David Slack, Rob Hoegee and Amy Wolfram Delve into Demons, Dark Corners and Some Devilish Fun in the Fourth Season.
This interview was conducted in November 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!
David Slack, Amy Wolfram and Rob Hoegee from San Diego ComiCon 2004
Bill Walko: David, Rob and Amy -- thanks again for joining us yet again! The fourth season of Teen Titans adapts Raven’s story into animated form. How did you decide to use the Raven storyline for season four?
David: I think that was something we talked about for a long time. There’s certainly some interesting stuff from the old comics. That story - THE TERROR OF TRIGON - which has just been reissued in trade paperback - for my money, it's the best story that Marv and George did. Incredible artwork, a really, really interesting story... smart and emotional. Plus, Raven was a favorite character among a number of fans – and we like her. We had done a Robin arc, a Beast Boy/Terra arc, a Cyborg arc – and Starfire had some incredible standalone episodes. It seemed like it was Raven’s turn. We had also set up a little bit with Trigon in the first season.
Rob: I think with the evolution of the series, we couldn’t have done an arc that was so serious and examined characters so closely until now. From the audience’s point of view, it helps to know the character so well. It has more resonance.
Amy: Definitely a darker arc that the ones we had done before.
BW: What changes did you make to the original comic book stories? What did you find useful in those original stories?
Rob: For me, the artwork had a big impact. Storywise, there were some things we just couldn’t use, like the whole Lilith angle. [note: Lilith was a psychic Titan that returned to aid the team during “Terror of Trigon”]. And Arella’s involvement in the comic book story was more meaningful. But the artwork was really inspirational; The Titans Tower as this rock-throne that Trigon sits on… the city laid waste… the negative versions of the Titans themselves… All those powerful visual images were very useful to capture in animated form.
Amy: Right. Trigon has four eyes and we had moments where Raven had four eyes. All those things are very visual.
BW: That was something that went as far back as season one, in NEVERMORE, where Raven had the four eyes.
"Raven was a favorite character among a number of fans – and we like her. We had done a Robin arc, a Beast Boy/Terra arc, a Cyborg arc – and Starfire had some incredible standalone episodes. It seemed like it was Raven’s turn. " - David Slack
David: That was the first time that Glen put that in there; He suggested that when we were breaking the story for NEVERMORE.
BW: How did you approach Trigon as a villain, compared to villains like Slade and Brother Blood?
David: It was tricky to do someone like Trigon correctly. He’s omniscient. So it makes it hard to write a fight or a plot when you have a character that is supposed to know everything. It was very difficult in constructing stories. But in adapting the actual character, there was so many good things in the original source material. Marv Wolfman and George Perez just gave us so much to work with.
Amy: Slade is an evil man, but Trigon is an evil being. He’s a presense. It’s evil times ten. He’s so much more powerful. It was so much fun to pit him against Slade, who, up until that time, was our big bad guy.
BW: How did you develop Slade’s role in season four?
David: If I remember correctly, that was an idea one of our directors, Matt Youngberg, had. Amy had disposed of Slade in hot lava at the end of season two.
Amy: I tried to kill him.
David: Matt said to Glen, “Wouldn't it be cool of Slade and Trigon met ... ya know, down there?"” And that’s how Slade came back. It became the genesis for the whole deal-with-the-devil thing with Slade. It remains one of my favorite elements of the fourth season. And we have Matt to thank for that.
Rob: I think also, because Trigon is so monumentally powerful, he couldn’t really be beat in a fair fight. So he needed some sort of agent. And Slade fit the bill perfectly. And because we were able to bring Slade back in an interesting way with new powers, we really took a different approach to his characterization. It allowed him to grow. You’ll notice, we gave Ron Pearlman a little more latitude with his vocals; Slade really enjoyed his rebirth.
David: Another thing it did was give instant gravity to Trigon. If we invested three seasons telling you Slade is the guy to be afraid of, then we show you the guy he is afraid of. Besides being 90 feet tall, it made Trigon all the more scary.
"Slade is an evil man, but Trigon is an evil being. He’s a presense. It’s evil times ten."
- Amy Wolfram
Amy: Plus, the horns and four eyes…
BW: The Raven/Trigon story is very dark. So you probably have some similar problems that you did adapting season two. I mean, Trigon is a demon. How did you go about adapting that for the show?
David: A lot of it is how you say things. It's been difficult to adapt it. A lot of it is trying to remain true to the source material while being appropriate for your audience. In the end, it's a balancing act. And even though some of it is dark and scary, it's hopeful as well. So hopefully it balances out. We also did some really weird funny stuff to kind of balance it out.
