Scott Lobdell Talks Teen Titans To Bleeding Cool

Last week Bleeding Cool first told you that Scott Lobdell was writing Teen Titans. And it turns out, he was. Along with Superboy and Red Hood And The Outlaws.

Scott, since the the mutant days years ago, you’ve been working more on the fringes of the comics industry. In September you are writing three major books for DC Comics. Can you tell us about this remarkable turnaround?

Crazy, right?!  I think it is like love — they say it is when you aren’t looking for it is when you find it.Yeah, my sensibilities since leaving Marvel and eventually Wildstorm moved away from super hero monthlies.    If you look at my post-Marvel body of work it includes mini-series that, frankly, no one else besides me were interested in!  (LOL!)  I did things like a romantic comedy super hero book, a sweeping WWII adventure movie, a horror anthology, kids crash landed on a world of monsters, a female buddy movie set in space, and a huge sprawling hundred year space opera pitting a science universe against a magic universe.   It made perfect sense that my phone was not ringing off the hook with super hero editors asking me what I was up to.  (And that’s not even counting my work on licensed properties like Hardy Boys, Buffy, KISS, Angel, Galaxy Quest, and Ghostbusters among others!)  After spending the 90s as the face of Marvel, the 2000s were about losing myself in work and worlds that often fascinated me.

A few months ago I got a text on my cellphone:   “So when do you start writing Batman?!”   It was Fabian Nicieza.  I texted back “What are you talking about?”  Before he replied I got a bunch of other texts telling my Bob had been promoted to EIC at DC.  I dropped him a congrats email and he responded with a polite thanks and that was pretty much that.  I have been around long enough to know that people have very short memories in this industry and I thought if I heard from him in the future, after he got his feet wet in the new gig,that would be great.   But if I had never heard from him again?   It honestly would not have surprised me.

Christmas week I landed in New York to an email from Bob.  I had missed his annual X-Mas party that weekend and figured he just wanted to catch up — it had been years since we spoke for more than five minutes at a time.   When I got to DC the next day, I bumped into Jim Lee in the elevator and told him I was there to see Bob for lunch.  He said “I know, I’m coming too.”   We sat down later and talked about comics and the old days and reality television (one of us?   Huge fan!   Not saying who!) and Modern Family.  Bob, not one of chitchat finally pushes away from the table and says “Here is why you’re here: We want you to come to work for DC”

I tried to put my best “Hmmm.  Interesting.” face on, but inside I was doing cartwheels and jumping up and down and hugging grandmothers and kissing babies and leading a marching band through the restaurant!

One book became two, and finally three, and so began my career at DC!

And I couldn’t be any more excited as I am right now to be working with these characters, in this world, and with such unwavering support from my editors and co-publishers and everyone else at D.C. and Warners who seem to be working 24/7 to make September something that has never been seen before in comics.

There’s been some debate as to how much of a reboot Teen Titans is, specifically considering Superboy. I understand he was conceived as being brand new to the DCU – is that still the case? Do other characters still have history with the heroes to whom they once served as sidekicks and students? And with Superboy in Ten Titans – and you writing Superboy – will we see tight cross-continuity across the books

Sneaky how you took one question and made it three!I would love to use this Bleeding Cool interview to clear up a lot of the questions I see raging on the ‘Net, but I’m afraid that the truth of the matter is some of the questions are a little hard to answer.   Anyone that has worked with me (and probably more than a few fans) know that I write very organically — I try to write in the moment.  I’m not a Hickman who comes to an FF with a brilliant sixty issue overview — I’m someone who writes myself into a corner in issue two and then sits down at issue three and (along with the characters) tries to figure a way out of a particular cliffhanger.   In my head I know what I want to happen to Bart when I’m writing a plot — but suddenly the art comes in and Bart is “real” and bouncing off the page and then whatever plans I thought I had for him start to evolve accordingly.

