In 2003, after Fables got up and running at Vertigo, I began actively looking for a DCU series to write, my reasoning being that with two regular books a month to script my recent (and some might say legendary by then) financial woes would be ended and I could actually start socking some money away -- which had always been a rarity for me.
I made some calls, talked to some editors, floated a few ideas -- standard job-seeking behavior in the funnybook field. Eventually I got a call from a fine fellow named Michael Wright who was one of the Bat-Editors. Specifically he edited the Robin series and wondered if I might be interested in taking it over and (hopefully) punching some new life into it.
I was interested and told him so immediately. But, as I explained to him, it had been some time since I had read any of the Robin comics and so I would need to do some serious catching up before making my final decision.
First digression: I made the mistake of repeating the line directly above in some of my pre-Robin # 121 online interviews, when the word had gotten out that I would be taking over the series. I clearly mentioned that, in preparing for the series, I had to reread many of the books I had read in the past, and read for the first time many issues that I hadn't read before being faced with the prospect of taking over the series. Now, to a reasonable person, this would seem like a fair and prudent, and even professional, thing to do, to make sure one is up-to-speed on an important subject, before making a decision involving said subject, right? But I had not anticipated the current (then -- just as it largely is now) internet culture, which specializes in taking things boldly and blatantly out of context, added to the general culture by then of what I (and others) called the new Indignation Industry, where special status is conferred on all victims, and members of victims groups. And apparently anyone who screamed and cried enough received the coveted status of victimhood, without any actual victimization needing to be demonstrated. So no sooner had I mentioned the fact that I had to read up on past Robin issues, before deciding to take over the series, than someone on the internet, unhappy with my take on the character of Tim Drake, remolded that statement as, "Willingham even admitted he didn't bother to read any Robin issues before taking over the series." And that fabricated statement got repeated over and over again, until it became the official history.
So, since part of the stated purpose of this journal is to point out my many career mistakes to those newly starting out their comics careers, with an eye towards helping you avoid some of the blunders I've made, let me mention now an increasingly universal truth that so many have had to learn at their peril: For the most part the internet is a garbage dump and a wasteland, and like any garbage dump, it's ruled by the biggest, meanest and most disease-ridden rats, who've made it their special home.
So, be careful what you say and how you say it.
Am I indicting all people who post on the internet? No, of course not. I'm merely pointing out the well-proven axiom that, in any venue, throughout human history, the unreasonable people will always trump the reasonable ones -- if you let them. And the internet seems tailor made to let them have their way, unfettered.
Then what's the solution? That's simple enough. The internet isn't one vast venue, it's thousands (millions by now I suppose) of separate venues. Therefore, chose the places where good behavior is enforced and stay far away from those places where it isn't (such as the vast cesspool of the official DC message boards). Try to set the record straight when and where you can, but don't make a fetish of it, since the weasel-contingent is always going to have their say somewhere. By entering the professional comics book field, you've willingly entered the public arena, where a certain amount of shit is going to be thrown at you as a matter of course. Try to console yourself with the knowledge that these shitcasters will never accomplish anything of worth with their wretched lives, will always be the dependents of those who actually do make the world, and will always resent it and lash out in indignation.
Now, back to our essay: Michael Wright sent me the last fifty issues of Robin, to catch up on, including the photocopies and as-yet-unillustrated scripts of those issues which hadn't been published yet. I did my homework, found that I liked the character and could come up with some interesting (to me at least) ideas, and told Michael that I'd take the job.
My initial plans for the Robin series were pretty basic: 1) Build up a more healthy rogues gallery of new villains for Robin, so he isn't constantly in the position of having to borrow whatever well-known Batman villain isn't being used in the other Batbooks that month. 2) Tell the adventures of someone in the process of learning the superhero trade from the greatest expert in the (DC) world.
Our second digression: This second plan turned out to be something of a sticking point for many of the die-hard Robin readers -- at least the more vocal contingent (see the first digression above for some important context). It seems they much preferred a Robin who was already a seasoned hero on his own -- one who metaphorically sprang fully grown from the forehead of Zeus, dressed, armed and ready for battle. They wanted a Robin who didn't need constant help, advice and training from Batman. As a result they chafed and squirmed at my intentional depiction of a Robin who, though obviously talented and well on his way, was still very much a boy in training. In this respect I simply had to disagree with these vocal critics and do the stories I thought best. A Robin being trained by Batman interested me greatly. I had many tales to tell about such a character. In my mind, a Robin who had already learned all he needed to should give up the name and identity, choose a new identity (like Nightwing did) and move on, making room for another Robin in the Batcave. As it turned out, in later issues, this is what would happen, though not exactly as one might envision it.
Returning again to our essay: But there was one big condition on taking over the Robin job. It had already been decided by then that the character Spoiler was going to die. I had to figure that into my plans for the series. No problem. Having just read a veritable deluge of Robin stories, Spoiler didn't stand out as a particularly interesting character. Put those stones down, this is just my opinion. You can disagree. I wasn't exactly happy to kill off Spoiler, but it didn't bother me either. Unknown to me at the time, I had yet to think of the one development that would make Spoiler truly interesting to me -- but too late to save her. By editorial dictate, she was doomed.
Take a look at this wonderful first-issue (my first issue at least) cover from Jason Pearson. It absolutely captured what I wanted my first issue to be all about. Why Pearson doesn't have awards and accolades and parades in his honor is beyond me.
The title of Robin # 121 was Johnny Got His Gun. I wrote it. Rick Mays pencilled it. Aaron Sowd inked it. Right off the bat I decided to get the ball rolling by introducing what was to be one of Robin's new villains, the truly evil Johnny Warlock. He's the fellow on the cover holding a shotgun to Robin's head.