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Items of Interest – And Gary Gygax

About Iron Man….

Steven R. Stahl made an interesting comment:

Steven R. Stahl has left a new comment on your post “A Gem of a Day“:
I’d be interested in an analysis of Iron Man, Mr. Shooter, mainly because I don’t think the character works well. He’s a combination of two characters: an inventor of a suit of armor and a millionaire playboy who has a vague desire to do good. There have been moments when the combination has done well, but not many, and Stark’s identity as a corporate chieftain is very thin. His various businesses have never existed in any substantive sense, except to cause trouble or to be attacked.
There’s also nowhere for Stark to go as a character if he doesn’t age. A playboy becomes repulsive if he ages to the point that he’s unattractive. Stark’s no exception.
I wouldn’t call Iron Man a failure as a character, given the movies’ successes, but he is a failure as a literary character. A novelist might separate him into two characters and then proceed.

SRS

I agree that Iron Man has rarely been handled well. There have been story problems and “literary” disasters in the portrayal, presentation and development of the character from the beginning. The ridiculous origin in Vietnam, is one. But I believe that the core of the character is solid. Genius, in fact. I believe Iron Man is not a failure as a literary character inherently, but far too often has been misunderstood, mishandled and misrepresented by comic book creative people.

It seems to me that some of the things about Iron Man that don’t work can easily be discarded or repaired. So, let’s assume a workable origin. Assume the weak or damaged heart and his means of dealing with it make sense given the current state of medical science as well as the super-science that is inherently part of the series. Assume that the armor is credible and works within context.

I haven’t researched it, but when I first read Iron Man in the 1960’s the idea of a non-super man empowered by the costume (in his case, armor) he wears was new to me. And I loved it. I still love it. The complexities of his character you mention (and others) and the conflicts that arise from them are unique and special.  The dichotomies are not problems, but opportunities, in my way of thinking.

For instance, one of the keys to the character as established by Stan and Jack is compassion. Tony Stark has a heart. : ) In the Avengers issue wherein the Avengers battle the Hulk and Sub-Mariner (#3?) Iron Man keeps Sub-Mariner from falling into Thor’s hands because Thor is “too angry.” Tony won’t let even the bad guy get hurt if he can help it. That’s from memory, but I believe I’m correct. Incidents illustrating Stark’s compassion came along regularly.

Here’s that panel. I found it in the Marvel Masterworks – JayJay

However, Stark is a businessman, and pragmatic. He makes the tough decisions when he has to. One way I used that dichotomy was in an Avengers story Alan Weiss drew. When it seemed that the only way to save the world was to kill the momentarily helpless Molecule Man, other Avengers balked. Though I’d previously established his compassionate nature, Iron Man was ready to do what had to be done—however, Tigra found another way to save the day.

I found the issue Jim referred to and I thought this two page sequence was interesting. – JayJay

 

I’ll further explain my point of view when I do the review.

I bet we could think of lots of characters that have a brilliant concept, but quickly drifted away from it (and could be brought back to it).

The first example from ancient days that pops into my head is Silver Age Green Lantern. That drifted off-concept almost from the get-go, in my opinion. Test pilot Hal Jordan was the most fearless man in the world, therefore uniquely able to wield the greatest weapon in the universe, which ran on willpower, which is the ability to conquer fear. Within one issue he degraded to fighting menaces with giant green boxing gloves and household objects, no more mention of his core concept—his unique fearlessness. Said another way, the origin was all about Hal Jordan, the series ongoing was all about the “magic ring.” The nonsensical, trumped-up weakness against things colored yellow is proof to me that Julie and company lost it midway through the first story. They already had a limiting factor, willpower. No need for a silly “yellow peril” gimmick.

Also, I suspect we could name some characters who stumbled around in search of a concept for a while, then found one. The Hulk went through a number of concept changes (and one color change) in the first few issues. And it really wasn’t until the TV show came along and the TV writers clarified the concept that the right one stuck. Before the show, the intro box on the splash page said that Bruce Banner turned into the Hulk in “times of stress.” Len Wein and other writers played pretty fast and loose with that. Fear, pain, bad seafood, pretty much any “stress” turned Banner into the Hulk. Len once had a scene in which Banner was tied to a chair. In order to make himself become the Hulk, he hurt himself by tipping the chair over backwards so he’d thump his head on the floor.

TV writers crystallized the concept: anger brought out the Hulk. Perfect. “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

The other thing was that Banner always managed to become the Hulk when it was convenient, and becoming the Hulk always solved the problem. The TV show made a stab at the idea that it wasn’t convenient sometimes, that the Hulk was dangerous, unpredictable and not the answer to the problem sometimes. In fact, the Hulk increased the danger-ante. They, too, however, eventually lapsed into having Banner change at convenient times.

Anyway….

Meeting Gary Gygax On a Manhattan street I often traversed there was a store that sold nothing but role playing games. It was in the 50’s, not too far west of Fifth Avenue. 56th?  59th? Oh, I don’t know. It was called the Complete Strategist, I think, but I could be wrong about that, too. Obviously, the games they sold were designed so you and an opponent could re-fight, say, World War II, or Waterloo, or whatever. Someone who knew about such games explained a lot about them to me. I think it was Mike Barr.

Sometime during the first couple of years of my term as Editor in Chief of Marvel, I met and dated a brilliant, beautiful Canadian woman named Karen for as long as she could stand me.

Karen played this crazy thing with a rule book as thick as the Yellow Pages called Dungeons & Dragons. I never played with her and her D&D friends—it would have taken way to long for me to get up to speed—but I watched a few times.

So, I knew who Gary Gygax was. And I was very pleased to receive this memo from Vince Karp, one of Marvel’s agents.

Gygax, I figured, must be a very cool guy. Here’s the Wikipedia link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gary_Gygax

Here’s Vince’s follow-up memo:

At the appointed time, Gary Gygax showed up with several executives of his company, TSR, Inc. I don’t remember their names or all their exact roles, but one was the Chief Financial Officer and the others were V.P.’s of this or that.

