TITANS Dabbles in WATCHMEN Hints and 'Manhattan' Double Meanings

DC Comics February 2017 solicitations
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: Lee Weeks (DC Comics)

When Dan Abnett launched DC's new Titans series in July, the return of Wally West was still a new phenomenon in the "Rebirth" universe. So the first few issues dealt with Wally's reunion with other Titans characters and the team's discovery of past connections and shared threats.

But there's still the problem of where Wally came from, and more importantly, who not only caused him to disappear, but allegedly stole 10 years from DC's characters and manipulated their relationships and histories.

Although the villain featured in the first arc of Titans - Flash villain Abra Kadabra - seemed to have some knowledge of the continuity-tampering, the clues seemed to go over the heads of the Titans (even if readers were aware of the connection). From a drop of blood that fell on a watch held by Kadabra to the single word that Omen extracted from the villain's mind: "Manhattan," Abnett has been dropping bread crumbs for readers to follow the trail toward the expected confrontation between the DCU and Watchmen.

Next on the agenda is a meeting between post-Crisis Wally West and the post-Crisis Superman, which takes place in this month's Titans #7. Newsarama talked to Abnett to find out more about Wally's meeting with Superman, what the changes in Wonder Woman mean for Donna Troy's history, and whether Titans will continue to deal with the Watchmen story in 2017.

Credit: Lee Weeks (DC Comics)

Newsarama: Dan, now that you've established the Titans team and Wally's return and who's who, do you feel like issue #7 is a turning point for the Titans?

Dan Abnett: I think issue #7 definitely marks the next step. Although we've been running for seven issues plus the Titans: Rebirth #1 issue - and for me, it's been running for longer than that because of Titans Hunt, which I wrote before that (which was very much a prelude to this) - only as of issue #7 have we got them together as a team with a headquarters, functioning as a team that's doing things rather than just responding to external problems and trying to pull themselves together.

It sounds like that's a bit of a delay, but there were a lot of things to work through for those characters in order to get them to this place.

Credit: Lee Weeks (DC Comics)

Titans #7 is a great place for people to jump onto the book. It's a good place to meet these people and learn what they're trying to do.

The opening arc, I was very pleased with. It embeds the team, it brings Wally back, it deals with a lot of issues. But issue #7, to me, is almost like a new issue #1, in as much as we're going, right: Now we're a team.

So there's a renewed vigor from this point on.

Nrama: You've made it clear that Wally doesn't remember having children - or at least, he doesn't remember them yet - but you've got a scene coming up in issue #7 where he does have a reunion with Superman - the post-Crisis Superman who's now part of the "Rebirth" era. What's that like?

Abnett: Getting Wally together with Superman is great fun because it not only gives us the opportunity for them to have the classic foot race together but also because they're distinct from the rest of the DC Universe - there's a commonality there, and a friendship.

And Superman offers his advice and help.

Credit: Lee Weeks (DC Comics)

That is obviously taking forward Wally's storyline, which has a lot of things still to do with it. You know - where was he? How did he get there? What's the Rebirth backstory all about?

But also, he's had a personal loss. He's lost Linda. Should he try to rebuild that life? Will he remember things about his past that the readers know about, as you mentioned, like his kids? There are a lot of things that we have to deal with coming up, and we'll continue working those character-based questions into the story.

Similarly, we're talking about Donna's past, who she is, and also the fact that Roy can't help but show that he really, really likes her. And she's now acknowledging that she's aware of that.

What I'm saying is there's a lot of character work in here.

Nrama: There has to be. With "Rebirth," so many things have changed about the history of these characters.

Abnett: Absolutely. Every issue, we have to get information out there to clarify: These are the facts we're using for this character.

So of all the different versions of Donna Troy, for instance, many of which are contradictory and all to do with the changes in time and all of that - I'm trying to lay out, these are the things that I want to establish that are true now about Donna. And that will give us some questions in terms of exploring those stories.

Credit: Lee Weeks (DC Comics)

Nrama: There does seem to be a contradiction with what's happening now in Wonder Woman, with the revelation that Diana's never even been to Paradise Island since she left. How does Donna fit into that?

Abnett: We have a Titans Annual coming out between issue #8 and #9, which is a must-read if you're a fan of Donna Troy - or all the characters, actually. So you'll find out how that ties together.