Here’s an example (and I promise to get back to your questions in a moment)… in issue one Tim  and Cassie share a good part of the issue together… the plot calls for this, that and this, and based on what happens in issue one, I know that they have to be together again in issue two.   But then the art comes in on issue one and their interaction with each other is so vivid and has so much energy and is so dynamic that it can’t help but change what I had in mind for their interactions in the next issue.  Same with issue three and so on.

(It is like meeting someone for a first date:  hardly anyone thinks “I am going to meet this person for drinks and then we are going to hit it off and have lunch tomorrow and then dinner on Friday and we’ll spend the night making love and I’ll move in on Saturday morning and she’ll get pregnant and we’ll get married and have three kids and then get divorced and I’ll make a fool of myself at her second wedding and two of our kids will stop talking to me.”   At least I hope people don’t think that way.  No, you go out on a date and you see what happens!  That is mostly how I approach working on a monthly title.)

So the round about answer to your question is I don’t know, not exactly.   Right now, it feels to me that if you read TEEN TITANS #1 and SUPERBOY #1, they serve two masters at the same time:  if you are reading the characters for the very first time you should feel like you haven’t missed a thing… and if you’ve been reading the characters for the past 15 or 20 years you’ll be surprised to discover most of what you know about the character is there… just tweaked.

(Sort of like the way you read a favorite book and then it becomes a movie.  An actor is going to bring his or her talents to the role, and it is going to be different from what you’ve had in your head.   Same character for the most part, just different choices, perhaps, in interpretation.)

Tim Drake is a perfect example.  Yes, he figured out Bruce’s secret identity and yes he became Robin and yes things happened in his past that prompted him to move on from that role and become Red Robin.  How long ago was that?  What brought him from there to issue one of Teen Titans?  I’d like to leave it vague enough that long time fans can take comfort in knowing a lot of the stories they loved still happened…and a lot of new readers (or fans who haven’t read the book in five or ten or twenty years) can sit down with issue one and feel they haven’t missed out on several decades of continuity with these characters and this world.

Similarly, Superboy comes to Teen Titans and his own series with a lot of his D.C.history in place.  He still showed up shortly after the Death of Superman, he is still the clone of Superman and Lex Luthor.  How we reconcile his past with the opening issues of Teen Titans and Superboy?   That, I’m afraid, has to remain vague for now (it is bad enough if someone in the audience shouts out the ending of the movie — imagine how much more depressing it would be if the writer shouted out the end of the movie four months before the movie was released!).

Are there changes and trims and tweaks — in some cases total re-imagining of characters?   Yes.   But, you’ll find, even with those characters, 95% per cent of them are totally recognizable.   (Bart isn’t a serial killer sentenced to the present from the 30th Century.   Cassie is still the daughter of archeologist Helena Sandsmark.)

Regarding tight continuity between the titles, absolutely.   While it won’t be a sneeze in one book and a “God bless you” in the other, the actions in both books will impact on the other.   I was originally asked to write another title besides Superboy, but when Eisner-nominated Jeff Lemire opted not to relaunch Conner again so shortly into his own run, I jumped at the chance to writer Superboy.

(My favorite comics have always been ones that felt like they were taking place in the same world with stakes for both books.  Like if I’m reading Teen Titans with Superboy, and Superboy was trapped in the 30th Century for a year in his own book, I would have to make a choice which story is “real”… and I always hate that.)

We seem to have a relatively diverse cast – 7 people, three women, three from ethnic minorities. Is this kind of mix important to you and what kind of stories does it suggest?

I’ll say this: if the comic industry never created another young white male super hero, we’d be okay.   Not that I have anything against them, but I don’t think the over abundance of them reflect the world we live in.

So yes, the three characters who are not the Core Four are “diverse” — even the villain in the second issue is Samoan, and the forth member of the Outlaws is a young black man.

What kind of stories does that suggest?  It almost sounds like a trick question, LOL.   I think it suggests stories that take place in a “real world” where not every president or pop star or neighbor is a young white male.  But I don’t think there are inherently different types of stories that are told because there are black or Japanese or Mexican super heroes fight alongside Robin and Wondergirl.