We met in Mike Hobson’s office, which, for those keeping score had previously been Stan’s office. I’ve described it somewhere along the way. Anyway, it was spacious and accommodating.

Present from the Marvel side were Vince Karp, Mike, me, and three people from upstairs—the President, Jim Galton and the directors of domestic and international licensing (later they each became V.P.’s).

Gary and his troops talked about what they did. Gary struck me as a brilliant, clever and creative guy.

I was also impressed that his top executives, suit-and-tie business people types who wouldn’t look out of place at MetLife, all knew the game and played the game. They clearly loved D&D.

Then it was our turn to talk about what we did. Galton and the licensing people made it clear that they were far too dignified and sophisticated as human beings to ever read a comic book. They joked about not knowing anything about the comics.

I have to believe the TSR people had to be a little insulted. If Marvel’s execs thought that proper adult business people worried only about dollars and deals, that actually reading the books would be somehow embarrassing, then what might they be thinking of TSR’s game-playing execs?

At least Mike had a fair idea of what D&D was, and of course, Vince did. I tried to show that I was familiar, too, and talk about the comics positively. Gygax and I had common ground when it came to the value of story.

If Alice Donenfeld, our wonderful, super-smart V.P. of Business Affairs had been there, I guarantee she would have done her homework, and that might have balanced things a bit, but no such luck.

We all went to lunch. The Marvel people wanted to talk numbers, units, dollars and deals. I wanted to talk more with Gygax about his own story and his creative vision. We got a few exchanges in, not many. I liked the guy.

Nothing ever came of that meeting. I think it was because the attitude of our brass turned the TSR people off.

However, a couple of years later, Marvel Productions co-produced a D&D animated show. I guess Vince and or his successors kept after the TSR people and eventually made that happen.

I ran into Gary Gygax several times after that at trade shows and such. We never had much time to talk. Too bad.

Items of Interest

Another DC newsstand sales figures memo:

We’ve spoken a lot about Steve Ditko here recently. Here’s a great little periodical about Steve and things Ditko that Rob Imes sends me. Thanks again, Rob. You can see how to get in touch with him on the indicia page below:

NEXT: Surprising Sinnott and More Items of Interest

JayJay here. Jim recently mentioned the Spider-Man Wedding party that Marvel threw at the Tunnel. I ran across the invitation yesterday:

 

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A Gem of a Day – Part 2

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Surprising Sinnott and Items of Interest

80 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    I was always a big fan of Iron Man as a kid, but more in The Avengers than in his own comic. I always admired the friendship between Captain America and Iron Man. I remember a comic where Iron Man showed up with a letter for someone that had been lying around Avenger's Mansion. I can't remember who it was now, but Iron Man flew in with the letter, delivered it, and flew back off. I always thought that was so funny and random.

  2. JayJay, thanks! The art looks like John Romita's to me, but I'm not a skilled art spotter, so I didn't want to post my guess.

  3. Marce, I didn't design that invitation… in fct it may have been the Tunnel people, I'm not sure. By this time at Marvel I was art director of advertising, so my job had gotten a bit more into concepts and production issues rather than just design. I don't know who drew the Spider-Man and Mary Jane, but it sure looks like John Romita or someone ghosting his style to me. John was on staff at this time. He was in charge of the art corrections dept. (Romita's Raiders) among his other responsibilities.

  4. Dear Jim,

    (Continuing from my misplaced comments here)

    Kurt Busiek fused Iron Man with Green Lantern into the "Iron Lantern" for Amalgam in the mid-90s. Stark's iron will matches Jordan's willpower.

    I've read the first Showcase volume of Green Lantern, and I can't remember any instances in which Jordan's willpower was put to the test. Great art, but short on human situations. I don't know if that was true of GL in the late 70s, but I did notice that the human-driven Weird Western Tales, Sgt. Rock, Unknown Soldier, Jonah Hex, and Men of War outsold Green Lantern! (Thanks for the numbers.)

    I had the same problem with early Iron Man stories. More iron than man.

    I liked the Hulk TV show as a kid because it was about men, not supervillains. I've never been able to really get into the Hulk comics, even though I've read every Hulk story up to mid-1969. The Hulk story that's stayed with me for decades is the origin because of the Gargoyle who dies like a man. The Toad Men and others that followed didn't measure up to that little mutant.

    The parallels between Gary Gygax's life story and yours never occurred to me until Luke Martinez brought them up. I'll have to check out the Gygax interview part 1 / part 2) that Steve S. mentioned.

    Dear JayJay,

    Did you design the wedding invitation? Who drew Spider-Man and Mary Jane?

    Dear Diabolu Frank,

    I never saw the potential of Martian Manhunter until I read New Frontier.

    Phillip Beadham mentioned Stark's love for the little guy. Makes sense to me. Stark is an inventor, not an accumulator. Money is great, but neither it nor bling are his great goals in life. He doesn't define himself by his wealth and so differences in income levels don't matter to him. He doesn't look down on Happy and Pepper. On the contrary, he may envy them. They can navigate a human world he's struggling to understand.

    Dan said Marvel and DC heroes "DON'T WANT ANYTHING." Stark as I see him wants to be more human. He's got genius, money, and the ultimate outfit, but he wants more. Technology improves, but the objects of our desire remain elusive. I'm imagining the Beyonder watching our quests, wondering what the big deal is.

  5. Cliffy

    Those one-page D&D ads were pencilled (yes pencilled) by Bill Willingham, I believe.

    They ran for a bit and then I guess TSR decided the serialization wasn't worth the trouble so the final ad (which was not the end of the story, just a typical iteration) got rerun for quite a while — years, I'd say. I got into comics at that point and I always though it so strange to see it without the context of the prior episodes, which I only encountered years later after I'd started hunting back issues.

  6. In 1979, I was a stagehand at a concert featuring Warner Bros. country artists. After the stage was setup, it was fun hanging out back stage with all the stars. I got to see Jerry Clower in person but I didn't try to meet him. I liked to just soak in the ambiance of being back stage. I distinctly remember him standing about 4 feet in front of me talking to some other people and I just listened. Ray Stevens was there as well as the Bellamy Brothers. To this day I still tell people that Buck Owens winked at my sister. I'd forgotten about that day until you mentioned Jerry Clower.