BW: OK, so season four was a pretty serious story arc, yet the season kicked off with a comedy episode. David, EPISODE 257-494 was something you wrote. Seriously, how much FUN was that to write?
David: That was the hardest episode I’ve ever had to write. It wasn’t the most difficult – because emotionally there wasn’t a lot going on. But every page you have to think up a new TV show. So it took a long time to do that. It’s funny, because, people have lauded that episode for all the parodies in there. But I look at it another way. I thank God for all those parodies. Because each parody was one less thing I had to think up on my own [laughs].
We created Control Freak in the second season. Dwayne McDuffie named him. And he was one of those villains we used for just one fight scene. But we always felt there was more we could do with him. Alex Polinsky did such a great job with the voice. And the design is hilarious. Since we knew we were going to be doing stuff with Raven in the fourth season, we knew it was going to get harder and harder to do such a broad episode later in season four. So we decided to start the season with one big romp. So we started with the idea that Control Freak would somehow get the Titans stuck in the TV. And the rest is just one big complicated mess. [laughs]
BW: How interactive was that episode to the staff? Did everyone bring a bit to the party or parodies?
"So we decided to start the season with one big romp. So we started with the idea that Control Freak would somehow get the Titans stuck in the TV. And the rest is just one big complicated mess. [laughs]" - David Slack
David: Ben Jones directed that one. There were definitely a lot of suggestions made. [Director] Michael Chang, [Director] Matt Youngberg and [Character Designer] Derrick Wyatt are always great for suggesting gags. I think once I wrote the outline, I locked myself in a room and came up with everything I could think of. Then Glen [Murakami] and the guys took a pass at it and I went back and fine-tuned it. It was a complicated episode to write, but it ended up being a lot of fun.
BW: You also managed to put in a “jump the shark” reference.
David: Yep. We put a lot of stuff in there. We snuck in Khary Payton’s dad in there. Dr. Victor Payton – with the secret to world peace.
BW: I also noticed a few “Battle of the Planets” references, which I know you are a fan of…
David: Yep. We love our “Battle of the Planets.” I was raised on G-Force.
BW: The Zinthos commercial was a big hit with the fans.
David: [laughs] Yeah. That felt like something that just had to be done. I think that was something we joked about in a recording session.
Amy: That was Tom Kenney I believe.
David: That right! Oh, now he’s going to want royalties [laughs]. I remember he did the word “Zinthos” as Mumbo and he started doing some sound effects and stuff. So thanks, Tom! We took that and ran with it.
That was a fun episode. Ben Jones did an amazing job. He always adds a lot. Like that part at the end where the girl was still with Cyborg. That wasn’t originally in the script. That was something that Ben and his storyboard artists added in. And that was my favorite gag in the whole episode. That was very funny. At first I was like, “Oh, Cyborg got the girl out of the TV.” But then somebody said, “Or maybe they’re still IN the TV.” So I loved that. I thought it was just brilliant.
" I remember [Mumbo voice actor Tom Kenney] did the word “Zinthos” as Mumbo and he started doing some sound effects and stuff. So thanks, Tom! We took that and ran with it." - David Slack
BW: The ending was like one of those vapid sit-com endings.
David: Right. The end was originally just one of those “Superfriends” endings. Everyone is all happy and everything is back into place. We’re back on the hamster wheel. It seemed like if we were going to do an episode about television, that nobody should learn anything.
BW: The next episode was CYBORG THE BARBARIAN, which was a straight-ahead action-adventure yarn. You guys don’t do too many of those.
Rob: Yeah. We knew that this season was going to have some departures from previous seasons. We knew there was some darker stuff coming, so we wanted to balance it. I story edited that. Richard Elliot and Simon Racioppa wrote that and did a great job. We wanted to a fun – and somewhat dramatic – action piece. We also wanted to focus on one member of the team away from the rest. We had some discussions about that; Whether we should cut back to the other Titans to see what they were up to. But we decided that once Cyborg was in the past we would just stay with him throughout the whole episode. And it really freed us to create a story that took on a life of his own.
Amy: I think another neat thing about CYBORG THE BARBARIAN is that no one realizes that Cyborg is half-robot, They just think that’s his armor. So in season four, we definitely see him as more than a half-robot.
BW: Were you guys inspired by something specific with that episode? Like “Conan”?
Rob: We definitely took some cues from “Conan” and those sword-and-sandals movies. Y’know, where the good guys are good. The bad guys are bad. And everyone smells. [all laugh]. The end.
But I liked giving Cyborg an emotional story – a story where he would be able to really connect with someone. And I also liked the end where he was abruptly pulled from the heat of battle with absolutely no idea how it’s all going to turn out. I felt it was a very cool way to play that.
