Teen Heroes Come Into Their Own

Moderator Tony Barletta and artists George Perez and Joe Benitez made up the “Teen Titans Through the Years panel” on Friday afternoon in the Hyatt. Barletta opened the discussion by noting that there was a Teen Titans series in the 1960s featuring sidekicks of DC lead heroes. The series reboot in the 1980s featured Robin, Wonder Girl, and Kid Flash from the prior series with new characters Starfire, Cyborg, and Raven as the New Teen Titans.

Perez added that there was another Teen Titans series between the original and the one he and Marv Wolfman created in the 1980s. He described this midway series as “justice little league,” just junior versions of other characters. Marv Wolfman and Len Wein suggested doing a new version with core characters and new ones that weren’t offshoots of established, adult heroes. Perez agreed to work on the series only if he could draw an issue of Justice League of America because he didn’t think the new Teen Titans series would last six issues. The series drew a substantial following, and by issue number eight, “A Day in the Life,” a story that explored the characters, he had fallen in love with them and no longer cared about drawing the Justice League.

Benitez worked on the Titans 2008 series. He had been doing fill-ins at DC and was brought in when the regular artists for the series became unable to continue. Unfortunately, his tenure on the book was short, ending before he could bring his own flair to the book.

Perez said he and Wolfman set out to depict the young heroes maturing and wanted the “Teen” out of the series title. There was another Titans book at the time, though, so they had to keep the teenage designation. They wanted a more universal feel, not something tied to a period, as the original was tied to the 1960s with villains like The Mad Mod.

Part of aging the characters was Dick Grayson’s transition from Robin to Nightwing. Perez said he and Wolfman had wanted to do that and were surprised to receive approval. DC wanted Batman to have a Robin, and putting Dick Grayson back in the subservient sidekick role after he’d led the Titans wasn’t considered workable.

Discussing collaboration, Perez described his work with Wolfman as the gold standard. Wolfman encouraged him to share ideas about the story and shared plotting royalties, even though he had no contractual obligation to do so and Perez hadn’t requested that. When Wolfman’s attorney negotiated his contract with DC, he made sure Perez was protected as a creator of the series.

Perez ultimately left the book because it had become so popular that he was sacrificing quality for speed. He didn’t want to give less than his best. Benitez came in after the 2008 series was established and so didn’t have the kind of creative input Perez did.

Perez said DC had nothing to lose when he and Wolfman started on the book and so had creative freedom, as was the case when Perez took over Wonder Woman. On The New Teen Titans, he and Wolfman added characters who would allow them to tell particular kinds of stories—supernatural ones with Raven, science with Cyborg, and science fiction with Starfire, whom Perez considered Red Sonja in outer space.

The two creators discussed Trigon, the demonic father of Raven. Perez took the horns from Harvey Comics’ Hot Stuff, the little red devil, and added an extra set of eyes. When Benitez worked on the character, Trigon’s power was weak, making him less powerful. The story revolved around Trigon’s kids, who were inspired by the seven deadly sins.

The conversation shifted to fan favorites. Perez said the cheesecake aspect of Kory required balancing beefcake, which Nightwing provided. He knew the Robin Rooters fans, who renamed themselves Wingnuts, would like the plunging neckline. In Perez’s view, Nightwing is what Batman could be without the angst. He described Nightwing as the golden goose whose sales produce numerous golden eggs for the company.

The panel ended with the creators telling fans where to find them for the rest of the weekend.

Author of the article

Nancy Northcott is the Comics Track Director for ConTinual. She's also a lifelong fan of comics, science fiction, fantasy, and history. Her published works include the Boar King's Honor historical fantasy trilogy and the Arachnid Files romantic suspense series. Collaborating with Jeanne Adams, she also writes the Outcast Station science fiction mystery series.