An Interview with Titanstower.com
In paying tribute to DC’s 75 year history, “It’s a Dan’s World Blog” is going behind four of the best DC fan-sites on the internet, to find out about the passions, dedication, and people behind them. Previously The Superman Homepage, and The Aquaman Shrine have been in the spotlight, this week it’s the definitive website for all things Teen Titans; The Titans Tower, and it’s driving force, creator; Bill Walko.
In doing justice to a cast and history as expansive as that of DC’s premiere teen team, the interview is as extensive as it is insightful. So, let’s get stuck into it, here is Bill Walko, architect of the Titans Tower.
It’s the book that used to rival Marvel’s X-Men for the industries #1 spot, but what memory or moment made the Titans #1 for you, and drove your passion to create something as definitive as the Titans Tower?
It all goes back to how I first discovered the New Teen Titans. My dad used to come home from the newsstand Sunday mornings and he would have a handful of comics for us. My brother usually grabbed the Marvel stuff. By default, I became a DC guy. And my little sister would get the Archie Comics or Wonder Woman. We all read each others’ comics anyway, but that’s the way it went down. We got whatever my dad picked up. In addition to that, I would get those “Whitman” comic 3-packs that were available at various stores. It was very catch-as-catch-can.
So as a kid, I was only vaguely aware of the Teen Titans through the Filmation cartoons (in reruns) and various mentions in DC Comics. But one day, at the newsstand, I spotted New Teen Titans #2. The cover was very intriguing. Some mysterious villain claiming, “You’re too late to save your precious Titans, Raven! I just killed them all!” But another mysterious figure taking the credit, “Wrong! You didn’t kill them.. I did!” Now, I knew with issue #2, there was no way the whole team was slaughtered … But something about this book completely caught my attention. I read it and I was instantly hooked.
Not only was it a great story (Deathstroke’s origin, in case you didn’t know), but these characters… wow. I just instantly loved them and wanted to know more about them. What was the deal with Raven and her demonic dad? Why can Starfire never return home? Would Cyborg resolve his feelings for his father? Would Starfire’s bloodlust destroy any chances of a romance with Robin? There was a sort of “soap opera” intrigue, the way the characters had issues with each other and with their parental figures. And it was all packed into that one issue!
PICTURED: The issue that started it all The New Teen Titans #2.
And the brilliant art by George Pérez caught my eye as well; As a budding artist, George quickly became my idol. He drew pretty people, but he also knew how to “sell” each moment. The incredible influence of George’s art was something that I didn’t fully process until years later. It’s like, if New Teen Titans was a movie, George Pérez was the director, the camera man, the casting director, the cinematographer and the prop stylist. And he was a master at all of them. There was so much story, character and detail on every single page, every single month. And that was all George. And George’s characters acted. They emoted, looked distinct, and each carried themselves differently. It gave the series a verisimilitude missing in other monthly comics. It made the characters more relatable because they weren’t just stock-looking heroes. They seemed more real than that.
So, New Teen Titans #2 made a huge impression for all those reasons. And I also credit that issue for turning me from a comic book reader into a comic book collector. I no longer just relied on my dad’s occasional comic grab. I began to go with him to the newsstand because I HAD to get the next issue of New Teen Titans (and later, Legion of Super-Heroes and Uncanny X-Men). But New Teen Titans was the first book I actually collected, hunted down, and even counted down the days until the next issue. It was really special that way.
And Marv Wolfman and George Pérez, God bless them, gave me something to look forward to, month in and month out, for about 5 years straight. What an amazing run! And I think for a lot of kids reading comics in the 1980s, both New Teen Titans and Uncanny X-Men focused on characters and stories that honed in on those adolescent things we all go through. We the readers lived through these characters. And since they were so diverse, you could identify with one or two of them quite easily (for me is was Changeling, then Robin/Nightwing). Plus, books like New Teen Titans and Uncanny X-Men helped the comics medium move beyond one-off stories; These characters went through changes and evolved in a way the Justice League and the Avengers never did – or could.