Over the years I’ve shared in the creation of a handful of super heroes that have been “diverse”… Skin, Mondo, Cecilia Reyes, Synch, the unfortunately named Maggot, Noir over in Wildcats, Puck’s daughter, Centennial and M to name a few.   Do I do it on purpose?  Honestly, yes… because I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be to pick up a comic book and not see “yourself” reflected on the pages.

At Marvel I used to argue you can’t have a team sub-titled “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” and then have no people of color represented.  “Really?   Seven billion people on the planet and you can’t find one of them that isn’t white to put on a team of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes?  On Earth.  On all of earth?”  One editor even told me “Vision is red!”  Seriously.

Okay, so what’s the real hook do think is going to make people pick up this book, when we have 51 other issue ones from DC in the same month – including two of your own?

Now.  It is all happening in the moment.   We’re seeing a team — a new generation — of young men and women with abilities and powers coming together for the first time and trying to stay alive and even flourish in a very hostile world. I am almost hesitant to call them “super heroes” at this point in the series, because I think that is a role you grow in over time based on your experiences and the choices you make.

Honestly, how many sixteen year-olds know what they want to do with their lives?  How many change their minds along the way?

I think Tim Drake is a fascinating character because unlike Dick or Jason or Damien, he’s never seen himself on a career trajectory to someday grow up to be Batman.  So if he’s Red Robin until he’s twenty and decides to go to college and become a heart surgeon, would that be so crazy?   The world can always use a good heart surgeon as much as they need another super hero.

Relax, Tim’s not going to quit the Titans to be a doctor!  I’m just saying, these kids are young and they should be free to make any future choices based on their experiences — this notion that every young person who calls themselves a Teen Titan is destined to grow into a full-fledged super hero with membership in the Justice League or Outsiders some day?   That idea should be put to bed right now, otherwise we’re just watching kids going through the motions on the road to Destiny instead of living their lives in the now.

Wwll, what impact, if any, do you feel editorial has been influenced by fan reaction over the relaunch – have there been any last minute changes as a result?

Gosh, right now?  I’d say 0. Not because they don’t respect the fans — but honestly, because they do respect the fans and they want to present them with the best stories possible (more on that in a moment).

Could the phone ring and I get a call to stop the presses?  To jettison the new characters and replace them with everyone’s favorite (more on the in a moment)?  I guess anything is possible.  But so far, as of 4:33 on Sunday morning, June 12th, it is all systems go!

Now, if I may — years ago, DC did the “Vote on Jason Todd — Live or Die” phone-in event where fans were encouraged to call in and decide if Batman’s newest sidekick lived or died. At the time it felt fun and fresh and exciting.   But as my longtime friend Jim Salicrup pointed out to me, when you let the audience decide what happens in the story, you are telling them the story isn’t “real” — because they can change the outcome.

Imagine how much more boring a football game would be if the cheers of the crowd dictated who scored a touchdown, rather than the crowd cheering because the touchdown was scored.   That would be a game of who cheered the loudest, not a game based on the skills and luck of the players involved.

To that degree I feel we’ve created a great series with awesome characters and we owe it to the fans and casual readers and soon to be readers alike and letting them decide how much they love it.   How can we ask the audience to commit to the series if we don’t?

On the subject of membership, there are a ton of awesome Teen Titans to chose from.  Personally, I would love to see Miss Martian and Offspring and Natasha Irons and Bumblebee and Lilith and Duela Dent and Terra and even Gnarrk on the team — and Blue Beetle and Supergirl and Molecule and Static and Little Barda and Red Devil and a lot of other great characters I would love to read, let alone write.   But there are only so many characters that can squeeze into a comic each month and so choices have to be made.  Not every fan is going to see their favorite character represented in a team book with as long and storied a history as Teen Titans.

