When Greg Pak tells a story, he likes to tell a big story. The New York-based writer/filmmaker previously reimagined the Incredible Hulk as an intergalactic gladiator and rebuilt a stripped-down Superman into a modern Man of Steel for DC Comics’ New 52. Now’s he’s getting the chance to make his mark on “Teen Titans”, placing Wonder Woman at the center of his first arc, something that makes life that much harder for a rebellious Cassie Sandsmark — the teenaged titan known as Wonder Girl.
CBR News connected with Pak to discuss his run that features a roster comprised of Wonder Girl, Red Robin, Raven, Beast Boy and Tanya Spears and began in February’s “Teen Titans” #17. Paired with artist Ian Churchill, Pak says Cassie will be torn in two directions by Diana and Cassandra — the demi-god daughter of Zeus created by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang during their landmark “Wonder Woman” run — and that Wonder Girl will make some important personal discoveries, some of which have already been revealed to readers.
Pak also discussed the importance of diversity in comics, specifically series featuring teenaged superheroes, and why the team member that he’s enjoyed writing the most surprised him. The prolific writer also shares his thoughts on leaving Superman after several years on both “Action Comics” and “Batman/Superman.”
CBR News: When you were growing up, one of your prized possessions was your “The Uncanny X-Men and The New Teen Titans” crossover comics. Why do you think team books and specifically, teen team books resonate with readers?
Greg Pak: I think superheroes and teen characters go hand in hand because, let’s face it, finding out that you have superpowers is very similar to going through puberty. Your body is transforming. Things are happening and you have all of this crazy energy coursing through your body. That’s a very relatable experience for any kid. The whole ‘transformation’ feeling just resonates with kids.
Secondly, friendship and finding your group, finding your posse, is a huge part of growing up. Finding out who your friends are and finding out what friendship is and struggling through the trials and tribulations of friendship is a huge part of the growing experience. I remember playing “Dungeons & Dragons” as a kid. And the feeling of putting a team together was exciting. And I think there is something very similar going on with these teen team books.
My first real introduction to your work was back in 2006 when you launched your epic “Planet Hulk” arc in “The Incredible Hulk” for Marvel Comics. Amadeus Cho played a big role in that storyline when Hulk got back to Earth. Just last year, Amadeus actually transformed himself into the Jolly Green Giant in the pages of “The Totally Awesome Hulk.” I mentioned your love of “Uncanny X-Men and The New Teen Titans” earlier so when are you going to write “The Totally Awesome Hulk Meets the Teen Titans?”
[Laughs] I’d love to do that but I don’t know if and when the days of crossovers between the Big Two will return but if and when that ever happens, my hand is raised. Call on me, please. I’m ready for it.
With your first issue already in print, I assume you’ve actually been writing “Teen Titans” for a few months now. Is there a member of the team you’ve really connected with at the start of your run?
It’s surprising to me but it’s actually Tim Drake. He might be my favorite character to write. In a way, he could be seen as the blandest. He’s the team leader. And he basically becomes the straight man when you have characters like Beast Boy and Bunker joking around all of the time. Cassie is sort of the rebel of the group and Tim has to try and keep it all together. But I really like the guy. He’s fun to write because he’s got this slow burn going. He’s dealing with all of these crazy kids and trying to keep everyone on target and he’s just trying really hard to do the right thing. And I just really respond to characters like that.
In “Teen Titans” #17, I had a great time writing him and Bunker together. Tim and Bunker have known each other for a long time now. They’re buddies. And I love finding the time and space in a book to have these quieter moments between friends.
As a creator, you have always been an advocate for more diversity in comics through your words and actions on and off the page. And the current roster of “Teen Titans” couldn’t be more diverse. You have three guys and three gals; you have different ethnicities and different sexual identities. What does that level of diversity offer you as a storyteller?
Honestly, I can’t write any other way. I mean, I guess I can but it’s not natural for me, not to do it. I live in New York City and I grew up in Dallas. And basically, now, wherever you go, it’s a diverse world. Go to any comic convention. And the folks who come to comic cons now, there are people [from] every conceivable background. And that’s just the world we live in now so that’s the world I write.
There is a fantasy out there of a post-racial society. Racism will stop and we’ll all be a big happy melting pot or mosaic or whatever metaphor you want to use. I don’t think that is ever going to happen because people are people and there is always going to be a percentage of people who are deeply racist. It’s something that we are always going to struggle with because there is part of us that thrives on fear. And there are definitely leaders who like to stoke up fear. It’s something that we are always going to be struggling with but at the same time, stories that show the wide variety of people living their normal lives is honest and true and it’s also good for the world for this variety to be normalized in fiction. It doesn’t have to be preachy. It’s just the way things are.
Beyond diversity, you’re also exploring the connection between Wonder Girl and Wonder Woman in this series. The story arc is called “Clash of the Wonders” — is it safe to say that all is not rosy between these two wonder women?
The connection between Wonder Woman and Wonder Girl is no secret but Cassie is now learning about it for the first time. And the big secret that has been revealed is that Cassie’s father was a demi-god and Cassie is actually the granddaughter of Zeus. And Wonder Woman of the New 52 is the daughter of Zeus so she is also demi-god. When Cassie learns of this, it’s obviously mind-blowing but it also makes sense that maybe all of these crazy feelings that she’s been struggling with stem from the fact that she is a goddess. She’s part god.
In the story, Cassie also has two potential mentors who could lead her in two completely different ways. There is Wonder Woman, and there is Cassandra. And if you read the Azzarello-Chiang “Wonder Woman” run that was so spectacular, Cassandra was one of the villains. She is also a daughter of Zeus and a demi-god. But she’s nuts, and she hates and resents the other gods and strives to destroy them but now she has set herself up as Cassie’s mentor. Cassandra is claiming to have turned a new leaf and she wants to help Cassie so the stakes are very high. She is really torn between Cassandra and Diana. Which way is Cassie going to go? Who is telling the truth? Who is lying? I will say that Wonder Woman’s lasso comes in very handy. [Laughs] It’s a fun story.
And as your run on “Teen Titans” begins, your time writing “Action Comics” and “Batman/Superman” comes to an end. Did you enjoy your time with the Man of Steel?
It’s been a huge pleasure. I’ve loved the character forever. It was a huge thrill to come onboard and be able to tell stories particularly with this version, the New 52 version of Superman who was younger and greener than the Uncle Superman who we might know from the Silver Age. It’s been a huge amount of fun writing stories with this young Clark Kent who is struggling to figure out how he does what he does. His heart is always in the right place but he may or may not be doing things the right way. To have a character in that stage where he is becoming who he is becoming is a huge gift to a writer. I am massively grateful to everybody at DC, including my editor Eddie Berganza, who let me run with Superman in two books for so long. And Aaron Kuder, my co-writer and collaborator and artist on so many of those stories has been great. I just love that guy and working with him has been one of the great pleasures of my entire career in comics. He and I have a very similar understanding of Clark and I think that came through with every panel and page that we have done together.
“Teen Titans” #18 by Greg Pak and Ian Churchill goes on sale March 23 from DC Comics.