Among DC's announcements about the changes coming during Brightest Day, one seems little less bright.
In fact, Titans actually gets a lot darker this spring as a team of villains led by Deathstroke take over the title with the brand new creative team of Eric Wallace and Fabrizio Fiorentino. Beginning with the Titans: Villains for Hire Special then spilling into the Titans, the storyline sees characters like Cheshire and Tattooed Man join Deathstroke to form a new team that will be the focus of the title during DC's Brightest Day event.
Wallace and Fiorentino recently finished the mini-series Final Crisis Aftermath: Ink, in which the Tattooed Man struggled with his family and his superpowers. Now the creative team and the character make the jump to Titans.
Newsarama spoke to Wallace about his take on Deathstroke and what brings these characters together for his upcoming run on Titans.
Newsarama: Eric, we've talked a little before about your background, but for those who might have missed that interview, are you a long-time comics reader?
Eric Wallace: I’ve been reading comics since I was four or five years old. I actually started out reading Richie Rich (and yes, I have no problems admitting that!) and a ton of Gold Key books such as Turok, Son of Stone and their Dark Shadows adaptations. After a few years, I graduated to JLA, Batman, Amazing Spider-Man, The Flash, and Fantastic Four.
A big turning point came in the mid-1980s when I discovered Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing. Talk about a revelation! That was when I started to realize that there were no limits to the kinds of stories you could tell in the comic book medium. And for the record, yes, Swampy’s still one of my all-time favorite characters in the DCU.
Nrama: But you ended up writing with television, right? How did that turn into comics?
Wallace: I’d been working as a TV writer and producer for over a decade. During this time, I continued to read comic books and, more importantly, attend comic book and sci-fi conventions. One year, I was introduced to one of the DC editors at San Diego Comic-Con, at which point I took the liberty of pitching myself as a comic book writer.
Well, it took a while after that to get my first story, but eventually I was given an opportunity to write a short story for the DCU Halloween Special 2008. Fortunately for me, someone must have liked what I did. The offer for Ink came soon after that, and you folks know the rest.
Nrama: We've been told for a long time by the "powers-that-be" at DC that Deathstroke would be forming his own Titans team. But once you got involved with the project and started putting together the team, how did it evolve?
Wallace: Developing a new Titans team was a fun process and still is! I say that, because as we’re working out this first group of stories, more and more exciting opportunities and directions are being discovered for this team.
But to get a bit more specific, DC started out by saying that a new Titans team was in the works with Deathstroke as the leader. Cheshire was targeted early on as a member, but there was no one else beyond that.
I was then asked who I would like to see on the team. Some of my more outrageous suggestions were wisely dismissed as the crazy notions of a novice comic book creator. However, within several weeks the group members were in place. This included someone I really wanted to use, the Tattooed Man. To my good fortune, DC had him in mind too. Since then, there’s only really been one major line-up change. Unfortunately, I can’t say involving whom, as I don’t want to ruin any of the surprises we have in store.
Nrama: What's the motivation for this new Titans team, and how do they start coming together? Is it all Deathstroke's doing, or is there more involved?
Wallace: This team is all Deathstroke’s doing. He’s the mastermind behind it and he, alone, directs their movements. As for their motivations, the title of the book says it all: Titans: Villains for Hire. I mean, they’re villains. And, well… they’re for hire. Having said that, this book is going to be about much more than just the action-oriented missions with which they become involved. It’s also going to be very much about their personal lives and (gasp!) loves. That was something that DC was very keen on, and I totally agreed with that direction.
Nrama: You say they're villains. Will the whole team be villains?
Wallace: Uh… that’s a question I can’t really answer at this time. Sorry!
Nrama: Then let's talk about Deathstroke. What's your take on who this character is?
Wallace: I love Deathstroke because he’s such a huge mass of contradictions. He’s a supreme DCU villain. A total bad guy who, as we’ve seen in the past and will continue to see in this series, is capable of some truly horrific things. He’s also very proud and a bit pompous, as well as being one of the most dangerous men on the planet.
But then there’s the other side to Deathstroke. He’s a parent who loves his children. Yes, he has a funny way of showing it sometimes. But he truly cares about Joseph and Rose. Also, he has a real code of honor that crops up at the strangest of times. So in Deathstroke you have a guy who is both bad and good. The question is, which trait is going to surface in a given situation? It’s this complex combination of good and evil inside Deathstroke that makes him an enjoyable character to write, because he’s all about the “grays,” not the black and whites.
Nrama: You mention his relationship with Joseph. What's the relationship like between him and Deathstroke as you write them?
Wallace: Who said I’d be writing Jericho? Not me! All I said was that Deathstroke loves his kids…
Nrama: Can you at least tell us if Rose will be involved?
Wallace: Mum’s the word.
Nrama: Fair enough. With Deathstroke, is there a story from the character's past that you think defines the character? What stories have influenced how you see Deathstroke?
