This week, DC Comics publishes the long awaited New Teen Titans: Games original graphic novel by Marv Wolfman and George Perez. For Bleeding Cool, Marv Wolfman is interviewed by the new relaunched Teen Titans writer, Scott Lobdell.
Scott: I can’t even imagine how much fun it is to return to a story twenty years in the making — like getting the Beatles back together to record a bunch of songs they left off the white album?
Marv: It felt great. Primarily because of working with George again and getting right back into the groove we had way back when as if no time had passed at all. But honestly it was scary, too. I remember speaking with Steve Ditko when we were doing Machine Man. Steve was great and straight forward, and of course like everyone else I loved his art. But I asked him why he wouldn’t do Spider-Man again, even once, when he was working for Marvel again. Steve said that no matter how good his art was now, even if it was heads and tails better than what he had done in the 60s, it wouldn’t be as good as people’s memories of his old work. And of course he was absolutely right. No longer being 12-16 reading those comics which I thought were the very best ever done, I would, as an adult, only see the problems. The reality could never match the nostalgia. I had the same worries with Titans. Could anything we do now be as good as the memories of the Titans back then in people’s minds. Would they think I no longer had it (I was never concerned with how the readers would take George’s work – his stuff is brilliant)
Ultimately, I decided since this was actually a story we began back in the heyday maybe I could get around it. I mentioned my concern to Dan Didio. I asked him if I should try to write it in my old style, or just write in my current style which had grown and, I hope kept up with the times. The way I currently write is much more stripped down and frankly, much better since I now had time to edit my copy and keep working on it whereas back then because of crushing deadlines, everything was pretty much first draft. Dan said just start writing and it will happen. That’s what I did. Games is written as I do now, but because the characters are so set in my head and their speech patterns never varied in the 16 years I wrote the book, they absolutely read like the old stories, only with 25% of the copy and absolutely none of the purple prose which dominated my work for so long.
Scott: I’m sure you’ve answered this question elsewhere but at what stage was GAMES at when you and George were able to pick it up again and complete it?
Marv: In 1988, I had come up with the basic storyline but I was then suffering a terrible writer’s block, the only one in my career, thank God, although it lasted 5 years. George, then-editor Barbara Randall Kesel and I talked over what I’d come up with and because of my block George went home and typed up the overview, breaking it down and filling it out with ideas, etc. We actually print that plot in the Games hardcover complete with annotations so people can see what had been and what was then changed. He then drew between 60-70 pages before going into a Titans block and stopped. I never dialoged any pages since I was waiting for them all to be finished so I could write them all at once. Also, I was hoping my block would go away as didn’t want to do less than my best on it.
But when we finally came back to the story 23 years later, since we had not really worked out the last 50 plus pages in any depth, and because neither of us could remember what we intended decades before, and the plot, frankly, would have felt dated, we decided to come up with a new story, utilizing and making sense of all the pages George had already drawn, yet written to have an entirely new meaning. I started re-plotting the story, adding in a new villains, plot twists and more, as well as suggesting we change the major villain who was actually behind the whole plot, which was new as well. We also had to come up with all new character-driven scenes to make what was supposed to have been a pure action story into something much more (as a companion piece to the regular book we were working on, a solid action book would have worked. 23 years later that would not have been satisfying to any of us who had been waiting so long). Knowing the new character scenes which George and I worked on together, batting ideas back and forth as we always had, I then was able to dialog the earlier, already drawn pages, in a way that would cleanly set up where we were going to go. When you read it you will assume that was what was intended all along, because the copy and art work perfectly together, but it’s new. George and I would go back and forth and I’d rewrite the ideas and we finally had a story that was much, much stronger than had originally been designed.
Scott: From the preview I’ve seen this looks like the Blue Ray version of a Marv and George TEEN TITANS story — the advances in coloring over the years makes me wish you could go back and redo your entire run! Does this make George’s work even more gorgeous than it is or am I overstating things?
Marv: Oh, God do I wish that. Not because our earlier colorist, the late Adrienne Roy, was bad – she was great – but she colored the book for different paper stock and she colored it with a limited number of colors (we only had 63 colors back then). Had she colored the book now, with its unlimited range, she would have changed it all, too. The job Hi-Fi has done with the graphic novel is great and I only wish we could go back and re-color the series with current technology.
Scott: Because this story was started 20 years ago, have you made any nods to what has come since — any adjustments to the story or any line changes to hint at “future” events?
Marv: Not really. Certainly nothing that has to do with the Titans. We decided this was a one-shot graphic novel and I wrote it as such without worrying about anything Titans-related that came later. But because of certain already-existing elements in the villain plot that have been mirrored in reality, I did allow some of that to creep in. Man, it’s hard to talk about the basic plot without giving away anything so I won’t say anything else.
Scott: As a young adult I stumbled across the NEW TEEN TITANS along with the rest of the free world — first in the 16-page preview and then in NEW TEEN TITANS #1. You and George had not only brought back the originals but you created new characters named Cyborg, Raven and Starfire.
Currently, I’m in the process of a somewhat similar relaunch… but in the days of the internet that pretty much means three months of a lot of purty darn strong opinions about new characters long before they came out. My question is… what was it like for you and George in the months leading to the launch and immediately following it? Were you confident in what you had going on? Were there any sleepless nights about what the reaction would be? Did you feel it was going to be as popular as X-MEN in those early years? And what were your feelings when it was embraced by grateful DC fans the world over?
Marv: My view was we had to create the Titans for a new era. I only wanted to use the strongest of the original Titans characters and to create an all-new book with all-new characters, both heroes and villains. That was very deliberate. My feeling is you should not use anything old unless you add something new to the mythos, otherwise you’re not creating, you’re recycling.
Obviously, without the net to warn them, nobody knew anything so we were rumor free until the very first house ad went out revealing the cover and the new heroes. The fans responded with hate mail; how dare we get rid of characters like Gnaark, Bumblebee and Harlequin. These new characters weren’t the Titans. So we got hate mail until the book came out and we started to get tons of praise. As it turned out the praise often came from the very say people who wrote to say Starfire, Cyborg, raven and the rest weren’t the real Titans. As people we all like and are comfortable with things we know and resist change. Fortunately, those fans gave us a chance and we changed their minds.
Back then we assumed the book, like all new DC comics of its time, would last 6 issues and then be cancelled. But George and I decided to do the comic we wanted to do, and then, once Titans was dead, we be assigned to different comics. But within a few months the Titans took off. The rest, as they say, is history. But no, we had no delusions we’d be embraced or even that we’d sell. We just did what we wanted to assuming we’d have 6-8 great and fun months and then we’d go back to doing something else. Thank God that isn’t what happened.
Scott: While the relaunch has certainly caused some changes in the DC Universe, form my perspective it seems like there’s no reason you and George can’t revisit your run again and again. From where you two sit, what do you say — if GAMES turns out to be the hit it deserves to be can we look forward to more heretofore NEW TEEN TITANS stories in the future?
Marv: After doing this graphic novel and having the luxury of 120 pages to tell a complete-in-one story, I’d love to do more, and even have a story idea for a story that goes all the way back to their origins and all the way ahead to… well, that would be telling, but only in a one every year or two (when we had a great idea that was worthy of it) graphic novel form. I’m not sure George would want to do that however as his work on the Titans is so detailed and takes so much time to do exactly right. And though he and I may very well work together on something else – we remain good friends and enjoy the collaboration – I’m 99% certain “Games” will be the last Titans story by the team of Wolfman/Pérez. But I’d love to be surprised.
New Teen Titans: Games HC is published this Wednesday from DC Comics.