As this year marks the 50th anniversary of the first race between Scarlet Speedster and the Man of Steel, Dan Abnett wasn’t going to let his run on “Titans” miss out on the opportunity to celebrate (and possibly answer) one of the great debates in the history of the DC Universe. Who is faster: Superman or The Flash?
The heroes faced off for the first time in “Superman” #199, in a story written by Jim Shooter and illustrated by Curt Swan. Fast forward five decades, and Abnett and artist Lee Weeks have pitted the two against each other once again. This time is different, though, as it’s not Clark Kent and Barry Allen but Clark Smith and Wally West – two characters that readers have learned might not be of the Earth currently featured in DC Rebirth.
CBR spoke with Abnett about these kindred souls and the British writer also teased what connections this storyline might have to the highly anticipated reveal (to the Titans, the Justice League and every other superhero and villain) of the Watchmen at the center of this new DC Universe.
Abnett also shared his thoughts on Wally’s relationship with Linda Park, Donna and Roy’s developing friendship and the possibility of one or two new members joining the Titans at their Atlantean biotech-grown headquarters in Manhattan. Oh, and Deathstroke too!
CBR: I love what you’ve been doing with the return of Wally West, but I’m not sure it gets any better than a foot race against Superman. But before we get to the events of this week’s issue, I want to ask you about Wally’s discovery or realization that Linda Park – at least the Linda Park of DC’s Rebirth Universe – doesn’t remember him. Many have now told him, including Superman, he needs to move on past that realization, especially if he thinks Linda is worth fighting for. Was Tennyson right? Is it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?
Dan Abnett: [Laughs] Absolutely — and I think “Titans” #5 and #6 showed that very much. This is an inevitable part of his return. It’s not a storyline that we have to chosen to do. Rather, it’s a storyline that demands to be addressed. Wally has been out of the DCU for such a long time, and things have changed so much that reestablishing himself is going to be a complicated process. The most tragic and difficult parts of that are the loss of his connection and the lost of his past with Linda. I hope I am doing some justice to exploring that in an interesting way. It’s not necessarily going to be easy. Wally is a tremendous hero. He’s been a hero in the DCU time and time again. He’s not going to shrink from difficult situations and difficult problems. But it certainly must be quite grueling for him to have to endure this and make those choices based on his knowledge of what he had before. I think in “Titans” #6, particularly, we saw him literally making those choices and having the opportunity to stay somewhere where he was comfortable and safe and had everything that he wanted in his life and for that to be voluntarily removed from him because it was the right thing to do shows his mettle. It’s going to be quite an interesting process that we put him through. And also, the very fact that he is back in the DCU where there is more than one Flash. What is his place overall? What role does he get to play? I think there is an awful lot of very interesting things that were set in motion once DC made the decision to bring Wally back.
Superman has a very funny introduction in this issue, and a great opening line that I won’t spoil, but whether you’ve read the solicitation or seen the cover for “Titans” #7, you know there is race between The Flash and Superman. And while the race is spectacular, perhaps more importantly, Wally also learns that the Superman of this Earth remembers Wally from pre-Rebirth. While life has been difficult since his return, perhaps finding this kindred spirit in Superman will give him some respite.
Absolutely. I thought this was too good of an opportunity to miss. Actually, any opportunity to get Superman into a book is great. But I think in this particular case, it was one of those things that it was a story that was demanded to be told. This idea that there was someone else in this universe, who has a memory of a world that is a very different place – and indeed, a memory of Wally. I thought it would be a really interesting connection not just to arbitrarily put them together but deliberately put them together and have Superman actually volunteer that information. There is going to be a very particular bond between those two characters that is going to be unique amongst the DCU superheroes because they have this shared memory.
And the race? What better thing to do when you have The Flash and Superman in the same comic. [Laughs] It was really a way of showing a friendship and a harmless connection rather than having them battle something together. It’s a connection of friendship – two people just enjoying their powers, and taking that moment to have a bit of privacy. In some respects, Superman is doing it deliberately just to get Wally out in the middle of nowhere where no one can hear them talk so he can have that really personal conversation with him and reveal things about himself. When I was looking at the Rebirth event and the other Rebirth books and what had happened there, Superman really stood out as the other character that shared that thing with Wally.
In terms of the actual race – and who is truly fastest – it reminds me a bit of Michael Holt/Mister Terrific and that character being recognized as the third smartest man in the DC Universe. Who are the other two? Again, I don’t want to spoil what happens in the issue, but does DC editorial have a definitive answer on who would win an all-out foot race between Superman and The Flash?
