Titan Talk with Adam Beechen
by Matt Brady – 02-01-2007 – courtesy of http://www.newsarama.com
As we helped him announce yesterday, Geoff Johns will be leaving DC’s Teen Titans at the conclusion of the current “Titans East” arc. Current Robin and Justice League Unlimited writer Adam Beechen will be filling Johns’ chair, co-writing the second half of the arc, and then, taking it all over, starting with issue #47 in May.
While Robin definitely gives Beechen the cred to handle at least one teen character, skeptical Titans fans will breathe a sigh of relief knowing that Beechen has handled the team before – writing three episodes of the animated Teen Titans series that ran on Cartoon Network: “Mad Mod,” “Only Human” and “Haunted” – the last being a particularly intense episode pitting Robin against Slade in a battle of wits – and sanity.
We spoke with Beechen about the upcoming gig.
Newsarama: What came first here, the chicken or the egg? That is, were you brought on to co-write and that turned into the full time gig, or were you brought on as the new guy, and the co-writing came after?
Adam Beechen: I was brought on to co-write with Geoff, with the idea of taking over solo after a while — sort of a handing-off of the baton.
NRAMA: Going back a little – pull the curtain back a touch if you can – you’re a writer who’s got several things gong with DC. How does the offer to write Teen Titans happen? A phone call? An e-mail?
AB: As I remember it, in the late summer of 2006, I got a phone message from Geoff: “Call me when you get a chance.” I left him a return message, then it was a day or two before I heard back from Geoff again, and I was in a blind panic…I thought he’d maybe read one of my Robin plots, and I’d inadvertently ruined the DC Universe or something. But that wasn’t it, and when he finally reached me, it was to tell me he was thinking of leaving Titans, date unknown, and to ask me if I had any interest in taking over for him. I told him I’d be honored to even be in the discussion, and he told me to sit tight, and he’d get back to me. Then, a few weeks later, I got a call from Titans Editor Eddie Berganza, asking me basically the same question. Yes, yes, I’m interested! He, too, told me to sit tight until Geoff’s schedule crystallized and he had something definite to tell me. More time passed. Finally, as I was on my way home for Thanksgiving, I got a flurry of phone calls, from Eddie and Geoff, saying it was on, it was happening, and the offer was a concrete, definite thing. I said yes immediately.
NRAMA: That said, was there any kind of second guessing on your part? Given Geoff’s fans, probably the last person many writers would want to be is “The guy who follows Geoff on _____”
AB: Not really. Geoff and I are friends — he’s been tremendously supportive of my work in comics and in television — and for me, part of the appeal of taking the job was the opportunity to write together. It’s something I’d never done in comics and was anxious to try, and I knew I’d learn a ton from Geoff. I felt that, given that we’d be writing together for an arc or two, the transition would be smooth and gradual enough that fans wouldn’t feel so much like I was “the guy who followed Geoff” as “the guy who wrote with Geoff before Geoff handed it off.” Because Geoff’s schedule has tightened so much in recent weeks, that handing-off point is happening a little sooner than we originally planned, but I have indeed learned a ton in the sessions Geoff and I have worked together on “Titans East” — and had a great time doing it — so I feel I’m as ready as I can be. Plus Geoff has left behind a treasure trove of great characters and concepts on which to build. I’m anxious to really dig in.
NRAMA: Let’s talk about your history and experience with the Titans – first off, where do you trace your history/fandom back to?
AB: I have a very clear memory of buying the first issue of the Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans from my local convenience store. My comics-buying was more haphazard back then, so I didn’t pick it up again until #10, and then I was a regular reader more or less until George left the Baxter version of the title — and I came back to it when he returned for the second “Who Is Wonder Girl?” storyline. And I’ve avidly followed the current series since it began. I think the story that sealed my love for the Titans was “The Hunt for the Doom Patrol,” arc back in the second year of Marv and George’s initial run. I wasn’t familiar with the Doom Patrol, so the whole thing had sort of a mysterious feel to it, coupled with an air of unfinished business that provided for great drama. Also, I remember being very affected by Changeling’s emotions throughout the story.
Also in that run, I have a ton of fondness for a stand-alone issue that featured Dr. Light and Hawkman, I think it was #19. It was a lighter issue, but it wasn’t played for laughs, and it had action, suspense and drama in it that kept me turning pages. I thought it was a textbook example of how you could make a single-issue story fun and entertaining. And of course, there was the Donna Troy wedding issue, #50, which didn’t have a panel of fighting in it — it was just character interaction, and was every bit as compelling as “The Judas Contract,” which rocked the world of everyone who read it, of course. Titans, along with the Legion at the time, was the book that made me really care about the characters as people. It was still fun to see them get into dust-ups with bad guys, but now it was different because the people behind the masks felt real — or more real, at least — to me. Marv and George did an amazing job of making me feel like Dick Grayson and Robin were the same guy, for example, and that one didn’t disappear when the other one was on stage. That was terribly influential to me as a writer. And Geoff’s done a fantastic job of carrying on that tradition, not just in Titans, but in every book he writes.
