An interview by Bill Walko [from The Titans Companion, 2005]
Change was in the air for the New Titans in 1990. After having become assistant editor on the book the year before, Jonathan Peterson rose to the rank of editor at the start of the decade and incorporated changes into the series that would have Titans fans talking for years. Using the tenth anniversary of the New Teen Titans as a springboard, the book underwent a new line-up, introduced new characters, and said farewell to old ones. Included in the changes were two spin-off series, Deathstroke and Team Titans, designed to broaden the Titans fan base. No longer active in the industry today, the following interview with Peterson was conducted by Bill Walko in two parts: originally on January 15, 2001, and expanded upon on April 15, 2005.
TTC: Let’s start from the top. What was your background before Titans?
JP: Way back then, I was one of the younger editors on staff at DC, and as with most companies – comics or business – the way you proved yourself was by doing something and performing well on the job. So in terms of the comic industry, speaking as an editor, what you dreamed of and hoped for as a younger editor was to not only get your own books to edit, but in the best of all worlds, you hoped for some type of franchise; that is, some set of books that were corely established, that you could really go to town on and show what you could do.
In my case, Dick Giordano decided to give me the Titans, which at the time was being handled by Mike Carlin. Mike needed more time on his hands to handle the Superman books, and as a footnote, Mike had inherited them from Barbara Kesel, who had left DC’s staff to go freelance when she married Karl Kesel. When I first got to DC – and my first job there was as Company Librarian – ironically, one of the first people I met and was friendly with was Marv. At the time, he was still in the New York area and hadn’t moved west yet. Anyway, not to babble on, the point was it was a good, fun time, and when I first shifted over from being the Company Librarian to Editorial, one of the first things they gave budding editors were the reprint books.
Now, as I said, way back then I was just a lowly assistant editor, and so was another guy, a friend and good guy named Greg Weisman. Some fans might remember Greg for the fact that he later co-wrote with Cary Bates a run of issues on Captain Atom, and for those interested in trivia, Greg was one of the core creators of the cartoon Gargoyles for Disney. At the time, Greg was handling the reprinting of Titans for newsstand distribution while I was handling the reprinting chores on Legion of Super-Heroes and Outsiders, but since Marv would come into the office and all, and since Greg and I were buddies and hung out all the time and read all the comics, hoping to climb the editorial ladder, you basically got to know everyone and everything behind the scenes.
So from all of that, that basically set the stage for me getting to talk to Marv and to become friendly with him. So now we jump forward a bit. As I said, I had been at DC a while now, [and had] edged my way along the ranks, and was now being given the Titans.
TTC: Which you were a fan of…
JP: Not really. [laughs] I mean, I was familiar with it. I knew the characters and all; I knew of and had read many of it’s core stories, but to be totally honest, even though I got my comics start at DC, growing up I was more of a Marvel fan. I was a true Lee-Kirby disciple. To this day I still think those are “comics prime.”
TTC: I can see a more “Marvel” approach to storytelling in “Titans Hunt.”
JP: Well, that’s it. You’re right. And to be honest, much of that was also due to hanging around and working under Mike Carlin for a while, who as many will recall, joined DC after leaving Marvel. If you look at the whole John Byrne & Marv Wolfman/Jerry Ordway revamp of Superman, again you see that “Marvel” approach as opposed to the more DC-style flavor.
At DC there was an interesting change as far as age bracket. What you had was an influx of new, young editors that were working at DC that respected the DC characters, but they were also brought up on the “Marvel” mentality. DC was doing these editorial retreats with the books at that time; Jenette Kahn was head of the company and Paul Levitz was Vice-President handling the business end of the company, while Dick Giordano was Vice-President handling the creative end of the company, so they would take all the editors off on these retreats to improve the overall line.
What surfaced was this competitive spirit. We really wanted to take on Marvel in a way we never did before. DC had become this complacent company with a “We are who we are,” type of attitude. “We have our typical iconic characters, and they do what they do,” and we came in to say, “Let’s go kick Marvel’s butt!” [laughs] Ironically, by genetics [laughs] I had more of the Marvel approach in my blood, and from working under Mike Carlin, that was only reinforced. But don’t get me wrong; I did like the book and admire it for what it was, which was a good, solid cast of characters that you could get into and play with. But when I was handed the book, Dick and Mike both said to me “This really needs help. It’s floundering badly. It needs a fix fast, or we may have to shelve it for a bit.” That is, “Give it some time off and we’ll just try a Titans book again later on down the road.”
So I took the book on, reread the run, and we then had Marv fly into New York so I could meet with him for a few days to discuss it. At the time, I also asked Dick for another favor. I said, “I think it’s important that if we’re going to do this, we bring them all into town. The whole crew. I want Tom Grummett and Al Vey here too.” Basically, on the phone I had become friends with Tom, and Al and I go way back. He and I met through Jerry Ordway, my best bud, and Al became another instant friend.
TTC: Which leads us to the Titans Summit…
JP: Yeah, this was sort of a Titans Summit, but maybe not the one you’re thinking of, or have heard of. There was a major summit to come, but we’ll get to that.
So we flew Marv, Tom and Al in and I took them to dinner one night. We were sitting there, and everyone knew why we were there. It was fix the book time or we all go looking for other jobs. [laughs] Tom and Al – as they always are – were very energetic. They both picked up on my wavelength, which was the fact that I just wanted a complete housecleaning. Marv was funny. He could sense the emotion there; he could sense that we were all the young guys looking to play in what was essentially his ballpark, and initially we weren’t sure how that was going to go over. I mean, historically up to that point, Marv had always been hyper-protective of the Titans as his baby, but to his credit, Marv realized that while Titans had once been a lynch pin of DC – I mean, it rivaled the X-Men at one point in sales and popularity – it was now nowhere near that level.
So even Marv knew changes had to be made, and to be honest, that’s how I presented it to him. I literally just asked him, “Yeah, but are you really having fun writing the book anymore?” and Marv replied, “No, not really. After all these years, I’m not sure I have many stories left in me to tell. I mean, what’s left?”
