Scott Braden’s Lost Tales: Jim Shooter’s Schism

Scott Braden’s Lost Tales: Jim Shooter’s Schism

The Defiant Ones

♦ Tripwire’s contributing writer Scott Braden gives us his latest in a regular series about comic series that never were. Today it’s the turn of Jim Shooter’s Schism

Jim Shooter’s Schism

“Be careful what you dream.”

That was the fitting tagline behind Defiant’s summer of 1994 companywide crossover, Schism. Schism was more than just Jim Shooter’s unpublished, universe-expanding, slam-bang crossover event; in truth, it was a major work on many levels.  Within this world-vision immersed in quantum physics, each level existed in glorious four-color.

Shooter allegedly was cast out from Valiant in 1992 after helping build the company and spearheading its incredibly successful Unity crossover. The comic book wunderkind, together with several of his co-workers, went on to form Defiant in early 1993 – securing financing from trading card company, The River Group, and creating Enlightened Entertainment Partners, LLC. Despite some initial success with its first title, the innovative Warriors of Plasm, the new company met many challenges: fighting off a Marvel Comics lawsuit over the use of the name “Plasm;” trying to win a public relations battle over its unintentionally controversial trading card comic book sets, Plasm #0 and Dark Dominion #0; and later, failing to secure an audience in the increasingly crowded comics specialty market.

“Defiant, at the beginning, was unfairly attacked, and yet some real great creative [work] came out of it,” said artistic force, Joe James.

Of course, he’s right. That’s why at the end of it all, there was Schism. And, as Defiant’s then creative director, JayJay Jackson told Overstreet’s Comic Book Monthly writer, J.C. Vaughn, the story had been inevitable from the very beginning.

Level One:

First and foremost, the event was an excellent opportunity to showcase the year-old comic book publisher’s heroes fighting the good fight, while showing how they differed from other companies’ characters.  In a time where most comic book publishers were producing “grim and gritty” heroes, Defiant chose to follow the fantastic route, featuring layouts by Eisner Award winner, David Lapham, and finished art by Dave Taylor, Dick Giordano, and J.G. Jones. Schism was plotted by Shooter, Jackson, Len Wein, Alan Weiss, Lapham, James, and Ed Polgardy, by taking story threads that were starting to come together in and between the various titles, and playing them out on a cosmic scale.

Based in exotic locales (such as the mythical Avalon, majestic Thailand, otherworldly Plasm, and even Manhattan’s eerie “Dark Dominion”), Schismfound Charlemagne, Glimmer, the Good Guys, the Great Grimmax, Prudence, the War Dancer, and all five Warriors of Plasm – as well as other supporting cast – on many fronts in 1994. The heroes of this quantum universe even teamed up with real-life, high-end fashion company, Joop, for a unique advertising campaign. With the magic of comicdom’s still-life effect, and the release of Warriors of Plasm #13 (the sole, true Schism crossover issue, as well as the comic’s unintended series finale), the epic continues for many fans.

Level Two:

In comic book terms, year one of the Defiant Universe was one giant Schism #0. Jesse Russell’s “Dead Universes” section of his online destination, “The Shared Universe,” provides the following logical reading order for comic book fans looking to discover the Defiant Universe. That reading list – with an addition here and there by yours truly – is as follows: War Dancer #2; Charlemagne #1; Plasm #0; Dark Dominion #0; Warriors of Plasm #1-#4; The Good Guys #1; Dark Dominion #1-#3; Warriors of Plasm #5; The Good Guys #2;Warriors of Plasm #6; Dark Dominion #4; The Good Guys #3-#4; Charlemagne#0;War Dancer #1; Warriors of Plasm #7-#9; Dogs of War #1; Charlemagne #2; The Good Guys #5-#7; Dark Dominion #5-#6; War Dancer #3; Dark Dominion #7-#9; The Good Guys #8; Dogs of War #2; The Great Grimmax #0; Prudence & Caution#1-#2; Glory #0; Charlemagne #3-#4; War Dancer #4-#5; Dogs of War #3-#5 ;Charlemagne #5; War Dancer #6; Warriors of Plasm #10-#11; Dark Dominion #10;Warriors of Plasm #12; The Good Guys #9; and finally, Warriors of Plasm #13.

