With Six You Get Eggrolls

Welcome to What Th--? Week eight, Marv held hostage. With the San Diego con coming up I wasn’t sure I could think of another topic to write about at short notice, so I thought I’d answer another question. How do you write team books? This is one I get asked quite often, so I said to myself, myself, why don’t I devote an entire column to it? At worst, even if nobody cares, it will fill up space. Hopefully, lots of folk will care. Let me know, okay?

Marv, what is your opinion of the different segments of your lengthy run on Titans? What was your best story arc? What was your worst? At what point did you realize you didn't want to write it anymore? Discuss generally your long run on the book and how it affected you as a writer and the concept of the team book in the comic medium. Also compare your run on Titans to the Claremont period on X-men and the results on both books.

The New Teen Titans was the best of times and the worst of times. I wrote it for sixteen years. That is a looooong time. I loved writing the book, especially the first eight to ten years where I was in charge of it, either unofficially or officially. Those were the issues where I did what I truly believed in. Once someone else comes in – even if they are a great editor - things change. Sometimes for the best. Sometimes not so for the best. There are a number comics where I truly believe the editor makes the series much, much better, but a very few series where I feel the creators should be left alone. For me those series would be Titans, Crisis and Tomb Of Dracula. Everything else I’ve worked on has been helped by working with good editors.

I don’t think it’s at all surprising that things weren’t quite the same on Titans once that control changed. Best runs: The first 50 issues. Or anytime I worked with the incredible George Perez. He wasn’t just the artist. He was the co-creator. Favorite stories: Who is Donna Troy? The Terra storyline. And a story nobody ever brings up which is my all time favorite, “Shades of Gray,” the culmination of the Changeling/Terminator story. There are dozens of smaller stories that I also love, especially “A Day In The Life,” and “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Maladi.” I loved the Kole stories and many others.

Where did it go wrong? The last year or two. The reason? See my note in paragraph one above. Also, along the way I lost interest in the series and thought of quitting, but then Jon Peterson became editor and reminded me what I loved about the book. We did Titans Hunt together which was as close to the ‘classic’ Titans as I had done in a long time. It would have been a lot better if it hadn’t had to be broken up by two maxi-series, turning what should have been a four-five part story where Vic Stone would have been rebuilt to a year and a half storyline where he got lost in the mix.

I finally had it during that final year and decided to quit the book. I hated every story. Every issue. I wasn’t even the plotter. So, at a DC Christmas out here in LA, I went up to DCU Editor-in-Chief Mike Carlin and said I wanted to quit and asked if DC would bring back Night Force and let me write that instead, but with a different editor. I thought there might have been a problem, but Mike said yes but asked me to stay on the Titans a few issues longer. He said he thought it would be best to cancel the Titans with my run rather than just hand it over to someone else. They would then restart it with new characters, concepts and a new number one, which I thought was a great idea. After sixteen years, a new voice and approach were needed. Mike assigned a new editor to my last four issues, and, with the exception of not being able to use Nightwing – who had been returned to Batman continuity - let me end the series pretty much the way I wanted. I still thank Mike for rescuing me from what had turned into a hellish nightmare.

I still love the Titans and would love to do individual stories about them, but DC hasn’t seemed that interested. I recently proposed a character-driven Titans-3 series featuring an approximately 24 year old Cyborg, Raven and Starfire trying to figure out what they are about when they aren’t being super, but nobody seems to be banging down my door for it. I also have tried to jumpstart the “Games” graphic novel George and I started a dozen years ago – of which he drew 80 incredible pages that have never been seen – but again, no interest.

As for comparing apples with oranges, I can’t. I was never an X-Men fan and didn’t read the comic. Sorry.

About team books. Strangely enough, I generally don’t like them. I prefer single characters books. But, to me, the secret of team books is in the creation of and the mix of the characters. For there to be a team, every character needs to be an important component of that team. They need to have their own personality that can play with and against every other character. Their origins needs to be created in such a way that they can be milked for years.

Since all stories should stem from character, the characters in a team book need to be constructed so they can have a great number of stories. They need unresolved issues, good and bad. They need a purpose and they need to somewhere deep in their souls realize the people around them can help them find that purpose. They need to be able to stand up on their own but also need others. It’s a tricky combination and not just a goulash of different characters tossed together.

Then you need to come up with stories that let each character shine. Maybe not at the same time, but they all need their moment in the spotlight. Also, you need to understand the idea of A, B & C plotting where you juggle main plots and sub-plots that constantly move both story and characters in directions you don’t expect them to go. You want to always see how characters will react when put in situations they don’t have ready answers for. And while they do that, you need to be always true to your characters. Even if it hurts.

I did a story in Titans which the fans truly hated – and I know why – but it was 100% in character and I still stick by it. I had Starfire, Princess Koriand’r, marry a prince from her home world while telling Nightwing, Dick Grayson, the man she loved, that her marriage should not change their relationship. Dick couldn’t accept that even though by Kory’s standards marrying this man was something that was just ceremonial and always done on her world. Kory did it to prevent war. Kory had allowed herself to be put into slavery by her father to prevent war. Kory, as princess, was taught from birth that as a royal she would always have to sacrifice her own needs for her planet. We’d shown this since issue #1 and that part of her personality never changed. Dick, on the other hand, despite his love for Kory, could not change his basic morality. Kory was married. How could he still love her. It tore him apart.

I maintain this is a classic story of characters coming literally from two different worlds being torn apart by the very thing that brought them together. Kory wasn’t wrong in what she did and believed. Nor was Dick. There was no bad guy here. That difference was what I wanted to explore. It was, in my mind, a very adult examination of cultural differences.

Yet, because I fractured the fan view of what true love in a comic book should be, I was nearly nailed to a cross for the story. Still, despite it all, I was true to the characters I had created. The anger was so vehement I retreated as quickly as possible from that storyline. I’m still sorry I had. For characters to become real they have to act real, with warts and all. For team characters to work together, you need to make them face the very things they don’t want to face and then use the other cast members to help them through their journey.

Ultimately, every successful team story is about family. You can love each other. You can hate each other, but you’re stuck with each other. You know each other so well you see everything bad about them, but then you have to move past that. It’s the constant push and pull of their differences that make the exploration worth writing about and reading about.

Whew! I’m exhausted. So that’s it for this week. Please keep sending your questions, and I’ll see you in seven.

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