A One-Man Weapon
♦ Tripwire’s contributing writer Scott Braden gives us his latest in his series of features on comic stories or series that never happened. This week it’s the turn of James Robinson’s Firearm Annual …
James Robinson’s Firearm Annual
Cable. Deadpool. Punisher. You know the type. Tough guys with bad attitudes and big guns. At first glance, James Robinson’s Firearm may have been associated with this none-too-exclusive “super hero” group. But someone coming to that arguable conclusion would be mistaken.
It happens. Carry on.
Published by Malibu Comics for its Ultraverse imprint, Firearm was something very special coming out of the barrage of “shoot-em up” comics in the early 1990s. This early masterpiece by Robinson was a very character-driven book, where the story mattered as much as the action – and let me tell you, Firearm wasn’t short on action.
Robinson’s Firearm was Alec Swan, a non-powered, ex-operative for a covert branch of the British secret service called The Lodge. Sent primarily on missions against “Ultras” (the Ultraverse term for the super-powered) who posed a threat against the British crown, Swan eventually left both his spymasters and England after some dark and unspeakable acts committed in the name of Queen and Country. Pulling up stakes for Pasadena, CA, and work as a private investigator, the well-read Swan quickly found that most of his cases dealt with Ultras anyway. Thus, making his life and livelihood “interesting” to say the least, as a “Touchstone guy in a Disney-colored world.”
Throughout this critically acclaimed 18-issue series, Robinson presented Swan’s story in a way that lets readers get bits and pieces of Swan’s and The Lodge’s pasts. Even though it was never released, the Firearm Annual would have continued that trip down memory lane. Robinson told me in a 1996 interview for Overstreet’s FAN that he was writing a story – entitled “Now and Then” – that was going to be done by two artists. Half of the story was going to be drawn by the very-talented Cully Hamner, while the other half was going to be done by the extraordinary Gary Erskine. And, in a spark of brilliance, the two stories were going to intercut with each other.
According to Robinson, the first story, drawn by Hamner, was going to be about one of the Hardcase villains, Headknocker: “a big rampaging guy who was going to be running rampant through Pasadena.” With all the cops on full alert to deal with this guy, Swan’s African-American detective/friend, Ben Travers asks that the hardboiled Britisher look after his 14-year-old daughter, Sarah, while he’s away taking care of business. Swan agrees, since he’s not a super-hero and has no reason to go out and after the villain himself.
With his four-color action hero playing babysitter, Robinson took the opportunity to clue the reader in on who Travers is: detailing his friendship with Swan; revealing the relationship this Black L.A. cop has with his daughter; and exploring a more sensitive side of his Swan character. Robinson would have created a very personal story full of meaningful moments. At the end of the day, Swan would have shown what a really good guy Travers is and how Sarah should give her widower father a chance. Robinson explained that since Sarah’s always liked Swan and can talk to him like an uncle, she ultimately listens to what he has to say. Especially after witnessing (on the telly) her father pulling off some crazy stunt to apprehend the rampaging Ultra – something we readers, as well as those in the story, would expect from Swan himself.
The Erskine-illustrated story, on the other hand, would have provided readers with the long-awaited history of The Lodge. Founded by Arthurian scholar Percival Wentworth during the end of World War II, The Lodge started with five “knights” – agents called “The Advanced” by the good professor, but later known as Ultras. The covert organization’s first knights were as follows:
* Lancelot: Endowed with super-strength and nigh-invulnerability;
* Kay: Endowed with advanced strength and flight;
* Guinevere: Possessed the ability to levitate things, start fires, and emanate static bolts;
* Gwaine: Could change physical size at will;
* Morganna: Could read a person’s mind during sexual congress; and
* Parsival: Possessed combustible abilities.
Utilized as cold warriors, Wentworth’s knights were kept secret from the world – fighting a shadow war on the side of Britain against the “Merlins” of communism and beyond. To aid in keeping Britain’s first Ultras a secret, the spymasters of The Lodge enlisted a small number of non-powered agents to serve as “squires” – highly trained individuals who would assist and act as cover for the organization’s super-powered knights.
Robinson also pointed out that besides revealing the formation of the highly secretive [group] during the twilight days of the Second War to End All Wars, the unpublished annual would also detail the mission where Swan – a squire — was betrayed by his keepers and forced to leave the shadow world that this organization was built around.
“This story was going to list all the original British Ultras that the Lodge fought and all that went on back then,” Robinson first said in my 1996 article for Overstreet’s FAN. “One of them took over running The Lodge and one defected to Russia, like Burgess and Philby. It was going to be The Lodge’s history told in a very sort of documentational way, but showing the flaws and the weird, interesting dynamics within this bizarre cell of the British secret service.”
Robinson also explained that he was going to use the Firearm Annual to set up future stories apt for further exploration in the unlikely hero’s monthly book.
“When I first wrote it,” Robinson told me in 1996,” I had no intention of leaving the book, so it was also going to highlight one time when Swan was in the Special Boat Service, and he was sent to Gibraltar to take out a group of Irish Republican Army (IRA) terrorists.
“It ends up that Swan eventually takes out all but one of them, but then, after one thing or another, he and the surviving terrorist get caught up in this supernatural menace while they’re trying to kill each other.”
According to Robinson, what results is that the surviving IRA terrorist ends up saving Swan’s life, forcing our hero to let the man go with the knowledge that he is indebted to the Irishman.
“In the monthly comic,” Robinson revealed to me, “I intended that the debt would finally come in and Swan would have to go and help this guy in a bad situation. What I was then going to try and do was spend a few issues with Alec Swan and this guy arguing and debating the various sides of the whole Irish problem; the trouble within Ireland. So anyway, the Gibraltar affair was in a little flashback as part of what Alec is going to tell the daughter, and that would have been a set up for another story arc in the future.”
Unfortunately, there wasn’t much of a future left for Firearm. Although Robinson came back to Malibu to write a back-up story in the Codename: Firearm limited series, he ended the regular book with issue #18.
Robinson explained the contracts that the Ultraverse’s chief creators all originally signed were only for 12 issues. After that, the superstar scribe said it was up to the “discretion of the talent” whether they wanted to continue or not.
“I don’t know what it was,” Robinson said in 1996, “but I just had this bad feeling about Malibu when I was setting up the whole ‘Rafferty Saga’ at the time. I just decided that would be it – that would be where it ended.”
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