Within these pages, readers learned that the mythical Defiant Universe ran on one rule: The dreams of men beget their reality.  The first humans imagined a faraway place where the fantastic inventions of their dreams dwelt; a home of myths and long lost legends called the Dreamtime. For untold millennia, the Dreamtime flourished as a heaven of man’s greatest inspirations, noblest ideas, and finest ideals – all made flesh.  Due to the cataclysmic “Great Schism,” the Dreamtime separated from “real space,” and through the combination of magic and weird menace, became an aberrant life form itself.

Craving man’s imaginative input, the Dreamtime horrifically reinvented itself into the insatiable, all-consuming, world-beast known as the Org of Plasm – left to search dimensions for ripe, living planets in a desperate attempt to sate its ravenous hunger. Meanwhile, humanity continued to dream, creating a twisted new landscape of the Id just outside of human perception. This hellish dreamscape – warped by modern man’s fears and frailties – came to be known as the “Substratum.”

Now, with the boundaries set, Lorca and the ever-voracious Org of Plasm discover the Earth. Then, New York native and future guru Michael Alexander learns of the “Dark Dominion” that is the Substratum and its evil inhabitants, Chasm and Mule. And, a group of children (and one girl’s father, who just happens to be a comic book retailer) have their wishes granted while attending a comic book convention.  Meanwhile, the “Mayan god of rock ‘n’ roll” and Nietzsche’s “Cosmic Dancer” – as Defiant described Arhq Tsolmec, the War Dancer, in its Birth of the Defiant Universe limited release – comes apocalyptically to end the Earth (the source for all dreams and wishes fulfilled), while his earthly challenger Charlemagne stands ready to defend the world at all costs. At the same time, denizens of Plasm and its human manipulations travel throughout the books Dogs of War, Prudence & Caution, and the Hero Illustrated giveaway, The Great Grimmax.

Spanning four, 48-page, action-packed issues (and Defiant’s seven summer of 1994 comic book releases), the saga of Schism begins by bringing readers up-to-date with Sally Throckmorton, War Dancer’s protégé, who is now a successful model. With people buzzing around her (including boyfriend/Bo hunk, Fabiano and her agent) Sally finds herself choosing whether to take a movie deal or a TV script.  Suddenly, the quantum traveler Styx appears before her, transports her into the Substratum (Glimmer’s “Dark Dominion”) and takes her to mythical Avalon, the ancient home of the heroes.

Meanwhile, the ultimate fight between superman, Charlemagne, and man-god, War Dancer begins in Angor Wat. Igo, a spy from Avalon, has come across the epic battle and watches as Charlemagne falls before the Dancer. Igo leaves to report back to Avalon’s leader, Thrakahl.

The story then returns to Sally, who is touring Avalon and taken to a large library full of exotic maps, globes, and books. Sally is then introduced to Glimmer himself, Michael Alexander. He presents a beautiful, ornate book chronicling the origin of the Defiant Universe, as well as the origin of the Dancer. He opens the book and within its pages are pictures of “Atlantis” (yes, kids, Plasm was once the legendary Atlantis – pretty cool, huh?) and the contest between the Dancer and Thrakahl for the lovely Zahnree Ph’la’s hand. Then, Sally is shown images of the original “Dance of Two” experiment between the Dancer and Zahnree, as well as its interruption by four evil magicians, the appearance of Feathered Serpent (the destructive force of Plasm), and Thralkahl’s involvement in the debacle.

Sally then witnesses the sad conclusion of the failed experiment:  Zahnree swallowed by the serpent; the Dancer flung into space; and Thrakahl set adrift on a lonely sea in the real world. Then Glimmer pulls out a map of the planes of existence, explaining that the experiment created a barrier around a section of the quantum field that grew to become the Org of Plasm.  He turns to an ornate globe and tells the story of how Lorca discovered Earth and pierced the barrier between Dreamtime and reality. As a result, denizens of Earth – including Sally and Defiant’s heroes and villains – found their wishes granted, and, in many cases, gained super powers.

