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Wizard #25: “Teen Scenes”

Titanic Changes Are In Store For Team Titans and New Titans
An Article from Wizard #25 – September 1993


New Titans

“A lot of people say, ‘You’re constantly changing things in Titans’,” writer Marv Wolfman admits. “I don’t like to think of it as ‘constantly changing things,’ because that makes it sound like ‘we try this, we try that.’ Everything to me works off of itself; the changes are logical and it’s an evolutionary process. Books change, characters change, friends change; people move on to other things. I like to think that there’s nothing in the books that doesn’t come out of the stories, and the way the stories have been progressing.”

Things certainly have been changing over the past two years in the “Titans sub-universe” at DC Comics. Wolfman, who wrote his first story about these characters ‘way back in Teen Titans #18 (1968), and revamped them into the New Teen Titans (along with artist George Pérez) in 1980, claims he has never been more excited about the book than he is now, in part because it is – to his mind – getting back to the basics of the concept.

“The book is about a number of people who age between 17 and 21 – in itself a tumultuous time in a person’s life, because you’re changing from a child to an adult,” Wolfman explains. “You’re caught right in the middle and you don’t have the power to do whatever you want – yet. These are people who are trying to figure out where they’re going. In the beginning, in the first couple of years of the Titans, I wanted to learn about all those characters. For a long time after that, the book began to repeat itself. When you look at a book like X-Men, that has gone through a zillion changes – brand new characters, totally different locales, 27 costume changes – nobody accuses that one of being constantly changing.”

Still another change came in the middle of New Titans #100, as penciler Bill Jaaska took over from Tom Grummett. Jaaska is slated to handle #101 through #103, then take a break while the title goes bi-weekly, returning permanently with #108.

“I’m sort of renewed on the inspirations of what we do, the little myths we spin,” Jaaska says. “I was sort of burned out on superhero-type stuff, and wanted to do more adult’ stuff. But we really do fill an inspirational function for the majority of our market. We have the power to positively affect people. There’s a lot of cynical, dystopian stuff out there, and while that’s cathartic in some ways, I think you can still put a positive spin on superheroes.

“I’m hoping that we can do some intense stuff, put the characters through some heavy changes, and still balance with some light stuff, some favorable feelings toward other characters,” he continues. “I want to have some heroism come back.”

Titans editor Rob Simpson agrees, saying that the new direction on the book both heightens the drama and brings the book back to its roots.

“Stripping New Titans all the way back to the beginning, they were the junior Justice League,” Simpson notes. “That’s what they were being groomed for. At this point, they are no longer waiting to become the Justice League, they are the Justice League. They’re past the point of training, they are heroes in their own right. They are sure of themselves, in their powers and abilities – and if they aren’t, it’s got nothing to do with youth.”

“Coming out of the recent turmoil in their lives, they’ve been through the wringer,” Simpson adds. “The book’s going to take on a more hard-edged tone, a more adult tone. The characters in Team Titans are the teenagers, the characters in New Titans are adults. Their concerns are no longer those of teens searching for their identities.”

“I think the mistake we made was not always moving the book along and keeping it fresh: bringing in new characters, moving other characters out and bringing them back later,” Wolfman says. “I’m not saying that everything we’ve done over the past 13 years has been correct, but I’m currently more excited about the book than I’ve been in ages – and have been for the past two years – because I don’t always know where it’s going. I don’t have the next 12 years planned out. We plan it out a year ahead and leave a lot of openings. It’s exciting to me, as the writer, to keep doing this, to keep playing with it.”

Part of ‘playing with it” has been developing the cast and introducing new members to the team, while not losing focus on the long-time members. Wolfman has just finished his latest shake-up in the structure of the New Titans.

Following their aborted wedding, destroyed by the manipulations of Raven (or at least her evil soulself), Nightwing and Starfire take a leave of absence. This is furthered by the reintroduction of Roy Harper, formerly known as Speedy, as a kind of government Iiaison-cum-Ieader for the group-under his new costumed identity of Arsenal. Nightwing is very unhappy with the idea of having a government “watchdog”, and storms out.

One of the more volatile members, Pantha, has just discovered some clues to her own mysterious past, and is staying with the group to find out the connection between Dayton Industries and her own origin.

Phantasm will still be there because, as the collective soul of Azarath, he knows Raven is still at large.

And Baby Wildebeest “is fun because he allows room for some comic relief and he also allows us to see a different side to Pantha,” Wolfman notes.

Changeling’s recent activities constitute “a sticking point storyline,” Wolfman points out. “When it was plotted originally, we were going to have a two-to three-part Brotherhood of Evil story; that was the plan. Then we found out, after we’d begun it, that we couldn’t use the Brotherhood, especially Mallah and the Brain, because they had been destroyed over in Doom Patrol. On the other hand, if I wanted to be fussy, I’d could say I saw the original DP blow up in an atomic blast – and three of them are alive now.

