"Three For Three"
David Slack, Rob Hoegee and Amy Wolfram Elaborate on a Bloody Good Third Season
This interview was conducted in May 2005
DAVID SLACK has written for numerous animated shows including "Jackie Chan Adventures", "The Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot", "Tarzan", "Totally Spies", and "Hi Hi Puffy Ami Yumi". He is currently serving as a Story Editor and Producer on the hit series "Teen Titans." ROB HOEGEE has written for "Martin Mystery" and Stuart Little" before being recruited for "Teen Titans". AMY WOLFRAM has written for the MTV series "Undressed" and various animated series before joining the staff of "Teen Titans." ROB and AMY were promoted to Story Editors with the third season of the show. All three head writers took some time out of their schedules for a special three-way chat on the third season!
Developing the Teen Titans
David Slack, Amy Wolfram and Rob Hoegee from San Diego ComiCon 2004
Bill Walko: David thanks again for joining us yet again! And welcome, Rob Hoegee and Amy Wolfram! Rob and Amy, can you tell us a little bit about yourself before your work on TEEN TITANS?
Amy Wolfram: In animation, I worked on Stuart Little before this. I guess TEEN TITANS is my first "big break" in animation. Before that, I worked on live-action; I did a show for MTV.
BW: How did you become involved with TEEN TITANS?
Amy: That was David [laughs]. He brought me in to write one and I stayed. It turned out OK.
David Slack: Yes, Amy and I worked together on Stuart Little and I really liked her work on that.
BW: And Rob?
Rob Hoegee: Well, before animation, I worked for a TV producer doing various studio jobs. We did some TV movies. Through that, I realized that writing was the direction I wanted to take. So then I was a freelance animation writer. Animation was just sort of something that happened for me. Which is great, because I really love doing it. I worked on a few shows previous to Titans. I worked on Jackie Chan Adventures, a Canadian show called Martin Mystery - and I did one episode of Stuart Little. And David, being an old friend, brought me in to do a couple of episodes of Teen Titans.
BW: So did you all know each other previous to working on Titans?
Rob: Well, I didn't know Amy at that time. But I had been friends with David for awhile.
David Slack: Yeah, I knew both Amy and Rob. And then we all worked on Stuart Little - but each of us on different episodes. I was story editing on that show. So when I got picked up on Titans, I went back to the people who did some good work there with some difficult material. So we all started working on Titans together and formed this... goliath!! [laughs]
BW: This is another question for Rob and Amy: Was it a big change to go from writers to Story Editors?
The Creative Team at San Diego ComiCon 2004
Rob: For me, not really. It was sort of a gradual process. I had been given more and more responsibilities through the run of the show. So by the time we were full-fledged Story Editors it seemed to be a natural transition. It was a little daunting at first because what David had already created was really a phenomenon. But by season three, these became characters we knew very well. So it seemed natural to work with other writers in crafting the stories.
BW: Was it an easy transition for you as well, Amy?
Amy: No. [laughs]. It's a different set of muscles. To go from writing as my focus to overseeing writing was quite different. Wanting to bring out the best from writers - but to keep their voice and the whole thing going... for me, it was more of an adjustment.
BW: Writing can sometimes be a solitary thing. Was it hard to now be the hand over another writer?
Amy: Yeah. That was something that I had to get used to. I've always given people notes and done that sort of thing. But to give someone notes and have them actually listen [laughs], that's a bit of a new thing. It was a growing experience to learn how to do that. But as Rob said, we had the great fortune to co-story-edit for awhile - and have David there with us. I never felt I was thrown into anything. I always had guidance from David and from Glen [Murakami] as we progressed.
David: However fragile and inarticulate that guidance may have been on my part. [laughs]
Amy: As long as I didn't get pages that were all red... [laughs]
Rob: I think also coming from a development background plus having a Master Degree in producing, I had learned how to work with writers and give notes. And develop projects. So in that sense, I had experience in interacting with writers. That part of the game was pretty comfortable for me going in.
David: Amy and I talked about this. I think the first time you rewrite anyone's work is incredibly awkward. That's how it was for me. I mean, that's the job...
BW: But you've also been on the other side of it.
David: Yeah. You know how it feels to have your own work changed. So you try to honor what people have done.
BW: How do you guys share Story Editing responsibilities?
Rob: It's pretty simple. We just split the episodes up. For season five, I did half and Amy did half.
Amy: For season four, we split it in thirds with David. We always give each other support, but one person is in charge of each episode.
Rob: Traditionally, in the beginning it would be the three of us and Glen working together in crafting the storylines. Then we would break the individual episodes. But once we get through that first stage, the individual story editor takes over to work with the writer. And then it goes from there.
BW: How do you guys hand-pick the writers for episodes that you 'broke' in a meeting?
Rob: Well, we have a stable of writers that we like to use. And it a writer does a good job on a script, we'll try to come back to them if they are available. That makes our life a little easier. This is a surprisingly hard show to 'get.' The characters are very specific. Our storylines can be complicated, complex and nuanced. It takes a certain writer to get that. So there are writers that we like to work with and some we have heard good things about. People we aspire to work with. So we seek them out as well.
BW: Rob and Amy, were you ever a fan of the comic book series the show is based on?
"That was helpful to see the various things they went through in the comics. We didn't really stick right to it. We had kinda the same beginning, kinda the same middle and kinda the same end." - Amy Wolfram
Rob: Actually, I'm not. I'm not a comic book guy. But I've turned into the pentultimate comic book geek. I'm looking at several comic book long boxes I've borrowed over the last three years.
BW: So you guys are basically non-comics fans. How do you get familiar with writing some characters that have existed for 30 or 40 years? Did you go back and read the comics?
Rob: Actually, no. Except for the specific storylines. The Terra story and the Trigon arc we adapted. Looking at the books helped to some degree. But these takes are our own characters. They were certainly inspired by the comics and we took cues from them. But we created our own world as well. For me personally, I'm not sure if the comics would have been much of a help.
