Jim Shooter is one of the most controversial people in the history of comics. His time as Marvel’s editor-in-chief some twenty years ago is legendary for the level of passion he engendered both for and against him. There are many long-time comics professionals for whom his name is a virtual obscenity, who see Shooter as a man who caused great damage to their professional careers. For other creators, however, Shooter was a positive force. He brought readers star-making work by Frank Miller, Walt Simonson and others, and brought Marvel to its greatest level of popularity perhaps ever.
In the ‘80s Shooter took the helm of Valiant Comics, helping shape that line of comics as a major player in the industry before he was forced out. Finally he helmed two other small companies that collapsed in part due to the bursting of the comics speculator bubble of the ’90s.
I mention all of this not just because I think it’s interesting, but also Shooter’s scripts for his first two issues of this series seem to reflect his management experience. If all writing is in some way autobiographical, it seems logical that even writers of super-hero comics will reflect that truism. There are lots of little moments in this series that seem to reflect Shooter’s executive experiences.
At the center of this comic is Lightning Lad, newly named Legion leader, and a man under a hell of a lot of stress. He’s assigned the wrong people to the wrong tasks and is getting pressure from the forces above his head to cut budgets. He can’t carry out the plans he dreams of executing because the bureaucracy that controls him won’t give him the money and resources to complete those plans. He’s also forced to deal with a group of young incompetents who yearn to join the seeming glamorous world of the Legion but are in fact just a waste of his limited time. Then there are sycophants and wannabees, bills to pay and suits to be dealt with and a myriad of other problems that combine tomake LL, as he says, suicidal.
Lightning Lad’s experiences present an interesting funhouse mirror to Shooter’s experience in the industry. Nearly all of of the problems that Lightning Lad faces seem modeled on Shooter’s experiences at Marvel. Any business executive has to live with tight budgets, uncompromising bureaucracies and uncaring management, and Shooter obviously still chafes at the small-minded people who prevented him from ensuring that Marvel would live up to his dreams. If only Jim Shooter had been able to exercise his real superpowers, he seems to be claiming, he could have been a real hero.
Of course, from a story standpoint this is hardly the most compelling storyline for a comic like this. It’s very easy to see that hiring a business manager will solve all of Lightning Lad’s problems, but either his hubris won’t let him take that step and give up some of that power, or LL simply hasn’t thought of doing so. Does that also mirror Shooter’s approach to business? Instead, LL lets his management incompetence put his friends in the Legion in mortal danger. As his sister states, after LL breaks down and cries, “My poor little brother… in so far over your head.”
I’m sure Shooter cried after he fired Roy Thomas and Gene Colan, too.
Meanwhile, in the main plot, Shooter also introduces at least one new character who will certainly become a key character in his LSH run. The improbably named Giselle is given a real spotlight in Shooter’s first two issues. She’s a maverick beauty, an object of young lust whose only thoughts are of herself. From the way Shooter shows off Giselle, you know she’s near to his heart and will be important in this series in the future.
I should mention that the art on this comic by Manapul and Livesay is just fine. It’s slick and professional and tells the story well. Their designs of the Legion rejects are clever, and they do an attractive job of drawing alien cities.
In many ways this isn’t a well written comic book. The story is jumpy, characterization is weak, the whole thing seems based on creating Claremont-esque conflicts, and there’s no real compelling central plotline for the story. But in a whole different way, a way that Shooter probably didn’t intend to show in this comic, it’s amazingly compelling. As Lightning Lad has his nervous breakdown, it’s easy to imagine Shooter going through many of the same experiences. Readers seldom get a chance to see this kind of autobiography in a Marvel or DC book, and it’s quite compelling here.