"We definitely took some cues from “Conan” and those sword-and-sandals movies. Y’know, where the good guys are good. The bad guys are bad. And everyone smells. [all laugh]. The end." - Rob Hoegee
David: Plus we got to work with Michael Clark Duncan, who is the biggest human being you will ever meet. And such a nice guy. He was great.
BW: Next was BIRTHMARK. I said HAUNTED may be the darkest episode… but then there’s BIRTHMARK. How did you go about developing that episode as the beginning of the Raven/Trigon arc?
David: We all re-read the "Terror of Trigon" story, which has been just recently re-released in trade paperback. It’s stuff everyone should buy. But like the Terra arc, there were elements that were interesting to use for our show, but there was also stuff we knew we wouldn’t be able to do. We wanted to do a VERY dark story to kids TV – but do it in a way that we would betray the trust of out audience and the parents. A lot of parents watch the show with their kids. There’s a responsibility there. But we found a great story to be told for Raven – one that I think is very useful to our audience. So we thought it was worth taking the risk in adapting this dark, dark story.
Once we figured that out, it became a lot of fun. An episode like BIRTHMARK was great to write; There’s a lot of cool and scary stuff that happens. That was a difficult episode to break; Glen [Murakami], director Michael Chang and I were up pretty late one night figuring out how the story would work. Ultimately, we came back to the metaphor: It’s something Raven doesn’t want to face. It’s like the movie, “The Terminator.” There’s this day that’s supposed to happen and Raven is running from it. And Slade is chasing her. I ran an idea by Rob and Amy – I think it was Amy that came up with the brilliant idea that Raven stops time. I felt that kicked the episode over the top in terms of making it interesting. That inspiration, I thought, was on par with Glen’s idea to set NEVERMORE inside Raven’s head. It suddenly made the episode magical, yet also scary. There’s that period when time is stopped, where there’s this very isolated feeling for Raven. We thought it gave it a very unique feeling.
BW: That episode’s pace is EXTREMELY relentless.
David: It is relentless. It’s just about all fight scenes. I like writing stuff like that, even though it nearly killed the crew [laughs]. But we had Michael Chang directing that one - and he and his crew did a beautiful job. The episode came out looking fantastic and I couldn’t be happier with it. It’s really scary!
"Ultimately, we came back to the metaphor: It’s something Raven doesn’t want to face. It’s like the movie, “The Terminator.” There’s this day that’s supposed to happen and Raven is running from it. And Slade is chasing her. "
- David Slack
BW: There’s a scene in that episode where Slade confronts Raven. He rips her costume and basically terrorizes her. And Ron Pearlman’s voice is extremely creepy. When you saw all that put together, did you think it was too far?
David: Well, we knew we couldn’t just bring Slade back with no explanation after the events in season two. So when we bring him back, he’s both stronger and weaker. He’s got super-powers that he never had before, yet you see him working for someone – which we’ve never seen him do. And we made a concerted effort to write Slade a little differently since he’s not in charge. We wanted a less serious version of Slade. And I think because he’s not as serious in BIRTHMARK, that makes him that much scarier. It’s not his mission. He doesn’t really care. And that makes him that much more terrifying.
BW: Was there any problem with showing Slade ‘rising from the dead’?
David: We work very closely with our Standards and Practices guys. It’s not an adversarial relationship. We don’t want to anything that will upset kids or parents. But at the same time, we want to do the coolest episodes possible. We maybe pushed some boundaries with what happens with Slade. But I think in the context of a superhero show – where Starfire’s been blown up numerous times and still looks great – it doesn’t seem overly intense.
BW: In the beginning, Sam Register and Glen Murakami set up Teen Titans to be unencumbered by continuity. There was the idea to make it a very accessible show – that each episode would stand alone. By now, it’s got its own little timeline and universe. BIRTHMARK pulls various elements from three seasons of episodes. Is that something you guys are aware of?
David: We made some conscious decisions about season four. One is something Rob touched on. We have an established cast of five characters. Maybe we don’t need to see all of them in every one. Like in CYBORG THE BARBARIAN and THE QUEST. We really can take a character on a mission of their own. We also felt like we have our own mythology at this point. And it’s OK to refer back to it. I think we draw the line where you HAD to see a previous episode for a current one to make sense. If BIRTHMARK is the first episode of Teen Titans you ever see, you may think it’s a scary episode, but it’s not like you won’t understand what is going on. That’s the continuity we decided on for our show. So while continual viewing is rewarded with little nuances from episode to episode, it’s not compulsory viewing. It’s not a show like “Alias” – where if you missed the first episode, you may not know what is happening.