Amy: I went back for the Terra arc. That was helpful to see the various things they went through in the comics. We didn't really stick right to it. We had kinda the same beginning, kinda the same middle and kinda the same end. But for some of the other characters we bring in, I actually go to your website to see who they were [laughs]. But for the most part, I try to make them who they need to be on our show. And they may be similar - but they may be different.
Rob: The comics become a great source material to get a general sense of the stories and who the characters are. But again, I think we sorta created our own spin on things. And while the comics are great, I think they sort of exist on their own. I would never want to compare what we've done to the great work that has been done before.
BW: Plus, those stories were told over 20 years ago. So some of them may not hold up quite right by today's standards.
Rob: Yeah, but the ones that hold up really do.
BW: Well, the thing that made the comic popular - and it's the same for the animated series - is that these stories grow from the characters.
David: I think that's something that Marv Wolfman wrote it the comic book series that definitely carried over for us. Marv writes from character more than any writer I've worked with. It's really incredible. And I remember talking with him when I first started working on the show. I remember I was a little nervous because of how we were changing his characters. And he said, "No, if I was doing it today I'd do it completely different. I don't know if I would do it like you're doing it... but it needs to change"
Amy: I think we were given a gift. We had five characters that were very different from each other. And that has given us a lot to play with and a lot of places to grow. The two girls aren't the same. The three boys aren't the same. Each of them has their own thing and their own issues. We draw a lot from that.
BW: Another question for Rob and Amy: Are there any characters you have an affinity towards?
"As any proud parent will say, I love them all. But I think I have more an affinity for Beast Boy." - Rob Hoegee
Rob: As any proud parent will say, I love them all. But I think I have more an affinity for Beast Boy. Not that I exactly relate to him, but I think in a lot of ways, I do. Everyone always roots for the underdog. Beast Boy on our team certainly is. I think a lot of the aspects of Beast Boy's character remind me of my own adolescence. And as much as we like to use Beast Boy as the comic relief and the butt of the jokes, I think there really is a lot of heart to him. A lot of strength. In the Beast Boy episodes I've done, I've tried to find that in there. As the series progresses - in seasons four and especially in season five - we will see another side of Beast Boy. I think he will start to grow up and come into his own.
Amy: All of them, pretty much. [laughs]. I definitely like Terra because I worked on that story arc. I really got an opportunity to see her grow and change. I like the girls. But I like the boys too.
BW: Do you prefer writing the female characters? Or, do you feel that as an action-animation-female writer, you are sometimes requested to write the girl-centric stories?
Amy: People do ask me about being a female writer. It is something that people are looking for. But I don't think that only females can write female characters... or that only males can write male characters - but I think I bring what I bring. I like to write stories. I like stories that are emotional, but that's me. I don't know if that's necessarily a 'feminine trait.'
BW: I've heard from some female writers in comics and animation and sometimes there is a bias. They are asked to write to 'girl episodes.' It can sometimes be frustrating for them.
Amy: Yeah, it hasn't been that way. I mean, I wrote an episode about a car [laughs]. My brother is really into cars so I used him as a reference. I think with the right support, you can write anything. I've written a story for just about every character, haven't I, David?
David: Yep. I was going to say.... HAUNTED was one of our most action-oriented episodes and Amy did that one [as Story Editor] with [writer] Adam Beechen. I remember telling the licensing folks "I think people are going to really like our girl characters." That's generally not the case. I think sometimes, girl characters aren't written with a lot of depth. We've worked really hard to make sure that on Titans, that isn't the case.
Amy: And our girls are girls. They aren't boys in capes and tights. They have things that girls go through. And that's great.
"She saw what she needed to do save the world and her friends... in some ways, to save herself." - Amy Wolfram
BW: Amy, you have written most of the Terra arc in the second season; Can you tell us a bit on how you interpreted Terra from the comics?
Amy: Definitely in the comics she was a little bit darker - a little bit more grown-up - than we went [laughs]. We approached her as being someone who wasn't sure what she was - or what she wanted. And someone who was not in control of her powers. So she was looking for that help. Someone to give her guidance, whether it was someone who was good or bad. And she was an interesting character because I think in a lot of ways, she was real. Because she wasn't sure of everything. All the other Titans have a sense of who they are. But with Terra, we got to see her figure out who she was.
BW: Was it sad to write the ending, knowing it would be a somewhat tragic end?
Amy: Well, we also saw that as her redemption too. It wasn't necessarily a sad thing; She saw what she needed to do save the world and her friends... in some ways, to save herself. So we went for that. I certainly wanted to beat up Slade more than they let me [laughs]. I threw him in boiling lava and even that didn't seem to be enough.
BW: Well the fans seem to have really embraced Terra as a character. For someone who has been in a total of 5 episodes, that's really a testament to how all you guys brought her to life.
Amy: Well, she's one of the most hated also.
BW: That's true! And that was true in the comics as well. People either loved her or hated her. She had a real polarizing effect on fans. And 20 years later, she still does. You've written both Blackfire episodes, both of which are fan favorites. And through Blackfire, you've written some great Starfire moments. With SISTERS, you created a touchstone episode - it became an example of the type of stories the series would tell.
Amy: And that was episode two...
BW: Yep. Episode two. Going back now, how did you go about approaching that episode?
Amy: I think everyone - at some point in their lives - feels like they don't fit in. And that someone else has it easier. And that's where that came from. I mean, I was never the "head cheerleader" or anything like that. I felt I was someone just trying to figure out who I was. I think when you put Starfire in this environment, she doesn't see all the wonderful things about herself. Then put her sister next to her - a sister that can do everything! It's interesting to see a superhero have a sibling she feels inferior to. And that's really how we approached that one. It's about siblings. And how you sometimes feel inadequate next to them.
