DC Comics Universe and New Teen Titans #1-2 Spoilers and Review follows.
Robin Leaves Batman For A New Teen Team! Plus Enter Deathstroke The Terminator! (1980) Retro Review!
Story Title: Issue #1: Chapter One: The Birth of the Titans! + Chapter Two: New York Nightmare, and Issue #2: Today… The Terminator!
Written by: Marv Wolfman
Penciled by: George PerÃ©z
Inked by: Romeo Tanghal
Colored by: Adrienne Roy
Lettered by: Ben Oda
Editor: Len Wein
Publisher: DC Comics
There are many books from years gone by that continue to stand the test of time and are measuring sticks upon which comic book greatness is measured. Watchmen is clearly one, as are the Dave Gibbons penciled issues of the 1980’s Green Lantern (interestingly, the same artist of the Watchmen). However, in light of DC’s summer relaunches of the Teen Titans and Outsiders, it seems appropriate to take the time now to look back 20 years or so to where the definitive runs of these two series began — periods in their respective runs that continue to be solid reads that surpass many of the titles on comic shelves today in terms of quality and heart. This is one of my two reviews this week — reviews that will look at the respective first arcs of 1980’s The New Teen Titans, and 1983’s Batman and the Outsiders.
While the Teen Titans team made their first appearance in 1964’s Brave and the Bold #54, and starred in their first self-titled series in 1966, the Marv Wolfman and George PerÃ©z 1980’s The New Teen Titans is fondly remembered and recognized as the “definitive” run for the Titans franchise. DC actually reinforced this notion by featuring issues from the 1980’s Wolfman / PerÃ©z run as the first Titans-related Archive Edition. DC is only now planning an Archive Edition of the “Silver Age” 1960’s Teen Titans, to be released this summer to coincide with the new comic series launch, and animated TV series premiere.
Instead of cracking open my New Teen Titans Archive Edition, I decided to review the actual first two issues of The New Teen Titans from 1980. I know this bucks conventional “wisdom” as the industry and contemporary “collectors” are so wrapped up with “slabbing” comic books in plastic or bagging books and not actually doing what should be done with comic books — actually reading them! I recognize that this medium is a business, but I think its gone too far to satisfy speculators, insiders, CEOs with their “bottom lines”, and older fans. That’s not a bad thing unless we also look to make inroads among people that don’t traditionally “read” comics and the younger demographic, which is dwindling.
The industry learned nothing from the mess that was the 1990s for the comic industry — gimmicks and multiple covers. Today, we have more elitist gimmicks to gouge readers, or should I say “consumers”. Now companies are putting out hard covers, and more hard covers that collect issues of smaller preceding hard covers (say that ten times fast! Whew.). One need look no further than Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man, and DC’s Batman “Hush” arc by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee. We’re pricing comics out of the hands of kids and reinforcing it as an elitist niche market. Comic book prices need to come down and the elitist gimmicks have to stop. We need a balance between the comic company corporate bottom line, fan accessibility / affordability, and reason — do readers really need a hard cover for the first six issues of a series, another hard cover for the next six issues, a further hard cover that combines those twelve issues, and then a gaggle of trade paperbacks that cover the same issues? No. This type of corporate gluttony will hurry us deeper into the industry’s cyclical decline. Wouldn’t one hard cover and one trade paperback suffice? Yes.
Ah… the 1980’s were so different. Weren’t they?
The enigmatic Raven, daughter of demon and human, started her crusade to create a “New” Teen Titans team in the pages of 1980’s DC Comic Presents (DCCP). She uses her mystical powers to invade the dreams of Batman sidekick Robin, leader of the Silver Age Teen Titans, and fills them with images of the new team battling side-by-side — a premonition of events to come. The New Teen Titans team debuted within DCCP #26 as part of a 16 page preview, followed by the launch of their self-titled series in the same year.
Their premiere issue goes about chronicling how the team forms, and opens with a classic George PerÃ©z splash page of the yet-to-be formed team in action.
