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Talking Titans With Geoff Johns

by Matt Brady
Posted: 8-04-2004
courtesy of

It’s been just over a year since Geoff Johns took the reins of the new…or latest Teen Titans series, with Mike McKone along as regular artist. Latest not meant…entirely…as a negative in this instance, as the series, and franchise had seen a couple of ups and more than a few downs at DC in the last ten years or so.

The final issues of the series originally begun by Marv Wolfman and George Perez in 1980 (though now with a lineup that barely resembled the original team) wheezed out their last in 1995, Dan Jurgens gave the concept a go with new characters in 1996, which landed with a thud; and the franchise’s third go-round in the ‘90s (launched by Devin Grayson and Mark Buckingham in 1999 as The Titans, and starring the young adult versions of the Wolfman/Perez team, for the most part. While it started well, by the time issue #43 came out in 2002, readers were ready for something new.

Enter Johns and McKone. Johns, by that time, had earned a reputation as being a DC wunderkind in the Mark Waid mold, that is, something akin to a walking continuity encyclopedia with a respect for the past who could tell a very solid story. While Johns’ assignment to the title alone stirred embers in the hearts of Teen Titans fans they thought might never rekindle, the lineup of the new team sent them into heaven. For all intents and purposes, the “new” Teen Titans would be pretty much that – a new millennium version of the Wolfman/Perez team. McKone’s pre-launch artwork, showing a cover splash that was an homage to the cover of The New Teen Titans #1 sealed the deal.

So – it’s a year later, and what’s come to pass? Johns has assembled his team, brought back (and cleaned up) Raven, reignited the enmity between the team and Deathstroke, tied up loose plotlines from years ago, revitalized Brother Blood, and well, set up a status quo that, while reminiscent of the original (both New TT and the original Teen Titans) has its own swing and feel.

Newsarama sat down with Johns for a while to talk the kids, the team, the upcoming Legion storyline, and more.

But – before starting, Johns wanted to take the chance to address the readers. Take it away Geoff:

”First, I’d like to say thanks to the readers and retailers for making Teen Titans the success it’s been for the last year. Mike and I absolutely love this book and these characters. In San Diego, Mike sat at his booth, with all of his sketches and designs, and it was when people asked, “So what are you doing after Titans?” Mike would reply, “More Titans.” That’s rare. When new titles are released every month, it’s tempting to jump ship after a handful of issues and keep your profile up by heading to the next book and then the next. But we’re committed to the Titans and these characters — I think JSA is as strong, or stronger, than it’s ever been and that has to do with a tapestry that we’ve laid down and continued to unfold over the years.

Plus, second string characters rule.

Grant Morrison is about to launch his Seven Soldiers, which I’m absolutely looking forward to. Years ago, on Animal Man, Grant made a second string, even eighth string, character more compelling than the icons. (See Teen Titans #14 for my nod to Grant’s breakthrough work on Animal Man) Through Doom Patrol, Aztek, New X-Men, JLA — and within that Plastic Man, the Thunderbolt, Hourman, and even Qwisp — Grant has pushed the envelope on the lost and forgotten concepts, re-inventing many from the ground up and pushing discarded characters into the heroic roles usually reserved for Superman and Batman. That’s where I get a lot of my inspiration on Titans and JSA.

With the effects of Identity Crisis, some shake-ups within the team, an adventure into the far future with the Legion and then the sinister yet delightful not-so-far future, more new villains, the return of Doctor Light and a crossover with Outsiders focusing on Superboy and his genetic parents and a few other surprises, I think we’ve got a stellar second year coming up. It’s going to move fast and furious now that the stage has been set.

It’s amazing to work on characters you love. It’s like Joe’s for the Avengers, Jeph’s for Superman, Gail’s for Birds of Prey, Brian’s for Daredevil, etc. You know they’d write this stuff for free. Those are books I love reading.

On with the questions.

Newsarama: Looking at things from the one-year perspective, you’ve spent the first 12 issues bringing the team back together so that it resembles, pretty much, the Wolfman/Perez Titans, as well as somewhat the team from the Teen Titans animated series. Was this your plan from the start in your pitch, or was it the mandate from DC?

Geoff Johns: The immediate roster for us was a twist on the Wolfman/Perez Titans. Where as Robin, Kid Flash and Wonder Girl were joined by Cyborg, Starfire, Raven and the Changeling…here we have Cyborg, Starfire, Raven and Beast Boy joined by the new Superboy, new Robin, new Kid Flash and new Wonder Girl. I had always seen this as our starting point — obviously the animated series featured five of the eight, which is natural if we’re all taking a page from the best era of the Titans. And while we’ll be keeping the team around this size for the awhile, there will be additions and changes within the second year, and guest-stars, not just to do them but because it’s part of the bigger story.

