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A Titan Looks Back: Geoff Johns on Leaving Teen Titans

A Titan Looks Back: Geoff Johns on Leaving Teen Titans
by Vaneta Rogers – courtesy of – 02-01-2007

Nobody said being a parent was easy.

When Geoff Johns fathered the new Teen Titans comic four years ago, he had a handful of young kids to mold and guide through their difficult teenage years. And over his tenure on the title, the characters evolved, much like any group of kids tend to do.

But kids also tend to grow up and move on to something else — and there’s no doubt that many of the characters Johns wrote in the series have matured. And like any good father, at some point, a parent has to let go, no matter how hard it may be to walk away.

Yesterday, Johns announced he was leaving the Teen Titans title along with artist Tony Daniel after Issue #46, handing over a team to writer Adam Beechen that has been re-invigorated by a slew of fresh, new characters Johns created for DC’s One Year Later event. As he reflects on what he’s done with the series, Newsarama sat down with Johns to talk about his favorite stories, what it felt like to watch these kids grow up in front of his eyes, and how he came up with all those endearing new characters that will now add to the legacy of one of DC’s most iconic teams.

Newsarama: Point blank, Geoff — why leave Teen Titans now?

Geoff Johns: It wasn’t an easy choice. I love the book and I love the characters and it’s been a lot of fun. But with 52 wrapping up and Justice Society starting and Action Comics starting, it was time to kind of loosen up my schedule. And it’s time to move on. It felt like it was time to hand the reins to somebody else. And with Tony leaving the book, it just felt like it was the right time.

NRAMA: You’ve been on the book since it began in 2003, and Dan Didio has often said that it was the strength of your pitch, and your belief in the characters that helped get it greenlit in the first place. Do you feel like you achieved your goals for Teen Titans? What was the goal when you started out?

GJ: I remember Mike McKone said, when he was leaving Exiles, that someone had said to him, “Why? Why in the world would you leave Exiles to go do Teen Titans? Teen Titans is a dead franchise.” And Mike and I just wanted to prove people wrong.

Teen Titans is a cornerstone of the DC universe. That team can work, that team should work, and that team should be there. It should be prominent. That’s what the goal always was — to make Teen Titans a prominent book in the DC Universe. So yeah, I think we’ve gotten there.

NRAMA: Looking back at the early issues, so many of these characters have evolved so much — and one that seemed to grow the most during your run was Superboy. You’ve said before how much you like this character…

GJ: I love Superboy. He’s one of my favorites.

NRAMA: From the discovery of his Luthor DNA to the development of his relationship with Wonder Girl and then his conflict during the crossover with Outsiders as well as the Infinite Crisis issues — looking back at your run, the evolution of his character seems to have been central to the entire team’s growth.

GJ: You know, when they revealed that he was a clone, I always had the idea to do that with his character. All they said was he was a clone of Superman and Paul Westfield, and nobody outside of the Superboy book knew who the other guy was. And I always thought having DNA of Superman and Lex Luthor would make a pretty compelling and conflicted character. And right away, when I first got offered the book, I knew that was my last page.

NRAMA: That last page of Issue #1 was when Superboy found out the other 50 percent of his DNA came from Lex Luthor. You knew that from the start, huh?

GJ: Yeah, I just knew right away that I’d love to do this reveal and I’d love to explore that idea: What if Superboy found out his DNA had come from Lex Luthor? And it wasn’t only from a bad guy — it was from the worst guy in the DC Universe.

NRAMA: And he shared his discovery with Robin. The two shared a bond from the beginning.

GJ: Superboy and Robin, for me, were the two mainstays, along with Wonder Girl and Kid Flash. Those were the mainstays of the Teen Titans. And I really wanted to explore the “World’s Finest” idea in Teen Titans.

NRAMA: Along with that relationship’s growth, a lot of the characters evolved and transformed and grew. Impulse matured into Kid Flash, Raven came back, Ravager went through a huge transformation, and you’re doing it again in Titans East with another group of characters. Why do you think those kinds of changes were such a key element of the book?