At that point I pulled out my notes and said, “Look, issue seventy-one is going to be the tenth anniversary issue. After ten years, there’s more than enough history for us to screw with, to just jump in the pool and have fun with, so let’s just stir the pot. I mean, what’s the worst that can happen?” At that point, I then went down a checklist I had created. I pointed out that I thought Titans could be like the X-Men again, it just had to revitalize itself. It needed to appeal to a new audience that was out there. In short, we needed to go after the X-Men audience.
TTC: How did Marv feel about that?
JP: I think that hit Marv. For so long, too many people had convinced him that the only way Titans should be is the way it had always been: the same characters interacting in their same old soap opera. But here I was with a whole new checklist; here was the young editor saying “Look, let’s take this Deathstroke guy. He’s pretty cool looking. He could be a total bad ass. Why don’t we make him one? I mean, let’s make him our Punisher and bring him back.”
At this point, Marv was getting into the fun. That dinner was just a good, fun time, and you could suddenly see the wheels moving. We were laughing and tossing ideas left and right, because the one thing I kept stressing to Marv was the whole idea of, “There is no tomorrow, so let’s just throw it all out there, take our shot, and see where it goes. Sales are down, so let’s go for a new audience and see where it takes us.”
So now we’re all pumped. The first thing I said to Marv was “I’m working on a book called Checkmate with a guy I really like called Steve Erwin. I think we should take a shot at spinning off Deathstroke into his own book, with Steve penciling.” Marv thought that was an interesting idea, so we decided to do a “pilot” issue much like on TV, [where] you sometimes see a pilot episode done in an established TV show. You know, you’ll watch Magnum P.I., and suddenly Magnum is only barely in it; the case is handled by someone else, and clearly the network is trying to see if this new guy and his surrounding characters appeal to the TV audience and could carry their own show.
So I went to Dick Giordano and said “Okay, I have a wacky battle plan, but you have to trust me on this. I want to do a pilot issue for a Titans spin-off book,” and Dick says “A spin-off!? We’re not sure about keeping the main one alive! Boy, you are being cocky!” [laughs] and Dick – who I love dearly as both a mentor and truly good friend – said, “Okay, I trust you. What’s your plan?”
I said, “I’m gonna use the anniversary of New Titans #71 to relaunch the title, so I’ll need ad coverage for that. Basically, I’m gonna gut the book. We’re gonna do the ever popular, “Some will live, some will die,” approach and see if that catches some eyes. In the meantime, I want to take Deathstroke and give him his own book as well. If this all works out, we’ll not only revitalize Titans as a franchise, but we’ll literally get spin-off franchise books out of it, and more books means more revenues, so you should be happy, no?”
Dick green-lit it immediately. So that’s how issue seventy, the spotlight on Deathstroke, came about. It was simply a one issue fill-in to buy us time to start “Titans Hunt,” and it was our pilot issue. It would be an issue I could commission to test Marv, Steve and Will Blyberg, who I picked as inker, to see what a seemingly “sample issue” of Deathstroke would be like.
Now, in comics, every so often you get lucky. You’re in the right place at the right time. Sadly, a lot of that is missing these days, as evidenced by the truly pitiful sales levels comics have declined to. I mean, the industry these days seems all but kaput. But back then, you could take shots like this and almost immediately get a sense if you nailed it or failed. So we did New Titans #70 and just got a great response.
Within days of the issue hitting the stands, we had retailers calling us saying it had sold out, which previous issues hadn’t, and to my shock, fan mail spiked highly. That is to say, we were actually getting mail, [laughs] which is one of the untold secrets of comics. Most people think that books and editors get blasted with fan mail, but the truth is, you’d be shocked at how little mail actually does come in. I’ve edited books that sold 100,000 copies, and you’d be lucky to get twelve letters on it. People always assume when they see a letter column that those were the letters chosen from bagloads to be printed, when the real truth is, those were all the letters you got. Then just to keep the “illusion” going, editorially you just sign off the column by saying, “Well, that’s all the room we have today! Next month we’ll try to squeeze in more!”
TTC: [laughs] Letters’ column secrets revealed!
JP: So to a large degree, it becomes playing the “Stan Lee” hyperbole game. You talk the good game so it seems like it’s a good game. In many ways, by talking things up in a P.T. Barnum way, you convince everyone that something is hot. But yeah, that issue met with a lot of success. What was interesting was internally, no one thought a Deathstroke issue would do that great, and this was before the whole Image Comics explosion. Going back to the history lesson, New Titans #70 came out and was a hit, and to Dick’s credit, we actually greenlit Deathstroke behind the scenes before the book even shipped.
In fact, I recall going into Dick’s office with only the first twelve pages and saying, “This is what it is. This is what it’ll look like. Please let me do this,” and Dick, who trusted my judgment, said, “Okay. Looks good to me. Go for it.” So since I was so high on Deathstroke and [was] pushing him, and was looking to give him his own book, I then turned to Marv and said, “You’re going to be writing this new monthly about the guy. Clearly he’s popular, so let’s use him to a core degree in the Titans revamp story as well. In short, let’s cram him down the readers throats to really get the character out there again.”
Marv loved the character and loved the idea and approach. In fact, at the time, he was feeling reborn as he often described it. I think [it was] because we were all pushing him so much. Whenever Marv would want to go back to his “Titans roots,” so to speak, and get more… I don’t know… let’s say “touchy-feely” with them, [laughs] Tom and Al and I would say “No! More kickass action! Blow something up!” and Marv was really getting into it. You could see it. He was suddenly more jazzed about doing the book than he had been in a long time. I think he felt liberated by the approach. I think he genuinely liked the idea that we were now breaking from all the years of the way he had been doing it. [We] were now taking the psuedo-Marvel approach, which was to just make each issue fast paced and action packed and, ideally, just more fun to read.
TTC: So how did the whole major “Titans Summit” come about?
JP: I went to Dick Giordano and said, “Look, we have these editorial retreats for the whole line of DC comics. Can I have one for just the Titans line?” I went to Dick, Paul and Jenette with my battle plan of what I wanted to do, and ultimately I wanted a four-book rotation to ship weekly through the month, much like Mike Carlin had done with the Superman line. So first I wanted to get New Titans up and running, and [then] spin-off Deathstroke so we’d have our own kick-ass hard-line hero, which DC was missing in the lineup already.
