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Henderson On “Titans,” “Static” & “Girl Genius”

by  in Comic News Comment
Henderson On “Titans,” “Static” & “Girl Genius”

Felicia Henderson wraps her “Teen Titans” before heading on to “Static”

When DC Comics tagged Felicia D. Henderson to write “Teen Titans” last year, the veteran television writer fulfilled a life-long dream. An avid comic book reader since she was nine years old, Henderson’s next major assignment is launching an ongoing “Static” series for the publisher, which is slated to begin in early 2011.

An award winning screenwriter, Henderson also teaches the craft at UCLA and boasts an ever-growing resume of television credits including multiple episodes and seasons on popular shows ranging from “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” to “Fringe.” She also recently sold a pilot to TNT and is adapting “Girl Genius”, fresh off a win for Best Graphic Story at the Hugo Awards, into a movie.

But her first love of comics is where her heart is truly at these days, and with just one issue left in her “Teen Titans” run, CBR News checked in with Henderson to discuss her nine issues on the title and also asked her a few questions about the forthcoming “Static” ongoing series.

Henderson shared which Titan she gravitated towards these past 12 months, which one impressed her the most and which expected and unexpected DCU characters will play a role in the future adventures of Virgil Hawkins, A.K.A. Static.

CBR News: It was about a year ago that we first spoke about you taking on the writing duties on “Teen Titans.” With your run now coming to an end, was it all that you expected?

Felicia Henderson: I didn’t really have any expectations about the experience. I was excited about the ride and didn’t want any preconceived notions to ruin the fun of doing something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.

There were surprises – amazing and wonderful and some not so much – but it was all part of the opportunity to do something I’ve wanted to do since I was nine-years-old when I got my first Batman book.

Was there one character that you really gravitated towards? I mean, you’re writing a new “Static” ongoing series, so you must have found a connection with Virgil Hawkins, but who else did you connect with a little bit more than the others?

I’d already connected with Static before writing the series. A Static book is what [DC Co-Publisher] Dan DiDio and I initially started talking about. Then it was put on hold and Dan offered me a story in the “Justice Society of America” annual. That led to the opportunity on “Teen Titans” and I jumped at it.

Once I began writing “Teen Titans,” I immediately gravitated to Wonder Girl because I could relate to being a girl fighting the good fight to prove she has the goods to be an exceptional leader and the self-doubt that goes along with that, no matter how talented you are. And all the challenges of trying to balance work and love – very personal.

Did any of the Titans surprise you, in terms of what the character offered you as a subject once you started writing him or her?

That’s an easy one: Beast Boy. I was surprised by how much I was drawn to Gar. He’s such a complicated and wonderful character with such a genuinely good spirit. He’s a do-or-die friend who’ll do anything for the people he loves. I love that. Obviously, I was very aware of Gar and his history, but it wasn’t until I started writing him that I started feeling I couldn’t do the book without him. I love his relationship with Cyborg. I love that he speaks his mind. I love that he’s still full of wonder and naïvete, but is a kick-ass soldier.

Your current arc has featured the Titans looking to seek out one of their own in “The Hunt for Raven.” What have you learned about the team as a whole during this arduous mission and was their a character or characters that rose to challenge?

I can’t say enough about Miss Martian’s role in helping the team once they’re in Wyld’s world. I have really enjoyed watching her grow up during this run. She really has gone from a young girl to a mature Titan due to her encounter with The Wyld and her desire to save her friends.

What I learned about the team is how strong they all are individually and how well they play off of each other. Even when Bombshell and Aqua Girl are bickering, they’re teammates first. That’s important to me.

What can you say about the Raven the Titans have found? The solicitation for the last issue teased, “Is Raven still their teammate – or has she become something greater than ever?”

One word: “Motherhood.” From my own mother, I learned that there isn’t anything a mother won’t do for her child. I wanted to play with this idea as I wrapped up my run. In some ways, I don’t think you know a woman who is also a mother until you mess with her child.

Some heroes you’ve been featuring, including Miss Martian, Bombshell and Static, will not be used by incoming writer J.T. Krul. Do things end badly for some of them in “Teen Titans” #87?

I would say, yes, things don’t end so well for some of our characters, but probably not in the way that you think. We obviously know that Static is leaving because he’s getting his own book. I really hope readers will come on his journey in the new book with him. There’s a bunch of fun, interesting, surprising stuff planned for him that will serve as a re-set of sorts. In a way, I feel like I’ll get a better chance to do the kind of storytelling I know I’m capable of because I’ll have one hero to focus on right from the start. No matter what happens in the book, it will always be Static’s story. I can’t wait.

With your run on a book that you yourself said “was a perfect fit for you because it combines your strengths in writing teens, your love of comics, your science background, and your sci-fi sensibilities” coming to an end, do you have any regrets after your year spent helming the team?

