Wolfman on the Long Road to "Teen Titans: Games"

This Wednesday, DC Comics officially releases "The New Teen Titans: Games," an original graphic novel nearly three decades in the making.

To most ardent DC fans, writer Marv Wolfman and artist George Perez are synonymous with the heroes of their 1980s "The New Teen Titans" comic book series: Raven, Cyborg, Starfire, Dick Grayson, Donna Troy, Changeling, Jericho and Danny Chase among others. It was during their five-year run on the book that Wolfman and Perez originally conceived the idea for "Teen Titans: Games," intending to create an action-packed graphic novel to go along with their popular series. But after completing sixty pages of initial artwork, the project was shelved as conflicting schedules and creative burnout made it impossible for the writer and artist to continue work on the book. Despite this, Wolfman refused to give up entirely on the graphic novel and last year his persistence paid off as the two creators reunited to finally finish the tale.

With the graphic novel finally in stores this week, Wolfman sat down with CBR News to discuss the graphic novel. Laughing, the legendary writer confessed that he still held a deep love for his characters, admitting that even his cell phone ringtone is "Teen Titans"-related, playing the theme song from Cartoon Network's animated series. Wolfman then dove headfirst into "Teen Titans: Games," touching on everything from the decades long road to publication to the new plot of the graphic novel.

CBR News: "The New Teen Titans: Games" comes out this week!

Marv Wolfman: I have my copy, so this year it exists!

That's actually the first thing I wanted to ask -- the graphic novel was slated for release last year and now it's coming out this week. Why the extra yearlong delay?

George was undergoing eye surgery. It took longer and there was no way he could do the type of incredibly intensive work he's doing on this book -- and when you see it you'll know what I mean -- in the midst of the eye surgery. Pure and simple that was the problem. We really wanted to get it out for last year because that would have been the thirtieth anniversary year, but this is sort of like the extended thirtieth anniversary I guess! [Laughs] But his vision is now excellent and everything is good, so all the surgery and such really worked.

That's good to hear! And even though you missed the anniversary, it's hitting the shelves just as DC is doing another reboot and once again reinventing the "Teen Titans," so that's an interesting mix.

To be honest, I would have preferred it coming out before the New 52 just because, on a very logical basis, I'm someone who is interested in seeing what the New 52 is all about because I'm not part of it. So if other people are like that and unlike me they have to pay -- because I get mine in a bundle -- if [the graphic novel] had come out before there would have been no competition. But now we have 52 number ones coming out at the same time! [Laughs] But, you know, it had been scheduled for September for a while, I think before the New 52 [was] announced, so that's the way it goes.

Talking about the road to getting this released, you've said before that even though you and George left the idea initially when you came up with it back in the '80s, you always wanted it to be published eventually. How did you convince DC to pick the graphic novel back up?

I'm not exactly sure what happened. First of all, George had drawn some sixty-something pages and they were just absolutely amazing. Again, when you look at it you'll know that's not hyperbole. I think it's the best stuff George had ever done, partially because he decided to draw it two times up rather than one-and-a-half the way comics are done these days and have been done for the last thirty years. The artwork today is one-and-a-half up from the printed pages; back in the 1940s it was done twice up, and that's what he decided to do. On top of that, because this is a physically bigger book to begin with, and wider, the pages of his original art were that much larger too. So he was able to put in an awful lot of beautifully designed detail that you've just never seen him do before. As much as George has drawn incredible detail, you've never seen anything like this because he has complete cities, he has small towns, just amazing, amazing stuff.

So I definitely wanted this to see print, if only for the artwork let alone what I wrote. For many years I was just told no, because until George was interested in finishing it DC, understandably, didn't want another artist coming in. They felt that "Titans" was very much George and me and that's the way it should be for this. Somehow I guess when Dan Didio took over he convinced George or George just decided -- and I never actually asked -- to finish the book. Originally it was supposed to be last year, but George's eye problems delayed it and as soon as they were fixed he just delved into it and finished the last fifty, sixty pages.

How does it feel working with George again? I mean, for many people you are the DC Dream Team!

[Laughs] Well, George and I have done things over the years, we've worked on other things, but nothing like this, nothing this big, nothing, in a way, this important. It was great! George and I have always been friends, we never stopped. The only thing that separated us is that I'm in California, he's in Florida, so we just didn't see each other that much. We used to both live in the same town; in fact we used to live five blocks away, so we used to get together at a diner or each other's homes and go over the material. That I missed. But once the book started again I was actually a guest at, I think, MegaCon in Florida and he was there as well and we went out and talked a lot of the stuff over together, along with Mike Perkins who inked the majority of the book. The minute we sat down to work as opposed to just chat it absolutely felt like the old days again. It was great.

When we spoke with you about "Teen Titans: Games" last year, you said the original 1987 concept was always intended to be a graphic novel. Why did you want to do the Gamemaster plot as a "Teen Titans" graphic novel rather than serialized story arc in the monthly book?