Then there was New Titans. I thought the real problem there was that Marv had aged them, so coming in as editor, you think of all the classic comic book tricks: “What can we change? Who can we kill? What can we redesign?” So what I realized was that we had to get the Titans back to what people considered the core group: Robin, Wonder Girl, Cyborg, Raven, Starfire and Changeling. That was the challenge.
TTC: Were the creators lined up or did you seek them out?
JP: I basically called in favors. I called up friends, and one of the people I called was Art Thibert. I met Art when he first came to New York, [when he was] first breaking into comics. In fact, one of his earliest pencil jobs was for Barbara Kesel back when she was editing both New Teen Titans and Titans Spotlight, if you remember that title. Art drew an issue centering on Aqualad. In the case of Art, I really wanted him to be on “my team,” so to speak.
Here is – or I should say “was” – my comic editorial philosophy. I say “was” since now I’m working in Hollywood towards other goals these days. But basically, when I was editing, my core belief was 1) what I said before. Have fun. If you have fun it’ll show in the books, and that’s good. 2) To have fun… work with people you like. I’d rather work with a lesser talent that I can get along with and try to editorially shape or groom than to work with a “big name” comic star who’s such a headache, you hate going into the office.
Art was doing more stuff for Marvel, but he started at DC, so I called him up to say, “What would get you back to DC?” and I knew he was a big Batman fan, so I dangled the idea of Nightwing as part of that. I said to Art, “I have an idea. We’ve given Deathstroke his own book, and now I want Nightwing to get the next spin-off.” Well, Art loved the idea and asked if he and his wife Pamela, who wanted to write and work with Art, could have the book, and I said, “Dude! Why do you think I’m calling you!” and he said, “Oh man, count me in! Is this gonna be cool with Marv though? I hear he’s pretty protective about the characters.” I said “Well, he’s really having fun these days. He’s a real team player. And no, I haven’t told him yet, but I will now!” [laughs]
So I sat down with Art, and we discussed what we would do. Looking at my master game plan, I basically told Art that I wanted to push Dick and Kory along, that it would be his job to do that, in an initial miniseries. Art went off to talk to Pamela, and came back and said “How far can we push them?” I said “How do you mean?” and it was Art and Pamela who then said “Well, can we marry them, so the end of our trial mini has some real weight?” And I just lit up over that. I said “Yes! That’s it. That’s what we need to do. Go all out! Good plan!”
TTC: So who else did you recruit?
JP: Kevin Maguire and I were best friends. We were both big movie fans. I really wanted to work with him, and we ultimately worked on Strikeback! together later on. Kevin was looking for something to do as well. It’s funny; something Kevin used to do to keep himself focused was to come into the DC offices and just sit somewhere and draw.
So when he was doing Justice League, he used to actually sit in Andy Helfer’s office and draw. So I said, “We’re gonna redo the Titans. Why don’t you be a part of this too?” and then he could sit in my office all day. I had a corporate expense account, so I could buy him lunch, too. [laughs]
Another guy I really liked was Kerry Gammill. He did this classic mainstream style, but with this really modern dynamic. So I got Kerry aboard. He wasn’t able to do a monthly at the time because he was such a good artist and put so much into it. He was doing selective story runs on the Superman books, and I wanted him to do that for the Titans, as well. That way, he would stay steady working. Another person I wanted to bring aboard was Len Wein. I always loved Len. I always respected his work – how could you not? He created characters like Swamp Thing and Wolverine – [and] working with Mike Carlin, I also got to know Walt and Louise “Weezie” Simonson, so I wanted to get Weezie aboard as well. Again, she had worked on New Mutants for Marvel, so she’d be perfect for Titans.
I already had Steve Erwin and Will Blyberg aboard from our “pilot” issue of Deathstroke, [and] we already had Tom Grummett and Al Vey locked in from New Titans. And, of course, Marv was on board.
So this was the group I assembled and was pitching to Dick Giordano. “These are the people I want to bring to California.” We’d all lock ourselves into a hotel room and I’d tell them my mad plan. So I talked DC into letting [them] all stay at the Universal Sheraton in Hollywood.
TTC: How did that go?
JP: We all came out, and I explained to everyone, “We need to get back to the original core Titans,” and everyone agreed, but we had the problem of the age thing. So the next question was, “How do we get there?” It would be great if we could do another Crisis event to de-age everyone, but that would create too many problems, especially with Nightwing in the Batman universe. They had already introduced a new Robin, and they liked the idea of Nightwing showing up in the Batman books once in a while, where he’d say, “Yep, I know what it feels like to have Batman reject you!” So my idea was, if I can’t send them back in time, I wanted to do something with time to get them all back where we wanted them to be.
I wanted it to start with an event, and that became “Titans Hunt.” I wanted to start to whittle them all down because there just seemed to be so many Titans and honorary Titans. People like Golden Eagle. I’d flip through the characters and say to Marv, “Who is this? He hasn’t appeared in like thirty issues.” So I said to Marv, “We’ll do the ‘Titans Hunt’ stunt. It will last about a year. It’s gotta be like the old movie serials – something needs to happen every issue.” I felt something was wrong if you couldn’t think of twelve momentous things to happen to them in a year’s time, so we just started rattling things off. Nightwing: gets pissed off at Batman; gets married; has a kid; gets a new costume; quits the group. I encouraged everyone to toss out the most wacked ideas. I remember saying that I didn’t care for Golden Eagle, and that Donna Troy’s husband was a whiner and had to go.
Then on my list, I said “We need a cool look. Going over the past issues, I think these Wildebeest guys had a totally cool look. They were fun and funky. I think we should bring them back.” [laughs] At that early point, I said to Marv, “Actually, what we should do is add a Wildebeest to the group, just so we can use that costume design. That would rule!” Now, as I was going on, Tom and Al joined in. Tom was immediately saying, “Oh yeah! The Wildebeest ruled! I agree! Let’s put one in!” and I was saying, “Yeah, and new costumes! We gotta have those. That’s a foregone rule of any editorial shake-up.” [laughs]
TTC: So was that how the whole idea of “Titans Hunt” came about?
JP: Yeah, it became my idea to have the Wildebeest hunt the Titans down with the end result being that a “Wildebeest” – a real one that is – would join the group. [laughs] Which was purely an accident. In getting ready for the meeting, somehow in scanning the books and making my notes, I had jotted that down wrong. I still remember that. At the meeting I was saying, “Those Wildebeest creatures were cool.