Similarly, combining the two points from above:  I just saw X-MEN FIRST CLASS last weekend and I thought it was excellent.  Hands down, my favorite comic book movie ever.   While making the movie they had to make decisions about what they were going to keep in, leave out, tweak, etc.

Just imagine you were sitting in the audience and every time a new mutant showed up the audience cheered or booed the character off the screen.  “Raven didn’t grow up with Charles!    He was raised with his evil stepbrother Cain Marko!  Boo!  This is different!  This sucks!” and suddenly they replaced Mystique with Juggernaut.    “Alex is Scott’s younger brother!  Turn Alex isn’t Scott because he was in the first class of mutants!” And suddenly the characters were swapped out.   “Hank didn’t turn furry until he left the X-Men and joined the Brand Corporation!”  So suddenly that scene got edited out and Hank stayed as just big footed beast throughout?

Who would want to watch a movie like that — were the audience dictates every decision by the writers and actors and producers and costume designers and location scouts and everyone else involved in creating the story?

Similarly, we are working hard to create the most fun and dynamic Teen Titans comic ever — and I would really feel like we would be letting down the readers by changing it all based on the reactions of people responding to two images and a solicit blurb.

Now Brett Booth’s work is best known from the nineties, as is yours. Is there anything about Teen Titans that you might consider “retro”?

First I have to say, Brett Booth is turning in — hands down — the best work of his career!   The world he is creating is so filled with real world details — there are backgrounds on every page and the characters are emoting up a storm!  If you loved Brett Booth before, you are going to want to marry him now.   And if you don’t know what he’s capable of — prepare to be blown away.

When Bob first told me in Seattle that they had assigned Brett to Teen Titans, my very first reaction was they are taking a writer and an artist who both came to fame in the 90s and it might be a bit problematic.   But from their point of view they saw it as taking two guys with twenty years of experience and unleashing them on one of their most beloved franchises.

It is funny though, because I’ve read some of the message board posts complaining that the book looks so 90s “Image” and too “Extreme”.   Aside from the fact that we should all go to bed praying every night that any of these comics or any other comic at any other company might gather a percentage of the excitement and attention of the audience of those books in that moment in time…

But besides that, I have to say this:   the “fault” of those books was not in the way they looked or the poses the characters struck… but rather that beneath the covers of those magazines the characters inside were a bit one-dimensional.  (No, not every book — relax anyone I offended!  LOL!)   But I know, because I’m writing the series, that the characters have so many stories to tell and so many surprises and struggles and successes to share with the audience — I honestly have trouble fitting it all into 20 pages every month!   So in that way alone, these books are going to be the opposite of some people fear it is going to be.

Do you see any similarities between your approach to the Teen Titans to your other major teen comic book, Generation X?

I’d love to say “Yes!” because so many people read that book when Marvel was smart enough to publish it.   But the truth is, no.   Not really.

That’s because if you look at my body of work you’ll see that I treat each book as its own creature.   Uncanny X-Men was about keeping the books moving forward:  tying up one story while tending to another and beginning still another.   For every concept I tried to retire or put on the bench for a while, it was replaced with something new:   The Sentinels were replaced with the Phalanx, the Brotherhood replaced by Acolytes, the Morlocks replaced by Gene Nation.   It was a series about change and so I felt I needed to keep the characters changing over time… and, pssst, sometimes the readers aren’t as excited by change as the characters are.

Generation X was about creating something new.   Even the name, it was supposed to be titled New Mutants… but the more Chris Bachalo and I created, the more it was clear that this was actually newer than that.   Could we have gone the easy route and out Cannonball and Magma and Sunspot backed together and just cashed a bunch of astronomically high royalty checks at the time?   Sure.   But we were so enamored with M and Chamber and Husk — in moving the kids out of the mansion — in them being taught by an apolitical old shoe like Banshee the just barely reformed White Queen — we wanted to create a team of young characters who was being introduced into a world that fears and hates them instead of following a team of mutants on a reunion tour.