When you do a 120-page story you pace it differently. If you are doing twenty page chapters, twenty-two page chapters, whatever that length is, you're pacing it for the chapter. You're not pacing it for the book. Certainly back then there were no collections so there was a very different kind of pacing for each story, even if it was a multiple part story; each issue had to be somewhat complete before moving on. You had to give a certain amount of resolution before the last page. We wanted to pace a "Titans" story as a novel. We wanted to let it just breathe and do the type of storytelling we could never do in a regular comic. That was the primary reason, to try something very different than what we had been doing, to come up with a story that would be very much an action story. But once we sat down to do it seriously now we re-plotted everything, even over the finished pages.

Did George take an active hand co-plotting with you in that case?

What happened was, while George [was] finishing drawing some of the pages he had already laid out, I came up with a new overview plot which would use all of the pages he drew in a very different way. For instance, brand new villains, brand new reason for everything happening -- I had to suddenly tie in the material, had to set up personal stories between Titans. Back then, again, we were just doing the regular comic, so in a sense this was an ancillary book that would have been a great action comic, but not filled with a lot of emotion. Now every single character gets their story and gets their moment. And because I'm writing it now even though the artwork was done I'm writing a lot of the earlier scenes, the first sixty pages, playing off where we're going to go rather than where the story had been. I sent the material to George, George would go over it and he would say he had room for this, he wouldn't have room for that, and we would go back and forth a little bit.

Sometimes I would come up with something that was just too big for the number of pages. There's a sequence in there with these digital things coming alive and I had come up with the idea of all the billboards in Manhattan -- which are now digital [but] they used to be printed -- suddenly coming alive. And that would have meant a major battle in the middle of Manhattan with sixty-foot advertising symbols! [Laughs] It would have been both hysterical and deadly, but there was no room. So I would revise that, we'd go back and forth, but I tried to come up with a brand new plot, a brand new major villain who had not been there before, or several villains who were introduced solely in the course of where we decided to go with the material. George and I worked out those and he would take what I wrote and play with it as much as he felt like.

To touch on the plot, we already know there's a villain called Gamemaster who is playing some sort of game with the Teen Titans in New York, and that's about it. What can you tell us about the actual story of the graphic novel?

Well there's King Faraday, who is one of DC's oldest characters, though a lot of fans don't know him. He was actually created in 1950 in a comic called "Danger Trail" which means he was created while the original Justice Society was still around and while Jay Garrick was the Flash -- he was created before Barry Allen by five, six years. George and I always used him in the Titans as a member of this organization, the CBI, which was our version of the CIA and FBI combined. And actually the Gamemaster is out to get him. The Titans get involved because the type of villains the Gamemaster has brought together all seem to be doppelgangers of the Titans, or seem to be centered with abilities that are specifically good for the Titans to battle. And their question is why, and how, and what's going on? Also, somebody in the Titans greater group has been targeted for death and they have to figure out who that person is as well. It's a fairly personal story, and as I said each one of the characters now has some very, very strong moments in it as the story had to switch from hinging on plot to hinging on character.

Because it's been a while since this incarnation of the characters were in a comic series together, did you feel you had to modernize them at all or change them in order to reach new readers who might potentially pick up the graphic novel?

No. Not in the slightest. My view was this is a standalone graphic novel. We even ignore -- because we plotted the last fifty sixty pages recently -- we completely ignored anything that happened even in our "Titans." This was standalone and everything you need to know about the Titans, whether you read it in the past or in the present for the first time, this version of the Titans you learn from the graphic novel.

When it came to creating Gamemaster and the new villains was it a challenge to have them fit into the 1980s team, or was that not a consideration?

It wasn't a consideration. There's no place in the entire book where I say what year this takes place. In fact, there are references from all different time periods, so except for the costumes and one visual thing there's really no hint that this was done in the '80s. You can guess it because of the costumes and some of the stuff because we couldn't redraw any of the pages obviously, nor would we have wanted to. This is the Titans of our era, so it had to be that, but there's no reference [to time]. So there's nothing on my side as a writer that I had to give any verbal clues to the fact that it took place in the past because I didn't write it like it took place in the past, or took place in the present, I just wrote it. That was the important thing because if I wrote it as a pure period piece I would have also had to write it in the style of 1988, 1987 when we first plotted it. My style has changed drastically -- in fact, all writing styles in comics have changed drastically -- and the concern I had was of course, "If I'm writing it in my current style, what will people think?"

But the Titans are so well defined emotionally and their speech patterns are so ingrained in my head that the few people who have read it all say it reads exactly like the old "Titans," and yet it's actually nothing like it at the same time because it's not written with tons of dialogue and it's not rambling in the old way and there's not that sense of melodrama. It's a very, very different writing style but the characters sound exactly the same because their speech patterns haven't changed and their thinking patterns haven't changed.

When we last spoke, you said this is the core 1987 Titans team, with Cyborg and Jericho and Nightwing and Danny and everyone. But were there any other characters or Titans you wanted to use but couldn't fit into the story?

