Writer. Creator. Large mammal.

Category: 05 Secret Origins Page 1 of 2

Secrets of the Secret Wars

The road that led to Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars actually began when Kenner Toys licensed the DC Universe for a boys’ action figure line. Their competitor, Mattel, already had their He-Man action figure line, which was doing very well, but wanted to hedge the bet in case comic book character action figures became the rage. So, they came to Marvel to talk about licensing our characters. One thing they demanded of us was an “event,” a special publication or series to help launch the toy line. I offered an idea that was suggested by a dozen or so correspondents — usually younger ones — in the fan mail every day: one big, epic story with all (or many) of the heroes and villains in it. Everyone agreed.

We went through a number of ideas for names for the toy line and series. Mattel’s focus group tests indicated that kids reacted positively to the words “wars” and “secret.” Okay.

Mattel had a number of other requirements. Doctor Doom, they said, looked too medieval. His armor would have to be made more high-tech. So would Iron Man’s, because their focus groups indicated that kids reacted positively…etc. Okay.

They also said there had to be new fortresses, vehicles and weapons because they wanted playsets, higher price point merchandise and additional play value. Okay.

The Origin of the Phoenix Saga

Here’s what happened:

Chris, X-Men editor Jim Salicrup and I went to lunch at the Ultimate Lotus, a Chinese restaurant that happened to be in the same building as Marvel (575 Madison Avenue) to discuss a new story arc for the X-Men. Freewheeling, I pointed out that while Marvel had many heroes who started out as villains–the Black Widow, Hawkeye, several others–we’d never had a hero who went bad. I suggested that Chris evolve Phoenix into a villain, permanently and irrevocably, the new “Doctor Doom” for the X-Men.  Salicrup and Chris liked the idea and Chris began work on what eventually became the “Dark Phoenix” saga.

In those days, I had so much to deal with besides the comics–the change in the copyright law, schedule problems, two or three lawsuits against Marvel, domestic licensing, international licensing, fighting with the board of directors re: royalties and incentives, trying to teach the writers to write, the pencilers to tell stories, the inkers to ink, the colorists to color (the letterers were basically okay) that I often didn’t read the comics until they were in the “make-ready” stage. Make-readies were, essentially, printer’s proofs.

The Coming of ROM: A Knight’s Tale

Sometime early in 1979, Marvel Comics President Jim Galton called me to his office to discuss an opportunity to license a toy property—ROM, the Spaceknight.  We’d had some success with the Micronauts, which the legendary licensing/toy genius Stan Weston had pitched to me, and I had licensed, so Galton was immediately interested in a new Parker Brothers toy that he had somehow become aware of.  Galton knew nothing about comics, and couldn’t care less about them—but he was very interested in making money.  If one toy property worked, why wouldn’t another?The name “ROM,” by the way, comes from Read-Only Memory.  It was one of the first toys with a chip inside that allowed it to do simple tricks like making sounds and flashing lights.

Galton and I flew up to Boston on the Eastern Airlines Shuttle—remember that?—and drove out to wherever Parker Brothers offices were—in a beautiful, wooded setting, as I recall—and met with their brass and licensing people.  We worked out a deal.  I’m certain we had a pretty standard licensing deal, except that the creator of ROM, Bing McCoy, had a significant participation.  After Parker Brothers was out of the mix, I suppose we paid only Bing McCoy’s portion of the royalties.

I created the basic premise for the comic book series—the fundamental backstory (beyond what Bing and Parker Brothers had graven in stone).  Bill Mantlo and whoever the editor was fleshed it out.  For instance, Brandy Clark was definitely Bill’s creation, or at least he named her.  On the other hand, Clairton (a small town in the Pittsburgh area, near where I grew up, transplanted for story purposes to West Virginia) and Galador are names I provided.

The Secret Origin of the TRANSFORMERS – Part 1

In 1983, a toy company approached Marvel Comics seeking development of a toy property for comics, animation and other entertainment.  The toys in question were cars and other vehicles that could be opened and unfolded into ROBOTS.  Very cool.

The toy company was KNICKERBOCKER TOYS.  They called their toy property, based on technology licensed from a Japanese company, the “MYSTERIONS.”

Marvel Comics was their second choice as a creative services provider.  They had gone to DC Comics first.  The executive who approached us showed us what DC had created for them.  It was a comic book.  He only had photocopies.  I don’t believe the thing was ever printed.

It was awful.  Apologies to whomever created that thing, but it was pathetic and wrong-headed to an unbelievable degree.  The art was well-drawn, I’ll allow that, but the storytelling was chaotic.  The story, as best one could discern it, was unnecessarily, excessively dark and violent.  The dialogue was peppered with “Hells” and “damns,” and I can’t swear to it almost 30 years later, but I think there was a “bastard” or two in there. 

The Secret Origin of the TRANSFORMERS – Part 2

I failed to mention it in the previous installment, but Knickerbocker Toys was a maker of “soft” toys—that is, plush toys and girls’ toys.  They produced the famous Holly Hobbie dolls, for instance.  In 1983, their business was sliding, though.   Mysterions was a last-ditch attempt to get into boys’ toys, obviated when Hasbro acquired them.

(ASIDE:  I had the pleasure of meeting the real Holly Hobbie once, creator of the eponymous character.  Brilliant, talented woman.  I have an autographed copy of her book.)