NRAMA: Along with being a fan of the comics, you’ve also had experience with the Titans, writing three episodes for the animated (late and lamented) Cartoon Network show. In your view, where the characters the same?
AB: The similarities are superficial, but important: Robin is driven, Starfire is innocent, Beast Boy is silly, and so on. The characters in the cartoon are more broad-stroke, whereas the comic can get in greater depth. The cartoon was designed as a romp, largely, although it occasionally, and brilliantly, went deeper. I don’t know that my work on the book will draw too much on my experience with the animated series — I’ve been a fan of the book right along, so most of my treatment of the characters will come out of that.
NRAMA: How different are the two teams, animated versus comic?
AB: Well, the setup of the cartoon was always a clubhouse atmosphere — this is where kid superheroes hang out without worrying about school or parents or the heroes they sidekick for, or whatever. It’s where they get to be themselves and just have a good time. Of course, just by spending that time together and sharing the experiences they do, they become a family. Geoff’s run on the book — though the characters are played as somewhat more mature — has had a similar jumping-off point. I believe his original tagline for the book was something like, “What do teen heroes do on their weekends…?” And of course, they’ve become a family as well.
NRAMA: For you – what sets the Titans apart from other teams and groups? What’s that specific thing that has to be there, otherwise, you could just as well be reading about any other group of costumed people?
AB: For me it’s simply that they’re kids, all at more or less the same points in their life. Some have a little more experience than others, and those experiences vary slightly from person to person, but they’re all dealing with the very specific situation of growing up with superpowers. They relate to each other — they’re a very unique peer group. They understand each other in a way no other kind of kids can. It’s like the bond you form on a sports team — something real, powerful and strong that still can’t be described.
NRAMA: Narrowing the focus in from there – who’s the heart of the Titans? Who’s its core, where, without them, the team just ain’t the team?
AB: Of this team, as currently composed, Robin and Wonder Girl. Robin always seems to gravitate to the center of any Titans lineup — the other characters naturally tend to look to him for leadership…which might be something I want to explore. I think Wonder Girl is the emotional centerpiece of the team — she’s often the most expressive. And Wonder Girl and Robin have the bond of their respective kinds of closeness to Conner — and to me, that threesome was at the heart of Geoff’s longtime lineup for the group.
NRAMA: Now with all of that said – this current team of Titans…how would you characterize them? Are they cohesive? A family?
AB: I think Geoff did a great job of moving them in that direction, forging them under difficult circumstances into a cohesive unit that behaves like a family. There are still some personalities that clash, and backgrounds and histories that don’t mesh as well with others, but that’s also true of any families…The important thing is, I think this group has shown they’re there for each other.
NRAMA: Stream of consciousness time…give one or two sentences that captures your view, or just what you think about the characters…
AB: Responsibility. It’s one of his greatest attributes and his greatest curse. He feels like he should be able to fix everyone’s problems, including his own, and when he can’t, it absolutely eats at him.
AB: Determination. He started out as an athlete, so he’s trained from day one to never, ever give up. He loses an arm, he loses a leg, he’s going to keep coming. No pun intended, but that’s how he’s wired.
AB: Belonging. As tough and singular as she may present herself, she’s wanted to fit in and be accepted for as long as she can remember. It’s something she rarely, if ever, admits, though.
AB: Innocence. She looks at everything through wide eyes, with a tourist’s perspective — even the characters of those around her.
AB: Heart. For someone who’s nearly invulnerable, she feels things so deeply. I’m not sure she knows how to deal with her emotions like an adult yet — which makes sense, since she isn’t an adult yet.
AB: Enthusiasm. He wants to be more than a hero. He wants to be a great hero. And that can lead him to great triumphs and terrible mistakes.
AB: Compassion. She’s fiercely protective not just of her own emotions, but those of her friends, as well.
NRAMA: On the other side of the coin, heroes are defined by his enemies, so – why does Slade have such a mad-on for the Titans? It’s been a constant for decades now…
AB: Consider how much of his family life has been entwined with the Titans…He lost his first son, Grant, as a result of combat with the Titans. He “lost” his second son, Joseph, when Joseph chose them over his father. And now he’s lost his third child, Rose, who’s recently become a member of the team. The Titans are more than the one contract he’s never been able to satisfactorily complete — they’re the one set of adversaries who have regularly taken things from him.