BW: The next episode was THE QUEST, which Amy wrote. Can you tell us how that episode came about?
Amy: That one came out of Robin’s character. We get to see another side of him and challenge him. Since he’s a master of martial arts – what would happen if he met someone better than him? Where would he go and what would he do? So we took him away from everyone else and challenged him. At what point do you give up? Especially a character like Robin – who never gives up.
"Robin is on this quest without his uniform. And the four of them are in the Robin costume. It just seemed like something they might do." - Amy Wolfram
BW: You also established a B-plot with that episode – where everyone dressed up like Robin. A lot of fans enjoyed that.
Amy: Yeah [laughs]. We had a lot of fun with that. We started thinking about what the other Titans would be doing at the tower while Robin’s away. I was talking with [Director] Ben Jones and some of the other guys, and I said, “I think it would be funny if one of them dressed up like Robin.” With Robin gone, it’s sort of like, “What do you do when mom and dad are away?” So then we thought about each of them doing it. And onec we got the drawing back with each of them in the Robin outfit… it was like, “Yeah! This is fun.” Even Silkie gets into it.
David: You also did a neat thing by uniting it thematically. Robin is learning on his quest that he shouldn’t take himself so seriously. Meanwhile back home, they aren’t taking him seriously at all. [laughs]
Amy: Right. Plus, it sort of balances out. Robin is on this quest without his uniform. And the four of them are in the Robin costume. It just seemed like something they might do.
BW: Then we have EMPLOYEE OF THE MONTH, which is probably one of the freakiest episodes of the series. [laughs]
Rob: And I will swear to you: There were absolutely no drugs involved in writing the screenplay.
Amy: Just a lot of tofu.
Rob: [laughs] Just a lot of tofu. But that one was a hard episode to write. Just in terms of it being so illogical – yet making it logical. David mentioned earlier about giving each of the Titans their moment to shine. So this was Beast Boy’s moment. And the idea of the talking space tofu – I think that was Glen’s idea. We have these weekly story meetings where we talk about various ideas. I remember the space tofu came up, and Amy was like, “I’m out!” And in turn, I said, “Well, I’m in!” [laughs].
" I remember we did decide to mix the two ideas: And episode with Beast Boy getting a job and an episode with talking space tofu. And it kind of went from there." - Rob Hoegee
And Rob Paulsen did such a great job as the voice of The Source. Then there were the cows. And the Bobs. I don’t know – my brain just exploded with wackiness. And there you go.
BW: And Beast Boy finally got his moped.
Rob: Beast Boy finally got his moped. That was actually a big, big part of it. The genesis of the story was pretty simple: I decided once and for all, Beast Boy would resolve to get his moped. And of course, circumstances wouldn’t allow it so he would have to get a job. I remember we did decide to mix the two ideas: And episode with Beast Boy getting a job and an episode with talking space tofu. And it kind of went from there.
David: Right. I remember one day I was talking to Paul Dini, and he drew me this picture of Raven with a hotdog-on-a-stick hat on – and he said, “I want you guys to do that.” And we all kept it in the back of our heads to do a story where one of the Titans would have to get a job.
BW: In that same episode, Robin wears a new costume, very similar to the G-Force outfits from “Battle of the Planets.” Whose idea was that?
Rob: Well, I can’t take any credit for that. That was just the artists having fun. I’m not sure who originally drew that. I think it might have been Glen [Murakami].
BW: Next up was TROQ, which was written by Amy. This episode seemed to be a bit of a throwback to season one’s message-oriented stories. Was that a conscious decision to get back to that kind of story?
Amy: It’s definitely an “After School Special” type of episode. It wasn’t necessarily to tell a message – but it was a story we wanted to tell a long time and didn’t have a way to tell it.
BW: Did you always intend Starfire for that story? Or had you considered Cyborg as well, since it deals with racism?
Amy: It did seem like Starfire because she is so sensitive and sweet. I think Cyborg does face that sort of thing. He faces it on two fronts: By being a robot but also by being black. But Starfire - she is a fish out of water – but she would also be able to see the character for what he was. The other Titans were a bit dazzled by him at first.
"He was by all accounts a hero. And he was trying to save the world. The forces he was fighting were evil. But then again, just because you’re a hero, doesn’t mean you don’t have your own prejudices and things like that." - Amy Wolfram
BW: It was also a more subtle form of racism. ValYor wasn’t like that to the whole team. And he did have some very heroic traits. It was a more subtle way to do that type of story – rather than just have him be mean.
Amy: He was by all accounts a hero. And he was trying to save the world. The forces he was fighting were evil. But then again, just because you’re a hero, doesn’t mean you don’t have your own prejudices and things like that.