The New Teen Titans #1 is divided into 3 parts, an epilogue and two chapters — very similar to the type of stories from the Golden and Silver Ages of comics.
The epilogue introduces us to our first future “New” Teen Titan, Starfire — an alien princess called Koriand’r from the planet Tamaran, able to absorb energy and hurl “starbolts”. Readers find her in mid-escape from her reptilian-like Gordian captors, fleeing their slave space ship with one of their own pods.
As the scantily-clad and buxom Starfire unknowingly heads towards Earth, the epilogue ends and the first chapter of the issue unfolds with Raven once-again haunting the dreams of Robin. Dick Grayson, the “teen”-wonder’s alter ego, awakens from his dream premonitions in a cold sweat to find Raven, in live technicolor, at the foot of his bed. An interesting first “official” meeting, to be sure. Raven states that she and the world have need of a new Titans team, and further explains that she peppered Robin’s dreams with glimpses of the future so that once they met, he would trust her. Bucking all sense of logic, he does trust her and accepts her directions. The teen wonder unknowingly lays the groundwork for an off-panel / off-camera recruitment meeting between the fastest teen alive, Wally West the Kid Flash, and Raven.
An interesting scene has Robin leaving Wayne Manor and walking past a pipe-smoking Bruce Wayne. I’m sure the anti-smoking advocates of the day were not too pleased to discover that Bat-tobacco was part of the Dark Knight’s arsenal.
The adventure continues with Robin venturing off at Raven’s behest to track down Donna Troy, Wonder Girl. Readers get a quick flashback 411 on the events that led her becoming Wonder Woman‘s sidekick, as she is joined by Robin and another “new” team member, Garfield “Gar” Logan, the green shape-shifting prankster Changeling — formerly Beast Boy, of Silver Age Doom Patrol fame.
As Wonder Girl muses about what’s brought these two heroes to her figurative doorstep, an eager Kid Flash joins the foray and, after some quick explanations about Raven and the like, our Titans quartet venture off to meet… the half-man, half-machine Cyborg, Victor Stone. Stone’s a disgruntled African-American college athlete, DC was unfortunately playing right into stereotypes here, upset that his father turned him into a “freak”. After meeting the Titans, he agrees to join his fellow “freaks” provided that they “muzzle the green jerk”, as Changeling was being written as a chauvinist prankster. Case in point — when Raven informs the group that there is one more female member that they need to recruit, Changling’s hearty response is “Is it too late to pray that she’s stacked?”. I guess he does get his wish, as Starfire fits his, um, requested measurements, but his prattling does get stale very quickly.
Speaking of Starfire, chapter two opens with the New Teen Titans battling the Gordian slavers over United Nations Plaza in New York, during a time in history when the U.N. was respected and relevant. As they make short work of the alien attackers, Raven is caught unawares that Starfire is nowhere to be found. The chapter continues with readers meeting Grant Wilson for the first time. The relevance of this character will be explained shortly. Suffice it to say that his brief presence in comics-history has lasting repercussions for the Titans and their arch-nemesis… but more on that later. Grant has brought a wounded Starfire to his soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend’s apartment to recuperate from injuries she sustained fleeing the Gordians.
The Gordians, followed by the Titans, track down the wounded Tamaran princess and quickly destroy the apartment in a battle over Starfire. She is captured and taken away by the aliens, as an angry Grant Wilson grabs Robin and demands restitution for the damage they caused. However, the scene ends with the Titans heading to find Starfire, as Grant’s ex-girlfriend blames him for the damage since he brought the scantily clad alien to her apartment in the first place. Foreshadowing things to come, the omniscient narrator informs readers that “Grant Wilson feels his rage build, a rage that will not quickly abate…”
The issue ends with the Titans freeing Starfire from a Gordian space ship high above the U.N. Plaza, and destroying that ship in the process. This sets up a future Gordian battle over Starfire with the Titans, while the very last panel leads into their next issue’s adventure — Grant Wilson teaming with a mysterious criminal organization called H.I.V.E. to destroy the Titans.
