In comics, everything comes back around, as Will Pfeifer can attest.
Known amongst readers for fan-favorite runs on DC Comics series like “Aquaman” and “HERO,” in recent years Pfeifer’s been living a mild-mannered life away from superhero stories. That ended this week with the release of “Red Hood And The Outlaws” #29, Pfeifer’s first regular comics gig in four years. And to celebrate, he plans on taking Jason Todd, Starfire and Arsenal where they’ve never been before.
CBR News spoke with Pfeifer about “Red Hood,” with the writer describing what his return to comics means, how the trio of outlaws form the core of his plans for the book, which alien threats await the team beyond S.H.A.D.E. and Lobo, and where he’s headed next.
CBR News: Will, I guess the first thing I should say here is, “Welcome back.” You must be excited to be back at the keyboard for comics again.
Will Pfeifer: I am! I think the last thing I did for DC was around “Amazons Attack” or a couple of issues of “Blue Beetle,” so it’s been a while. It was a situation where I was thinking, “The comics writing career. Was that just a fun little thing from a few years ago that I’ll look back on, or is it going to keep going?” [Laughs] Luckily, right now it looks like it’s going to keep going! I’m very excited about it. It’s been a while since I had a book on the stands, and that’s always a lot of fun.
In some of your past DC work, like “Aquaman” or “HERO,” you were known for finding new spins on old ideas. I wonder — what was the spin or the hook that you found in “Red Hood” to pick up on?
It was the characters. You’ve got Jason, Roy and Kori, and I grew up reading the Wolfman/Perez “Teen Titans” with Starfire. That hit when I was about 13 or 14, and when it came out, that book completely blew me away. It was my favorite comic for years. I always followed the path of Jason Todd, and Roy’s been around the DCU with different characters and in different guises. So they all have a level in them about how much control they have over their own lives and how much they rely on their hero identity versus their civilian identity. And they all bounce off of each other in really interesting ways. This felt like three characters with a lot of potential.
And I’ve never really written a team book before. This is almost halfway between a solo book and a team book, because they’re not a unified Justice League or Justice Society kind of a team. They’re three friends who hang out. It’s one of those books where the characters really drive things, and to me, that’s always fun.
How did you approach tackling each of those characters on their own terms, then? I understand that, at least at the beginning of your story, Roy is off from the rest of the team, and Jason technically headlines the book. Did you try to start with him and then build out from there?
I did. Obviously, it’s called “Red Hood And The Outlaws,” and I think Jason has — for lack of a better term — the most interesting back story. It’s pretty crazy what’s happened to him and how he reacts to that. If you had to pick a leader of this group, I suppose it would be him because as a former Batman assistant, he’s got more training and a more organized outlook. He’s a more tactical planner, and whatever crazy situation they’re in, he’s the guy saying, “This is how we should handle it.” And a lot of times, he may or may not be right about that. But ultimately he’s the main draw of the group.
Now, having said that, for this first arc, we do see Roy on his own for a while, and Jason and Kori are teamed up trying to find Roy. That was an interesting dynamic to build between those two while Roy is off talking to himself. We don’t get a lot of him interacting with them until later in the arc, but it definitely comes.
Since the last time you were working at DC was before the advent of the New 52, has that changed anything about how you’re approaching this series? Definitely “Red Hood” as a title is different in name and shape than any pre-New 52 versions of these characters, but do you feel a difference in tone or approach?
You do get a little bit of a feeling where if you’re not starting at ground zero, it’s kind of close to that. The thing with DC — and this can be both a benefit and a challenge — is that oftentimes you go, “I want to use character X, Y or Z,” and they’ll say, “But that character was last seen over here, so we can’t do that.” Now, things are a little more free. It’s a little more up in the air, so you can put characters together who haven’t interacted before and say that this is the first time they’re meeting. You really don’t have to worry about 75 or 80 years of continuity. That’s freeing, in a lot of ways.
What about the milieu of this book in particular? In its short life, “Red Hood” has shifted a bit between more grounded superhero stories and tales that fall more along the space opera spectrum.
