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Teen Titans Academy writer talks Gorilla Grodd showdown, Red X identity timetable

Teen Titans Academy #6
(Image credit: DC)

Yes, Tim Sheridan knows readers really, really want to know who Red X is. 

But while the writer of Teen Titans Academy and its sister title Shazam! realizes he'll have to give readers want they want eventually, he's also gratified that along the way they're also developing an affinity for the rest of the title's cast of young would-be (maybe?) superheroes, including Gorilla Gregg (Gorilla Grodd's nephew) and Summer Zahid, introduced in the Justice League Endless Winter event. 

Despite Red X sharing his identity to some members of the Titans Academy (unseen to readers) in Teen Titans Academy #5, the storyline will seemingly pause for a little bit in August 31's Teen Titans Academy #6 and September's Teen Titans Academy #7, a two-part story arc that finds the students taking a break on their own in upstate New York. 

As you can see by the preview pages below, the town is eerily quiet, but that'll be temporary as they eventually find themselves under attack by a chaotic mob ... who may or may not be influenced by a certain supervillain uncle with mind-control powers. 

Newsarama recently chatted with Sheridan about his Red X timetable (warning, it might be different than yours), working with artist Rafa Sandoval, which students step up in the August-September storyline, and the immediate future of the title. 

Teen Titans Academy #6 cover (Image credit: DC)

Newsarama: First of all Tim, you're seemingly getting closer to revealing the so-far throughline of the series - the identity of Red X.

Tim Sheridan: We are absolutely getting close to some big reveals. Who's under the mask, yes, but also why. Is Red X on what they think is some kind of crusade, or is there something deeper, more personal, at play? I think it's safe to say it's a bit more complex than anyone might suspect. My promise is that, in the end, nothing will ever be the same for the Titans - and especially for Nightwing.

Nrama: Now there is no mention of Red X in the description of issue #6, so can readers assume you won't be advancing that particular story in this issue?

Sheridan: When we last saw X, they had revealed themselves to the Bat Pack and told them they were going to be away for a little while. All I can confirm is that the Red X costume does not appear in issues #6 or #7.

Nrama: Before we move on, for invested readers, can you tell them anything about that story and when/how readers will get the answer the series has so far been built around?

Sheridan: The awful thing about me is that, if I had my way, you would literally never learn this Red X's true identity! You'd learn about their motivations and their plans, but you might never learn who's under the mask - because I think that mystery is part of what makes the character so compelling. 

However, I am well aware of fans' eagerness to have that information revealed and I always say "give the people what (they think) they want!" We've come up with a story that, I believe, will address what fans are looking for and still preserve some of that mystery that I think is so integral to Red X.

Nrama: So moving onto Teen Titans #6, we kind of cheated and checked the solicitations a few months ahead, and from what we can gather issues #6 and #7 is a two-part story, and the Gorilla Grodd seems to be behind the "chaotic mob" from a town in upstate NY that turns against the students. Is that about right?

page from Teen Titans Academy #6 (Image credit: DC)

Sheridan: You knew that when we introduced Gorilla Gregg in Future State Teen Titans and Teen Titans Academy that we were going to eventually get a Gorilla Grodd story! But it's important to note that these issues are all about our kids. You're going to get a little more insight into who Summer (aka Black Ice) is and you'll definitely learn more about her friend Gregg.

Nrama: Did you have to pace yourself to get to a Gorilla Grodd story? You must have been champing at the bit.

Sheridan: Oh for sure.

I think I originally pitched a Grodd story for issue #2 or #3. I've always loved Grodd, which is what prompted the creation of Gregg for Teen Titans Academy. 

We caught a glimpse of Grodd in Future State Shazam! in his prison cell, eating chips and listening to classic rock, which I just think is funny and makes him a little bit endearing. 

I think the reason Gorilla Gregg exists is that I'm super interested in the 'good' sides of villains. Everyone is the hero of their own story and I thought that Gregg's existence as Grodd's 'good' nephew (if he really is good, dear reader!) was a way to shine a different light on Grodd, Gorilla City, and the whole world. 

But, for various reasons, it kept getting pushed back an issue. There was actually a completely different story I'd put together for issues #6 and #7 that ended up getting rejected by DC! It would have been cool, but not doing it opened up the door to explore some stuff with our favorite apes - and, for that, I'm grateful.

Nrama: Issue #6-7 seems like something of the classic 'the kids must solve their own problem without the help of the adults' scenario. Is that the basic setup here?

Sheridan: A bit, yeah. I mean, there's a lot of that in Teen Titans Academy (TTA). I just don't think the story would be very interesting if the faculty or the legacy Titans were always there to save the day. 

two-page spread from page from Teen Titans Academy #6 (Image credit: DC)

Also, putting the kids through their paces in the Fight Simulator or in the gym is one thing, but you can only get a real sense of who they are if the stakes are real and they're fighting for their lives and the lives of their friends. 

Issues #6 and #7, for me, are a way to focus on a few characters we haven't learned a lot about and, by putting them in crisis, learn (and hopefully love) who they are.

I should mention that there's more than one character we spend time with in these issues as a direct result of Rafa Sandoval making background Academy students that are so damn interesting that I just wanted to dive in and learn a bit about them (one, in particular, gets to be front and center for #6). Wherever they credit us for the creation of those former background characters, Rafa's name better go before mine. I really could not have asked for a better storytelling partner.

