Jim Shooter Talks 'Mighty Samson'

Dark Horse's "Mighty Samson" -- the first issue of which is out this week -- follows the recent reboots of fellow 1960s Gold Key heroes Doctor Solar, Magnus Robot Fighter, and Turok, Son of Stone. Who better to present Samson to a new era than Jim Shooter, the person responsible for reintroducing the other Gold Key characters the first time via Valiant Comics? MTV Geek chatted with comics legend Shooter about Mighty Samson, the Gold Key reboots, and the state of comics today.

MTV Geek: What brought you to the “Mighty Samson” project?

Jim Shooter: Dark Horse Publisher Mike Richardson asked me to redevelop the Dell/Gold Key characters, and build a line around them. Mighty Samson was high on both our lists. Magnus Robot Fighter, Doctor Solar Man of the Atom and Turok Son of Stone I’d worked with before, so it seemed logical to lead off with them. Now it’s Mighty Samson’s turn. Some may say that means he’s fourth choice. To me, he’s batting cleanup.

Geek: Mighty Samson was one of the original Gold Key characters not brought on by Valiant Comics. Was there a particular reason at the time why he was not chosen along with Doctor Solar and the others?

Shooter: I ran out of time. I had plans to re-introduce Mighty Samson, Brothers of the Spear and more —even Little Lulu! But my tenure at VALIANT ended before I could get to it.

Geek: How faithful will this new Mighty Samson be to the original Gold Key material?

Shooter: Very faithful, I think. You know, in the 60’s, when Mighty Samson was created, comics were different. Almost all stories were presented in sort of glib shorthand. Get doused with chemicals and you become super-fast, get zapped with cosmic rays and you turn into living fire, get bitten by a radioactive rodent and you get the proportionate strength of a mouse. And readers back then were okay with all of that. Readers now are more sophisticated and more demanding—you’d better have a convincing explanation for Mouse Man’s powers or the readers will talk bad about you on the message boards. Mighty Samson was originally presented pretty simply, too, but if you think about it, it’s about people reduced to primitiveness in a world filled with horrors trying to scratch their way back from the Apocalypse. Powerful stuff. That I didn’t change at all. I’m just expressing it in 21st Century style.

Geek: What makes Samson different from other (for lack of a better term) “barbarian” characters such as Conan and King Kull?

Shooter: Samson may be primitive in many ways, but in my view, he’s not a barbarian. He has been raised to believe that he was born with a purpose—to change his world. Samson’s world is far different from the worlds of the likes of Conan and Kull, which seem to span from Late Neolithic Period through Classical Antiquity and even into the Early Middle Ages. Samson lives “500 years after the end of the world,” in the 27th Century. Traces of what was before remain, including bits and pieces from our future, the 22nd Century. It is a dangerous time, rife with monstrous teratisms and mutated semi-human creatures (all convincingly explained, I think). The world is at a watershed—it could begin to rise again from the ashes of the Doomsday Cataclysm, or could fall deeper into horror and darkness. It’s a heroic, epic time, and Samson is the greatest force on Earth.

Geek: What is it like working with the folks at Dark Horse, and with artist Pat Olliffe?

Shooter: All the Dark Horse people have been great. Mike has been very helpful and supportive. Senior Editor Chris Warner, who’s coordinating this project, is a godsend. When I screw up, he saves me. He contributes a lot. He’s pretty spare with the compliments, though. I live for the day when I’ll get a “That’ll do, pig,” out of him. Patrick Olliffe is amazing. He draws so well, but better still, he’s a dramatist. He can be subtle. Or he can hit you with the sledgehammer. And such a nice guy. A gentleman.

Geek: You are overseeing Dark Horse’s relaunch of these Gold Key/Valiant characters such as Doctor Solar, Turok, and Magnus Robot Fighter -- an event that many hardcore Valiant fans out there are very excited about. What is it like returning to these characters? And is there anything you are doing differently now than the first time you oversaw the characters?

Shooter: Mike said, “All new.” Don’t do what you did before.” Okay. So, I went back to the source material, read everything again, re-thought everything and came up with ideas that were “all new” but even more faithful to the originals. Mike contributed some great ideas, too, by the way. The essence is the same, the iconic core concepts of the characters remain, but I think I better represented them this time. I’m older, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m wiser, I think I’ve gotten better and learned a few things since the VALIANT days. Plus, I’ve had years to think about what to do if the chance ever came again. And what not to do.

Geek: You’ve been witness to a lot of comic book history -- from writing Legion of the Superheroes in the 1960s, to becoming the editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics, to founding Valiant Comics. What do you make of the current state of comics today? Are you optimistic or pessimistic? What is being done right and what, in your opinion, could be improved upon?

Shooter: There are some great comics out there. There are also too many utterly unreadable, impenetrable, throw-then-over-your-shoulder-in-frustration-after-two-pages comics. Too many derivative, idea-free, same-old-stuff comics. Too many Crises and Mega-Crossovers signifying nothing. Too much self-indulgent crap. Too many big-ego, small-talent creators. Too many amazingly talented creators who have no training and can’t get any. And, too many benighted fools at industry helms. It’s a testament to the power of our medium that we survive. Add to the aforementioned that we’re in a transition period—distribution is changing, the presentation forms are changing. More and more, I think, we’ll be doing digital. Storytelling is the oldest profession, not that other one. For over forty thousand years, storytelling has been an indispensible part of human culture. The visual/verbal language we’ve been developing side-by-side with the film biz for the last 115 years or so is uniquely powerful. Our way of storytelling is a wonderful way. We will find our way through this transition. All we need to do is create, like our livelihoods depended upon it, tell good stories and tell them well.

Geek: What’s next for Jim Shooter?

Shooter: Another all-nighter. Magnus this time. Sleep is overrated. Seriously, right now, all I’m doing and all I’m planning to do for the foreseeable is the Gold Key Line for Dark Horse. I love it, and I’m having a sleep-deprived ball. But, someday, before it’s all over, I’d like to write a screenplay that makes it to the screen. Are you listening, Mike?

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