  7. I have always been a fan and admirer of the late, great Jerry Clower. Don't ask why, but I used to think he was just the greatest thang since sliced bread back in the day. I still recall his stories fondly and have a bible he autographed for me. I think he's a bit similar to Justin Wilson in the stories he tells. Here is the story that I got that quote from:

    Jerry Clower – Bully Has Done Flung A Cravin

  8. Dear Steven,

    When JayJay (deliberately) lapses into her native Texas Hill Country talk, one of her favorite expressions is "Ya flung a cravin' on me!" Thanks to you, sir, I now have a cravin' to write Iron Man and make it work, CEO, CFO, COO and all.

    Not to mention the Hulk, the Thing, Franklin Richards and all pantheons. Thar ya go.

    Sigh.

  9. Dear Anonymous,

    I know the Crest commercials you're talking about, but I don't have any inside knowledge about them. Sorry.

  10. Dear Brian,

    You are wise. I suspect that you walk by night an know many things. : )

  11. Dear Badmike,

    I don't remember the blow-by-blow, but Marvel's licensing people eventually talked the TSR people into licensing the Marvel characters, which Gygax liked.

  12. The three numbers are:
    – Print run for the newsstand market (copies for the Direct Market comics shops not included — they're accounted separately)
    – sales through the newsstand market (only)
    – and percentage of sell-through.

    For instance, the December issue of Action Comics: 251,000 were printed and shipped to the ID Wholesalers that supply the newsstands and other non-Direct Market retail outlets, 86,000 of those copies were sold making the percentage of sell-through 34.2%. That means that 165,000 copies were reported as unsold by the ID's and either pulped or sold and not reported as sold.

  13. Jim- on that memo re: DC sales figures–what do the three columns of numbers represent? I'm assuming the first number is sales. The second is maybe returns? And the third…?

  14. Hahaha…those are pretty great, as well. I like the Ghost Rider one with Mrs. Ghost Rider and Monkey Ghost Rider. Classic!

  15. These are totally off-topic, but the artist (Kerry Callen) who created the animated gif covers created some really amusing covers for "What if DC published Marvel characters?"
    The Captain America cover from the 60's is hilarious! Spot on!

  16. Very cool use of some classic covers. Two thumbs (and big toes) up!

  17. Yeah, I go back and forth between the Spidey and Iron Man ones as my favorite. Seeing ol' Shellhead with the "shakes" is kind of amusing to me for some reason.

    I guess the real test would be to ask the original artists how they felt about them. My guess is that Ditko would hate it, Layton would dig it and Miller would be too busy raging against Occupy protesters to care…

    Glad everyone else seemed to dig them though!

  18. "Krazy Kat is the essence of Captain America"
    WOW!

  19. Jim,

    Thank you for the plug for my fanzine Ditkomania! It's much appreciated.

  20. Dear Jerry,

    The Dark Knight Returns #1 cover is especially groovy.

  21. I agree, Jerry. Freakin' cool. ; )

  22. Anonymous

    Mike H. commented the Iron Man stories were "thin" and that would go for the post Ditko Spider-Man, as well as Daredevil.
    Stan was probably putting so much effort into the more immaginative books like Thor and the Fantastic Four that he tended to coast on the more down to Earth books. The thing I don't get is why the Stan/John Buscema Silver Surfer had almost the same plot over and over again. Maybe it was Stan's own Krazy Kat.

    Philip

  23. Thanks for that link, Jerry B – those are pretty damn cool. Wish there were more of them.

    I grew up with such a golden age of Cap: Kirby (tho I wasn't into it at the time, I love it now), Stern, Engelhart, DeMatteis – all of them presented the character to me pretty damn strongly. I thought the movie that came out earlier this year really nailed it and exchanged some tweets with JMD about it – I'm happy they used some of the backstory/ origin he gave the Red Skull. "Don't want to kill anybody – I just hate bullies." Amen, Cap. Got a tear in my eye at the end, too. "I had a date." Anyway.

    I haven't really been into any Marvel mythos since 1991 or so. A few friends are constantly trying to get me to check out new storylines. I'm sure some of them are good; I just honestly don't care. The thrill is gone, oh my, oh why. The only Marvels I've really enjoyed over the past 20 years are either "elseworlds" type sagas (like 1602, Earth X, Wolverine: Origins (the original, not the whatever-it-turned-into-subsequently) and X-Men Forever. Which was a total mess, but kind of fun. I was very forgiving. I wish they'd hire Jim for a Secret Wars Forever or Avengers Forever or a Whatever-the-hell-he-wants-to-do Forever of some kind.) or stuff like the Age of Sentry mini-series, i.e. homages to the golden years.

    All of which is just to say, I'd personally rather see Jim and JayJay review something like Jeff Smith's RASL, or Fraction/ Ba's Casanova, or Way/Ba's Umbrella Academy, or even Miller's Holy Terror, stuff that doesn't necessarily relate to forever-flipflopping/retconning Marvel continuity. But the truth is, I'll read whatever review they want to do, of course. I second the idea up there somewhere about doing a podcast. How cool would that be? I don't know what the expense involved would be.

    As for Iron Man, issue 150 is one of my favorite Marvel comics ever. I'm happy it makes most of the "best Dr Doom stories of all time" lists I've seen. I read it pretty faithfully from issue 130 to 250 or so, then stopped when I stopped with all Marvels. (The sequel to the Doom/ Camelot story, by the way, in issue 250 was awful. Sign o'the times – Marvel was cranking out some serious dog-doo around that time.)