Nrama: How much does this turn into a mano-a-mano between Grodd and Greg?

Sheridan: All I can say is that issue #7 will certainly test their bond. And also that I believe "mano-a-mano" means "hand-to-hand" - which may not be the most interesting way for telepathic gorillas to fight, if they were to do that. Which I'm not saying they would. They're family!

Nrama: Noted. Can you talk about which other characters emerge as the ones ready to handle this sort of situation on their own?

page from Teen Titans Academy #6 (Image credit: DC)

Sheridan: Issue #6 is titled 'Summer Break' because, in it, we really see Summer stepping up as a natural leader. She's one of my favorites; Rafa and I created her for TTA knowing that another team would get to introduce her in the Endless Winter event, so she (along with Alinta/Bolt which was a similar situation) was one of the first TTA characters we, as creators, got to meet and hang out with. But the way the TTA story shaped up, we got to spend more time getting to know Alinta than we did Summer - so I was insistent that these issues give us a clear picture of who she is. Or, rather, who she might grow up to be. 

That's one of the fun things about coming out of Future State into Academy—we got a chance to see how some of these kids may turn out (like Tooby, Bratgirl, Chupacabra, and Gregg), but we meet them in Academy all brimming with promise. 

Summer, for me, has all the characteristics of a leader. She's compassionate, no-nonsense, she doesn't let herself get flummoxed. She's a problem solver who the other kids look up to and that's going to serve her well in these issues.

Nrama: Six issues is not a bad little round number in this day and age, how do you gauge the support at DC and the support among fans for the series?

Sheridan: DC has been nothing but supportive. We had a lot of success right out the gate and then we've had some surprise successes (like the Yearbook Annual that was a huge digital hit.) 

To be honest, I came in wanting to tell a story about a new generation of heroes just starting their journey, and I was fully prepared to be laughed out of comic shops by people who wanted a book that focused completely on the New Teen Titans and recent legacy Titans characters. But the fans have been speaking (loudly I might add) and demanding more stories that highlight the freshman class! I've never been happier to be so wrong. 

page from Teen Titans Academy #6 (Image credit: DC)

Teen Titans Academy is the kind of book that is designed to be a launching pad for new characters and, to my delight, fans have embraced it that way a lot faster than I ever dreamed they would. I'm really looking forward to, if the Academy format continues to be a success, seeing other creators come in with a whole new class of students with new stories to tell. I will absolutely be first in line every Tuesday to pick up the book.

Nrama: What else (besides our Red X questions) can you tell us about the next six issues (or more) of Teen Titans Academy? What's coming up you're excited about Tim?

Sheridan: It's all coming to a head. We began with the most horrific ending I could think of for the Titans in Future State Teen Titans and Future State Shazam! as a way to really lay out the stakes. When you send your kids into the world as heroes, they will, every day, look doom, destruction, and even death in the face. That's a fast track to one way of growing up; is it the right way? Is it the only way? 

As we tick closer and closer to Future State events, the Titans and their students will confront these questions head-on and, in the end, I can promise you that nothing will be the same.

Nrama: Can you comment on whether the students will get involved in the Darkseid/Crisis/Infinite Frontier Joshua Williamson seems to be setting up (after all, Roy Harper, who has something of a spiritual presence in the series) is a player in all that or will it be too early to take the training wheels off by the time that stuff rolls around?

Sheridan: Hmm. I do not know. I can tell you that I'm not working on that title and no one (Josh nor editorial) has mentioned to me any involvement by the Titans. But that doesn't mean it won't happen! They don't tell me everything; and certainly not right away. 

What I can tell you is that no one at the Academy has any idea that Roy is out there and that they may need to come up with a new name for the place. As far as they're concerned, the only way to get in touch with Roy would be like through a séance or something. But if he's alive, then I suppose that wouldn't work. Weird way to find out he's not dead!

Teen Titans Academy #6 variant cover (Image credit: DC)

Having said all that – you should know that there are big plans for the Titans and their students. I had planned on stepping back after my story is finished in #12, but we're talking about me writing a few more issues that will play out one or two of the story threads that we've had, for various reasons, to set aside in the first 12. If that all comes together, then I'll stick around for a few more months to sew that up...and, let me just say, it starts with a bang.

Nrama: Any additional parting thoughts for your readers?

Sheridan: All I want to say is a huge, heartfelt thank you to all the loyal Academy and Shazam! fans who have made this such a joyful experience for the new guy. I seriously live for the tweets where folks diligently try and solve the mystery of Red X or when they announce that theirs is now a Gorilla Gregg hype account, or what have you. 

When I was 13, my family moved across the country and the first kids who welcomed me at my new school were the comic book kids. To this day, I still feel most at home with comic book fans and I'm so grateful that so many have welcomed me all over again, now as a creator. 

Titans Together, y'all.

You get the idea Tim Sherdian would love to be included in Newsarama's list of the best Teen Titans stories of all time someday.

I'm not just the Newsarama founder and editor-in-chief, I'm also a reader. And that reference is just a little bit older than the beginning of my Newsarama journey. I founded what would become the comic book news site in 1996, and except for a brief sojourn at Marvel Comics as its marketing and communications manager in 2003, I've been writing about new comic book titles, creative changes, and occasionally offering my perspective on important industry events and developments for the 25 years since. Despite many changes to Newsarama, my passion for the medium of comic books and the characters makes the last quarter-century (it's crazy to see that in writing) time spent doing what I love most.