Not really because again, since this had been started and the first sixty pages or so were drawn, those were the characters we knew we were with. The story wasn't about any other Titans, it was just about those characters. Because we did insert pages into the earlier stuff, we just didn't get rid of any pages and then we added all the rest, I think by the end every Titan is fully developed and I'm really pleased they are. I wasn't sure that would happen but they are within the context of the story. Every Titan gets their moment to shine, some of them repeatedly throughout the story. In fact, most of the Titans get multiple scenes in it. I can't even think of a Titan I would have wanted to use that wasn't there.

Last month also saw the release of your "Retroactive: Superman - The '80s" comic. I have to ask, between the two projects, have you been living in a constant state of '80s nostalgia?

[Laughs] Well again, fortunately because I didn't write this like the '80s, no. But also I've been doing twice a month DCU Online comics, which is utterly brand new and takes the DC Universe in places you never could do in the regular comic. I mean, people die, everything is happening with constant shocks because continuity of the regular stuff doesn't matter. I've been doing that for the last year, so I'm absolutely up to date on that material. The "Retroactive" was fun in that I went back almost to an '80s style to do it. In fact, only the very last page of that was not written in an '80s style and was very deliberately intended not to be written in that style, though nobody but me would know that! But again, "Titans" was not written to be an '80s book. There's none of that straightforward exposition.

After this are there plans for you and George to do more standalone "Teen Titans" novels set in this time period, or other DC books?

I'm doing a seven-part series but I can't say what it is at the moment, which is completely different and I'm very pleased with it. Four of the issues are drawn and I have to get the next one done. But really I don't know after those are done where I'll be because with DC's New 52 I don't know where any of that stuff stands right now. Obviously I'd like to do more, but I also write video games and am writing an animated movie and several other things. So I'm being kept busy. In fact, I'm probably busier than I've ever been. But I love doing comics and I certainly am hoping DC is interested in working with me on something after we're finished with all the current stuff. Again if the "Titans" graphic novel does really well, maybe George would be interested in doing another. I do have an idea for one, but if we're going to do it we would have to do it together. If they want something different, they just want me on a graphic novel, I would not do the same story I would do with George because the two of us just speak in shorthand and we're so good as a team. I'd also perhaps like to work with him on a different title completely, start something fresh, not to revisit something but brand new.

For you, what was the core part of "Teen Titans" that you wanted to make sure was still in the graphic novel?

The difference for me between the Titans and most other books of this sort, with the exception of the Fantastic Four, is that the Titans are a family group. And I never forgot that, even when I didn't do it maybe as well. To me the Titans were always a family. It wasn't just a number of characters who were put in a book together, like the Justice League or the Avengers. When I created the Titans originally, even before George was involved with it, I worked out their backgrounds and designed them to be able to function off each other. That's all in the background; I even have the original paperwork that goes with it! [Laughs] But they were created to be a family and they were created so that none of them were more vital than the others so they could all get along and also have reasons to have problems that a family has together. The one thing I wanted to bring back to the Titans was that family feel. They aren't just a gathering of heroes, they are a family. When you write the characters, at least the ones I created, in that fashion they work, and when you don't write them in that fashion they don't work. "Titans" doesn't have to be a book like that -- they weren't when they were first created -- but that's the decision I made for my group of Titans and that's the way I handled them and that's the way they were written in this book as well.

Do you think family as a core idea is why your run was so wildly successful?

I certainly think that's one of the reasons. I also think it's the fact that George and I just sat down not knowing if the book would survive or not and decided to do exactly the comic we wanted to do. That's what we did for the five years we were together and that's what I tried to do the sixteen years I was on the book completely. I think that's an incredibly important aspect of it, but so is the imagination it shows, so is the constantly coming up with brand new characters so it does not feel too stale, that we're constantly recreating it, yet the family is what keeps you there.

Like I said earlier, you two reinvented the "Teen Titans" when you came onboard in the '80s and now DC is reinventing them once again. As the old guard to the new guard, have you spoken with Scott Lobdell or do you have any words of wisdom for the new "Teen Titans" creative team?

I make it a practice never to look at books that I've created after I leave them, so I never read them. But I did write to Scott, I believe, and said, "Do everything I did: ignore everything that preceded you -- including my work -- and come up with the type of book you want to do." I didn't ask the previous people who had done "Titans" what they felt. I had to do a book that was important to me and because of that, that's the only advice I ever give anyone: "Don't worry about what I think, just do the book you want, otherwise you're just copying. You have to be original."

Hopefully the Titans will continue to be an original book and well done and if the people doing it are working towards that end they may have a hit on their hands. You just never know. All the fans are very fickle in terms of what they like and what they don't like, and that's the way it should be. You're paying money, you have a right to make your determination. Hopefully lightning can strike again, but that's really up to the people in charge of the book and the work they put into it. Scott's a really good writer and I like him and I certainly hope he can make a new hit of the book, same way Geoff Johns did before that.

"The New Teen Titans: Games" arrives in stores September 21.

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