How do you kill a superhero? That was the question we wanted to pose to writer Tim Sheridan who, in his first issue of Future State: Teen Titans, kills a metric ton of famed caped crusaders. Part of Infinite Frontier, the massive publishing initiative that’s rewriting the (possible) future of the DC Universe, the series begins with a massacre. But it also sets up a mystery: what happened at Titans Tower? And why are some of our favorite heroes dead?
“The only thing that interests me is giant, big, sweeping, earth-shattering consequences. And the best way to understand and feel those consequences is with deaths that are either meaningful or meaningless,” Sheridan explains. “I think that is one of the hardest things we have to come to terms with as human beings is when something like what happens to Donna Troy and Miguel Montez happens at the Academy, it feels so meaningless. It feels so sudden. That’s an attempt to try to communicate the horror of the time in which we’re living in this story.”
For Sheridan, it was never about killing off characters because he didn’t like or didn’t want to write them. There’s a whole editorial process that comes with deadly scenes like the one in Future State: Teen Titans.
“Everything goes through editorial; who can be in the book, who can die, who can’t die,” Sheridan says. “In terms of Future State, it’s a little tricky too because what we have is a lot of different books that take place in different parts of the timeline. We see Nightwing at a different time in his Nightwing Future State book than we see him in Teen Titans.”
The positioning of Dick Grayson played a big part early on in the creation of the story.
“In the very beginning, [DC senior editor] Mike Cotton said, ‘Let’s do something to Dick Grayson. Let’s have him lose an eye, or something that’s really messed him up.’ The first thing I said was, ‘So are we making a parallel to Deathstroke, then?’ And he said, ‘Oh, I hadn’t really considered that.’ But that’s what led me down the road of thinking what happens to Dick Grayson if things have gone so bad that he turns to another mentor and the way that Bruce was a mentor for him? And what if it’s Slade? What does that mean for Dick in the future? But then the Batman group said, ‘Hey, you can’t have him lose an eye, what are you doing?’ So it’s a great big collaboration, with editors from different angles of the DC Universe working out those details.”
Aside from Dick’s turn to the Slade-side, one of the most exciting announcements coming out of DC’s Future State and Infinite Frontier is the debut of a familiar anti-hero we’ve somehow never seen in the pages of a DC comic before. Red X has made the jump out of the Teen Titans cartoon and straight into Future State: Teen Titans and the upcoming Teen Titans Academy ongoing series. Like many of us, Sheridan was shaped by the iconic Teen Titans animated series, so to be the one heralding Red X into the comics is almost too good to be true.
“My career is built around animation, that’s where I started. I have never had a chance to work on a show with Glen Murakami, but I’m such a fan of his Teen Titans show. It informed a lot about who I am as a writer and as a fan,” Sheridan says. “I’ve gotten to meet him to kind of work with him a little bit, but not on a show. And he’s an incredible talent. And the writers from that series were just incredible.”
So why did Sheridan choose Red X specifically for his run?
“Red X is a character with so much mystery surrounding him, the best thing they ever did was that [Teen Titans] gave us Red X and it was a mystery for an episode and then it turned out it’s Dick Grayson. But then I think they realized, ‘We’ve got something cool here,’ so they decided to build out the mystery with another Red X. I think Glen’s even gone out and said recently that he’s still not going to tell us who that second Red X is. So for me as a fan of that series and somebody who comes from animation to get the opportunity to bring a character over into the main continuity whose existence began in animation, it’s incredibly thrilling. It’s a huge honor and I hope that we get to do him justice.”
Just like in the cartoon, the secret of the second Red X’s identity is at the heart of his introduction to the DC Universe.
“The most important thing to me is the mystery. That question of who Red X is, is at the core of the character. I know who Red X is,” Sheridan laughs. “But I think it’s important for the fans to get a chance to solve the mystery.”
Unsurprisingly, Sheridan won’t reveal his story’s biggest secret, but he does give us a little taste of what’s to come. “It is definitely not who you think it is,” the writer says. “Red X is not Dick Grayson. At one time Dick was the first Red X, that mythology and lineage is intact.”
Even though Dick is not taking on the mantle of Red X this time around, he does feel a deep responsibility to the new anti-hero taking on the mantle, as Sheridan reveals.
“There is an unbreakable connection between Dick Grayson and Red X. I mean that not as a hint as to who the secret identity of Red X is, but simply that Dick Grayson created the concept and the idea of Red X, and it’s sort of like the toothpaste is out of the tube. For somebody as genuinely good as Dick Grayson, this is something that he looks at as a big failure for himself. It’s something that he will never be able to extract himself from. He feels responsible for the legacy and that’s going to inform his entire arc in this story.”
While Future State was more concerned with introducing Red X into DC continuity, Infinite Frontier and Teen Titans Academy are all about the mystery of who is behind the mask.
“In Future State, we didn’t really dig into solving the mystery of who Red X is. We simply said this is Red X, and he’s going to be consequential and important. From the very first issue of Teen Titans Academy, those breadcrumbs will be there and you’ll get the chance to start following that trail,” he says. “There’s going to be surprises along the way. There’s no way I would tell you right out the gate because this is the backbone of our story, but you will have everything you need to begin putting the pieces together. And you’ll be doing it alongside some of our some of the new characters that we’re going to meet in Teen Titans Academy.”
So who (aside from eager readers) will be trying to solve the mystery?
“There’s a group of three kids who I call the Batpack. They’re Bratgirl, Megabat, and Chupacabra who are orphan goth kids from Gotham City. They very much modeled themselves and fancy themselves as members of the Bat Family. And to that end, they will embark on the investigation into the identity of Red X. Why is he here? What does he want? You’ll get to join the Batpack–and everyone else–in trying to solve that mystery.”
Teen Titans Academy #1 hits shelves on March 23.