GOLDEN AGE JAMES ROBINSON I: Justice League

Thu, May 22nd, 2008 at 5:33pm PDT | Updated: May 22nd, 2008 at 8:07pm

Comic Books
Jeffrey Renaud, Staff Writer

Robinson's forthcoming series "Justice League" will star Green Arrow, Green Lantern, Supergirl, Batwoman, The Atom (Ray Palmer), Shazam (Freddy Freeman), Congorilla and Starman (Mikaal Tomas)
As comics fans gear up for DC Comics’ long-awaited reissue of the first 17 issues of the Eisner Award-winning “Starman” in hardcover omnibus format next week, CBR News presents an extensive two-part interview today and tomorrow with that series’ superstar writer, James Robinson.

Today’s focus is on Robinson’s recently announced “Justice League” book (release date to be announced), with the spotlight shifting tomorrow to “Superman.” There is also some news about a “Starman” spin-off title and a little less conversation and a little more action about Shazam!

Robinson told CBR News that after nearly a two-year hiatus, he is glad to be back writing two core books for DC, and admitted he suffered from burnout after enjoying incredible success for his run on “Starman.” “I just couldn’t generate the enthusiasm. And it’s taken me a good few years to get back. I have always loved comics. I think it’s a unique medium of storytelling,” said Robinson, who last wrote the Batman story, “Face the Face” in 2006.

“You can’t imitate [writing comics]. It’s completely unique but I needed some time away from it,” Robinson continued. “And just as I was beginning to get my engines revving again, in terms of doing something in comics, [“Action Comics” writer] Geoff [Johns] called me up and invited me up to be a part of ‘Superman.’

“At the same time, I had come up with a concept of my own for the new ‘Justice League’ book. And everything from there just fell into place. As much as I am grateful to DC for their support -- especially [DCU Executive Editor] Dan DiDio, who has really gone out of his way to welcome me back into the fold -- I am equally grateful to Geoff.

James Robinson's last comics work was 2006's "Batman: Face The Face"

“I met Geoff at Motor City Con many years ago when he was a fan. And he impressed me then. And he proved me right. He is one of the great comic book writers and I owe everything to him in terms of coming back to comics.”

Johns is, of course, the mastermind behind “Justice Society of America,” “Action Comics,” “Green Lantern” and “Booster Gold,” as well as two upcoming “Final Crisis” tie-in series “Legion of Three Worlds” and “Rogues‘ Revenge.”

In fact, Johns has become such a good friend to Robinson that when he writes the two headliners of “Justice League” �" Green Lantern and Green Arrow �" he simply taps into his and Johns’ real-life relationship for inspiration and, more importantly, dialogue. “When I write Hal Jordan and Oliver Queen, I just write me and Geoff talking to each other,” mused Robinson.

Robinson’s concept for “Justice League” is fuelled by the notion that while some of the world’s greatest heroes react in perhaps a more methodical and pensive way to the murder of a DCU character in “Final Crisis,” others, namely Hal and Ollie, are ready to strike down with great vengeance and furious anger as if Samuel L. Jackson was calling the shots.

“I didn’t know who was going to live or who was going to die in ‘Final Crisis,” so I came up with a concept for a new ‘Justice League’ book, where the team had a purpose that was different from the Justice League of America,” explained Robinson. “And it’s a purpose that literally, you can keep going with it. The reason for the team is always there. It’s not just the like the Keith Giffen ‘Justice League’ was funny, ‘so let’s do another funny one in Europe.’ This team has a purpose that I pitched to Dan. Dan said yes immediately, ‘let’s do it.’”

Robinson takes inspiration from his relationship with Geoff Johns when writing scenes featuring Green Arrow and Green Lantern

Next up for Robinson was selecting a roster, which was pretty easy when the entire DCU was looking him square in the face. “I remember this was at San Diego and they had a hospitality suite for DC. On the wall was a beautiful poster, I think it was done by Ron Garney, of all of the current DC characters running forward. And Dan literally said, ‘These are the ones that I’d like you to use,’ and then said, ‘I know one of the things you are known for is finding those obscure characters and bringing them to life. So throw in a couple of those characters too.’ And that was it.”

