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“Teen Titans” Writer Will Pfeifer on Teenage Heroes, Social Media & Indie Rock Stardom

by  in Comic News Comment
“Teen Titans” Writer Will Pfeifer on Teenage Heroes, Social Media & Indie Rock Stardom

Will Pfeifer admits that he’s old enough to have bought Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s “The New Teen Titans” #1 off the newsstand in 1980. A pre-teen at the time, Pfeifer loved to see superheroes around his own age engaging in some of the biggest challenges facing the DC Universe, but he also enjoyed the off-hours business of the team, which was truly the lifeblood of the series, whether it be one Titan crushing on another, or the missteps of one young hero leading to a flare-up between two best friends. The main difference between a series set in the ’80s and now is that moments like these weren’t instantly shared with the world via social media, so we never saw #cyborgsarah trending on Twitter, or a Starfire selfie popping up on Instagram.

That’s all changed with the release of “Teen Titans” #1 as Pfeifer and artist Kenneth Rocafort unleashed a modern brand of storytelling, with fictional texts and tweets embedded right into the story’s panels and pages. And Pfeifer told CBR News to expect more of the same as the series moves forward following the adventures of Robin, Wonder Girl, Raven, Beast Boy and Bunker, which all makes perfect sense when you consider every tweet by Katy Perry and Cristiano Ronaldo is retweeted thousands and thousands of times. If superheroes, especially teenaged ones, were to join Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest, they would absolutely generate an immense — and intense — level of engagement.

The true impact of social media on the new Teen Titans will be explored in an upcoming issue, as Raven becomes a music icon and her appearance at a concert explodes amongst her ever-growing fanbase. The writer, making his New 52 debut on the series, also shared his thoughts on all of the team members and discussed the important role of S.T.A.R. Labs in the series, which he called, “one of those elements of the DCU that’s always lurking in the background.”

CBR News: I believe “Teen Titans” is your first assignment set in the New 52. Realizing you are only one issue into your run, what does the line-wide relaunch mean to you as a creator, and as a fan of comics in general?

Will Pfeifer: You’re right — this is my first excursion in to the universe of the New 52. Both as a writer and a reader, I find it an interesting place. Continuity can be a lot of fun, but God bless it, it can also be a giant weight on top of a comic book creator, pressing him or her into the ground with accumulated decades of trivia, character connections and almost — but not quite — forgotten plot points. Now, it feels more like starting off at square one — or close to it, considering I’m coming in a little after the beginning — with more freedom to make a mark on characters and storylines. And that seems especially appropriate with a book like “Teen Titans,” which, after all, is focused on characters who are starting out themselves, trying to make their mark in the world. So far, with five issues under my belt script-wise, it’s been a lot of fun.

Were you a fan of the iconic run on “The New Teen Titans” by Wolfman and Perez, or did you have a different introduction to the superhero team?

Yes, I’m actually old enough to have bought not only the first issue of the Wolfman/Perez “Teen Titans” off the newsstand, but I actually remember buying the issue of “DC Comics Presents” that included a free preview of the upcoming series. As someone who was just a few months shy of being a teen himself, I loved the comic — all the colorful action, soap opera side plots and, most of all, Perez’s incredible, and incredibly detailed, art made me a fan from the first page, first panel. I’m hoping that Kenneth and I can bring a little bit of that sense of wonder — and sense of fun — to a 21st century audience.

Obviously Cyborg is off the table, but did you assemble this team of Teen Titans, or were you told this was the roster?

The team was pretty solidly established by the time I was brought on board, but it’s a team I like a lot and one I know I can use to tell a lot of interesting stories. I also like the fact that it’s not too big or unwieldy — with only five members, we pretty much span the range of personalities, experience, powers, attitudes — you name it. Each character is different enough to create some interesting sparks when they bounce off each other, and there aren’t so many characters that the reader is going to have a hard time keeping track of who’s who.

Red Robin, it appears, will serve as leader of the Teen Titans during your run. What makes Tim Drake tick and, specifically, what makes him different from other Robins like Dick Grayson and even Bruce Wayne’s son, Damian?

Red Robin has been an intriguing guy to write so far for two reasons. One, of course, is the connection to the Batman legacy. He’s not quite like Dick and Damian in that he never had a connection to Batman that was as close as those two. Instead, he’s managed to take the lessons of a legend like Batman and channel them into something a little less obsessive and a little more streamlined, for lack of a better word. To me, he’s the consummate professional, the clear head that keeps the big picture in mind when the rest of the Titans are focused on the individual pieces of the puzzle.

And that brings me to the second thing that interests me about Tim. In a group made up of a super-powered semi-demi-god, a boy who can change into animals, another who can generate bricks from nothing and a Goth girl who’s the daughter of a demon, Tim is the only one without powers. He has amazing abilities, sure, plus a costume that lets him fly, but when you get right down to it, he’s the closest one to you or me. Except, of course, he’s much, much smarter — and that’s why he’s the one who takes the lead.

And what about Wonder Girl, Cassie Sandsmark? She’s the team’s de facto heavy because we haven’t seen Superboy yet. And she also seems less mature than her teammates or at least Tim. Is that a fair assessment?