Sally is simultaneously hearing Glimmer’s tale and being measured for an outfit by a servant girl.  A mysterious man instructs Sally to prepare herself to act in Zahnree’s stead, and perform the “Dance of Two” with Thrakahl, in order to complete the original magic spell and heal the Great Schism. Sally, bewildered, turns to Glimmer, who assures her this is indeed happening.

Thrakahl is on the other side of Avalon planning in his war room. Igo appears and informs the leader that the battle between the War Dancer and Charlemagne is going poorly for the latter. Hearing this, Thrakahl orders that they prepare Sally for the “Dance of Two.” Sally dons Zahnree-type finery, while Thrakahl wears some magnificent garb. And, even though Sally is presented with great fanfare, the leader of Avalon turns her away – declaring that she is not the one.

Back on Earth, Nudge from Warriors of Plasm arrives at Zahnree’s ancestral home, the Temple of Nimh, with a bottle holding the essence of the War Dancer’s true love and his partner in the “Dance of Two.”

When Nudge opens the bottle, suddenly, there is a flashback to the evolution of the Org of Plasm since the Schism. It appears that Zahnree is communicating to Nudge everything that has happened to her since the failed “Dance of Two.” The two spirits then merge in a spectacular effect that lights up the temple.

In the meantime, on Plasm, Lorca and the remaining Warriors of Plasm are fighting the Dark Dominion thug-turned-dark god, Chasm.  All the while, the Org is going wild now that Zahnree’s influence over the Feathered Serpent is gone and it is free and unbridled. It appears that Chasm has become so much more powerful since his early days in the Substratum that he now brushes the heroes away in a single stroke. In the process, though, he damages the Org and it strikes out at him. According to the Schism plot, readers – and Chasm himself – “have a clear demonstration of his power” when he successfully fights off the ravenous world’s attacks.

Readers are then transported back to Thailand where the War Dancer and Charlemagne are still battling. The mighty Charlemagne, through sheer determination, finally defeats the Dancer. The Dancer then tells the Earth’s champion that he can’t destroy the world — Charlemagne must, in his stead. Although Charlamagne sees evidence of what the Dancer is saying all around him, with people becoming “unworthy gods,” he still refuses to end the world, even though he now understands the stakes involved.

The issue ends with Igo travelling back to Thailand to bring Charlemagne and the Dancer to Avalon. Styx brings Nudge and Sally (looking like Zahnree) to Avalon, as well. As they converge on Avalon, so does the dark god, Chasm!

The next pulse-pounding chapters of Schism begin with the evil Chasm attacking all of Defiant’s heroes! Even Avalon’s leader, Thralkahl, gets thrashed by the dark god, just as Chasm turns his attention to a surprised Nudge and kidnaps her off the face of the heroic realm . . . forcibly taking her to the hell-on-earth called Pandemonium!

It’s in Pandemonium where Nudge is nearly slashed to death by the claws of Demonica (a monstrous nightmare, and the right hand of Chasm), as Michael, who came to save Nudge, gets his heart ripped out of his chest by Chasm. This traumatic episode shows Michael that he can live on in his quantum state unharmed, though he may never be capable of becoming real again. He quickly grabs the dying Nudge, transforms her into the quantum state, and transports both of them back to Avalon.

What comes next is best described in a flash of images and broad strokes:

* Michael and Nudge in their quantum states cross the span of the earth in an effort to reach Avalon. Then, finally reaching the mythical city of heroes, the quantum pair saw firsthand the combined powers of the villains striking the mystical realm at all angles. Also, the Feathered Serpent, now without the calming element of Zahnree’s spirit to guide him, strikes out at Avalon, too –- only to be countered by Charlemagne in a brilliant display of power.

* Meanwhile, War Dancer and Sally are performing the “Dance of Two,” trying to end the Schism that has set chaos upon the worlds.  And “Dance of Two,” means they’re having sex. They dance and dance, until finally, they find climax. Unfortunately, as seen within the last pages of Warriors of Plasm #13, the “Dance of Two” finds all the heroes transported to a grassy field on Earth – leaving the villains both time and resources to plan, and ultimately conquer, the realms of Plasm, our world, and beyond.