For me, New Teen Titans was revolutionary. I literally grew up with these characters (even though they were older than me at first – and now younger than me by more than a decade). At the time, though, Robin becoming Nightwing was a huge, huge, HUGE deal. I was watching the seminal sidekick character grow up. I didn’t think they’d allow that sort of thing. It felt very important – and it felt like “anything can happen.”
So for all those reasons, the Titans became something special to me while growing up.
PICTURED: The original Robin, Nightwing is Bill’s top pick for ‘Best Titan’
with the fact he graduated ‘on camera’, one of the defining moments that helped cement
his passion for the team.
Titans Tower was one of the first fan-sites I ever discovered on the internet. Since then it’s always being my one-stop-shop when it comes to Titans news, information, and imagery, or even just for a hit of nostalgia. How long exactly has the site being around for, and what aspect of it excite you the most?
Well, thanks. It’s a pleasure to hear how people use the site and enjoy it. I started the site in 2001. It has a sort of interesting genesis. I’m an artist but also a graphic designer. After college, I leaned more towards graphic design because it was easy to get a job and start earning an income – enabling me to move out of my parents’ house and all that fun stuff. But I still drew comics and read them. But my full time bread-and-butter job was graphic design, working at various marketing agencies. Now, when you’re working in this field, you have to stay competitive. You have to keep up on the latest trends and software. At the agency where I was working at the time, they sent us to class to learn web design through a software program called Dreamweaver.
Now, these classes are two-day things. You go in and learn, and can easily forget it all unless you apply it. Looking at the future of graphic design, I knew learning web design would be an important skill. So after taking a two day class, I decided to put the knowledge to work before it faded from my mind. “I’ll create a web site,” I thought, not even knowing what the content would be. I knew it had to be something I loved, otherwise I might not follow through in building the entire site.
It wasn’t hard to settle on a short list. I quickly pared it down to two possible themes: It was either “Teen Titans” or “Buffy The Vampire Slayer.” Ah, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. That show was as influential and meaningful to me as the Marv and George run on New Teen Titans. I just loved it to pieces. At the time, there was a huge internet fandom behind Buffy, with tons of fan sites. So, I gravitated toward the Titans, which only had two sites of note: John Prill’s excellent “Unofficial Titans Website” and Bonny Dotson’s fun “Titans Lair. “ (Both those sites are extinct now, by the way.) So there you have it; If Buffy fandom was a weaker lot, there may never have been a titanstower.com site.
The Titans Lair site was built largely by the members of the Titans Talk APA (Amateur Press Alliance). Many of the members submitted bios and information, which I used as a basis for titanstower.com with Bonny’s permission. Some I had even written myself (Donna Troy and Dick Grayson, as I recall). And then I just dove into it. Flipping through Who’s Who issues, scanning interviews, retyping others, writing new bios, and scanning images from all the old comics.
One thing that excited me about titanstower.com was the research. Setting up the site propelled me to buy the entire run of the original 60s series and all the various early appearances. It also meant I had to read and re-read various comics from my own long boxes. And while I already loved a lot of the Titans characters, it also gave me an appreciation for a lot of the lesser-known Titans. I didn’t really understand why people liked Joker’s Daughter, Red Star, Golden Eagle, Aquagirl, Gnarrk or Flamebird… I thought some of those guys were kinda lame to be honest. But after doing research, I grew to love them all in different ways. There’s a great deal of charm in that original run of Teen Titans, and I don’t think it gets nearly as much credit as it deserves.
But the biggest thing that excites me about the site are the experiences that have come out of it. When people realize I’m the guy behind titanstower.com, some of the reactions are really amazing. The creators at DC Comics and Warner Bros. use it as “the” Titans resource, and I take that as an incredible compliment. I’ve learned that many writers, artists and editors have frequented the site for research and fun. So it’s led to a lot of spirited conversations with some amazing talents.
I get e-mails from fans who discover the site, and just thank me for putting everything up there. It enables people to discover or rediscover all the the wonderful things about the Titans. Maintaining the site takes time and work. And there are times when it almost feels a little thankless. But then you get some sort of inspirational experience – a fan e-mail, a kid who discovered the characters through an animated series, a mother who watched the show with her kids, great conversations with creators at conventions – it keeps me going. When I think of all the experiences I’ve had through titanstower.com with fans and pros, and the people I’ve met because of the site, it’s really paid itself back and then some.