Fantastic Four, as short-lived as it was, was about a family of adventurers who would often find themselves acting super heroic, but were not superheroes themselves.  The Human Torch didn’t patrol the skies of Manhattan looking for purse snatchers, Ben Grimm didn’t leap from rooftop to rooftop (thank god!) waiting for a bank robbery to stop.   Yes they saved the world or even the universe more often than not, but it was because circumstances brought them to that point and it was the unique combination of family and powers that would see them through.

I could keep this up through Wildcats, Gen 13, Alpha Flight, and on into the solo character books, but I’m starting to make my own eyes bleed by the sheer length of these responses! LOL!   But you get the idea:  every book is its own thing (It had better be — or why publish it?!) and so each book gets all examined to death before I even type “PAGE ONE” of any given story.

(Which I really want to take the time here to thank the guys over at www.titanstower.com.  I’ve never seen such dedication to a particular title as Bill Walko and his staff have committed to chronicling virtually every detail of every incarnation of the Teen Titans.  You guys are awesome!   Now here is hoping the traffic from Bleeding Cool doesn’t crash your server!)

We’ll cope. Now, you suffered considerable editorial interference on your X-Men work under editor-in-chief Bob Harras and hands-on input from very active executives. Why do you believe it’s going to be different this time?

“Suffered”?!   I “suffered”?  That is a pretty strong word, Richard!   LOL!   There are a lot of people suffering in the world — comic book writers aren’t any of them!

First, let me say that I am not a writer that thinks there is an unspoken civil war for control of any story between a writer and an editor.  I think the best writers and editors are the ones that see a series as partners.   I wouldn’t want an editor to see me as an interchangeable writer any more as I would want to see an editor as just another person in charge of getting my script to print.

Similarly, my feeling about executives and marketing people?  Their job is to protect the character over the long haul and to get the comics into the most amount of people possible… my job is to write the best story possible.   As far as I am concerned we are all on the same team trying to score big.  (Imagine a team with 12 quarterbacks and no blockers are people to catch the football and no one to kick it?)

That said, I think the reason Bob and I have worked so well in the past is because we share a lot of the same ideas on what makes a great comic book story.  Which can usually be summed up in three words:  character, character, character.  Yeah, there were huge crossovers — but it was what was happening to the characters during those crossovers and how they reacted to them that was the most important part of any story, big or small.

There were times when marketing would breath down his neck and say “Scott hasn’t thrown a single punch in the X-MEN for four issues!” (around the time of Jean and Scott’s wedding) and Bob would say they were great stories about great characters.   When I introduced Onslaught as a name after Juggernaut got his butt handed to him, there were people in editorial that were angry that I didn’t explain who he was and they confronted Bob about it (they felt someone who could beat up Juggernaut needed to be seen.   Huh?)… so Bob asked me about doing a story revealing who Onslaught was, but I told him I wasn’t interested in that, that I liked the idea of Onslaught as the shark in jaws, somewhere out there, circling… frightening because we don’t know anything about him.  He got it and told the torch wielding villagers to go back to their cubicles.

When Bob sent me home one weekend to develop New Mutants and I came back on Monday and said no, I wanted to change the name and create mostly all new characters and move them out of the mansion (and away from all the characters that would, you know, sell the book!) he was one hundred per cent supportive.

Did we have disagreements over the years?   Out right arguments?  Sure!  We worked together for, what, seven years?   Even my parents don’t agree all the time and they are modern day saints (that was hyperbole for effect).

And, towards the end of my run, did I want to slam the Change-O-Meter into hyperdrive and shrink the membership down to five and get them out of the mansion and strip them of their Shi’ar technology and the Blackbird and the “healers” that seemed to solve every problem before it reared its head?   Yes.   But my job as the writer, I felt, was slaughtering a few sacred cows and getting the X-Men back to being a story about mutants using mutant powers against impossible odds.   His job as editor in chief was to preserve what was working at the time.

He felt one way and I felt another way.   That happens a lot when you are an adult.  No suffering involved in that equation.

