Jim Shooter on "Unity 2000"
Copyright © Joe Petrilak
I had the good fortune of speaking to Jim Shooter on the night of July 12, 1999, the same day as Acclaim's press release that Jim Shooter was to write "Unity 2000". Here is the interview.
So did they approach you with the story for Unity?
No- they asked me if I would do a story- the only thing they had that they knew they wanted is that it was to be based on the death of Jack Boniface, and they wanted to revamp their Universe and straighten it all out, make it make sense.
Have you read a bunch of VH2 books as reference?
Lots of them; many of them.
And was it all going in one direction?
I found it to be pretty scattered- I kept looking for the connections between books and sometimes you'd find them and sometimes you wouldn't; you think "okay, I know where this one fits with this one, and you read a little farther and say "well, it can't be, this can't be part of this Universe" so there was a little confusion.
When I first interviewed you, you mentioned a "last Legion (Of Superheroes) story for DC- would you sort of put this in that same class? Is this something that was in your head, or something you would like to see... "The last VALIANT story"...
Yeah, it is, it's a lot like that. I left VALIANT with a lot of things unsaid, and everything went off in a completely different direction than I would have gone, and this gives me the chance to do something I might have done if I had been there, and to take all this other stuff to work in, work with, but one of the fun things I get to do is to use the old characters and basically do what I would have finished
Does this story pick up in 1992 after Unity?
Keep in mind, when I talk about the VALIANT Universe, I'm talking about the characters I left as I left in 1992, and they've lived another seven years.The seven years they've lived is not represented in any book that has ever been printed. From the point I left, everything that happened happened, but it might have happened in a slightly parallel Universe or something like that, so I'm going to show what went on with my guys the way I would have done it (laughs), but this story starts in 1999.
Are you going to cover what happens between 1992 and 1999?
You'll know, you'll get a sense of it.
And the story takes place in 1999?
Yes it does.
So you could write in other characters like Bloodshot, because he was in your Universe in Rai #0 for 4 pages.
Yes. It was not written the way I would have written it, so I'm not counting (the series), that's another one of the "iteration Universes" that will be dealt with in this story. The Bloodshot character who will appear in my story will be the one way I would have written it, and not exactly like Rai #0.
And other characters who came after you, like Ivar?
He'll turn up, but again, that's not... pauses... in my VALIANT, there were two brothers- Gilad and Aram, no Ivar. So I never would have had a third brother turn up, so he won't be there among my... I'm calling it "my group"... I'm not discounting the other groups; I'm not saying that those guys don't count, I'm just saying there's a new timeline no one knows about yet; there's a timelime what would have been that's just as valid as the other timelines, the others are no less valid, but this would be the thing that I would like to flesh out; to explore.
Does (the continuity of) Rai #0 apply to this story?
The parts of it that I planned? Yes. But the Rai #0 as printed? Not quite.
For example, Rai #0 ties the present day to the 41st century, which leads up to Magnus and Rai in the future, and Magnus is a part of Unity and the whole thing is one big circle...
See- I plotted Rai #0. And everything that I plotted is part of this Universe that includes this "my group of people" I'm taking about. But when (Bob Layton) actually wrote the dialogue... see- at the time, as I was writing and plotting VALIANT books, since I was sitting there with the artist every day, I could actually lay out the panel and tell them what to draw knowing what I was going to write and work with (David Lapham) that way, so I happened to have left before I had the chance to write the dialogue; someone else took my pictures and wrote the dialogue and did a lot of things I neccesarily would not have done, so the same picture could have vastly different meanings.
Well, what would you have done? You wouldn't have laid everything out? You wouldn't have been so specific?
Oh no- like I said, I plotted every panel of that, and the pictures in there were intended for my story, it's the words with the pictures that changed the intent of the pictures that deviated my course; my plan. So basically, there's a subtle difference between the history presented in Rai #0- printed, and the history I intended to be in print, so I'm going with the one I intended (laughs).
One of the many things in Rai #0 is the death of Shadowman which is one page, a third of a page panel, 1999 when Shadowman gives his life to rid the world of the Darque Power, and that's, I assume, there this story's going to start, or it ties into this event.
Well, that's not what I would have written on that panel. Shadowman's death was predicted in Shadowman #5, which is part of Unity, which I wrote. That panel in Rai #0 was indeed going to be related to his death, but the words in that panel where it talks all about the Darque Power is not neccesarily what I would have written (Master Darque's firat appearance is in Shadowman #8 which is post-Jim Shooter). But that panel is a cornerstone of this story- once again I'm not discounting that, I'm just saying that in addition to that which was shown, I'm showing one little slightly different iteration, one little trail to this many-trailed VALIANT Universe, and it ultimately will bring them together.
This new storyline starts in Shadowman #3, the flip-book?