PICTURED: Of all the writers to script the Titans, Bill picks icons
Marv Wolfman and George Pérez as his favourites.
Right on the intro page you have a quote from Marv Wolfman that reads “I went through Titans Tower and thought it was an incredible site. You have things in there I didn’t even remember I knew” How amazing is it for a ‘fansite’ to have that kind of respect, and recognition of it’s content, from one of the top creators ever to touch its subject franchise? And how did it feel to receive it?
It’s beyond belief. I’m surprised, humbled and delighted at the response the site was elicited over the years. The response is just so far beyond anything I’d ever imagined when I first started building titanstower.com. If you told “little kid” me in the 1980s that I would get that kind of recognition from Marv Wolfman, I think my head would have exploded.
And I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with so many wonderful Titans-talents, forging some friendships along the way, with the likes of Marv Wolfman, George Pérez, Geoff Johns, Phil Jimenez, Mike McKone, Jay Faerber, Devin Grayson, Todd Dezago, Karl Kesel, Todd Nauck, J Torres, Frank Pittarese, Jonathan Peterson, Adam Beechen, Sean McKeever, Karl Kerschl, Nick Cardy, Jose Garcia-Lopez, Eduardo Barreto, Sergio Cariello, Matthew Clark, Tony Daniel, Eddy Barrows, Mark Sable, J.T. Krul, Sam Register, Glen Murakami, David Slack, Amy Wolfram, Rob Hoegee, Derrick Wyatt, Ben Jones and probably a bunch of others I’m forgetting at the moment.
The response from creators in general has been astounding. They’ve been exceedingly gracious with their time, amazingly trusting with information, genuinely supportive, and supremely generous with artwork and sketches. While he was on the book, Geoff Johns was incredibly supportive of the site. Mike McKone has done lovely sketches of the entire team, in appreciation for the site as an art resource. And Phil Jimenez gave me this incredible gift: the original artwork from the Donna Troy VS Systems Trading Card. Does anyone draw Donna Troy as wonderfully as Phil Jimenez? Just jaw-droppingly stunning.
There’s so many creators that have been so wonderful and gracious… I’m just running out of words here. And this is beginning to sound like some sort of Oscar acceptance speech. [laughs] But it’s really been quite amazing.
PICTURED: Original artwork, by Phil Jimenez for the
Donna Troy VS Systems Trading Card.
The key difference in a team blog is obviously the number of characters involved. From the original five through to the modern day, many have called the titans tower home, and some members remain core parts of DC’s biggest franchises. With such an epic cast and exposure, how do you manage to keep track on where the Titans are at at any given moment?
I’m not gonna lie: It ain’t easy! [laughs]
It was a bit easier when the Titans universe was more self-contained. But ever since Identity Crisis, the DCU has really been one big mega-verse with a lot of characters milling about in each others’ books. It makes it much harder to keep track of. And then you have these weird “grey” areas. How much do I cover the Outsiders characters like Jade, Grace and Thunder? They really aren’t Titans proper. And what about characters that were once Titans like Kyle Rayner, Captain Marvel Jr. and Matrix-Supergirl? What obligation do I have to maintain their histories? And how much do I need to follow Deathstroke and Cheshire as they clash with Batman and the Birds of Prey and other heroes?
Titanstower.com is pretty much a one-man show and has been since its inception, so it can be a little daunting at times. Geoff Johns joked that he was “putting me to work” when he added all those “One Year Later” Titans. And he wasn’t kidding. [laughs] Still, I try to manage it all. I try to at least cover the broad strokes. I also frequent a few message boards, so usually someone will mention any happenings, like when The Hangmen (remember them from Jay Faerber’s run on Titans?) were slaughtered in an issue of Manhunter. Thankfully, the Titans have a rabid fanbase, so they keep on top of this stuff, too.
There are two issues I find particularly challenging in character maintenance, especially in the new-era of DC Comics.