  24. Anonymous

    Iron Man to me allways represented "the man". Even as a kid, I hated Stark when he would bring various gorgeous starlets back to his pad and a villan would attack. You just knew off-panel he was having sex with her later. As a young teenager, these comics all ready showed me that the beautiful women were just interested in money. I hated Stark even more during the "Civil War". Of course he would be on the side of the government, they're his major customer for his various weapons systems.
    -Jeremy Rose

  25. DJ

    Jim,
    I agree Roger Stern got Cap, but then Roger could write the proverbial shopping list and make it interesting.
    You said: "Cap represents the ideals of America — freedom and justice for all. He is the champion of freedom, not a conservative, not a republican, not a jerk, not a throwback, not a servant of the government or the current administration. The champion of the ideals this country was founded upon."
    True, but more, he may be partly named America, but he stands as a symbol of universal freedom. He certainly inspired me growing up in Scotland, and it was the simple truths that he represented that stuck with me: Honesty, integrity, compassion, the right of each (and any) individual to express themselves as they chose, supporter of the underdog against the oppressor, and freedom fighter against those who would shackle, or dictate to us. These may be old fashioned virtues, but they are virtues, and Cap speaks to more than America when he gives one of his speeches. That's what Roger Stern got, and JM DeMatteis too, although he was slightly less subtle.
    America, indeed the world, would do well to listen to Cap, and try to remember it's basic tenets: By the people, for the people.
    Cheers.
    David J.

  26. There seem to be a lot of "old school" (i.e. traditional) people here when it comes to comics and the like, so I'd like some opinions (including Jim and Jay Jay) on these: https://harrison.jux.com/51247.

    They're classic comic covers turned into animated GIF's. I, for one, think they are pretty freakin' cool and breathe new life into those classic pieces…but that could be just me.

  27. ELS

    Mr. Shooter,

    You are absolutely correct. Sergius O'Shaugnessey was a Denny O'Neil pseudonym. He didn't write bad Superfriends stories, but I think he condescended a little too much, writing down to his audience. I didn't like them…

    Re: Captain America – you're right that Roger Stern got Cap and wrote him great. Then again, Roger Stern writes a LOT of books great…

    In fact, I rather enjoyed your treatment of Cap when I saw a couple of features you wrote him (Secret Wars, Avengers.) You wrote one of my favorite Cap lines of all time (and lord, I hope I'm remembering it right!) – "Some of my best friends are people", during Secret Wars. Now, the fact that he was just slightly plinking Wolverine at the time was fun too.

    Captain America represents what America can and should be, not necessarily what it is. Unfortunately, I think some people miss the idea. But you're right, some do get it. Cap is about a struggle, sometimes, about doing the right thing against doing what people expect or think America SHOULD be.

    I remain,
    Sincerely,
    Eric L. Sofer
    x<]:o){
    The Silver Age Fogey

  28. To my knowledge, the Statements of Ownership were reasonably accurate with this caveat: newsstand sales reported were based on the ID Wholesalers' reports, and, as I explained, they were generally false on the low side.

  29. Blade X

    I have a quick question for Mr. Shooter. How reliable/accurate is the sales info from the STATEMENT OF OWNERSHIP?

  30. Jim, re: Krazy Kat book, e.e. cummings intro, I had that book too. When you described the intro, I flashed back to when I had first read it (I was probably about 20 at the time), and it resonated with me too. Think I bought it at the Yale Co-Op. Great book, sold to the used book seller ages ago when I was in a period of poverty and had to sell a lot of stuff. Wish I had that book again. The intro really made the wonder of Krazy Kat's world make sense, and the art put you into another place entirely, if you felt like following George Herrimann there.

  31. I'm a visual person, so describing something to me isn't the same as seeing it. For RPG's to interest me, the DM needs to have both more interesting thoughts than what is on my mind (rarely is that the case), plus I'd have to have an interest in fantasy more so than possibility. I don't. Pure fantasy has never interested me in any form.

    I did like Hudnall's Harsh Realm series where fantasy elements were backed by science in a VR setting. I've always liked things in the "Westworld"/"Futureworld" vein.

  32. Dan, you're so right. I first played D&D with a group of clever, intelligent, interesting people and it was a blast. Though, everything this group did together was great. I moved away and found another group to play with, but it was never as good.

    Still friends with most of those original, amazingly cool folks.

  33. Dear Garu,

    A post on the Comics Code Authority is coming up. Thanks.

  34. Dear ELS,

    Am I way off, or was "Sergius O'Shaughnessey" one of Denny O'Neill's pseudonyms?

    Roger Stern "got" Captain America. And did wonderful things. Rog is great. I am privileged to know him. A few others got it too. Get the concept and CA is a joy to write.

    Cap represents the ideals of America — freedom and justice for all. He is the champion of freedom, not a conservative, not a republican, not a jerk, not a throwback, not a servant of the government or the current administration. The champion of the ideals this country was founded upon.

    I once had a book that was all about Krazy Kat. The introduction was written by e.e. cummings. e.e. cummings' intro explained that Offisa Pup was the establishment that venerated freedom. Ignatz the Mouse was the individual who opposed the establishment. Krazy Kat was freedom itself. Offisa Pup was in love with Krazy, and hated (and persecuted) anyone who dared assail Krazy. Ignatz hated Krazy (the darling of the establishment, i.e., Offisa Pup) and threw bricks at him/her (gender always indeterminate).

    But Krazy was in love with Ignatz! Here's the thing:

    Every time a brick Ignatz threw hit Krazy, hearts would appear over Krazy's head! The triumph of the individual over the establishment fulfilled the ideals of freedom and, therefore, Krazy was fulfilled! Joy, joy, joy, love, love, love.

    Get it?

    That e.e. cummings guy was pretty smart.

    William Randolph Hearst got it and kept Krazy Kat creator George Herriman employed when no sane businessman would have.

    Krazy Kat is the essence of Captain America.

    Tom DeFalco borrowed the book that was a collection of Krazy Kat strips that had the intro e.e. cummings wrote, and of course, never returned it.

  35. Mike H.

    Although most Iron Man stories are pretty thin, you have to love the Gene Colan issues. A great example of a what a great artist with a great sense of visual story telling can do for an otherwise uncompelling character.