NRAMA: In terms of the series, you’re coming in on the wrap-up of Titans East, and how do you go on from there? When you were brought on, did Geoff hand off a bundle of notes and ideas where he would’ve gone, or was the field just left open, a la “What would you do with the Teen Titans?”
AB: Actually, I come in on the second part of the arc. Issue #43 is all Geoff. He had #44 mostly plotted, and then I came in and we finished the plotting together and split up the pages for scripting. He had a pretty good idea of what he wanted for #45, we plotted it together, and then I handled the script. On #46, I’m plotting and scripting from his general story idea. He had the overarching idea for the story arc that was to follow “Titans East,” and I’m going to be writing that as well, but because of other considerations, that’s been pushed back a few issues. So Geoff will continue to be a presence, as far as the book goes, for a while yet. After that, I’ll be on my own for real.
NRAMA: Any hints as to where you’re taking things in the immediate future? How about longer term? Any landmark villains you want to bring back?
AB: Like I said, Geoff’s left a lot of great possibilities open to us…I’ve thrown some of my ideas out to him, and he’s responded with, “Awesome,” and “that’s so cool,” enough that I feel I’m on the right track. We’re going to be building on his concepts and exploring some of the newer characters he’s brought to the team in greater detail. After that, it’s too soon to say until I feel like I’ve really nailed the stories, but yes, I definitely have some big plans in terms of villains that I’m excited to get to, not to mention story points for our characters. I sat down the other day and put down in one place all the basic ideas I have, some in great detail, others just sketches, and if nothing were to change at all, I’d have enough stories to reach issue #75! So my enthusiasm level is pretty high!
NRAMA: While Geoff was writing the comic series, and the animated series was on, we saw a touch of synergy….or at least some shared ideas between the animated series and comic. Any plans for that on your end? Any elements from the animated series that you think would work particularly well? Some not so much? Come on man…Mumbo – you know he’s dying to appear…you know you want to…not to mention The Source and Bob…
AB: I don’t have any specific plans to incorporate stuff from the animated series, but I’ve already fielded one request for at least a cameo from Control Freak, so anything’s possible…
NRAMA: Big picture, what are you looking at? A big, honkin’ epic a la what we’ve been on since the start with One Year Later, or something smaller…tighter?
AB: My goal is to have every arc lead into the next in such a way that the story and the characters continue to build and deepen, the way Marv and George, and more recently Geoff, have done so well. If I can do that, I think the comic will feel like one big, ongoing epic sort of naturally, with the arcs making up chapters of the life of this team over time. I also want to find ways to squeeze in single-issue stories that put a spotlight on individual characters or smaller groupings within the team that delve into the personalities in a little more detail…while still advancing the larger stories. It’ll all definitely build to peaks over time, though, and those are starting to take shape…
NRAMA: How does the rest of the DCU see the Titans? Say, the JLA? Have the Titans come in to their own a little more in their mentors eyes?
AB: I don’t see how they couldn’t have. The Titans have been key players in so many universe-changing events that they’ve more than established themselves as a force to be reckoned with. That being said, I think there’s always going to be a part of the older heroes that still sees the Titans as kids, and the knee-jerk reaction in time of crisis is almost always going to be to step in and handle it in place of the “klddies.” Just the nature of the business.
NRAMA: You’ve mentioned Geoff’s idea of them meeting on the weekends, and operating as a family, but what do the Titans themselves see as their reason for doing what they do?
AB: It simply is What They Do. It’s either what they were trained for by their older mentors, or it’s what they always wanted to do, having seen superheroes on the news every night since they were little kids. In some cases, they have more personal motivations — i.e. Undoing the wrongs committed by their parents or avenging the deaths of loved ones — but they do good deeds for the simplest of reasons, ultimately: Because they can.
NRAMA: Finally – for you, personally, what is this gig for you?
AB: A dream, without question. To follow in the footsteps of Nick Cardy, Neal Adams, Marv Wolfman, George Perez, Jose-Luis Garcia-Lopez, Geoff Johns, Mike McKone, Tony Daniel, and all the other incredibly talented people who have worked on Teen Titans in its various incarnations…People whose work I’ve admired so much, and who have, in some cases, contributed to the career path I’m on…To work with characters like these who have such rich histories…To work on a title I’ve followed and enjoyed for so long, one that’s literally part of the fabric of my growing up…It doesn’t seem real. It’s going to be a lot of fun.