One is the constant shifting of continuities. They tend to have odd ripple effects that won’t resolve themselves until a story requires it. Pre-Crisis, Dick Grayson resigned as Robin and passed the costume on to Jason Todd. Post-Crisis, we are told Batman fired Dick Grayson as Robin after he was almost killed by the Joker. That was later retold differently through the years, with a blend of Batman forcing Dick Grayson out, and Dick quitting in a huff. It’s been told differently every few years. So I have to keep reconciling little things like that.
And when John Byrne did his Doom Patrol relaunch, it left the histories of Mento and Beast Boy in question. And it took a few years for it to be addressed in-story. And currently, we haven’t gotten any definitive answer as to Donna Troy’s history (since Wonder Woman was now been re-ret-conned as a JLA founder, and there have been hints that Donna spent time growing up on Paradise Island after all). I have to draw my own conclusions from the scarce hints given through dialogue. And with Batwoman completely revamped, it remains to be seen whether Bette Kane was ever Bat-Girl, or what relationship she shared with Batwoman (if any). That stuff is just maddening. When do you update the pages? And how?
The second issue of difficulty is the way new characters are introduced. In the Silver and Bronze Age, new characters were give full introductions, with names and backstories. Their first appearances would often provide their basic history, personality, as well as some perfect panels that captured a key moment of their genesis. Look at New Teen Titans #2, which provides everything we need to know about Deathstroke. Or New Teen Titans #3, which handily introduces each Fearsome Five member. Even “mystery” characters (like Raven) were played out to reveal everything in time (and “time” would be a maximum of six months).
But storytelling has changed in comics. Now, you often get a half-introduction, or a partial explanation. It makes it hard to write entries for characters like Little Barda, Young Frankenstein, Molecule and Mas Y Menos when their names and histories have never been made clear. Offspring has been given contradictory first names of “Ernie” and “Luke,” which were later clumsily rectified by another writer (it turns out his name is Luke Ernie O’Brian… At least for now). And then there’s characters like Power Boy, whose personality shifted from writer to writer. You have to search for enough information, and vague things up where there’s conflicts. It’s like writing origins from a group of writers playing telephone. Not easy stuff.
PICTURED: Move aside Brother Blood, when it comes to the Titans ultimate bad-ass
Walko stakes his money on Deathstroke
The Titans are the team title in comics whose success seams more dependant than others on the line-up involved. Do you feel the book should always remain close to one of the iconic gatherings of its past, or can the Titans family still work with brand new faces, as long as certain characteristics are maintained?
That’s a tough question. I think, at its core, the Teen Titans are junior heroes trying to prove their worth. As long as you go back to that core concept, it’s viable.
Fandom might say different. Many fans – and even creators – will insist that the Titans need a Robin figure. I’m not so sure. When you look at the Uncanny X-Men of the 70s and the New Teen Titans of the 80s – both were entirely fresh and new, even with some past members thrown in for good measure. Both those revamps broke a lot of rules in ways that fans and comic editors couldn’t possibly imagine. So I’m hard-pressed to lay out any definite formula for Titans’ success.
Commercially, of course, marque names tend to sell. A Titans group comprised of Flamebird, Bumblebee, Pantha, Red Star, Golden Eagle and Joker’s Daughter may please some long-time fans, but it probably would be a hard-sell as a comic. But by the same token, Superboy now has the same “lynchpin” value as Robin, as far as I can see. And I do think it helps to have at least one tie to the past, even if it’s an iconic nod (someone in the Robin costume, if not “the” Robin). But I don’t think you necessarily “need” a small herd of the same characters over and over. I would almost argue the opposite.
PICTURED: Bill cites Superboy as having the same lynchpin value asRobin,
when it comes to the Teen Titans roster.
It’s become the “trap” of the Titans franchise. The beloved Wolfman/Perez Titans are caught in this weird loop-paradox. People want them on the team. And they want them to go back to their original paradigms. And they want everyone to get along. Like family, as they always say. But they didn’t all get along “like family” in a lot of those original stories. Dick and Wally weren’t very close at all. Gar and Vic were in their own sub-set. Wally and Raven were often a little detached from the team.