There's that scene where Starfire is in the disco club. And she's really not getting it. And meanwhile, her sister is dancing and having a great time. I think a lot of people have felt that.
BW: It goes back to the tone of the show. That these superhuman events become metaphors for childhood and adolescent experiences.
Amy: Well, we always wanted it to be something that would feel real. Something that people would 'get.'
"But I do like some of the fun episodes - or the 'filler' episodes, as I've seen them called [laughs]. " - Rob Hoegee
BW: Rob, You seem to like some of the wackier stories - which I like to call "sci-fi freakouts." Episodes like EVERY DOG HAS HIS DAY and EMPLOYEE OF THE MONTH. Both are send-ups to those crazy sci-fi B-Movies. Is that the type of stories you like to tell?
Rob: I do. I like trying to do a range of things. But those episodes were a lot of fun. We were definitely going for that B-Movie camp in EVERY DOG HAS HIS DAY. As for EMPLOYEE OF THE MONTH, I can't explain where that came from. Some dark region of my brain [laughs]. That was probably the hardest script I've ever written. But maybe the one I'm the most proud of. I think you are going to see a range of scripts from me coming up. Some of them are pretty dark and interesting. I think you'll see another side of Rob Hoegee in regards to dramatic storytelling. But I do like some of the fun episodes - or the 'filler' episodes, as I've seen them called [laughs].
BW: Well, we've seen your darker side in APPRENTICE [part one], which you wrote. That's another episode where you got to tell a different type of story.
Rob: That was a fun collaboration. I wrote the first part and David wrote the second. We both used our brains together on that to make it track. Breaking that story was a real challenge. It took a few tries to get that story to work. Something that would be simple but at the same time, true to the characters and situations we had established. It was a lot of fun. It felt good to do a dramatic spin like that.
BW: At that point in the series, was it hard to balance the darker elements of the story with the lighter tone of the show?
Rob: I think you always have to find that. I've found - as I've developed as a writer - that I tend to go dark instinctively. The comedy aspect doesn't come as naturally. I have to focus more attention on that. Being the first season, we were still trying to strike a balance between the funny and the dramatic. As we grew as a series, we did learn we could go darker and get deeper into the characters. But that just grew organically. Certainly in season one, we were still trying to strike that balance.
BW: Amy, was that a challenge for you as well with the Terra arc? Adding some humor into a pretty serious story?
Amy: I think we have some arcs and stories that just are darker. Sometimes you don't want to put too much humor in them. You want it to just play out. If it's a sad moment, let it be sad. If it's a scary moment, let it be scary. And I think we found ways to have a runner or a B-story that's funny. For example, HAUNTED is a very, very dark story. But then every time Beast Boy sneezed, he would become something different. That was enough to lighten it up. I like that when we are given the opportunity to make something dark, we can just let it be dark.
Gearing Up For Season Three
BW: Let's talk about the overall story arc for season three, focusing on Cyborg. How did that story arc develop? Did you set up to do something around Cyborg?
"There were a lot of challenges that came with that. Brother Blood went through a lot of permutations. " - David Slack
David: I think after two seasons of dark stuff with Slade, we specifically wanted to go lighter. Sam [Register] asked us to create a second branch of Titans called Titans East. Then there's Brother Blood. Obviously, the Brother Blood in conceived in the comics is a LOT scarier than out Brother Blood. There were a lot of challenges that came with that. Brother Blood went through a lot of permutations. At one point we were writing him like a coach, because that was someone Cyborg could respond to.
In the end, we tried to make him the anti-Slade. Where Slade hides in the shadows, Brother Blood loves the spotlight. Slade always has some ulterior motive, Brother Blood will tell you what he's planning right away. So there's some contrast there. We wanted it to be a lighter, more fun, more James Bond, science-fictiony kind or arc.
So after developing Brother Blood, it seemed to make sense to focus on Cyborg. Robin and Beast Boy seemed well-served with the first two season arcs. And we were already talking about Raven for season four. And Starfire always had the best one-off episodes like BETROTHED, SISTERS and HOW LONG IS FOREVER. We also thought just by centering it on Cyborg, just by the nature of his character, it would have a lighter quality to it.
BW: How did you go about developing Brother Blood for the series? In the comics, he's a leader of a religious cult that bathes in blood. Obviously, you can't do that. What did you latch onto from his character to keep him recognizable? Did you ever say "Well, what the point of doing Brother Blood if he's not going to be anything like his source material"?
David: We weren't even sure we'd get to use that name. I think what was important that we kept was that he was the leader of a cult. We kept that role and drew inspiration from cult leaders we read about. They seem to be very charming people. From that, we gave him this sort of 'power of temptation' - this ability to control people's perceptions. And the power of persuasion. We didn't get too deep into the character from the comics, because so much of it was so outside of what we'd be able to do. He's definitely one where we've strayed more.
There's been some cases that we had change the name. Like Fixit from SUM OF HIS PARTS was originally Psimon [a psychic villain in the comic book series]. But we thought we had changed him so much he deserved a new name. We didn't want to lose that [Psimon] character, and we didn't want to corrupt him too much.
But Brother Blood - and that cult leader side of him - the fact that he was drawing in teenagers. We felt that was enough.
BW: How did you develop the overall story beats for the third season arc?
David: I'm trying to remember here. It's been awhile [laughs]. I seem to remember we did an arc-overview. It wasn't as specific as the Terra arc. And that was intentional. We had a hard time breaking some of those Terra stories because we had already jumped to some conclusions in out initial overview. So this time, it was broader.
BW: Rob, you wrote the first episode out of the gate in season three. That established Brother Blood and his relationship with Cyborg - as well as various story elements for season three as a whole. How did you go about setting up all those elements?