At this point in the series, Cassie is definitely the muscle of the group. When something requires a strong arm and tough sense of determination — like, say, the bus hijacking in #1 — Cassie gets the call. I like the idea that she’s the all-business anchor of the group, the brawn to go with Tim’s brains, though she’s got plenty of brains, too. With the media-saturated storylines we’re working with, Cassie’s tough-as-nails reputation inspires a group of young women who lack superpowers but not crazed determination. Watching her react to this sort of oddball idol worship is one of the things I’m having the most fun writing.

I’m glad to hear you’ll be continuing the media-saturated storylines in “Teen Titans,” because I loved your use of social media/texting/Facetime in the first issue. With these being teenaged superheroes, it was obviously very important to add current technology trends to your storytelling.

You bet it is. It’s the world we live in, after all, and I have to imagine that in a tech-heavy world like the New 52, things would be even more focused on personal media and instant publicity. Especially considering that we’re talking about a group of teenagers. Not only are they, to a certain extent, obsessed with the online world, but the society they live in is, too. Think about how famous social media celebrities are today, and how avidly their every move is followed, shared and dissected. Then imagine they have colorful costumes and superpowers. That’s the world the Titans live in.

I really enjoyed the dynamic between Beast Boy and Bunker in “Teen Titans” #1, too. Will we continue to see these two superheroes play off one another and team up on missions?

Definitely. As someone who cut his teeth on the Wolfman/Perez Titans, I have a certain affection for Beast Boy. Those jokes were corny and damned near unbearable at times, but as a teenager myself, I thought they were hilarious. But don’t worry. They’re toned way, way down in our version. Plus, amidst all that, admittedly entertaining, teen angst, Gar’s seat-of-the-pants style of superhero action could be a refreshing change. Pairing him up with Bunker is a lot of fun because, though they’ve got their differences, they also have a lot in common. In many ways, they’re the ones in the group who are still having the most fun being superheroes — learning new tricks with their powers, reacting to sudden fame, that sort of thing. Of course, it’s not all going to be fun and games, even for these two.

The final member of the team is Raven, and we only get a glimpse of her. She’s always been a mysterious character. Will her past and present continue to be shrouded in secrecy or will we learn more about her during the course of your run?

She’s absolutely a character I want to explore more. For one thing, I don’t have a lot of experience writing characters with a mystical bent, so those are some creative muscles I’d like to develop. But even more specific to Raven, I love the idea of taking a character that is so oriented away from the mundane physical world and see how she reacts to our modern, media-obsessed environment. A young, attractive, powerful woman with spooky powers and a decidedly dark fashion sense? Can you possibly imagine how a certain sort of teen would gravitate to her? We’re going to have Raven become the darling of the moody music scene, complete with cover bands and adoring fans. Just wait ’til you see the pages Kenneth drew of her cutting loose at her first concert. It’s pretty amazing stuff.

Earlier, I mentioned Superboy. Do you have plans to add him to the roster? And what about Kid Flash, AKA Wally West?

I don’t want to reveal anything about who might be joining our little group, or who might be leaving, but I will say that the lineup will remain fluid and nothing’s going to stay the same for too long. Plus, if you want a taste of a Kid Flash — not, admittedly, Wally West — check out the Future’s End issue that Andy Smith and I put together. It’s five years in the future, sure, but it is a version of the Teen Titans with a speedster among its ranks.

The first issue introduced the World Compatriots, and in the final scene, we see that at least one member has more story to come. Will you be telling “Teen Titans” in longer arcs, or will we be seeing more villain-of-the-month types of issues?

We’re going to be using story arcs of various lengths as the book gets going, with shorter stories tying into a larger, overall tale once you step back and look the whole series. But we’re also working hard to give each issue a beginning, middle and end, making sure that even though it’s a part of a larger whole, there’s a semi-complete tale told in those 20 pages.

We’ll also be tossing in some additional villains into the mix, of course — both because that’ll make things even more interesting and because I think that’s how it would actually work. It’s not like the bad guys would politely wait on the sidelines until you finished fighting the latest menace to society, right?

This first issue and the solicitations for the next two appear to have a S.T.A.R. Labs bent. What role does the iconic research facility play in the series?

It plays a huge role. S.T.A.R. Labs is one of those elements of the DCU that’s always lurking in the background, sometimes helpfully, sometimes ominously, and it seems like a corporation that influential and so far out on the cutting edge of technology would have plenty of deep, dark secrets, hidden agendas and top secret inventions it doesn’t dare reveal. That’s the sort of thing we’re going to explore in “Teen Titans.”

Finally, what does artist Kenneth Rocafort bring to a project?

As you can see from the first issue, he brings a lot. Kenneth takes my scripts and crafts pages that stretch the boundaries of modern superhero comics. With his use of bold figures and dramatic white space, everything seems to leap right off the page — which, as you might guess, is perfect for a comic book about super-powered teens. I’m always amazed at the visual solutions Kenneth comes up with, but let me offer one specific, Titans-centric example. Man oh man, can he draw the heck out of Gar’s animal transformations. In “Teen Titans” #2 alone, there’s a baby elephant that’s so cute it’ll knock your head off, and later in the same issue, an ornery chimp shows up that is worth the cost of a comic book all on his own. Just wait ’til you see him.

“Teen Titans” #1 by Will Pfeifer and featuring art by Kenneth Rocafort is available now.

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