The following article contains MAJOR SPOILERS for "Villains for Hire," in stores now.
Oh my God. They Killed Ryan Choi.
And by "they," we're talking DC Comics, writer Eric Wallace, artist Fabrizio, Fiorentino and Slade Wilson, A.K.A. Deathstoke.
In "Titans: Villains for Hire" #1, released this week under the "Brightest Day" banner, Deathstroke was introduced as the new leader of the Titans, now a superpowered team of mercenaries featuring Ink, Cheshire, Osiris and Cinder.
And their first item of business was a doozy – killing Ryan Choi, introduced just four years ago as the fourth Atom in his own ongoing series "The All-New Atom," written by Gail Simone.
Fans of the character have responded in forums feverishly and on Twitter they have even declared that this latest DCU death was racially motivated.
CBR News spoke with Wallace, the incoming "Titans" writer, about Choi's death, how the killing of a superhero is all a part of Deathstroke's master plan and how his recent projects, "Final Crisis: Ink" and "Power of Shazam!" #48, tie into what's to come in "Titans," beginning next month with his first issue, #24.
CBR News: Let's get right to the question everyone has for you right now: how was it decided to kill off Ryan Choi, the new Atom?
Eric Wallace: The decision came about very early as a result of two related issues. First, everyone at DC wanted to show right off the bat what this new Deathstroke-led Titans was capable of and how far they would go to complete a mission. And secondly, Ryan's tragic death is a part of Deathstroke's larger plan. Readers will see a clue as to what I mean in "Titans" #24.
Let me also add that this decision concerning Ryan's death was not made lightly. Everyone at DC respects the character of Ryan Choi and always will. I myself was a big fan of the character, so it made his demise a particularly emotional scene for me to write.
So this is all Deathstroke's fault?
Again, I can't go into details about that just yet. "Titans" #24 provides the first clue as what Ryan's death means to Deathstroke. But let me assure everyone, there is a reason this had to happen. And yes, sometime in the future there will be consequences for the Titans' actions.
Do you have a message for the twitterati and fans of the character that are angered/saddened/upset by his death, because some are even saying this death was racially motivated?
Only that I, too, will miss Ryan. He was a great hero all the way until the end, and that's how I'll always remember him. I hope others will, too.
The "Titans: Villains for Hire" one-shot leads directly into your upcoming run on "Titans," and while your run on "Titans" doesn't come with a new #1, the series is certainly being resurrected with an all-new cast. Was that why the "Villains for Hire" special was so important, to establish that new status quo?
Since this is such a big relaunch for a familiar title, one that features darker stories, everyone at DC felt that a new tag – "Villains for Hire" – was needed. This is so we could literally tell our readers, "This ain't your momma's Titans." It's something very different that we hope will provide readers with some very intense thrills. Another thing we're trying to do with this new team is take the audience to a more unpredictable and extreme part of the DCU.
This run really pulls together a few of your past projects, namely your "Final Crisis: Ink" miniseries and your "Blackest Night" one-shot, "Power of Shazam!" #48. Did you know from the outset that those earlier gigs would pay off into this run, or did it all come about organically?
I had no idea this would happen, but I'm really excited that it has. So yes, the entire journey from "Ink" to "Shazam" to "Titans" has been very organic. When I was writing "Ink," I approached it as I would with the first six issues of a regular series. Yes, the miniseries tells a complete story. But I left a few threads hanging in the hopes that someday I'd get to continue Mark's story. Just as I was writing "Ink" #6, I was approached to write "Titans." I was already going to say "Yes," but when they told me they wanted to bring in a new team with Tattooed Man as a member, I was just ecstatic.
As for Osiris, his membership on this team spun very naturally out of "Blackest Night." Plans were already in progress to resurrect the character in that storyline, but in a darker and more surprising manner. I was busy working on the initial "Titans" storylines and as this book began to take shape, it became clear that Osiris – with his tragic past – would be the perfect fit for this team. Because I wasn't familiar with the character, I was asked if I'd like to write "Power of Shazam" #48, in order to start getting a feel for the character. Again, I was so happy to get that chance, because it was like getting a huge jumpstart on learning who Osiris is, what makes him tick, and where we could go with him story-wise.
In broad strokes, not Deathstrokes, what can you tell us about your initial run on "The Titans?" All we know so far is that the Titans have killed Ryan Choi and now they're gunning for Lex Luthor. What's Deathstoke's master plan ,and more importantly, who would hire these guys?
Heh. I wish I could tell you everything. That's how excited I am by the stories we're putting together right now. But obviously, I have to leave some surprises. I'll tell you that seeds for the entire first storyline begin in the "Villains for Hire" Special #1, which is very crucial to setting up how this new Titans team first comes together. Then events ramp into high gear in "Titans" #24, where the first of a several key mysteries takes a big turn.
Also, the first story arc is all about answering one big question: "Why exactly did Deathstroke put this team together?" There's a mission he's trying to accomplish. As for what Deathstroke's master plan is, again, I can't say just yet. But readers will get pieces of the über-puzzle in every issue as this larger story unfolds against the backdrop of shorter missions undertaken by the Titans team.
Deathstroke is now calling the shots for the Titans. What is it that makes him a great leading man and do you find it any more difficult writing him because, well, to put it simply, he ain't too nice?
