By Michael Hutchison
FANZING: First of all, James, I'd like to thank you for granting us an interview. We appreciate your fitting this in. With all the hoopla about Starman ending soon and what you're working on next, I'm sure this is a busy time for you. Since issue #80 (the last issue) is just under a year away, have you finished writing it yet? What else are you working on at the moment?
ROBINSON: I have finished the entire run of Starman as well as the Shade text story that I began in the back of the comic some time ago and then with my momentum waning for a bit, failed to continue. That's complete too, running in issues #76-79. With Starman finished, I'm done with comics for the time being. I've been working on the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen script for Fox, as well as preparing for a big project I'm keeping under wraps for now that, all going well, I'll be working on by the end of the year.
FANZING: I actually enlisted the help of many Fanzing contributors in coming up with questions for you, but they all seemed to be asking the same thing: "What's next for you, once Starman is over?" Will you be concentrating on screenwriting? Will you do short comic stints, do another ongoing book or are you leaving comics behind?
ROBINSON: For the time being I will indeed be concentrating on screen writing. There is a lot of opportunity for me in this field at the moment, and I'm taking advantage of that. However, I fully intend to return to comics in the not too distant future when my batteries have been recharged in that area. At the moment I'm a bit burned out on comic book storytelling. When I do return it will be mini-series, and shorter runs. I am definitely done with monthly books, with the on-going commitment like waves on the rocks, slowing eroding the energy of the writer (at least this writer).
FANZING: How did you break into comic book writing?
ROBINSON: I had gotten out of film school and while looking for work in films, I got a job at Titan Books, a British publisher of GN collections (primarily 2000AD material), where I ultimately became the editor there. In the course of this, I got the jones to write a graphic novel, London's Dark, which they published. That led me to associations with Archie Goodwin and Matt Wagner who were the two catalysts in my breaking into American comics.
FANZING: What do you think your strengths and weaknesses are as a writer?
ROBINSON: My strengths, I think, maybe -- are good dialogue and believable characters. I also like the world of DC comics, which naturally helps when you write for that company. My weaknesses -- you tell me. Probably too many words and panels on the page for a non-Vertigo book.
FANZING: I must admit that I'm curious as to how your 80+ issue story plan has worked. Obviously, you've had some elements of Jack's life plan mapped out since the beginning. And just as obviously, some stories have been shifted around and altered (such as the early plans for a Hawkman team-up, the Solomon Grundy two-parter in the middle of "Infernal Devices" and some of the pacing of the storylines). How have you worked this layout? How detailed is it? And have you ever worried that you'd declare that #80 is the last issue and then find you have too much story to fit into the remaining space?
ROBINSON: Re. declaring that #80 would be my last issue. No. That wasn't a worry. By the time I announced that I pretty much knew everything that was going to happen. Re. the big picture. I'm sure anyone who's done a big arc like this will tell you the same thing -- some things come to you Day One and stay. Some things grow unexpectedly out of plotlines you planned to go one way and then they shifted on the page all by themselves and went another. And some things go away. With Starman I always new big beats. I knew what the final issue would be and the final image. I knew how certain characters would die. I knew that Jack would spend four issues in Throne World. I knew the gentle Grundy would die. I didn't know we'd spend two issues trying and failing to save his life after that. However, having said that I really enjoyed writing those issues. It's tough, with all the foreshadowing I chose to do in the book, when things change. Hawkman is a character I've always loved. I wanted to use him when he was still a fairly uncomplicated version of the horrible Hawkworld version that [existed] about then. However, as the time neared to use him, the character's continuity became such a mess I was scared away.
FANZING: You've created Jack Knight and essentially re-created Ted Knight as "your" characters, plus developed this city, its history and a rich supporting cast. How are Jack and Opal City going to be handled after the book ends? Are they never to be touched again, unless by your hand? Or is there going to be an arrangement similar to that of Neil Gaiman and DC/Vertigo where Jack and everything else might be used if you approve of the project? I know you don't want to reveal their fates, so feel free to be spoiler-free with your answer.