And by “they”, I’m including some creators as well as fans. This line of thinking tends to stagnate the characters. They keep repeating the same storylines over and over again. People forget that in the original Wolfman/Perez Titans stories, the characters changed and grew. They weren’t built to tell the same stories again and again. Marv Wolfman included Starfire, Raven and Cyborg to open stories up to include sci-fi, supernatural and technology. So Starfire stories shouldn’t always be about her naïveté in regard to earth culture, they should include new sci-fi type concepts. A Raven story doesn’t pre-suppose that she fight her dark side – it can include any number of supernatural elements. And a Cyborg story is more than a woeful “walking junkpile” coming-to-terms-with-humanity for the 67th time; the potential for Cyborg stories updates as our technology changes every day. I’m not sure why we’ve largely limited those characters in that way.
Almost all of those Wolfman/Pérez Titans characters tend to repeat their “coming of age” stories ad nauseum. Nightwing stories where he struggles out of his mentor’s shadow. Donna Troy grappling with identity issues. Beast Boy forcing himself to grow up. Seriously, we need some new beats to play with here.
But I digress. I think with the right creative team, anything could work, as far as team line-up. I know DC tried an “all-new” Teen Titans with the Dan Jurgens’ team in the mid-90s. And that didn’t turn out very well. But that was more executional flaw than conceptual flaw, to me. Look how many times the X-Men have changed teams and rejiggered line-ups. If you told a fan in 1972 that an X-Men team could exist without Cyclops and Jean Grey, he may well have scoffed at the notion. But look how many new characters they continually add to the mix, even supplanting old favorites at times. It can be done. And creators shouldn’t feel trapped by “rules” we’ve self-imposed on the Titans and the characters. They should question why those “rules” were ever imposed in the first place!
PICTURED: This 1983 New Teen Titans Poster is Bill’s top pic of the super-team,
but feels the members of the iconic Wolfman/Pérez line-up shown
are in need some new storylines to play with.
For me the crux of the book is right in the teams war-cry ‘Titans Together’. Where other books claim to be a dysfunctional family of unrelated heroes, the Titans actually delivers. Delivers to the point they actually become more than functional. To this point the book houses some of the most fleshed out characters and friendships in the entire industry. What relationship is your favourite to see in it’s pages?
Well, first, I do take a little exception to the assertion that “Titans is Family.” That became a big buzzword when the Titans series was relaunched in 1999, in contrast to Grant Morrison’s epic, god-like Justice League team. But I don’t think the Titans are exactly “a dysfunctional family.” That metaphor is a little flawed. Not to get technical, but the Titans don’t have a mother or father figure within the group. By their very definition, their mother and father figures exist outside the group! You can’t even qualify Dick Grayson and Donna Troy to those roles. Everyone is on equal footing as brothers and sisters. And yes, “Once a Titan, always a Titan.” They forged strong bonds and all. And they look out for each other. But so does the Legion of Super-Heroes, Fantastic Four, X-Men, New Mutants, Avengers, New Warriors and so on and so on. So “Titans as family” is this weird thematic that gets tossed around a lot, but it’s not very “ownable” to them. And for me, it’s not even accurate.
It’s not a coincidence that the X-Men and Teen Titans were both fan favorites in the 80s. The similarities are many: Both teams started as teenage “students”. Both teams are underdogs. Both teams had members grow into adulthood before fans’ eyes. Both books have their share of breakout fan favorite characters. Both enjoyed wildly popular runs. Both have strong male and female fans, and have a “soap opera” approach to storytelling. Both feature villains with very personal connections to team members. In many ways, they are “wired the same.” But people never site “family” as a defining trait of the X-Men. But then again, the X-Men’s juice has always been how they relate to the outside world, not how they internally relate to one another. Victims of prejudice. Outsiders. That kind of stuff.
Sorry, but that “family” theme is just another thing that has painted the Wolfman/Pérez Titans into a corner. And with the Teen Titans currently made up of the 4th generation of heroes (Tim Drake, Cassie Sandsmark, etc.), it leaves the 3rd generation of heroes (Dick Grayson, Donna Troy, etc.) with no clear role in the DCU. And “family” ain’t it! Almost every super-team evolves into a makeshift family over time, looking out for each other. The Titans need to look for a more ownable niche in the DCU. Look at their role in relation to their external world. What are they to others? Mentors. Idealists. Upstarts. Underdogs. Those themes are more ownable to the Wolfman/Pérez Titans.