Wallace: There are several key Deathstroke stories for me that exemplify his complex nature. His first appearance way back in New Teen Titans #2 is one of them. There he’s really just trying to help out his son Grant. Albeit it’s to take down a group of heroes… but still, you have to admire that sense of family loyalty, no matter how skewed the perspective might be. But then there’s the “Titans Hunt” storyline where suddenly Deathstroke finds himself fighting alongside Nightwing to rescue the Teen Titans. That was just an incredible story that, for me, showed a whole new side to Deathstroke.
However, I really enjoyed Deathstroke’s savage battle against the JLA in Identity Crisis. That fight scene, more than any other I’d seen before, showed what Deathstroke is truly capable of. This wasn’t an example of noble savagery. It was Deathstroke as a cold, calculating, and brilliant monster who can defeat pretty much anyone, because he’s smarter that most of his opponents and possesses the kind of ruthless nature required to completely and effectively decimate a team of heroes. Trust me, fans will definitely see this kind of intensity from Deathstroke and his team in the new Titans book.
But to counter that, I absolutely loved the nobility and loyalty Deathstroke demonstrated recently in Teen Titans #77-78. Titans: Villains for Hire will pick up some of the strands begun in those issues. However, I think folks will be a bit surprised about where they ultimately lead.
Nrama: How did you pick the team members? Did it just organically happen or was it a battle to see what villains would be available?
Wallace: As I said earlier, Deathstroke and Cheshire were already on DC’s list. And we both agreed on the Tattooed Man. As for the other spots, it was a really organic process. Each member of the new Titans fulfills a role in a very dysfunctional “family.” Deathstroke is their skewed “father,” with the Tattooed Man as his oldest, more dutiful son. Cheshire plays the slightly twisted role of spoiled daughter and dangerous wild child. Obviously, these roles are all metaphors—Cheshire and Deathstroke are not related at all — but this gives you and idea of how and why certain characters were chosen, and how they’ll relate to each other as the series goes on.
Nrama: After Ink, how does Tattooed Man fit into this team?
Wallace: The Tattooed Man is an anti-hero and, to be honest, one very conflicted guy. His M.O. is that he has a tendency to do the wrong things for the right reasons all the time. This means he can act like a hero while doing terrible things and vice versa. Again, it’s his contradictory nature that makes him a perfect fit with Deathstroke and his ilk. As you’ll see in the very first story, these new Titans have a very strange sense of morality.
Nrama: What's your take on Cheshire as a character?
Wallace: I’ve loved Cheshire since her early appearances in New Teen Titans. Again, it’s because she’s another character full of huge inner conflicts and major contradictions. She’s a sadistic assassin and cold-blooded killer. Yet she’s a mother too…
As you can see, if there’s anything that draws these new Titans together, it’s their conflicted moral code, one that often bends to conform with whatever goal or agenda they happen to have at a given moment. And when you think about it, that’s very human. Yes, we’re all capable of love and compassion. But we’re also capable of violence, especially given the proper circumstances. Also, human beings — myself included – can be very selfish creatures. It’s not something to be proud of, but it’s true. I believe that it’s in these unflattering moments, the times when we put ourselves and our desires ahead of everything else (including the greater good) that our darker, and perhaps truer natures are revealed.
Nrama: As a long-time comics reader, how are you making sure to stay connected to the concept of "Titans" while writing this team of villains?
Wallace: I think that any book with a team of Titans needs one indispensable tenant at its core, in order to be successful. This is that the book must explore who the Titans themselves really are, and the greater the detail, the better. This is done by slowly unfolding the many layers that lie within each character and exploiting them, for better or worse, to the greatest extent possible. It’s a tricky balance, because when exploring darker tones to a character’s nature, you don’t want to turn that character into someone the reader hates or can’t relate to. The most successful Titans books of the past have walked this tightrope brilliantly. Hopefully, my run will continue this tradition.
Nrama: There have been a lot of villain teams before, including the current Secret Six ongoing. How is this one unique?
Wallace: They didn’t have Deathstroke! We do.
Nrama: Another thing the comic has is Fabrizio Fiorentino, whom you also worked with on Ink. What does his style bring to the comic? What are his strengths and are you playing to them?
Wallace: Fabrizio’s such a brilliant artist, and I had such a great time working with him on Ink. The goal is to take our collaboration to the next level with this book.
Fabrizio’s strength is his ability to bring a terrific combination of realism and poetry to everything he draws, and Titans: Villains for Hire is going to take advantage of that. For example, there's some pretty intense violence in one of the early stories. Yet Fabrizio was able to take what might seem like callous brutality and infuse it with a nobility that elevates the moment, making it both intense and poignant. That’s hard to do yet he makes it look easy! And wow… wait until you see some of his action sequences. Trust me, readers are going to love it.
Nrama: Is there anything else you'd like to tell fans about your upcoming run on Titans?
Wallace: Stay tuned for a wild and intense ride in Titans: Villains for Hire. Because when villains take over… anything can happen.