With Green Lantern stepping out of the Trinity’s shadow as de facto leader of the new team, at first only Green Arrow answers his call for membership. Robinson said the rest of the team is formed through events as opposed to ‘people sorting through photographs,’ referring to Brad Meltzer’s bestselling relaunch of “Justice League of America.”

“This is completely different, that worked in the book at the time but the idea of three people picking the team, I think is preposterous,” said Robinson. “In this book, it is driven by the situation. It is two guys, who break away. The other thing you have to remember, and Hal sort of reminds Justice League of America of this, is he does sort of play second fiddle to the Trinity.

“And he has to remind himself of the fact that when he is on Earth, he is the law in this space sector. He’s Marshall Matt Dillon from ‘Gunsmoke.’ He needs to uphold that law. And that is one of the things that will ultimately drive Hal to break away and form his own team.

Green Lantern Hal Jordan leads Robison's Justice League, and his solo adventures can be read in Geoff Johns' ongoing "Green Lantern"

“But it’s typical to him and Oliver, they’re like, ‘Geez. We have broken away but what do we do now?’ They don’t really have a concrete plan. Obviously, events and fate bring other characters into play and slowly the team comes together.”

Hal Jordan (Green Lantern)

“There are two things I love about Hal Jordan,” said Robinson. “One, I love that he is a test pilot. I love anything to do with space and anything to do with flying. I have seen ‘The Right Stuff’ about 55 times. I love all of that, the airfields, living and breathing the diesel that comes out of planes, all of that. So I love that aspect of Hal Jordan.

“At the same time, I also love the fact that he’s sort of more conservative. And he has to be more conservative to juxtapose with Oliver Queen, but he isn’t really that conservative. He’s this gung ho test pilot, Steve McQueen kind of kick-ass guy. I love that about him.”

Oliver Queen (Green Arrow)

Justice League member Green Arrow's solo adventures can be read in "Green Arrow/Black Canary" (volume 1 trade paperback on sale in June)

“This is the way I equate it: I said I write Ollie and Hal as Geoff and I talking but the way I see it, it’s also like ‘Guns of Navarone.’ Hal Jordan, in a way, is Gregory Peck. And I see Oliver Queen, in some ways, like David Niven,” Robinson explained.

“Ollie’s a guy who could have been an A-list hero. But he slipped away from it, he drifted away. He had a fortune. He let that slip through his fingers. He’s more a fuck up. And I like the fact that one guy, Hal, is rock solid, he’s the DC equivalent of Matt Murdock. He is the man without fear. And then you have Oliver Queen. And the only thing he can do is fire a bow better than anyone else in the world. That’s one of things that you’ll see in the course of ‘Justice League’ as things unfold and things progress, you’ll see my version of the scene at the end of ‘Guns of Navarone,’ where Gregory Peck says to David Niven, ‘So you’ve had a free ride, all this time! Someone’s got to take responsibility if the job’s going to get done.’ Do you remember that moment, where he has to plant the explosives? Well, there is a version of that coming in the book. Ollie has to step up. Not immediately but it is one of things that we are working towards.”

Justice League member Supergirl's solo adventures can be read in the ongoing "Supergirl" title and its collected editions

Kara Zor-El (Supergirl)

“Kara’s challenging,” Robinson confessed. “Geoff and I have made a solemn vow in terms of the Superbooks, that it’s not two books that we are doing �" ‘Action Comics’ and ‘Superman’ -- it’s three, with ‘Supergirl.’ We are going to make it a trinity of Superbooks, where one book is as important as the next one.

“With that being our intention with the Superbooks, I also want to make her into a stronger, more vibrant character within the Justice League. We are basically going to see her learn to become an adult, while still trying to understand our world and discovering how it works. But much like Oliver Queen, as the book progresses, she will become more of a front-line player in the whole thing.”

Katherine "Kate" Kane (Batwoman)

Justice League member Batwoman first appeared in the pages of "52"

Greg Rucka confirmed at Emerald City ComiCon that his long-rumored “Batwoman” series was a go. As such, Robinson admits some trepidation concerning Katherine Kane. “To be honest with you, I am a little hands off with that character. She’s Greg Rucka’s character. She’s in the book to give the book a ‘Bat’ emblem. I don’t really have the greatest handle on her. She’s going to be more off to the side. I don’t want to offend Greg Rucka! Truly, I think he’s a great writer that I respect immensely but Batwoman is his baby to run with. She isn’t going to be as big a personality on the team as Ollie, Hal and Kara.”

