While his career has also included writing such diverse and iconic characters as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Hardy Boys, he’s never written in-continuity stories for DC Comics. That is, until the New 52 was unleashed this past September. Now, the writer’s right there, smack dab in the middle of the action.
The veteran writer has landed three prime-time gigs in the line-wide relaunch, including “Red Hood and the Outlaws,” “Superboy” and “Teen Titans,” and thanks in part to the reset button being pushed for a majority of characters, Lobdell believes there was never a better time to plunge head first into the DC Universe.
Three weeks ago, Lobdell re-imagined N.O.W.H.E.R.E. for a new generation of readers in the pages of “Superboy.” Two weeks ago, he generated headlines for the controversial portrayal of Starfire in “Red Hood and the Outlaws.” And just last week, Lobdell launched the new “Teen Titans,” which has gained headlines thanks to the announcement of Bunker, the first gay character to join the Titans since Hero Cruz served alongside Captain Marvel Jr., Beast Boy and Bushido in Titans L.A. more than a decade ago.
As candid in his responses as he is creative in his dialogue, Lobdell shared his thoughts on his three latest assignments with CBR News, not only hinting at what’s to come but shedding light on where these superheroes have been.
CBR News: As part of the DCU relaunch, iconic superheroes like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are presented in the early stages of their development. How does the revised timeline affect what you are doing with DC’s teenaged do-gooders like Superboy, Red Hood and Wonder Girl? Specifically, does this altered timeline make you rethink or recalculate the maturity of these superheroes and the kinds of dilemmas they face?
Scott Lobdell: Hmmm — it is an interesting question, because I had been discussing the possibility of writing “Teen Titans” long before I learned about the relaunch — not long in terms of years, but in terms of eagerness. Even when I was thinking I was going to be on the book with #101, my goal was going to be to treat the “Teen Titans” like they are teens — young adults, not fully formed superheroes, not always winning or even getting the small details right. I wanted to look at them all with a new set of eyes.
So when I was told that we’d be starting the DC Universe — pretty much — from a relatively recent point in time, it just gave me the impetus and the permission to really start fresh. So for me, I think, the relaunch was a way of letting me and Brett [Booth] — and the other writers and artists — off-leash. I thought it was frightfully liberating to be able to write these characters without 20 or more years of back story. I felt it was a way we could make it fresh to ourselves and to a new audience, or an old audience who had grown a little weary of having to index every story and thought balloon that had come before.
Don’t get me wrong, I think the last 20 years have been some of the best comic book writing ever — as I fan, I was glad I was around for it. But at the same time, as a writer, when you are asked to write a 16 or 17-year old that has 20 years of stories behind him, in some cases longer, it just feels like you have to make a decision — is he a 16-year old, or is he a 16-year old with all the wisdom and experience that comes with two decades worth of conflict/resolution by some of the greatest writers in comics?
Similarly with Roy Harper. [It was a] great story all those years ago, but it has probably been almost 30 years ago [when] he was a teenaged addict. So how old does that make him? 50? 30? 22? 27? Even at 27, he’s had some 30 years worth of growth as a character between then and now. As I writer, I can either write him with his 30 years of experiences in terms of stories, or I can play him as a relatively recently-sober 21-year old and take the character from there.
I am acutely aware that an answer like that will upset some people, but I feel like you asked me about the process and so I should answer it accordingly and honestly.
By writing “Superboy,” ” Red Hood and the Outlaws” and “Teen Titans,” you and your keyboard hold firm creative control of the what goes on amongst most of DCU’s superpowered youth. Was it always the plan for you to write these interconnected titles or did it the selection play out organically?
I am pretty sure that happened organically. But — I think you are giving me way more credit for having any “control” at all. I didn’t read “Static Shock” until it was on the stands. I still haven’t read “Blue Beetle.” It is not like anyone at all is asking me what I think about the directions of DCU’s superpowered youths. That is the job of the editors, and I want to take a moment to ask for a big round of applause for all of them. Not just Bobbie Chase and Chris Conroy and Mike Marts and Matt Idelson and Katie Kubert, but all the editors who have taken on this Herculean task of sort of jump-starting an entirely new world while also getting out their regularly scheduled books on time for the last six months.
Fair enough. But what about your three titles? How much will they overlap and interconnect?
Well, in a way, “Superboy” and “Teen Titans” kind of read like a bi-weekly series. That doesn’t mean we say “Achoo” in one book and “God bless, you” in the other book. But there will be a lot of cross-pollination between the two books.
Specifically, they will share a lot of ties between Superboy’s involvement with N.O.W.H.E.R.E., the organization that is trying to capture, corrupt or kill the new Teen Titans, among other meta-human teenagers.
Will Conner’s sense and sensibilities remain somewhat congruent between “Superboy” and “Teen Titans,” or are there differences between the two portrayals?
Gosh, I hope not. He is the same character in both books. Certainly, if you read “Superboy,” you’ll get a strong sense of him as a character. And if you only read “Teen Titans,” he might seem more mysterious because the narrative tells his story from the outside looking in. But no, he is definitely the same character in both books.
Dating back to your time on “Generation X,” you are widely recognized for your work writing young characters. That said, you are, if I may say, no spring chicken. How do you prepare yourself to write fresh, youthful dialogue, and once sitting there at the computer, how do you find these unique voices?
It is interesting to me whenever this question comes up, because most writers write about things they are not — especially in comics. Paul Levitz doesn’t exist in the 30th Century, Grant Morrison isn’t a super powered orphan from another world and Scott Snyder isn’t a borderline psychotic vigilante. Now, I’m not a 16-year old boy or girl, and suddenly people question if there isn’t a disconnect between me and the characters I am writing.