I think that there is probably a vault in DC Comics somewhere where all of the official answers to those questions are stored away and are very seldom brought out into the light of day. [Laughs] I think generally, it is a creative decision about the circumstances of the story that you’re telling. I guess it boils down to whether you are writing a Flash book or a Superman book. Honestly, I think the answers to those questions lay in the hearts and minds of the readers more than anything else. I think it is worth noting that one of the things Superman is remarking about is that Wally is The Flash, and he is ridiculously fast — but he is even faster than he was in the past. I think that’s one of the things that we have been hinting at. Wally’s return with his dynamically different powers – the way his powers manifest even visually differently to the way Barry’s do – suggest that his connection to the Speed Force is channeled in a different way to ways that we have seen before. There are secrets and mysteries to be unlocked, there.
The Titans have been up against Abra Kadabra in your first arc, and it has been strongly suggested that there is a connection to the Watchmen’s arrival in the DC Universe, specifically Doctor Manhattan. I know you’re locked down in terms of talking too much about this just yet but I was wondering if you could share your thoughts on the “Watchmen” as a series, its impact on the industry since it debuted in 1986 and as a creator, your excitement to introduce these marvelous characters into the DC Universe proper?
I think it’s an extremely exciting prospect. Like most people, I think “Watchmen” is the most extraordinary work and I loved it ever since it first came out. I have massive admiration for the creative forces that brought it together, namely Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. The placing, or at least the promise of those characters in the “DC Rebirth” special was so unexpected that whatever your feelings are about it, it had immense dramatic power. It sets up an enormous possibility for what happens over this year. Obviously, we know something is coming, and we know it’s going to be tremendously exciting.
It’s sort of a double-edged sword, from my point of view. Writing “Titans,” Wally in particular and the book in general is placed very close to the epicenter of the impact of that reveal, yet it’s obvious – for various different reasons – that we aren’t touching directly. We can’t deal with it directly. We can’t go ahead and tell the story now, because it’s a story that’s going to be bigger and happening in the future. We can acknowledge and run alongside it, and I think it will have a huge impact on the Titans and on Wally, but it’s slightly frustrating because it’s so exciting, and yet we can’t deal with it. That’s part of it. I think anticipation is just great. I think if the first story out of the gate would have been a resolution to that, it would have been great, and great for me but also, it would have been quite frustrating. The build-up is exciting. The fact that we know this isn’t a prospective guest appearance or even a major crossover, it’s a really significant event in the history of the DCU. I think that’s something really worth building up towards and enjoying when it happens.
Agreed, but that doesn’t stop you from playing with readers, as the next arc in “Titans” is interestingly enough called ‘Made in Manhattan.’ [Laughs] One could assume that title has a double meaning beyond the team moving to the iconic New York borough.
Absolutely, yes! [Laughs] It seemed a logical step. It’s one of those things when you are looking over all of the different elements on the table and you realize you need a place to base the Titans, an arena for them to play, and the idea that the word ‘Manhattan’ has been extracted from the adventure with Abra Kadabra with Omen’s power so that would seem to signify a place that would be important. It all makes perfect sense. And maybe it is! We might be chuckling at the joke and thinking that we know what ‘Manhattan’ really means, but does it? We did very much like that opportunity to give ourselves a really strong motive for anchoring their location. It came out of story rather than just arbitrarily basing them in Central City or Gotham wherever. It seemed like the right thing to do
Again, from the solicitations, we know that Bumblebee is coming to “Titans” as a member of the Fearsome Five. Looking back at her history, she was introduced as a villain although in that storyline. But it is quickly revealed that she was playing a part to trick the Teen Titans and make her boyfriend Mal Duncan look good in front of the team. What can you share about your take on Bumblebee?
I think she is a great character. When I was writing “Titans Hunt,” which served as a prelude to the this book just before Rebirth, I was deliberately drawing upon all of the different elements of Titans’ history, going all the way back to the ’60s. There are some things that I felt had been overlooked and forgotten. Nothing can eclipse the great Wolfman-Pérez run of “Teen Titans,” which is considered the Golden Age of Titans’ history, but actually the ’60s – the Nick Cardy era – is full of great characters and great stories, so “Titans Hunt” was very much packed with those things. We had Hawk and Dove, we had Mal and Karen, we had Gnarrk, we had all sorts of different characters. In an ideal world, each issue of “Titans” would be 50-pages long and I would have all of those characters in it. But when we came to relaunch for DC Rebirth, it was apparent that we had to keep a tight lid on the team, to keep it compact and have it function properly in the course of a comic and not have to many characters. So it was a matter of leaving some to one side for time being and maybe, as we went along, introducing some of them again in different ways.
