that we should not forget just because Kirby is posthumously put on a pedestal. Contrary to the claim that Byrne is elevating himself above Kirby, Byrne often makes the point that he is currently regarded by many fans in the same way Kirby was in the 70's: as someone who doesn't try anymore and whose best work is behind him.
As to non-Byrne sources to establish that a negative attitude towards Kirby was held by some at Marvel, here is an interview where Alan Kupperberg mentions Ralph Macchio mocking Kirby's work: http://www.alankupperberg.com/whatif.html, and here is another where he mentions Macchio deliberately favoring negative comments when he compiled the letters pages for Kirby books: http://www.alankupperberg.com/invaders.html
It was and remains a very sad thing to me that Jack Kirby went through a period during which he was treated so badly by the market, fans and even creators. I've told the story of the time at the San Diego Con, when they had artists draw pictures onstage which they then auctioned to raise money, and after asking minimum bids for the work of far lesser lights that were in the hundreds of dollars, the auctioneer asked for an opening bid of FIVE DOLLARS for Jack's brilliant drawing of Captain America. And that seemed to be consistent with the audience's evaluation.
One of the first times I was interviewed by the Comics Journal, back when I was brand-new Editor in Chief and Jack's books weren't selling, the interviewer kept trying to get me to bad-mouth Jack. Trashing Jack, or getting people to trash Jack seemed to be their brief. Trashing Jack was all the rage. Later, when the publishers of the Comics Journal found that they could make more money as "advocates" for Jack, they changed their stance.
That just sucks.
The fact that alleged professionals at Marvel joined in was appalling. DID THEY NOT KNOW WHO BUILT THE HOUSE?
Two of Jack's staunchest defenders, by the way, were Len Wein and Marv Wolfman. Let's get that on the record.
I don't know whether or not John Byrne ever stated any negative opinions of Jack's work. I don't recall any. But, whatever anyone may think of John, he's a gifted and savvy artist, and at the point he moved toward a more Kirby-like approach to storytelling, consciously and deliberately, that's when he made the jump to hyperspace.
john byre said the same things about Stan lee how the people at marvel had little respect for him. in his later years fans did start to turn their back on Kirby. He went to DC and created the New gods universe, Demon, Kamandi and Omac…properties that DC use today. He returned to marvel and someone must have wanted a new gods for marvel so he created the Eternals. we got a great black panther series and some more captain america stories. The fans that were kids when he was doing books grew up on other artists and rejected his style and said bad things in the letter pages of cap books.
The "Jack the Hack" thing is one of John Byrne's favorite go-to stories. The problem is that the actual evidence that anyone ever said that mostly seems to be of the anecdotal variety and largely comes from John Byrne. Like, I have literally never seen anyone but Byrne cite that story anywhere ever; and even if someone did say that about Kirby once upon a time, Byrne has them beat hands down for sheer quantity of repetition.
I find it all a bit tasteless; imagine if one were to die and one's alleged friends went around telling everyone in interviews and print that "people used to say that [your name here] was stupid, ugly, boring, fat, had bad breath, couldn't drive, and spent too much time around primary-school playgrounds – but I disagree!" It's like, give it a rest, dude.
The people who called Kirby "Jack the Hack" (Ralph Macchio and Mark Gruenwald among others) are the ones who should be criticized, not Byrne.
Dear Mr. Shooter: just to let you know that you got linked by Mr. Ta-Nehisi Coates at the Atlantic. I'm sure he'd love to chat with you about teh comics industry…
I have a huge problem with you calling Byrne, Racist, Sexist, or ignorant. I have been reading his board for years, as well as any interview or article that I have come by, and can't think of one time I have ever goten any of those impressions.
Want to call him a huge prick and an egomaniac? Want to say that he is completely disingenuous at the very least about a great many things? I'm right there with you on that. But I prefer to keep it real and insult people who deserve it in the WAY that they deserve it.
And yes, I am one of the many people who have been banned over there.
For example, I think there is zero substance to how you are painting him in relation to his apparent attitude toward Kirby. He has come flat out and said that someone once said that he should be considered the new 'King' after Kirby died, and he said that it was rediculous. Are you some kind of mind reader to know that he 'REALLY' means anything other than what he directly said? ANd yes, he constantly brings up the disrespect that Jack was shown in the old days. WHy do you assume that it is anything other than a constant reminder to the fans about how poorly Jack was treated by some people instead of getting the respect that everyone NOW seems to want to grant him?
you can read Byrne’s work to see his attitudes, that with what he says in interviews paints a picture. you may not be aware of things because it doesn’t make your antennae stand up when you see it. full blown racist? sexist? i cant say but certainly offensive.
John Byrne has been proven wrong by almost every single person that worked at Marvel while he was there. When anyone has registered at his site and questioned him on it, Including Mark Waid, Frank Miller, Walt Simonson, Terry Austin,Roger Stern, and a host of others, They get Banned. The only "pro" that still gets to post there is Howard Mackie. The only time Byrne even mentions Jack Kirby he has to mention that some staffers referred to him as "Jack the Hack". So even in his praise he has to take a jab at Kirby because Byrne truly believes that HE is the "King" since Kirby passed away. The comics industry is better off without Byrne and his Racist, Sexist and genuinely Ignorant remarks.
The production of the DC line by Marvel is a wonderful fantasy, but would have eventually ended, either by DC going belly up or by selling their properties to Marvel.
In business reality, where it is all about money, ignore the fantasy: Marvel would be in charge of production. So much of the better talent would go where Marvel made their most money, into their own properties.
But here is the big deal:
Where would ALL the new ideas go? Comic book titles often run their course. They are replaced by new titles. Who would be thinking up new titles for DC. If someone came up with a great hero or a great villain, would it ever go to “DC” line where Marvel made no money of licensing? Who would have owned, for example, The Watchmen? You think the bookkeepers at Marvel would allow DC to own that property?