It's basically a five page teaser, it's there to set things up to get people interested.
Then Issue #4?
The same. Then that will lead into the first page of the first issue of Unity 2000, but I write it in such a way that if you didn't have these 2 prequels, you'd still be able to follow it (as VALIANT readers know, "Paul Creddick" who is the writer on Shadowman #3-4 in Jim Shooter's nom de plume, as it has been since VH1 Magnus #5 in 1991).
A question I've been thinking about. you left VALIANT, the Voyager company was later folded, then later they switched to their own logo which all leads up to this story. Will you have the Voyager logo on this story?
That's something I'll have to discuss with the guys at Acclaim, I haven't brought that up yet, that's not a bad idea... I always liked that- the compass rose with a "V" in it.
Where did you get the idea for that?
The three original partners of Voyager Communications/VALIANT got together,we were looking for a name for the company before we knew it was going to be Voyager. Winston Fowkles suggested "Compass Comics" and our logo would be a compass rose, so we did a trademark search on Compass Comics and there were zillions of "Compass" companies, so it was not available for trademark. So I suggested "Voyager" and "VALIANT"- I liked it, it just felt right to me- I loved the name VALIANT and thought it was a good name for a comic book company- there's a theory to that, I'll tell you in a minute, and we intended Voyager for the company, which was also something we could use that compass rose for- I just made the 2 points on the compass into a "V". The reason I came up with "VALIANT" and "Voyager" is because I remembered when I was in Marvel, one time Stan (Lee) told me as we were discussing DC Comics how dumb they were: for instance- "DC COMICS"... what is that? To the average American, they don't know what "DC" is, to them it's Washington, it's District of Columbia... so Stan said that the one time he was going to work for DC for one brief instant that the first thing he was going to do was change it to "Super Comics"- something that was cool, something that had power... and so he said "MARVEL"... it's this wonder... it's more than a word, it's something that has guts, and with me it shouldn't be "VALIANT" with "Comics", it should be just VALIANT.
So I liked that, I liked the sound of that and worked with the compass rose which led me to "Voyager" which also worked with a compass rose, so I thought "ok, that's good", so I went with that. So this came originally from Winston's suggestion that we call it Compass.
Well then, where did DEFIANT come from? Were you responding to something in the market at that time?
Same logic. I was looking for a word that had power that meant something, and at that time I was pretty full of righteous wrath, and I had just been royally screwed by evil people and was not just going to dry up and blow away, I was going to fight again. So I started coming up with a list of words and came up with DEFIANCE and DEFIANT, and I asked a couple of people I worked with to make lists of words, and DEFIANT also appeared on Janet Jackson's list, and when I said DEFIANT, she said "It's on my list too", and we locked on to that.
I remember Rob Liefield not too long after that told me he thought it was the coolest name and wished he had thought of it first and was really kind of pissed off that we trademarked it before they did... I also liked the logo- there is a tower on a stony crag- I have had all kinds of crazy comments about the logo like "It's a dark, evil tower" and I said no- it's a tower that's weathered the night and the dawn is behind it and it's a triumphant thing... you could see the blue fade behind the tower which would indicate the dawn.
Kind of like "Night On Bald Mountain"?
It reminds me of a movie with Charlton Heston about a single tower, and they were fighting against the celts or something and I liked that image.
With Broadway, I was partners with Loren Michaels and his company, and their name was "Broadway Video" and they told me they wanted Broadway Comics, so I'm okay with that.
And Daring Comics?
Daring was suggested by Chuck Rozanski, I liked it.
All my names are all caps, the minute I walk out of the room they forgot that... they forgot a lot of stuff when I left, for example, when I started VALIANT, I always found it dorky when people would say things like "Well, Indestructable-Man...", or something like that and I always thought "Why do you need that name? You need that name to put on the front of the book- no one ever has to call the guy that, no one ever has to call Gilad THE ETERNAL WARRIOR!"
Did you come up with "The Fist And Steel Of The Earth"? (Gilad's nickname)
Fists of steel?
No- Fist and Steel
No, to me he was this guy who lived forever, and...
How do you know he lives forever? (this tongue-in-cheek question ties into an earlier conversation about science exploring the possibility of immortality)
You don't die! (laughs). You're going along, as far as you know, you're normal, everyone else is dying, you're not.
So how did Gilad know he was immortal?
Well, after a couple thousand years, I guess he gets a clue! (laughs)
In the first issue of Eternal Warrior, you had the origin of both Armstrong and Gilad and I thought it was one of my better efforts. John Dixon drew it kind of cool- I liked it, he has a nice touch with a lot of this historical stuff, and we saw Gilad's philosophy of weathering away evil; outlasting it. It worked. Like a stream wears down a stone, so was Gilad.
So, "Unity 2000". Who came up with that name?