BW: After the relentless pace of BIRTHMARK, how did you go about developing PROPHECY?
Rob: There was the idea to carefully plot out season four and really have a pronounced build-up. We wanted a feeling of dark menace.. of foreboding… a harbinger of terrible things to come. We got a taste of that in BIRTHMARK, which was very personal to Raven. But this needed to be the moment when the rest of the team was brought in. PROPHESY lets them fully grasp and understand what they are about to face. It was ultimately the opportunity for Raven comes clean as the Titans begin to prepare themselves for the enevitable.
Amy: It also gave Raven’s story the feeling of a legend or a legacy. She’s always known this. And the idea of a prophesy fit well with that. Raven’s known since the time she was a child that she’s not like other people. We mentioned that a lot in previous episodes, but here we really see exactly why Raven is the way she is.
BW: PROPHECY also gives us the first glimpse of Azarath. Was there some discussions about how to address Raven’s birthplace?
Rob: I was really pushing for that. I think it was time to see where Raven came from. I think we reached a point in the series to do that – to really show where these character came from and what their histories are. Raven is coming to terms with this prophesy and she’s willing to do whatever it takes to prevent it. So it makes sense for her to return to Azarath and try and get help from her mother. And then she realizes that, sadly, it’s too late. And it seems like everything has been set in motion long ago and there’s nothing she can do to stop it.
" I was really pushing for that. I think it was time to see where Raven came from. I think we reached a point in the series to do that – to really show where these character came from and what their histories are." - Rob Hoegee
David: It seemed important to show Azarath. I remember there was some debate if we could even draw anything that could live up to what people had imagined. I think, ultimately, the art certainly lived up to it and looked fantastic. Whenever Raven was in trouble, she called on the power of Azarath; So when Raven is in the greatest trouble of her life, it seemed like we should take her to Azarath. And to discover that place had been destroyed… well, I think that just raises the stakes even higher.
BW: We also learn more about Raven’s family with the appearance of Arella. Was there some hesitation about hinting that Arella was dead when Raven reach Azarath?
Rob: Well, we wanted to be subtle about that. It is open to interpretation to some degree. My take on that was we were watching something that had happened in the past even though Arella is there in the present with Raven. The white doves represent the spirits of those long departed. And Arella was speaking in past tense. You can take from that what you will.
BW: STRANDED deals directly with the Robin/Starfire relationship. Did you guys feel that was something that needed to be addressed on some level?
Amy: It was definitely something we had established. I mean, Robin and Starfire have this little relationship, but what is it? That whole episode was about being separated and trying to communicate – in each of the subplots as well. I think every relationship hit that point where you ask, “Well, what is this?” So I think Starfire needed to know that Robin really did care about her.
"It was definitely something we had established. I mean, Robin and Starfire have this little relationship, but what is it?"
- Amy Wolfram
David: I also think that in series TV, you can only play out a flirtation for so long. People tune in to see how things escalate. If Raven and Trigon have the same fight over and over each week, that wouldn’t be any good. I remember when we were working on that episode, we wanted to grow their relationship and take it to another place. But we didn’t want to grow it so much that it would no longer be interesting.
Amy: We had shown Starfire jealous before. And we had shown Robin jealous. But they never talked about it. So Cyborg calls Starfire Robin’s girlfriend just joking around. But they did have a special relationship. We felt it was time that they dealt with it in one way or another. And we felt it was a satisfying way to deal with it.
David: That’s where I think metaphor works really well. Someone says something that puts the elephant in the room. And all of the sudden, nothing works right. The team is scattered and Robin and Starfire can’t communicate. Amy and writer, Melody Fox did a great job on that one.
BW: OVERDRIVE gives some more focus on Cyborg. After episodes like SUM OF HIS PARTS and ONLY HUMAN and DECEPTION, is it challenging to find new ways to look at Cyborg’s condition?
David: Y’know, it’s a funny thing when you get into the fourth and fifth season of a show. You finally get around to some things that you promised you would do when you started it. One of my first thoughts about Cyborg was this: He is the only Titan who has powers that are upgradable. So I thought there was something interesting there. The challenge was to do it in a way that was interesting and grew his character.
The easy metaphor with the enhancement chip is drugs. And we didn’t really want to do a drug episode, per se. [laughs] Even though that metaphor is strong. I think by using Billy Numerous in that episode, it became something different. It was now about trying to do too much – which seemed to fit with Cyborg’s personality. He’s someone that loves life so much, it’s conceivable he would want to do it all. So we addressed another problem with kids today: many of them are overbooked. They have school, afterschool activities, things on weekends… and trying to watch Teen Titans on weekends… all their hours are accounted for.
