Tuesday, December 21, 2010


This Wednesday, my last published work of 2010 hits stores - TEEN TITANS: COLD CASE, drawn by superstar artist Sean Murphy. It's a double-sized special with 44(!) pages of story.

Comic Book Resources has a 4 page preview of it here.

As I've hinted at before, this Teen Titans tale means quite a bit to me. To explain why, let me give you a little bit of its history.

TEEN TITANS: COLD CASE started out as a two-issue Teen Titans arc called "FATHER'S DAY", about 3-4 years ago when Geoff Johns was finishing his great run on the book. I had just written GROUNDED, and this was my first work for hire assignment. Former DC and now Marvel editor Jeanine Schaefer came up to me at New York Comic-Con, and having seen how I'd handled teens in GROUNDED, and told me I'd be perfect to pitch for a Teen Titans story.

Jeanine is someone I owe a lot to in my career. Not only did she give me my first break at DC, she also gave me a chance to write darker material with TWO-FACE: YEAR ONE, at a time when I was worried I'd get typecast as the teen superhero guy.

Along with Eddie Berganza, she helped guide me as I wrote characters that for the first time weren't my own. They also paired me with one of the best artist's I've ever worked with, Sean Murphy. At the time he was best known for his Oni book "Off Road" and Scarecrow: Year One (the latter is, coincidentally, packaged in trade paperback with my Two-Face story). Sean knocked the Titans issues out of the park...yet despite all the pages being fully inked, they never saw print.

To this day I'm not entirely sure why. We were told various things, either involving continuity or office politics. At the time, I was not happy. Now, I realize things like that happen all the time. Until this summer, I contented myself with the fact I was paid for my work, and that I had a great piece of Sean Murphy's original art on the wall - a double paged spread of The Teen Titans fighting the Flash's Rogues Gallery of villains. Not to mention that the unpublished Titans story led to me writing CYBORG, SUPERGIRL and more for DC.

Flash forward to this past summer. I'm at San Diego Comic-Con, where I don't want to be, because my father had just passed away. I forced myself to go because I didn't want to let down any of my creative or business partners, and I knew my father would want me to - no one believed in my career more than him. I run into Eddie Berganza, who congratulates me on my Teen Titans story getting published.

I'm not someone that necessarily believes in something bigger than myself, but the fact that a long lost story called "Father's Day" was going to finally see print after I'd lost my own father...I have to admit that in some way it felt like a sign.

The only problem was...I'd written the story years ago. Continuity had changed quite a bit. Some of the Titans were no longer on the team, and some of them were dead. It was written as a two issue arc, not a giant-sized one shot. And upon reading the story, I realized that the flip side of being a much better writer than I was back then is that the story needed a lot of work.

Because the story was already drawn, my options for improving it were limited. Sean had moved on to bigger and better things (Hellblazer and Grant Morrison's Joe the Barbarian, to name a few). His newfound success might be why the book was seeing print, but he couldn't have redrawn the pages if he wanted to.

I always do a dialogue pass on comics when I see the lettering. But this time, with the help of Eddie and Editor Adam Schlagman, I did the most extensive series of rewrites I've ever done on a comic. I added narration to make the continuity clear to readers (like me) who haven't picked up Titans in a while (or ever), to tie the two issues together, and to add a level of emotional depth that I thought was lacking.

In doing so, I realized that was I fortunate this story hadn't come out earlier, exposing my less polished work to the world. But more importantly, I probably wasn't able to tell the story I wanted to until the terrible events of this past summer.

TEEN TITANS: FATHERS DAY was re-named TEEN TITANS: COLD CASE. It was changed to avoid confusion with another title, to reflect the presence in the book of Captain Cold, the lead villain in the Flash's Rogues Gallery, and to play off the idea of an untold story, an unsolved mystery from the past.

But there was a reason it was originally entitled "Father's Day". When I wrote the book, Tim Drake, at that time Robin to Bruce Wayne's Batman, had just lost his father, Jack Drake, in a mini-series by Brad Meltzer called Identity Crisis. He was killed by Captain Boomerang, who he took with him to his grave. That left two sons without fathers. While the hook of the story is to two teams of super-heroes and super-villains fighting it out for the first time, it's really about two families facing grievous losses.

Until this summer, I don't think I truly understood loss. A while back in this blog, I wrote about how my father inspired me to write TWO-FACE: YEAR ONE. He was not just my dad, but my best friend, and my hero. Like Harvey Dent, he was a prosecutor in a sometimes less than ethical justice system. Unlike Harvey Dent, he was able to overcome his demons and be a real force of good. He put away spies and mafioso, and later, as a judge, helped bring fairness to the trials of both the accused and their alleged victims. The term hero gets thrown around loosely, particularly in comics, but my dad was also a guy who once physically took down a madman with a machete. I couldn't make this stuff up.

Re-writing TEEN TITANS: COLD CASE, I realized it was in some ways like a last letter to my dad. Robin, like Bruce Wayne, is struggling not only with the loss of his dad, but also with the fact that his father died with something in his hands Bruce never would have approved of - a gun. Robin was also afraid of a possible future he had glimpsed where he used a gun to kill a villain.

Metaphorically, I think those things stand in for all our fears, of losing loved ones, and of inheriting qualities of our parents that we hope to avoid.

My father carried - but never used - a gun, something I had very mixed feelings about growing up. I'm not a gun lover. But as the son of an Assistant U.S. Attorney I grew up under very real death threats aimed at my family. It's a story for another time, but I've had a gun pointed at me since I was literally in the womb. Suffice to say I understand the necessity of firearms for personal defense.

Without spoiling the story I hope you'll read, I came to many of the same conclusions Robin did. My father was faced with incredibly difficult decisions, and while I may have made different ones, that doesn't make him any less of a hero. And while, like Robin, I'm jealous of people who still have fathers (even questionable ones), I wouldn't trade my father, or the time I had with him, for anything in the world.


Ryan Cody said...

I hope to be able to pick up both of these next time I make it to a shop. I already got Rift Raiders for my 10-year-old for Christmas and look forward to reading it after him.

Anonymous said...

I love when you're negative my friend. Let's hope this issue sells and makes DC wish they hadn't waited so long.

Sean Murphy

Adrian Reynolds said...

I was really taken my your comments about your father, having lost my own this year. His presence and absence hasn't yet been felt in my writing, but I know it will be. In the short term, I wrote about how I will always connect him with, of all characters, Sgt Bilko: http://goo.gl/Pwj9J
Incidentally, I'm here because I picked up Grounded yesterday and am enjoying it, and wanted to know more about you (in a non-stalkery way, honest).

Yan Basque said...

I enjoyed your story (which I picked up when it was released but only got around to reading last night) and your blog post enhanced my enjoyment of it. Thanks for sharing.

I hope this isn't too nitpicky - it seems like an insignificant detail compared to the emotional depth of the story and the personal stuff you talk about in this post - but I have a question about something that didn't make sense to me when I read it.

When Robin goes into Eddie's room, he finds clues that lead him to the Central City and the Rogues. But when Eddie left the room, he didn't know where he was heading. He was just following Rose. They didn't realize the Rogues were involved until they got to the mirror, right? Did he go back to his room before going through the mirror? That seems unlikely.

Sorry if this seems like an annoying nerdy question. It really took me out of the story when I read it, because I kept trying to figure out how those clues could have ended up in his room. It's an important part of the story, since otherwise Robin wouldn't have any way to lead the rest of the Titans to the Rose and Eddie.