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Geoff Johns: Graduation Day

Geoff Johns: Graduation Day
By Ben Morse – Posted February 1, 2007 – at

As he prepares to depart Teen Titans, Geoff Johns explains why he’s leaving as he remembers favorite moments and characters, discusses the stories that never were, and talks about how if Superboy hadn’t died things might have ended differently

In 2003, Geoff Johns adopted the Teen Titans.

Despite several attempts at resuscitation, the most successful DC franchise of the ’80s had gone several years without being relevant in the absence of past caretakers like Marv Wolfman and George Pérez. But Johns, along with artist Mike McKone, brought the teen team supreme back to prominence when they relaunched Teen Titans.

Nearly four years later, after plenty of triumph and tragedy, it’s time for Johns to leave his children and let another “father”—in this case Robin writer Adam Beechen—see them along the road to adulthood.

As Johns gets set to make his exit with April’s issue #46, he took the time to reflect on the good times, the rough patches and what could have been—and still could be.

WIZARD: First question is the obvious one—why are you leaving Teen Titans?

JOHNS: It’s just time for me to leave the book. We’ve been building to “Titans East,” we’ve introduced a lot of characters and the book has gone through insane changes between issue #1 and my last issue. I love the characters and I love the book, but with 52 ending and Justice Society of America just starting, I want to take a breather and do my best work. Working on four books would have been tough, so it was in the end a scheduling decision and not an easy one to make.

Why is now the right time as opposed to a year ago with “One Year Later” or a few months from now with issue #50?

JOHNS: With “One Year Later,” we had just lost Superboy and Kid Flash, so that was something [artist] Tony [Daniel] and I talked about a lot at the time. Superboy was my favorite character in the Titans; I spent the majority of those first two years focusing on him and his relationships with Robin and Wonder Girl. I asked myself if I could work on the book without Superboy, if it was possible, and the only reason I could is because I was working with Tony. We sat down and asked ourselves if without Superboy and Kid Flash, two of the most popular characters on the team, was there a way to do this book and have fun on it? It was a big decision. I didn’t want to stay on the book if it wasn’t going to be fun. What happened is we started to talk about other characters and that’s where Ravager first came about, and Kid Devil, and Miss Martian, and Zatara and all these new characters. As we got more and more into detail on Kid Devil and Ravager, we started to realize those would be really fun characters to write. I wanted a ton of mysteries introduced in #34, our first “One Year Later” issue, so that’s what we were shooting for. It was a great energizer for us as it led us to all these different stories, like seeing the Doom Patrol and thinking they’re a great team and realizing maybe they’re not, realizing maybe it’s okay not to be perfect and that it will take time to rebuild this team. I really felt like we were doing the next step of Teen Titans and that’s why I stayed—I stayed because I felt like we had stories to tell.

I’m leaving now because I feel like “Titans East” is going to be a good story arc, a good place to leave, and because Tony is leaving. I could stay until issue #50, but would it be the absolute best book I could write? I don’t know, maybe it would be, but it’s like when I left Flash: They told me they were only doing five more issues of [the series] and asked if I wanted to stay, but I said no because I’d just be staying to stay. If Tony was staying until #50 and I felt it was good for the book and for the characters, I would have stayed, but I just felt like it was the right time to go. There’s no reason to stay just to hit a number. I left Hawkman after “Black Reign” because it was a really good storyline and because [artist] Rags [Morales] was leaving and he’s the best Hawkman artist there is. I couldn’t make the book any better. Ultimately, that’s what motivates me when I leave books. I like to stay on books for a long time, but this is it.

What were your major goals when you launched Teen Titans?

JOHNS: The primary goal was to make the Teen Titans a staple of the DC Universe again and we accomplished that. I hope the team doesn’t ever go away. The funniest thing is I remember that Mike McKone—and I loved his stuff and was excited to work with him—told me that when he told people why he was leaving Exiles was to draw Teen Titans, they made fun of him. They said Titans was a dead franchise, that he was crazy, that the book would never work, that it had been canceled a bunch of times; when Mike told me that story, I said, “No, we’re going to make it work and we’re going to make it one of DC’s top books.” And we managed to do that and it’s managed to hold its audience really well since we launched, and that’s something I’m really proud of.

The other goal in moving the characters from Young Justice to Teen Titans was to kind of move them from junior high to high school. Also, bringing back a few of the classic characters like Cyborg, Beast Boy and Starfire. And, of course, tell good stories. I’m really happy, I think we had a couple of real highlights during our run and I hope people look back at it fondly.

With the original team lineup, was it handed to you or did you pick it?

