The Teen Titans Project (1984): The Greatest Year

Marv Wolfman and George Perez had built The New Teen Titans into a creative and commercial juggernaut.  It was DC’s best-selling title and a frequent award-winner.  Yet Wolfman and Perez weren’t content to rest on their well-earned laurels.  They continued to press forward in 1984, creating arguably the greatest year in Titans’ history and one of the greatest years of any comic book. 

Wolfman the writer and Perez the penciler had routinely alternated between longer story arcs and one-issue stories in The New Teen Titans.  They kicked off 1984 with two self-contained tales that became immediate classics. 

The first issue is one of the best ever  Donna Troy’s background had been a little mixed up ever since she was introduced as Wonder Girl in the 1960s.  Wolfman had made her background a recurring plot point, as Donna would occasionally remark that she didn’t know who she was because she didn’t know where she came from.  In issue #38, Donna’s fiancée Terry Long approaches Dick Grayson about solving the mystery.  Dick agrees to take on the case and offers to do it pro bono as a wedding present.  He digs into the sparse clues of Donna’s memory.  The clues lead him to a toy maker, an orphanage, a young mother, an adoptive family and a child slavery ring.  Through it all, Donna is introduced to the people who raised her, cared for her and gave her birth.  Donna is no longer an orphan in this world.  Instead, she goes from having one family, the Amazons, to three.  Her joy is palpable.  Dick’s detective skills are prominently displayed and Terry’s love for Donna is favorably demonstrated.  “Who Is Donna Troy?” is an emotional, heart-warming issue and it’s rightly considered one of the greatest stories in comics.

Issue #39 was a story in three acts.  In the first act, the Titans attacked Brother Blood installations around the world, diminishing the organization’s capabilities.  In the second act, Terra fought Deathstroke in downtown Manhattan, demonstrating her superhero bona fides to the rest of the Titans.  However, readers already knew that Terra was a traitor and Wolfman allowed us to peak behind the curtain.  Perez drew several pages from Terra’s perspective, showing us that she was transmitting everything she saw back to Deathstroke via a camera in her eye.  It’s yet another example of Perez’s artistry as he used close-ups of Terra’s eyes, TV-screen shaped panels and black and white images to convey her spying. 

Finally, in the third act, Kid Flash and Robin drop a couple of personal bombshells.  After agonizing about it for a long time, Wally West finally decided to quit the superhero business.  He was retiring as Kid Flash in order to attend college full-time as a civilian. Dick Grayson also announced that he was giving up being Robin.  However, Dick wasn’t quitting.  He wanted to step out of Batman’s shadow but he would remain a Titan.  It was a momentous decision.  It was a sign that Dick was growing up and becoming his own person.  It was incredible to read that scene as a young man, still figuring out who I would be in the years to come, and it’s one of many reasons why Dick Grayson is one of my all-time favorite characters. 

After those emotional issues, The New Teen Titans embarked on a series of epics.  First up, in issues #40 and 41 is another confrontation with Brother Blood who is back from the dead.  Blood manages to turn the tables on the Titans in a public forum, making them look hard-hearted and intolerant.  However, Dick is able to convince several members of Congress to go to Zandia on a fact-finding mission.  He infiltrates Blood’s temple in disguise but is quickly discovered and captured.  The rest of the Titans rush to the rescue but they’re quickly captured as well.  Blood orders a brainwashed Dick Grayson to execute his former allies but he’s able to break free from his conditioning thanks to his love for Kory.  Dick and the Titans turn on Brother Blood and destroy his temple.  However, once again, Blood’s nefarious deeds are hidden from sight while the Titans’ aggressive actions are caught on camera.  The congressional committee chastises the Titans and gives an unexpected blessing to Brother Blood.  The Titans may have defeated Blood but their victory blew up in their face once again.  I admire the way that Wolfman plays with perception, giving us -- and the Titans -- a hollow victory and reminding us that, in the real world, how you win can often be as important as the win itself. 

The next major story features another hollow victory.  But there’s a lot to talk about before we get there.  In issues #42, 43, 44 and Annual #3, the Titans finally square off against Deathstroke the Terminator in the classic story “The Judas Contract.”  The Terminator has been dogging the Titans’ heels since the beginning of the new series and he finally goes in for the kill.  Issue #42 is the calm before the storm.  Starfire has a modeling gig.  Cyborg learns to ice skate.  The Titans practice combat.  And through it all, Terra keeps watch.  In issue #43, the dam bursts.  Dick Grayson is attacked at home by the Terminator.  He manages to escape but isn’t able to reach any of the Titans.  He investigates their homes one by one and discovers that everyone has already been defeated.  Meanwhile, he’s trailed by a suspicious looking pair -- a middle-aged woman and a young man with curly blond hair.  They finally confront Dick in Titans’ Tower, introducing themselves as Adeline and Joseph Wilson -- the Terminator’s ex-wife and estranged son. 