Slowly the DC line would decline as sales fell for certain comics. But they would not be replaced by new series. Then, the advertising would merge and you’d not only see the same ads in all the comics, but the same in house ads and announcements.
I'm not sure that a Marvel/DC merger (of one sort or another) would necessarily have been blocked legally.
I say this when considering how when WWE gobbled up WCW it WAS challenged in court, but WWE actually won the case. I think that (especially in today's market) that there would have to be a larger percentage of indie publishers out there than there were indie wrestling outfits ten years ago.
Just the clear things up, Independent News Distributors was owned by the company that owned DC. They regulated the amount of titles Marvel could put out. First it was eight titles a month, soon it was 16. But with Annuals and special editions it was often close to 20.
Goodman thought they limited his product.
Mr Shooter mentioned that License products would have to sell more to do well for Marvel. Well, Marvel would work hardest to promote their own characters; I can’t imagine them wanting to promote DC more. Just like when Independent was making money off of Marvel, they still worked harder and promoted DC more.
Again, competition makes companies work harder to keep their customers. DC comics would begin to look like Marvel.
We all would have wanted to see the Marvel staff work on some DC characters. Well, why didn’t DC just pay them to come over and work for them? They did with Kirby and Ditko and so many others. It’s because DC either did want them, or didn’t want to pay them more to leave Marvel. The creators, especially the younger one, would have taken a financial bath.
Sorry for the above comment. I just realized the comment above stated the same thing.
Wasn't Marvel's 1960s distributor owned by the DC parent company? Marvel could only publish eight titles a month, which looked like more because some were bi-monthlies. So if Marvel wanted a new title, they had to cancel a low-seller. Goodman switched to Curtis Distribution when he found out.
Jim, that was very interesting. Thanks for sharing
I assume that DC and Marvel had to compete for talent. This means as one big company, artists and writers, with no other place to go might have made substantially less money.
First, legally, I wonder of the government would have permitted such as merger to take place. They would have, as one company, have 90% of the market.
But, I actually think competition is good. It keeps prices down and makes competitors try harder. Again eh creators would have been the first to see that there was no bidding for their services.
Again, DC dominated the super-hero market in the 1960s and they were not ready to change until pushed by a competitor.
Frankly, as a consumer, mergers raise prices and eliminate choices. Look at XM and Sirius radio.
And don’t forget, Marvel was distributed for years by a competitor, the Parent company of DC and Goodman felt that limited and stifled the line. I bet DC would have felt that as time went on.
Someone asked John Byrne about the cover on his site. He is claiming he never did a cover and this is the first he has even heard of it.
From what I have seen, anything you say about him will always result in John saying you lied. It's a pity he's become so bitter
Dear Gary M.,
The comic book industry is in a very hard and harsh period of the transition to a new business model, I think. I believe that digital comics will be an important aspect of the next phase for the medium — and I sincerely believe there will be a "next phase." I don't think we're ready to go the way of the radio drama. I think DC's "new" initiative is the same old initiative again. It'll sell them some copies for a while, then die. A "move of desperation" is a good way to put it, I think.They seem clueless. New distribution without the clunky infrastructure of earlier decades will evolve. Disney or Warner could make it happen tomorrow if they weren't wallowing in confusion.
I don't know when Marvel and DC started giving creators contracts. When I started at Marvel in 1976, there were a number of creators under contract: Joe Sinnott, Mike Esposito, both Buscemas, Roy Thomas, Gene Colan and maybe a few others. At Marvel, contracts provided creators some benefits, guaranteed a certain amount of work, and, yes, required exclusivity. Marvel contracts were "employment agreements" that essentially made the creator a staff employee who worked at home or in his own studio. They required a quota of pages to be written, drawn or inked as opposed to being at the office 9-5. The amount of work depended on what the creator could handle. They got vacations and holidays. They were on the company medical plan. Contract people got regular Marvel staff paychecks with taxes and FICA withheld — that is, W-2 income instead of 1099 income, which freelancers received.
When I took office as Editor in Chief, one of many things I did was standardize the benefits for contract creators. I was surprised and appalled to find out, for instance, that Mike Esposito had better benefits than Joe Sinnott, simply because he asked for them and Joe didn't think to, or didn't know better benefits were a possibility. I improved the benefits, too, both for contract people and for regular freelancers.
I don't know how DC contracts worked, but after I became EIC, if our contract people didn't get enough work to do for some reason, they got paid anyway. I even paid freelancers for idle time on occasion, when Marvel screwed up and left them sitting with no work to do. Ask Terry Austin.
At times, DC would try to "lock up" talent with contracts. We were so good at finding new talent (especially editors like Archie Goodwin, Al Milgrom, Larry Hama and others who had a good eye for talent) that for a while it seemed that if we offered a new guy a five-page try-out job, DC would offer the person a contract. And, DC often tried to steal away stars. A few times they got a big fish or two for a while, but we had a Who's Who of talent and more being picked out and trained all the time by our editors, so no big deal. People who went to DC often came back.
We weren't so much interested in locking people up as rewarding our best and most regular creators with better bennies, if they liked. Creators "locked up" where they don't want to be usually don't pour their hearts into the work.
I'm reminded of something mentioned at the beginning of the 16th volume of Yakitate! Japan. It was explained that two of the biggest Manga publishers, Shogakukan and Shueisha (Shonen Sunday & Shonen Jump) gave the impression of competing with each other, when they were actually owned by the same man. Why keep up appearances and not merge them into one large company? The answer was so they'd foster competition.
The rationale was that if they formed one big corporation, the employees would be too complacent in their position (it's too big to fail), and create lackluster work.
Nowadays, the difference between Marvel & DC is so minuscule it's negligible.
