From its sneak preview in 1980's DC Comics Presents #26 (read it here), immediately followed by an award-winning ongoing series (read it here), writer Marv Wolfman and artist George Perez's The New Teen Titans has proven one of the most influential comic book sagas of all time, inspiring the original Teen Titans cartoon show (watch it here) and Teen Titans Go!, as well as DC Universe's new live-action Titans (debuting on October 12th). We recently caught up with the creators and spoke with them about the legendary super team's creation and legacy...
Why do you think THE NEW TEEN TITANS has remained so popular after almost forty years?
Wolfman: If you look at the Teen Titans cartoon show, and even Teen Titans Go! -- which is just a straight-out comedy -- the characters are still sort of in character. The characters are easily identifiable, iconic characters, each one representing a certain power, a certain emotion, a certain ability. It’s very easy to understand. The depth comes in the actual stories, but their problems are very simple to get and who they are is simple to understand.
Perez: You notice how many children -- particularly with Teen Titans Go!, which is made for a very young audience -- understand that. When you meet a girl whose favorite character is Raven, she’s usually a very shy girl, who identifies with her, who tends to be more introverted. While someone who says Starfire is her favorite might be more effervescent.
The reason they can identify with the characters is that they’re so well defined. I’ve been complimented many times by African-American fans who loved the rendition of Cyborg. They can identify with him because he feels real to them. Or the girl next door, who is Donna... Sometimes she’s given the short stick because she’s not an original character, but we actually defined her. She’s the girl you’re going to introduce to your parents. She’s the one who’s levelheaded. If Dick needed a deputy, or Dick needed to be replaced as leader, she would be the one who would lead. She was the Marie Osmond of our group, but with a fist that would send you through a wall.
They were all archetypes. The fact that Wally was a bit naïve, but also a touch bigoted. Because he is a middle-class wasp, it takes him a little more time to adjust to change. As opposed to Dick, who has worked with Batman for so long, so he’s used to being able to adjust and adapt -- and sometimes counter the moodiness that Batman had. So they all had their own backstory.
Of course, Gar -- who was the youngest member and witnessed the deaths of his family -- provided comic relief, trying to mask a tragedy underneath. Being able to change into all these animals made him the most visual, comedic character. Because we could have him change into anything -- sometimes characters from his id, that don’t really exist in reality. Like one time I had him turn into a serpent because he was so angry. In the cartoons -- when they went back with the Beast Boy name [as opposed to "Changeling"] -- him being able to turn into a nice little kitty cat makes him into a really adorable character. That’s the only thing I kind of regret, that they went back to Beast Boy. I can understand that’s a more accessible name for a child, but I always liked "The Changeling."
Wolfman: One of the other things with the Titans is that every character has a supporting cast. Each one of them has a full cast of characters to indicate their lives exist outside of the Titans Tower. That’s real important to have family, to have these other characters outside of their missions. That was something we did right from day one. Cyborg had Sarah Simms, and later Sarah Charles, as girlfriends, plus his grandparents.
Perez: Ironically, the one that had the fewest family members was Robin. He was so well-established and tied to Batman that in a way the Titans became his family. Because, when you get down to it, other than anyone associated with Batman, he didn’t have anything/anybody that was solely his. His parents were dead. Although I liked the story where they went back to his old circus...
Wolfman: The interesting thing with him is that the person he went to speak with, normally, would be Wonder Girl. They were friends outside of being super partners, and there was no romantic thing going on there.
Perez: That was important -- [despite] the cliché in all media -- the fact that an attractive man and an attractive woman can just be friends. He even walked her down the aisle at her wedding.
Speaking of attractive men and women, when you designed Starfire and Nightwing, did you ever think they would become sex symbols?
Perez: Oh, I was hoping! With Kory there was no denying that she was the sex symbol of the book. That was the intent of the character visually. Obviously the characterization, and the fact that this is a woman who has no straight lines. She’s all curves. You think circles when you're drawing her. I wanted to get this Marilyn Monroe-ish type of character who was a seriously deadly character, but who didn’t lose her innocence because of that. So the costume design was made to be Red Sonja in space.
