Like all big news stories, DC’s announcement that they’re cancelling their entire existing line of DC Universe series and launching with 52 new books in September — alternately called a revamp, a reboot and the “DCnU” — contained many smaller stories within that major development.
One of the more noteworthy undercurrents of DC’s relaunch is the Scott Lobdell comeback. The writer is on three of the new 52 titles — Teen Titans, Superboy and Red Hood & The Outlaws — or, nearly six percent of the initial new DC Universe.
In the 1990s, Lobdell was one of the biggest names in comics, becoming nearly synonymous with Marvel’s X-Men titles with a five-year run on Uncanny X-Men, the co-creation of Generation X and stints on Excalibur, X-Men and X-Factor. In recent years, though, he’s had a much lower profile, writing books like IDW’s 2008 Galaxy Quest series.
With his new titles, Lobdell is in new territory at DC, but surrounded by familiar faces. Bob Harras, the former Marvel editor-in-chief and group editor of the X-Men titles during Lobdell’s original rise to prominence, is now DC’s EiC. Several more editorial staffers from Lobdell’s Marvel days are now at DC, and his fellow ‘90s X-title veteran and occasional collaborator, Fabian Nicieza has been writing regularly there for the past few years.
Newsarama talked — a lot — with Lobdell about his return to the forefront of mainstream comics, the rather spirited reaction the new Teen Titans character designs got online, reuniting with Harras and if his past experience writing teen books affects the ones he’s writing now.
Newsarama: Scott, before we get into specifics of Teen Titans and Superboy, let’s talk about how things came together. What’s it like reuniting with Bob Harras (and, in one form or another, several other of your Marvel comrades from that period) in the year 2011 at DC? Based on your comments in other interviews, it sounds like it was rather unexpected.
Scott Lobdell: Totally unexpected! It was unexpected that it happened at all… and unexpected that it is so much fun. I’ve never been a member of a rock band, but I can imagine this is what it is like when people talk about “getting the band back together.”
Bob and I worked together nearly 10 years, nearly 10 years ago. And it is funny to read on the message boards about how “He’s just hiring his friends!” No one who knows us would ever mistake us for friends — friendly, sure — but when Bob and I talk it is almost always about characters or plots or pitches that he shoots down.
Honestly, I usually feel like the kid whose father is the math teacher – no matter how high my grade or how many extra credit assignments I take I am always having to prove myself way more than everyone else. When I turned in my Teen Titans plot I got rave reviews from my editor, other editors, publishers, artists! Bob said “I will be honest with you… I didn’t hate it.” Which is Bob for “This was great!”
Wouldn’t that be a great cover blurb for Teen Titans #1? “I didn’t hate it! Bob Harras, EIC!”
Regarding Bobbie Chase, my editor on Teen Titans and Red Hood & The Outlaws, a little known piece of comic history is that she was the editor of my very first ongoing series at That Other Company, a series called Alpha Flight. And while we only worked together for four issues before she started the Midnight Sons line, handing me off to another editor who promptly fired me, I was eager to work with an editor with lots of experience working in the classic Old School Plot And Then Script style.
What is interesting about Bobbie is that she has always been known as someone who possesses what has become the ancient art of getting the books to the printers on time — a tactician. But what surprises me about working with her so much is how she’s so invested in the characters and plots and what makes a good splash page and how to bring readers back the next issue and all the nitty gritty of comic book production. Honestly, there are a lot of editors over the years who have sent the plot onto the artists with a passing glance. Bobbie is not one of them!
And a quick shout out to Mike Marts — not only did I work with him on some X-stuff when he was an intern and later an editor, but he was also the guy who took a chance on a very off-center Alpha Flight relaunch. While there wasn’t an audience for it, he was always very supportive about what we were trying to do. That is a very admirable trait in an editor, and it doesn’t surprise me at all that he’s become the head honcho in the Batman offices.
Nrama: Now, out of all 52 of the books announced by DC as debuting in September, Teen Titans definitely seemed to strike a unique chord, even ending up as a trending topic on Twitter for most of the day the initial image was released. How closely did you monitor that kind of stuff? Positive or negative, it has to feel good to be writing the book that seemed to have inspired the most emotion out of people.
Lobdell: I confess that I spent a few days reading all the press and message boards I could find. But you have to understand, when I was doing most of my mainstream super hero comic writing there wasn’t an Internet: most of the responses to work we got were letters written to the book that would show up in the offices weeks after the book was on the stands (which was usually three months after we had put the book to bed). Fabian [Nicieza] and I would often annoy the assistant editors responsible for the letters pages because we’d pour over the letters to see how we were doing with the fans — the crayon ones, the six-page single-spaced typed ones! The idea of immediate fan gut reaction to an idea or an image wasn’t even imagined at the time. So, the idea that I could sign on and read hundreds of reactions to the news, in real time? Yeah yeah, I know the Internet has been around for a while, but this was all new to me.
On the subject of positive or negative: In the old days, when people sat down to write a letter to a comic book company it meant a lot to us writer-types because we thought “There is someone who has given this a lot of thought… sitting down and putting their thoughts on paper, driving to the post office, etc.” As such, those letters were often very thought-out evaluations about what they did and didn’t like about a particular comic book story. Now, I don’t know if it has something to do with the accessibility of the Internet or the power that comes with seeing your every thought made manifest on a glowing computer screen, but I have to say a lot of what I read feels like farting in church: Yeah, you can do it — free speech and all that — but why would you want to? [Laughs.]