Nrama: We've seen several hints about the mysteries from DC Universe: Rebirth #1 within the pages of Titans since it launched. Will Titans continue to play a role in that, since these characters are probably more aware than anybody that there's something weird happening?

Abnett: That's true. Well, I think things have been announced in the last couple of weeks about DC's plans to deploy the W-word that we…

This is quite difficult, because obviously, it's terribly exciting for me. I'm a huge, huge fan of Watchmen, and I loved the shocking, surprising way that it was there in the "Rebirth" one-shot. Suddenly, all bets are off. It's like, what the hell's going on?

And the Titans - and Wally in particular - were right there at ground zero of that event. They are so closely connected to it.

The problem was that you can't tell a story like that in one story-arc of Titans. That's not my story to tell. Yet it is connected. I don't want the Titans to look like they've seen something and just forgotten about it and turned away. And at the same time, we've got to let anticipation for that big event build up, and the Titans are part of that because of their connection.

Credit: Lee Weeks (DC Comics)

Nrama: Well, you've given a few hints during your first story arc. Or at least, they were cryptic enough that I thing you have…

Abnett: Yes, yes, the hints were there on purpose. I tried to get as many references and connections in as I could. Some of them were very obvious. Some of them are bleak. Some of them not at all obvious to the characters in the story.

I think there are certain things in the Abra Kadabra story where the readers are going to go, "Oh, that's a Watchmen reference! I can see it there!" But the characters have no awareness of that at all.

I actually had a long list of things I could do to tease, and the DC editors went, "yes, yes, no, no…." So there were certain things I was hoping to do that I didn't end up getting to do. Maybe I'll get to do them closer to the event.

The biggest teaser, to me - and I was pleased with the way it got folded into the story, because it has a meaning in the story rather than just being a great big neon sign saying "story to come" - was Omen getting the word "Manhattan" out of Kadabra's mind.

Credit: Lee Weeks (DC Comics)

Nrama: That was one of the more obvious ones, along with all the clock references. But you found a way to put "Manhattan" into the book, didn't you?

Abnett: I did. The presumption by the characters in the book was that "Manhattan" references the place.

Nrama: And the readers are going, "No! It doesn't refer to the place!"

Abnett: Well, I'm not saying it doesn't. It may well be that that's what he was talking about. I'm not going to say anything for sure. But clearly, the connection is there.

But for that to crop up, and rather than it being a kind of big, striking moment, the idea of the Titans going, "Manhattan! That's where we should be!" is pretty cool.

And in issue #7, they're setting up their headquarters in Manhattan.

Truly, we had long conversations about where to locate the Titans. They needed to be somewhere. Because there are two books - Teen Titans and Titans – and they are similar in their line-ups, we want to make sure they're distinct books. And the Teen Titans are over in the west coast.

Credit: Lee Weeks (DC Comics)

So with Wally's connection to the "Rebirth" story, we thought it would be fun to drop the name "Manhattan" in there, and lo and behold, they've got an ideal base of operations.

And in issue #7, we'll have fun with that, as they set up the base. To me, superheroes (or any kind of science fiction-type genre) becomes more credible when you couch it in real-world business. So we have them construct this base, which they've done almost overnight using Atlantean technology - which is something I then reference in Aquaman (a throw-away line in Aquaman in an issue or two where somebody mentions building something for the Titans). But they have a conversation about zoning and air traffic control and where the money's coming from. To me, that's the everyday business of what it would be like to have a secret base in the middle of the East River. You don't just do that. It has huge implications.

Nrama: You've got the Fearsome Five coming into the book as the next threat?

Abnett: Yes, but I'm actually sort of running two threats simultaneously. Issue #7 is sort of a prelude to the next arc. And it brings them into contact with classic Titans foes, which as you stated is the Fearsome Five, but also it's dealing with Mal Duncan and his wife Karen.

Mal and Karen have been Titans in the past. They played a part in Titans Hunt. But from "Rebirth" onwards, they did not. In an ideal world, I'd have 100 pages every month and get as many characters as possible in there and do as much as I possibly could, but there was a real, real need to keep the Titans small and keep it down to a manageable number of people that we could deal with. I felt very sad to have left characters like Gnarrk, Karen and Mal, and Hawk and Dove, behind in Titans Hunt because they could have very easily been part of that team.