Hmm. I’m a person who really tries to never have regrets. I know that sounds a bit corny, but it really is true. Are there things I would’ve done differently? Yes. For example, from the time I took over the book, I had a nine-issue arc to decrease the size of the team to get it to a core that I thought I could best write. It’s very hard to tell compelling stories for each character in an ensemble when the team is so large. What ends up happening is that you’re almost always focused on plot because you don’t have the space to tell character stories because you have too many characters to service; so everyone gets short-changed.

With #87, I’m finally finishing up the arc whose main goal was to scale-back the team, to get it down to the characters that I’d like to go forward with. And now that team is going forward without me. I guess that’s more of a disappointment than a regret. If I had it to do over again, I’d get down to my core five faster so I could write the kind of stories that I really didn’t have the opportunity to write.

I should say that I’m really very proud of #87 and I hope the fans pick it up. I really think they’ll like it. For me, it was an absolutely perfect way to end my run.

Can you share any details about what we’ll see in the “Static” title? Will Virgil be interacting with the Titans or the rest of the DCU?

As I said earlier, my initial conversation with Dan was about Static. One of the things that’s most important to me and everyone at DC is that Static be a mainstream book that invites all types of readers to the party. To that end, until his book premieres Static will be showing up in a few select places in the DCU.

Once he’s got his own book, I hope to have him continue to interact with a couple of the other Titans. They’re still his family. The biggest challenge will be bringing along the long-term Static fans, while updating the character’s journey to bring in new fans.

I think we can expect to see Static back in Dakota, but not right away. He has quite a journey ahead of him before he gets back to his hometown. Cyborg, Dr. Rochelle Barnes and Superboy will all play a part in how Static comes into his own.

What is it that makes Static worthy of his own title?

Where do I begin? Static is a classic hero in that he never asked to be a superhero, but he is heeding the call and now he has to make the world a safer place. But he’s also still a teenager who’s a bit awkward, especially with girls, who’s getting the chance to explore what it means to become a full-fledged superhero. We get to go along with him, watch him grow up, further explore the big bang, the extent of Static’s powers, whether or not he will continue to keep his identity a secret, etc., etc.

All of this makes this character ripe for this own book. It’s one of the first things Dan said to me and I agree – there is so much to be explored with Static and he is very valuable to the DCU. There isn’t really a book within the DCU that covers the same terrain from the same point of view.

Have you had a chance to discuss Static with his creator, Dwayne McDuffie?

Yes. I’ve spoken with Dwayne via email several times. We finally had a face-to-face and he was very generous with his time and advice. We spent several hours talking about the character. The best part about Dwayne is that he’s very confident, which makes him very collaborative. He assured me over and over that I have to write the book I want to write and if I’m not making him a little uncomfortable, I’m probably doing something wrong.

It was so freeing to hear his point of view about my involvement. I respect him so much and didn’t want to do anything he wouldn’t be cool with. He made sure I knew that I am to write the book that is my creative vision, and not try to do what I think he’d do. Truly an amazing man.

I just had a conversation with Dan and [Vice President and General Manager of WildStorm Productions] Hank Kanalz, while we were at Comic-Con [International] in July. It looks like the book will premiere the first quarter of 2011. I really want to take my time to find the right artist and DC has assured me that a great marketing plan will be in place to make sure the book gets a great roll out. We all really want to make sure that the fans love this book as much as I’m going to.

With Hank Kanalz involved, is this book going to crossover with the WildStorm Universe too?

No, the book is being released by DC, but partly due to the new structure of the company, there’s a need to spread the wealth, so to speak. Also, I really wanted an editor in the same time zone that I could communicate with more easily. Hank, himself, won’t be editing it, but the editor will come from his group.

What else are you working on these days, in TV, movies or otherwise?

I am definitely keeping busy. I’ve sold a pilot to TNT that I’m very excited about. I’m adapting “Fearless Jones,” a series of Walter Mosley’s mystery novels and my producing partner is John Wells (“ER,” “West Wing”). It doesn’t get much better than that.

For the big screen, I’m adapting the indie graphic novel, “Girl Genius.” I’m really excited about that, too. Of course, I’m still teaching in the Film School at my beloved UCLA.

With “Girl Genius,” you’ve backed a real winner as Kaja and Phil Foglio just landed a Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story.

The Hugo win is huge for this independent book. I’m so happy for Phil and Kaja. They work so hard and are so clearly very brilliant. As you know, they’ve also won six WCCA awards including the 2008 Award for Outstanding Comic and in 2009, it won for Best Graphic Story, as well. This is just an amazing series of graphic novels.

I met Kaja on the floor at Comic-Con a couple of years ago, picked up the first book from their table and ended up sitting right there on the floor and reading the whole thing. Much to my business manager’s dismay, I used my own money to option the material. I was just so taken with it. I really responded to a young woman discovering that she’s the most brilliant scientist in the world where she’s still surrounded by men. I think it would make an amazing film or series of films. They just published the tenth book and it just keeps getting more and more amazing.

“Teen Titans” #87, written by Felicia Henderson and featuring art by Jose Luís and Mariah Benes, is set for release on September 29.

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