A conversation with “Teen Titans” writer Benjamin Percy at NYCC 2016

I was at New York Comic Con this past Saturday, and as my day drew to its early close, I sat down with Teen Titans and Green Arrow writer Benjamin Percy to talk about the Titans. Along the way, we touched on such diverse topics as how one ought to pronounce the name of Damian Wayne’s grandfather, what a crummy dad Batman is, and the insanely good fortune Ben has had in getting teamed up with some amazing artists.

I’ve been following Ben since he was announced as the writer on Green Arrow in 2015, so it was a treat to finally meet him. He’s a great guy, an easy interview, and you can tell he really loves his job.

Brian Warshaw: So Ben, thank you, this is a pleasure.

Benjamin Percy: Thank you!

BW: Teen Titans was not universally loved in The New 52. A lot of our readers—

BP: The New 52 was not universally loved.

BW: This is true. Is anything universally beloved? I guess no.

BP: <laughs>

BW: A lot of our readers at Batman News, and around the web, felt like the characters—some of the characters—were not represented well, in terms of their legacy. How are you balancing expectations for the characters—since so much of Rebirth is restoring that legacy—how are you balancing those expectations with paving new ground?

BP: Well, I’m looking to touchstones like Wolfman/Perez, and Geoff Johns, as the highest quality Teen Titans stories of the past. And that’s who I’m channeling. That’s who I’m tipping my hat to. There have been many great Teen Titans stories over the years, but to me, when I think about legacy, that’s what I want to channel and, you know, put my own unique mark on it into the future.

If you look at fan reception, if you look at readership, the stories that have endured over the years—everybody points to them, those creators.

BW: Sure. Well, speaking of putting your own stamp on it, in Green Arrow, I can kind of hear you in Ollie’s thought life. But one of the things I noticed about Teen Titans: Rebirth #1 is that you did a really good job of giving each character a distinct identity in their speech, even though we’re in their heads most of the time. So, the bad opposite of this would have been everything sounds like you in every character, but it didn’t. Can you talk about what you’re doing to give each of the team members their own identity?

BP: Sure. Well, every Rebirth issue, across DC, has been focused on characterization, before the plot-heavy issue one shows up. We have to make our readers fall in love with these characters, so they care what happens to them. So we put a lot of effort into giving each of these characters a distinct voice, a distinct personality, and then we’re going to interrupt their lives. And we’ll see how they respond to all of the crazy action that’s coming their way. I love writing them all, but in this opening arc, the focus really is on Damian. And the next arc, even though it’s an ensemble, the next story arc will have another focal agent. We’ll have another character that—the emotional arc, and the thematic arc of that character will inform the story.

BW: A big part of each character’s identity in the one-shot was obviously Jonboy, his artwork on them. I think Kid Flash was a particular standout for me, but they all look great. How do you feel working with such a great artist?

BP: He did an amazing job setting up these first two issues. You know, he’s got that thing—that thing that people call comic book energy? Jonboy’s got it in spades.

I’m really excited to announce that we’ve got a new artist coming on, who really seems to be harkening back to the Mike McKone and Tony Daniel days. And this is Khoi Pham. He’s done a lot of great work for Marvel, and now we’ve brought him to the dark side, with DC.

BW: <laughs>

BP: And he’s just churning out the pages with incredible energy. Really excited to be teamed up with him.

BW: And so will we see him starting in issue number two then?

BP: You’ll be seeing him on issue number three.

BW: Okay, that’s exciting. So, a bit of a fun question here, and be careful, because one of his co-creators is probably here at the convention, but…is it “raas“, or is it “raysh“?

BP: <laughs> I pronounce it “raas“. But everybody has a different opinion on that, and I mispronounce plenty of other words, so I might be the one who’s wrong.

BW: What made you want to go with him as your first villain? My first thought is it’s sort of a Raven/Trigon parallel. Were you going for something like that?

BP: Yeah, I mean, look at all of these characters. You’ve got Reverse Flash and Kid Flash, you’ve got Trigon and Raven, Starfire has a troubled family, if you think of the “Blackfire” storyline. We have the sixth member, who also has a very troubled family history. Opening up with Damian, having this marquee character like Ra’s al Ghul—not only is it just addictive storytelling, we’re getting the world’s greatest crime lord involved with the Teen Titans—there’s no way you can’t pay attention to that. But it also sets up the thematic relevance of the series. It’s all about these kids who are trying to figure out—you know, they’re moving towards adulthood and trying to figure out their futures. And sometimes their bloodline can haunt them.

BW: So does that mean we’re going to see Ra’s and Trigon commiserating over a beer at some super-villain bar or something like that?

BP: <laughs> No, but we’re going to see Damian wrestling with the question—you know, here I am, the son of the world’s greatest detective, and the grandson of the world’s greatest crime lord. Which path do I choose?

BW: Speaking of Damian’s dad, are we going to see him show up at any point?

BP: Oh, of course! And I should say that, as amazing of a character as Batman is, he’s kind of a crappy dad.

BW: Yeah, he is.

BP: <laughs>

BW: And a crappy master, and a crappy dog-owner probably, too.

BP: <laughs>

At this point, I asked DC Publicity if it was ok to ask him about Detective Comics.

BW: I think you mentioned recently that you’re going to be doing a fill-in for Detective Comics at some point in the near future?

BP: Yeah, I don’t know when it’s running, but the art is done by Klaus Janson.

BW: Oh, wow.

BP: I love Klaus Janson’s work. I mean, the Daredevil run with Frank Miller is one of my favorites of all time.

BW: So on your last Detective Comics, you got John Paul Leon, and now you get Klaus Janson.

BP: I know, I’m a lucky bastard.

BW: Yeah, you are that.

BP: <laughs>

BW: Well look, thank you.

BP: Thank you!

BW: That’s all I have, and it was a pleasure talking with you.

BP: Yeah, it was nice to meet you.

BW: Thanks Ben.

Look for a Teen Titans #1 in two weeks. You can keep up with Ben on Twitter @Benjamin_Percy.