"One of my first thoughts about Cyborg was this: He is the only Titan who has powers that are upgradable. So I thought there was something interesting there." -David Slack
Amy: I think with Cyborg, we did a lot about his disability. So this time, we dealt with the fact he could upgrade himself, which was a positive. So it wasn’t necessarily about his robot side. It was something that was more relatable, I think, because it could apply to anybody.
David: Right, We resolved some of his robot issues at the end of season three in his final battle with Brother Blood. So at this point, he feels more comfortable with himself. There’s a great gag with Cyborg’s cannon in the three-parter at the end of season four. And even in CYBORG THE BARBARIAN, when he upgrades himself.
BW: This is also the point where you started to feature some of the Hive academy members like Billy Numerous. Was it fun breaking those characters out on their own?
David: Billy Numerous was so much fun to write. And that was great because it was such a collaborative effort. [Character designer] Derrick Wyatt named Billy Numerous while he was drawing him. All those characters turned out to be a lot of fun. As a writer, I really enjoy getting the character first and working backwards.
BW: MOTHER MAE-EYE was another freak-out episode from the mind of David Slack.
David: Wasn’t it, though?
BW: [laughs] How did that episode come about?
David: MOTHER MAE-EYE has a really interesting story. After Amy Wolfram, Lou Hirshorn, and Joelle Sellner so successfully did a musical number in BUNNY RAVEN, we wanted to do a whole musical episode. We ever went so far as to break the story for that one during season three. But after we talked to the guys upstairs about it, it just looked like we weren’t going to be able to afford to do it. They were game, but when we looked the budget, we knew we just couldn’t do it well. So we set that idea aside. But the character we originally envisioned for that episode became the inspiration for Punk Rocket – which we used in the [Post Cereal] webisode [THE LOST EPISODE].
So all of the sudden we needed a show ten, and we needed it pretty desperately [laughs]. So we pulled the team together; Rob and I went to lunch and talked about how we didn’t have many good female villains – and we talked about an evil mother character. Then we remembered the character Witchiepoo from [the 1970s TV show] “H. R. Puffinstuff.” So we came up with an idea about a mother who hypnotized them. So I called up Amy to tell her about it…
Amy: And I was like…. “what?” [laughs]
"Then we remembered the character Witchiepoo from [the 1970s TV show] “H. R. Puffinstuff.” So we came up with an idea about a mother who hypnotized them. "
- David Slack
David: [laughs] Yeah, it all did happen pretty quickly. I talked it over with Amy on the phone and she helped me out with it. Then, that night I talked with Glen [Murakami] and [Director] Ben [Jones] on the phone and we broke out the basic beats of the story. I think Ben came up with the whole pie thing – that sounds like a Ben thing. So between 10am that morning and 10pm that night, we had the makings of an episode. So that one came about pretty fast; I hope that doesn’t show.
BW: I don’t think so; I think it holds up to some of the other weird episodes. [all laugh]
Amy: It’s a crazy ride. I think you have to go along with it.
Rob: It’s certainly a season with a lot of contrast. You’ve got EPISODE 257, EMPLOYEE OF THE MONTH and MOTHER MAE-EYE. And then you have the Titans fighting the evilest evil of all.
Amy: And that was by design. The Raven stuff was so, so dark. I think even for ourselves we needed to lighten it up a little bit.
David: Right. And for our audience, too. The show is about variety. You never know what the Titans are going to get into from one week to the next. It may be hilarious. It may be scary. It may be emotional. So if we were going to go to that darker side, we needed some lighter episodes like MOTHER MAE-EYE. And then we got Billie Hayes to do the voice. And she was just tremendous. And I have to tell you… that laugh she does? Recording technology does not do it justice. It runs a shiver down your spine when you hear it in person.
BW: How was Billy Hayes cast for that one? Did you approach her specifically since she played Witchiepoo?
David: We didn’t approach her in that context.
Rob: Sometimes when we create a character, we think of who may do the voice. And that informs us how to write it. And often times, we say, “wouldn’t it be great if we could get so-and so?” So we said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could get Billie Hayes?” And sometimes, we get lucky and they’re available.
BW: Like Malcolm McDowell as the Mad Mod.
BW: That episode also featured two more Hive members – See-More and Private Hive. Were they fun to break out on their own?
David: All those characters were used in season three’s DECEPTION. So we had all these designs. It’s hard to design great characters and those were all such great designs. They were sitting there waiting to be used. Kevin Michael Richardson did the voice for Seemore, and I think that’s what made Seemore just so funny. He got even funnier in my opinion, because of Kevin.
It seemed like, if we were going to be doing an episode about a mother hindering her kids, we needed evil kids. And there were the Hive kids.