How much would the job pay? : )
This is an amazing story. I love this site for the stories you tell. You really should write a huge book . I read the LSH Companion and loved the part where you discussed your history in comics with the LSH to being Marvel EIC.
My question (as dumb as it sounds) if by some way the new DCU revamp fails to work , and in 2014 or 2015 , you got the call to become EIC of DC…would you do it ?
omg never thought Marvel was ever thinking of licensing and publishing the dc characters given they are marvel main rivals. that plus the fact at one time dc dictated how many books Marvel was allowed to print. would have been interesting to see how the dc characters interacted in the marvel universe.not to mention marvel was looking at licensing them not buying them which would have violated anti trust laws proably.
Thanks for the background on Gene Day. Dave Sim's recollection does come across as even-handed, trying to understand Marvel's handling of the situation (the cheap motel, wanting conventional story telling) and Gene's motivation. Not the Dave Sim I remember from the Cerebus letters page back in the 90s. He must have mellowed.
I was big fan of Master of Kung Fu, one of my regular buys. MoKF was an excellent title with the one writer, Doug Moench, acting as custodian to the MoKF world and three excellent artists, Paul Gulacy, Mick Zeck and Gene Day. It's telling that 30 years after downsizing my comics collection many a time, I have never sold or gave away my Gene Day issues from MoKF 100-120. Must be the Steranko connection.
On a related matter, the 7 page Stan Lee/Jim Steranko romance story "My Heart Broke In Hollywood!" is the best comic art ever published by Marvel. (Love that exclamation mark from Stan).
I love the idea of distilling DC down to a few flagship titles and focusing on those, but Dan DiDio's Marvelization of DC properties has left me cold. I WANT my Superman and Batman to be old fashioned; they work best that way to me. Marvel is about commiseration with their heroes (I can identify with Spidey's angst, Hulk's anger, etc.). DC should be made up of a pantheon of characters to whom I can aspire. I do miss the occasional crossover, but the DC feel would have to have been left intact, and I am not sure that would have happened. One could argue we lost it anyway… let's see what THIS reboot does.
Dave Sim tells the story about Gene Day's health problems and death here:
To summarize… Day came down to Manhattan to do a rush ink job on an issue of Master of Kung Fu. Marvel put him up in a roach-infested hotel, and when he complained he was told he could either stay there or sleep at the Marvel offices. He chose the latter, not realizing the heat would be turned off in the office at night. It was winter, and sleeping in the very cold Marvel offices caused him to develop a kidney infection, which was the beginning of serious health problems that culminated in his tragic death by heart attack.
I haven't read Moench's comments, but I would assume he blamed Shooter for the above incident with the infested motel/cold Marvel office (though Shooter was not directly involved in the situation or even aware of it as far as I know). Chronic kidney problems can be a contributory factor in heart disease, so I assume he then blames the situation for ultimately causing Gene's death.
Added to this I guess is the fact that Day and Shooter locked horns over the layout style on Master of Kung Fu, with Day wanting to do elaborate Sterankoesque panel layouts and Shooter feeling it impaired the storytelling and wanting him to stick to a more conventional grid layout. Ultimately Day was fired by Shooter for refusing to modify his layout style, and was quite broken-hearted over this.
Thanks Jim, great stuff.
Gary M. Miller
This was another terrific post! It does seem unusual how close Marvel came to publishing DC's books. I can't help but think the near-miss led to DC taking more drastic publishing initiatives, like the development of Crisis on Infinite Earths, and perhaps even Watchmen & Dark Knight, to show they had the chops to compete effectively. As Crisis was one of the success stories of 1985, it seems they justified themselves in the market.
I'm not sure what John Byrne was developing for Superman-at-Marvel would have been the exact same thing as what we later saw from him at DC. Byrne has stated on his site that he was the victim of more editorial interference that involved approving every little detail regarding the changes he made. He finally had enough and left two years in. Apparently it also had something to do with DC's licensing images of Superman. Of course, knowing how Byrne seems to have "editorial interference" issues with just about everything he's done, take the commentary with a grain of salt.
I must confess, I never heard about Moench's accusation that you caused the death of Gene Day (one of Marvel's most underrated talents of the age, I'll admit). I suppose I'll have to do some research to find out more details behind that (unless anyone here wants to elaborate).
Jim, I'm very curious about your thoughts on the industry as it currently stands. I've done a lot of my own digging on the history of the industry, and the evolution of distribution channels and how digital comics is the next step whether we like it or not. (Here and here, mainly) DC's "New 52" initiative with 52 titles all relaunched from #1 the same month starting next week seems to me a move of desperation, justified or not. I was wondering what thoughts you have on their new initiative, and the future of the industry and distribution in general? Loaded question, I know, but pretty topical all things considered.
Indeed, the Moench accusation was a low blow. Also, in the Gene Colan book, Secrets in the Shadows, he said he was under an exclusive contract with DC, yet DC was giving him no work and no release from the contract.
Any chance you can tell the story behind the exclusive contracts? When did they start? What amount of work did they guarantee?
Thanks for the answers.
Marv was friendly enough to me in person by then, though I do not doubt that he had grudges still.
Roy had let bygones be bygones by then, as evidenced in a letter to me.
I didn't know Chaykin hated me more than usual. If he flew to New York, he never said anything to me, to my face or otherwise.
Colan was angry at me for "driving him away" (by demanding that he do the quality work he was capable of) and even more angry because DC proved to be a poor alternative. There, he couldn't make anywhere near the money he'd made at Marvel. However, by 1984 there were royalties and Marvel's books paid some pretty big sums, unlike DC's almost none of which paid a dime. Colan could have made great money doing far fewer pages working for Marvel, so, who knows, possibly he would have wanted to come back.