So how much input did you have on the new designs for these characters?

Lots and lots!  LOL!   Brett said on another site that “the battles between me and Scott were epic!”  And they were.  We would go round and round about Red Robin, for example.  Brett didn’t want to change him at all — and I wanted huge steam-punk wings that would allow him to get from place to place without being cradled in Wondergirl’s arms or riding Superboy piggyback.  (I’m sorry, but Starfire cradling Robin in her arms while he’s shouting out orders to the team is one of those images you just never forget.)

I felt really strongly that Red Robin has to be different from Robin who has to be different from Nightwing and Red Hood and Batgirl and Huntress and everyone who puts on a mask and becomes part of the “Bat Family”.   Tim has to be more than just another teen detective in an ever revolving domino mask — and part of the way to do that is for him to adapt to his environment.  When he’s leaping from roof to roof with Batman, he can function like a Batman.  But when he’s running around with guys that can topple buildings or speed around the city in ten seconds, he needs to adapt in ways that don’t make him a liable to the rest of the team.

Brett would write to me and say “Robin is named after Robin Hood, not the bird.  No wings.”  I would write back and say “Let’s just TRY the wings, see how they look.”   He would write back “I sketched out some wings. They don’t work.” I’d say “Can I SEE the wings and we can DISCUSS the different looks?”  and he’d write back and say “Fans don’t want to see Red Robin with wings.  I know, I am a fan.  They won’t accept him with wings.”   LOL!  This went ’round and ’round and ’round until he relented and showed me the wings and then we all got really excited because Red Robin looks so great with those wings!  They say “Yeah, I’m a teen detective — but I’m smart enough to know what I need to kick your ass!”   (Storywise, how he came by those wings in continuity and the other additions to his “utility belt”, is so exciting I want to blurt them out right here!   And when you look at the character’s history, he grew up around a guy who had bat-mobile, a bat-copter, a bat-boat, a batcave, and the most expensive toys in the world.   This notion that Red Robin wouldn’t similarly use today’s technology to help him in his own fight against crime flies in the face of everything we know about the character.)

Brett saw himself as a vanguard for what is traditionally the Teen Titans.   But it was always a matter of philosophy.  He felt we shouldn’t change the look that much…that Robin and Wondergirl and Kid Flash and etc were iconic.  I had a totally different view:

Of all the teams in the D.C. Universe, none of them have been more about change than the Teen Titans.  Dick Grayson is maybe the first character I can think of who “graduated” from being a sidekick into being his own superhero, lets start there.  Donna Troy started out as a mod girl in essentially Wonder Woman underoos, into that red jumper, into losing the name Wondergirl completely, into being one of the most respected super heroines in DCU.  Wally eventually became Flash.  Speedy and Garth waded off to parts unknown (and even they came back as Red Arrow/Arsenal and Tempest at some point)  with the second relaunch of Teen Titans, their seats replaced by a cyborg, an orange pin-up model in a purple armored bikini and a woman in big black cape (and you know, those three went on to become the superstars we know and love twenty years later).

Eventually entirely new people took over the roles of the Titans:   Tim Drake became Robin, Cassie Sandsmark went from geeky tagalong to Wonder Woman to the hot kick ass in the T-shirt and fashion plate she is today, Bart, formerly Impulse, became Kid Flash, and Superboy joined the team — and even the notion of a Superboy went from the original younger Clark, to a clone in a leather jacket and maybe the worst hair cut in the industry, into the drop dead sexy T-shirt wearing beefcake we’ve come to know and love.   And that’s not even counting the two dozen other characters who have come and gone over the years in all the incarnations of the Teen Titans.

To me, the most iconic part of the Titans, is that they change.

There’s a lot of change about. With the Wildstorm universe folded in to the DCU, are there Wildstorm characters we may see in Teen Titans? Anyone or thing from your WildCATS run? How about Milestone?

Yes!

That’ll do. Teen Titans #1 is coming from DC sometime in September.