Whew. Sorry to go off on a rant, but the recent Titans series relaunch has made it pretty clear DC is struggling with these Wolfman/Pérez Titans. The Titans always work best when they are restless and in flux (either as teens with something to prove, or as adults coming into their own). This “family” thing is so staid and dull for a team of young heroes in their mid-20s. And it does nothing to make them active – or even reactive. The Fantastic Four have a strong family theme, but they’re also explorers. And those Wolfman/Pérez Titans need something like that to differentiate themselves – something that can also drive new stories.
PICTURED: With revamps that injected popular new members into each team,
Bill Walko believes the list of similarities between the X-Men and the Teen Titans
are key points to each books success.
But back to the relationships. There have been so many good ones through the years. In the first series, I thought the romance between Lilith and Gnarrk was rather charming. And it was the only in-team romance during the Cardy-Haney years of Teen Titans. I love the Wonder Girl and Speedy romance, but unfortunately we never “saw it” in the first series. We were only told as readers that they were a couple. Thankfully, that clunky relationship was later given new nuances by Marv Wolfman, Devin Grayson, Amy Wolfram and others. Teen Titans: Year One #5 tells the sweet and tragic tale of their first date. I challenge anyone to tell me that’s not canon! [laughs] I also liked the friendship between Donna and Lilith, who shared similar identity issues (and they both knew judo and wore cute mini-skirts!). I always liked the relationship between Donna Troy and Wonder Woman, who was an older sister and not a parental figure. It gave Donna a completely different dynamic than the boys had with their father figures.
In the Wolfman/Pérez run, I loved the platonic friendship between Dick Grayson and Donna Troy; It was so refreshing to see that, and not have it devolve into a love triangle at some point. I love the friendship between Cyborg and Beast Boy, because they are so different from each other. It was interesting to see Wally West and Raven through their seriously messed up relationship-that-never-was. Loved the relationship between Terra and Changeling – and it was heartbreaking and shocking to see her revealed as a traitor. Loved the weird friendship between Deathstroke and Gar Logan that came out of that, too. I always liked the Wilson family (Slade, Joey, Adeline, Wintergreen and Rose), with all their dysfunction. Oh, to be a fly on the wall at a Wilson Thanksgiving!
Then there’s some of the lesser-known relationships within the Titans universe. I really loved Kyle Rayner and Donna Troy as a couple. And Post-Zero Hour, there was some interesting hints at things we never saw developed, including a budding Mirage-Arsenal pairing and Impulse’s crush on Rose Wilson. And at that time, I was really invested in the Rose Wilson and Deathstroke interactions; I thought she was a character with a lot of potential. It took a few years for her to realize that potential. But ask my friends… They were sick of hearing me mention Rose Wilson through the nineties. [laughs] In the first Titans series, I liked the Argent-Damage pair within the Titans team, as the junior heroes trying to make good. There was also some nice carry-over over with Arsenal as Damage’s mentor, after giving him such a hard time on the Post-Zero Hour New Titans team. I also enjoyed the friendship between like-minds Jesse Quick and Dick Grayson. I hope some of those lesser relationships get revisited at some point.
PICTURED: One of the relationships in the team Bill finds interesting is that of
“the new fab four”; Tim Drake, Cassie Sandsmark, Conner Kent and Bart Allen.
We’ve also gotten some nice, new relationships with the next generation of Teen Titans. I like the camaraderie and interplay between the “new fab four”: Tim Drake, Cassie Sandsmark, Conner Kent and Bart Allen. I like the way they all relate to each other. Love the “frenemy” stuff between Ravager and Wonder Girl – they should never fully lose that. I also like Ravager’s odd friendship with Kid Devil. And for that matter, Kid Devil’s odd friendship with Zachary Zatara. I like those weird co-dependent friendships between people who see the world completely differently. It’s always fun to see them interact.