Deathstroke is a great leader because he has the experience, abilities, and – let's face it – the audacity to pull off missions other people, villains and heroes both, won't touch. Talk about overachievers, this guy is seriously focused. And deadly, too.
As for whether or not he's difficult to write because he's bad...actually, it's quite the opposite. I think that good characters, truly inspiring heroes who always choose the difficult path of doing the right thing, are much harder to write. That's why I'm always so blown away by writers like James Robinson and Sterling Gates and what they are doing with Superman and Supergirl. Finding complexities in characters with a clear moral compass might be easy for some, but not me. I need grays and shades of black in order to make sense of the world, be it fictional or real life. I think that sometimes going to dark places creatively can be an attractive and liberating thing at times. Maybe that's why I'm having so much fun on this book. It's letting me go places that makes "Ink" look like a Disney flick.
I guess I must have a dark side, because I find it very comfortable inside Deathstroke's head because he's not very nice. Let me say, though, that this doesn't mean I see him as a one-dimensional bad guy. Far from it. Deathstroke is a mass of contradictions, as are all the characters that make up the new Titans team. All of them do have one thing in common: they're all broken inside. This is something that Deathstroke picks up on very early in the series, and will take advantage of immediately.
You mentioned earlier your excitement to be writing Tattooed Man again, and you're also working with your artist from "Final Crisis: Ink," too, Fabrizio Fiorentino. I'm assuming you two clicked if you're working together again.
I can't tell you how happy I am to be working with the brilliant Fabrizio Fiorentino again. The man is just so gifted. I remember when I saw his first "Titans" splash page. It's the introduction of Cheshire, and it just blew me away. Fabrizio has the rare gift to create motion in a static frame, tension in a glance, and shocks to the simplest of action sequences. So yes, having him on board has just made this an absolutely wonderful experience.
Cheshire is obviously still dealing with the death of Lian. Will that and her relationship with Roy be further explored during your run?
Definitely. Only I can't say how just yet. Stay tuned.
Osiris is a Titan now, too, and he's also a primary character in "Brightest Day." The question everyone wants to know is how the statues of Black Adam and Isis that were revealed in his possession in "Brightest Day" #0 play in this series and will we see the return of Khandaq's champions during your run?
Ah, those statues. Yes, funny you should mention them. Yes, they make an appearance in the "Villains for Hire" Special. After that? Yup. They're back in "Titans" #24, and in a big way this time. Without spoiling anything, I will say that what happens with them is a major story point in "Titans," one that spins directly back into "Brightest Day" and beyond. And it's really cool.
Rounding out your team, you have a new character named Cinder. Who is this flaming red siren?
Cinder's a dangerous new character to the DCU. Without giving too much away, let's just say she's a definitely a villain. The kind Deathstroke can both admire and take advantage of. That's because he knows that Cinder is after her own particular brand of criminals, ones with strong ties to her tragic past. How Cinder deals with the demons haunting her is a major subplot we'll be dealing with in this initial "Titans" storyline. Hmm. What else can I say about her? She's Italian. And she really likes burning things. And people. Which is going to cause trouble for the rest of her teammates. We'll really start to see this in "Titans" #24, where the team gets an unexpected look at Cinder's rather unusual temperament.
How tightly will what you're doing in "Titans" tie into "Brightest Day," and might we see some of the other heroes and villains from that series make their way into your book?
This book will be tied very closely with "Brightest Day" during the Titans' initial story arc. Obviously, I can't say how just yet. Geoff Johns, as well as many other DC writers and editors, is working very hard to give readers a story that's truly epic and exciting, so I don't want to spoil anything here.
What I can say is that like all the characters that were resurrected at the end of "Blackest Night," Osiris is back for a reason in this "Brightest Day" world. That reason is specifically related to why he's joined the Titans.
Originally, "Titans" focused on the Wolfman/Perez era of "Teen Titans," but now you're writing a team of supervillains – why the about face? Will we see the return of Cyborg, Starfire, Raven and the others during your run?
The new direction for "Titans" was done to give the fans something fresh and exciting. I think everyone at DC felt that in order to finally close the door on the first part of those original (Teen) Titans' lives, we needed to have them essentially "graduate" to the other, more adult parts of the DCU. That's why Dick Grayson and Donna Troy are in the JLA. Or why Starfire is going to R.E.B.E.L.S. These characters are adults now, and they've earned the right to move on. This way, we can tell all-new stories with them and take them to different places. Conversely, we also felt that whether the word "teen" was in the title or not, any version of Dick, Donna, and Vic Stone et al team would be viewed as us holding the characters back. The decision to create a new team of Titans was a foregone conclusion after that.
As for whether or not we'll see any of the "classic" Titans characters in this new series...the answer is yes. But not immediately. And when some of these character do make appearances (nope, I'm telling which ones just yet!), it might not be in the way readers are expecting! Oh, and I will add this: by taking the name "Titans," Deathstroke has put his team in a very interesting position. One that can only go unnoticed in the DCU for so long. Sooner or later, there will be a reckoning.
"Titans" #24, written by Eric Wallace and featuring art by Fabrizio Fiorentino, is on sale June 9.