NRAMA: One of the more dramatic character changes was shifting Bart from the immature ass as Impulse to the smart, albeit book smart, Kid Flash. What for you precipitated this change? Did you just not like the character as he was, and would’ve had trouble fitting him in, or was it just time for him to grow into his role?

GJ: I love Bart Allen, and there are fans who prefer Impulse pre-Kid Flash, totally understand and respect that. But in my mind, I never wanted to just do Young Justice Volume 2. That wouldn’t be fair to Peter and Todd, the characters themselves, or what DC would want me to do. It’s the same reason, as much as I love Arrowette, Peter spent a lot of time
examining why she would not return in costume. I see Young Justice as their time in Junior High School and the Teen Titans as High School. We’ve been playing their ages a year or two older, and for Bart, part of that comes with embracing where he’s running off to. Finding a new direction. And that is, he will be the Flash one day. Not for Wally, at least not right now, but for his grandfather, Barry Allen. I have no doubt in my mind; someday Bart Allen will be the Flash.

Bart cares more about the Titans around him than any other member in my mind. He has fun with them, he enjoys being with his friends, but I did want to play up the fact that — you mess with him or the Titans, he’s going to take you down hard and fast.

NRAMA: Speaking of getting a refresher – Raven. A new body i.e., young girl, but the same soul and memories, correct?

GJ: Raven is in a human body created by the Church of Blood to house her soul. Same soul, same memories. But with a new chance to experience life. She’s going to be evolving, especially over the next year, and we’ll see quite a different change in attitude than the one we’ve known. She’s not worried about being influenced by Trigon anymore, she’s worried about just fitting in. And yes, she will have hair. I actually like her design the best out of the Titans Tomorrow.

NRAMA: And already with the teasing. Before we talk Tomorrow, let’s stay with the team. What’s the dynamic of the team you’re shooting for? A family? A group of friends with something in common?

GJ: The dynamic of the team is definitely friends. Sharing secrets, dealing with problems outside of “school”, trying to get to know one another. They all have that pressure of “we need to be perfect self-less heroes now” — and that’s just not reality. They make mistakes, they take short cuts, they have trouble getting from A to B. Parents play a huge role in the lives of each Titan, and all of us. Starfire was abandoned by hers, Gar’s lost his at an early age, Superboy is struggling with the Superman vs. Luthor aspect of his DNA, Wonder Girl is still unsure who her father is and has a overly-watchful mother, and there’s more to come.

NRAMA: In your setup, how do the older Titans, Cyborg, Gar Logan, and Starfire, fit in?

GJ: Cyborg, to me, is the central mentor of this team. He’s the guy who brought them all together and plans on keeping them together. Starfire is more of a loose cannon, trying to act as an older sister to some but falling short of being able to in some respects. Gar, to me, is right there with the newer Titans. His role, a new friend.

NRAMA: Playing catch-up a bit with your more recent arc, you did a two-fer with bringing back Brother Blood and Raven at the same time, as well as tying them together. When did that idea, that they were connected, hit you? Was it something you’ve been holding on to since your fanboy days, or did it come as you were working on the series?

GJ: I wanted to re-introduce Brother Blood as kid, to give the Titans at least one villain their own age. And the concept of Brother Blood and the Church of Blood was one that introducing the son to take his father’s place was built in. Again, parents and their children come into play with Brother Blood and his constant search for “mother” and Deathstroke and his daughter, Rose.

Out of all the events the Church of Blood has done, Raven is always at the center. It felt natural to reveal the God the Church worshipped was Trigon.

NRAMA: Your Brother Blood – nasty little twerp, and sadistic too. Killed his “mom,” bit out the stone from Raven’s forehead, and drinks blood. Um, not to sounds too much like a stiff, but how much is too much when you’re talking about, basically a kid doing these things?

GJ: What can I say? He was born bad.

NRAMA: Fair enough, but you also tied up the Terminator arc rather nicely, although it ended with an eye injury to boot as Rose tried to make herself more like her father. Was there any concern over that panel from DC?

GJ: We knew it was extreme, but Deathstroke is an extreme kind of guy. We have had some harsh moments in Titans, but I think we balance them out as well from getting tattoos, to taking the Batmobile for a joy ride, to chasing a kid turned into a green whale, to Superboy and Wonder Girl getting caught mid-make-out by Wonder Woman, to Robin calling his older self out, to the upcoming Brainiac and Kid Flash scenes. We’ll continue to live in the world of colorful capes and fantastic powers, but the threats will be real threats and these kids can handle them.