JOHNS: I picked it. I knew immediately that the Teen Titans had to have a few things: They had to have a Robin. They had to have the main teen characters of the DC Universe, and at the time that was Superboy, Robin, Impulse and Wonder Girl. Those four had to be there. I also thought that just like how Marv [Wolfman] and George [Pérez] did such a wonderful job taking four old characters and bringing in four new ones, I took the four new characters they created and wanted them to be the veterans now. Right when I got offered the book, I knew the lineup within minutes and I also knew they had to be in a Tower. They had done holograms, they had done underground government bases—that Tower is just such a great symbol and so unique. It’s a little ridiculous, but that’s what makes it work.

Who was your favorite character to write?

JOHNS: Superboy. He’s just the most real kid to me and I always liked his earnestness. He’s a really good kid and he tried hard. He wasn’t a genius, he wasn’t the world’s greatest detective, he wasn’t the fastest kid alive, but he was just a solid rock. If Superboy were still on the team, maybe I’d still be writing the book. He was just such a favorite character of mine, right next to Wally West. Without Superboy, I love the team, but, in all honesty, he was a huge draw for me.

On the other end, what character did you struggle with the most?

JOHNS: Probably Starfire. She was only on the team for about a year and a half and it was hard to position her. She ended up becoming an adult, with the kids getting on her nerves, like a parent. At the end of the day, she was the hardest to get into, though I really did end up enjoying her.

Going back to Superboy, you were the one who ended up killing him in Infinite Crisis, but how hard did you fight for that not to happen?

JOHNS: We fought pretty hard. [Editor] Eddie [Berganza] and I didn’t want him to die, Tony didn’t either. We went back and forth on the story and ultimately decided it was a good death. I got to write it and we got to build to it; I would have been more upset if I hadn’t gotten to do it, if somebody else had just offed him.

What were your plans for Superboy if he hadn’t died?

JOHNS: We were going to have the Titans from “Titans Tomorrow” come back and he’d fight himself and rejoin the team, but plans always change. I had plans for Flash that never happened, I had plans for Hawkman that never happened.

Of all the comics you’ve written, I think that the Superboy-Wonder Girl romance is the first relationship you really got to explore in depth and build—Wally West and Linda Park and even Hawkman and Hawkgirl seemed more inherited. I always felt it was one of the better romances in recent years in comics—how did you approach it?

JOHNS: Well, they started to date a little bit when Peter David was writing them in Young Justice. As an aside, the reason Wonder Girl is a great character is strictly because of Peter David. I think Wonder Girl more than any other character benefited from Young Justice. It’s young love—I feel you have to have that in a Titans book. Again, so many stories revolved around Superboy. That romance was kind of imperative and it grew out of the characters.

Another character you lost along the way was Bart Allen. His evolution from Impulse to Kid Flash was one of the big themes early on—how far do you feel you got with what you wanted to do?

JOHNS: Bart Allen was the one who really represented the transition from junior high to high school and I really liked him growing up a little bit but still being the fun-loving speedster that Conner, Tim and Cassie loved. He definitely was a symbol of taking the next step. Again, a character that was missed [following “One Year Later”]; we would have loved to have kept telling the adventures of Kid Flash. If it were up to us, he’d still be a Teen Titan.

Was it a conscious choice to get rid of Beast Boy following the “One Year Later” jump?

JOHNS: Yes. I wanted only one character who was going to be an older, experienced Titan, and that was Cyborg. I also wanted to do something with the Doom Patrol. I also thought we had so many characters coming in that I really wanted to whittle the team down to start. Starting with only three—Robin, Kid Devil and Ravager—allowed us to really focus on those characters. If we just lost Superboy and Kid Flash and have friggin’ Kid Devil on the team, a character nobody has heard of or if they have think he is a joke, he needs to have enough spotlight for people to really get to know him. I remember initially when we said Kid Devil was on the team, people thought, “Who the hell is that?” but we managed to really turn a lot of people around on that character, which some people thought would be impossible, and I liked that challenge.

Deathstroke was almost part of the regular cast and his family, Jericho and later Ravager, played an integral role in the series—why give a villain so much stage time?

JOHNS: Since his first appearance, Deathstroke has been arguably the most popular villain the Titans have had and one of the most popular villains in the DC Universe. There are a lot of stories to explore constantly with him and the Titans.

Was there a sense with you from the beginning that there was a bigger arc going on with the Wilson family that stretched beyond just a few issues? That it would be something you’d keep coming back to?

JOHNS: It’s almost full circle since our first arc started with Jericho and Deathstroke and our last arc ends with Jericho and Deathstroke—again, kind of poetic and why it felt like the right time to leave. It kind of developed on its own as far as the larger arc. I knew from the start that I wanted Ravager on the team eventually, so that was always in the cards. Ravager is a really fun character. Kid Devil, Ravager and Miss Martian are all so different in their own unique and special way.

You’ve gotten to work with two very strong regular artists over the course of your time on Teen Titans in Mike McKone and Tony Daniel—what did Mike bring to the table when you started off?