  36. In college, buddies of mine knew I was into science-fiction, fantasy and comic books, so I was a shoo-in to LOVE D&D, right? Well, I gave it a try for about 8 weeks. Our dungeon master was one of the best, according to the local experts, and we'd get together at a friend's house at about 6 in the evening and "play" until we were too tired to do anything else except go back to our dorm rooms and sleep. In the 8th week, I realized that it had taken someone 3 weeks to go down a hall, open a door and find a box after many rolls of many, many-sided dice. I decided right then and there that this slow-as-molasses boring game was not for me and went out and tried to get laid.

  37. Dan

    I think the above needs elaboration…

    What I mean is, when I create an RPG character I don't just create his past. I create his future. I don't create a status quo that the character returns to after each adventure. The character at higher levels will be in a different place within the game's universe.

    If you look at major characters such as Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, and the FF, they haven't changed much from their original status quo. Superman is the worst for this (only his powers have changed). Batman hasn't changed either, it just seems so because Robin keeps changing. With Daredevil, only the tone of his stories change–from wisecracking acrobat to gritty avenger.

    And we can blame the readers for this problem, too. Whenever a character strays from that original status quo there is a significant drop off in sales. People just lose interest. (And yes I know some characters do evolve, but they are the exception not the rule.)

  38. Dan

    Dungeons and Dragons was and is the greatest game ever invented. Probably, the greatest entertainment ever invented. At no point, not even after a full 3-day weekend of playing (and I mean 12 hrs each day–back in college), did I ever want to stop. I only needed sleep.

    But of course, like sports, the game is only as good as the players. If they're just "roll" playing and not role playing, it's not so great. But if you've got people who know how to create and play a character, then it's incredible.

    DnD–RPGs actually–shouldn't be called a game. It's really a novel writing activity where each participant controls a part of the story. All parts of characterization and plot are in their control. (A good DM doesn't force players into a story tunnel.)

    It was during my heavy RPG days (I play sporadically now) that I realized the major flaw in Marvel and DC's characters. THEY DON'T WANT ANYTHING. When I created a DnD character, the motivation was important. I needed a place for the character to go developmentally. Otherwise I was just accumulating XP and improving stats. When I tried super-hero RPGs, I realized that that wasn't a major part of superheroes. The origin was important–the why of his powers and activism–but after that point it was just one super-police procedural after another. And as we've seen for the past 73 years, characters don't move forward much. And when they do, the companies force a restart. If you like DC, you know the company is utterly obsessed–stuck in a rut, I'd say–with "year one" stories. The company seems determined to remain forever in the first act of any hero's life.

    So as much as I love comics, I put RPGs above them.

  39. I'm guessing about 1979 I stayed around to watch some people play D&D. I realized it was not for me and never really looked back.

  40. I didn't make it to the Spidey-Watson Tunnel party but I did see the ceremony, officiated by Stan "With this ring I do WEB" Lee, at Shea Stadium before a Mets game. Marvel printed a special wedding issue of the comic to give out to everyone and I figured with so many copies, there was no way it could ever be a 'rare collectible.'

    In the first inning the Mets had a homerun and the confetti went flying… confetti made of ripped up Spidey wedding comics, so maybe it did become a rare edition!

  41. I started playing D&D when I was seven years old, and played well into my Navy years and beyond before finally simply running out of free time and friends interested in playing. Life, and work seem to do that from time to time. I never met Gygax, but always imagined him as a really cool guy. I mean why wouldn't he be, right? He created my favorite game.

    We'd also play MSH on occasion, and I've still got a bunch of those crazy characters running around all these years later. I enjoyed the game, for what it was, which was familiar enough and yet customizable at the same time. The first thing we did was set out on an adventure to find Bucky, who was universally considered to have been given the rawest deal of any hero killed in the Marvel U. Good times.

  42. Anonymous

    Regarding Iron Man, I read some of the comic back in the late 80s/early 90s and I always like Denny O'Neil's story best where Stark started drinking and was manipulated by Obadiah Stane the best. It made him seem more human. Most of the other IM stories I ever read went like this:
    – Villain(s) show up and fight Iron Man.
    – Iron Man is overwhelmed by their power.
    – Tony Stark analyzes his weaknesses and builds a newer better suit of armor.
    – Iron Man triumphs. End of story.

    It just never struck as a really strong story idea because too many of the writers were in love with the idea of using Stark's technology to overcome his problems (this is even true when he got sick or something). It got routine and boring fast… the Extremis armor didn't strike as any better of any idea, just an ultimate rip on the technology-saves-the-day motif. Blech!

    t.k.

  43. Dan

    I never cared for Iron Man. Even in comic book reality, he seemed more silly than most. Despite the awesome look, such a massively equipped arsenal compacting into a suitcase was absurd (especially the "roll down" cyber-sleeves). "Repulsor" blasts did not sound cool at all. Lasers, now that's a cool sounding blast ray.

    I rarely ever saw a reference to Stark's need for the chest suit to survive. I remember trying to dig up a reference of when Stark was cured–to no avail. I didn't understand the point of the origin if it didn't mean anything to the adventures.

    A military industrialist as a benevolent hero also failed to be convincing. Stark enabled and profited from the senseless evil carnage that — I thought — heroes tried to prevent. I couldn't help thinking that if Stark wanted to end the world's problems, he could start by cleaning up corporate malfeasance and halting sales of arms to perpetual warmongers. To me, Stark was an integral part of the military industrial complex–meaning, part of the problem not the solution.

  44. Anonymous

    It's funny but i was a kid in the 80s and graduated in 1995. and i know D&D was a thing but i never knew or saw anyone who played it or talked about it.

    Rob

  45. Two things:

    1) I loved the Hulk TV show as a kid. I grew up on a B&W set back then. So when I went and saw it at a neighbors house one night, I freaked out that he was green!

    I related this story to Lou Ferigno(sp?) at a convention a few years ago. I know he is deaf, but I think I he understood and enjoyed it.

    2) D&D was what got me into comics. I can't remember how I fell into D&D. I know my cousin started to do an adventure with me and a few of his friends. It really didn't go anywhere, and degraded quickly by short attention spans. But the idea you can have a game where you can do what ever you want, roll cool dice, and fight monsters appealed immensely to me. Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books were big back then too, and I loved that sort of power and interaction with a story. D&D had their own version of that type of book as well. Somewhere I a found one of the Red Box sets and then it was just days of me dreaming of plate mail armor and turning ghouls.

