The Teen Titans are starting over this month, learning about their new superpowers and meeting each other for the first time, as writer Jeff Lemire gets to re-imagine the team's origin in Teen Titans: Earth One.
And according to Lemire, things might go a little differently this time around.
The graphic novel, which features art by Terry and Rachel Dodson, is part of DC's Earth One series of books, which are all set in continuity-free universes. They've been written by some of the biggest names in the industry, with Superman: Earth One by J. Michael Straczynski and Batman: Earth One by Geoff Johns already released, and Grant Morrison working on the 2015 book, Wonder Woman: Earth One.
With Lemire's graphic novel, the Teen Titans characters come together in a world where there aren't already adult superheroes. As a result, sidekick characters like Robin and Aqualad aren't part of the Earth One team.
Instead, Lemire is focusing on original characters who are best known as Titans — like Cyborg, Raven, Changling, Jericho, Starfire and Terra — and how these teens would react in the modern world to their abilities.
The teens will come up against Deathstroke, but Slade Wilson is a little different in this series, and he isn't necessarily the greatest threat the team will face.
Newsarama talked to Lemire about Teen Titans: Earth One and what readers can respect from this revamp of the classic team.
Newsarama: Jeff, your Teen Titans: Earth One book is coming out later this month. But this was a long time in the making, right?
Jeff Lemire: Yeah, it was. I can't even remember when I started working on it, to be honest, because it was one of those books that, because it's a 144-page graphic novel, it would take whoever was working on it a long time to draw it. And then when we got Terry Dodson on board, we knew he'd need a lot of lead time.
So yeah, I wrote it a long time ago! [Laughs] Maybe two years ago now? And then it was out of my hands, and I just waited as the pages slowly came in.
Seeing it all together now, though, is a reminder of everything I was doing, and it's pretty cool.
Nrama: The roster of characters is pretty exciting, because it's not the sidekicks. It's the characters who were specifically known for being Teen Titans. What motivated you to pick this team of characters?
Lemire: When I got the assignment from Dan DiDio, it was really open, in terms of what I wanted to do. It was up to me to take [the concept of "Teen Titans"] and do whatever I wanted with it.
I spent a lot of time thinking about different approaches. And then, it's like you said, when you think of the Teen Titans, the first thing you think about are all the sidekick characters — Robin, Kid Flash, Wonder Girl, Aqualad. So I thought a lot about that.
But the problem with using those characters is, in these Earth One books, there's no continuity with other books. So if I'm going to introduce Robin and Wonder Girl, I also have to establish who Batman and Wonder Woman are. So it would be like you almost have to introduce all the adult characters first before you can make sense of who the sidekicks are. And that seemed like a step backwards.
Whereas if you take the original characters, like Cyborg and Starfire, who [Marv] Wolfman and [George] Pérez created in the '80s, and who I loved growing up, they're free of all that legacy and backstory. And they can just be unique characters that you can focus on without having to establish an adult version as well.
So just from a story approach point of view, it seemed like the cleanest way in for me and for readers.
Also, I was keeping in mind that, hopefully, these Earth One books would have a life in the book market, maybe outside of comic shops, and some people reading them maybe wouldn't be familiar with comics or with the history of the character and things. So I wanted to do something that was accessible to new readers as well.
All that went into the decision to use those characters as opposed to the sidekicks.
On top of that, I'd be lying if I said I didn't love those characters, because the Wolfman and Pérez Titans of the '80s were really… that was the book that got me to fall in love with comic books in the first place. That's when I first became passionate about reading comics and following a superhero title.
So those characters — Cyborg and Starfire and Terra and Changling — they were almost like childhood friends of mine, I spent so much time with them.
Nrama: I was looking at some of the art, and the Cyborg image we've seen makes him look more digital than machine. I assume you're updating these characters and really thinking from a modern point of view?
Lemire: Exactly. Yeah, I don't have to be beholden to anything that's come before. I can keep certain things that I think work really well and that I think are important to the character, but I can also, as you said, make them more modern and updated.
Clearly, the idea of a "cyborg" in 1982 or whatever year Marv and George created it, you know, technology and everything that we have now is just so different that that character, specifically, I felt really could be reimagined, of what that means, to be a cyborg.
I don't want to say what it is in the book, because it's a really big plot point. He's a bit different than just the traditional sort of half-man/half-robot kind of character.
Nrama: I know you don't want to spoil the introduction of the characters, because this is just one story and their debut will be a big part of it…
Nrama: But some of the connections we just assume are going to be there, like the relationship between Terra and Changling, or the relationship between Deathstroke and Jericho — are those being maintained, or are you putting a new spin on them, or are you really going in a different direction?
Lemire: Yeah, they're very different. When you're not, like I said, beholden to the old continuity, you can take things from the old continuity and put a new twist on them that play off some of the expectations a little bit.
I don't want to say anything else. But yeah, I was very aware of those old relationships and the status quo of these characters, and how they've always been represented. So it was fun for me to be able to either use that or ignore it, in a way that serves my story the best.
I wouldn't go into this presuming it's just going to fall into all of the same old relationships and patterns, that's for sure.
Nrama: One of the things Earth One seems to be attempting to do is taking these characters, and instead of having them exist in the DC Universe — this kind of magical place with all kinds of sci-fi and magic and superpowers — but have them in our world. What was it like to have you think about who these kids would be if they were real teenagers, in a world without superheroes, and how they'd react to these thing?
Lemire: Yeah, it's been great. It felt very freeing to be able to write these characters and not have them be connected to all that past and all that history, and the traditional DC Universe. Like you said, I could just have them sort of survive on their own.
The fun for me is seeing these characters, who are very grounded and very realistic kids, and then have these insane things starting to happen, and then having them be able to react to it the way maybe a normal teenager would, as opposed to a teenager who's grown up in 50 years of superheroes flying around them.
So yeah, that was a really big part of what I enjoyed about writing the characters, the astonishment and fear and uncertainty that surrounds the developments of superpowers — there are things that they just don't understand.
Nrama: OK, then before we finish up, I just want to verify, the team is Cyborg, Raven, Changling, Jericho and Terra, right? Oh, and Starfire?
Lemire: Uh… yeah.
Nrama: Or at least they're all in the comic.
Lemire: Yeah. And there may be a couple surprises, but I won't spoil it.
Nrama: And Deathstroke is in it, but is he the main threat?
Lemire: No, not necessarily. At least not to start.
And it wouldn't be any fun if I didn't throw at least one more Teen Titan in there that we haven't spoiled yet. So we may see more.