GJ: You know, in Teen Titans, I think all of the characters in that book have to change and grow because they’re kids. The cool thing about writing a book like that is they can change and grow — and they should. And that was part of the fun of Teen Titans. You look at a character like Kid Devil, and he’s growing up. You watch these characters grow up in front of your eyes. I always said Young Justice was junior high and Teen Titans was high school. We had these characters who were kids coming in, and then you can see the progressive change. I think that’s why you see more growth and change in characters like Superboy and Wonder Girl and Kid Flash than you would Cyborg, because Cyborg has already reached adulthood.

NRAMA: Looking back, what was your favorite story arc?

GJ: I still really like the first arc. I like the kids eating together and just hanging out together. I like the quieter moments in those issues. I also really like the One Year Later arc. You know, Mike McKone and Tony Daniel were the two main guys I worked with on this book, and I thought Tony really came into his own on the One Year Later arc of Teen Titans. And I really loved the idea of bringing in all these new characters and shaping the book up. I hated the idea of losing Superboy, and especially Kid Flash. I hated losing both of them. But it was a chance to kind of shake the book up and do something completely new.

NRAMA: One of the story arcs that got a lot of attention during your run was the “Titans Tomorrow” arc. Talk about characters evolving!

GJ: Yeah, the coolest thing about “Titans Tomorrow” is that the worst thing in the world would be meeting yourself as an adult, and you’re a complete asshole. [laughs] You know?

NRAMA: There were a few of them among the “future” Titans! And the Titans of today had to actually battle their future selves — in a way, fighting what they could potentially become.

GJ: Yeah, I loved that. It ended up being about the kids vs. the adults. And you know, that probably encapsulates the series better than any other arc.

NRAMA: Well, it was a stark contrast between good heroes and bad heroes, and it emphasized how the actions they take now will shape their destiny.

GJ: And you know, what sucks is that Tony and I were going to do the next arc about the Titans of Tomorrow coming to this time period. I really wanted to do that. I wanted to see Kid Devil become Red Devil and Miss Martian be Miss Martian Manhunter, and I wanted to see what that future team would look like, maybe bringing in a few new characters, and have them face off against our team again. Adam might do that story. I’ve passed the idea to him.

NRAMA: What’s your favorite single issue?

GJ: Wow, that’s hard. I really like #3.


GJ: It was the issue that I felt really gelled everything together. And Mike killed on those last few pages. I also really like #18, which was part of “Titans Tomorrow.” And there was an Identity Crisis issue — I think it was issue #20. It was all about Robin dealing with the death of his father. There was a line in there where, I think he said, “I stop thinking like Batman, and I start thinking like a Teen Titan.” And I liked that. And I like #39. The introduction of Zatara and Miss
Martian. I think they’re ridiculously fun characters.

NRAMA: You had so many fun new characters running around once you hit One Year Later. We’d never seen a lot of these teens before.

GJ: That was the really interesting thing about One Year Later. Yeah, we lost two of our best characters. But the good thing was that we got to create a bunch of new characters, and add a lot of mystery about them. All these weird and wild characters that some people have heard of and some, you’ve never heard of.

NRAMA: And One Year Later, even the tone seemed to change a little. There was more humor as you went back to the basics of building a team again.

GJ: Yeah, there’s a specific reason for that. When we first launched the book, it was coming off Young Justice, so we wanted to make the book more serious. We wanted to ground it and go a different way, otherwise there was no reason to do a new book. And also those kids were getting a little older. You know, at the end of Issue #2, Impulse got shot in the kneecap. And I think that was the first time he ever bled. And it was just supposed to say, there are serious stakes here.

And as we progressed, the team grew. They went through a lot of darker periods and lighter periods, but with One Year Later, there was a conscious effort to put more humor in there because they were dealing with such huge and heavy issues. There is humor, but it balances with the fact that Superboy’s dead. They’ve lost one of their best friends, and there had to be a lot more humor in there. Kid Devil brought some, Ravager brought some, and the situation they were in brought a lot of that. But it was a balance because we needed to delve into such heavy territory.

NRAMA: Knowing how you feel about Superboy, it must have been so difficult for you to have to write his death and then lose him from your title.

GJ: It was. I loved the character. It’s like, I thought he wasn’t the smartest kid in the room, and he wasn’t the dumbest, but he just had a good heart and a good soul, and that’s why I just loved him. He was a nice, normal kid despite the crazy background, and he had so much growing to do.

You know, I think if Superboy was still in the book, I’d probably still be writing it.

NRAMA: You mean that?

GJ: [laughs] I said probably. We’ll never know.