“I knew where the Cyborg story was going, and I had to figure out how it could tie in and explain the Brotherhood story,” he goes on. “The final story is exciting, but it’s not my favorite, because we had to do a lot of explaining with very little time to do it.” Wolfman is loathe to discuss too much of Cyborg’s resolution, save that it involves a cyber planet, the Mento helmet, and Prester Jon of the Team Titans.

He will say that all this will have a major effect on Gar Logan, the Changeling. “The Mento helmet will blow Gar’s powers; he now changes into fantasmagorical, Lovecraftian, Clive Barker-ish creatures,” Wolfman explains. “He can still become real animals, but he finds it more painful than becoming these imaginary creatures.”

Also being added to the mix in the near future are Flash, Robin, and Supergirl.

“Flash comes into the group to try to help patch it together,” Wolfman says. “He’s integral on an emotional basis. Dick has quit, because he doesn’t want the government to take over the Titans. Roy pleads with Wally to help him, because he has a better reputation with the remaining Titans. Wally can help keep the Titans alive. Roy doesn’t know these Titans. With the exception of Changeling, they are pretty much loose cannons. He needs people around him that he can trust and work with. Flash comes back. On and off we’ll have Aqualad. Robin is available, and so is Supergirl. The changes seem to take the Titans back to their earliest incarnation: a collection of the established younger heroes along with some new creations. All of which “throws the mixture in the air in many ways,” Wolfman says. ‘You have some old-timers-old-timers are 21-and others who are brand new to this.”

“If you have stability, you have boring stories. Turmoil makes for good drama,” notes Jaaska, who previously worked with Wolfman on Jon Sable, Freelance. “I want to reexplore the interpersonal relationships. It really is a surrogate family and we need to reexamine the intrafamily rivalries and things like that.”

Jaaska has nothing but praise for Wolfman’s work. “Marv has everything there that should be there, in terms of character motivation and things like that, but he doesn’t micro-manage the plot, which I like. Another artist might want everything there, but I like a little leeway in the pacing.

“Getting a good creative team is like catching lightning in a bottle. It almost never happens, and it’s taken me this long to get a good writer-artist combination and a good all-around communication with editorial.”

The difference between the fictional ages of the Titans and their actual publishing history points up an ongoing problem for Wolfman. “I have to constantly remember what year it is, and what these kids can know,” he points out “I may have written a Titans story before the Vietnam War, but our current characters would have not been born when that war ended. You have to remember that when making references. The Titans are currently assumed to have been nine to 12 years old in the period of Star Wars, about 1976-80. Their thinking process comes out of the ’80s, for the most part.

“This upsets long-time readers,” he adds, “but the biggest trick is phrasing things so that a new reader doesn’t feel like this is something ‘old.’ You say things happened ‘weeks ago – you may mean 211 weeks ago, but it’s still ‘weeks’.”


Team Titans

Less than a year ago, the Titans subuniverse spawned its second spin off title (the first was Deathstroke the Terminator), Team Titans, based on the characters introduced in the 1991 New Titans annual. Wolfman originally planned to write all three books, but he has recently handed the writing reins on Team Titans to its artist, Phil Jimenez, and a cowriter, newcomer Jeff Jensen.

“Time more than anything was the reason I dropped writing Team Titans,” Wolfman admits. “I missed writing a few issues of New Titans and Terminator this year. No matter how well done fill-ins are, they invariably are never what I like, as the creator of both those books. One of the things I wanted to do was to never have a fill-in again. I don’t like seeing them, I don’t like reading them. So I decided to concentrate on New Titans and Terminator.

“Team Titans never quite became what I wanted,” he adds. “It started near the end of my run to become what I like, but it wasn’t in the first place.”

Creating a solid base for the junior title in the Titans stable was one of editor Simpson’s top priorities. “When I came here last year, I wanted to establish different identities for each book. For Team Titans, I took the viewpoint that the characters we’re seeing are a specialized group- groomed and trained for a specific reason, to stop Lord Chaos from destroying their world,” he explains. “That’s gone now, and they have to find a new purpose for their lives. They’ve spent the last five years of their lives in oppression and then rebellion. They’re in their late teens and they didn’t have a childhood. We want to see them grow. They’re retired soldiers-and what do you do when ‘Hitler’s dead’? And all you were ever trained to do is kill Hitler?

“In the initial setup, 100 teams of six each were sent through time. Where are the other 594? Why did the Leader pick these 600 people? Why did he think he needed so many?” Simpson asks rhetorically. “Team Titans should become a cornerstone book for the DC Universe, in which we explain a lot of things that Leader’s experiment had more far-reaching repercussions than originally thought.”

Artist/writer Phil Jimenez is a native Californian who came to New York to study art at the School for Visual Arts. Forced to give up his studies for financial reasons, he sent a portfolio to DC Comics, garnering some work in the special projects division, and eventually given the plum assignment of completing George Pérez’s work on War of the Gods #4. That’s not surprising, given the oft-remarked resemblance between Jimenez’s and Pérez’s work.

