Spoiler alert: The following discusses the DC Comics Rebirth Special #1 by Geoff Johns, as well as events from Titans Rebirth #1, which hits stands Wednesday, June 15.
The rebirth of the DC Comics universe continues, but if Titans: Rebirth is any indication, labor hasn’t been too painful on the creative team of writer Dan Abnett and artist Brett Booth. Instead, the duo seems thrilled to be the proud parents of a title headlined by the resurrected Wally West.
In case you missed it, Wally returned to the DCU last month in Geoff Johns’ Rebirth Special following his absence from the New 52 timeline. That book, which launched the publisher-wide initiative to return hope and heart – and bring coalescence to the complicated DC continuity – also unleashed a Manhattan-sized mystery on the universe by revealing that a certain Watchmen character was behind the eradication of pre-New 52 events.
While that storyline will likely play out over multiple titles, it is up to Abnett and Booth to pick things up in Titans: Rebirth #1 and Titans #1 (available June 27) following the Rebirth Special, and with Wally attempting to connect with his former team.
In the conversation that follows, Abnett (now exclusive to DC) and Booth discuss their love of the Wally West character -- and how that love informs their direction on the new Titans book, and the Titans: Rebirth issue, which hits stands today. Abnett also discusses why his Titans Hunt book was something of a test for Rebirth, and the challenges of synthesizing the old and new timelines in the Rebirth-verse without alienation die-hard or new fans. And don't miss our sneak preview gallery of Titans: Rebirth below.
Dan, what kind of conversations did you have with Geoff Johns about the message of hope and optimism with regards to Titans?
Dan Abnett: With Titans, Geoff really enjoyed what I’d done on the limited series Titans Hunt, which sort of paved the way for Rebirth in many respects. It was sort of a test case of how it could be done. It was one of the many reasons he wanted me to handle Titans, and work with him very closely in terms of what was being set up. Obviously, because of the appearance of Wally being such a key thing, we had very long conversations, and I was privy to bits of information in the run up to that. That’s a lovely way of working. Quite often you find yourself learning things later on in the process, but this was fairly early on. I suppose the same is true with Aquaman [which Abnett also writes. Aquaman: Rebirth is available now]. The difference there being that Aquaman was a much more direct transition. It was more a case of transferring Aquaman into the new Rebirth order, and keeping intact what was already going on. With Titans, there was more work to be done reconstructing, rebuilding, and creating something that is both old and new.
Brett, what has been the most enjoyable part in bringing Wally back?
Brett Booth: Wally is my absolute all-time favorite comic character! So it’s been five or six years of constantly pitching ideas to Dan DiDio to get Wally back. I think I turned in like seven or eight pitches to get Wally back. He was the first DC book I read, and then I went back and read a lot of the Titans stuff he was in. He’s always been my Flash. When I finally got to draw him and work on the costume, it’s like my dream at DC has come true. I can leave now. No, but I’m super excited. When I read some of the stuff Dan wrote for issue one, I totally fanboyed out because I’m finally able to do the stuff I’ve always wanted to do.
Wally seems to be the heart of this first issue. Will that continue to be the case, and how heavily will you be leaning on him as a character?
Abnett: We have, if nothing else, a duty, to lean on him quite heavily for the opening arc because the expectations of the Rebirth one-shot are so significant. If we didn’t feature him heavily and pursue what was set up by Geoff, we’d be falling down in our tasks. He is very much the heart of the team. Like Brett, I have immense affection for him as a character. No pun intended, but he is the lightning rod of the Titans. He is what connects them together. Even in Titans Hunt when he is deliberately absent, his absence was felt and he was the piece missing. Putting him front and center, and re-establishing his links to the team and the DCU – and all the baggage he brings about the threat he is warning them of – is incredibly important stuff. Having said that, it’s also a team book. It has other great characters, which Brett draws brilliantly, and we’d be letting Titans fans down if it wasn’t a team effort and everyone got their moment.
Will Titans be the book that primarily addresses the big reveal from the Rebirth special?
Abnett: We are certainly going to dig into it. It would be a mistake to spoil things completely and let you know what the grand scheme plans are, but certainly the impact carried by the Rebirth one-shot is immediately felt in the opening Titans, and it should be. Wally is not only the center of the team, but the center of the event. He is the key to it. There is going to be a great deal of focus on that. Given that the Watchmen thing is such a big thing, you can expect to see it play out on a very broad canvass in the fullness of time, but its impact is going to be there from issue one onwards.
There’s a lot to juggle with the story, between introducing a new story, and honoring legacy, while still having forward momentum. How are you handling that without alienating new readers who may want to jump on board?
Abnett: Gosh. Juggling and balancing is exactly what’s called for. I always try to make sure, whatever book I’m working on, has an open-door policy for new readers. I like to make sure things are explained as we go through, recapped. In a simple way, not a heavy-handed exposition way, so people are aware what’s going on. I don’t want each 20 pages to just be the next 20 pages of an eventual trade paperback collection. There was a huge temptation to carry the enormous amount of detail of things I set up in Titans Hunt over to this, and the links are there. If you read Titans Hunt, that’s great. It’s a great introduction. If you haven’t, you’re not going to be at a loss or bogged down by explanation. You’ve got to know which elements to carry on, which can wait for later, which you don’t need anymore, and what injections of newness you can put into it. We’re trying to push the book forward dynamically. It is a tough job because, of all the books in the DCU, Titans is the legacy book. Not just in continuity, but most of the characters are legacy characters, and people who have taken over for major DC heroes.
Booth: That’s essentially what I try to do with the design work. I did a ton of designs for the New 52, some of them people hated, and those were the ones where I was asked to go “more new” and forget about the old. Those are the ones I don’t like as much. The ones I think are the most successful incorporate some of the old elements into the new, and merge the two together. That’s what the DC fans seem to gravitate more towards. Hawkgirl for Earth-2, Doctor Fate, the new Wally design, the new Titans designs, I pulled elements from their old costumes.
Instead of an action-heavy issue, the reader gets these beats of the characters reuniting and connecting. Were those significant moments for you?
Abnett: They absolutely were, yeah. And I think that sort of thing is sadly, too often, lacking in comics these days. A good super hero comic has the action and drama, the darkness, the threat; all these exciting things make a story go along. But quite often, those things are added at the expense of characters, and warmth, and connections. One of the smart things Geoff put into Rebirth was the trauma that happened to the DCU, and included taking love away from them. It’s something he wants to get back in there very much, and I’m all for it. In some respects, it was a real treat to be able to write scenes like that, and allow them to breathe without an editor saying it’s a bit soft and talky, and wanting a couple more pages of fighting. Too often that’s been the sort of feedback I’ve had down the years. I think those emotional beats are part of what makes it Titans.
Booth: Those scenes were the heart of the book. You get to see key moments when these people became really close friends. That’s a problem with a lot of the books. When I was doing The Flash, it was dark all the time, and I was like, can we lighten this up a little bit?