    My friend collected Iron Man and Transformers comics. He had a paper route with money to burn, and so I would tag along when his mom took him to a comic book store. I got money by mowing my dad's lawn (no allowances for me). I always sorta LIKED comics. I had a small pile I had acquired through out the years It was a much larger pile, but I left a ton of them at a babysitter's house once. I remember I had a Swamp Thing issue that sorta freaked me out. But I had never been a collector or consistent reader.

    At the time, I wasn't even that interested in comics, but then DC came out with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Dragonlance, and Forgotten Realms comics. Well – that I had to check out. I liked them. A lot. I also remember getting their 5 issue run of Swords & Sorcery, which featured stories with Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and Grey Mouser.

    FWIW, the DC/TSR books really were top notch. Jan Duursema, Dave Simons, and Rags Morales were/are all great talents, and I am lucky to start out with such solid artists. These were also in the "new format" series, so the coloring had and airbrush quality to it, and the paper was nicer and whiter.

    Then my friend moved and I took over his paper route. Eventually the D&D titles got concelled, but I still wanted comics. I eneded up doing mail order for awhile, and eventually fell in with a local comic shop which gave good discounts. Soon I was working at Wal-mart and contributing to Rob Liefeld's retirement fund ;o)

    Sorry for the stream-of-consciousness writing – I am tired. Just in short: Gary Gygax and George Lucas were the two people to impact me the most in my live (next to my parents, etc).

  46. The Gygax story is just sad.

    D&D used to have these great little one-page comic ads during the early 80s with a party of adventurers going through a dungeon, teleporting to a dragon's lair, and getting nailed by green slime. I was a D&D player (around 5th and 6th grade when the ads came out) so I enjoyed reading the stories. But the ads were too infrequent for there to be much in the way of continuity or story development, which was frustrating when I was hungry for a whole book about these adventurers.

    I think Marvel missed a huge opportunity to do D&D comics in the early 1980s when literally EVERY kid in my elementary school from 4th to 6th grade was playing D&D at recess. From 1980 to about 1983 D&D was red hot where I lived in southern California and just about everywhere else too.

    I know D&D did a comic years later, but by then the fad had passed and the comics weren't all that successful (or that good) as I recall. Marvel could have done it right, at the right time.

  47. Thanks for the informative comments, Mr. Shooter. As you say, what appear to be defects in a concept might turn out to be assets when used creatively and inventively. However, when they're not used in such ways. . .

    I'd argue that Iron Man has been used better in Avengers series than he has been in his own series over the decades, because his role as an Avenger has been specific and suited to his talents and personality.

    My outlook on things is basically negative. I've worked as an editor, copy editor, and proofreader; when I look at something, what I see first are the defects. And when I look at characters — the Hulk and Thing shouldn't exist. Their psychological problems are solvable. Franklin Richards will always be a child, because his godly power becomes something which has to be eliminated if he ever tries to use it as an adult. Loki isn't a person; he's a walking plot device. If the Marvel Universe were ever rebooted, I'd eliminate all the pantheons, or relegate them to a limbo for forgotten gods.

    There are entire types of stories which don't serve useful purposes, such as a hero resisting mind control. Unless the experience results in discovering something about himself — he loves or hates something — the reader knows he's going to break the control before he does something terrible.

    I haven't given much thought to writing Iron Man as a title character. One problem would be giving his corporation some substance instead of being a source of his wealth and something he's vaguely involved with. But if a writer ever developed his business to the extent that the various C?Os actually had names and interacted with Stark, readers would probably be bored.

    Reading your analysis is like being in an informal class, a useful experience.

    SRS

  48. Jay C said:

    "A Jim Shooter and JayJay commentary on a comic book movie would be a fun and enjoyable post treat."

    What a great idea, I would love to hear that commentary. The Iron Man and Spider-Man films are obvious candidates, though perhaps Evel Shooter could get pretty enthused and revved up watching Ghost Rider. Cage, now $2M better off after selling a mint copy of Action #1, seemed to sleepwalk through that movie in a daze. Most peculiar.

    Is the D&D animated show the one that Mark Evanier worked on and hated so much he had his name removed from the credits?

  49. "I thought you were gonna explain how TSR actually did get the rights to produce a Marvel Superhero's D&D cause i know i played one before."

    I'm pretty sure Jim just told the story of how Marvel failed to get the license to publish D&D comics, which DC picked up and ran with through the 80s and 90s. The level of executives involved seems wholly unnecessary for TSRs bid to produce the Marvel Superheroes game, which for Marvel was probably a pretty minor license easily handled by lower level people and wouldn't need the involvement of the Editor in Chief.

  50. For those interest more in Gary Gygax check out OD&Dities issues 9's and 10's "Interview with Gary Gygax".

    or

  51. Jim:

    I played quite a bit of TSR's Marvel Superheroes game. It was an important part of my comic fandom.

    Interestingly, Gygax was forced out of the company he loved by non-fan outsiders. Sound familiar?

    I met Gary a number of times. He was a warm, friendly, wonderful man.

  52. Anonymous

    Jim said of Iron-Man: "The ridiculous origin in Vietnam, is one."

    Can't blame Stan for that. The origin is a direct swipe from the Jack Kirby Green Arrow story "The War that Never Ended."

    Philip

  53. Anonymous

    Jim, could you sometime speak about the genesis of the Crest commercials? You know, with the Cavity Creeps? I remember thinking at the time that it sure looked very Marvel..

  54. Garu

    Hey Jim,

    Assuming you haven't done this already, would you consider writing a blog about the Comic Code Authority? I'd like to hear a brief retelling of it's history, about your opinions on it as a reader, about when you first started working in comics, the effect it had on other creators, any role it played during your time at Marvel, any opinions or stories Stan might of had related to it, and your opinions on it now that it's gone. I may be alone on this but I think that could make for some interesting stories.

  55. Those two pages of Avengers have more drama, character development, and plain intellectual heft than four issues of any modern comic book. That must be why the "graying" fans are simultaneously so rabid about the old stuff and disappointed with the new stuff.

