SPOILER WARNING: This article contains major spoilers for Titans #12, on sale now.
Dan Abnett loves Wally West. So, of course, the New York Times best-selling writer is putting the Fastest Man Alive through the proverbial wringer in Titans.
In the recent crossover event, "The Lazarus Contract," told in the pages of Titans, Teen Titans and Deathstroke, the Flash (West) was given a pacemaker to support his weakened heart, the necessary response to an incident where the time-traveling Damian Wayne stopped Kid Flash's heart in order to break Deathstroke's connection with the Speed Force. (It's a lot to process - CBR has the pertinent details here.)
With his timeline changed (again), Abnett acknowledges that many Wally West fans have been angered by the dampening of the character's superpowers, as The Flash has been told by Slade Wilson's personal physician Dr. Villain (pronounced Will-hane), that he must stop running if he wants to live.
But, as Abnett revealed exclusively in a talk with CBR, it's actually the complete opposite. Rather than being dismissive of the character and telling nice, happy stories with him, Abnett wants to test The Flash and really explore who he is.
In this week's Titans #12, illustrated by Kenneth Rocafort, Abnett kicks off a new arc, titled "Judas Among Us," a nod to the 1984 landmark Marv Wolfman/George Pérez story "The Judas Contract," in which Wally, Donna Troy (did we mention they're now kissing), Nightwing, Arsenal, Omen, Tempest and Bumblebee are trying to figure out which one amongst them is going to betray the team.
CBR: At the end of "The Lazarus Contract," it appeared as though Slade Wilson was literally and physically walking away from Deathstroke. The supervillain, and sometimes antihero, has long been the yin to the Titans' yang. What does the "death" of Deathstroke, mean to the Titans?
Dan Abnett: I think all of us, and by all of us I mean the creative teams on the three books involved, felt it was high time that we had these characters facing each other again in a sort of resolution to things that have been going on for a very long time. The clash between Deathstroke and both the Titans and the Teen Titans in their different incarnations has been a mainstay, as you say. This was meant to be a major story that drew a line under that. Deathstroke, in some form or another, or at least Slade himself, still exists and is active and I know that Priest has plans for what that means for the future. I doubt that this is the last that we've seen of him in terms of him being an antagonistic threat in the DC Universe even if he's not Deathstroke himself. Priest is taking the book in a very interesting direction. We just felt, more than anything else that it was about time that we addressed the fact that there were two Titans' teams and their arch-nemesis, who has his own book, is out there and we needed to draw those things together and it was a real pleasure to do that.
And as we leave "The Lazarus Contract," your next arc in Titans is a reimagining of the classic Teen Titans story arc "The Judas Contract," as a member of the team is set to betray the Titans. More than most teams in comics, the Titans are built on trust and the characters are so interconnected that it would seem like a fate worse than death to have one of their own turn.
Absolutely. One of the things that I've become aware of since I started writing Titans is the fact that more than any other team, the Titans is a team that is founded on friendship. They are close friends first and foremost. They happen to operate as a team and do these amazing things, but the friendship is the base of that and that's been a recurring motif all the way through. In fact, it's been commented on by other characters that they've encountered like Psimon, who talks about it in this issue, and the Justice League talked about it when they encountered them.
It seems to me that if you're going to pose a dramatic threat to the Titans – and the whole point to these stories is to do dramatic things and test the characters – you could do a world-shaking disaster or all sorts of other different things but the thing that threatens their core and their essence is the disruption of the friendship that links them together. That's the thing that I decided to focus on. It doesn't mean that I want to destroy or break the Titans or break the characters. I want to test and explore the one thing that makes them unique as a super-team – the essence of the thing that binds them together. And what I hope will happen as you read these next few issues, is that I am maintaining the kind of story-telling technique that I've been using since the beginning of this series with the launch of Rebirth, which is to tell individual stories that often focus on a particular member of the team and various different threats but you will get a sense that there is something bigger unfolding underneath that.
We're not embarking on this huge and laborious arc, we're just carrying on with the sort of storytelling that we've been doing. New readers could pick up any issue and get in on it pretty quickly but readers that have been there since Day 1 will see this momentum gathering in the background and will indeed that momentum has been growing from seeds that have been lying there since Titans #1 or indeed, since Titans Hunt, the series that ran into this. There are things there that will come back so I hope that there will be a really satisfying sense of connection over the next few issues where readers go, "Oh, goodness me, that thing that was mentioned half-a-dozen issues ago, was actually much more significant than it appeared to be at the time." [Laughs] We've got that sort of double layering of the immediate storytelling, which is fun and exciting and dramatic things are happening both personally and in terms of their adventures, but underneath it, there is that momentum-gathering force.
While things are very different for Deathstroke/Slade Wilson coming out of "The Lazarus Contract," Wally West is completely changed. Slade Wilson's time in the Speed Force has altered time, and Wally now finds himself with a pacemaker to heal his injured heart and has been told to slow down and stop running. That's a difficult prescription for the Fastest Man Alive.
First of all, I was really intrigued when "The Lazarus Contract" was being published. The reader response was incredibly positive. People seemed to really, really enjoy it. They've really like what we've done. And that was very gratifying because we tried to meet expectations and deliver the sort of story that we thought people would want.