"Originally, it was intended to be both Starfire and Cyborg going undercover. It actually began a lot lighter." - Rob Hoegee
Rob: I think we went into this episode not knowing how much we were establishing for season three. That was sort of a happy accident. As the episode progressed, we found ways to introduce elements that would pay off later. For that episode, we wanted to do something set in school. We thought using the Hive Academy was the perfect way to do that. And doing an undercover episode would be a lot of fun.
Originally, it was intended to be both Starfire and Cyborg going undercover. It actually began a lot lighter. But as a character study, we thought it worked with Cyborg a lot better. The fish-out-of-water aspect with Starfire didn't seem as interesting as the Cyborg elements. So once we used Cyborg, it made sense that Brother Blood would be the headmaster. And that would be a good way to set up his agenda for the season. So once we decided on Cyborg and then using Brother Blood, it fell into place from there.
David: I think also, by using Cyborg in that story rather than Starfire, we got to do something else. It became a way of sending Cyborg back in time. Cyborg had a pretty vibrant and interesting life in high school. But then something happened to him and he didn't get to finish that life. It was an interesting opportunity to get more into Cyborg. When the animation came back for that one, I was really amazed at how different he looked without the components. The effect was a lot more than glasses on Clark Kent; It was profound. And it was a way to do a time travel episode without doing a time travel episode. Cyborg essentially goes back to a time before his accident. He goes back to high school - where he's able to have friends and be an athlete. That arc was an opportunity to resolve some of the things that bother him about who he is.
Rob: We tend to shy away from the origin episodes. So this became a way to do that in a real personal way. We get to see a side of Cyborg we never have. There are some other episodes that deal with his condition, but I think in this one we finally see him come to terms with some of those issues and move on.
BW: DECEPTION featured the return of the Hive kids - which Rob introduced in an early episode [FINAL EXAM]. Did you approach them any differently?
" I think it was a lot fun to see them in their own environment. Y'know... let's not see them as bad guys but as high school kids."
- Rob Hoegee
Rob: I think it was a lot fun to see them in their own environment. Y'know... let's not see them as bad guys but as high school kids. Let's see them as regular people despite it's a school for super-villains. Character-wise, they're the same. But now we see them with their guards down. It was fun to play with those high school stereotypes - but to do it with bad guys. I mean, they're worried about the 'theory of mayhem test.' All those things are fun.
BW: You also gave Jinx a bit more dimension with her crush on Cyborg.
Rob: Absolutely. She's a fun character. If only because so many fans have such a fascination with her. She's sort of our 'Boba Fett.' So we are aware of that and when we use her we try to do something a little special with her.
BW: DECEPTION also featured a lot of new characters with the Hive Academy kids.
David: You know, we populated the school with villains, and by the end of season four, we ended up using almost all of them. Because they were good designs. The guy with the eye on his chest - he's called Seemore. We used him in an upcoming episode on season four. Sooner or later, we wanted to use all those characters, because I think they're fun designs.
BW: X featured the return of Red X. How and why did you decide to bring back that character?
"So now we've got Red X out there. He's the variable. You never know what side he's on - because he's just on his own side. "
- David Slack
David: Sam Register said "Wouldn't it be cool if we brought Red X back and it wasn't Robin in the suit?" So that was where we started. It took a long time for me to find the rest of the story. So what I realized was this: Red X still represents Robin, and it's a side of him that he's not proud of. So it became a meditation on the nature of good and evil and the line between them. And since it was a Robin episode, it became a more film noir story. We wanted to bring that sensibility to it. So now we've got Red X out there. He's the variable. You never know what side he's on - because he's just on his own side.
I thought it was also a rite of passage for Robin. Part of growing up is realizing the answers aren't simple. Especially to the important questions. I think in previous episodes, Robin had a pretty black-and-white viewpoint, so bringing back Red X tended to muddy that line for him a little more. It's all part of growing up. That was also the first episode Ben Jones directed after Ciro Nieli moved to do his show for Disney ["Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go"]. And Ben did a great job on it. The gag where Beast Boy turns into a hippo on the eyebeam - that was Ben.
BW: Will Red X return in the future?
David: You may see him return in season five. I don't like to give too much away.
BW: As far as Red X's identity goes, is that something you guys have fully plotted out?
David: We had some extensive discussions about that when we worked on it. Ultimately, I decided it was more fun to not get in that. Glen had some ideas in mind about revealing some things. In hindsight, I do think it was a fun idea to let the audience guess.
BW: The next episode was BETROTHED, which featured the return of Blackfire. Amy, can you give us some insight about writing the sequel to the first season episode, SISTERS?
"The idea of Starfire being forced to go along with the wedding gave us an opportunity to see her world. And also to see Blackfire again." - Amy Wolfram
Amy: In season three, we realized there were some characters we loved from season one. And now we had a chance to revisit them. But we really wanted to make sure we didn't do another story just like SISTERS. We wanted to take it to another level... another place. And what better place than Tamaran? And that gave us a whole lot. The idea of Starfire being forced to go along with the wedding gave us an opportunity to see her world. And also to see Blackfire again. And to see their relationship was the same yet different.
BW: Do you think Starfire has changed since SISTERS? Can she stand up to Blackfire a little more at this point?
Amy: Yeah. I think she realizes she knows what she wants and where she wants to be. But at the same time, Blackfire is her sister and she'd never be intentionally mean or cruel to her. So we wanted to honor that too. She wouldn't turn her back on her sister. We wanted to strike a balance - Starfire is still sweet and genuine but we also wanted to give her some backbone.
And we had fun with developing Tamaran and the whole culture. We know they're hearty eaters. And that they're warriors. So we went with that and had fun with it. I had a lot of fun with the character of Galfore. He's this big hulking creature but at the same time he's Starfire's nanny and he's very sweet.
BW: Starfire has parents and a brother in the comics - any reason why you guys left them out of the series? Was there a reason you used Galfore instead?
Amy: It just came out developing the episode. We just thought that Starfire would have someone like Galfore watching her, even if her parents were around. Since her parents are the king and queen, it seemed to make sense she might be raised by someone else.