NRAMA: Well, this is comics. If you ever write these characters, you could just bring Conner back!

GJ: That’s true. I’d want to. But when Superboy died, Tony and I took it as a challenge. We thought, look, if we’re losing Superboy and Kid Flash, who are arguably our favorite characters on the team — you know, Superboy was mine and Kid Flash was his — we were losing two fantastic characters because of what they wanted to do. We needed to replace them with characters that we would have as much interest in working on or at least be excited to find out and explore who they are. We needed to introduce new characters and new blood on the team to get us excited about it.

NRAMA: You know, throughout this interview, you’ve been saying “we” did this and “we” did that. You obviously had a close working partnership with Tony Daniel.

GJ: Tony has been great. And it’s been amazing to watch him grow. You were talking about the Teen Titans growing as characters. But it’s even cooler to watch an artist grow so much. I think before Tony got on Titans, he was good, but you look at his stuff in the first issue of Titans East or in his last issues he’s done on Teen Titans and it’s just phenomenal. His growth and the change in his style has been amazing.

NRAMA: And he designed so many of the new characters with you, right?

GJ: Yeah, that was part of the fun. Despite the changing of the team make-up, the fact that we could go in together and come up with ideas for new characters like Zatara and Miss Martian. She represents the naive alien girl that Starfire once was, but with a little more modern twist and a darker edge to her, with the White Martian thing.

NRAMA: Were you thinking of Starfire when you created Miss Martian?

GJ: Originally we wanted Supergirl on the team, but she was in Legion and they didn’t want to confuse people. And she was also going through some kind of “rebellion” phase or something, so we thought — oh, we’ll just make up our own alien character. And if we would have made Supergirl up, maybe we would have made her more like this. And we just came up with the idea — a hero with a mysterious background as a White Martian, but making her a very delicate character who got her feelings hurt really bad.

NRAMA: Well, that’s because she heard all those nasty thoughts!

GJ: Yeah! If you were a kid and were a telepath and you could hear everybody talk about you all the time, and they weren’t necessarily good things — and you had Ravager right next to you, and you know, she complains about everybody — you would totally have no self-esteem. You would just be beat down. So Tony and I would talk for hours about these characters we might not even see — like, Miss Martian — we didn’t even know how much we would use her. And then when we started to work on her, and I wrote her in #39, we really liked the character. So we were like, let’s put her on the team! She’s a lot of fun. And she’s a lot of fun in Titans East too, because she’s a little girl who’s really kind of timid, but if you pick on her friends, the White Martian in her comes out and she’s going to kick your ass. And that’s been a highlight of late, working on the book.

NRAMA: But not all of your new characters are sweet. Zatara’s a little bit of a jerk.

GJ: Yeah, but think about if you were a kid and you could have anything you want — anything you want at all. You want a pizza? Boom! You have a pizza for free. You want an X-Box? Bam! You have an X-Box, and every X-Box game for free. You just have to say it backwards. You’re going to be a complete spoiled brat! But at the same time, he can’t make people like him. He can’t have friends. He can’t conjure up a girlfriend or anything else, so when he has a crush on Raven and it’s not returned, when he’s on the Teen Titans and he doesn’t fit in, and people just look down on him as this spoiled kid — now, this kid has some problems to deal with that you can understand.

NRAMA: They end up being familiar problems to most of us.

GJ: Yeah, you can relate to this guy on some level. This guy who gets everything he wants except friends. I think there’s something sad yet interesting about that character. And that’s the kind of stuff I’m going to miss — all these new characters.

NRAMA: Yeah, but nobody is as sad as Kid Devil after that issue where you wrote his origin. Talk about heartbreaking. And although he wasn’t a brand new character, this kid almost came out of nowhere.

GJ: Well, he appeared only eight times or something before Teen Titans. And he was just this rolly poly kid.

NRAMA: In comparison to the cool-looking character he is now, he was kind of a horrible little character.

GJ: Well, I don’t think he was a horrible character, because I actually — I thought he was interesting. There’s something there that made me gravitate toward the character. He was kind of the sidekick who no one wanted. And the idea of saying, “Let’s take the worst sidekick the DC Universe has, and let’s make him into a Teen Titan.” It was so interesting. And he knows he’s the worst. It’s no secret that he’s the worst.