Ray Palmer (The Atom)

“He’s very important to me,” said Robinson. “When he shrinks, he’s going to be in the Atom costume. But because, at the moment, there is an ‘Atom’ comic, he’s going to Ray Palmer even though he has the Atom costume. And we’ll see what the future holds for Ryan Choi. But for now, he’s just Ray Palmer. He’s got the Atom costume, the Atom logo and because he spent time away from the DC Universe, exploring, he’s sort of going to be the smartest guy in the room. Hal Jordan is the de facto leader of the team but often times, Ray Palmer, although reluctant in the beginning, will be the person to lead in certain situations and missions. I defy you to tell me what Ray Palmer’s personality is? There has never been a personality. So that’s one of things I am going to do with him as well, is give him a personality.

Justice League member Ray Palmer's many adventures can be read in "The Atom Archives" as well as "Identity Crisis" and "Countdown to Final Crisis"

“I have a theory about certain characters. They are meant to be supporting characters. They are meant to be backup characters. The moment you give them books, it never completely works. And that’s why ‘Hawkman’ had a nice run but it was eventually cancelled. Geoff and I started it. ‘The All-New Atom,’ I don’t know how long that book has been around but there some characters who are meant to be supporting characters. But at the same time, that’s no excuse, to not give them a personality.

“And the same thing applies in the past. You think about ‘Justice Society of America.’ The Atom never had his own book and neither did Hawkman but Hawkman was the chairman from #6 or #7 of ‘All-Star Comics.’ He was the chairman of Justice Society for the rest of the run. There is definitely a need for these characters. They just don’t have the grandeur to maintain their own book. And as a result, the characters become a little bit light. If you look at Hal Jordan, he really doesn’t have very much personality in those original Silver Age ‘Green Lantern’ books. It’s Dennis O’Neal and after that Geoff, who has given Hal Jordan a personality. No one has had the opportunity or the desire to do that with Ray Palmer. I am going to do it with Ray Palmer.”

Freddy Freeman (Shazam)

In the recent DC maxiseries “The Trials of Shazam!,” Freddy Freeman underwent six trials to prove himself worthy of succeeding Captain Marvel as the keeper of the power of Shazam. Upon completion of the trials, Freddy assumed the superhero name Shazam.

Justice League member Shazam's most recent adventures can be read in "The Trials of Shazam" volume 1

“Freddy Freeman, to me, is a little bit lost. So we are going to find Freddy Freeman in the course of this book,” said Robinson.

“Do you know the whole thing with Captain Marvel Jr. and Elvis Presley? Well, let me tell you. For Freddy Freeman, ‘Captain Marvel Jr.,’ the art was always done by Mac Raboy, or a lot of it was. It was a much more serious book than ‘Captain Marvel.’ It felt more serious. It was darker. It was more real than C.C. Beck’s ‘Captain Marvel’ and definitely more serious than ‘Mary Marvel.’ And also he was a scruffy, cripple news guy, who when he said, ‘Captain Marvel,’ became Captain Marvel Jr.

“So Elvis Presley wanted a unique haircut. And at the time, in the fifties, especially in Memphis, he couldn’t get it because everything was short, back and sides. So he would go into ladies hair salons with copies of ‘Captain Marvel Jr.,’ show them Captain Marvel’s haircut and that’s the original look of Elvis. And when you think about Elvis later, Vegas Elvis, with the cape, think about it in your head, turn into red and gold or blue and gold and it’s a Captain Marvel costume.

“Anyways, it’s not for me to criticize what people are doing but I think in ‘Justice League,’ we are going to find who Freddy Freeman is. We are going to make sense of it all. I can’t talk about it now but Geoff and I have discussed this and we have some big plans, some big, big plans for Freddy and that whole aspect of the book, the Shazam aspect of the book.”