They did. Also, I think some of the stuff was solicited as "The VALIANT death of Jack Boniface", that was them. I think it served as a good place holder, you got the right message, but it wasn't mine.
Is the death of Jack Boniface one story, do you have to read it all?
Yes, it's one story, but it's definetly linked- this is a tightly linked sequel.
Does one event tie into the other?
In a number of ways it does. The art in Unity 2000 is by Jim Starlin, Janet Jackson is coloring the colors, I think Atomic is coloring the interiors, Joe Rubenstein is inking, and maybe Chris Eliopolous is lettering since he did the logos, I don't know. I think it's a good package- Starlin/Rubenstein- Rubenstein is tremendously talented and I think that the fact that he's working with Jim is a good team, and since Jim (Starlin) is the guy he respects, he's really going to give his best shot, and Jim, knowing that Rubenstein is going to ink it, is probably real happy. It's a real good match.
So what can you tell me about the story?
Well, what I did is I picked up a lot of clues; a lot of pieces from what I read about (the VH2) Master Darque. I like the iteration of having "the blond guy" (laughs), sort of mysterious, sort of a manipluator, and I would say that he and my Solar, the Solar I know are the main opponents-
The red guy.
The red guy! are the main opponents, and each of them has a very strong agenda. It starts with Darque realizing that, as predicted, as prophecied, and as seen in the printed Rai #0, he has an oppourtunity to conquer the whole Multiverse, and the only person who can stop him is Jack Boniface. Well what if there aren't any Jack Bonifaces anywhere, then nothing can stop him.
What do you mean?
What if he killed them all? Or what if happened to kill them all, but one? Like I said, this is a multiverse, and we're assuming that there are stories in the VALIANT Universe after me, and other stories, and the Acclaim Universe that clearly couldn't take place in the same timeline... there are already multiple Universe running here. Maybe most of them have a Jack Boniface. Okay, well he knows that this guy Boniface is going to be the trouble he faces. If he gets rid of them across the multiverse, then he has a chance to take over.
What I like about Alexander Darque is that he's an artist.A lot of people want to conquer the Universe, or take over, or impose order or make it their way, and I don't think some of these conquerers know what they want to do with this world when they conquer it. With him, it's pretty clear, and it's kind of neat- he's an artist! He could give a rat's ass over who rules what country. His goal is not to rule with an iron hand, his goal is to create, he's gonna have some fun- why does he want the Universe taken? So he can mess with it, so he can do whatever his dark muse tells him to do, and that's all- he wants complete and total artistic freedom: if you rule the Universe, you can do whatever the hell you want. So he's not concerned over who's in charge of France, and he dosen't give a damn about most things that most world conquerers would care about, so it's a very unique motive, and he's a very unique character, and most of the time he dosen't do it himself, he gets someone else to do it... I like the idea that he's a manipulator.
So if the story focuses on the VH2 Master Darque, where's the VH1 Darque?
All of these iterations exist. Every story you've ever seen from VALIANT, Acclaim, VH1, VH2, they all happened. The only thing is that some of them happened in some different timelines. We're going to work a lot of them into this, so is there a Master Darque who's the pale, tattooed guy? Well, sure. But he's not the specific one I'm talking about. Will he be dealt with? Yes, but it's basically as if you concieve the Multiverse, and you concieve one person in the multiverse imposing his will on othes, that is what we're talking about.
There have been 3 breaches in the VALIANT Universe, the first one was at the end of Alpha & Omega which leads up to Solar #1 (the same breach Erica later came through), the breach in "Iron Man/X-O Manowar in Heavy Metal" by using the cosmic cube, and in "Revelations", when Phil Seleski from the VH1 Universe came to the VH2 world. So how will Master Darque break the breach and get form one multiverse to another?
That's a good question. You'll just have to trust me on that one. Over the course of what we've seen in print of Master Darque, we've seen him acquiring artifacts, we've seen him gaining knowledge, and this is presumably the purpose of all that: to have what he has to have to make a sweeping conquest of not only his timeline, but all timelines, so he could do whatever he wants, wherever he wants without any doubt or fear of any repercussion or interference from anyone, and I'm introducing some things to the story to help explain his power base; his knowledge base.
Do you recall (VH2 Bloodshot #14), the scene where Master Darque and Bloodshot meet in a cafe in Rome right after Bloodshot realizes this reality is not "the real one"?
Yes. That's a very good scene I remember... I will tell you I haven't read (all the VH2 books) by a longshot, I spent more than two solid days... maybe three days doing nothing but mostly sprawled on my floor like a kid with a pillow under me, reading these stories. There were a lot of them, I read them carefully, because it's not just "flipping through and trying to catch the drift", I was trying to really understand where they were going, so I read a lot of them... in a lot of them, there'll be one little piece in a small scene that's really germaine.