BW: At the end, then the Hive kids have to deal with Mother…
David: Right. I think that was one of the only mean things the Titans ever did. [laughs]
"So that story became a touching story on “What would you choose to do if this was your last day?” Would you do something crazy? Or would you just choose to spend it with your friends?" - Amy Wolfram
BW: How did you guys go about developing the three-part finale to season four?
David: Well, I came up with some very specific ideas that I was convinced were right – and then Rob and Amy made me realize I was wrong [all laugh]. That was my clever plan. I actually take no credit for the first episode – which worked so well.
Rob: Typically with a three-parter, there’s a beginning, a middle, and an end. So structurally, it worked out well to divide them up. We sort of approached it like any given episode; A typical episode will have three acts. So part one, Raven turns into the portal; Part two was sort of our “Search For Spock” in that Raven was lost and Robin had to find her; And part three is where Raven is redeemed and saves the day.
Amy: We all liked certain elements of the story; So we made sure each would follow along and create an episode. We all had to talk as we were doing them, and make sure there was no overlapping.
Rob: One of the things about doing three episodes, was that each had to build into something. Amy’s had to build into mine. And mine had to build into David’s. So it really put the pressure on David to pull out the stops for part three.
David: But also on Amy and Rob – to write those episodes properly and build to it. Particularly for Amy on that first one… to take that episode, and make something of it, without building to that crescendo. For awhile, we felt like we only had two and a half parts. But then Amy came up with a great piece. And because of that, the first episode came out even better than I had envisioned.
Amy: I just felt that there was something interesting to that prophesy. The thing about it, was that it was absolutely destined to come true. There was nothing that Raven could do to stop it. And some people feel that maybe she gave up to soon. But the reason was because she saw her friends in trouble. It was a whole self-sacrifice thing. So that story became a touching story on “What would you choose to do if this was your last day?” Would you do something crazy? Or would you just choose to spend it with your friends? And that’s what it came about. It came about that one day. So that was a turning point when we realized that. This was Raven’s last day, to her at least.
BW: THE END [part one] show how Raven has developed since the first season.
David: She can make pancakes now!
BW: [laughs] She really is much closer to these people then she would care to admit. Was that something you guys thought about?
Amy: Definitely. It’s a journey for all the characters. If all the characters were the same as the day we met them, it’s definitely less interesting.
David: I think Glen was a stickler about that. Once we reached a certain point with a character, he was always careful that we didn’t just put them back to the same place before a certain episode. Even with subtle things.. like Beast Boy in THE BEAST WITHIN and Starfire in TRANSFORMATION. That kind of stuff happened with all of us - but I credit Glen with making sure the characters grew in subtle ways over time.
BW: Speaking of changes, Trigon got a redesign from his previous appearance in first season's episode, NEVERMORE. Did you guys talk about changing him? Or making him scarier?
David: I believe we talked about it. But we talked about it in the following way: “Hey Glen, is Trigon going to look different?” “Yeah!” – and then Glen went and made Trigon look different.
Amy: I think it’s the difference between seeing a character for a certain purpose in one story – and then building that same character for a different purpose in a season-long arc.
Rob: Well, also, the Trigon in NEVERMORE was in Raven’s mind. So that was more of a mental interpretation of her father; It was the way Raven thought of him. But in season four, he really did take form. And, we were going to spend more time with Trigon… so we wanted to make him the coolest, scariest, character we could make him.
BW: THE END [part two] is perhaps the darkest episode yet. Unlike parts one and three, there’s no hope here. How did part two develop from a storytelling aspect?
Rob: Well, I didn’t want to depict a complete lack of hope. That’s one of the great things about the Titans and young people in general. You can have an adult say, “This is an impossible situation with absolutely no way out.” And any kid will just say, “Well, I’m gonna try anyway.” They don’t know the meaning of “giving up” In that type of situation. Here, the world is taken over by Trigon and it’s now flame and ashes – but as long as there’s one glimmer of hope, these guys are going to go for it. And that’s what I love about all these characters – especially Robin. He’s such a tenacious character. He’s even going to team up with his worst enemy to make sure his friend is safe.
"That was one of my favorite moments in the whole series. It’s the ultimate extension of the father-son metaphor. It’s this bizarre fishing trip in hell! [laughs]" - David Slack
BW: Was it fun writing the Slade/Robin team-up?
Rob: That was a fantastic amount of fun. Especially since I had written APPRENTICE, PART ONE. This is almost going full circle with their whole relationship. And that, to me, was one of the highlights of the episode. I really got a chance to dig deep and explore the nature of their relationship. And even though their scenes were pretty brief, I was was very happy with how it all came out.