We need one of those in the group,” and Marv was saying, “Those were men in costumes,” and I was like “They were? Dang, sorry, Marv. I just reread the whole run in one shot, so some details all blurred.” So Marv says, “So you mean a guy in a Wildebeest suit joins, like an Iron Man type of guy?” and it was Al Vey who said, “No, Jonathan said it wrong but is right. It should be a real Wildebeest,” and Tom lit up and said, “Yeah! A real one!” Marv said “What does he do?” and I said “Hulk! He’ll be our group’s Hulk. He’ll be our strong guy.” Baby Wildebeest came about in a meeting to follow. We’ll come to that in a minute.
TTC: The “Titans Hunt” storyline featured the deaths of a few members of the team. How did you decide who would be on the hit list?
JP: That was part of our brainstorming. We drew up a list of the type of characters we wanted to bring in, and we turned to Marv to see who we could lose. Let’s really let the blood flow. At one point we had to decide who lives [and] who dies, as you asked. Basically, what we soon realized was “Well, we do like these characters. We hate to see anyone go.” I mean, running down the list, Nightwing had to stay. That was a given. He was the leader; he was the star to me. Plus, in my back pocket
I had plans for Nightwing. Donna Troy [was] another one I wanted to see stay, though I was mad Marv had married her off. I wanted Terry Long to go. Personally, I thought he was a whiner. He needed to be upgraded or tossed out, so he was always on the block. [laughs] Month to month we kept running a vote saying “Should we kill him now? He’s really annoying me this month!”
Victor: well, I wanted Cyborg to stay. Good character, and Tom liked him, but he wanted to redo the costume, which I agreed with. I thought a change was in order there. The good thing about a mechanical guy is he always needs new parts. Perfect reason for a perpetual redesign till you find one you like. [laughs] Then … who am I leaving out? Oh! Well, there was Kory. She had to stay; [she] was part of my top secret Nightwing plan. I still hadn’t told Marv about that one yet – I was still putting the pieces together. [laughs] And then there was Joey.
TTC: Yes, Jericho…
JP: Jericho we decided was sort of expendable. So if Jericho was to die, I think Marv was the one that decided to make it symmetrical. Let’s have Deathstroke be the one to do it; then we have the whole pathos of Deathstroke killing his own son. I mean, it was just too perfect. So by process of elimination, we all agreed he could go. Especially since, much like Terry Long, I thought Jericho was a bit too soft-edged. I mean, I know he has his fans and all, I just wasn’t one of them. [laughs]
Then we thought, “Well, why would he kill him? Let’s bring it back to Raven and Trigon. Let’s have him be possessed,” and someone else tossed out the idea of having a big moment where suddenly he can talk. That will freak people out! [But] we couldn’t just have him show up talking. [Since] we liked the Wildebeests and wanted to bring them back, we decided to make Jericho the leader of the Wildebeests. Then we brainstormed the notion that as part of their experiments, they end up creating an actual Wildebeest! So I get my Wildebeest!
TTC: Golden Eagle was the first to die. Was he one of the first to be labeled expendable?
JP: You’re right. Then we had the lower rung characters like Golden Eagle, [who was] the perfect fodder for killing off. Essentially, we also knew that we wanted to add some new characters. That was on the burner as well.
TTC: And you couldn’t keep them all and add a few new ones. It’d be the Legion of Titans.
JP: That’s it. And I thought we could always bring people back one way or another, but first I thought we should try the whole “new blood” approach. That only made sense to me. Any way you look at it, in a revamp, you’ve already seen the other characters, so would you rather see an upteenth revamp or something new? Me, I vote for new.
TTC: Did you ever intend to kill Aqualad, or any other members?
JP: As for Aqualad, no, I wanted to keep him as well. He was a close call, though. In terms of killing a major side character, we did come close to axing him and Jericho, just to give things more weight. [Getting] back to the actual “Titans Summit,” we spent two or three days of doing stuff like that, then I laid out my grand plan.
We’ll revamp New Titans as the core group. We’ll spin off Deathstroke and he’ll be DC’s Punisher, or Wolverine. Then I thought, if Marvel has X-Men and New Mutants, we should do the same, so Marv said, “Okay, so we’ll have a new Teen Titans,” and then Kevin Maguire suggested we alter it, and call it Team Titans. Then my idea with Len was to use the Hybrid. DC hadn’t done anything with them, so they were perfectly ripe to do something with them.
TTC: And Len had already written them when the Titans had a crossover with Blue Beetle featuring the Hybrid [Blue Beetle #’s 11-13 – Ed.].
JP: Yep, and Len loved the idea. So then I turned to Art as the lynchpin. I wanted to do something severe. I wanted someone to die, and Marv, to his credit, was really pumped up at this point. I think Marv had written two or three years of Titans stories that were what everyone anticipated the Titans to be. [It was] kind of like a TV commercial, or, “A very special [episode of ] Webster.” It would be a soft, character-focused episode, and the problem had become [that] every month the Titans became, “A very special issue.” Y’know, “This issue, Terry Long will cry.”
TTC: I think with Marv and George’s run, a lot of the excitement was that the stakes were high. You didn’t know what would happen. The whole “Trigon saga” and “Judas Contract” storylines were unpredictable.
JP: Yeah, and my problem with Titans was they had their thunder stolen by Chris Claremont and his X-Men. Titans was the big hit at one time, and you look at those early issues of the New Teen Titans and there was a sense that anything could happen, right up until the “The Judas Contract.” After that story, it was like, “Okay, let’s do our ‘very special episode’ issue, and then next month, let’s do another.” My attitude as editor was to have fun. I have this wacky belief that when you have a good time making a comic, it ends up showing in the comic. That is, the readers can almost sense, “Hey, these guys must be having a fun time here,” versus some comics you read where you say, “Man, they really pounded this one out this month!” [laughs]
I remember when we went to the “Titans Summit,” I brought some old Marvel annuals that I loved. There was this old back-up story with Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Gene Colan brainstorming old Marvel stories, and that was the sort of energy and spirit I wanted to capture with Titans. During “Titans Hunt,” I remember some issues we’d be eighteen pages in and calling each other up. I wanted everyone in the Titans franchise to have a creative say. No hurt feelings. Check your egos at the door. It started turning into the old Republic Serials. “What if we blow up Titans Tower?” “Who can we kill?”