To me. whether I was writing “HERO” or “Catwoman” or “Aquaman” or anything in the DCU, I loved the fact that there’s this playground of different superheroes and the world they’re in. I think it’s great to write characters in this massive universe where there are little pockets of history, and I like taking these three characters and bouncing them off everything. The first story is more of a space opera thing. Roy’s part takes place in space for a while, and then Kori and Jason are on the ground. Eventually, they realize they need to steal a ship — actually it’s two ships, but they need to steal something! [Laughs]
When I was talking to my editor, we started discussing S.H.A.D.E. as part of this, and that’s something that didn’t even exist the last time I was writing DC Comics, so this is a whole new playground to play in, and it gives me characters like Frankenstein to bounce off them. It’s fun to put all the pieces on the chessboard, move them around and see how they respond to each other.
As the book progresses, I know you’ve also got Lobo waiting in the wings. That’s a character that DC seems to have broader plans for as they’ve moved him from title to title. What’s his role here?
The main story I came up with in broad strokes involves these aliens who are causing chaos and mischief. They’re goofballs, in a way, but they’re very dangerous goofballs. We needed someone for them to play off of, and that’s when the idea of using Lobo came up. He’s very different from them, and he’s very different from Roy, Kori and Jason. So to put them all in space with each other, sparks can fly, and it makes for an interesting story. He’s going to be in the book for a little bit, and like you said, there are big plans for him at DC. So here we’ll see more of him, what he can do and what his personality is like. I’ve been reading Lobo comics for years, going back to when he was introduced, so it was fun to play with that character.
For the long term life of this book, do you have plans for how it can develop beyond the opening arc?
There’s definitely some plans. It all comes down to, what situations you can put these three characters in? What sets them apart from a Batman or a Superman or a Wonder Woman? How do they react to a situation that’s unique? This is all about finding out what’s most interesting about these characters and then showcasing that in a way that’s a lot of fun for the reader.
I know that up until now, there have been times when this book has played around with the history of the characters — teasing at whether there’s a version of the New Teen Titans in the New 52 or not — but I get the impression that your take is more forward looking than that.
Yeah. There’s always time to go back and delve into their past a little bit later on. In the first arc, we don’t so much get into their pasts as we do into their thought process and their individual strengths. Let’s get the adventures going. Let’s get them moving forward. We can always go back later, but I like a book that hits that ground running and just goes and goes.
You’re teaming with Rafa Sandoval on the book. So far, what’s your impression of how his work compliments your vision for the book?
Every couple of days, he’ll send layouts or sketches or completed pages to the editors and me just to say, “Here’s what I came up with. What do you think?” And his art is consistently amazing. Rafa is going to be huge. We’ve got weird aliens in the story with powers all their own, and a ton of stuff with S.H.A.D.E., and everything we throw at him, he gives back 100% better than I can imagine. It’s common for a writer to gush about his artist, but his stuff is really so beautiful. I got my comp copies for #29 the other day, and it looks great — the colors and all the elements together — but when I get those black and white pencils, that alone is gorgeous stuff. I know what’s next for the series, and I can’t wait to see what he does with it. It always kind of amazes me when I’m sitting here writing and drawing my little thumbnails just how that sets this whole process in motion with artists, editors, colorists and letterers. To know that my chicken scratch comes back as art, that’s the magic of comics right there. And Rafa is knocking it out of the park.
This being your first step back into comics, do you expect your workload to expand out from here?
There is some interesting stuff in the works. I’m pretty confident that they like what I’ve done so far, so I think we’ll have some other stuff coming up. It will be more related to exploring the New 52 universe later in the year. It may not be another title in addition to this one, but we’ve been talking about some projects that I could be a part of. I think a lot of the reason I hadn’t done any comics in a while was because the editor I was working with for years was Nachie Castro, and when “Catwoman” got cancelled, he also left DC. You sort of lose that tether to the company when that happens. There are other editors, but they have people they’re working with. So I’d always say, “Hey, I’m out here if you guys have anything” and it just so happened that at some point, they said, “What about Will?” When that happened, I got very excited, I can tell you that!
“Red Hood And The Outlaws” #29 is on sale now from DC Comics.