Seriously, if you are going to sign online and create a profile and respond to a comic, give it some heft. “Lobdell has never written anything at all that has ever been above below average” is a silly statement, comical even. And trust me, it is not a very original thought. (My girlfriend Amber hates that I Google “Scott Lobdell hack” just to read all the people that insult me. I know I shouldn’t, but man, some of these people are hysterical with their barbs! If you are going to skewer me or my ideas, be creative!)
Regarding overall reaction, I will tell you a story (because this interview is not long enough as it is)… I was invited to speak at a retailer convention in Baltimore one summer (The same summer John Romita Jr. was invited to speak in Hawaii. Right?!). I was excited because I was going to be announcing the “Age of Apocalypse” story.
I have to say I don’t really see things as being that dramatically different as much as I am seeing things being dramatically the same.
Tim Drake is still Red Robin, Cassie Sandsmark is still Wonder Girl, and everyone is still pretty much exactly who they are, just with a little custom fitting.
My first draft of Teen Titans read as if it were Teen Titans #101 — maybe a brief few months after [J.T. Krul]’s run which was ending with issue 100. People were very excited and supportive of it, but soon it was decided I didn’t go far enough: they wanted this book to feel like an issue one, not a continuation of a series cancelled by low sales. They wanted readers who were picking up Teen Titans #1 to feel like they were picking up the first issue of a new series… and so that is what Brett and I delivered.
Having said that, when the idea of Teen Titans was first created it was a book about sidekicks hanging out together. But we’ve come a long way from sidekicks – which was reflected first in Marv’s run where they are all their own super heroes, and later in Geoff’s run, where Teen Titans became about the newer generation of heroes being shown the ropes by the most recent generation.
Because that had all been done before (and done so extremely well by those guys) I didn’t feel like it was in anyone’s interest in going back and retelling those stories. I wanted to look at the idea of the Teen Titans if they were being formed right here and now. What would bring them together, and why would they stay together?
Again, Marv and George and later Geoff and Mike have given us some of the best comic stories of the past 30 years. Nothing I’m doing will change how great those stories were and will be now and forever.
Nrama: You’ve written a lot of teen books before, from Generation X to Gen 13 to even co-writing some Buffy: The Vampire Slayer with Fabian Nicieza. Does any of that inform what you’re doing in Teen Titans at all?
Lobdell: That is such an interesting question and I wish I had an interesting answer to go along with it. I don’t think I think of characters in terms of younger or older, I just think of what I think makes sense for individual characters based on their worldview.
But I will say this: Sometimes I’ll look at previous choices (and this isn’t a slam against any one writer or editor because this particular example has been around for decades and has become part and parcel of the Teen Titans) and it leaves me scratching my head.
The Statue Graveyard In The Teen Titans Basement? I look at that and I think, “What 17 year old on planet earth has statues of their dead friends in their basement, or their garden or their front lawn?” I’ve had my share of friends who died in my youth, and it would never occur to me in a million years to have statues of my dead friends commissioned so I could keep them in my basement and visit with them whenever I was feeling depressed.
Yeah, you can make the argument “Scott, none of your best friends were super heroes!” Well, maybe not to you, they weren’t. But cops? Firemen? Sure a memorial here or there, but a garden of statues of all the cops who have fallen in the line of duty? Umm.
But so when I was pitching out my ideas for the Titans re-what, I explained one of the first things I wanted to do – while treating the Teen Titans like actual teens – was to lose the Friend Graveyard. Bob was like “I was just saying the same thing to someone last week!” (See? Simpatico!)
Now, I can see why a writer would introduce the idea in a comic – it is visual, it adds gravitas, it speaks to a history – I just don’t see it as something any teen character would ever do. (My mind reels at the thought of one of the Robins commissioning statues, let alone a series of statues from some Italian sculptor who has made a small fortune off the Teen Titan deaths over the years.) So, I guess in a round about answer to your question, does my past experiences inform my Titans work? Yes.
Nrama: What kind of continuing challenge is it to be writing teen characters for so long, and continuing to make that seem authentic, even though, as happens with all of us, those years become progressively further away?
Lobdell: [Laughs.] You make it seem like I roll around the streets of Los Angeles in one of those giant plastic bubbles! Yeah, I’m not a teenager, but I’m also not a trained killer like Red Hood, a soldier of fortune like Roy Harper, or a gorgeous former prisoner of war like Starfire. I’m not a mutant, a ghostbuster or an enchanted music box.
I haven’t read a lot of interviews with other writers, but I can’t imagine you asked Grant Morrison how he stays authentic writing about a vigilante whose motivation is nearly 20 years old – or if he finds it challenging to write a character who fell to Earth nearly thirty years ago and raised as a human who had to hide his super powers from the rest of the world while he was growing up. [Laughs.]
And, as I have actually been a teenager once (something I share with everyone else over twenty on the planet Earth) my familiarity with teenagers is probably a lot closer than Grant’s familiarity with vigilantes and supermen.