Taking the Fantastic Four back to the Baxter Building
He’s renowned for his ability to breathe new life into vintage properties such as the long-running
Starman and The Golden Age but James Robinson has mostly been associated with DC over the past three decades. After his abrupt departure from the New 52’s parallel universe title Earth Two, though, the San Francisco-based Brit has fetched up at the House of Ideas. His previous Marvel work consisted of a handful of titles in the mid ’90s – most notably a seven-issue run on Cable and four issues of Generation X – so he now finds himself in fertile, mostly new territory.
Given the opportunity to reinvent World War 2 superteam The Invaders in tandem with erstwhile Animal Man artist Steve Pugh, Robinson has chosen to shoot them into space instead of further exploring their historical roots. And having taken over the reins of
Fantastic Four alongside penciller Leonard Kirk, his dramatic stint promises no less than the fall of Marvel’s First Family. “I never really felt like I was part of the Marvel world before in the way that other writers have been,” he says. “So what I’m doing now doesn’t feel like a return so much as a fresh start and I’m enjoying it very much.”
Comic Heroes: Nobody was expecting you to turn The Invaders into an intergalactic epic. How did you come to embark on such a bold new direction?
James Robinson: “When I originally talked to Marvel last year, The Invaders was the first thing that they suggested. I could certainly see why they would offer me that as I’m known as this guy who does Golden Age books. I’ve been following and enjoying all the versions of The Invaders but I felt like I’d read every single Invaders story featuring Baron Strucker, HYDRA or any other of those old tropes that we’ve seen them fight. I wanted to keep them together and to come up with a sense of who After sprinkling his stardust on Starman in the 1990s, James Robinson is bringing
his magic touch to the House of Ideas
There’s this whole simmering cauldron of Namor fans out there
they were as a team but also create new foes.
“It occurred to me that the modern-day Marvel Universe is constantly being invaded: there’s been Secret Invasion, Mole Man appearing out of the Earth’s core with monsters and Annihilus invading from the Negative Zone. So by having that as the backdrop as the characters face these menaces, the question becomes, ‘Who are the Invaders?’ In the original book, it was them invading Europe as they were fighting the Nazis and in the first arc in this book it’s them taking on the Kree and ultimately deciding that to save Namor, they have to invade Hala, the Kree homeworld.”
CH: With original Human Torch Jim Hammond and the Winter Soldier amongst their ranks, the Invaders are now radically different characters to their initial 1940s incarnations…
JR: “That’s the fun of it. They’ve all changed. I never really felt like Jim Hammond had much of a personality – previously people haven’t known what to do with him. He’s been constantly depowered and pushed to the sidelines, so I’ve tried to make him feel more like a real person. With the Winter Soldier, you get to see that there’s still a little piece of him that is the boy superhero that was Bucky, but all the stuff that he’s been through since has
really changed him. So doing the dialogue for someone who has both sides like that has been a challenge. As for the rest of the team, I’ve actually written Captain America a few times before, while Namor has been the one that I just want to get right. There’s this whole simmering cauldron of Namor fans out there, who just love him and this is me giving them the best Namor I can.”
CH: You’ve got a reputation for bringing back obscure characters – Major Liberty appeared in Invaders #1. Do you have any other rare gems up your sleeve?
JR: “By far the character that most people want to see is Union Jack and you’ll see a little bit of him in #6 and #7. And then the next arc – which is basically HG Wells’s
Martians – goes huge on Union Jack and Namor. The story starts out in London in 1970 and it’s got the original Union Jack and the Freedom Five, who appeared in one panel of Invaders as the World War 1 superteam. So if you’ve ever wondered what it’d be like to see the Phantom Eagle strafing an HG Wells Martian walking craft, you’re going to find out.”
CH: With Fantastic Four, did you want to re-establish the FF as a focal point of the Marvel Universe?
JR: “They’ve always been front and centre of the Marvel Universe but lately it just seems like they’ve very much been off and away from everything. In Jonathan Hickman’s run, so much of it took place in other realities and there was a lot of concentration on Nathan Richards, the children grown-up and future versions. Then in Matt Fraction’s run, they left for a year. I just felt like it was time to bring them back to Manhattan for a while and have them deal with life in the Marvel Universe, although there’s some huge cosmic stuff that I’m also gearing up for. I just wanted to bring them back to New York to press the reset button.”
CH: Sounds like they’re in for a really harrowing time…
JR: “It’s basically about the fall and rise of Johnny Storm because he loses his powers early on. So you’ll see what a hero and a brave man he really is when he no longer has his flames or the FF to help him. He has to rise to the occasion and become a better man. So it’s actually a journey of real triumph for him. But at the same time, he’s Johnny so he had that confidence and that smile.
“The other thing that I’m trying to do – which I’m borrowing from Starman and also doing in Invaders – is to have these emotional beats, where all the stuff that I’ve been planning will pay off. And everyone, from all the kids to Doctor Doom, will have their moment in the big picture as the story unfolds. I’m very happy to slowly begin to make that happen.
The Invaders and Fantastic Four are both out now.
Above: Robinson is breathing new life into The
Invaders and putting the FF right back at the heart of the Marvel U.