I wouldn't have wanted Moench back. After he accused me in print of being responsible for the death of Gene Day, I had no use for him anymore. I did reluctantly allow Archie to use him at EPIC for a while, but that didn't work out well anyway, so good riddance.
I've been told that Broderick hated me back then, but I didn't know it. I never saw any sign of it. And, when I ran into him at a con a couple of years ago, he gave no indication in all of our conversations that he had ever had any bad feelings with regard to me.
New characters created would have belonged to DC, just as new characters we created for Star Wars belonged to them, however, it was contemplated that Marvel would retain a substantial stake in any success those characters had going forward. Creators would have had the same incentives for new character creation as they did with Marvel characters.
Marvel's Batman (as well as all the other characters) would have been developed from the essential core concepts. I had no thought of a solo Robin series at the beginning, but who knows what might have come later. I'd like to think we would have evolved the characters and series well, and that all things were possible.
I would have not done a zillion Earths. Just one world. But…I had no absolutes, no ironclad imperatives other than making the characters the best they could be and doing great, well-told stories. Even parallel worlds can be done well and effectively, without turning into continuity nightmares. If we'd been able to get Roy back as a result of the deal, I bet he could have done a parallel Earth story that rocked.
Things like that should be kept special, in my opinion. When Julie started the Earth II thing, at first it was a special event — then Earth proliferation set in….
Obviously, a lot regarding the developments and directions taken would have depended upon getting top shelf creators and a great editor.
I really don't remember much about the story John showed me. Seems reasonable that he would carry over some ideas for his DC version. Firestorm? Maybe. Seems like a good candidate for the line.
As to Byrne's Superman treatment, he said that he'd planned to revamp the character in-continuity, in a story that had Earth destroyed, Superman asking for a second chance to a higher power and blam!– next page, Krypton explodes with a rocket being hurled into space.
That would have been nice to see, too.
I specifically remember Byrne dropping some hints in the FF letter pages of the time about a "first Marvel issue" banner on Superman. I think it was during the FF/Gladiator storyline.
Fascinating, fascinating stuff. This revelation literally blew my mind. Thanks for sharing it with us. Not to be an ass-kisser or anything, but this blog continually serves to confirm my long-time opinion that you were the best EIC Marvel ever had. Definitely my personal favorite anyway.
As, Ben Ronning wrote… I was wondering the same thing. Was John Byrne's eventual stint on Superman basically what he would have done with the character if he had gotten to work on him for Marvel? If so, we kind of got to see the Marvel version of Superman after all. I loved Byrne's run on that character BTW. One of the only DC books I ever bought for any length of time on a regular basis. (The others being Justice League International and New Teen Titans).
Also, we had Frank Miller's "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns", "Batman: Year One" and the more recent "All-Star Batman". Which are all probably very much like what he would have done with Batman under the Marvel banner (if he had been given the chance). Those books "Marvel-ized" Batman quite a bit.
So, it's really not all that hard to imagine what things might have been like had this deal actually gone through.
Was a solo Robin series tentatively planned as more hot stuff for the second wave? I find it so backwards that Robin wasn't given his own title until 1991 and Dick Grayson didn't get a Nightwing series until 1995.
On November 10th, 1983, Dick Grayson gave up his Robin identity in The New Teen Titans #39 ("Crossroads") while Jason Todd became the new Boy Wonder in Batman #368 ("A Revenge of Rainbows"). Would Jim have restored Dick's position as Robin or maintained the new status quo?
This may be more speculation on my part, but do you believe the Superman story John Byrne worked out evolve into the "Man of Steel" reboot he wrote and drew for DC years later?
The mention of the Flash being part of the second wave makes me wonder if we could have seen "Marvel" Firestorm title had the licensing agreement gone through. I just mention this because the character was possibly the most Marvel-like one in DC's stable. Though I don't know the sales figures, I got the drift that they were respectable but I speak out of ignorance.
Don't worry, I trust you. I'm not sure if my post came across as distrusting, but this is the first I've heard of this and I find the whole story fascinating and it causes my wheels to spin in all kinds of ways. Being (mostly) a Marvel guy, there's a part of me that wishes this would have happened to see what would have come of it. Despite being a Marvel guy, Batman and his "family" are my favorite characters and the thought of a Marvel Batman book would have me salivating. But of course, the reason I'm a Marvel person and others are DC people is because there is a difference between the two and it is kinda nice to have that. Of course, you may have kept the different feels for the two Universes anyway. But on the other hand, the post-Crisis DC was already kinda Marvelized anyway. You're making my head spin. Now I want to travel to the alternate reality where this did happen and see what came of it.
And on a semi-related note, I just came across this blog a couple days ago and I have to thank you for running this. I could spend all day reading this blog (and since starting on Monday, my time will be drastically reduced, maybe it's not a good idea I found it when I did).
Sorry for the misunderstanding. By "all" I simply meant the few obvious heads known at the time — five, maybe?
1: Marv Wolfman
2: Roy Thomas
3: Howard Chaykin
4: Gene Colan
5: Doug Moench
6: Pat Broderick
Some really had an ax to grind, like Howard, who said he flew to New York on the day you were fired from Marvel to say a few things to your face. And John Byrne, who blames every wrong move he did at Marvel on you.
I imagine characters created for the DC Universe would have stayed at Marvel, as happened with Micronauts. I think Bug and Marionette reappeared in Marvel books.
Sigh. We had it all worked out. Trust me. Or don't.
For the record, Byrne's version of his departure from the FF (and other titles) can be found here: http://www.byrnerobotics.com/FAQ/listing.asp?ID=3&T1=Questions+about+Aborted+Storylines
Jeff Zoslaw is refering to the rejected pages found at the end of Marvel Premiere Classic Volume 25: Phoenix Rising which reprints Avengers #263, Fantastic Four #286, X-Factor #1, Classic X-Men #8, and #43. As far as I'm concerned, the adjustments are a definite improvement.
