When it launched in 2008, DC's "Titans" grew out of a respect for the shared history of heroes like Nightwing, Starfire, Cyborg and the rest of the cast of Marv Wolfman and George Perez's legendary "New Teen Titans." And although this May, that era may be definitively dead and buried thanks to the actions of DCU assassin supreme Deathstroke, it doesn't mean a sense of history is leaving the now villain-centric series. Quite the opposite in fact.
"What I would say is, 'Beware the past,'" said incoming "Titans" writer Eric Wallace. "The past does have a tendency to catch up with you sooner or later."
Kicking off with the recently announced "Titans: Villains For Hire" one-shot and then ricocheting into the ongoing series with issue #24, Wallace and artist Fabrizio Fiorentino will be bringing a series of hard edged twists to the Titans franchise with an all-villain cast led by Deathstroke and featuring the Tatooed Man, Chesire and a few other mysterious surprises. "Call it the supervillain version of 'Inglourious Basterds' in a certain sense. It's people with a very specific mission, and that mission becomes ridiculously clear in the special. Right out of the gate, you know what's going on. The big questions are how they accomplish it and what the consequences are once they have. Deathstroke leading the Titans is shocking, so you've got to ask yourself, 'Why would they follow him?' There is a reason. And there are hints even in the title of that first special."
Wallace remains a new face to comic fans, though the writer's resumé has plenty of nerd credentials on it, including his current day job scripting episodes for the science fiction TV series "Eureka." The writer explained that a tortured take on foes both familiar and under-developed is what he hopes will humanize his cast in an era where DC will be heading into a summer marked by the "Brightest Day" branding. "The 'Brightest Day' aspect of it means we're going to see some exciting but pretty radical changes in the lives of Deathstroke's Titans. I think we're going to go to places that have been hinted at – especially in the classic Marv Wolfman/George Perez run, which is my favorite, and I say that unabashedly so. They went to a few places that could be considered rather dark, and we're taking some of that and spinning it in a new direction that on one side honors what came before it, but is also completely brand new so people who have never read 'Titans' or 'Teen Titans' can come on and get a brand new comic book. In order to do that, we're going to have to do some very unique things and make some radical changes."
The first stop for Wallace and Fiorentino in the team-building "Villains For Hire" one-shot will be Mark Richards – the so-called Tattooed Man who was the star of their recent "Final Crisis Aftermath: Ink" mini series. "He is born of not just ink, but of pain. It's that pain that causes a great contradiction in his life and the way he interacts with others. It's perfect for someone like Slade – someone who can take advantage of that pain and bring them into the fold to either get rid of their pain or to fall victim to it. That makes Tattooed Man the perfect candidate for a Deathstroke-led group of heroes."
But beyond that early tease, Wallace remained quiet on the ins and outs of Slade Wilson's cast of miscreants, instead promising that what readers would get, regardless of the player, is a look into the deeper history that makes them who they are. "As much as I'd love to tell everybody the lineup, which has been finalized, I can't! I will say, though, that in contrast to the big action, we're trying to create a very intense pace for this book. You'll see that from the team's first appearance – the intense nature of their mission. Juxtaposed in my first issue with the high action are going to be these incredibly personal stories. That's what we really learned of what worked in the Perez/Wolfman stories of the '80s and why they're so eternal. It's how much we got to know people on a personal level. That will remain true in a deep level for this new team."
And re-teaming with a penciler he just found his groove with allowed Wallace to strike a new tone on the page for his new take on "Titans." "I love Fabrizio's art. He just continues to get better. For those folks who read the 'Ink' book, I think that was only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what he can do. In 'Ink' #5, there's a double-page splash showing the origin of the Tattooed Man where he took his art to a whole new level, and we're going to take it even further than that. This is a book that's going to have a lot of breathing room for action. From page one in the first special, you'll be taken on a breathless ride. I think Fabrizio brings not just fluidity to the action, but a kind of hyper-realism. It's real, yet it's stylized and so unique. It's perfect for a brand new team."
From this "Brightest Day" tie-in to the recent "Blackest Night" one-off issue "Power of Shazam" #48, Wallace explained that he's quickly finding a place for himself in the broader plans for the DCU's future, which comes with its own set of challenges. "It was really difficult trying to balance the entire history of the Marvel Family and all their great mythology with a single, one-shot story. A lot had happened with Billy, Mary, Freddie, everybody really – both on the hero side and the villain side – and this is just the first part of what DC has planned for them in terms of coming back and getting them back into the spotlight.
"I think what you'll see is that the book opens up a new chapter for the Marvel Family...and that's in a small way. I don't mean to make it out to be monumental, but it is the beginning of something that's going to take them in a different direction where you're going to see some characters in a light you haven't seen them in before. Hopefully, you'll enjoy the surprises."
And for now, surprise remains the name of the game on "Titans" as readers wait to see whether the new take will ignite a new interest in the book's future. "On the rest of the team – even the characters fans already know and have seen for years – we're going to see many sides to them, some that seem contradictory. But that's called 'being human.' That's what I think is going to make them so exciting."