One of the Titans biggest successes in mainstream media was the manga influenced, Teen Titans Animated. Having created a mini site to cover the show during it’s day, which still serves as a time capsule now, what were your initial impressions when it was announced, and were there any surprises about how it did in hindsight?
When it was initially announced, I’d imagined a series along the same lines as Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series and Batman Beyond. But when the first images were released with a series description, it seemed fairly obvious they were going for a younger audience, with a bouncier tone. Working in marketing for years, I understood what they were doing. They were using the Teen Titans to capture a younger audience. Part of me was disappointed that we weren’t getting a “serious” Teen Titans series. But another part of me was just happy to see these characters brought to life in animation.
Right before the series began, I got an out-of-the-blue phone call from Sam Register, Senior Vice President of original animation for Cartoon Network. Sam left a message to let me know they had been using titanstower.com as a resource, and he wanted to invite me out to San Diego Comic-Con to attend the premiere party. I was really flattered that the crew had used my site. Unfortunately, it was too late to make the arrangements, but I was able to schedule an interview with Sam, and got some great insights as to how the show was being approached. And it was pretty obvious Sam and Producer Glen Murakami had a tremendous amount of respect for the source material. They too were big fans of the New Teen Titans while growing up. And that came through with the material. Even though the versions of the characters were simplified, they still managed to keep each character’s essence. It was a striped-down take on the Wolfman/Pérez Titans.
I think the first season is a little uneven in hindsight. But you look at an episode like ‘Sisters,” which distilled the Starfire/Blackfire space opera into a fun “I Dream of Jeannie” style romp… And it worked, because the emotional stakes for Starfire were still there. And then there’s an episode like “Masks,” which started to delve into darker territory as Robin assumed the Red X identity in his obsessive quest to take down Slade. That episode really proved the show could handle some complex stories as well as telling comedic simple ones. On the flip side, you have “Mad Mod,” an outrageous outing that was low on plot but high on hi-jinx. The fact that an episode like “Masks” could air one week before “Mad Mod” was a testament to the show’s range.
But I think the second season opener, “How Long Is Forever?”, really opened up the series. The show had dealt with the theme of friendship, but “How Long Is Forever?” took that theme to an entirely different level. What could have been a typical ‘alternate reality future shock’ story became a meditation on friendship – and an insight into each of the Titans as people. It’s very thoughtful. And season two also gave us their version of “The Judas Contract.” Although their Terra is much more sympathetic, they didn’t shy away from some of the larger themes of betrayal and loss. I think the show really hits its stride in the second season, and remained strong until season five. Things may have been simplified, but they weren’t dumbed down.
As an artist, I also appreciate the chances it took, visually, Using a lot of that manga storytelling, like the super-D reaction shots and the chibi characters. And somehow mixing that with real emotional moments. It was a big gamble but it really worked when they put it all together.
I think sometimes older comic book fans get so jaded. They want “their” characters to be portrayed “their” way, and anything else is “wrong.” And believe me, I understand the desire to see the more mature version of New Teen Titans brought to life through animation. But you also need to open yourself to new interpretations and judge things on their own merits. It’s funny, because to millions of kids, the animated version is “right” and the comic versions are weird and “wrong.” And even some of the more jaded fans grew to like it, anyway, over time.
That’s probably the most wonderful thing about the animated Teen Titans: It introduced the Titans to a whole new generation of young fans. I would get dozens of e-mails from kids at my site. Some would be addressed to the characters, like, “Hey Robin, why don’t you kiss Starfire?” Others would be requests to do episodes based on their own ideas. Some would be from moms who watched the show with their kids. I still get e-mails begging me to put Teen Titans back on the air and make new episodes. During the second season, I went to San Diego Comic-Con for the first time and met the crew behind the show. They were really thrilled with the reaction by the fans. Imagine dozens upon dozens of young fans dressed up as Beast Boy and Starfire and Raven. The kids were just crazy for the show. My nephews loved it. And I just introduced the show to my niece, who’s now six years old, and she loves it. That was another great thing about the show: it appealed to boys and girls. How many kid-superhero shows could manage that?