TTC: The shocking last page cliffhangers.
JP: That’s right, the cliffhangers that Raiders of the Lost Ark is a tribute to, right down to literally swiping scenes from! [laughs] So that was my other editorial edict: every issue had to end on some cliffhanging note where the scale kept getting bigger. That’s how the Tower got blown up. I was sitting in the office one day and called Marv up and said, “You know, Tom wants to redesign the Titans base, do you mind?” and Marv said, “No, that’s cool. We might as well update it as well. How do we explain that?” and almost on cue together, we both laughed and said “We blow it up!” [laughs]
We sort of personified the whole wrecking ball attitude we were taking. So we had this on a roll, and yes, in the overall scheme of things we knew that it would lead to a return of Trigon, or at least his spirit. From our initial meeting, it was Marv who suggested bringing it full circle to him.
TTC: So you tossed out these ideas and weaved them together, knowing the endpoint was Deathstroke killing Jericho. A bit of reverse plotting?
JP: We actually even knew one step further. We were actually ultimately building to New Titans #100, which was two steps beyond. Phase One was “Titans Hunt.” We kill Jericho, get a real Wildebeest and some other new characters like Pantha. Phase Two is dealing with the idea [that] they are mature. Let’s make the New Titans kick-ass adults. That was when I turned to Art as the lynchpin, to do a Nightwing book. As part of that, I wanted to push the Dick and Kory romance along. I thought that had gotten too stale. I mean, it was just out there, but not really going anywhere. So to me, it was like telling Nightwing and Kory, “Crap or get off the pot.” [laughs] We wanted the endpoint to be that Nightwing would actually marry Starfire in New Titans # 100, because we could do that. There was a Robin in Batman, so it didn’t matter. I thought it would be like marrying Reed and Sue in Fantastic Four. That was a momentous occasion, so let’s build to it.
So I turned to Art. I wanted him to do a Nightwing six issue mini-series right around New Titans # 93. It’ll ship with New Titans up until New Titans # 99, at which point Art could have Nightwing proposing to Starfire in the last issue, and then issue # 100 would be the wedding issue. That was endpoint two.
Then there was phase three. I wanted to get the Teen Titans back, so I explained my whacked out idea. I really wanted Robin, Wonder Girl, Kid Flash, Changeling, Raven, Starfire and Cyborg back to what they were originally, so I wanted to do an alternate dimension or timeline, and I turned to Kevin and said “You get to launch an all-new Titans book and design them from the ground up.” Not only that, but this alternate universe would have an alternate young Robin, and alternate young Starfire and all the rest. The plan for Team Titans was a secret one. With the first Team Titans Annual, or at the end of the first 12 issues, I told Kevin he would then be relaunching the Teen Titans with alternate versions of the core-seven members.
TTC: I remember a planned storyline that never happened in Team Titans was to introduce a team of Titans that looked just like the old Titans, but their personalities would be different.
JP: Right. And look at the Teen Titans Cartoon Network show now. It has its own atmosphere. It’s hip. They act like teenagers, and it’s funny. This is what I wanted to do twelve years ago! This was my game plan. New Titans would be the heroes acting their age. They’d be mature. On the other hand, I would be bringing the classic Teen Titans back, and I remember Len Wein and Marv sparked to that.
They went through lists of Titans stuff they could redo or bring back, and then we thought, we could bring back Terra! Steve Erwin even suggested bringing in the original 1960s Bob Haney Teen Titans, and Weezie Simonson called out some names, as well. The idea was to open this doorway to this alternate reality and then we could just screw around with everything. We could bring through whoever we wanted to, but I had one rule: they couldn’t be an exact copy of what they used to be. If you’re going to be bringing somebody from this alternate universe, it has to be a brand new character or a completely different spin on an old character.
TTC: Like what Marvel comics did years later with their Ultimate line of comics.
JP: Right. So we left the “Titans Summit” with our battle plans. I wanted New Titans to be it’s own thing where the characters would be grown-ups and do their own thing – shake that up a bit and add new characters. Deathstroke would be the hard-edged book. Then I wanted Len Wein to write Hybrid as the dark side of the Titans universe. I always felt that people gravitated to those darker books. I wanted to bring back some of that pain and angst. The original Titans was about that stuff they went through, and then it became the Titans having meatloaf with Donna and Terry. It turned too suburban.
Then you have Team Titans. My plan there was to have those members slowly grow in those twelve issues. They would grow or move on or be phased out. That would lead into the first Annual. That Annual would introduce our alternate [universe], younger Teen Titans. The book would change it’s title to Teen Titans and feature the alternate, younger versions of those core-seven Titans. That was the plan.
TTC: Obviously, it never got to that point. You did get some flack from some of the die-hard fans at that time, correct?
JP: That’s a funny story. Two members of the Titans Amateur Press Alliance (APA) – also known as Titan Talk – called me up. Their names were Rich [Bernatovech] and George [Gustines]. They were shocked I answered the phone. So we talked for a bit and I actually invited them up to the DC offices. They brought a copy of the latest issue of Titan Talk. I was fascinated by it. It was like a telephone book full of fan stories and fan art! They would copy their stories and send it to a central mailer who would then send them out to members.
TTC: In the early days, Marv and George were involved with Titan Talk. Marv would write some inside views and George would draw things for it from time to time.
JP: I was amazed by that book, and Rich and George was just two of the nicest guys. They were pleasant and exhuberant about the changes we were making. I remember we called a friend of theirs – Juliana – while they were in the office. That was fun. Both those guys were great. I remember them well. We ended up going out to dinner and we had a great time. They were asking stuff like, “What’s gonna happen?” and I was like “This guy’s gonna die.” It was great. They represented the fans that [thought], “It’s about time you did this.” They were all for the changes. They also told me some of the older die-hard fans had me in their sights, [laughs] and I told Rich and George to have them call me up! I’m always willing to hear what fans have to say.
TTC: I remember at the time, to your credit, you printed some negative letters from some die-hard fans.
JP: There were actually a couple of girls from Titan Talk that did end up calling me. I think it was Leah and Patti. I think those were their names. I did end up having dinner with them as well. That one was a bit chilly. [laughs]
TTC: I would imagine that as the sales went up during your run, you were getting some new fans, or lapsed fans. It’s always a case of, “You can’t please everyone.”