Issue #44 is both the backstory and the turning point.  Adeline Wilson tells us the Terminator’s background, including his origin story.  Dick determines to go after the Terminator and rescue his friends.  He adopts the new identity of Nightwing.  Joseph offers to go along as the mutant hero, Jericho.  Nighting initially demurs but Joseph convinces him after demonstrating his power to possess other people.  Annual #3 is the giant climax.  Nightwing and Jericho break into the HIVE headquarters.  They free the Titans and everybody fights -- the Titans, the Terminator, HIVE henchmen and Terra.  It’s a grand roving battle that features several twists and turns.  Jericho is a special asset with his ability to control someone else’s body.  However, during the battle, Terra is overcome by her rage.  She begins fighting everybody and creates an earthstorm that is so violent, she is eventually swallowed up in it.  In her fury, Terra kills herself.  The Titans have defeated HIVE and captured the Terminator but it’s another bitter victory as their traitorous teammate is dead. 

Like “Who Is Donna Troy,” “The Judas Contract” is often cited as one of the great stories in the comic book canon, and deservedly so.  It contains major plot twists like Deathstroke first turning on HIVE and then Terra at the end.  It contains misdirection like Adeline’s mysterious introduction.  It contains major turning points like Dick’s new identity as Nightwing.  It introduces new characters like Jericho and provides important background information for old ones like Slade Wilson.  It upends the status quo temporarily removing Deathstroke as a threat.  It resonates emotionally as Changeling refuses to accept that Terra was a traitor.  Above all, it’s beautifully depicted by George Perez. 

Perez shows again that he is a master of page structure.  Issue #43 opens with an incredible sequence in which Perez alternates between long and short panels, with the long panels slowly zooming in on Manhattan and Dick’s apartment and short ones slowly zooming out from Dick’s fingers at a typewriter.  The contrasting perspectives then crash together on the next page when Deathstroke crashes through Dick’s window.  Another great sequence comes in issue #44 as Adeline describes teaching the concept of peripheral defense to Slade.  Perez uses the height and width of a page like no one else.  He packs short and tall panels together to convey the sense of multiple targets popping up simultaneously and he uses long and short panels to show Adeline’s full range of perception.  The only bad thing one can say about Perez is that he’s not a great costume designer.  Perez is a master of detail but his costumes are usually too complicated and busy.  Nightwing’s disco collar is often the subject of derision, though I didn’t have a problem with it at the time (Hey, I was a kid -- what did I know?).  However, at least the basic design worked once later artists simplified it. 

The second half of 1984 is a little more complicated.  DC decided to take advantage of the growing specialty market and publish a few prestige series.  As DC’s top title, The New Teen Titans were tagged to be part of the experiment.  They would launch a new title, The New Teen Titans Vol. 2, on higher quality paper -- and at a higher price -- for comic book stores only.  Meanwhile, the old title would continue, renamed Tales of the Teen Titans, and published in both newsstand and specialty stores.  It was an increased workload for both Wolfman and Perez -- two titles instead of one -- though Wolfman told readers not to worry via a letters page and assured everyone that the creative team had dropped other assignments to make room for both Titans series.  It was also a bit of a juggling act.  The long-term plan would see the prestige series reprinted in the newsstand series after a year so Wolfman had to plot stories that could be read either simultaneously or consecutively.  That meant some characters had to be introduced twice while others exited twice.  Amazingly, it worked.  I usually read the entire Tales series before jumping into Volume 2 and I’m used to a certain flow.  But, for this project, I read the two series at the same time and I was impressed at how seamlessly the transitions worked together. 

Tales of the Teen Titans entered the second half of the year with its third straight epic.  After tackling Brother Blood and Deathstroke the Terminator, the Titans decided to take the fight to HIVE, a terrorist organization that had been another thorn in their side since issue #2.  The story also introduced a few guest stars.  Aqualad and Aquagirl show up in issue #45, looking for help as HIVE has been poisoning part of the ocean.  Meanwhile, Victor Stone’s grandparents arrive for a visit.  They’re former vaudeville stars and a barrel of fun, making for an interesting contrast with their sometime dour grandson.  They’re also a welcome reminder that the Titans’ personal lives can be as interesting as their superhero battles.  The Titans, including newest member Jericho, team up with Aqualad and Aquagirl to attack the HIVE’s underwater headquarters.  They manage to infiltrate the headquarters, evade capture for the first time in three epics, and even escape a death trap.  The HIVE leader eventually blows up the entire base rather than risk capture.  It’s another straight-ahead fight fest and it’s a lot of fun.  As much as I appreciate the soap opera aspects of the Teen Titans, it’s also enjoyable when a superhero comic is the equivalent of a summer movie blockbuster and this story provides plenty of action.  At the same time, Wolfman does a good job of developing the HIVE leader.  She’s a young woman who inherited the organization when her older husband passed away.  She’s occasionally unsure of herself and she has to fight to maintain the respect of her underlings.  In a way, she echoes some of the generational concerns the Titans experience themselves, stepping into a leadership role at a young age.