So what would have happened with new characters created for DC Universe characters? If that didn't make sense, I mean something like a new Batman villain. If a writer creates a new Batman villain for Marvel, would Warner Brothers still own the licensing rights for that character? If so, wouldn't that cause the money people at Marvel to discourage the creation of new characters for someone else? If a writer creates a new Batman villain for Marvel so that Marvel gets the rights to the character, does that mean we couldn't see Bane in The Dark Knight Rises? Looking at characters like Circuit Breaker for Transformers, I'm guessing it's the latter.
Dear Jeff Z.,
Byrne left Marvel entirely when he left to do Superman, though some of his ahead-of-schedule work was still coming out. I know of no changes made to his work intended as punishment or otherwise. Possibly the editor was making adjustments to accomodate the next writer. When Byrne returned to Marvel to do Star Brand I wasn't reading the books, so I don't know much about them. I've heard that he did things meant to annoy me, like blowing up my home town. Whatever. People can blow up Pittsburgh in comic books all they want. I destroyed Netcong, New Jersey in Avengers, once, but I didn't know anyone born there. : )
The problem with antitrust laws is that they are arbitrarily upheld. Sports are allowed to have monopolies, so are cable companies and utilities. The laws are really only enforced when power players want them to be, and not enforced when they don't. Money talks, B.S. walks.
Will there be an entry about Byrne leaving the FF around the time he took on Superman? Byrne has stated that the changes in his Return of Jean Grey issue were a capricious punishment for his taking on DC's standard-bearer and showed him what he might expect if he continued at Marvel. Is there another side to this story? Would Marvel have wanted Byrne working for both companies or was this echoes of the Roy Thomas departure? And, while we're on the subject, any words on what Byrne did with Star Brand after you left?
Well, we all know exactly HOW much John Byrne wanted to do Superman.
We never finished the deal, but what was contemplated was that the books would functionally be the same as any other Marvel comics and offer the same royalties, reprint rates, etc. Only the property licensing would be non-Marvel. We probably would have been able to work out a way to provide the standard Marvel creator licensing participations.
Under terms of the license contemplated, the universes would have been kept separate. At least at the beginning. I don't know where it might have gone.
LOL Jim, please do. 🙂
When John Byrne created Terminus, he said he created him as a good idea for a Superman villain, but since he didn't do Superman, he used him in Fantastic Four instead. His debut was in May of '84, so it's entirely possible John created Terminus to actually use in the Marvel Superman book, or at least had hopes to.
Well-heeled folks are usually too smart to risk their own money. I suspect I could find an institutional equity partner and I have a good relationship with a major M&A debt provider. For an acquisition that big, I'd need to ally myself with a heavy-duty management team, people with billions-of-dollars biz and financial chops. They'd drive the car. I'd be the hood ornament.
I'll let you know if anyone calls….
There was a time earlier, 1979 sounds about right, when a similar deal was discussed. I'm willing to be corrected on this, but I seem to recall that not amounting to much besides some idle talk.
DC, being part of Warner, had seemingly endless financial support. It was justified, to some extent, by the huge revenues generated by the licensing of its properties. At some point, Paul and Jenette managed to have those revenues transplanted from LCA's balance sheet to theirs, making DC technically, cosmetically profitable.
I had no personal problems with the very few former Marvel creators who were at DC at the time. You say "all," as if there were many. I'd love to see your list. Good creators would have been welcome.
Dear Anonymous Turok liker,
I think you are correct, that having the DC characters and the Marvel characters under one roof might have led to some good things. In many ways.
Being licensed, the 'Marvel' DC books would be work for hire, was there some sort of back end profit sharing for reprints? It's strange seeing old Star Wars comics reprinted by DarkHorse. Maybe Marvel's animation studio could have done some DC toons since Super Friends was practically dead until a new Darseid centered season appeared in the mid 80's. It seemed like Super Friends kept playing the same damn reruns for about 5 years. I was shocked to see something new one Saturday morning that had new character designs.
Be glad about antitrust laws. Their target isn't really about cottage industries of non-essential commercial products, like comics. They prevent a more pervasive evil than Marvel owning 80+% of the direct market.
When antitrust laws don't work like they're supposed to, you get stuff like Monsanto, which dominate the agricultural seeding industry. Look them up. You won't like them, and will be left wondering where the antitrust laws are to prevent something like this.
I like the two companies separate.
Suzanne de Nimes (suedenim)
jensaltmann raises an interesting point:
Where did you see the two "universes" going long-term? Would they have been merged eventually, have a sort of Earth-1/Earth-2 relationship, or what?
You said "Marvel Superman" et al would have functionally been licensed books, but Marvel had a history of doing more with licensed properties (e.g., setting Godzilla firmly within the Marvel Universe, having Spider-Man guest star in various licensed books, etc.)
Really not liking antitrust laws. Again. –MikeAnon
This reads like a Marvel What If…? story written by Roy Thomas from the late 70s/early 80s.
That got me thinking, what if Lucasfilms bought Marvel in '86 or '87 instead of New World Industries? It's plausible as Marvel had a good working relationship publishing Star Wars and Lucasfilms would've been flush with cash. Owning two universes would be a good business decision, so not to be dependent on one product. If that happened, what would the comics world have been like in the 90s? Maybe the Marvel cinema explosion could have started 10 years earlier? After the false start of Howard the Duck.
Cassie Blade wrote: "…vs re-envisioning them like Stan did…"
D'Oh! How did I miss that part? Sorry, Cassie.
— Matt Hawes
Cassie Blade wrote: "…Thought I think Stan Lee did get to do his take on the characters in 90's…"
Not quite, unfortunately. Stan Lee wrote characters that used the same names as the popular DC heroes, but he did not write the actual characters, themselves.