JP: True. But I think some of the older fans took comfort in the complacency of the book, that nothing bad ever really happened, and my response to that is, “Well, I guess you don’t have to buy any more new books. Just reread the old ones over and over. Hey, I could save you $1.75 a month!” And it’s a funny thing. I always tell comics fans to not get too wound up over the deaths of characters, because they all eventually come back. [laughs]
TTC: It’s funny you should mention that. I don’t know if you know, but Jericho and Golden Eagle are both back now.
JP: Well, there you go. But I always loved meeting fans, and the APA people. I remember Dick Giordano used to say, “Look, at these conventions, you’re going to meet people, and this is their moment. They are going to want to talk to you.” And we – as editors and creators – get caught up in the mundane day-to-day work, just trying to keep all this stuff on this insane timetable, but as a fan, you’d race to the newsstands to get the latest issue, and you didn’t want to see Terry and Donna eat meatloaf. [laughs]
Also, as a fan myself, I remember meeting Marv Wolfman and Len Wein, and I remember them being so gracious and energetic to me as a kid. I remember that, and they are still two of the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet.
TTC: Let’s talk about some of the characters that you introduced to the book. Tell us how you came up with Pantha. It seemed Pantha was originally conceived as the anti-member, a Titan who was morally ambiguous.
JP: Actually, Pantha was Marv’s creation. He created her to stir the pot. Marv is actually the sweetest guy you want to meet, but we all decided the book needed more edge, and Pantha was the first character Marv pitched. She was bitter, sarcastic and hard-edged. I think in a way Pantha became Marv’s mouthpiece of sarcasm. She was fun in that respect, and Tom Grummett then designed her.
Titans became just very collaborative. I remember in an issue of Titans, Mirage had posed as Starfire to get close to Dick, and they – ahem – got together without Dick knowing it was actually Mirage. There was this page that Kevin drew – Kevin with those great [facial] expressions he draws – where we reveal that. Mirage has this very happy look on her face, and Kevin just penciled in Pantha saying, “Dick, you slut!”We all thought that was a funny line, and that was all Kevin.
TTC: What about Pantha’s mysterious origin? Was she planned to be revealed as someone the Titans knew before? Was that worked out?
JP: The idea was supposed to be that she was actually created by the original H.I.V.E. group, and I remember that the character tied back with Deathstroke. He was somehow involved. The H.I.V.E. was responsible for her creation, and at one time she was a real woman. I do remember we had it on the drawing board as something Louise Simonson would write.
There would be a story where she actually turned back into a normal woman. She pulled a Hulk/Bruce Banner, and that would be the shocking reveal of seeing who she really was. I think we toyed with the idea that she was a bookworm librarian and had all this repressed anger, and that all came out as Pantha, and at the end of the story, it would be a “Ben Grimm” type story where she tragically becomes Pantha again. The emotional thing for her would be “Good, I’d rather be Pantha.”
TTC: So was human Pantha someone the Titans knew, or just Deathstroke?
JP: Just Deathstroke, as far as I recall. I do remember planning that with Weezie, and I did challenge her to be creative about it, that maybe Pantha could be some C-level character from Titans history, if that worked. It would give us the excuse to [go],”Ah-ha!” But obviously, that story never came about.
TTC: Then there was Phantasm.
JP: With Phantasm, I remember we experimented with a few different things. In terms of breaking up the group, we wanted to try new things, so Pantha was the sarcastic and bitter one, the anti-Titan. Phantasm gave us this ethereal and ghostly feel. Raven started as that, but then she changed.
TTC: She started as this dark daughter of a demon, but she now wore white and was dealing with emotions.
JP: Yep. I wanted a Titan to represent the Dr. Strange or Dr. Fate type of genre. We knew we wanted someone like that. I wanted a character to represent something mystical.
TTC: Phantasm started as Danny Chase…
JP: Yeah. The idea there was to kill two birds with one stone. I think the original idea behind Danny Chase was this sort of Jonny Quest character, but we decided he either has to die or become cool.
TTC: It also seemed Phantasm was Marv’s sneaky way of getting people to think Danny Chase was cool, without them realizing it was Danny behind the sheet.
JP: That was part of the idea. He had to be tolerable or just get killed off. We sort of did both, and that was also part of the master plan. We knew Raven was going to return as a villain, that she would go dark. We planned on doing that with her for about a year, or a year and a half. Rather than the pseudo-redemption thing yet again, we wanted to make her a core villain. We knew when we killed her off in “Titans Hunt” that she would return at Nightwing and Starfire’s wedding.
TTC: Let’s talk about the origin of Baby Wildebeest. How did all that fit in with your grand plan?
JP: Baby Wildebeest and the whole Wildebeest Society was sort of a product of reverse-engineering. We came up with that after we decided Jericho would be the leader. Everyone tossed out ideas at that point, so I’m not sure who actually came up with that idea. We just wanted to bring it back to the Wildebeests.
Tom Grummett even loved drawing those guys. I remember the cover to one of the issues that we actually did, which I drew at the “Titans Summit,” [had] the Baby Wildebeest holding up all the machinery. I actually wanted to be a penciller, since I have a very strong art background. In fact, I almost went to college on an art scholarship, but elected to go to film school instead, which is another tangent, but because I do draw, I actually made tons and tons of thumbnails as an editor. Then we did the cover where Baby Wildebeest was running out in traffic. I remember people saying “I can’t believe you did that,” [laughs] but we did make the cover copy humorous.
We wanted Wildebeest to be the super-strength guy in the group, but we would see him grow up. He’d go from a baby to hulking out, and then Marv chimed in and said, “But he wouldn’t necessarily mentally mature.” So we were like “Exactly! He really will be the big dumb brute,” and then Marv came up with the idea that Baby Wildebeest would bond with Pantha because she was the sarcastic one.
TTC: You also brought in Red Star, who was a character that wasn’t used very much. Why did you choose to bring him in?
JP: I wanted a Russian. That was part of my vision to make them more international. I wanted to branch outside of New York. I didn’t wanted them all so whitebread. Louise Simonson latched onto him and developed him some more. We talked about doing a Red Star mini-series. It was an idea to do a sort of Titans International, that they could affect the world outside of Titans Tower, and part of that became giving him a power upgrade. I told Weezie to develop him and do what she wanted.