That said, there were people who very shocked by what we did to Wally. When you read a crossover, I think that you don't expect that anything significant is really going to happen with any lasting effect [Laughs]. You just expect people to meet up because it's fun to see all of your favorite characters mixing it up and joining forces. But then everything goes back to normal afterwards. And Priest and Ben [Percy] and I all agreed that we wanted to do something that had shockwaves and that there would be repercussions. We mentioned earlier on that there were significant shockwaves with regards to Deathstroke particularly, but there are also significant changes in Teen Titans and the impact of "The Lazarus Contract> there. We wanted to make sure that something happened in Titans that had equally lasting consequences. This wasn't something that could be brushed off. There are actually a number of different things, particularly from the Titans' point of view, like the idea that maybe Dick Grayson isn't as trustworthy as they thought he was because he's made deals behind their backs and kept secrets from them.
But obviously, the most important one is this threat to Wally, which is the possibility that he can't be The Flash anymore. I have seen quite a lot of readers posting and saying, "I can't believe you're doing this to Wally. It's like you don't care," and, "Why would you do something so horrible?" It's as if I am dismissive of the character. He is my favorite Flash! I think he's fantastic. I care about the character deeply. As I was saying about the team dynamic and the friendship, it's a matter of testing that. If we just sort of let them carry on issue to issue, just going through the motions and being nice and happy, it wouldn't be a very exciting comic. To get that story, to get that drama, we've got to explore who these people are, how they work and how they interact together and then test those things. We have to put them under pressure and see what happens.
From Wally's point of view, obviously Rebirth returned him to the DC Universe and that's fantastic but he found himself very much lost. He's literally had his identity taken away from him and the life he'd known taken away from him so the only thing that he had left that defined him was his ability to be The Flash. That was a really important thing for him to and it gave his life some meaning. If that is now under threat, as well, it really highlights a kind of story progression that we've been on since the Rebirth issue, really. Who is Wally West? What role does he play? What life has he got if can't even be the one thing that he always wanted to be? And I think that's what we're seeing now. It's not me treating the character badly or punishing him or trying to break him or anything like that. It's simply me putting the focus on him and saying, "This is going to be really interesting." And he's going to go to some very, very interesting places. And we're going to see Wally finding his own definition now that he's back in a universe that essentially doesn't have a place for him or hasn't had a place for him up until now. It's pretty dramatic. Like I said, if every issue was sweetness and light and nothing ever happened, people would get bored pretty quickly. The stakes are high and indeed, I know what happens in the next couple of issues, there is an extremely powerful Wally-related thing that happens in two issues time, which I think people will really want to see and will really want to find out where that goes.
But it's not all about Wally, right? There are so many moving parts. Omen/Lilith is heavily featured in this week's issue as she confronts Psimon looking for answers about Bumblebee/Karen.
That's right. Particularly in the last few issues, I've been making sure that some of the less famous characters in the book, like Lilith and Garth, get airtime, get developed and get to do things that are important, as important as the really famous ones like Nightwing/Dick and Flash/Wally. All of these characters matter but Wally really is the person who drew them back together again at the very beginning and I think that he is still trying – pardon the pun – trying to run to catch up and find out what his purpose is. Again, I was very amused by some of the comments that came out like I clearly don't like Wally. "Wally is an encumbrance, because there are too many Flashes." But no, they're missing the point. This is all about trying to show how important Wally is and the fact that he is not a redundant, duplicate character. That's just how he feels about himself. He is in a DC Universe where Barry [Allen] exists and there is another Wally West. Is he really superfluous? This is about him finding out whether or not he is, even when he's not got the ability to even be The Flash anymore.
You mentioned that the other Titans can't trust Dick as much as they used to, or at least, not so blindly, after it was revealed that he had made a questionable deal with Deathstroke. This revelation certainly places Nightwing front and center as the next arc promises that there is a "Judas" amongst the Titans, which was foretold by Psimon when Omen interrogates him in Titans #12. Roy Harper is another prime candidate, as he is none too pleased about the burgeoning romance between Wally and Donna Troy. It's safe to say that anyone and everyone could be the Judas.
Absolutely. One of the things that I thought if I was going to test their friendship, I can't just do it by crudely saying, "Somebody is a traitor, let's find out who." I need to show that their relationships are fluid and that there are certain strains there. To me, there isn't an obvious suspect, but there is a potential for almost everybody to be a suspect. We need to try and find out where the twist is going to be revealed. Or indeed, if that's just a horrible fabrication by Psimon to make them distrust each other. Roy, in particular, has a grievance that he has almost self-inflicted because he has clearly liked Donna for a really long time and he has never really been able to express himself. Everybody has got their own little trouble. I guess there is a moral or a lesson in there somewhere. If you are really friends with people than you need to trust them and talk to them and share your difficulties with them so that you can past them. We do see inevitably in this issue and the next few that follow that sort of disintegration where possibly out of the best intentions of trying to protect someone's feelings, people are keeping silent about things. And that is obviously a fatal thing to happen in a group as tight-knit as the Titans are.
Yes, you have certainly pointed your finger at several of the likely culprits and I think that Titans #12 shows us another one or maybe another two. Or even three. [Laughs] Karen/Bumblebee is obviously the newest member of the team. Her powers are essentially derived from H.I.V.E. and she is potentially a spy in their midst. You've got Lilith, who is clearly coming to the root of the problem faster than everybody else. There are questions attached to her and how controlled and how powerful her mental abilities are.
And indeed Garth, who is fiercely loyal but a fiercely protective person. He is someone who might act poorly if his sense of the trust and friendship around him is pushed. He's quite volatile in that regard. This is an unstable moment for the team and I think it makes it a really exciting and interesting moment for the team. And I really exciting and interesting story but nevertheless, it is tense. I think the atmosphere in Titans Tower is tense. [Laughs]
Titans #12 by Dan Abnett and Kenneth Rocafort is available now.