NRAMA: He wants people to think he’s a good sidekick though, and hides behind the idea of Blue Devil at first…

GJ: Yeah. When he shows up in the Teen Titans, his first gag is that he’s always saying he has to go call Blue Devil. “He’s calling, he’s writing, he’s always telling me what to do and giving me advice.” And then Robin finds out, he hasn’t talked to Blue Devil in two years. Because Blue Devil doesn’t even see him as a sidekick anymore. And Kid Devil went through all this trouble to try to turn into something that Blue Devil would want to hang out with. He gives his soul up and turns into a red demon, becoming trapped in demon form like Blue Devil.

And you think, what could possibly make a kid give up his humanity like that? And you see him throughout the issue say, I think Blue Devil needs my help and I’ll do whatever I can to help him. And then he finds out that Blue Devil was somewhat responsible for the death of his aunt. And the deal was that if he ever lost trust in Blue Devil, when he turns 20, he’s screwed. He loses his soul completely. And I think it’s a great set-up for those two characters.

NRAMA: For Blue Devil and Kid Devil?

GJ: Yeah, because nobody knows this except Zatara. At some point, Blue Devil’s going to have to find out about this or Kid Devil is going to have to tell somebody about this when he gets closer to that date when he turns 20. And they might deal with this now or years from now — I don’t know. But we’ve set it up for a future story because Kid Devil’s going to have to trust Blue Devil again to get his soul back. I think that’s going to be a great story. Just think about it — Blue Devil getting this kid’s trust back again in order to save his life — it will be a great story between a sidekick and a hero.

NRAMA: You sound like you want to write it!

GJ: I’d love to! But that’s not up to me anymore. That’s part of what comes with leaving a book. You give up the right to write any of those characters again. And Kid Devil’s just one of the characters I could talk about this way. I could do the same thing for any of them. I could go through Ravager’s or Wonder Girl’s state of mind, I could go through Robin’s state of mind — and just talk about where the characters are and what stories it can lead to. And that’s the thing that’s going to be hardest for me, is giving that up. That’s going to be really difficult. I just think the characters are so freaking awesome, and there’s so much to them, that I literally could be on this book for another 25 issues — if I didn’t have to sleep!

NRAMA: Besides the new characters, you also re-introduced the Doom Patrol and now you’re playing with a group of Titans East characters. So it wasn’t just new people, but even new teams that you introduced with One Year Later.

GJ: Yeah, the idea with the Doom Patrol was that the Titans were so mixed up at this point — they had all these new people, they didn’t want to work together, the team was really small, they don’t want to be there, they’ve gone through dozens of teams and this is just the latest incarnation. And when they first encounter the Doom Patrol, they find out that the Doom Patrol is a group of freaks whose lives are almost ruined, and yet they’re as tight as they can be. But as you progress through the story, the cracks start to show, and you find out the Doom Patrol isn’t this perfect, happy family we thought they were. And it makes Robin realize it’s OK if the Titans don’t just immediately click. It will take time. They just press forward and bring more people in.

NRAMA: And they did during the Titans Around the World arc.

GJ: Yeah, bringing in Miss Martian and Jericho. We wanted to bring in a past team member with Jericho and a new team member with Miss Martian. Trying to take everything that happened before and doing something new with it. We were hoping to bring in the new characters but still remain faithful to what the iconic Teen Titans team should be.

NRAMA: Was your plan all along to bring Jericho back?

GJ: Well, we brought him back in the first storyline, and I always knew we’d get to him again. He just didn’t fit on the team and didn’t matter to the team until Ravager showed up as part of the Titans. With Rose on the team, suddenly Jericho being there means a hell of a lot more.

NRAMA: Their introduction to each other was pretty touching.

GJ: Yeah, Ravager has nobody. Robin and Kid Devil were friends, but there’s a difference between the relationship with a friend and with a brother. And having a brother you never met, and having somebody like Jericho — he’s always been so spiritually balanced. Kind of calm and quiet, obviously, but he’s a great force for Rose. And that’s going to affect Rose in a certain way, and she’s going to affect him. And also having a brother and sister face off against their father — again, an adult — so I guess that battle against an adult is intrinsic to kid superheroes.

NRAMA: You keep talking about these characters like they’re your friends. Or like a proud father talks about his kids. You’re really going to miss it, aren’t you?