NRAMA: Speaking of Deathstroke, as well as Robin, Teen Titans seems to be skirting the edge of having to take part in crossovers, such as Gang War and Identity Crisis. First off though, you’ve included the new Robin in issue #13 – from your standpoint, what purpose did that serve?

GJ: Actually, sometimes these “events” turn out to be a lot of fun. Strangely enough, the “Joker’s Last Laugh” issue of JSA I think is one of the best of that series to date. So I don’t mind playing in a shared universe. I like it. Do I want to lose Tim Drake? No. I love his friendship with Superboy — and Robin is a central part of the team. But because of this development, it actually allowed us to shine a light on this friendship and ask the question — would they be still be friends if one of them stopped playing super-hero? Over the course of issues #13 thru #15, we’ll see that.

As for Identity Crisis, it’s the same kind of thing. If there’s something happening that can help our story, I’ll focus on that as well. Issue #20 is our Identity Crisis tie-in. You wonder what’s up with that green and purple suit of armor in Identity Crisis #1? Read
Teen Titans #20.

NRAMA: So the kids will get caught up in the fallout?

GJ: We’ll deal with it, of course. The idea of secret identities will be explored when it comes to the kids, as well as a few other elements. Like I said, there’s story and character to be developed here organically and that’s what I’m trying to do.

NRAMA: Okay – up to the current arc then. Gar’s lost his goods, so to speak, but others have picked them up in an outbreak of turning into green animals, right? Judging from the final pages of #13, no one has the ability to keep their cool while shifting like Gar does, do they?

GJ: It’ll all be brought to life in #14 and concluded in #15. What I can say is, yes everyone’s blaming Gar for this outbreak. We’ll find out how his powers kind of work, and theories on why the kids are the way they are. The parents aren’t happy with the Titans.

NRAMA: Speaking of the “Beast Boys and Girls” storyline, how much of the story in regards to Gar’s origin was there to begin with? How much did you have to flesh out?

GJ: There was a lot of talk about the reboot of the Doom Patrol and some readers worrying Gar Logan was going to become the “new Hawkman or Donna Troy” in terms of origin. I didn’t agree, and I certainly wasn’t going to begin ret-conning stories out or trying to patch up gaps that didn’t need to be fixed.

He doesn’t need to be changed, and for this story I simply took his origin and displayed it as is without talking about Doom Patrol. The only thing I added was exactly how Gar was infected by this ultra-rare disease, Sakutia or, as Americans call it “Green Fever.”

There was even a theory somewhere, I think on my board, where they were like “Maybe he’s going to be related to Martian Manhunter now.” That was my favorite.

NRAMA: Heh. Speaking to the crux of the storyarc, the change in, or loss of powers is a regular theme in comics. So – let’s take you, coming in at what, 40+ years into the industry. How do you tell a “loss of powers” story that is a) different, and b) still resonates with readers?

GJ: Simple, because the story isn’t about the loss of powers, but about who Garfield Logan is and who he wants to be. And what his loss of powers causes around himself. Issue #15 is narrated by Gar, and I think it really delivers a new look into why he’s a Titan.

NRAMA: So what’s happening to Gar isn’t related to his interaction with Brother Blood?

GJ: Nope.

NRAMA: Fair enough. Moving on, following the “Beast Boys and Girls” arc, the books heads into the crossover with Legion. How did the teaming not only of the Titans and Legion, but of you and Mark come about? Was the Legion storyline something you were planning on doing and it was all serendipitous, or was this something tied to the Legion restart from the beginning?

GJ: They said they wanted to reintroduce the Legion with Mark Waid and the idea of a Teen Titans/Legion team-up to do it came about. From there, it grew into Teen Titans #16 for part one and continuing into the Titans/Legion one-shot. Mark had a clear direction and idea of what he wanted to do with Legion of Super-Heroes #1, where he wanted everything to be. He’s told me about some of his ideas, and they’re just brilliant. I’ve enjoyed Mark’s stuff for years and I was extremely excited about getting the chance to work with him. So we plotted out the story, I wrote the lead-in in issue #16 and we co-wrote the special. I do know, this isn’t the last time we’ll be working together.

The fact that I had “Titans Tomorrow” planned made everything fit perfectly.

NRAMA: We’re getting there, we’re getting there. But before that, how do things get rolling with the Legion? Is this at all connected to Superboy having appeared in Legion issues prior to the final arc?

GJ: It’s definitely connected to Superboy. In the opening of issue #16, he and Wonder Girl are interrupted mid-date as he is sucked into the future, only to re-appear in the present a second later…completely different from his experience with the Legion. We will answer the question, which team is this guy on? And, more importantly, why?