Credit: DC Comics

Issue #7 is the lead-in to a three-part story called "Made in Manhattan," which will bring Mal and Karen back into the story as sort of guests. And we're going to be looking particularly at the dynamic between these two people because Mal has been a Titan and has been a superhero, and he doesn't want to do that anymore. It was generally speaking a pretty unpleasant experience, and he doesn't want to do that anymore. But Karen, who ended up in Titans Hunt, suddenly got powers for the first time. She doesn't know where that came from.

It's great to see a character who's excited to suddenly have these abilities, but she doesn't have any idea what to do with them. So we'll find out what they mean for her and whether she can be a superhero if her husband doesn't want to be one.

So this is setting up an exploration of those two. And of course, the Titans are the people they turn to for assistance and guidance dealing with the problems, because once Karen starts to investigate what her powers are, it brings her into direct contact with some very dangerous individuals.

So issue #7 establishes the Titans as a team, functioning with a base, and two of their first customers are two friends.

As for the Fearsome Five, they have appeared in "Rebirth" and "New 52" already, although I think Brett Boothwill give them an interesting visual spin to make sure they're fresh and up to the minute. But I'm not trying to reinvent them or anything.

I will be deploying them and the powers they use in ways that make them significant and quite frightening. Mammoth, for instance, isn't just a big, strong guy - he's a terrifyingly strong guy. He's a Hulk-class strong guy. And the others with their various powers - Shimmer and Jinx, for instance - employing their powers in ways that are quite startling.

So we're not reinventing them, but we're doing sort of a modern take on what they'd be like if you encountered them.

Credit: DC Comics

Nrama: And Brett Booth is your artist going forward? You've got Lee Weeks on the next issue, right?

Abnett: Yes, Brett Booth and Norm Rapmund have done amazing work on the book so far. I'm so pleased that they're the regular team. The Abra Kadabra story was great and they're fantastic to work with.

They obviously needed a break, because it's been very, very intensive work.

And to get Lee on issue #7 was an absolute pleasure. I think he did a beautiful job. I really was impressed by it. He draws Superman so brilliantly. And he was so nice to work with. He was so professional, and he was genuinely worried that he wasn't going to do a good job because he wasn't as familiar with the Titans character, in terms of the muscle memory of drawing them. Superman, to him, came so easily, but these were characters he had to draw his way into, to make sure he was doing them properly.

He kept saying, "I'm not sure I'm doing this right." And I'm going, "Are you kidding? This is fantastic!"

The issue is old-school in the best possible way. The draftsmanship is amazing. But remember while you're reading it that this is work produced by someone who didn't think they were quite getting it. I'm thinking, well, if that's you not quite getting it, what would it look like if you did? I think it's fantastic. And I'm hoping we get to use Lee again on the occasion when Brett and Norm need another break. I think Lee did a great job.

Nrama: What's coming up in 2017? You teased what's happening with Watchmen, but can you give us any hints about what else is coming up in the book?

Abnett: Absolutely. There are considerable plans. When "Rebirth" started, there were long-term plans for both Aquaman and Titans. Aquaman, of course, is double shipping, so I'm burning through stories. That's fantastic, but that means I'm having to plan further and further out.

With the Titans, on a monthly basis, the pacing is very different. You're only getting 20 pages a month instead of 40 pages a month. I have to be more selective about the scenes I show and how I develop characters. There is a longer wait between those casual beats of backstory and meta-story that may frustrate people. So I'm trying to move things along, oddly, faster than Aquaman.

But after "Made in Manhattan" and the annual, there are loads of things you'll start to see coming together that have been growing in these stories. If it appears to be a three-issue story (like issues #3 through #5, for instance), yes, it is, but in the background, there are all sorts of other things going on.

And I think when we get to the mid-teens of Titans, which really isn't that far away, the big events will start to happen. And people who've been reading it from day one will go, "Oh my God, they've been talking about this since the beginning! Oh my God, that was set up in issue #6! You know, it's all there."

I'm laying it all out in plain sight. It just isn't obvious what everything is. But I hope there are some incredibly satisfying payoffs.

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