GJ: I’m going to miss it a lot. The thing that’s tough is that I’ve been on the book for four years. I’ve come to know these kids so well. It was hard enough letting Superboy go and Bart Allen go, but letting the entire team go is going to be really difficult. I suspect you can expect to see the Teen Titans pop up in my other books pretty quickly. [laughs]

NRAMA: That was going to be one of my questions — which character would you want to return to and write again?

GJ: Well, all of them. Them as a team is what’s appealing. You know, I’d love to do a Batman and Robin book — that would be fun. But the Teen Titans together — the interaction between Ravager and Wonder Girl. And I miss writing Superboy and Robin. I really miss writing that. I miss writing Kid Flash and Wonder Girl, and Beast Boy and Cyborg. They’re all really great characters. So I wouldn’t know one that I’d want to get back to.

But then that makes me want to see what happens and how they develop under Adam. I want to see what he does with Kid Devil and Miss Martian. I want to see what he does with all these new characters — if he does anything with them at all. It’s his option to, of course, change the make-up of the team and go in his own direction. And I’m excited to read the book for that. But I couldn’t pick any specific character. Well, Kid Devil — I’m very curious about him.

NRAMA: I’m willing to bet you’re going to write Kid Devil again someday.

GJ: Hopefully.

NRAMA: I don’t necessarily mean in the Teen Titans ongoing, you know. You could come back to any of them in a miniseries or something.

GJ: That’s the thing about these new characters. We wanted to set up these characters so you can do things with them. It’s like, could you do a Miss Martian miniseries? Like issues 1 through 4? I think you could make that work. I think you could do it. I think you could do a Blue Devil/Kid Devil miniseries and make it work. I think you could do a Beast Boy/Doom Patrol.

NRAMA: Is this a hint on what you’re going to do next?

GJ: No, it’s not. But I think the key to this book is, can these characters stand on their own and be a part of this team book? Could there be a Cyborg monthly book? I don’t know. But it would be nice to see the Teen Titans members be able to support that.

NRAMA: Let’s talk about Adam Beechen. You’ve been co-writing with him a little during the end of the Titans East arc, and you mentioned how excited you are to see what he does with the characters. What do you think he brings to the table as he takes over this team?

GJ: He’s a different writer than I am. He comes from an animation background and approaches things differently than I do. But he’s got a real good sense of story, and he’s a real fun writer. He’s lighter than I am, so the book might get even funnier — or it might not, because I don’t know exactly what he’s going to do. Some of the plans I have heard sound really interesting, and I can’t wait to read it.

NRAMA: So what’s next for Geoff Johns? Is there something that’s going to replace this, or are your other three monthlies and the promise of All-Star Batgirl enough for now?

GJ: I’ll be working on All-Star Batgirl later this year. But other than that, I’m just going to focus on Justice Society, Green Lantern and Action Comics, because we’ve got a lot of big plans for those. I’ve been getting 52 wrapped up and Teen Titans wrapped up. It’s going to be a break so I can re-concentrate on my monthlies and everything we’ve got coming with those. And there may be a new project in there somewhere.

NRAMA: “May be,” huh? Well, you’ve got the big Sinestro Corps project with Ethan Van Sciver coming and the Justice Society crossover with Justice League of America.

GJ: Right. And those are going to require a lot more focus and effort because they’re bigger storylines. And with Action Comics, the plans are going to be coming out later this year. It’s going to require a lot of time, and I want to shore up those books to be the best they can possibly be. I think Justice Society is better than it’s been; I think Green Lantern is better than it’s been; and I hope to make Action Comics better and better as we go. If I can’t do that, then I’m not doing my job.

NRAMA: Well, you talked about Tony growing as an artist as he worked on Teen Titans, but looking through four years of Teen Titans, it seems like you’ve grown as a writer too. Do you think you’ve evolved as a writer over the span of this series?

GJ: I hope I have. I’ve had to learn from my mistakes, things that I did with the team that didn’t quite work out. There were a few arcs in there that obviously weren’t as good as some other ones, but I really love these guys. And I hope that I’ve serviced them as best as I can. One thing I can say is that Teen Titans is still, after four years, one of DC’s most stable books and one of their top sellers. It’s a concept that’s going to be around again. I’m proud that I made the franchise work again. There’s no taking that away. And I’m proud that it’s going to carry on.


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