ROBINSON: As far as I know the book will end with #80 and my version will be left alone. I intend to return to the Shade and a pre-#80 adventure of Jack Knight at some point, so I think things should be cool on that front for now.
FANZING: What of Starman one-shots and specials? Is there anything coming up with a return of Tony Harris to do a special STARMAN project at anytime? Wasn't there talk of a painted STARMAN mini-series?
ROBINSON: That's the pre-#80 adventure I mentioned. Tony and I have talked about some sort of special project featuring Jack at an earlier point. It would feature Jack's adventure to Asia as predicted by Charity. It would occur some time between Hell and Back and Infernal Devices.
FANZING: Has there been a STARMAN story you always wanted to tell but weren't able to fit in before the series end, or have you explored everything you wanted to?
ROBINSON: Again, that's the pre-#80 adventure, Tony and I will hopefully be doing.
FANZING: Recently, you said that you'd love to do an ELONGATED MAN book. Now, as Elongated Man's #1 fan, I need to ask this: How serious are you about this? Is this another one of those Kevin Smith Green Arrow things where a writer with clout claims "dibs" and then ventures off to parts unknown, leaving the character in limbo for years? Will this prevent anyone else from using Ralph Dibny until you return to write him? Or is this just one of many characters you'd like to write?
ROBINSON: When I said an Elongated Man book, I was referring to a mini-series. Something that is a tribute in feel both to his run in Detective Comics when he wore the coolest of his costumes which I made a point of putting him back into. At the time it would be a tribute to the banter-laced crime-solving of Nick and Nora Charles, Mr and Mrs. North and the books of Marco Page. Will I do it? I can't promise, but it's certainly something that's forming an idea in my head at the moment.
FANZING: At one time you talked about doing a PHANTOM LADY mini-series with Dave Stevens (Rocketeer). Is it still in the plans or have you two walked away from that project now?
ROBINSON: That isn't true. Dave and I never talked about doing a Phantom Lady series. What we worked on together was a Superman/Rocketeer crossover. Dave and I worked on an outline (for an Elseworlds) featuring the Golden Age Superman meeting The Rocketeer amidst the craziness of everyone thinking there was a Martian invasion happening during Welles broadcast of War of the Worlds. When too many editorial changes meant the work conflicted with my screenwriting, I took my leave of the project. Dave continued with it for a while longer until further problems with editorial led to the project disappearing into the ether.
FANZING: What movie projects are you working on now?
ROBINSON: I just finished my work on League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Now I'm talking to Bruckheimer about something. I'll know next week if it's happening. Apart from that there's that big project I'm gearing up for that I'm keeping under wraps.
FANZING: What, if any, comic books do you read on a monthly basis? What are you reading now?
ROBINSON: That was one thing that began to depress me. The more worn down I got from the monthly schedule the less time I had for other comics. Now I'm reading Geof Johns' Flash. Heroic Bear. Bone. Stray Bullets. Punisher. Hellblazer. Miller, Mignola and Moore when there is some. I'm also an obsessive collector of the DC Direct Figures, the only thing I do collect nowadays apart from far too many DVDs.
FANZING: What DC Comics character would you most like to write?
ROBINSON: Adam Strange, Elongated Man, Hawkman.
FANZING: Recently you stepped in to finish a story Archie Goodwin started for Legends of the Dark Knight (Siege). How did it come about that you got asked to do this and how excited are you to be finishing the unfinished story of a man you cite as one of your greatest influences?
ROBINSON: It was a tremendous thrill. In a way, when my career in comics was ebbing compared to my output of several years back, I thought it to be quite an omen. That at a time when Starman was ending I also got to finished Archie's series. It was also a thrill to work with Marshall Rodgers who it goes without saying I've admired the work of for decades. In terms of why I was asked, I guess my feelings towards Archie were no secret and so when the project arose anew Andy Helfer thought to ask me first.
FANZING: It was recently revealed that Opal City is somewhere inland on a major river on the East Coast. Did you write yourself into a corner with the conflicting aspects of it (a colonial town once home to pirates, also a frontier town home to a western hero, no suburbs, surrounded by countryside and canyons, with a major harbor) similar to the intentionally unchartable Springfield of the Simpsons or had you always intended for it to be East Coast?