Congo Bill (Congorilla)

Justice League member Congo Bill was last seen in a 1998 Vertigo miniseries

“Congorilla’s basically a magical, seven-foot tall, golden gorilla. But he has the intelligence and the sophistication of a big game hunter, who has lived for 90 years,” explained Robinson. “He’s not necessarily the smartest guy on the team but he’s the wisest guy on the team.

“At the same time, because he is in a gorilla’s body, the golden gorilla’s physical demands mean when he is challenged, he’s this savage, exciting jungle predator. So that’s why I stress that he’s magical, and I am probably ripping off a million characters here, but it’s occurred to me if he takes on Deadshot, all Deadshot needs to do, it doesn’t matter if he’s a seven-foot tall gorilla or not, is shoot Congorilla and he’s dead.

“So the whole concept of this big game hunter, who became this big gorilla and could originally go back and forth, doesn’t work. So now he is basically stuck as Congorilla and he’s magical, I am giving him sort of a healing factor, which will allow him to survive against that type of foe. That makes him just that much more formidable if you can’t eliminate quickly.

“There is not a single person, who is not doubtful about this character when they see that he is going to be in ‘Justice League.’ But if you remember, and I say this proudly, if you remember The Shade originally, he just had Shade powers, he had a top hat, he had a goofy costume with pixie boots and he looked ridiculous. And I turned the Shade into a character that people liked [in ‘Starman’]; people cared about, and now think he is cool. I made The Shade cool. I will do the same with Congorilla, you, all of you will love him!”

Indeed, people like The Shade so much, Robinson and DC are ready to bring him back. Confirmed Robinson, “I am going to go back and do a Shade special within the year for DC, or a miniseries. It will be one or another but it will be his origin and it will be touching on him in various points of his life.”

Justice League member Mikaal Tomas was a fixture in Robinson's hugely acclaimed "Starman," reissued in omnibus format May 28

Mikaal Tomas (Starman)

“When I pitched the idea to Dan, he said, ‘If you want to include Starman, I wouldn’t be unhappy,’” Robinson revealed. “But Jack Knight is in San Francisco with his wife, with his kids, he’s painting, he’s retired. He’s done. And the thing is, if I bring him back. He becomes part of the DC tapestry and then other people get to have a go at him. I just don’t want to do it. It was an elegant ending. It was an ending I planned for Jack Knight from #4 of ‘Starman.’ I don’t want to open it up again.

“But when Dan said Starman, I thought about it. And I thought about Mikaal Tomas.”

A blue alien stranded on Earth, Mikaal Tomas has a gem embedded in his chest that grants him the ability to fly as well as other special powers. Very popular with readers, Mikaal appeared throughout Robinson’s “Starman” series and has scarecely been seen since.

“I thought about how I left him in the air a little bit,” Robinson continued. “And he had so much potential. Again, he’s an elegant guy but how we left him in ‘Starman,’ he was beginning to reconnect with the war-like aspects of his race. So you get a guy who sometimes can do Cary Grant and other times he is Wolverine or whatever savage hero you want to throw at me. So we have that juxtaposition.”

Robinson said one of his favorite things about “Justice League,” so far, is that the heroes throw away the honorifics and keep the title worship to a minimum. “It occurred to me with Freddy Freeman. That’s’ a name that you brought up. Well, Hal and Ollie call themselves Hal and Ollie. You are never going to hear ‘Congorilla’ used in the book. He’s just Bill. Mikaal is Mikaal. Kara is Kara. Ray Palmer is Ray. So it’s a book where everybody is known by their first names, which I like.

“I don’t mean to be facetious. I really want to make this different than any other book out there. And so far, based on the editorial comments, I have succeeded. And I hope to continue to do so.”

“Justice League” #1 will feature artwork by Mauro Cascioli (“The Trials of Shazam”), but has yet to be solicited. “I think we are waiting for Mauro to finish some more, so probably the end of the summer,” said Robinson. “But what’s he done so far, especially with his colors, is beautiful.”

Don’t forget to return tomorrow for GOLDEN AGE JAMES ROBINSON II: Superman.

Now discuss this story in CBR's DC Comics forum.

TAGS:  james robinson, justice league, starman, dc comics, the shade

 
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