That was such a botched opportunity by DC in my opinion. You have Stan Lee, who was just let go from his contract by Marvel during its bankruptcy phase, finally able to write the DC characters and yet he doesn't really get to do it. What a waste. If I were the head guy (or gal, if it was still Jennette… I forget) at DC at the time, I would have made Stan's first DC job a BIG event that truly affected the DC universe, featuring all the most popular characters.
— Matt Hawes
Those rumors were so ill-kept that they even reached my side of the Atlantic. At the time, I was more excited about the idea than I had been about comics for a long time.
Because I couldn't imagine how the universes could be kept separated. Readers would clamor for a Superman vs. Hulk fight, so that would eventually happen. With every possibility that might eventually follow if the universes themselves would eventually merge. Like Captain America leading the Justice League, a Wonder Woman/Thor romance, Thanos vs. Darkseid vs. Mephisto…
That would've been good times. And yes, the ideas of creators being matched to characters, like John Buscema on Superman, Jim Aparo on Spider-Man, John Byrne on LSH…
This is why I love reading your blogs, Jim. I love getting the history that only you can share, being in such a position during that period of time.
I would LOVE to see John Byrne's cover. As far as I know, I have never seen it on the John Byrne Forum. I hope it still exists.
I'm not sure how I feel about Marvel ever owning DC. I am more of a Marvel guy, but the idea of one company owning the other (or even as a licensed deal) just seems wrong. That noted, I would have definitely checked out those comics had they been published.
I wonder if it was due to Marvel's turning down the deal that led DC to go forth with it's "Crisis on Infinite Earths" series? The timing would seem to fall in line.
— Matt Hawes
I would have loved to see this if only to have the original Captain Marvel back being published in "Captain Marvel Adventures"!
Glad to see this finally told. It was one of the things that interested me most back in the CBR interview.
If the licensing/acquisition had gone through, it would have changed EVERYTHING! And I do mean, everything. Some of the points have already been touched upon by other commentators, but I'll list them here too:
– Some people could have been hired from DC to fill the new positions at Marvel, but many more, both in editorial and creative, would have been out on the street. Many would have been refugee's from Jim's "dictatorial" regime. Would they have tried, or accepted, going back to Marvel? Would they have created their own company? Gone the indy route? Left the industry?
– There would have been no British invasion, because of the many comics the British were writing would have been cancelled, or wouldn't have gotten to publishing on the first place. That means Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and Alan Davis would have disappeared, we wouldn't have American material from Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, Paul Jenkins, Steve Dillon, Dave McKean or Peter Milligan.
– That would mean no Watchmen, no Hellblazer, no Sandman and no Vertigo. Grim 'n' gritty might have been downplayed as a storytelling style.
– Would First have been able to field some of the void? Would they be willing to absorb the British creators and guys who didn't want to work for Marvel, like Marv Wolfman?
– Would Gary Groth have become unbearably hostile in his editorials?
– Also, without Crisis, we wouldn't have had the return of lost universes, like the Charlton and Fawcett characters.
– Even inside Marvel it would have been different. With DC to deal with, would Jim have created the New Universe? Without Vertigo, could have Epic lived longer than it did? With the direct market under control, would there have been more inroads into making back the lost ground in the newsstands? An expansion of the graphic novel line?
Good catch! But Shooter's letter makes reference to a previous attempt at Marvel publishing DC's characters. Maybe thats what the lettercol response I remember was referring to.
Patrick Daniel O'Neill
Even the "adult" characters at Marvel seemed to have adolescent problems–mooning over girls they couldn't have, silly spats, and the like. With the exception of the idiot stuff that seemed to happen in the Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen books, DC's characters had stable jobs, stable relationships–at least until they started trying to emulate Marvel…which I think was a betrayal of what the DC characters were about.
I once owned a page from Avengers 165 (your story, Byrne's art) page 27. One of the panels had "He's no Superman" whited out and replaced with "he's not invincible". I found that pretty amusing–seemed like you wanted to do a story about the Avengers fighting Superman if he'd gone mad, but couldn't because of copyright issues. You signed the page and the comic for me at a convention, and when asked about it you didn't seem to recall the Superman reference.
The Count Nefaria storyline remains one of my favorites of all time. I suppose your post here makes it a bit more interesting for me!
The FF battled Gladiator in issues 249 & 250 covered dated Dec 82 and Jan 83 respectively. So, those stories would have been written in the Summer of 82? That's at least 18 months before DC contacted Marvel about publishing their characters.
But the Gladiator of The Imperial Guard is Marvel's counterpart to Superboy of The Legion of Super-Heroes, so John Byrne did get to write and draw a FF/Superman cross-over.
I remember John Byrne hinting at all this when the Shi'ar Gladiator appeared in his Fantastic Four run. At the time the Gladiator character seemed very reminiscent of Superman – nowadays Supes-type "icon" characters are so much more prevalent and so much closer to the real deal that Gladiator hardly registers as a ripoff.
Anyway Byrne milked the similarities in the story and in the follow-up lettercol a few issues later he (writing pseudo-anonymously as all book writers did in the lettercols back then) responded to one fan's wish that the real Supes might someday appear under the Marvel banner with a hint that it could actually happen someday.
I always wondered what that response was about – great to hear an explanation finally. Now I wonder if this backstage stuff was what spurred Byrne into doing the entire Gladiator appearance. Thanks Mr. Shooter!