“I’m a George Pérez hack – I’ll say that,” Jimenez chuckles. “There was something about George’s work. When I first started drawing comics, his was the stuff I latched on to. If there was one person who I wanted to draw like, it was him. I drew comic books for friends in high school, and I basically copied Pérez’s style. The little nuances and surface elements of his work I latched on to very quickly. Fortunately – maybe unfortunately – those have stayed with me.”

But there’s more to Jimenez’s work than just a surface reminder of Pérez. “The nice thing about attending art school for two years, and having friends at art school, was that I was exposed to a much broader range of art styles, things outside the comic-book realm,” says Jimenez. “My influences have certainly grown. Because I’m still sort of mired in that George Pérez way of working, it still shows through, but I have a lot of other references and a broader repertoire-a larger range to work from. I’m hoping that will show up in the art soon.”

Jimenez got the Team Titans assignment following a stint on the Cyborg story in Showcase ’93 and a three-issue story arc in New Titans. Then he got the big surprise of being offered the writing chores as well, when Wolfman announced his intentions to concentrate on New Titans and Deathstroke. He agreed, provided his friend Jeff Jensen could cowrite. After some hesitation, Simpson and the DC higher-ups agreed.

Many would think the choice of artist Jimenez as the new writer was a surprise. After all, he is not just a new hand at writing, his entire professional career is just a couple of years old. And his cowriter, Jensen, has never worked in comics before. But Simpson defends that choice.

“Phil is an incredibly talented person, with one of the most intuitive story senses of anyone I’ve ever met. He not only understands what he’s doing in his stories, but how they affect other writers in other series,” says Simpson. “I wanted to make the Titans books and the other DC books more interconnected.

While cultivating something like a ‘Titans sub-universe’ might be important in terms of reader loyalty, it’s equally important to me that the characters be recognizable throughout the DC line, so that if Nightwing shows up at Superman’s funeral, all the readers – and all the characters – know who he is.”

Jimenez and Simpson would seem to have something of a mutual admiration society at work between them. “Rob is a very good editor, and there’s been plenty of editorial direction,” Jimenez says. “Our way of working is that he tells me what he needs for commercial, marketing reasons-what elements have to be in the book-and then we work our plots around those elements, incorporating ideas of our own. Rob’s been really good about that. It was a little frustrating in the beginning, because I’m not as action-oriented as some; I’m a big fan of talking heads. Rob was very good at getting me out of that mold, and considering the medium I was working in.

“Jeff and I plotted out the first year of our direction loosely, and a tighter version of the first three issues, and gave them to Rob for review. He came back with suggestions and changes to make the work more commercial. We reworked it, and he approved it.”

Jensen, a native of Seattle, Wash., also studied at the School of Visual Arts, but in the school’s now-defunct journalism department. In addition to his gig as Team Titans co-writer, he is a reporter for Advertising Age.

“I’ve always been a big comics fan. I learned to read from comics,” Jensen says. “Phil and I talk about comics non-stop, and criticize them to death. He came home and said he was offered the job, and we jammed on the themes and ideas. So then he said we ought to do it together. He took it to DC to see if it would fly- and, lo and behold, it’s flying.”

So what does Jensen bring to the team? To be honest, he isn’t sure. “I don’t think I’m stronger at any one aspect than Phil is, or vice versa,” he admits. “I think we complement each other pretty well. We talked about the project constantly, and it just grew and grew. I’d throw in ideas, and he’d throw in some, and then we’d each subtract something. It was like an organic thing that just went on.”

So how, exactly, does such a writing team operate, once it gets down to the nitty-gritty of turning out a script? “The dialogue is interesting. We have two different styles and we demand from each other that we find a middle ground-which can be difficult sometimes. But we find it- I don’t know how,” Jensen explains.

Jimenez puts it a little differently: “Jeff and I sit down and write the dialogue separately, then compare notes and take the best from both.”

Jimenez thinks that, over time, readers will begin to see a real change in the direction of Team Titans, in comparison to its elder sibling. “The big difference is that, since this book is our only focus, we can give it both a short-and long-term direction that Marv wasn’t really able to develop because he had so many other projects on the burner,” he notes. “I think we’re going to take a little bit away from the kind of high-impact stuff the New Titans book does. There will be an ongoing mystery as a subplot. Because the characters are based in time travel, we went through our [files] and found as many time-traveling or time-motif characters as we could. We’re going to play with time, thematically.”

But the books won’t be come completely separate. “The connections between Team Titans and New Titans depend on the editorial direction,” Jimenez says. “We’d like to see a crossover once a year, but it won’t be so extreme that people will have to buy everything. Those things are really difficult to orchestrate, for one thing.”

Simpson concludes with high hopes for this youngest of the Titans titles. “Between the writing and the art, Phil and Jeff are taking Team Titans in new directions,” he says. “They have a lot of ideas that pay attention to what could have turned the DC Universe into that Chaos world we saw.”

 


End of titanstower.com transmission. About this author:  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. Read more from this author