David: We try to be careful about bringing parents in. The fun of the show is that there are no parents. That's part of the reason why we haven't brought Batman or Superman in. They're kids figuring out adult problems. So we're reluctant to put authority figures around them. Plus, we wanted Blackfire to be the Grand Ruler of Tamaran - so it didn't make sense to have her parents there.
BW: BETROTHED featured two comic book-related stories: Starfire's forced marriage and her sister ruling her home planet. Were you guys inspired by those stories? Or did you develop it separately?
David: I'm not exactly sure where that story came from. I think since we view Starfire as 'the foreign exchange student', the idea of this arranged marriage for her seemed like a natural thing to explore. And we knew we wanted to bring Blackfire back and go to Tamaran. So there was an opportunity to do something about culture clash as well.
BW: Crash was another humorous episode. How did you break the story for that one?
"It originally came from an idea to do a Die-Hard type episode - which transformed into a Fantastic Voyage adventure." - Rob Hoegee
Rob: I story edited that one, which was written by Rick Copp. It originally came from an idea to do a Die-Hard type episode - which transformed into a Fantastic Voyage adventure. It was also an opportunity for Beast Boy to be the hero at the end despite making some mistakes along the way. We also wanted to do a 'buddy-cop' type episode. We wanted to do that with Cyborg and Beast Boy, and this episode is sort of that. Except Beast Boy is actually inside him. That episode took a humorous turn - but we did want to keep some believable jeopardy, as far as the stakes were concerned. No pun intended.
BW: Or the waffles were concerned.
Rob: Right. That episode had the running gag about eating. [laughs] But got to do that fun and absurd humor again.
BW: HAUNTED was a fantastic follow-up to the story arcs in seasons one and two. How did you break that story?
David: I can't take too much credit for that one. That was an episode that Amy and Adam Beechen cooked up. It's a really, really cool episode. And I think it's one of the scariest ones we've done. When we saw the animation that came back for that one, I remember Amy said, "Oh dear. Is this too scary?" But it was a great way to bring him back without bringing him back exactly. We didn't want Slade upstaging this other arc we have going on, because he's so evil and cool. But we love Slade as a character and Ron Perlman as an actor. So it seemed right to do something with him. And as you see season four unfold, you'll see some mysteries to puzzle concerning where Slade was.
Amy: That one was definitely very dark. That episode came about for two reasons. First, it came out of Robin's character. Robin's greatest strength is that he's obsessive and he won't ever let anything go - ever. But that also becomes his greatest weakness. It became a way to give Robin a really good story. And two, we also wanted to see Slade. We last saw him in the Terra arc and we wanted to bring some sort of finality about it in an unusual way.
BW: That episode toys with the idea that Robin is going a bit crazy. Was that tough to handle in a kid's show?
"Robin's greatest strength is that he's obsessive and he won't ever let anything go - ever. But that also becomes his greatest weakness." - Amy Wolfram
Amy: We wanted to make sure that what was real to Robin was truly real to him. And that the other characters understood that. Whatever the case, it was very real to Robin whether it's really Slade or not. I think that's true with children. If they think there's a monster under the bed, to them, there IS a monster under the bed. It's real to them. So we wanted to address that.
BW: Was that episode inspired by the movie FIGHT CLUB?
David: We talked about things like FIGHT CLUB, GASLIGHT and THE SIXTH SENSE. Movies with a good twist ending. What would happen if Robin couldn't let Slade go, even though Slade wasn't around. It's a story about how sometimes we carry things with us a lot longer than we need to.
BW: The next time we see Slade is in BIRTHMARK. Which begs the question: Will we ever learn who activated Slade's mask in HAUNTED?
David: That might be something people may have to wait and guess for themselves at this point. That may remain a bit of a mystery.
BW: David, you wrote the episode SPELLBOUND, which focused on Raven; Can you tell us a little bit about that episode?
David: We thought it would be cool to do a story about the 'first bad boyfriend.' And that seemed like there was something there for Raven since she's so isolated. That's where the idea of Malchior came about. It's also a metaphor - the book becomes a representation of an internet chat room. Malchior has the ability to represent himself as something other than what he is. There's a connection there - but it's not genuine on Machior's part. I'm really proud of that episode because we get a chance to see another side of Raven. There's a vulnerability there that she keeps very private.
"We thought it would be cool to do a story about the 'first bad boyfriend.' And that seemed like there was something there for Raven since she's so isolated." - David Slack
The other thing that's fun for me in that episode is Kardiak. He's my idea of a really weird villain - and that's someone Glen responded to. We draw a lot of influence from comic books - but from anime as well. We thought it had been awhile since we had a really weird anime-type villain. Kardiak basically eats little kids. We thought since the episode was a bit talky, we needed something for the action portions that was unique and interesting and scary. I felt Kardiak did that. And since this was an episode about romance and breaking hearts, we thought a villain that was a giant heart seemed appropriate.
BW: REVOLUTION was the second episode to feature Mad Mod. How and why did you decide to bring him back?
David: REVOLUTION happened because we all went to a British pub for lunch. That's the whole reason REVOLUTION happened. Glen wanted fish and chips for lunch so we went to this British pub and we were talking about what to do next. And Mad Mod came up. We initially had this idea of a rift within the Titans - some discord over who was in charge. That all came together.
Rob: That was a difficult story to break. I story edited that and it was written by John Esposito. He did a great job in a short amount of time. We had a great character in Mad Mod and a fantastic set-up for an adventure, but also a whole lot of story and plot to reconcile. The crux of that story was how the Titans sort of take Robin for granted as their leader... so what would happen if circumstances took him out of the picture? Who would be in charge then? How would they survive without him?