ROBINSON: I'm not sure of the answer here. Did I write myself into a corner? Yes. But this was a somewhat deliberate thing on my part. I wanted Opal to have these contradictions to its surroundings, so that it was impossible to realistically pin down. In that way it has a mythic "Shangri La"-like feel -- Brigadoon or like Gulliver's floating island, that ties in with Jack and the Shade's idealized view of the place. That was my intention to a degree, although I concede that with pirates and prairies seeming to exist within spitting distance of each other I may have overdone it a bit.
FANZING: Knowing your love for DC "make believe" cities, did you ever consider keeping Starman in and around "Capitol City" where Ted's observatory had originally been shown in previous stories? (As in the recent JSA 100 Page Giant) Is Capitol City perhaps located near Opal City? (Hmmmm just noticed as I write this that "The Simpsons" has a Capitol City near Springfield. Maybe Opal and Springfield are twin cities?)
ROBINSON: I discounted the whole Capitol City connection, because I felt it was too on the money. I feel that certain DC cities are very, very clearly meant to mirror real cities in America -- Gotham = NY, Central City = Chicago, Ivy Town = Boston. The name Capitol City implies Washington DC to me. As I said in the prior question, I wanted something more "magical" and less tied to reality.
FANZING: Will the SHADE mini-series ever be collected?
ROBINSON: I guess it's something that gets revisited by DC's marketing people every once in a while. The problem I guess is that Issue #2's florid type faces are so hard to read the feeling is that they require retypesetting. This is a cost that would make the collection unprofitable. On top of that, I'm not sure the demand for the series is truly there. Readers' wishes could change that. Let DC know.
FANZING: Let's delve into a few of your specific Starman stories. Why did you decide to merge the Prince Gavyn and Will Payton Starmen into one being? Do you feel that this just adds a new dimension and still leaves their respective adventures intact? Did you get any complaints, or was the feedback largely positive?
ROBINSON: I think it adds a dimension while keeping their adventures intact. I've taken pains to never clarify if they are indeed one and the same or two separate people. They personalities are certainly different. No, I feel their respective pasts still exist apart from each other. Feedback was mixed. Some hated it. Some loved it. Some merely wanted Jack to hurry up and return to Opal.
FANZING: With all of the "Times Past" stories that you do, have you ever thought of just doing a "Times Past" book which would explore the history of the DC Universe with the same richness that you bring to those Starman stories? (I realize that this is allegedly the premise of "Legends of the DCU", but )
ROBINSON: I do feel, more often than not Legends of the DCU achieves that very thing. If the question then becomes would I like to write more stories set in DC's past, then sure. Especially stuff set in the Golden Age. It isn't anything I have a pressing need to do at this moment in time, though.
FANZING: The most controversial story you did was Starman #38, where The Mist single-handedly kills the "New Justice League Europe" (Blue Devil, Amazing Man and Crimson Fox) while posing as Ice Maiden. I know you took a LOT of heat for that at the time, from fans of the individual characters as well as people who didn't like superheroes being dispatched so easily for dramatic effect. My only question about it is: would you write it differently in any way today?
ROBINSON: Honestly, no. I wouldn't change anything. I knew then that Blue Devil's death wasn't permanent. And I also feel I added more depth to Crimson Fox and Amazing Man in the few pages I had with them prior to their deaths than they've gotten in whole runs of Justice League Europe. Whenever a character is killed, people who didn't care a jot about him/her are suddenly filled with spontaneous regard and grief. But let's face it, these were loser characters, so unfavorably received by readers that it's a good chance they'd never return from comic book oblivion anyway. Is this a callous attitude? Maybe. Me, I called it realistic. Oh and incidentally, just to show how little they were regarded by DC at the time, I originally only wanted to kill one JLE member. It was the Justice League editor at that time who suggested I turn it into a group slaughter.
FANZING: Oh, this one's a nit-picky science question, but I need to ask it. If Rann has the ability to regrow bodies (complete with the same soul and memory) from crispy-fried corpses, how does that gibe with the facts that Alanna "died" from childbirth and Sardath is still missing an eye? Couldn't most any dead person or dead tissue be saved on a planet that could regrow Jack from his laser-toasted condition?