Tales of the Teen Titans then finishes the year the way it began -- in format, at least -- with two one-shot stories.  The first, in issue #48, features a confrontation with the RECOMbatants, based on Mark Evanier’s DNAgents, in an unofficial crossover.  Indie artist Steve Rude also shows up as a guest artist.  Despite those great credentials, the RECOMbatants story falls flat.  The other story, in issue #49, is a solo spotlight on Wally West, no longer Kid Flash, and Francis Kane, not yet Magenta.  Dr. Light attacks Central City and the two teenagers find a way to defeat him without revealing their identities.  This story is drawn by a past-his-prime Carmine Infantino, though a few Flash fans were probably happy to see him. 

The subplots are better.  Gar Logan has been spending more time with his former girlfriend, Jillian, and they decide to help Donna plan her wedding.  Lilith shows up as one of Donna’s bridesmaids, helping to explain her appearance in the other title.  And Dick gets to meet Terry’s brothers as they get fitted for their tuxedoes.  The main stories may not have been great shakes, but Wolfman manages to keep the readers interested by pointing us to the big happenings on the way. 

Meanwhile, the prestige format New Teen Titans Volume Two launched the fourth major story -- and second significant epic -- of the year.  The demon Trigon was the Titans’ first major villain.  His daughter, Raven, had been trying to fight off his influence from the beginning, suppressing her hidden rage and avoiding all conflict.  But with Trigon’s return, she’s no longer able to hold her dark side at bay. 

The story begins, much like “The Judas Contract,” with the Titans training.  This time, they’re sparring against the new Titan, Jericho, which doubles as the reader’s introduction to him and his powers.  But the story quickly turns dark when Raven shuns Jericho because of her own turmoil.  The Titans realize that it’s past time to help Raven with her problems.  In a particularly memorable scene, Vic and Gar watch footage of Raven showing her features slowly hollow out.  Wolfman helpfully provides footnotes to earlier issues though Perez has admitted that this was a reaction to a natural development in his drawing style rather than something they planned out ahead of time. 

Finally, Trigon attacks.  He easily brushes aside Arella, who had been posted as a guard.  And he corrupts Raven, turning her into his avatar of hate.  Lilith shows up -- at roughly the same time as her arrival over in Tales -- and offers to help the Titans with her mystical powers.  Wally West also returns, told by Lilith that his emotional connection with Raven will be the key to freeing her.  The Titans travel to Trigon’s home dimension but they’re defeated as easily as everyone else. 

George Perez continues to show why he’s one of the greatest artists in the industry.  Raven’s slow progression is the most famous but there are a lot of other incredible moments.  The scene in which Dick and Donna ask Wally to come back is emotionally riveting.  Perez does a great job with body posture, especially with Francis Kane who slouches over, crosses her arms and pleads with Wally not to go back to the superhero life.  The scenes in Trigon’s homeworld are also amazing. Colorist Adrienne Roy works right over Perez’s pencils without inks and restricts herself to a palette of yellow and red.  It makes Perez’s pencils really pop out.  Yet, more than that, it makes Trigon’s world feel like another dimension.  There are also incredible splash pages, especially in issue #3 when we see the full, four-eyed demonic version of Raven and the Titans in a white-background limbo. 

Defeated by Trigon, the Titans are tortured and forced to face darker versions of themselves.  It’s a great battle but also a great character moment as we see each of their darkest, secret fears.  For example, Victor Stone fears that he isn’t human and Donna Troy fears that she’ll hurt Terry Long with her superhuman strength.  The Titans defeat their nemeses, but like Luke Skywalker in the swamp of Dagobah, they become the monsters they feared.  It seems like an impossible situation, yet Lilith remains serene throughout.  The dark Titans defeat Raven and then Lilith frees them from their darker alter egos.  Finally, they’re ready to face Trigon, defeat him and save the world.  It’s an epic confrontation that has been building for months, even years, and it’s another huge battle with the Titans showing their awesome powers.  Yet, it’s also a fight scene with a strong emotional component.  Several of the Titans are injured, while Lilith and Arella draw magical strength from Raven’s inert body to defeat her father.    

Perez remains at the top of his game, teaming up with colorist Adrienne Roy to provide vivid pictures.  The revived Raven is depicted in blue and white, a strong contrast with the red and yellow of Trigon’s world.  Plus, the artists again eschew black inks to add to the unique, mystical feel. 

