A WonderCon tradition, James Robinson’s spotlight panel was an hour for fans to ask any and all of their questions to the current “Fantastic Four” and “All-New Invaders” writer, whether it was his work on DC’s “Earth 2” and “Starman” or his upcoming creator-owned Image Comics series “Airboy” and “The Saviors.”
Robinson kicked off the panel as he normally does, soliciting questions from the assembled audience. The writer said both Red Raven and The Thin Man would show up in “All-New Invaders,” but was hesitant to say anything else about other characters that might appear. In fact, there were a few “Invaders” fans in attendance, another of whom wanted to know more about Bucky’s role. “The next arc after ‘Original Sin’ that features a Japanese-American character — her Japanese name is … Supreme Radiant Friend. That’s issue #6 and #7, and 8 and 9 and maybe 10 is set in Germany,” Robinson said. “It’s very much a Bucky story, very much Jim Hammond and Namor. It’s about them taking on every Deathlok that exists in that universe. After that, there are things going on in the big picture that you’ll be excited about.” Toro will also be a part of the Deathlok arc, though Robinson autioned, “There’s more to it.”
A fan asked about Robinson’s transition from DC to Marvel, which he said was fairly easy; at least partially because he said that the many years over time he spent at DC, he would read Marvel’s comics for pleasure. “I was telling my editor Mark Panniccia, ‘This is what the Human Torch is doing right now.’ Changing characters and changing the stage of where my drama was set was a part of it, but because I followed these books for so long, writing them [was easier]. … When you make the switch, I’d read Fraction, Waid — all that ‘Fantastic Four’ stuff. It was like I had been writing the characters for years. Marvel characters are much more defined, but if you think about it, you know how the Wasp talks… It was interesting how little of a change I had to make. Also, Marvel is just a very good company for a writer to work for.”
Robinson quickly discussed his experience writing independent comics, including “Grendel” and “Illegal Alien,” but he said that when you’re a writer rather than an artist, you have to think where your next buck is coming from. “It isn’t as hard to make that transition as you might imagine. I should add that for people that haven’t read ‘Saviors’ should,” said Robinson. “There’s a trade coming out for people to jump on.”
A question naturally came up about Robinson’s eventual plans for “Earth 2,” and he led off with his very specific plans for Alan Scott.
“I always wanted to make Alan Scott’s second characteristic being gay. No offense to anybody, but sometimes sexuality can be all that’s identifiable about them,” he said. “I knew one of the subplots was going to be him finally finding love again. I guess I was being spiteful, but there was a guy from Brazil who constantly said God was going to punish me for making him gay. So, I resolved that if Alan was going to get a boyfriend, he was going to be from Brazil.”
The writer wanted to do “Justice Society,” but said that DC said “society” was a word the publisher wanted to step away from. Robinson stated that his “Earth 2” team was more like a “Justice Society of Benetton,” with different heroes across many different nationalities.
Discussion shifted to Robinson’s “The Saviors,” with the writer saying that the next arc will be set in Paris, with a completely new cast, and the one after that set in Montreal. “It’ll all become a big story, but it’s setting up these different areas,” he said. “It’s hard to do in a comic, because people base everything on what they first read. Switching things up, unless you’re very well respected or have a huge fan base, can be a gamble [and maybe] kill the book.” Characters from each of the arcs will also begin crossing over into other arcs.
“Starman” — always a popular topic during Robinson’s panel — also got a nod, with Robinson saying that he knew he was going to get to kill Ted Knight (“That’s a spoiler for someone!” he said.) from the very beginning. “They did such a bad job of killing off the Justice Society in ‘Zero Hour’ that I was going to do that series, and I didn’t know it would run as long as it did,” Robinson said. “Neil Gaiman said that the same thing applied to ‘Sandman’ as ‘Starman.’ Sometimes you have it planned the whole time, and sometimes the idea pops into your head as it opens a jar. … At the very, very, very end, when the Shade’s in the future and he’s talking to all these children. That is why Mason gets the arrow in his chest from the spider and why his life gets saved by Zatara and Charity’s past love affair with Zatara.”
Speaking of “The Shade,” Robinson said there were some changes to the series when DC announced the New 52 — it was originally meant to be an ongoing, but the title’s truncation turned out to be a blessing in disguise. “The book did not sell well, but the plus side of that is that DC didn’t have any tension, so it was the most amount of creative freedom I’d had in some time. If they had taken more control of it, it wouldn’t have ended up what it ended up being.”
Archie Goodwin, Robinson’s editor on “Starman,” gave him a great deal of creative freedom. “As long as I could explain why, he would say, ‘You know what you’re doing.'” If Robinson couldn’t answer, Goodwin would tell him to think about it. Peter Tomasi, Robinson’s next editor, followed in that same philosophy. He stated further that he’s enjoying a level of freedom under Marvel editor Mark Paniccia that reminds him of the creative freedom from those days.
Circling back to “Invaders,” Robinson said he can’t reveal anything about his plans for Namor, but “it will all come out soon.”
Robinson then invited his “Airboy” collaborator Greg Hinkle to the dias. “There was the air character, who flew his plane and everything else. Basically it’s me getting a call from Eric Stephenson and he wants me to write Airboy. I don’t want to do it and he offers me a lot of money.” The idea of the book is Robinson and Hinkle going on a ridiculous romp full of sex, and drugs, with the duo eventually getting transported into Airboy’s world. “It’s definitely nothing anyone’s ever tried before, but I don’t know anybody’s ever done it before. Please, check it out.” The series is four issues. “The goal is to have the first issue out around about San Diego. It’s not like ‘Saviors.’ It’ll be sooner than that.”
The writer also discussed his run on “Justice League” — in particular, its rather abrupt ending. “I really had the rug pulled out from under me. Literally, I gave you guys the next three years of continuity.” “When you have cypher characters, they put their own onus based on the way they talk and the words they’re reading. There was a fan base for Donna Troy, and they were upset that I wrote her swearing and raging. I loved Donna Troy.”
“Fantastic Four” came up, with Robinson not being able to say too much. “You can read ‘Fantastic Four’ on its own, to reveal too much would reveal too much about what the Marvel Universe is planning.” However, all the things in the book — including the red costumes — will eventually have a meaning. “You’re going to see Wyatt Wingfoot, all the characters will get a moment to shine. But you just have to wait and find out. If you like it, just trust me.”
The writer said it’s hard to choose which one of the four he enjoys writing the most, and that it changes depending on who he’s writing. “Sue Storm is as much fun to write no as any of them, and the things she’s going to go through is going to make compelling drama.”
The FF is one of Robinson’s favorite teams, and he was excited to get a chance to put his mark on the team. When a fan referenced the darker nature of the book, and Robinson said it’s “not going to become a Vertigo version of ‘Fantastic Four,'” though will still have the epic “Fantastic Four” moments.
“Potentially, yeah. I think I’m respected enough as a writer that if I come up with a new take on Nighthawk that they’d say, ‘Yeah, let’s give it a try.’ … The trick is, the onus is on me to do it right, because they’re not just going to say, ‘Here’s 8 issues for you.’ If it doesn’t capture attention, it could be I get 7 issues.” Robinson originally got four issues of “Starman,” and was on the second issue when DC decided to pull the trigger on upgrading it to an ongoing.
That said, the amount of freedom Robinson had he described as “independent comics freedom” and he doesn’t know if that exists in the world now. “You can’t do as much of that.”
The conversation rounded out with Robinson’s take on Namor in “All-New Invaders,” as the writer detailed his varied attitudes and approaches toward similar situations over the years. “He does despicable things, so I’m going to deal why there are different aspects of his personality.”