Marv Wolfman is perhaps best known for his reinvention—with artist George Perez—of DC's Teen Titans in the New Teen Titans title, starring Robin. Wolfman also introduced a new Robin, Tim Drake, who first partnered with Batman in the storyline A Lonely Place of Dying. Currently, Wolfman consults on the Cartoon Network's animated Teen Titans series. As co-writer of DC's The Man of Steel miniseries and other titles, Wolfman posited Lex Luthor as a modern entrepeneur, a conception subsequently adopted by the films, future comics, and TV series, like Smallville. Characters Wolfman is credited with inventing include Starfire, Cyborg, Raven, Slade (all in New Teen Titans), Bullseye (Daredevil), and Blade: The Vampire Hunter (introduced in the Tomb of Dracula title). I spoke with Wolfman at the Anime Overdose 2005 at the Holiday Inn Golden Gateway in San Francisco, CA.
Groucho: What are your earliest recollections of the characters of Batman and Robin?
MV: When I first started reading them, about six years old, in the 1950s.
G: How did you come to write for the Batman title?
MV: Actually, what my friend and I, Len Wein, did was we came up with a story on our own, and we were told that we could not—that the editor didn't want it. But Neal Adams loved it so much, he drew it, and then we resubmitted it.
G: So you're saying that Neal Adams was really responsible for getting you in there?
MV: Neal really loved the scripts and decided to draw it on his own. And he submitted it, and Julie went, "Wait a second. Isn't this Marv and Len's story?" And he said, "Yeah," and Julie went, "Okay, I'll buy it." And that was the beginning.
G: Every writer develops an agenda with a well-known character. What stamp did you hope to put on Batman, and do you feel you achieved it?
MV: I just wanted to make sure he was intelligent. I was more interested in, with Batman, a little bit more mystery-type stories than him being a vigilante-type character.
G: Obviously, A Death in the Family was the seed of A Lonely Place of Dying in some ways. What was most important to you about the character of Tim Drake, the Robin you introduced?
MV: My feeling was, everyone—Dick Grayson and Jason Todd both wanted to sort of be—they idolized Batman. I wanted somebody who wanted to be Robin, who really cared about that, who wasn't interested in Batman in the slightest, who was interested only in Robin. And that was the thought process that I was going for: someone who was not trying to eventually be Batman.
G: Would it be fair to say that Robin has always interested you more than Batman?
MV: I like Robin better, yeah.
G: Can you talk about also your contribution to Batman: The Animated Series? Was doing "Feet of Clay" a positive experience for you?
MV: Uh, not really, because they hired me to write—after waiting for weeks and weeks and weeks—they hired me to write the episode a week before my wedding. And my mind wasn't on it. So, I don't think I did as good a job as I could've.
G: How much creative freedom have you been afforded working with established characters that you haven't created, as at DC?
MV: In comics, you get a lot of freedom. An awful lot of freedom. In animation, almost none.
G: ...Is that mostly due to the strong hand of the story editor?
MV: It's partially that, but in animation, you may be working with 20 writers, and everybody has to write the same thing. You can't have episodes that don't feel like they belong. In comics, you're gonna write a whole run, which means it's your style that's coming through. But when you're working on a show that's collaborated with a dozen other writers, you have to have a style that blends the show together. So you can't write it the way you normally would, because your script will stand out from all the others.
G: Right. The modern conception of Lex Luthor owes much, if not all, to you. Can you explain your conception of the character and his relationship with Superman?
MV: The original Luthor was a mad scientist who, every episode, would attack Superman...Luthor was sort of just a mad scientist, and every episode, he'd get captured by Superman. And I thought it was pretty stupid.
MV: Uh, and I wanted to make it more realistic. So I came up with the whole businessman angle and the being-in-charge-of-Metropolis concept: somebody who was just on the border of evil.
G: More than any other property, perhaps, Teen Titans has stuck with you, since you're responsible for so many of the characters as co-creator of The New Teen Titans. What's the appeal for you in that property, and why do you think the title has endured so strongly?
MV: Well, when I was a fan, I liked the Teen Titans, and I wrote, actually, for issue 18 of the original, and then a few other issues here and there. So I've always liked the concept. Then I went to Marvel, and when I came back in 1980, they put me on a bunch of books that I didn't want to be on. So I suggested reviving the Titans. They weren't interested, but I went back and created the characters, and my editor—who, again is Len Wein—and I walked in with my new characters, and our publisher said, "I hated the last Teen Titans. Why should I do it again?" And we said, "We'll do it better." (Laughs.) So, that's how I got involved. I mean, I just liked the idea of a book with those characters. And certainly the ones that George and I created. But why they endure is, I think, because when I first sat down to come up with the characters, I really worked hard on making them emotionally interesting to each other, and yet have enough openings for them to have problems with each other. I really cared about them not being a kid's book. I got rid of the adult mentor, who I hated. I thought, "These are kids 16 to 18," at the time—and we aged them up to 21 or so, maybe 22—"who can handle themselves." And I wanted to treat the younger characters at DC with the respect that an adult would be given, because I always felt that the kid characters were all treated like they were stupid sidekicks. And the one I think I affected the most was probably Robin, who I turned from just a jokey little, silly thing into somebody with a lot of intelligence and a lot on his own.
G: Right, a real emotional life.
MV: Yeah. And once George came in—I mean, he came in before the first issue, obviously, 'cause he designed every character—but, with his art—and then later on we decided to work together to co-plot—we were really able to take it in places that no DC book had ever gone.
G: Can you explain your relationship with the Teen Titans animated series and how it's grown over the seasons?
MV: You know, everybody there is a big fan of the original comics, even if they read them later. And they've asked me to write episodes. So the relationship is that I'm coming back to something that I may have initiated with George, but I'm now coming back to it in a very different way because we're doing slightly different characters with a very different intent. But everyone there is really lovely—the story editors are all wonderful people. They really have a lot of honor for the source material. And sometimes in animation, you see a lot of adapted material where the people really have no respect for the original. They're finding their own way, which I love. But they have a lot of respect for the original.
G: To what degree were you consulted on the Blade films, and what did you think of them?
MV: I wasn't consulted at all on the Blade films. I liked the first one a lot. The second one wasn't a Blade film as far as I was concerned; it was a decent vampire film. And I liked the third one. I know I'm in a minority with that, but I actually thought it was a lot of fun—very different—it was a big action film. I thought the worst thing in it was Blade, but the script was good, and it was actually about Blade. But I think Wesley Snipes just sort of walked his way through it. But I had a lot of fun with it because of Ryan Reynolds and and Jessica, uh, Alba?
MV: Biel. I can never remember which Jessica.
G: Right, right. (Laughs.) Do you know if there are plans to continue that film series?
MV: I have no idea. I have no idea whatsoever.
G: —Do you have any thoughts about the directions, as far as you can tell, that the new Batman and Superman movies are heading in?
MV: I've read the script for the Batman film, and it's excellent. It is really excellent. I have no knowledge of the Superman film at all. So I have great hopes for the Batman film.
G: Well, thanks very much for talking to me. It's a pleasure.
MV: My pleasure.