It also tied back to the Cyborg arc; About Cyborg feeling like he didn't have a voice on the team. So the idea was to have the team struggle amongst themselves - to not only find a leader but find a way to save the day. Ultimately, they learn it doesn't take one person to lead the team. It's really all of them. Just because Robin is the guy saying "Titans Go!", it doesn't mean that he's any more important than the rest of them. Then, put on top of that, this crazy madcap adventure with everyone's favorite Mad Mod!
"The crux of that story was how the Titans sort of take Robin for granted as their leader... so what would happen if circumstances took him out of the picture? " - Rob Hoegee
BW: I think fans enjoyed that episode just about as much as the first MAD MOD episode.
Rob: We have to give credit to the artists on that one. They took a script that was pretty good and they made it a whole lot better.
David: And the animation on that one came back incredible. I'm a big fan of Terry Gilliam and the Beatles so that was a lot of fun to work on. Mad Mod episodes are always difficult - particularly since the first one came out so well. It was hard to find a way to bring him back that would have a chance of topping that first episode.
Turning everything British was fun. It's been fun seeing the response to it. Some people have said "You shouldn't make fun of America." And other people said "It's not nice to make fun of the British." The truth is, we were making fun of both and honoring both. So we thought we were pretty even-handed. We're making fun of Britain while we're honoring all the great creativity that's come out of there. And we make fun of America with Beast Boy's "Ugly American" attitude - while at the same time honoring democracy. Originally we were thinking about Beast Boy having the English accent the whole time. But Glen thought of something -- that there ARE people in the United States who have absolutely no appreciation for other cultures. We thought that would be a fun attitude for Beast Boy. That he would have that jingoistic ignorance. And Beast Boy can get away with it because he's such a charming character.
But ultimately - the episode is more about "Mad Mod is a crazy old nutjob" than it is about international politics.
BW: WAVELENGTH introduced Bumblebee and brought back Aqualad. It also furthered the Brother Blood story arc. How did that episode develop?
David: Well, that was the next step in the arc. We knew we didn't want to dwell on the fact that Brother Blood may be able to heal Cyborg. We played that card in DECEPTION, but we felt there was more to Cyborg than just, "Oh no, I'm a robot." We had this idea about Cyborg starting to think that maybe it was time for him to leave the Titans. So WAVELENGTH would set that up. It would create a mission that was very personal to Cyborg. It was HIS technology. It was HIS bad guy. That episode was w ritten by Greg Klein and Tom Pugsley and I story edited that one.
"I remember when we were developing Bumblebee. I didn't want to come at it from the angle, "Oh, she's black, so she and Cyborg MUST like each other." - David Slack
So the episode became Cyborg's mission - and then we put Robin in the way as an impediment to that as the leader.
BW: Was Bumblebee introduced as another enticement for Cyborg to leave the Titans?
David: Not necessarily. I remember when we were developing Bumblebee. I didn't want to come at it from the angle, "Oh, she's black, so she and Cyborg MUST like each other." So we went the opposite way with it - we decided they just wouldn't get along. I think sometimes people treat race like a game of hoosker-doo... just find the two that match. That always bothered me. So we decided to make her a very confident person who was already on the inside. This was her personal mission too, just like it was Cyborg's. That would create some conflict with them.
The first thing Marv Wolfman told me when I told him we were using Bumblebee was "Oh, no. Please don't let her shoot stingers out of her butt." [laughs] Early on, it was uncertain which characters we could use. But Bumblebee stood out. Not only was she a Titans character, but her name was dumb enough we were almost positive no one wanted it. So we started kicking around the idea of bringing Bumblebee in.
So we worked on Bumblebee in terms of who she was, and came up with something that would contrast Cyborg well. We revised her powers a little bit. We thought, since her name was Bumblebee, we'll make her shrink down to the size to an actual bee, which is a cool power that she uses well. And then we gave us some blasters for good measure. We all think she turned out pretty cool.
The other thing with Bumblebee, was that we wanted her to be a unique and different female voice - just like Starfire and Raven. So we had to find a specific angle for that character. I think our heroines are some of the best characters, and I know we have a lot of female fans - young and old - of the show. And I think that's great. I think one of my favorite things about our female characters if that they're not "Lara Croft" - which is essentially a guy in a girl's body. They're feminine. I think that's cool. At the comic conventions, it's always fun... girls come up and they're excited about a boy's action cartoon show. So if there was a Titans East, I wanted there to be at least one girl member.
BW: That episode turned out great. The animation and the fight scenes were amazing, particularly the fight between Cyborg and Bumblebee.
David: Yeah, Great direction and great art all the way down.
BW: David, you wrote THE BEAST WITHIN - which seemed like an homage to the old "I was a Teenage Werewolf" movies. Is that how that story came about?
David: It was! I watched American Werewolf in London for research for that one. That was a difficult story to break, since it had to be done so quickly. The original show nine was going to be BUNNY RAVEN. But then I got a call from Amy, who was story editing that one. She didn't want to do just another romp episode. It was being developed as another chase set-piece like MAD MOD. Do you remember this, Amy?
"So it seemed like there was an interesting story about Beast Boy becoming a man a little bit." - David Slack
Amy: It's coming back now [laughs]. Keep going...
David: So Amy said, "I don't want to just do that - can Mumbo sing?" I was completely sold when she pitched the idea of doing a musical number, but we needed more time. So we moved that script back while Amy worked with Andy Sturmer on the musical piece for that episode. So we knew we wanted to do a dark Beast Boy episode. Despite being a super-hero, Beast Boy is a pretty gentle guy. So it seemed like there was an interesting story about Beast Boy becoming a man a little bit. So the werewolf myth seemed to be a good fit for that type of story.
BW: And he does become "Beast Man" at the end of that episode. Was that scene at the end something else to drive the Beast Boy/Raven shippers crazy? [all laugh]
David: Well, it was a story about a conflict between those two characters, so you have to resolve it. The shippers are free to do with that what they please.