  56. Anonymous

    Thanks for the Gary Gygax tidbit, Mr. Shooter.

    Have you ever tried any speech recognition programs to speed up your writing? Windows 7 has a built in one. Might be something to look into if you haven't tried one yet.

    James Roberts

  57. Compleat Strategist also had a 57th street store for a time- a good friend of mine worked there- if I recall correctly, it was never as successful or comprehensive as the original(?) 33rd street location.

  58. Anonymous

    The good thing about Iron Man was it was this dude who had a kickass suit of armour…. that's about it.

    Wouldn't have mattered if he was a playboy, an accountant or a high school dweeb, he had that cool suit.

    Pete Marco

  59. Hulk was definitely a title searching for a direction for many many years. To me… above all else, Hulk was a beauty and the beast love story. The superhero aspect was both a curse and a means to overcome any obstacle in the way.

    A hero must ultimately overcome. I liked the fact that when he did overcome the obstacle, he was calm about it. No deep thought he just moved on. I think Hulk reflected the mindset of an introvert. He wanted to be left alone. Most superheroes are extroverts, so I think Hulk is a character that can better appeal to an introvert better.

    When Peter David wrote Hulk, I had no use for the character. He wrote some other characters and just called them the same names. As I write this, it makes sense to me that Peter David wrote stories that appealed to extroverts. It's a waste of time explaining why his run pisses me off. I was just glad to see it end and I didn't have to turn green.

    I can't tell you what I think about Hulk having a son, there being a red Hulk etc. Whatever is going on in comics now is just stupid. I avoid even thinking about it. I'll never buy the comics, so it doesn't matter.

  60. What appealed to me about Iron Man beginning as a kid (first issues in the early 70s) *was* the fact that this uber-wealthy business guy *cared about the little guy.* I recall the Blizzard issues (#86-87) where two security guards are willing to [attempt to] tackle the freezing villain because "considering what [Stark] pays us, we aim to please 'im!" He was also considerate of unions (the admittedly silly Mandarin-as-Gene Khan issues of the mid-#50s), and much later on writer Len Kaminski expanded upon this positive Stark attribute during "Crash and Burn" (#s 301-306) when he elaborately laid out how Stark's co. would be completely open to the public, and use a totally new way of doing business.

    In a time when greed and avarice are front-page news, we could use a bit more of that "old" Tony Stark persona.

  61. ELS

    ITEM: Superfriends was a GREAT comic IMO. It was not a childish throwaway concept (any more than any other comic was.) The stories and art were a little more accessible to a younger audience, perhaps – but I'll stand up and beat bloody anyone who calls Ramona Fradon's (or Kurt Schaffenberger's) art childish. The same fate will befall Bridwell detractors. (Now, for "Sergius O'Shaugnessey"…. okay, those were pretty bad stories.) Unfortunately, the cartoons did not nearly live up to the quality of the comics.

    ITEM: Mr. Shooter, while Iron Man might have been hard to write – although I think that, as you do, I see a lot of story tags – and the Hulk is hard to write more than six issues for without being a one note character, I believe that the hardest high profile character to write for has to be Captain America. He is quite obviously a WWII character, and in any modern setting, is hard to get correct while being taken seriously. I've seen a few of the Cap runs and I just think that some people simply don't get him… because his concept is so simple that he's very complicated. I think that's the really hard character to write for.

  62. I loved the Marvel game for the most part. My biggest criticism is that while it shouldn't be easy to kill a character (definitely harder than in D&D or in James Bond's RPG) it fell into the other extreme of being next to impossible for anyone to die. At the time the game was made, returns from the dead were more uncommon and in fact it pretty much coincided with the Scourge storyline (I'd love to hear behind the scenes stuff on that), and it's a game, not canon, so there should have been more of a risk factor. You don't want players sleepwalking through a RPG because they know their character is essentially immortal.

  63. Yes, TSR did eventually pick up the Marvel license, and released the surprisingly popular Marvel Superheroes game in 1984. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marvel_Super_Heroes_%28role-playing_game%29). The focus was on playing named heroes from the Marvel universe, but you could create your own characters in the system. It never seemed to compete well with the Champions RPG, but we played a lot of it back in the day. An "Advanced" version was released two years later, and then a SAGA edition in the early 2000's. There's a new licensed game in the works from Margaret Weis Productions, which is now in playtesting, IIRC.

  64. I used to work for the Florida branch of the Compleat Strategist. It's now a couple blocks from the Empire State Building, still open and doing OK.

  65. That Molecule Man story (Avengers #215 & 216) was the first Avengers two-parter I ever read. Being a kid (and relatively new to superhero comics) I actually bought the cliffhanger, which made it all that much sweeter in the long run. Brilliant storytelling.

  66. I meant "weighs", not "ways"!

  67. Iron Man's origin – the Vietnam artificial heart – relates to the Tin(Iron)Man in the Wizard of Oz.Tony gains "heart" i.e. compassion – sticking up for the "little guy". There are so many examples. How angry Iron Man becomes, when he mistakenly thinks Iron Fist attacked a middle-aged security guard(Iron Fist#1), who couldn't defend himself, immediately springs to mind. Jim, I think you used to highlight this character trait, by making Iron Man often try to protect allies (like Thor) who could look after themselves (some colleagues, not understanding, felt a little patronised, perhaps). This characterisation made clear the "protectiveness" was Tony's issue, rather than the demands of the situation. Iron Man's pragmatism is one of his most obvious traits. Jim absolutely nailed that. It's very obvious at the end of the Korvac Saga. Less obvious, perhaps, is that it also relates to himself. With Tony Stark, decisions are a calculation, just like a business deal in which he ways the pros & cons, then acts. For example, Iron Man overloaded his armour, possibly taking his own life, to remove the 'menace' of the Hulk. This seems foolish; but to a pragmatist it made sense. What's one life as opposed to the many it would save? It was a calculation.

  68. Kid

    Another example is Superman himself. Originally the champion of the oppressed in stories one could relate to, the series eventually became far too SF orientated, to the extent that Superman lost his uniqueness and descended into absurdity.