* After Schism, the real fun would begin in the Defiant Universe. That’s when the overarching storyline’s true conflict would manifest itself, transforming the comic book universe’s heroes into the potential saviors of many worlds.  As Shooter has previously said online, Mule would end up controlling Plasm, Nudge was going to become the brain of Plasm, and Chasm was going to end up ruling the Earth. The only people who would know about it would be Defiant’s heroes, who would be reduced to being the French Resistance.

Level Three:

Now, it would be easy to consider Schism a rerun of Shooter’s masterwork that was Valiant’s Unity.  But that’s where the third level comes in – Schism was an all-consuming allegory of the comic book prodigy’s trials and tribulations in the comics industry. You see, as was hinted at above, the bad guys win in Schism.  All of them.

As Shooter had also said in the press, Schism would mark the first time in comics that one of these giant crossovers ended with the bad guys winning. And, sadly Shooter’s long tenure in the four-color medium suffered a similar end.

‘Nuff said?  Not quite.

According to Shooter, shortly after the House of Ideas dismissed him, he and a group of investors attempted to purchase Marvel in 1988.  The attempt failed and instead the group launched Valiant and helped found Voyager Communications (the parent company of Valiant).  Then, when the company was starting to catch on in the industry, Valiant allegedly ousted Shooter.

“I . . . spent much of my summer [of 1992] defending myself from Voyager,” Shooter told writer/editor, Marty Grosser, in an interview published in Diamond Comic Distributors’ Previews catalog in June 1993.

“Voyager sued me, a motion for summary judgment on a guarantee (that I didn’t owe them), but eventually their motion was denied and thrown out of court. And also there were other legal matters to do with Voyager; they exercised their right to recapture my stock, so there was a lot of legal stuff going on, arbitrations, and so forth.”

That would be the end of the story, except for the fact that Valiant – the company Shooter helped build and make a success – was sold to the late video game juggernaut, Acclaim Entertainment for $65 million ($50 million in cash and $15 million in shares of Acclaim common stock), making millions of dollars for the principals; money that Shooter, according to his editorials in later Defiant titles, saw none of.

That doesn’t seem fair.

Level Four:

And speaking of Acclaim, that leads us into the mini-series’ fourth level – as a metaphor for the downward spiral of the comic book industry at the time. That’s right; whether Shooter planned it or not, the event mirrored what was going on in the comic book specialty market in the mid-to-late 1990s.

“The other stuff which isn’t good and doesn’t deserve to sell  . . . will start to crumble,” Shooter explained to Previews’ Grosser. “I think we’re already seeing that in the marketplace.  A lot of people aren’t buying the number of titles they used to.”

Little did Shooter know his words would haunt both his company and its many projects.  With Defiant heading towards its big empty at record speed (along with most of the comic book companies, distributors, and retailers at the time) things looked pretty bleak. Even Image Comics (the poster child of the 1990s comic book explosion) began to unravel a little with the departure of Rob Liefeld to his imprint Maximum Press, and later, to the Alan Moore-infused Awesome Entertainment.

The same was true for Schism, which didn’t see the light of day in print (except for its crossover issues). Still, it lives on in the internet:  The story gets a brief mention in an interview here; or, an untold tale at a comic book forum there.  It lives on in conversations between fans, and in back issue bins that contain Warriors of Plasm #13.

Sure, Shooter would take his staff and go on to form the now-defunct Broadway Comics. In fact, legend has it that Defiant characters were being readied to pop up there, as well.  Nevertheless, after all this time, the story of Schism is still trying to find its happy ending.

The last page of Schism #4 featured the Dancer and Sally in a warm embrace underneath the sun and sky, looking forward to tomorrow. Maybe one of our tomorrows will see the release of the project and bring their happy ending to light.

 

Lost Tales©2019 Scott Braden. All Rights Reserved

  1. Nice article… the plot notes can be read here in the”Defiant Scripts (Published & Unpublished)” section.

    http://defiant.x10.bz/Defiant_Reading_Room/reading_room.html

    Reply

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