Her entire planet was very sexually liberated. So, it wasn’t unusual for her. It would be unusual for us, the fact that she would undress in the middle of a park. That’s something that was natural for her, but our society would react differently.
And of course Dick Grayson believed in a balanced diet. [Laughs.] If you have cheesecake you have to have beefcake. If you have your dessert you’ve got to have your main meal. And I found that not only did young ladies love Dick Grayson -- because I was the first person to put him into speedos or whatever -- I developed a very strong gay following with the character. Because, yes, he was a handsome-looking guy.
Wolfman: He was an acrobat, which is why his body is the way it is.
Perez: And the fact that, "Hey, the guy's been dressed in trunks and bare legs his entire life." Of course, drawing his speedo, I thought, "All he did was take off his shirt!" I mean he was always going around without his pants. [Laughs.] But in order to build up the storyline with Kory’s arranged marriage, there had to be some sense of importance to their relationship, so of course I drew in the scene where they were in bed together. It was perfectly natural. I mean she is not an Earth woman. We can’t judge her by the morals of our planet, and the fact that there was going to be a rift in that relationship meant we had to show that that relationship was fully committed. There wasn’t anything risqué about it, and we didn’t make much of a fuss about it because people understood.
Wolfman: It wasn’t drawn salaciously.
Perez: It’s like when they did the scene with Steve Trevor and Wonder Woman in the Wonder Woman movie. I said, “Well, it’s about freaking time!" [Laughs.]
Which Titan did you identify with most?
Perez: Cyborg was mine. I was an urban kid from South Bronx, and obviously the urban background is something you picked up on. My grandparents were deceased, so I based his grandparents on the personalities of my parents, and they’re still both here
Wolfman: There was no specific character that I felt I was similar to. But there were elements from every character. Wonder Girl’s empathy, Changeling’s weird sense of humor...
Perez: Kory’s dress code. [Laughs.]
Wolfman: ...Raven’s shyness, things like that. That all fits within me to some degree. But no one character represents everything. Then I’d be writing about me, and that’s not as interesting as writing about Raven, a character with this incredible background, the most complex background of any of the characters.
What inspired Raven? What led to her creation?
Wolfman: I got an interesting email yesterday from somebody who wanted to find out if I was influenced "by the following twelve things..." for Starfire. I would’ve been a genius if I had known any of it let alone used it. [Laughs.] I wrote back saying, "Sorry, I just made it all up." He was disappointed because he thought I was genius. But if he had known me he would’ve known better. So, no... I like characters with open-ended origins. I like specifically to poke holes in their history. I want places I can go back to later. The latest Raven miniseries came from the fact that, after 30 something years of writing Raven, it suddenly struck me we never figured out why her mother suddenly ran away from home. And, boy, is that a perfect story for a fifteen-year-old girl -- in this particular series -- trying to figure out where she belongs. So now there’s a whole story about her mother and why she ran away and what that means.
How about stories? I know it’s hard to pick favorites, but which ones do you especially cherish?
Perez: I think Marv and I agree on a number of them. Like the single-issue stories "Who is Donna Troy?" and "A Day in the Life", and "The Judas Contract", as a story arc. There’s also "Runaways", which we sometimes don’t give enough mention to.
Wolfman: Yeah, that was a strong one. And the wedding issue was just wonderful... One of my favorite stories is three issues after "The Judas Contract" -- it’s called "Shades of Gray". It ends up with Changeling and Deathstroke going into a coffee shop. That story took me forever to write because I kept trying to end it with a fight scene, but it just would not work. I could not make that work because it’s not what the characters needed. It struck me that, "No, he doesn’t want to beat up Deathstroke. He wants to find out why..." It’s just them sitting there and talking. What we established was that Titans was about characters. Yeah, there’s fights too, but it’s primarily about characters. Nobody can ever remember the fight scenes in comics... I talk about that a lot in my writing seminars -- let the characters guide you.