NRAMA: Speaking of issue #16, you’ve got the Persuader, from the Fatal Five fighting the Titans. Is it safe to assume that someone comes back from the future?

GJ: Yeah. The Persuader.

NRAMA: Is the world into which the Titans are pulled the same from the Legion series as it was?

GJ: Right – the Titans fight alongside the Legion as you’ve seen them every month
since Dan and Andy introduced them.

NRAMA: So what’s the threat here? At SDCC, I think either you or Bob Wayne mentioned the “Fatal 500” during a panel…

GJ: Yeah…it was a name Ed Brubaker was throwing around at a show and I was like, that’s insanely cool. Ed gave me his blessing to use it, but Mark and I had an entirely different concept for it. So, yeah, it’s the Fatal Five Hundred.

NRAMA: Confession time – you got to put present characters into the future, and letting people in the future make those fun veiled comments about the characters from the present’s respective destinies, didn’t you?

GJ: Of course. I think Karate Kid says one to Robin like…”I studied your final battle with the Joker’s Daughter for months!” and then we open up issues #17, part I of “Titans Tomorrow,” with the battle between Robin ten years from now and Joker’s Daughter. There are other tags in there, of course. Concerning Starfire, etc., but I don’t want to give them all away.

NRAMA: So how did writing the special with Mark work out? Did you both plot and script, or did one handle one, the other, the other, or what?

GJ: We plotted it together and then started writing scenes and passing the script back and forth. Things grew out of it, we polished it up, and we handed it in. Mark also wrote a seven page sequence in the back that introduces his Legion of Super-Heroes.

NRAMA: You’re writing with Mark Waid, an admitted fanboy for the Legion, and you’re well…you’ve got fanboy roots too. Who geeked out first in putting this story together?

GJ: I don’t know. I think when we had the concept of the Fatal Five Hundred worked out and some of the events that occur in the special, we both did. Starboy’s a favorite of mine, so the fact that he was present was great.

NRAMA: Any scenes in Teen Titans/Legion that are in there that you guys put in there just because you could?

GJ: Yep – and it involves Brainiac.

NRAMA: Coming out of the crossover, will there be a lasting effect on the Titans and Legion in terms of future crossovers or team-ups…or say, exchange programs?

GJ: The Legion, will feel effects of course. Mark is starting a whole new ball game. And the Titans…

As for future crossovers, most likely at some point. I’d love to see it.

NRAMA: Alright – I guess we can’t dance around it any more. Where do things go after the Legion crossover? The kids come back, but at the wrong time?

GJ: They head back, but ten years too late, where the world is splintered into darker and brighter sections of what it is now. The Titans are adults — Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Animal Man (formerly known as Beast Boy), Aquawoman (Lorena from the current Aquaman), the Flash and Dark Raven. Why they are the way they are will be explored but as Superboy says…”Man, we’re real #$@%!”

This is not your regular “glimpse of the future” — as the ending of the story arc, wrapping up in #19, will show. This will effect the present, and reveal some details about the next year of Titans.

Also, we’ll be focusing on what’s happened to the Titans — and all things related to them. From Bette Kane (a.k.a. Flamebird) to the Ravager.

NRAMA: Okay, so tease out after “Titans Tomorrow” – what are you looking to bring to the title after that? Are you done with your touches on the past, or will you continue with classic Titans stories and villains?

GJ: The two Titans villains I wanted to use right off the bat were Deathstroke and Brother Blood. Now, though Deathstroke will always weave in and out of the book, we’re looking to introduce new threats and new villains. The first one being a new “Changeling” in #14, and others to be seen in the months ahead.

Superboy also has a great rogues gallery, and there is a character from there I have ideas for, and Bart’s twin, Inertia, has to come by. And, as I said before, Doctor Light sets his sights on the Titans after Identity Crisis.

NRAMA: Finally then, is Teen Titans a book that’s going to have to be pried from your cold dead fingers, or do you have a certain number of issues, or set point story-wise that you want to reach?

GJ: As long as Mike and I are still having fun, and have more ideas than we know what to do with, we’re sticking with the Titans. Mike himself has constantly thrown ideas out — a real killer one in San Diego that touches on perhaps the most obscure character in all of Titans history, but in a bizarre and different way.

And before I go, can I suggest picking up Green Arrow. Judd and Phil are doing a tremendous job on this book. And there’s a character in there that’s going to be appearing in Teen Titans soon.

Johns will be around this afternoon and evening to answer questions readers may have on this thread. Be patient, and he’ll try to get to them all.


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