BW: Next we have CAN I KEEP HIM? Which finally resolved the little sideplot with Silkie.
David: Yes, Simon Racioppa and Richard Elliott wrote that one. and I want to apologize to everyone for how gross that was [laughs]. It was Glen's idea for Starfire to eat the carcass at the end. I tried to talk him out of it.
BW: How far back did you guys develop this story? Did you know back in DATE WITH DESTINY?
"Plus, since Starfire is so genuine and sincere, that when we started talking about her lying it got really, really funny." - David Slack
David: One would think we developed that story way far back. What happened was, we did DATE WITH DESTINY in season two and designed these larvae things at the end of it. And Ben Jones - who is now a director but he was a storyboard artist at the time - he just wouldn't let them go. So in all his boards, he would put this thing in the background - and he named him "Silkie." So that caught on and some other artists started doing it. So we had all these episodes where Sillkie is crawling around in the background, still leftover from season two. So it started to seem like we needed to do something with that.
It was similar to the situation with Larry [the Titan]. It grew out of a joke that the artists were tossing around. So that's how that came about.
BW: At the end of DATE WITH DESTINY, it's actually Beast Boy who adopts the worm. But in CAN I KEEP HIM?, Starfire becomes his caregiver. Was that to give Starfire an episode spotlight for season three?
David: In part because of that. It also seemed to be a nicer story for Starfire. When you're doing a show like this, you do have to look at things like that. Episode nine was a Beast Boy episode, so we didn't want two Beast Boy episodes in a row. But it seemed to fit Starfire; We thought it made sense that she would feed it something that would make it grow and mutate. Plus, since Starfire is so genuine and sincere, that when we started talking about her lying it got really, really funny. Like her line, "What is this sofa of which you speak?" It gave us a chance to do a different type of humor with Starfire.
BW: We talked a bit about BUNNY RAVEN earlier, which was written by Louis Hirshorn & Joelle Sellner and story edited by Amy. In BUNNY RAVEN, we finally see Mumbo in all his glory. Was that conceived as a Mumbo spotlight episode?
Amy: Well, we knew we wanted to bring back Mumbo. He was a character that we felt we could do more with. But we also wanted to have the Titans turn into animals. And we thought, "How can we do that?" And that seemed to fit with Mumbo's world - that would be something he would have power over. That he could create his own world inside his hat.
" I love musicals. And it seemed for Mumbo - the greatest showman in the world - that he would have a show-stopper. " - Amy Wolfram
BW: Amy, it was your idea to do a musical number for that episode. Did that end up being a challenge?
Amy: Oh, that was fun. So much fun. I love musicals. And it seemed for Mumbo - the greatest showman in the world - that he would have a show-stopper. So the song came out of that. It was just to create something a little different for that episode.
David: I was thrilled with that because it really did set that episode apart from our other 'crazy' episodes. I thought it was brilliant.
BW: Then we have the two-part finale with Titans East. How did you guys develop Titans East?
David: There was a lot of discussion about that as far as what characters we'd use - and also their interaction with each other. Then there are the licensing issues. We finally arrived at our group through a bit of a long, slow process. We loved Aqualad, so we knew he was in. Speedy seemed to come out really cool so it would be fun to bring him back. But we knew if we brought him back, we didn't want to bring him back as a 'Robin clone' like we first saw him [in WINNER TAKE ALL]. So we decided to dig into the character that had been developed over the years in the comics, and push him into a bit of a darker place. We thought he would be a bit like our teenage Wolverine.
Then Mas Y Menos developed from wanting to a speedster character. But we didn't just want to do another version of Kid Flash. Then Sam and Glen thought of this idea of a binary Flash. They can go really fast, but only when they're touching. They're kind of like circus acrobats. If they grab hands, zoom! If they get knocked apart, they're just a couple of kids.
So then I said the sentence I may regret for the rest of my life. I said, "OK, but only if they just speak Spanish." [laughs]. It was a really fun idea but ended up being difficult to do. I don't know that we'd want to do a whole episode with them.... but we got a little bilingual in the show. I speak decent Spanish, but Alex Soto - our director, speaks fluent Spanish. So he was correcting my terrible translation.
So they're kind of a cross between Flash and the Wonder Twins. That's really something that Sam, Glen and the whole group cooked up. the great thing about TITANS is that it's really just a pot-luck. Everyone brings something.
"So they're kind of a cross between Flash and the Wonder Twins. That's really something that Sam, Glen and the whole group cooked up."
- David Slack
And then we also brought Bumblebee in. I wanted another girl character besides Bumblebee to have the same balance that own Titans had. But the compromise there was to make Bumblebee the leader. And she's very well suited for that.
BW: I LOVE Mas Y Menos, by the way.
David: They're a lot of fun. They are so unlike other super-heroes you're going to see. They're really sympathetic. And they are unique in a way. Our other characters have mostly been adapted from another medium and given a different tone. Mas Y Menos, in a sense, are the only true 'animated' Titans.
BW: Was there ever any talk about shaking the membership up?
David: You mean like Cyborg actually leaving? No, no serious talks about that. [laughs]. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Just make people THINK you're going to break it.
BW: Is there any reason you didn't use existing comic book characters for Titans East - like Wildebeest, Hotspot - or even Jericho, Argent or Kole from the comics? There's a bunch of obscure Titans without legal rights tied to them.
David: I forget why we didn't go with those. We know we wanted to use Speedy and Aqualad in there. We thought about Wildebeest. But then we thought that Cyborg would be the strong guy on the team. We kicked around a number of characters. When we originally talked about doing Mas y Menos, we talked about doing a female Flash character. We thought it might be easier to create our own. And then there's discussions about whose powers complement whose.
There was a lot of discussion about some of those [comic book] characters. We're still looking for some opportunities to bring them in. We'd love to get our hands on a number of the other Titans. It's a question of finding the right episode for them and getting the OK from everybody.