At Comic-Con, I met the crew in person, and they were extremely supportive of titanstower.com. Story editors David Slack, Rob Hoegee and Amy Wolfram were very gracious with their time. They made themselves available for Q&A sessions to give back to the fans – and the fans loved it. My site really spiked with a lot of traffic while the show was on, and I had to increase the bandwidth. These kids were looking up all the characters and discovering the comic book counterparts to the animated versions. I would dole out little bits of information, and they would gobble up every little morsel. It sort of enhanced the show’s experience for them. A sort of “director’s cut” online. And I can’t say enough nice things about Sam, Glen, David, Rob, Amy and the whole crew. Always extremely gracious and supportive – always willing to sacrifice their own time to give back to the fans. The show was very special to them, too.
So, yeah, I really enjoyed the show. I think it was a unique and fun way to do the Titans. And even if you didn’t like the show, you have to be grateful at the exposure it gave to the Teen Titans characters. The show was a big success, lasting five seasons. It made Raven, Starfire, Beast Boy and Cyborg household names. And that means that now it’s a viable property to DC and Warner Bros. And I think that means we haven’t seen the last of the Titans in animated form.
Cyborg’s old arm attachments, Dick’s disco collars, and Roy’s rejected trick arrows, the teams archives are full of classic items. What would be the standout piece(s) of your Titans collection?
Hmm, I don’t know that I have one stand-out piece. I do love that 1983 New Teen Titans poster by George Pérez. I found a mint copy and it sits framed in my home office. Thanks, ebay!
There’s also a number of commissions and sketches that I own, that are very special for me. I have the “fab five” (Robin, Aqualad, Kid Flash, Wonder Girl and Speedy) done individually by Nick Cardy (as they looked in 1965), then George Pérez (as they looked in 1983), then Phil Jimenez (as they looked in 2005 in their adult guises). That’s 40 years of Titans done by the three definitive Titans artists. So I love that. I also have the “fab five” done by Karl Kerschl, who did his own awesome versions of them for the vastly under-rated Teen Titans: Year One mini-series. I love Karl’s Titans and I hope he does more with them at some point.
I’ve also got that aforementioned Donna Troy trading card original art by Phil Jimenez. That’s definitely one of my most treasured pieces. Mike McKone also did this incredible piece of Rose Wilson (as Ravager) facing off against her father, Deathstroke. And Mike put so much detail into this piece, it could easily be a cover. I was speechless when I first saw that one. I’ve also managed to get a number of other George Pérez pieces like Starfire, Cyborg, Changeling, Raven, Terra, Jericho and Lilith (completing an entire set of the Wolfman/Pérez Titans characters). I probably have some other amazing sketches or commissions I’m forgetting about right now, too.
But for me, those are the defining Titans artists: Nick Cardy, George Pérez, Phil Jimenez, Karl Kerschl and Mike McKone. And to have multiple amazing pieces from each of them. Well, it’s another one of those things that’s partially come out of titanstower.com. So I’m very grateful for that.
2010 marks the 30th anniversary of the landmark Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans run. DC for their part has announced some pretty big plans and changes for the both the Titans books and characters to mark the occasion, and even the Titans Tower has moved it’s news blog to make the most of new features that wordpress offers. What piece of the party excites you most, and can you drop any hints as to what you hope to bring to your site in the year ahead?
It will be exciting to see the long-delayed “Games” graphic novel from Marv Wolfman and George Pérez. I’m very interested in seeing which characters will be involved in this rumored Young Justice cartoon. And it will be interesting to see what DC does to jump-start the Titans franchise, which has sort of lost its way in the past couple of years. So I hope they have something big up their sleeves to excite Titans fans.
As far as the site, I’m trying to recruit some new faces to the site to get a little variety of opinions and posts. So you’ll see a more active Monitor Room. And since the site has been a one-man show for almost ten years (!), some new faces will also help me keep tabs on the Titans-related characters as they filter through different books in the DCU. I’ve upgraded my web hosting, so I have more space to share and post images. I’m ramping up to prepare for the possible Young Justice animated series, too.
So what excites me most? Through titanstower.com, I’ve been amazed by the warmth and support of fans and pros alike. It’s enabled me to meet and chat with some great people that share my love for these fantastic characters. “Titans Together!”, indeed.