David: That was one of my favorite moments in the whole series. It’s the ultimate extension of the father-son metaphor. It’s this bizarre fishing trip in hell! [laughs] There’s not a lot of time in an action cartoon for your main hero and main villain to just sit there talking.
Amy: And had it been done earlier in the series, it wouldn’t have the same impact.
BW: Right. And you also get a sense of how desperate Robin is to team up with Slade.
Amy: But he also says in no uncertain terms that it’s a one-time deal. And once they get back, things will return to the way they were.
BW: The unmasking of skull-faced Slade was one of the most shocking moments of the series. Whose idea was that?
Rob: I can’t remember. It might have been me or Glen.
David: I always wanted to unmask Slade, but the question is, what could you put under the mask would be satisfying at this point?
Rob: I think we knew if we were going to unmask Slade, it would be in a tricky way. We weren’t going to really show who’s under the mask. I think the unmasking scene also opened up another mystery; What happened to Slade? Why is he doing what he’s doing? In showing that brief glimpse under the mask, it reveals Slade’s motivations a bit.
Amy: It also reveals a bit of what happened at the end of AFTERSHOCK, PART TWO.
David: Plus, it’s cool!
BW: Some elements of part two are directly from the comics, like the grey anti-Titans and the rings of Azar. Were those some elements you thought would work well for your purposes? Was their some concern that their taunts would be too cruel?
Rob: Possibly. Especially the line to Cyborg, “you don’t have a mommy.” That raised some eyebrows. But my feeling was that our characters were fighting their deepest, darkest demons. So what were the meanest, cruelest things they could say to themselves? That was what I was going for. For Beast Boy, it was about Terra. Cyborg and the tragedy with his family. Starfire about her sister and Robin, who she cares deeply about.
"Then there’s the big stone T [of the Titans Tower] which is used as a throne by Trigon. The enormous white Raven rising over the city. Definitely, all of those images demanded to be in the story." - David Slack
BW: The final battle with Trigon in part three was very similar to the comic book as well. Was that something the storyboard artists brought to the table, or do you guys jointly discuss that type of thing?
David: Both, really, We all read those original comics and there’s a lot to draw from there. A lot of those image just stay in your head – there’s just incredible imagery in that story from George Perez. Once the city is frozen, they explain in just a few panels why the Titans are left to handle this – they have the shots of Batman and Superman turned to stone just like everybody else. That’s one of the questions the fans have. “where are Batman and Superman?” We didn’t show them specifically, but we did use the imagery of the people frozen in twisted stone.
Then there’s the big stone T [of the Titans Tower] which is used as a throne by Trigon. The enormous white Raven rising over the city. Definitely, all of those images demanded to be in the story. I think to some extent, by not using those images, you just aren’t doing the story. And then there’s Glen and our directors, who had a huge role in bringing those image to life in animated form.
BW: There’s a strong metaphor in this episode about ‘bad fathers’ and nature vs. nurture. It’s a heady topic for a kids’ show, but it is mentioned by Raven. Was that a metaphor you wanted to explore through Raven?
David: Well, sure. I think the whole story of Raven became a metaphor about the fear of growing up, among other things. Most people I knew when we were kids were excited about growing up; There was an excitement about being old enough to do various things. But there was also this fear. You have to get a job and have responsibilities. You can’t play in the afternoons anymore. And the even greater fear: maybe you wouldn’t even want to play in the afternoons anymore. You’ll change.
So I think Raven’s fear was centered around this fear that she would grow up to be like her father. And I think that it a metaphor that does resonate quite strongly for a lot of people. Most of us, no matter how much we love our parents, wouldn’t choose to be just like them. And unfortunately, someone with a bad parent carries that sense of legacy. That fear that you will grow up to be like them. That metaphor is clear in Raven’s speech to Trigon; Sometimes your parent is someone who you want to grow up to be – and other times, that parent may just be someone who helped to bring you into this world. And sometimes your family are your friends.. the people who take care of you.. not necessarily anyone you are biologically connected to. That may be too philosophical for a kid’s cartoon show. But it’s there anyway!
BW: There’s also the idea of ‘different kinds of families’ The Titans aren’t a family in the traditional sense, but they are a sort of surrogate family for each other. That was true in the comics as well, since many of the Titans were orphans. Is that something you guys think about when writing these characters?
David: I think we play around a lot with family relationships. I remember when we worked on the Terra stuff in season two, Glen would say Robin’s the dad, Raven’s the mom, and so on. And those roles do change from episode to episode.
BW: Well, thanks one again for taking the time to chat. And thanks for an exciting fourth season of TEEN TITANS!
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