BW: Are there any specific characters you'd like to bring in from the comics, like Jericho or Lilith or any of those guys?
"There was a lot of discussion about that as far as what characters we'd use - and also their interaction with each other."
- David Slack
David: Lilith I don't know what we'd do with since her powers overlap Raven's a little bit. Jericho, initially, I thought I'd never want to do... but there is something really interesting about him. It's complicated because he's Slade's son. We try to tell our stories without betraying too much of the mythology of the comic books. We try to be faithful to it, just not include all of it. And the sign language would be tricky with the Korean animators to try to get it right. It's not out of the question. But having a speech-impaired hero, I think a lot of kids might like to see something like that [note: Jericho is mute].
BW: Now Brother Blood went through a lot of changes during the season and even more changes during the 2-part finale. Was his evolution planned from the beginning?
David: A little bit. I'm not sure that we planned to take it as far as we did. Marv Wolfman and I wrote that final 2-parter. It was an honor to get to work with Marv. And he did a great job, he was just tremendous. Together, we created the character of Steamroller, who appeared in TITANS EAST, part one. And we created Steel City for Titans East, which was more of an East Coast city. It was more like Pittsburgh, Chicago or New York. So we felt like we wanted an East Coast version of someone like Cinderblock or Plasmus. So it was fun to create that character with Marv.
As far as Brother Blood, I forget exactly when we came up with the notion he wanted to look like Cyborg... but once that aspect came into it, it really seemed to make sense. And not just for Brother Blood's character, but for the series as a whole. We had two seasons where Slade was trying to make someone like him. We thought it would be an interesting contrast to have a bad guy who was trying to make himself more like our hero. Blood was always conceived as the opposite of Slade.
Rob: We wanted him to be a very progressive sort of villain.
David. Right. Plus, the idea that Brother Blood would voluntarily do to himself something that happened to Cyborg as a result of an accident... to me, that made him extremely creepy.
BW: Marv Wolfman actually created Brother Blood when he wrote the Teen Titans comic book years ago. And here he is writing this different version of the character he created. Did Marv give some input on his version of Brother Blood as well?
" We had two seasons where Slade was trying to make someone like him. We thought it would be an interesting contrast to have a bad guy who was trying to make himself more like our hero." - David Slack
David: Marv is great because he's not only an excellent writer, but he's a very understanding guy. He recognized that we were lucky to get to do a guy named 'Brother Blood' at all! And a great deal of what Brother Blood did in comics would not be appropriate for our audience. So Marv was on board with the adjustments of the character for this incarnation. And let's not forget that Marv is the guy who gave us the new interpretation of Lex Luthor as an evil businessman rather than a straight-up super-villain. So Marv is no stranger to new takes on old characters So he was great and helpful in our understanding of who this Brother Blood was.
BW: The TITANS EAST finale seemed very 'anime' in its resolution. Was that something you were consciously channeling?
David: Not me. But I'd imagine that was something Glen and the directors did. The show has always had a very strong anime influence. So sometimes we hit that tone more strongly than other times. And of course, in a showdown with Cyborg and Brother Blood, there is sort of that 'cyber-punk' feeling. So that's common in anime.
BW: THE LOST EPISODE was something developed for Post Cereal. How did that come about?
Rob: We actually didn't work on that.
David: Rick Copp wrote that one. We were tied up with the series itself at that point. We would have loved to have been involved but the timing just didn't work out. And they got Rick, who's great. I think it came out really well.
BW: Yeah, it did. I was surprised it played like a real episode. I was expecting something like those old 'Hostress Fruit Pies' ads.
David: I do remember when we were first talking about it, Glen and I had this whole idea of the Titans jumping from cereal box to cereal box. But that wasn't ultimately what Post wanted.
Amy: Matt Youngberg directed that one. He's become a really good director for us.
David: Yeah, we've been really blessed. We've been so lucky to have the amazing Michael Chang kicking butt from day one. It was tough to lose Alex Soto and Ciro Nieli as they both moved on to do their own shows.Alex Soto has left and Ciro Nieli left to do his own show. But every time, there's someone like Ben Jones or Matt Youngberg to step up and fill the void. And not only with great direction, but great ideas and great story sense.
" I do remember when we were first talking about it, Glen and I had this whole idea of the Titans jumping from cereal box to cereal box. But that wasn't ultimately what Post wanted."
- David Slack
BW: I've already asked David about interacting with some of the fans. Rob and Amy, have you guys had an opportunity to interact with the fans?
Amy: At Comicon we got to meet quite a few. That was fun to see what everyone liked and what they responded to. And we got feedback before the convention. Letters from kids. But it's always nice to see people in person. A lot of people watch this show with their kids, which is great. There's really just such a variety of people that enjoy it. We just try and tell stories that everyone will like.
Rob: Yeah. Everyone that took the time to see us were just genuine fans of the show. It's always fun to meet all the fans.
David: We also so proud of Ian, who won the costume contest as Beast Boy! He's our number one fan. Our honorary Teen Titan.
BW: Are you guys surprised that there are plenty of adult fans of the show?
Rob: No. I think when we write the show, we write it to please ourselves as well as the kids. We never write down to our audience and I think that's part of the key to our success. We as the writers of the show are also some of the biggest fans. I think writing a show we genuinely love makes for something that people will respond to positively.
Amy: And that's true of not just the writers. It's the artists, designers and directors. We all love the show. And I think every step of the way, someone brings something more. And it's fun to see. There are some things you've asked about that weren't in the scripts. And that's a pleasure for us to discover. We'll see things and say, "Oh, wow, that wasn't in the script. They brought in something we didn't even think of."
David: Yeah; It'd be far more disturbing it it only appealed to small children.... And us! [laughs] But really... it's a rare thing and it's something we all feel fortunate to be a part of.
Want to hear more?
We'll have an inside look at season four - coming soon!