Touche. The big news breaking last week was that your new character Bunker from “Teen Titans” is gay. You wrote the now legendary issue of “Alpha Flight” back in 1992 when Northstar famously stated,” I am gay.” Are you surprised, some 20 years later, that this type of casting remains newsworthy?
Yes. The goal was to not announce it at all, but rather to let the readers find Miguel on their own as part of the story. As it is, the news broke organically, so that’s cool. But, I will say this, after seeing campaigns like “It Gets Better,” where many famous homosexuals are addressing teenagers, [telling them] that their lives will get better upon growing up and out of the bullying years and sometimes confusion that comes from being a gay teen, it is very clear that there are still tons of young men and women who respond to “seeing themselves” in stories.
That will probably never change, and 20 years from now, there will still be people being excited and inspired to “see themselves” embrace by many different aspects of our society.
Was presenting Bunker as a gay character a “diversity” edict from on high at DC Comics or was the character’s sexuality your idea?
[Laughs] I don’t think I’ve ever gotten an “edict” from DC, ever, about anything. Who is the one who makes those edicts? Zeus? Odin? Seriously, it doesn’t work like that. I’ve never had a conversation with anyone at DC about “diversity,” any more than there was ever a “Pants Only” rule.
After some, what, 40 years of “Teen Titans,” it seemed odd that there were no Teen Titans who are gay. I know lots of gay people. I suspect anyone reading this does too. My doctor is gay, I’ve met gay cops and gay teachers and we know singers and actors and writers and parents are gay. When I was asked to create a handful of new Teen Titans for the series, it just made sense to me that, out of the dozens and dozens of teenaged characters who’ve been Titans over the years, there should be a character that wasn’t another straight, white, male teenager.
I have a vague recollection there was another gay teen in Titans years ago, but I cannot recall who that was. Sorry.
While his sexuality is making the headlines, no one is talking about his superpowers or even his background. What’s Bunker’s secret origin?
Miguel Jose Barragan is a Mexican teenager who learned about his powers and how to work with them when growing up in his tiny village. He could project psionic bricks to create a wall. With practice, he found those bricks can manifest themselves in many different ways, such as an oversized fist.
As Bunker, he’s very excited about having powers and being a superhero, to the point that if he were in the middle of a battle with Darkseid, he’d probably hand Kid Flash a cellphone so he could send a pic to his adoring sister.
He also grew up with this idealized version of what he thinks the life of a superhero would be, and now he’s confronted by that. And while he is a fun character, I don’t think he steps on Kid Flash’s role as the comic relief. Their respective senses of humor are miles apart from each other — and Miguel isn’t as much a comic as he is just frightfully optimistic.
Finally, I wanted to ask about “Red Hood and the Outlaws.” I love the roster. How did you land on its makeup? And will you explore the team’s “secret origin” within the series, because this trio certainly isn’t a natural team.
The makeup of the team was in place before I was brought on to write the book. While I thought it was an odd grouping — two street level guys with a walking nuclear reactor from another planet — the more I delved into the characters, the more I loved seeing the three of them together.
Here you have two guys who think of themselves as the baddest of the bad asses, and they’re teamed up with one of the most powerful heroines in the DCU. I love the fact Kori is the strongest and most assured member of the team, but that she’s not Wendy to their Lost Boys.
And yes, there are some plans to explain how they came together. It is clear in the first issue that Red Hood is the lynch pin between the three of them — and I think people are going to be very moved by his initial encounters with both Roy and Kori.
Jason might be the lynch pin, but is he a natural leader?
He’s not leading anyone. [Laughs] In fact, half the time it feels to him like he’s trying to shake these two off his ankle. No, he’s not a leader and he’s not leading a team.
OK. Let’s talk about the other two members of this non-team. Arsenal and Starfire are both heavy hitters. What does each of them bring to the table in terms of ability, and perhaps more importantly, personality?
I love the fact that Roy is, like his main skill, a straight shooter. He’s bottled things up in the past with him and Ollie, and it led to disaster. So he has learned to say things that he’s thinking as he’s thinking them. He doesn’t hide his feelings, and that’s why he’s so awesome to me — he is always on target.
I love that Kori brings an alternative world view to everything. Jason and Roy have very strong — and very earthly — ideas of what is right and wrong, but Kori doesn’t view life through the prism of someone who was born here. As someone who has gone through Hell and come out a better person for the experience, she looks askance at Jason and Roy who have both — let’s be honest — made some really bad life choices. There is no other character in comics like Princess Koriand’r.
DC Comics tweeted the following from their official account last week: “We’ve heard what’s being said about Starfire today and we appreciate the dialogue on this topic.” Are you surprised by the reaction to Starfire’s sexual exploits in the first issue?
I think we should leave the Starfire questions to a later interview. Right now it is taking up all the air in the room.
OK. But we do have a sort of reverse “Three’s Company” happening here, so I’ll ask — are we going to get some kind of wicked sexual tension/love triangle going on here?
I wouldn’t say tension, no. This is a story about three adults who are spending a lot of time together so it is likely they are probably going to be taking advantage of all the fun things adults can choose to do together.
But neither Jason nor Kori have any desire or intention to be part of a triangle or circle or pentagon for that matter. In the second issue, we see Roy, who, again, can’t help talking about whatever he’s thinking, trying to put a label on his encounter with Kori — but that is him trying to define her, and she’s not interested in anyone putting her in a box. She spent the early part of her life in captivity; she’s not going to let other people decide who or what she can be going forward.
With the Justice League still holding the fort when it comes to big-time, intergalactic villains, what’s the Outlaws’ mandate and how does it differ even from the Teen Titans?
The Outlaws don’t have a mandate. Jason does what he does and sometimes Roy and Kori hang out with him. The Teen Titans, on the other hand, is formed, in part, to defend themselves and other teens from people who would do them harm.