TTC: Then there was the whole idea to launch Team Titans. You’ve mentioned about your idea to create this alternate universe; how did that get retro-fitted into the whole Armageddon 2001 event?
JP: Well, as a DC sales boost, we always planned those annual events, so the DC editors showed up to pitch our ideas. Jenette Kahn had the idea of setting it around the idea of 2001, ten years in the future, and I remember Archie Goodwin had the idea of each annual featuring the futures of the heroes. Jenette liked that, but wanted something bigger around that. Denny O’Neil suggested using one of the mystical characters around it, but it still seemed sort of, “Been there, done that.”
Then I chimed in with my idea, that it would be some sort of murder mystery to connect the whole thing. Maybe do that in reverse. Someone in the future comes back and tries to figure something out by going from book to book, and Jenette liked that. Then Archie on the spot created Waverider. He would be a new hero that was one with the timestream. I was involved with that to begin with, so it was a natural idea to tie it back into Titans.
Then there was the whole disaster with Armageddon 2001: someone leaked the conclusion. Dick Giordano was beside himself. One day I was at lunch with Dick and Jerry Ordway, and suddenly I had this idea, “What if we changed the ending?” I thought it could be this great stunt. Let everyone think they know the ending, and we’ll create a secret finale and a dummy finale. Even the people at DC would see this dummy copy trafficking around, and Dick thought the idea was just crazy enough to work, so that’s what we did.
TTC: It’s pretty common knowledge that it was supposed to be Captain Atom, then it became the Titans-based character Hawk. How did you decide on Hawk, of all heroes?
JP: I remember this now. With Captain Atom, it made sense power-wise, with the atomic powers, and in a weird way, it would echo Watchmen’s Dr. Manhattan. Dr. Manhattan was based on Captain Atom since Watchmen started as the Charlton heroes anyway. Then we could also do a Anakin Skywalker thing. Hawk was this war-like guy anyway. You could just push him off the deep end, bring him to the dark side, and that would be the tragedy, that Waverider’s interference would ultimately be the event to cause Hawk’s transformation. He was a B-level character we could do something with, anyway.
TTC: And then have him kill Dove for extra drama.
JP: Right. And when that book hit, everyone was surprised, so it worked.
TTC: Back to Team Titans. One unanswered question was the original identity of the Team Titans leader. Although ultimately revealed as Monarch, that was not the original intent. I believe originally the idea was to have Danny Chase be revealed as the Team Titans leader.
JP: That was true. That was part of the idea of making Danny Chase tolerable. We could make him like John Conner from Terminator 2. He goes from whiny kid to leader of the rebellion.
TTC: Let’s move on to “Total Chaos.” In that storyline, the Team Titans and New Titans collide over the birth of Donna’s baby.
JP: The whole thrust of that story was, “I’m going to kill Terry Long if it’s the last thing I do.” [laughs] I wanted to off him in issue # 100, and “Total Chaos” would be the beginning of that.
TTC: I remember at the start of “Total Chaos,” someone was fated to die.
JP: Yep, that was supposed to be Terry. Remember when I said I wanted Raven to go bad for a year or two? That was one of the things. We had some sort of Rube Goldberg thing. Raven would be involved in the death of Terry, but she wouldn’t put her fist through him and directly kill him, because ultimately we did want Raven to become good again and be back in the group, so we didn’t want too much blood on her hands.
I thought that was a good way to get Terry out of the mix, because the other character I wanted to push forward was Donna Troy. I thought she was being under-utilized. She was assertive, yet always deferred to Dick. Helpful, yet not central to the story. I remember Tom Grummett redesigned her costume; I wanted to get her back to being a hot single woman that could kick ass. I remember always giving Marv grief, “Why the hell would Donna pick Terry?” [laughs] “Of all the guys in DC Universe, she picks him?” So part of the “Total Chaos” story would lead to the wedding, but would also redefine Donna.
TTC: What eventually happened was Donna became de-powered at the end of “Total Chaos,” and the Tom Grummett redesigned costume was never used.
JP: That was never part of my plan. That wasn’t what I intended, at least. At issue 100, I wanted Nightwing and Starfire to be married and go off for a while, and my idea was that Donna would take over the group. So rather than being subservient – which never made sense to me since Donna was this Amazon – let’s make her more assertive. She’ll have room to breathe and take charge.
Then when Dick comes back, there would be a butting of heads. Donna would be like, “Hey, I’ve finally come into my own. Don’t think I’m giving it up so easily,” and by that time we’d have my alternate-reality younger Teen Titans running around in need of mentors, but the mentors would be bickering. That would play into Hybrid. The Teen Titans would be like, “Hmm. We’re supposed to take our lead from them, but they sure do argue a lot,” and the Hybrid would be whispering in their ear, “Well, why do you think we’re off on our own?” That would give it more of the X-Men vibe, the idea of being a teenager and feeling lost, and you’re not sure who you can turn to.
TTC: “Total Chaos” also launched the whole Team Titans series at that time.
JP: I remember when we launched Team Titans # 1. Marvel was doing their new X-Men series with Jim Lee with the alternate covers, and people began to complain about having to buy another comic just for a cover. So I went to Dick Giordano and came up with the idea of doing the varient covers, but with five original full-length origin stories. It was my competitive way of sticking it to Marvel. [laughs]
Those books sold really, really well, and our first issue of Deathstroke sold out as well. I think even the second printing sold out. I remember asking my buddy Mike Zeck to come over and rub some of that Punisher magic on Deathstroke, and he ended up doing the covers. DC ended up making a poster of one of them, it was just that good.
I think Team Titans sold like a million copies. I felt like I had done my job as an editor! [laughs] It went from a book selling 30,000 to being successful and having two successful spin-off books.
TTC: “Total Chaos” also introduced Rose Wilson, Slade’s previously unknown daughter, in the pages of Deathstroke. Did you have plans for Rose?
JP: We talked about killing Joey and what that would do to Slade, so we decided to give him back some anchor. I remember Marv making the argument that Slade needs something to hold him down, otherwise he’ll be a total killing machine. So that’s what Rose would have been, eventually.