Issue #1’s science-fiction adventure leads into issue #2’s more grounded traditional heroes vs. villains humanistic story, and the introduction of the best-ever costumed comic book character, Deathstroke: The Terminator.
The second issue opens with Deathstroke turning down a contract by H.I.V.E. to destroy the Teen Titans because they won’t meet his payment terms. H.I.V.E., an acronym for the Hierarchy of International Vengeance and Eliminations, plot to create their own “terminator” and covertly scan and test Deathstroke as he barges out of their compound.
Grant Wilson, still enraged over the Titans, volunteers to be H.I.V.E.’s guinea pig to be become their own personal “terminator”. A newly-powered Wilson, now going by the nom de guerre The Ravager accepts the contract that Deathstroke turned down to kill the Titans.
This issue contains many getting-to-know-you scenes with the Titans-at-play at Gar Logan’s millionaire father’s mansion. In addition, readers are given hints about Raven’s demonic origins, setting up the team’s future battle with her father…. the Terrible Trigon. There’s also an interesting moment in the title as Starfire, still not capable of verbally communicating with the Titans, kisses Robin to “learn” English. It’s a funny scene:
Starfire: Hi, Robin. You know you’re really cute?
Kid Flash: Huh? She Talks? But– How– ?
Starfire: Physical contact, Kid Flash. I simply absorbed your language!
Robin: Y-You had to kiss me to do that?
Starfire: Not really. But it was certainly more enjoyable this way.
I found this to be a clever piece of dialogue. Much of writer Marv Wolfman’s dialogue in the first issue could be argued to be “campy”, but improved dramatically in the second issue.
In addition to the lighter side of the Titans this issue, Cyborg confronts his father at S.T.A.R. Labs to get to truth behind why he’s half-machine. After a father-son argument, Cyborg storms off and is confronted by… the Ravager. After a brief battle, with Cyborg beginning to prevail… Deathstroke interferes, immobilizes Cyborg, and kidnaps a wounded Ravager.
Deathstroke’s involvement may seem odd to readers, but we soon discover that he’s really Slade Wilson, father of Grant Wilson, the Ravager. They too have a father-son argument, although the unmasked Ravager doesn’t know that the masked Deathstroke is his father.
Later, the Ravager confronts the Titans and is surprised to find Deathstroke coming to his side. They reluctantly team to battle the Titans. However, since H.I.V.E. did not perfect the procedure that gave Grant Wilson Deathstroke-like powers, in the midst of his battle with the Titans, the Ravager’s body started to feed off of itself. During the melee Grant Wilson’s body just spontaneously disintegrated. Deathstroke blamed the Titans for his son’s death, and a great rivalry was born leading to many memorable confrontations, including the classic Judas Contract saga, and an ongoing Deathstroke: The Terminator series that lasted 5 years, 60 issues, and 4 annuals, from 1991 to 1996.
< Overall, the first two issues of the New Teen Titans were solid from a plotting perspective, but felt awkward in some spots, particularly around some of the dialogue in the first issue. There's a lot going on in these two issues and they actually feel rushed in some spots. That's to be expected in any new series where the creators are introducing many new characters and concepts, in addition to trying to move a story along. Having said that, writer Marv Wolfman delivers very engaging and entertaining tales that would lead this title into a battle with Marvel's Uncanny X-Men for comics supremacy in the 1980s.
There’s not much you can say about George PerÃ©z art that hasn’t been said before. He is one of the greatest artists of all time, bar none. He revolutionized how comic stories are told visually. His influence on this medium is significant, recognized, and often emulated. His current Solus title from Crossgen is good, but I still hold his Titans run and work on the 1985-86 Crisis on Infinite Earths maxi-series as his defining moments in this medium.
George PerÃ©z’s cover to The New Teen Titans #1 is one of the most recognized comic book covers ever produced. You can find it on writer Marv Wolfman’s official website.
The future looks bright for the Teen Titans franchise. With a July 2003 comic book series launch that brings the franchise closer philosophically and visually to the 1980’s series, and an animated TV series premiering in the same month, you’ll be able to get your regular Titans fix on the small screen and in your local comics shoppe.