Earlier this week, DC Comics announced that the upcoming DC’s Very Merry Multiverse one-shot would introduce a new team of teen heroes from an alternate universe. Earth-11’s Teen Justice will feature gender-swapped versions of a handful of DC’s young heroes. Most significantly, the team will include Jess Chambers, aka Kid Quick, the sidekick of that world’s Jesse Quick, and the non-binary speedster who, as an adult, will appear as The Flash in the Future State: Justice League series in January. Along with adding additional diversity to the character line-up for Future State, it also adds a multiversal element to the event by bringing the adult Jess from Earth-11 to the main DCU.
Before Future State, though, there’s the initial Teen Justice story from writer Ivan Cohen, artists Eleonora Carlini and Ulises Arreola, and letterer Becca Carey. The origin story for the team feels like a love letter to the original Teen Titans, with a modern flair, spectacular character designs from Carlini, and some fun easter eggs for longtime fans. The Beat had the opportunity to ask Cohen about what went into developing Teen Justice, what makes Kid Quick unique, and the possibility of seeing these characters again down the road. Along with the interview, check out a pair of unlettered preview pages for the DC’s Very Merry Multiverse story that debuts the team.
Joe Grunenwald: Your story introduces an entirely new team of young heroes from Earth-11. How did you approach developing the roster and individual members of Teen Justice?
Ivan Cohen: Once the basic premise was nailed down – Earth-11, Justice Guild, new team of teen sidekick-type heroes never before seen – editor Michael McCalister and I started going over possible hero combos. Getting the Justice Guild lineup figured out was one piece of the equation, then the harder, and, honestly, more fun, part was figuring out who the proteges would be. And there was some back and forth. Like, we wanted some magic in the story, so that led to the Justice Guild having Earth-11’s Zatanna, so Zatara, in it. But who’s Zatara’s protege? A teen Zatanna could have been fun, but we wanted to make the teen team more varied from a character mix. That led to a female version of Klarion, the Witch Boy – Klarienne, the Witch Girl.
Some names, like Klarienne’s, came pretty easy. Others, like an alias for our female Robin, took some finessing. “Damian” can be a feminine name, but that seemed like cheating. And most female name equivalents for Damian come with baked-in sexism: Jezebel, Lilith, and so on. “Delilah Kane” would have been a great All My Children character but… so we landed on Talia Kane, which I was happy with. (I nearly killed Michael by joke-advocating for “Lucyfer.”)
It was fun to play with ethnicity and gender while aiming for diverse power sets. A Titans-type group needs a Wonder Girl and a speedster, so we wound up with Donald Troy, who gets some fun stuff to do. Someday I hope we can do a “Who Is Donald Troy?” story, though of course that would require having an answer… And then there’s Kid Quick, who has had more of an impact than I could have ever expected.
Grunenwald: All of the new heroes get a nice spotlight in the story, but as a speedster fan Kid Quick definitely piqued my interest, due in no small part to Eleonora Carlini’s sharp costume design (and I also really appreciated your use of the rarely-seen counter-speed formula). What makes that character stand out to you?
Cohen: The goofier parts of the Johnny Quick “science” always appealed to me, so I’m glad you dug the counter-speed formula. It’s not exactly an Easter Egg, but I think it matters that you try to use the essential bits that make a character different when the powers are otherwise a little generic.
Eleonora’s designs really made everything come to life. And when you see her storytelling, you’ll get it even more. She does so much with so many characters in a small space.
Kid Quick – aka Jess Chambers and aka Future State Flash, which is just awesome – is a result of a lot of serendipitous choices. We didn’t want just another Flash, and Jesse Quick had already been established as being the Justice Guild’s grown-up speedster. But having a teenaged Johnny Quick as a speedster just seemed kind of redundant. Like, if it’s all just familiar DCU names with the addition or subtraction of curves and long hair, what’s the point, really? So the name Kid Quick had a nice ring, even if it sounded a little Old West.
And as for gender, I thought this was a perfect place to introduce a non-binary element to an Earth mainly distinguished by gender-flipping. And it adds some fun interplay among the characters without being a “very special story about gender,” and that appealed to me a lot. The other heroes take KQ’s identity in stride. It’s not a thing to “tolerate,” it’s just what it is. Luckily that met with enthusiastic approval at DC, and it just went from there.
Grunenwald: You’ve worked on the Teen Titans Go! comic series, and the first adventure for Teen Justice includes some fun nods to the original Teen Titans. Even the story itself is reminiscent of the original Titans team’s origin. What’s your favorite era of the Titans, and how did those stories impact your work on Teen Justice?
Cohen: Thanks for noticing the similarities. I think this version of Starro is more fun than attempting “Mrs. Twister” as a cause for the team to form.
I grew to *love* the Teen Titans Go! version of the team while working on the comic, though I know that’s even more controversial in some fan circles than introducing a non-binary speedster. But in comics, the Wolfman-Pérez era was “my” Titans as a teenager, and Robin becoming Nightwing in those stories was a huge moment in having a familiar character evolve into something new.
But Teen Justice also owes a debt to the earlier Titans run in the late ‘70s, with Titans West, Mal the Hornblower, and Bumblebee. There’s a little nod to that era in the Merry Multiverse story.
Grunenwald: This story is a great springboard for future Teen Justice stories. Any idea if/when we’ll see these characters again?
Cohen: Michael McCalister and I talked about possible further stories for TJ if we get the chance to tell them. Exploring the world of Earth-11 and introducing new takes on these familiar character concepts, while at the same not being beholden to a complex, frequently rebooted DCU-style continuity would be an amazing thing, and hopefully the response to Jess Chambers in Future State and the whole team in Merry Multiverse will be enthusiastic enough for us to get the opportunity.
The DC’s Very Merry Multiverse one-shot arrives in comic shops on Tuesday, December 8th.