Comic Book Club: Marvel Comics – The Untold Story (Part 3)

Welcome to week two of Comic Book Club! Each week, we will be covering a section of Sean Howe’s novel Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. Now of course, this is not just any ordinary week. This is the moment many of you have been waiting for. Some of you have even requested PTO just for this very topic. This week, we are discussing Part III: Trouble Shooter (p. 203-300) which is all about the man himself, the legend…

Jim Shooter.


Photo Credit: Longbox Jockey

Highlights from this section include:

  • Jim Shooter begins his tenure by cleaning house. The writer/editor positions of yesteryear are gradually dissolved as each of the previous holders of that title are phased out of the company. It is a turbulent time at first but eventually Marvel Comics restructures itself while hiring key staff such as Tom DeFalco, Roger Stern, Ann Nocenti, Mark Gruenwald, Ralph Macchio, and Carol Kalish. For a time, the office becomes the lively Bullpen as it was depicted in Stan Lee’s writings.
  • Stan Lee, meanwhile, moves to Los Angeles to focus on licensing and Hollywood. Lee’s distance from the New York offices creates opportunities for the “illusion of change” mandate to loosen. Under Shooter’s nudging, bold changes are enacted to revive struggling titles with many notable successes to come from this new direction, including James Rhodes becoming the new Iron Man and the deaths of characters like Spider-Woman and Captain Marvel.
  • Jack Kirby leaves Marvel for the second and final time. This would lead to an ongoing dispute with the company that would take place in public forums with Kirby claiming that he was the creator and writer of all previous collaborations with Lee. Notably, he would also claim credit for creating Spider-Man, which was the one that was widely disputed by his critics.
  • Many titles hit their first creative peaks since their original debuts in the 1960s. These titles include Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men, John Byrne’s Fantastic Four, Frank Miller’s Daredevil, and Walt Simonson’s Thor.
  • Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars is published in 1984-1985 and becomes to first major comics crossover event.
  • Shooter becomes increasingly obsessed with a concept known as the “Big Bang” in which they kill off all the existing heroes and reboot them with new ones. This idea eventually spirals and has a compromised version of it comes out as the New Universe line of comics.
  • New World Pictures becomes the new owner of Marvel Comics, looking to capitalize on their IP. Around the same time, Shooter starts to become unhinged in his dictation of major changes in all the comics the company produces. Staff members and freelancers gradually revolt until it eventually culminates in them burning an effigy of him at a party at John Byrne’s house. A video of this event makes it to the New World Pictures execs, who promptly dismiss Shooter and end his tenure as Editor-in-Chief.

Here are some possible starter questions for our discussion: 

What stands out to you about this era of comics? What behind-the-scenes stories shock you to this day? Of the comics covered here, what are your personal favorites? What supplemental media would you recommend from this era?

Upcoming Discussions:

  • January 29th – Part IV: Boom and Bust (p. 301-376)
  • February 5th – Part V: A New Marvel (p. 377-434)