That time Marvel almost killed all of its major comics characters

Contributed by
Jan 14, 2013, 2:52 PM EST

These days, we're used to big, "game-changing" comic book events that involve dead characters, resurrected characters, cloned characters, secretly alien characters and everything in between. But long before this stuff was popular, one Marvel editor hatched a (failed) plan to kill off all of Marvel's staple characters and put new people in the old costumes. It didn't go over very well.

Jim Shooter is perhaps the most controversial editor-in-chief in Marvel's history. Presiding over the company's comics from 1978 to 1987, he helped launch some of Marvel's most enduring characters, grew the company and even made some leaps in the direction of creator's rights. But he was also a notoriously controlling editor who often sought to impose his own storytelling will on the Marvel Universe. This all came to a head with a concept known as the "Big Bang."

According to Sean Howe in his excellent new history of the company, Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, Shooter's idea was to quite literally reinvent the company's key superheroes. It would both allow for a new continuity to be built and (hopefully) boost sales by giving new faces to all the characters. The "Big Bang" would have meant that Captain America, Thor, Spider-Man, Hulk and all the rest would have entirely new alter egos. No more Steve Rogers, no more Peter Parker, no more Bruce Banner.

Most of the Marvel staff apparently hated the idea, but few of them were willing to cross Shooter to let him know it. Writer Doug Moench was one of the less quiet ones.

"Donald Blake would be killed, but someone else would find the walking stick and become the new Thor. So instead of Thor being a doctor, now Thor would be a plumber or whatever. Steve Rogers would die, but an investment banker would become the new Captain America," Moench told Howe. "I said, 'This is crazy! We can't do this!' And Shooter insisted that it was going to be done. Peter Parker would be killed, and someone else would get bitten by another spider, and so on. I kept ignoring it; Shooter kept pushing it. It got to the point where the editors were calling me, assistant editors, including Ralph Macchio and Mark Gruenwald. But all of them were afraid of Shooter. They'd seen me in the Marvel offices having epic battles, in which I would just bellow at the guy. I was, I guess, the only one who fought back against him. Everybody else felt cowed and didn't want to risk getting fired or whatever. I just didn't give a $#!@ and I hated the guy so much."

The "Big Bang" concept eventually faded to obscurity, though many individual characters have since been killed, replaced and resurrected in the Marvel Universe since. Though it seems good now that it didn't happen, we can't help but wonder whether it really would have spiked comics sales. What do you think?

(Via Marvel Comics: The Untold Story)