Jim, what are the odds of you getting some well-heeled folks together and putting in a bid to buy DC now? 😉
I'm only half-serious, but then again, from the rumors out there about how AOL/Time-Warner is now demanding DC stops bleeding money and starts turning a profit (hence the 52 reboot, in large part), the parent company may just be willing to unload the whole mess (while keeping the licensing and film/TV rights, I'm sure)
Thank God, I'm seated right now…
This revelation + the next on the ROM cover !! (I think I know what's gonna come but whatever is ROM is good for me) 🙂
So this happened in 1984? When I first heard about it, years ago, I thought it'd have been in 1979 or so. Remember, DC had a couple of lean years there after the DC Implosion. And even then, Paul Levitz was still talking confidently about DC's corporate back-up while Marvel was basically on its own, meaning no real back-up from Cadence.
But DC really expanded in the early '80s and I thought those were good years. Obviously not.
And from the look of things for the last years, DC has become another Marvel. Too bad nobody listened to Dick Giordano's edict: DC is not to become Marvel II.
But if the acquisition had happened, what would've happened to all the former, disgruntled Marvel creators?
Thanks for another entertaining yarn.
I'm sure Jim will answer you, ja, but I remember all the times when Jim kept putting more and more boxes of stuff into storage after Marvel, VALIANT or DEFIANT, etc. He kept putting it into storage, because what else can you do with it? To get rid of stuff you'd have to have the time to go through it all. To me it seems like he never had any time or energy to go through it and it kept piling up until now some of it is useful for the blog so he finally has a reason to.
I'm so glad to see some of the stuff again and see some for the first time and see some stuff I've heard about for ages but never seen, so I'm just loving it. I can't wait until he gets to more. I have a suspicion that Jim's enjoying the blog, too.
Scott H. Gardner
Wow. My fondest dream, the one I've been preaching for some time now, Marvel acquiring Superman… and it almost happened. I had no idea. Argh!! Oh, well. I still hold onto the hope that Disney/Marvel will eventually wind up with the big guy.
…………….My God, Mr. Shooter. I cannot believe this whole thing actually took place!!!! From what you described about the financial differences between each company at the time, it points to one thing: instead of constantly butting heads with one another and having ravenous fanboys pointing out some of the more obvious differences (DC's heroes being near-flawless, Marvel's almost completely flawed), the two companies should've learned from one another in terms of content. Maybe then we could've had a nice, stable balance in the market and story content, instead of one company's storylines constantly being criticized for being too gut-wrenchingly violent compared to the other, and vice-versa. What do you think of that?
(BTW, liked your take on Turok for Valiant.)
As I am admittedly kissing your butt this time around (well almost, as I'm still not that tall), I must say it's very impressive that you've saved so many items from your tenure at Marvel, and I assume, the rest of your career.
Is this some sort of an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder-kind of thing, or did you one day make a conscious decision to save everything for posterity?
Especially (maybe) when you saw that the political heat and the level of malice toward you begin to peak, giving you the idea that maybe it's a good thing to have documented evidence to back your 'side' of anything & everything up, against anyone who sought to damage you?
I'm very happy that you have, because all the stories I've heard from you at conventions, interviews and such, I never had any reason to doubt what you said. Primarily because your explanations were more detailed, not hyperbolic like a great many and consistent from one telling to the other.
And now with this blog, you're not only regaling us all with these looks backward, but you're able to counter any falsehoods that have been legend about yourself by using these pieces of historical evidence you've saved.
I hope you're enjoying building this blog as much as we are reading it.
John Romita told me about that ages ago – according to him one plan was for John Buscema to draw Superman and Romita would handle Batman, from there it was anyone's guess. He also told me that Aparo was being talked about for Spider-Man and Curt Swan for the Fantastic Four.
It would have been gangbusters. Such a shame it never happened.
The funny thing is, if Warners shut down DC Comics and licenced it out to Marvel, The Paramount STAR TREK licence would have been up for grabs,too!
The other thing is the comic book industry would look a lot different. No WATCHMAN, perhaps a slightly Different DARK NIGHT RETURNS and John Byrne SUPERMAN.
Roy Thomas would have returned to Marvel – Where he's try to get Marvel the licence for the ORIGINAL Captain Marvel from DC/Fawcett.
If I remember correctly, Flash wasn't a good seller back in '84, so I could understand not putting that title in the first wave. Start with what was working well (Batman, Superman, JLA, etc) and then build from there. If fans of DC Comics weren't all that interested in Flash when he was published by DC, how interested would they be in a Flash title from Marvel?
Anyway, Marvel licensing the DC characters would have been awesome. Back then, I couldn't get into the DC titles like I could Marvel's books. It had nothing to do with "teen heroes", either. I read Thor, and he's as old as dirt. Marvel's books had better stories, in my opinion, whereas the bulk of DC's stuff that I checked-out seemed dull by comparison. It was easier for me to get into a Marvel book because, regardless of which issue I was picking up, SOMETHING was happening and I got a good story. With DC's books, everything seemed so bland, the books were boring to read or look at, and it didn't seem like anything was happening that would hold my interest. In my opinion, DC's books had dialogue and action, but no characters.
… and then Crisis on Infinite Earths came-out and I was like "Wow! DC Comics CAN be cool to read!"
I would have loved to see a Marvel take on all the classic DC characters, though I do agree that there is something nice about the different House Styles; Marvel was always a more realistic feeling universe while DC has been more idealistic. I think the JLA/Avengers Crossover that happened a few years ago really shows that off well with how DC citizens really praise it's heroes while Marvel the citizens seem more cautious or even fearful of some heroes.
Thought I think Stan Lee did get to do his take on the characters in 90's, though that's different then what Jim would have done, as this would have likely adapted the characters vs re-envisioning them like Stan did.
I hadn't realized there would have been a second wave. For a moment I thought the Flash would only have been in JLA. Now I see him leading the pack — literally with his super-speed.
I can't imagine what it would have been like to hear this story firsthand from Jim. Thanks again for posting your two–part interview with him.
