Rewinding Donna Troy: Michael Johnson on TITANS #20

Rewinding Donna Troy: Michael Johnson

For the last two years, Mike Johnson has been known to DC fans as one half of the writing team on Superman/Batman. But next week, the writer breaks out on his own in the DC Universe with a stand-alone issue of Titans that focuses on Donna Troy.

Johnson's got a pretty cool day job – working in development at Kurtzman/Orci, makers of stuff like Fringe and Star Trek. But while Green is off writing the next Fantastic Four movie for Marvel (after just having finished co-writing Warner Bros' upcoming Green Lantern film), Johnson is continuing to dabble in comics by writing for not only DC, but also working on spin-offs from his company's projects, like the recent Fringe comic and the current Star Trek Nero.

With next week's Titans #20, Johnson gets the chance to take a closer look at Donna Troy as a character, just before the events of Blackest Night saw the character taking a turn for the worse.

Newsarama talked to Johnson about the issue, why the Fearsome Five show up, and what other projects at DC might see him reuniting with Green.

Newsarama: How did you get a gig on a Titans issue? Was this a story idea you pitched or something DC asked you to do?

Johnson: [Group Editor] Eddie Berganza graciously put me up for the gig when the call went out for writers as part of the Titans' "Day In The Life" series. I had a great experience working with Eddie when Michael Green and I were on Superman/Batman, and I'm grateful to Eddie for giving me my first solo gig, especially with a character I love. They were looking for different voices to give each of the stories a unique feel, and Titans editor Brian Cunningham asked if I would be interested in writing the Donna Troy issue. If I could pick one Titans character to write, she'd be the one.

Nrama: So I take it you've always been a Titans fan? And a Donna Troy fan?

Johnson: I've been a Titans fan for as long as I've been reading comics. I started a few issues into the classic Wolfman/Perez run and I was hooked. Anybody reading this who hasn't read those: get off the internet right now and go and find them. Buy them all. Read. Repeat. I could spend hours just talking about the covers alone. "Who Killed Trident?". Terra's earth-ring. The double-whammy of #38 & #39.... And #38, of course, asked "Who Is Donna Troy?" I fell in love with Donna (like a lot of young impressionable fanboys) not only because she was "purty" and powerful, but because she was kind. She was (and is) the moral center of the team, the rock on which the others depend. She is the heart and soul of the Titans.

Nrama: We've seen some changes for Donna during Blackest Night, but assuming this issue takes place before that, can you tell us about how you see Donna – who she is and what she's going through as this story picks up?

Johnson: Yes, this story takes place just before the events of Blackest Night: Titans, so we are seeing Donna react to the events the team has gone through since they reunited, and it hasn't gone as well as anybody hoped. The team dynamic isn't the same, especially since each of them are in a very different place than they were as teenagers. Everyone is spinning off in different directions as their lives inevitably evolve, and Donna has remained in the center, the rock, trying to hold the team together. But that puts enormous pressure on her, and she's reached a point where she wonders if she needs to let go and focus more on her own life. She's just come through another universes-shattering crisis, and jumped right back into the old team, but Donna was always the one who sought to balance super-heroics with a real life. This issue shows her seeking that balance again.

Nrama: How does the story start off?

Johnson: I always loved that Donna was a photographer. It gave her another dimension beyond just a superhero, so the story starts off with Donna being offered a job that requires her to dust off her camera and get back to work. It's an opportunity to get away from super-powered drama and just be herself. Take a bunch of pictures, go to the beach, relax, throw down with the Fearsome Five. The usual.

Nrama: How do the Fearsome Five get involved? Was using them your idea?

Johnson: Using the Five came about as I talked over the story with Brian and Eddie. This issue is about Donna coming to grips with her past and facing the future, and it felt natural for her go through that change by fighting a team that she has battled so often over the years. I like the idea of two adversaries that have known each other forever, and in this issue the Five's attack is motivated not just by an immediate goal but by a longstanding grudge against the Titans, especially for Shimmer and Mammoth (going all the way back to New Teen Titans #3). Plus there's the twist of the new Fearsome members, so it's not just the same old challenge for Donna. This story also follows on the heels of Bryan Miller's awesome recent arc in Teen Titans featuring the Five. Donna is well aware of what happened to Wonder Girl in that story, and she's not happy about it.

Nrama: You've got Sergio Arino on art. What's the visual feel of the comic with him on board?

Johnson: Angel Unzueta created our amazing cover, and Sergio Arino drew the interiors. I hit the jackpot with Sergio. His style doesn't look like anyone else's. He can certainly pull off the action scenes - and I hope this issue ends any debate about who the most powerful Titan is -  but he brings a real feel for body language and characterization that a lot of "flavors of the month" can't do. There are moments in the story that rely on just a look or a subtle emotion from Donna, and Sergio nailed it every time. Sergio's going to be around for a long time, and I hope I get to work with him again.

Nrama: Is this just a one-issue gig, or will we see more Titans stories from you down the line?

Johnson: This is just one issue for me, but the book's going to be in great hands when Eric Wallace comes on board. There are big changes coming and fans are in for a treat.

Nrama: Now that you and Michael Green are off Superman/Batman, will the two of you be working together again on comics?

Johnson: Green is busy working on a movie about a test pilot named Hal or something. Could be cool. In the meantime we are working on a new project for DC that we can't talk about, lest the Berganza-bots descend upon us. Fear not the weapon but the editor that wields it.

Nrama: Anything else you want to tell Titans fans about your issue?

Johnson: Just that I love the Titans, and Donna, and I hope I've done justice to such a great character. I know there are a lot of changes happening to the core team, but it's just the latest chapter in the epic story of the greatest characters in the DCU.

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