TTC: How far did Hybrid get along as a series?
JP: Not very far. I remember there were some questions with royalties with that, as well. I remember there were some royalty things we were trying to figure out and it was confusing, but I had left around that time. That was my last memory of the Hybrid series.
TTC: Cyborg’s storyline seemed to drag on longer than planned, since no one seemed to enjoy his ‘robotic vegetable’ stage. How did you plan on resolving that?
JP: I remember that was a good way to upgrade his look. We tossed out whacked ideas. One idea was to make him even more robotic, like a head on a truck, and the other idea was to make him more [like the] Six-Million Dollar Man. With cell regeneration and nanites, he could appear more human. He would undergo some process that he could switch between human and robotic, but with the nanites, he could turn into large Transformer-size things.
TTC: Then there’s Changeling. Did you plan the idea of him becoming a somewhat darker character, changing into grotesque creatures?
JP: That was from one of our conferences. Someone had suggested the idea at one point that he would be stuck in one form for a couple of issues, and it would be a feral form. So at that point, would he get it on with Pantha? And out of that, would he undergo some sort of personality change? That was one of the ideas we came up with.
TTC: Were you involved with Speedy’s graduation to Arsenal? How did you see him fitting in with the team?
JP: The Arsenal thing was a DC trademark name change for some reason. I don’t think that was our decision. I remember him being around. I actually had a list. I had it taped to my wall. There was, like, twenty-five Titans characters I jotted down to revamp, [and] myself and Tom Grummet always made each other laugh. “Who can we put in as the shocking person next?”
Speedy was one of them. He would always be showing up with his feathered cap. [laughs] That had to go. If he’s gonna be around, he’s gotta be hipper. It was the mandate: if they show up, we need to update them. Bumblebee was on that list as well. I remember her being on that list.
TTC: Did you want to keep Terra as a member of the New Titans, given her connection to the team’s history? Or was she going to remain with the Teamers?
JP: Bringing her back was interesting because that was Marv’s idea. I remember Marv saying the death of Terra was one of the biggest mail surges. We definitely wanted someone in Team Titans to anchor the group to Titans history, and that was the first one Marv latched onto and ran with. I think we also toyed with the idea she would have a romance with Aqualad. I remember the running joke: she’s earth and he’s water, and together they make mud.
Traditionally, we had the Changeling and Terra thing, but I liked the idea that in some way all these characters would be intertwined. I liked the ideas of these triangles to really keep people guessing. The only people I really wanted locked together were Nightwing and Starfire. My attitude was that everyone else was Titans 90210.
TTC: You did create the Nightwing/Starfire/Mirage love triangle. How did you see that playing out?
JP: Well, we had the idea that Mirage was in love with the Dick Grayson from the other universe, and we introduced the notion that she could come between Starfire and Nightwing. The idea we had with Mirage is that [the] future Nightwing would cross over later, and he would be the one person from the alternate world who was like ‘our’ version. There would be the tension of, “Well, there can be only one of us, right?” That would allow him to be with Mirage, though. Then we would kill one of them, and you wouldn’t know which one was dead, so that would keep you guessing for a while.
TTC: Did you ever intend on establishing a firm team lineup, or did you like the fact that the membership kept changing and evolving?
JP: My attitude was for it to be rotational. I had a core group that I remember: Nightwing, Donna, Pantha, Wildebeest and Phantasm, with other members coming and going and passing through.
TTC: At one point, Rob Liefeld was developing a Titans West mini-series. It had Speedy as leader of a government sponsored Titans team called Titans Force. What became of that?
JP: That was me! Yeah, I called Rob up, and he was working for Marvel at that time. I even gave Rob some of his first work. He drew Checkmate # 3 for me. I was always friendly with Rob, and there was some sort of falling out over X-Force, as I recall. I remember talking with him on the phone about doing a Titans book at that time. There was initially some concern with DC over money and matching what he got for New Mutants, or whatever. I remember I really wanted to do it, and he really wanted to do it. Rob was actually really pumped about it. I never have anything bad to say about Rob.
TTC: Was there ever a lineup created for it?
JP: I’m trying to remember. I do remember it eventually became Youngblood. If you look at the character of Shaft, that was what Speedy’s design looked like at one point. This all happened right before Image Comics formed, so then Rob eventually used some of those ideas there.
TTC: At one point, there was another spin-off book planned with Kevin Maguire. The working title was Rogue Titans. I think some of those characters eventually evolved into Strikeforce!, a series you both did for Image Comics. Can you tell us a bit about that evolution?
JP: Yeah, it sorta evolved into that. The idea was Kevin would do Team Titans up until # 12, and then the all-new Teen Titans would debut. At that point, some new guys would take over that book. I think we talked about Phil Jimenez doing that, and he eventually did work on Team Titans. So then I talked with Kevin about doing yet another Titans spinoff, and Kevin came up with the name Rogue Titans. If I remember right, some of them would be new characters and some of them would be existing DC characters who would then have this affiliation with the Titans universe.
TTC: Any regrets with your Titans stint? Anything you wanted to do but didn’t get a chance to before you left? Or couldn’t do?
JP: I think my only regret is that, for personal reasons, I left the book and I wasn’t able to see it all through. It never got to the point where I wanted it, and that’s not to disparage anything that happened after my run. The only things I remember we couldn’t do were things that would affect the Batman universe or Wonder Woman universe with Nightwing or Troia, but we sort of had our own little universe we could play around with. We had our own franchise, and I still love those characters. I had a great time doing the books with all those guys.
The above excerpt is from The Titans Companion by Twomorrows Publishing.
Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the New Teen Titans, The Titans Companion is a comprehensive look at the history of the ultimate teen team – over 200 pages in all! From their early days in the 1960s as a team of teen sidekicks through their best-selling days in the 1980s and beyond, this book explores the history of the team through the eyes of its creators! Interviews with Marv Wolfman, George Pérez, Nick Cardy, Neal Adams, Dick Giordano, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, and others reveal the evolution of the series over the years. While artwork by Cardy, Pérez, Adams, Garcia-Lopez, and many more illustrates each era of Titans history! To order the book, click here.
Bill Walko is an author and artist and the man behind titanstower.com. He's been reading and drawing comics since he was 5 years old and hasn't stopped since.