In 1984 when the story in this blog post happened, I was 12, and I was collecting New Mutants and Power Pack. Their youth did appeal to me but I think another plus was the limited amount of history that they had. They were accessible in a way that the older heroes weren't. I had read every issue of Marvel Universe by then to try to get a hold on the mainstream adult characters but reading summaries of their history — though fun — wasn't the same as watching characters develop from their earliest appearances onward — the same feeling I got when I read the Pocket Books' reprints of the first stories of the Fantastic Four, Dr. Strange, and Spider-Man. I never thought of any of them as "old" back in elementary school. Accessibility, not age, is the key to my heart.
I regretted not being able to find The New Teen Titans #1 on the stands a few years earlier because I had enjoyed the Titans as a little kid and wanted to be on the ground floor for the relaunch. It took me a year to find an issue in those days before I knew about comic book stores.
Many of Marvel's characters were also "adults with adult jobs, adult attitudes, adult relationships." Did you perceive them as "younger" than their counterparts at DC, and if so, why? As an occasional DC reader as a child, I felt that their characters were more accessible in the random issues I found even though they had longer histories than the Marvel pantheon.
I was shocked when I first read about this in your 2000 Comic Book Resources interview and have long wondered what the "seven titles, the obvious ones" were. Now I know! I wasn't expecting Legion to make the cut, but I forgot how big it was in 1984 – enough to merit two titles like Titans. Like Anonymous at 8:25 PM, I was expecting Flash which had a long continuous run. In theory you could have been writing Legion again! Reminds me of a Legion cover you drew for The Legion Outpost in 1981.
I wish the new DC were releasing seven core titles this month instead of launching 52. I might try out all seven, but 52?
I didn't know Robin counted as one of the "Big Four" even as late as 1984. I guess the character was valuable enough to necessitate the creation of Jason Todd in 1983 to fill in for Dick Grayson who had become Nightwing.
I imagine that a Marvel JLA would not have lost the core members and moved to Detroit. (I've never read those issues of JLA, and would be interested to hear from people who liked them.)
In your letter to Joe Calamari, you mention "the last time we made an offer [to DC], a few years back." Were you EIC then? Could you share any details you know about this earlier offer?
John Byrne has also mentioned earlier plans for buying Marvel.
Did you or JayJay make the "Superman: 1st Marvel Issue!" logo?
I recall Byrne posting about doing Superman for Marvel but I can't find anything on the current incarnation of his site. I'm surprised it's not in his FAQ. If anyone can find anything, please post a link here. I'd rather not paraphrase Byrne from memory.
Is "The Famous ROM #1 Cover That Wasn't" the one drawn by Michael Netzer that you discussed earlier, or was there a third cover for ROM #1? Looking forward to finding out on Monday.
"How come no initial Flash comic? Didn't you think that would sell?"
We needed hot stuff for the second wave.
Licensed books generally bear substantial royalties that drive the breakeven up. Low sales are almost always the reason books are cancelled. Licensed books must sell much better than non-licensed books to be viable.
Other than the plans Byrne made on his own and thoughts that had been in the back of my mind for years, there were no plans made. I didn't even discuss the project with anyone. Obviously, we would have tried to acquire the services of the best creators DC had working for them at the time, and tried to "harness their power for good." : )
Patrick Daniel O'Neill
I have to admit to being glad this never came off. I always liked the differences between the "house styles" at DC and Marvel, because it showed there was more than one way to write super-heroes. I strongly doubt that Marvel, in 1984, had anyone who could draw an iconic Superman the way Curt Swan could (not even Byrne). I know there was no one at either company who ever portrayed super speed better than Carmine Infantino did on the Flash.
IMO, DC's problem in 1984 wasn't the content of the books…it was the fact that all their characters seemed "old"–they were adults with adult jobs, adult attitudes, adult relationships–in a world where the hot market was youth. There's a reason DC's breakout series in the '80s was Teen Titans.
I still remember being bowled over when you shared that story with me. Then again, most of the interview I felt like a bowling pin. Thanks, as always, Jim.
Thanks for sharing this part of history
How come no initial Flash comic? Didn't you think that would sell?
this would have been interesting but how different would it have been compared to the Post Crisis reboot? since all the main characters seemed to get "marvelized" anyways.
So would you have been able to cross over the DC characters with the Marvel ones, or would you be forced to keep them separated? As I recall Marvel had Spider-Man guest star in an issue of Transformers (Spidey and Hound snuck onto an army base with Hound in Jeep mode and Spidey in full costume and an army helmet on his head for a disguise) so I imagine it would have been possible.
I can't be the only one to wish Jim Shooter would be put in charge of DC Comics these days.
Wow. I hope there's more to the story…sounds like you might not have gotten very far into planning creatively how the reboots would go, because of the curve the antitrust suit threw everyone, but was there any internal discussion about how to rework the characters? Creative teams, revised character arcs, et cetera? I'd also be interested in hearing you write about your assessment of the titles DC was publishing at the time. I actually like some of what I've read of the Superman titles of the period–a few months ago, I bought a bunch of the Marv Wolfman/Gil Kane Superman stories in Action, and enjoyed them, and I've loved the Wolfman/Perez Teen Titans stories since childhood. I also liked Alan Moore's stuff, of course. Most of the rest of it, I didn't read at the time, or since, for that matter…
Steve Miller, Writer of Stuff
It would have been a lot more fun than Superman's own reboots over at the Distinguished Competition. As a reader who enjoyed both companies' characters but believed Marvel clearly held the edge, this would have been a dream come true. Marvel had both Star Trek and Star Wars comics on the stands at one point. Had the First suit not messed things up, who knows where we'd be right now.
P.S. This is the kind of story I was hoping that CBG or the Comics Journal would break back in the day. Thanks for letting us know how close we were to reading about it.
*Eyes as big as saucers*
Wow. I have never heard of this. Talk about what might have been. Amazing.