  69. "The dichotomies are not problems, but opportunities, in my way of thinking."

    This. This, exactly, is why I think Iron Man is one of Marvel's best characters (even if the recent handling of him has been an up-and-down affair, although I think Matt Fraction is writing Tony really well) (Salvador Larocca's sometimes thrilling, sometimes static art is a more mixed bag).

    Anyway, in the right hands, Stark (and it is Stark– like the best Marvel characters, the costume is just an extension or variation or enhancement on the more interesting "civilian" identity) is absolutely fascinating, PRECISELY because of his contradictions. He is a hedonistic playboy who also burns with passion for the common good; he is a rightfully proud businessman willing to sacrifice the bottom line for what he thinks is right (countless examples, but the one that springs to mind is in IRON MAn #149 when he kills a lucrative deal with Latveria because he won't sell parts to Dr. Doom); he is a man whose genius makes him occasionally impatient with others' inabilities to prophecy the future with the same kind of speed and accuracy, and yet he's the one who brings (and keeps together, in the early days) the Avengers, the ultimate Marvel super-team.

    All of that is why introducing Tony's alcoholism works so well– not because of the social lessons the story teaches (although that's extremely admirable), but because it's so within his character: that someone with so many talents, skills, pressures, and high-functioning personality quirks might seek escape in something outside himself (as Michelinie and Layton said back in 1980– and Denny O'Neil developed in epic form a few years later– the armor is one kind of escape, the bottle another). And it gives all these contradictions and paradoxes a single symbolic form in that bottle: deciding whether to escape into himself, or seek help and stay dry to continue serving the common good, is both the most dramatic and the most tragically personal way all these contradictions play out for Iron Man.

    I mean, yeesh! That's drama! And I'd think it'd be a writer's playground of rich character potential. The trick, for me, is to emphasize the "Man" rather than the "iron" (again, the latter is just an enhancement of the former); and just as importantly, to understand that ALL of these elements of Tony (potentially good or bad) are part of him (he is large, he contains multitudes). When the book has faltered, it's because too many writers in the last fifteen years or so (but not all of them, it should be noted– there have been some great stories) have felt so uncomfortable with one aspect or another of Tony's persona, and either ignored it, ret-conned it into something else that better suited their own beliefs, or used it as an excuse to tell heavy-handed allegories that really don't suit the character (I think Mark Millar can write a good story, but CIVIL WAR was such a botched opportunity). Stan Lee's original, tongue-in-cheek challenge, roughly, "I'm going to write a character fans would normally hate! He's a capitalist, a sexist, a man who makes war weapons…And they're going to LOVE him!," hasn't always been met by folks writing Iron Man. Which is why, even though I don't love everything he's doing on the book, I think Fraction is worth reading, because he at least gets and loves Tony in all of his paradoxical glory.

  70. "If I remember, Mayfair got the rights to the DC Heroes RPG and it wasn't nearly as successful as the MSH game."

    Because the Marvel game was much simpler. The DC Game was much, much better for creating and playing your own characters.

  71. Dear John Jackson Miller,

    Direct Market copies sold were not included in newsstand sales reports.

  72. Jim, riffing on what Son of Spam said, how did TSR get the rights to the MSH (Marvel Superheroes) RPG? If I remember, Mayfair got the rights to the DC Heroes RPG and it wasn't nearly as successful as the MSH game.

    BTW, I think you and Gary would have gotten along famously, Jim. His is a true American success story in almost every way, and he was quite an interesting fellow! Ironically he was forced out of the company he helped create in 1985 by crooked stockholders, sort of paralleling your situation at Valiant.

  73. Now I'm curious to hear your review of Green Lantern: Rebirth. That story directly addresses your criticisms, and forms the basis for the modern interpretation of Green Lantern.

  74. Jay C

    speaking of commentaries:

    A Jim Shooter and JayJay commentary on a comic book movie would be a fun and enjoyale post treat.

    Many sites do mp3 commentaries of movies and tv shows, and it should be an easy and fun-filled night.

    It might not take any longer than a normal post considering how long it takes to type with two fingers.

  75. On the topic of Kenneth Johnson, any Commentary track he does for his TV work is worth a listen. Very little dead air between anecdotes.

  76. I thought you were gonna explain how TSR actually did get the rights to produce a Marvel Superhero's D&D cause i know i played one before.

  77. More interesting sales figures — earliest you've shown. Guessing that is like the other page — newsstand draws on the left, sales on the right, sub copies not included. By 1979, I'm guessing any direct market copies would have been accounted for separately from these totals.

    Interesting annotation: "Kids TV not much help" next to SUPER FRIENDS.

  78. Regarding the Hulk TV series, I was a huge fan but eventually the lack of character movement turned me off. The series just settled into it's "Fugitive knock-off" formula and only 2 Hulk-outs per episode – it got stale. Still, the series brought me to the comic.

    For a hearty laugh, checkout the HulkOutList at Kenneth Johnson's website – http://kennethjohnson.us/HulkOutList.html
    Try to read it top-to-bottom and I guarantee you'll eventually be rolling on the floor!

  79. "I bet we could think of lots of characters that have a brilliant concept, but quickly drifted away from it (and could be brought back to it)."

    I'll throw one out: the Martian Manhunter. An alien from a socially advanced society that ended war and crime 1,000 years earlier. They'd developed powers of the mind and body, but their space program wasn't quite up to snuff. J'onn J'onzz gets stuck on Earth, and makes the best of it by using his amazing powers to improve Earth within the limits of local laws and while drawing as little attention to himself as possible. Also stuck with a catastrophic weakness the negates all his powers at the flick of a match. He's basically a scientist who uses deductive reasoning and a few almost believable metaphysical powers to help his adoptive home while hewing closely to the Prime Directive. So, what's the first thing they do once co-creator Joe Samachson leaves? Introduce Martian criminals, have them run around openly on Earth, and ladle on power after power until having him acting as a police detective becomes so absurd that the concept is abandoned entirely for a quarter century. Who needs another off-model Superman?

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