In the Unity 2000 storyline, after all the Jack Bonifaces are killed, what happens next; what makes the story UNITY?
The main thing that makes the story Unity...
More importantly, would you call it Unity?
When they asked me to write this story, and make these sweeping changes to really unify their Universe, the story that I came up with is similar to Unity in this regard: if there were that timeline "the Jim Shooter line" of my characters seven years later as I would have done them- my Solar, and he was aware of all this Chaos going on, maybe he would think that he had caused these problems, maybe he would start thinking that Pierce maybe wasn't so very wrong, maybe he thought that her idea wasn't such a terrible idea, and the key that triggers this is when he starts to realize that there is a guy named Master Darque in one of these realities that was trying to do horrible things to all multiverses, or what Solar percieves as horrible, and that brings to his awareness that there's danger that he's gotta deal with, so it puts Solar in an ironic position- it sort of puts him in the Pierce role or Unity where in order to keep safe his own Universe and establish some sort of order, he almost has to be the aggresor here and kind of do what Pierce set out to do in the first place.
Pierce intended to unify it all... and run it! (laughs) Solar's less concerned with running it and more concerned about protecting it, but that's kind of the basis of this story, it really pits the two against each other: Master Darque is trying to take it all over to have his artistic way with it, and Solar realizes that in order to keep sanity and preserve his world, he's pretty much going to have to oppose Darque and everyone else.
Is there some event happening in 2000 to start this happening?
It was predicted in Shadowman #5 that Jack Boniface would die in 1999, on the eve of the millenium. In Rai #0 which I plotted, his death was referred to as a signifigant moment, the way it was printed it said that he was opposing the Darque power from taking over. So okay- we're going to go with that, I like it. So that's the event. Why on the eve of the millenium? Well, that was the proxy; the reason that it took place the time it does has to do with Master Darque seizing the oppourtunity of the millenium to use all the forces that are aligning.
So there is something aligning?
Yes. This is a once in a thousand years oppourtunity for what Darque is trying to seize.
Do you plan on ending the VALIANT Universe?
When this is done, there will be one VALIANT Universe. The press release talks about sweeping changes and that's exactly right and that was the mission: to clean house, so I am.
From reading the VH2 books, did you pick up on Fabian Nicieza's attempt to bring God into the VALIANT Universe (many references: Turok/Timewalker, MOTA, Master Darque Special, Harbinger special, Bloodshot and so on)? Do you have any tie-in to this?
I've always treated religion in the way that I thought was proper which is the way it is in the real world. For instance, Flamingo was deeply religious, other characters weren't.
It's only in comics that there's a caption at the top of the picture that tells you what the truth is. In the real world, everybody sees the evidence and makes their decision. In my VALIANT books there weren't any captions. The only captions there were told you the place, the time, the date, period. There were basically narrative boxes where you were getting a stream of conciousness of their thoughts. Solar, for instance, had that; I think XO had that... I tried to show people what they would see if they were there and let them decide. So I didn't cotify a deity. To me, I presented it exactly the way it is here in the real world, and I continue to do it that way.
After XO, we learned the armor was sentient, then it dies, then he got new armor and so on... which XO will we see in Unity 2000?
It's my XO. I plotted the first XO panel by panel because it was Barry Windsor-Smith and that's what he demanded, so I described every picture, and since I was doing it panel by panel, I knew what the dialogue was going to be. He drew it all, but I knew what he was going to say. I ended up writing only the first six pages, so I established all the things like the "hard skins" and the speech pattern and so on, Steve Englehart finished scripting that issue, he did a pretty good job.
And we will we see the original Harbingers again?
I think that's great that after all that book has been through, and Harbinger #25, and the new team, and the Visitor and so on, to pick up a book after so many years and just like that: it's the original Harbingers again!
Oh yeah. That little group of kids I thought was unique in comics. So many characters are such spandex cliches, and I thought they had some real character and were based on people I've known. On the other hand, I would not have done some of the things they would have done, so that aspect won't be reflected in this new timeline I'm revealing.
Who are you writing this story for?
I don't usually pick a target, I write it for myself... I remember the craft and I try to have something to say, and that's what it's about, but learn the craft and have something whether it's good or not, so I have a lot of things left to say with those Harbinger characters and VALIANT.
Final question: are you going to leave the door open in the end?
Oh yes, there's much oppourtunity after this and it's not by any means some kind of neolistic (laughs) "kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out!" story, so this is the cornerstone.
The new Rai #0?
You could say that.
To get yours, just enter the CONTEST HERE.
I will pick 20 winners (thank you Jim!) and happily send them on out.
This contest ends August 1st at Midnight.
The order for Shadowman #3, the book that starts all of this, deadlined this week (the week of July 13, 1999). Make sure you order your copy from your local comics store or miss the boat!