Bumblebee is a great character. Obviously, “Titans Hunt” introduced the modern version of her. This is a version of her that’s never been a superhero before. She is drawn into it rather accidentally by circumstances of the Twister’s attack. That’s something that I can draw a line on and leave it aside, but I thought, no, there are really interesting things to play with here, so Mal and Karen, as it were, join the book in this issue. Certainly, long enough to explore their powers and find out who they are and what they want out of life.
One of things that I find very appealing about Karen is that she is a kind of regular person who has suddenly found herself gifted with superpowers. And she loves it! She just finds great joy in the abilities that she now has and wants to understand them better even if they are outlandish and potentially dangerous. She wants to know more about them. It gave us an opportunity to look at what it’s like to be a person who suddenly discovers that they have superpowers but also to see how that has an affect on the people around her, namely her husband and her new friends, the Titans. And it also gives us a great doorway into our storyline, ‘Made in Manhattan,’ which I think will delight and please fans with a lot of elements of great Titans’ history.
You mentioned the Famous Five, you mentioned Bumblebee, there is an awful lot to play with and I think if we’re lucky, we might end up with an extra team member or two by the time this arc closes out.
And might we get some Deathstroke, too?
Yes, and maybe some Deathstroke, too. What would “Titans” be without Deathstroke eventually? Obviously, we have to be more cautious with Deathstroke than perhaps back in the day of “Teen Titans” because Deathstroke is now such a significant character and carries his own book. Any interaction there is going to be certainly more complex and significant but I can promise you that if and when we do something with Deathstroke, it will be really, really pleasing to readers and long-time fans because we won’t shirk on it. We won’t scrimp and save. We’re going to deliver something really, really interesting.
Your dialogue between Donna and Roy is pitch perfect. They’re an unlikely odd couple, but it just works.
Yes! Donna is an interesting character, because I think she’s quite an intimidating figure. And Roy is just the comic. I have great fondness for Roy. He wisecracks and is laid back and quite cheeky. He feels that he doesn’t stand any chance with Donna, so what the hell. [Laughs] Obviously, historically speaking, the two have some kind of history in previous incarnations of this team, so it will be interesting to see where this goes. Right from the word “go,” I have played with this idea that he is incredibly impressed with her and wants to be, at the very least, her friend. As they go along, he can’t help himself to say things and I think this issue has a nice scene between them. She recognizes this and embarrasses him with it. And that’s fun. There are places to go with that, too. It’s fun building those connections between characters. They are all so strong, and they are close friends, so to develop individual lines of story between them are great fun to write.
Finally, I wanted to ask you about Lee Weeks, the artist on “Titans” #7. I love the work of Brett Booth and Norm Rapmund, but Lee really delivers an old school feel to the Superman/Flash race.
It sounds slightly disloyal because I think Brett and Norm are fantastic and I love the work that they do. I am so pleased that they are the art team on this book. Every issue, they deliver amazing stuff. But obviously, they need a rest every now and again, or they will collapse of exhaustion. We decided to make this issue a guest artist issue, and when Lee was suggested, I was delighted because I’ve been a fan of his work for a long time. He is superb.
Like you said, he draws beautiful, proper old school work that is just outstanding. I was delighted the way that this issue worked out. Getting him to do the foot race, for instance, was such a wonderful opportunity to get somebody who has got that strong association with Superman. I have to say, my absolute hat’s off to Lee because he did the work beautifully and on-time, he constructed beautiful pages, but was, at the same time, having to learn on his feet because weren’t characters that he was as familiar with drawing. He had to get to grips with that on the spot. He didn’t have a nice lead-in where he could build up a tolerance to drawing them. He had to jump in the deep end and just deliver it. And I think he was on several occasions concerned he was doing them injustice because they weren’t immediately familiar to him in terms of his art. And he worrying over nothing because I think he has done an amazing job. But it was lovely to see his diligence and the hard work that he put in to make sure he kept the standard up. An issue that he should be very, very proud of and it was a real honor to work with him on it.
“Titans” #7 by Dan Abnett and Lee Weeks is available now.