JOHNS: Mike brought a really clean, powerful style to [the book]. I think when the first issue came out, people were blown away by his pencils; I remember I was. He progressively just got better. “Titans Tomorrow” was amazing, the fight with Doctor Light was amazing; it was devastating to lose him. He redesigned most of those characters and gave them looks that really worked. He also came to a book that was unproven. Back then, working on Teen Titans was not a good thing.

At one point, Ivan Reis was going to take over the book after Mike left…

JOHNS: Yeah, Ivan was going to come on, then for one reason or another he ended up on Green Lantern, which he’s perfect for, and Tony Daniel was on Titans. Tony wanted to bust his ass. He wanted to draw Teen Titans and thought it was the best thing for him, so when he first came on we’d talk for hours about his approach and what he could do. There’s a remarkable difference from his first issue of Titans to the last one. He’s fantastic. He’s really become one of DC’s best guys, and I think they realize that, which is why they’re moving him to a book even more high-profile than Titans. That’s a good thing for him. I’m proud to work with him and I’m proud to have watched him grow that much as an artist. Every page I got in I was excited to see.

What story did you want to tell that you never got to?

JOHNS: We wanted the [future Titans from] “Titans Tomorrow” to come to our time period. That’s something we really wanted to do and I’ve passed the idea along to [incoming writer] Adam [Beechen] and said: “Hey, look, I hope to write Teen Titans again someday, but if you want to get to this story, it’s yours.” There are stories I’d like to tell, but I’m pretty happy overall with the way the book went. I don’t think I’d change too much.

So you might come back one day?

JOHNS: One day if I have an opportunity to come back to Titans, I’d love to. I’d like to keep the door open if the fans would have me back.

That’s a pretty safe bet.

JOHNS: I love the book. Look, I loved JSA and ended up coming back to Justice Society of America and I think it’s a better book. The next time I write Teen Titans I want to be an even better writer and I want it to blow everything I did out of the water.

Were there any characters you planned to make members over the course of your run but never got to?

JOHNS: There were a few. Originally we wanted Supergirl on the team at one point and that’s actually where Miss Martian came from. With Supergirl [following “One Year Later”] they were going a more gritty route and she was in Legion of Super-Heroes, but we wanted a more naïve, fun alien chick like Starfire originally was, so we created Miss Martian. I really wanted Static on the team, but there’s so much red tape there that every time I requested it [DC] said “not yet” and so I never got to have him. I really wanted Static to be one of the main characters. That would have been awesome. Aquagirl was going to come on the team, but then they revamped Aquaman so we didn’t really know where Aquagirl was going to end up and opted not to do that.

Who was your favorite villain to write?

JOHNS: Probably the Tim Drake version of Batman [from “Titans Tomorrow”]. He was really fun to write. I’d really love to write them again. Mike did such a great job in that opening scene [of Teen Titans #17] where he fights Joker’s Daughter and shoots her in the head.

What was your favorite storyline?

JOHNS: Probably the first one. I liked “Titans Tomorrow” a lot. I liked the “One Year Later” storyline and I like “Titans East” quite a bit.

Can you single out favorite specific moments that you remember?

JOHNS: Most of the time they were at the end of the issue. I love cliffhangers, particularly emotional ones. One of my favorite moments was [in Teen Titans #17] where Superboy has just seen the future Titans torturing Deathstroke and tells Robin, “We’re freakin’ bad guys!” I could just hear this kid going, “We’re a–holes in the future! What are we gonna do?!” It’s every kid’s worst nightmare. I loved that concept. That moment was really fun. I really loved most of the moments between Wonder Girl and Superboy. And there’s a moment at the end of “Titans Tomorrow” where Robin and Superboy shake hands; that moment where they say, “We’ll watch out for each other and make sure neither of us ever goes bad.” It was just this cool friendship. Those are some great moments. And I love the recent moment where Kid Devil catches Ravager naked in Robin’s room handcuffed. I love that.

Since this might be the last chance I’ll get to ask, will you tell the world the secret origin of Miss Martian’s real name?

JOHNS: [Laughs] We were creating Miss Martian and I wanted a name like J’onn J’onzz that ended with an “S” sound and had two names that started with the same letter. I remember meeting your girlfriend, Megan, when we went out for sushi [during Wizard World Los Angeles last year] and thinking: “Megan Morse…I like the sound of that name.” There’s really no other Megan in comics and I liked the way “the Martian Megan Morse” sounded, so I stole it. My apologies. [Laughs]

You kidding? You’ve made her a celebrity! Any final thing you’d like to say to the people who read Teen Titans over the last four years?

JOHNS: Thanks so much for reading, for your support and for making [Teen Titans] one of DC’s top books. It’s been a great four years.


End of transmission. About this author:  Bill Walko is an author and artist and the man behind He's been reading and drawing comics since he was 5 years old and hasn't stopped since. Read more from this author