Once Hasbro signed off on the treatment, we began work on the comics.  I assigned the series to editor Bob Budiansky.  Bob was (and probably still is) smart, hardworking, creative, organized, detail-conscious and above all a good editor.    

And then I’m a little fuzzy on the details.  I’ve heard that Bob says a number of names we (Marvel) proposed for the robots were rejected by Hasbro.  I don’t doubt Bob, who is a solid citizen as well as a talented creator and effective editor.  I just don’t remember.  Maybe Bob or Jim Salicrup, if you read this, can shed some light.  I don’t think I was very hands-on at that point.

At any rate, Bob eventually was pressed into service creating names and dossiers for the robots and he did a terrific job.

Meanwhile, treachery was afoot….

The Secret Origin of Jim Shooter, Editor in Chief – Part 1

This part of the story hasn’t ever been told. 

I was hired by Editor in Chief Marv Wolfman in December of 1975.  My first day on the job as “associate editor” was the first working day of the new year, Monday, January 5, 1976.

Marv lasted only three more months or so before leaving to become a contract writer-editor.  Marv said he quit.  President Jim Galton later told me otherwise.  But, be that as it may, Marv exited gracefully, or was allowed to.

The plan was for Roy to return as EIC.  At one point, we spoke.  Where I come from, it is proper that when a new boss comes in, the assistant or assistants offer their resignations.  Why?  Because a new boss is likely to want to bring in his own assistants, and would rather not have to go through a messy process of firing people or tolerating people he or she doesn’t want.  I told Roy I’d leave voluntarily if he preferred, and that if that was the case, I’d appreciate being given freelance work.  Roy said, no, I could I stay.  He told me, however, that there were a number of people who had to go, and a few he intended to bring back.  He named names.  I won’t.

The Secret Origin of Jim Shooter, Editor in Chief – Part 2

The Plotting Thickens the Plot

First, some backfill: 

I mentioned that, in a comic book I wrote that Stan went over with me, he asked, “What idiot wrote this line?”  It was an issue of Ghost Rider.  Gerry Conway plotted it, was supposed to write the dialogue, failed to deliver, and so Archie asked me to write the dialogue.  I wrote it literally overnight.

When I say overnight, I mean it.  Worked all day at the office.  Worked late.  Grabbed some food quick.  Arrived home to my little apartment in Queens around 9 PM.  Stayed up all night writing dialogue, no sleep.  Showered, shaved, dressed and subway-ed it to work on time.  Delivered the item to John Verpoorten.  Worked all day….

That issue was probably crap, but, hey, it was kind of a dumb story to begin with.  I think the villain was the “Water Wizard.”  Yeesh.  There’s only so much one can do with the dialogue to redeem a story with the Water Wizard in it.

The Secret Origin of Jim Shooter, Editor in Chief – Part 3

Apocalypse Now

On my first official day as Editor in Chief, Tuesday, January 3rd, 1978, I arrived at the office extra early. Normal for me was between seven and eight AM. I think I was in my chair behind my desk at five.  And I had a one hour commute in those days.

I had worked all weekend editing scripts and plots and still had more to go. There wasn’t anyone to replace me as associate editor, so for the time being, I had to do my old job as well as my new one. 

Shortly after nine, my phone rang. The caller identified herself as Alice Donenfeld, our in-house counsel and V.P. of Business Affairs.  I hadn’t had much to do with the brass upstairs previously, so I was aware only from the interoffice phone list that there was such a person.

Alice confirmed that she had the right extension, that she was talking to the EIC, and said, “What have you done about the Copyright Law of 1976?”

Me:  “What?”

The Secret Origin of Jim Shooter, Editor in Chief – Part 4

The Guild and Ditko’s Declaration

Now, I know what you’re thinking….  That Jim Shooter was the champion of Work Made for Hire.


I had been on the creator side of the desk too long before the Editor in Chief gig.  I was the champion of Best Deal Possible for all creators.  If I’d had my way, I would have made Marvel Comic Book Creator Heaven in a heartbeat.

However, I knew that the likelihood of my being able to totally revolutionize and restructure Marvel’s business relationship with its artists and writers during my first few months in office was zero.  I knew that it wasn’t bloody likely that any time soon, or maybe ever, that Marvel and the industry in general would give up Work Made for Hire (W4H) and move to an Independent Contractor status for creators, buying specified rights for specified periods. 

No way, no how.

The Debut of the Dazzler

JayJay here. Oops… I left the whole bunch at the end of the story off when I first posted it. So if you read this before… please read the end. Sorry!

Wikipedia has much of it wrong….

Sometime in early 1979, Marvel’s in-house counsel and V.P. of business affairs Alice Donenfeld proposed that we create a super-heroine/singer character.  She was hoping to set up a joint venture with a record company—we’d produce comics featuring the character and they’d produce and market music using studio musicians, as was done with the Archies.

Disco was big at the time.  Virtually every bar with a dance floor played disco, from upscale nightclubs like the Ice Palace and Studio 54, to dance halls like the one seen in Saturday Night Fever to local joints.

I assigned Tom DeFalco and John Romita, Jr. to take a shot at creating the character.  In my initial discussions with them, I believe, we came up with the notion of giving her light powers, and therefore, being able to provide her own light show.  Hence the “Dazzler” part of the name “Disco Dazzler.”  I don’t remember who came up with which parts of the above.  I was the one who came up with the energy-transmutation rationale to explain her powers.

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