Next year, DC Comics’ showcase anthology title, “DC Universe Presents” and writer Joe Keatinge takes on a pair of Teen Titan heroes turned New 52 antiheroes: Arsenal and Starfire.
“DC emailed me because they were big fans of ‘Glory’ and they asked me if I would be interested in pitching a story with one of the Outlaws characters,” Keatinge said, speaking with CBR about his upcoming issues.
An editor at Image Comics for years and an Eisner and Harvey Award winner for his editing work on the “Popgun” anthologies, Keatinge recently began his foray into comic book writing with his creator-owned series “Hell Yeah” and his take on Rob Liefeld property “Glory” with artist Ross Campbell. Now, Keatinge is making inroads at DC with two issues of “DC Universe Presents,” presenting a solo spotlight on Arsenal and Starfire of “Red Hood And The Outlaws.”
“It was just a great experience, my editors Eddie Berganza and Darren Shan were a lot of fun to work with, and it was just one of those experiences that goes along famously,” Keatinge said of his first writing work with DC.
Before their inclusion in the New 52 “Red Hood And The Outlaws,” debuted by writer Scott Lobdell with art by Kenneth Rocafort, alien princess Koriand’r and ex-Green Arrow sidekick (and ex-drug addict) Roy Harper had fought alongside each other in 1980’s “The New Teen Titans.” While parts of that history have remained intact, the “DC Universe Presents” issues will give fans a chance to see the two operate independently in the New 52.
“We ended up going with Roy [for the first issue] and I liked it a lot, it was a lot of fun,” Keatinge said, explaining that he originally planned on only covering the bow-wielding vigilante.
“As that was going on they asked me if I’d want to do it again. I said sure, and then they suggested Starfire — Kori — and I was like, ‘Yeah! I’m all for it! She kicks ass!’ I like writing people who kick ass!” Keating said, laughing.
Issue #17 of “DC Universe Presents” will tackle Arsenal as he tangles with Killer Croc while issue #18 follows Starfire on her own. Though the two are standalone issues that can be read independently, Keatinge told CBR there are threads the lead between stories.
“If you don’t read one or the other you’re fine, but there’s stuff that leads into and is intertwined with the other story,” the writer said, adding with another chuckle, “You should definitely read them both for the full experience — why not? It’s just two comics!”
“Red Hood And The Outlaws” is in the midst of the “Death Of The Family” crossover event, focusing on Jason as the Joker targets him and Tim. But while the fallout of the event will be dealt with in the main title, Keatinge’s stories are set away from the Jason/Joker action, focusing on Jason’s teammates individually.
“There’s the core thing of Scott [Lobdell] and I are different writers so our approaches to the characters will be different from each others,” Keatinge said, touching on the difference between his and Lobdell’s approach to Roy and Starfire. “But thus far in the New 52 the characters have all been seen as ‘the Outlaws,’ with some exception. This is the first time they’ve been given their own spotlight. Like in Roy’s issue, Roy is on his own, and in Kori’s issue, Kori is on her own. It’s not with the other Outlaws so you see different sides to their personality due to that and again the differing approaches that Scott and I have.”
To that end, tonally the writer described issues #17 and #18 of “DC Universe Presents” as action packed, but focused on the individual character growth.
“People who have read my comics thus far — and if they haven’t I’ll tell ’em — my stuff tends to be a bunch of people punching each other and then I usually throw in some jokes and Ernest Hemingway shows up at some point!” Keatinge joked. “This kind of continues that tradition, but, as stupid as this will sound, I tailor their ass kicking to their personalities and what their goal is and what they’re going after; their fighting is tailor-made for each one.”
Though he could not get into specifics about the plots of the two issues, the writer stated that Roy’s issue begins with Killer Croc getting “involved in a situation so Roy goes after him because of their personal involvement with each other.
“I can’t say too much about Starfire’s thing, but just trust me, it’s tailor-made for her!” Keatinge joked again.
A fan of the two heroes since before the New 52 relaunch, Keatinge confessed that in the case of Arsenal he really enjoyed and embraced the New 52 version of the character.
“Starfire especially I knew really well from the [Marv] Wolfman/[George] Perez era of ‘Teen Titans’ and Roy is a guy who was in so many different iterations over the years, but I kind of like the approach of him in the New 52 where he’s not exactly a superhero! He’s kind of a screw-up who gets involved in these major situations, so he was kind of fun to work with,” Keatinge laughed.
As a result of being a creator who, as he described to CBR, is very involved in wanting to nurture new talent in the industry “DC Universe Presents” is drawn by artist Ricken, an illustrator discovered by Keatinge and “King City” creator Brendan Graham while browsing deviantArt.
“Cartoonist Brendan Graham and I are buddies and we spend a lot of time either on Skype talking about comics and stuff we’re interested in. One time we were on deviantArt looking at people; I think Brendan found her first, and I don’t remember anymore it’s been a while now, but I had been looking for a cover artist for ‘Hell Yeah’ and I was like, ‘Oh my god, she’s it!'” Keatinge recalled.
“I told her DC gave me this thing and she’s a huge fan of DC stuff, so I asked my editors ‘What if you had her do this?’ They loved her stuff, I gave them samples and they loved those, so she’s doing Arsenal!” the writer said, adding, “I’m looking forward to doing more with her, I’m very enthusiastic about her career in comics.”
Describing Ricken, who begins her run as cover artist for “Hell Yeah” in 2013, as one of the best new artist he’s seen in years, Keatinge heaped praise upon the Japanese artist, whose Arsenal story marked her first interior work in America.
“She’s one of those people who it’s hard to narrow down what her strength is just because she’s got the whole package going on. She’s a great storyteller, I’ve seen her pages for the Arsenal story and they look awesome, she’s great at character, she’s great at action, she’s obviously a great draftsperson,” Keatinge said. “It’s overall astonishing that she hasn’t been working more yet, but I’m sure once Arsenal comes out she’ll be snatched up for something big.”
The writer was just as enthusiastic about working with artist Federico Dallocchio on the Starfire issue, explaining that DC brought the ex-“Suicide Squad” artist to his attention.
“He and I actually have not met or anything, but I like his stuff and think he does a good job on Starfire, so I’m happy with it!” Keatinge added.
With the Arsenal story out next year, Keatinge concluded that more than anything he hoped to shed a little more light on the two twenty-something Titans as individuals and give fans a different way to look at the “Red Hood” outlaws.
“I hope I bring a new appreciation to the characters as individuals as opposed to the larger whole of Outlaws. I’m having a great time writing them and I hope people take away a lot from them as characters,” Keatinge said.
Laughing, he added, “I’m enjoying writing them, so I hope at some point someone enjoys reading them!”
“DC Universe Presents” #17 hits shelves February 20; issue #18 is out March 20.