When Teen Titans launched last September, Damian Wayne hand-picked the members of the group and made it clear that he'd be leading the show.
But it hasn't been easy-going for the young Robin, and with the conclusion of "The Lazarus Contract" - and the "firing" of Kid Flash - the son of Batman is struggling to maintain order. And in the current storyline, he's trying to mentor Jackson, a possible new team member (and new Aqualad).
Writer Benjamin Percy is also switching things up for Damian - and readers - with a Titans power shift that's putting Starfire in charge.
Percy's also planning a guest appearance this fall by another possible new member: Emiko, Green Arrow's archer sister. (And yes, there will be sparks between Emiko and Damian - at least, in one direction.)
Percy, who also writes Green Arrow, will be involving both titles in the "Gotham Resistance" story this fall that ties into Dark Nights: Metal.
Following up on our recent interview with Percy about Green Arrow, Newsarama talked to the writer about what's coming up in Teen Titans ahead of the #11 on August 23 with Khoi Pham.
Newsarama: Ben, you've got an interesting pairing coming up in Teen Titans. Emiko wants to join the team, and she'll be interacting with Damian Wayne? There are a few similarities there…will you be playing with that?
Benjamin Percy: Yes, they both have villainous backgrounds. You have Emiko Queen, who was raised by Komodo, a supervillain. And her mother is a ninja.
She's got a really complicated legacy, and she's been able to overcome it and become a wise-cracking force of good. She toes a questionable moral line sometimes. But she's one of the most exciting younger characters in the DCU.
And Damian Wayne is kind of a cousin to her - a mirror of her. He is the grandson of Ra's Al Ghul, one of the greatest super-criminals in comics. And he has tried to redeem himself; he's tried to reject that legacy; he's tried to become a student of his father, the Batman, but it's been rough-going.
Nrama: "Rough-going" is an understatement lately. One of the results of "The Lazarus Contract" was Kid Flash being fired by Damian Wayne, and the character has really been rubbing people the wrong way. I assume he's not going to change overnight, but I keep rooting for him to evolve...
Percy: I believe in Damian. And what I think is essential for him is that he grows as a character while still retaining some of those more tyrannical qualities.
He's gone through a lot in Teen Titans already. He's shown a lot of progress, but I've also had him regress, because that's the way people are.
There are some issues to come where Damian's teammates will be wondering whether he's actually a bad guy who's just convinced that he's a good guy - that he's role-playing a good guy, but at his core might be evil.
In a way, he's addicted to bad behavior and addicted to power. So, he'll save somebody's life, but then he'll treat them horribly, and then he'll feel bad about treating them horribly, even if he won't admit it.
That's one of the things about Damian - he's not exactly able to articulate his feelings, so you have to read into his actions to truly understand his arc.
Yes, he fired Kid Flash, but then he put all of his effort into the newest recruit to the team, Aqualad, spending hours and hours mentoring him because - again, Damian's not the one to say this - he feels guilty about what happened with Kid Flash. He wants to make sure he doesn't let somebody down again. He doesn't want someone else to fall victim to someone like Deathstroke again.
He's also feeling incredibly insecure about his leadership, and that's why he's pushing back so far.
Nrama: That insecurity might be warranted. It looks like Starfire might be leading?
Percy: In the latest issue, you saw that there's a power shift going on. This is what should happen in a team book. I'm not interested in maintaining the status quo. I think the status quo should always be shifting.
Starfire is the most experienced member of the team. Starfire is the oldest member of the team. And Starfire has the warmest heart of anyone on the team, and she also has this fierce warrior spirit. She's the natural choice for leader.
But Damian's the one who brought the team together.
She's given him a shot, but the time has come for Damian to step aside as the leader of the Teen Titans. He's done good things, and he's been questionable.
His role on the team might be equivalent, you could say, to Wolverine on the X-Men. And Starfire is a kind of Jean Grey.
So, she is stepping into the leadership position.
Nrama: Getting back to Emiko - is she joining the team?
Percy: I can't say.
Nrama: But sparks will fly between her and Damian, I assume. Good sparks? I have to admit that I kind of "ship" these two…
Percy: Well, I think I can say this. Emiko Queen is Damian Wayne's first crush.
But the feeling is not going to be mutual.
And of course, the two series are going to intersect.
Nrama: Yes, we talked recently about the tie-ins you're writing for Dark Nights: Metal (in both Green Arrow and Teen Titans). You explained that they'll be part of the "Gotham Resistance" and that Oliver Queen and Damian Wayne learn from each other. What can Damian Wayne teach someone like Oliver Queen?
Percy: Damian Wayne is someone a lot like Emiko. And Emiko has been begging Oliver from the very beginning to let her be a hero, to let her claim the title of Red Arrow. And he's pushed her back every time. He wants her to try to have as normal a childhood as possible. He wants her to go to school.
Sometimes you have to step away to gain perspective, so this mission to Gotham is helping him do that.
Nrama: It's interesting that there's that commonality between Damian and Emiko's history. And right now, you're exploring another young superhero who is related to a supervillain but trying to do good. How would you describe what you're exploring about Jackson right now? Where's his head?
Percy: Jackson is the rookie of the team. He's somebody who's only recently been able to take advantage of his powers, and he sought out the Teen Titans hoping to be recruited. He just showed up on their doorstep, and they've taken him in, but he's not an official member of the team.
He doesn't have a strong sense of his history. So, this has been an investigation. "Who am I?" That's the question he's had since he set off from New Mexico. "Why do I have these powers? What's my secret history? Who's my father?"
Some of those questions have been answered, and the answers have disturbed him. Recognizing that his father is one of the worst baddies out there, and then recognizing that his mother has sort of choked down her powers in order to protect him - everything for him has sort of spun out of control and he's trying to make sense of it all.
He is reluctantly drawn into this mission with his father. He's asking some hard questions of Manta and trying to see if there's something there that's salvageable, trying to see if there's any love inside of him.
This is an origin story. It's a story about the past, but it's also a story about the future.
At the end of it, we'll see whether Jackson claims the title of Aqualad or not, and where his loyalties lie. We'll also get a better sense of what role he might play in the Aquaman universe.
Nrama: Anything else you want to tell fans about what's coming up in Teen Titans?
Percy: Writing a team book, I really think it's really essential to give every storyline a focal agent, to have one central character who emotionally and thematically defines the arc.
Next up, we'll put the microscope to Beast Boy and Starfire and Raven.
It's a fun book to write because it's a turnstile of genres. Every character represents a different genre of storytelling - Damian's a detective, Starfire's a sapphire character, and Raven's horror, and Beast Boy's comedy…
It remains a team book, but one that always feels fresh because we're shifting our focus. I'm really excited for the Raven and Starfire plots especially.