ROBINSON: Re. Alanna. I thought the truth was that she wasn't dead at all. Isn't that how Mark Waid retconned her back into existence? Re. Sardath's eye. Good question. Maybe the technology is new. And I think I made it clear that once the soul has departed, the body is dead. You can't clone [the soul].
FANZING: All right, this is my last fan-boyish nitpicky science harangue, but aren't you using the Zeta beam in ways that totally contradict the nature of the Zeta beam? I mean, the whole basis of Adam's running around the southern hemisphere is that the Zeta beam emanates in a straight line from Rann, which is around Alpha Centauri (and cannot be seen from the northern hemisphere). Also, it takes 4-point-something years from the time the Zeta beam is fired at light speed for it to reach Earth, at which point it instantly transports any person it hits back to the source of the beam and leaves them there until the Zeta radiation wears off. But in "Starman", the zeta beam has been used to open an instant connection for troops from one point to another and it teleported Jack permanently back to the opposite hemisphere of the planet Earth. Has the zeta beam been improved since the old Adam Strange stories, or should we just except these as special circumstances since they involved unique arrangements by Sardath? (I'll admit, I haven't read Adam Strange since that three issue miniseries, so I may have missed something.)
ROBINSON: Let's assume it has. Also neither Jack nor the Gavyn's army Zeta-Beamed to Earth from Rann. They came from Throne World.
FANZING: Okay, enough tough questions. What is your favorite color?
FANZING: In a recent interview, you said something to the effect that, while you were not sure whether or not you would be returning to "Leave it to Chance", you also weren't sure whether anybody cared. So, what's the story? Any Chance Falconer in the future? (I should mention that this question was sent in to me by a Fanzing reader who definitely wants to see more of that book!)
ROBINSON: I definitely intend to return to Chance. However if I do it will be out of my own love for the character. While a critical favorite, LITC never sold any great numbers. Hence my remark about whether anyone cared or not.
FANZING: What do you think of what Geoff Johns and David Goyer have been up to since you left JSA?
ROBINSON: I like everything except Mr. Terrific's costume.
FANZING: Regarding the "Golden Age" mini-series: You've said that it was originally going to be in continuity, but then it was decided that it was an Elseworlds. How much, if at all, did you change the story once it was declared an Elseworlds?
ROBINSON: Nothing. As far as I'm concerned there's a moment in Hypertime (meaning at one point in DC's ever changing continuity) when it really happened.
FANZING: One lingering question from your old "U.L.T.R.A.-Humanite" three-parter that kicked off the Legends of the DC Universe book: Did this replace the Ultra-Humanite of the Golden Age? Is your story firmly in continuity? (I hate to be a stickler for continuity, but in this case he is a very big player in the Golden Age and is directly tied in with The Atom, Cyclotron, Nuklon/Atom-Smasher and other JSA storylines)
ROBINSON: At the time I thought maybe I did replace the original. Now I'm not so certain. It seems a shame to get rid of the original doesn't it?
FANZING: Finally, a question about the representation of Jack Knight. One of our writers, Matt Morrison, reviewed "Sins of the Father" in the last issue of Fanzing. He points out that Jack's acceptance of the life of a superhero parallels an adult's acceptance of comics being a suitably mature thing for them to be reading. Jack refers to superheroics as "Self-propagating kids stuff" and an excuse for grown men to act foolish, but he eventually comes to accept and even love his status as a superhero. Likewise, many older readers look upon their hobby with a shame that they are doing something childish but then they decide, "Damn, but I do love it." What do you think of this comparison?
ROBINSON: It's a good comparison. However, taking that analogy further I'm curious how Matt interprets the last few issues of the book.
FANZING: James, thank you very much for the interview and we wish you the best as you continue on from Starman with your other pursuits. Just out of curiosity, where do you see yourself five years from now?
ROBINSON: Still doing the comic projects, but primarily working in films.
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This column is © 2000 by Michael Hutchison.
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