It’s a stupendous epic and a great way to cap off arguably the Titans’ greatest year. 

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Don't forget to check out my column about the New Teen Titans in 1983, which seems to have fallen through the cracks.

You make a pretty compelling case for this to be the Titans' best year, although I would be more comfortable just citing 1982-84 as a highwater mark -- the previous years may not have been as polished, but they were more inventive. All in all, the three years stand together for me as excellent work.

Plus, I have a few gripes, most of which we've discussed before. And you address them, for the most part.

My biggest is probably Nightwing's costume, which you acknowledge as badly designed. But that's like saying the Hindenburg got warm at the end. It's not just the disco collar -- it's also the plunging neckline, the busy bird feathers everywhere (including navy blue ones on the blue streamer that takes the place of an actual belt) and the seemingly random, streamers of light blue that serve no purpose. The entire ensemble is not only busy and hideous, it's also pretty effeminate -- not exactly the look a superhero is going for. And one last observation: The light blue streamers combine to form a diamond of navy blue on Nightwing's midriff, making him look like he has a gut. He doesn't, but the design is certain to make him look that way.

Speaking of costumes that are too busy, hideous and effeminate, Jericho's ensemble scores high on all three scales. Who wears clothes like that, outside of a Renaissance Faire or a gay disco? No wait -- most gay men have more taste than to wear something like that. From the color scheme to the poofy shirt to the random bits of business everywhere, this outfit is in my Top Five of sartorial awfulness.

Also, Jericho has the gigantic, curly, white Afro that I've never seen anywhere except in books Perez draws. This is the second character with this 'do, after Wonder Girl's boring boyfriend.

Your column also revived my dissatisfaction with DC's experiment with hardback/softcover publishing. I understood the idea -- it's how book publishers work. First you publish the expensive hardcover, to get as many bucks as you can from the dedicated readers. Then a year later you publish the paperback, which is relatively inexpensive (the overhead has largely already been paid for) to vacuum up bucks from the casual readers. And I would have supported that with Titans, but it was irritating as both a reader and a collector how they went about it. The right way to do it would have been to start publishing New Teen Titans in the more expensive format, then reprinting it in "paperback" in a separate publication a year later. As a "dedicated" reader I would have popped for the more expensive title, whereas others would have waited a year and bought the cheaper version. Easy peasy. But nooooo -- DC didn't want to miss a penny. So it started a new title for the "hardcover" title, which took place a year in the future, and renamed the original title, continuing with new (and completely meaningless, since the future had already been written) stories for a year before going reprint. This put  Wolfman in a straightjacket, made it nearly impossible for the Titans to mix with the rest of the DCU and hopelessly confused readers like me, who didn't spend their every waking moment sorting and re-sorting their Titans comics. YOu say that Wolfman handled it well, but to my mind, it's in the same category of "handling it well" as the hiker who cut off his arm with a pen knife to avoid dying.

Lastly, it was about this time that I started tiring of Marv Wolfman's dialogue. I don't know if he was just getting lazy or I just started noticing, but it was at this time that I started noticing -- and therefore started getting irritated -- at how purple Wolfman's dialogue was, and how repetitive. I used to play a game where I'd try to guess what phrase or sentence construction each character would say next, and all too often I was right.

Now, from all of the above, you'd think I hated New Teen Titans in 1984. I honestly didn't. I really liked it! I was irritated by the flaws because the product was otherwise so good. It's like getting a scratch on a new car -- you want to keep loving your new car, but you just can't forget about that scratch. And that scratch looks bigger and bigger every day.

I missed a lot of this, comics were getting too expensive and hard to find at that point in my life.

The best thing you can say about Nightwing's costume is the Jericho's was bad enough to distract from it.
My biggest problem with this era was the increasingly off "solutions" that Wolfman was presenting for mysteries--"Who is Donna Troy?" was an evocative and touching story, until you actually stop to think about it--what exactly, had Donna learned about herself? Her biological mother has been dead for years, her biologic father remains unknown, and not one single living individual who shares any of her genetic material has been discovered. Her delight at discovering a family that consisted of a woman who'd had custody of her for a month or so nearly 20 years ago, and that woman's second husband & biological children, kind of seems like a slap in the face to the adoptive family (Hippolyta & Diana) who actually raised her. At the end of the day, Fay Stacey Evans had less to do with raising Donna Troy than Mr. Jupiter did. Heck, Sharon Tracy probably had more impact on her life. I'm not trying to diminish adoptive families, but Donna already had one of those, so what was the point of discovering another of such brief duration? Then there's the HIVE reveal--early on, there had been implications that the ruling council of HIVE consisted of pre-existing DC villains, probably non-costumed mad scientists from various Silver Age titles (an obscure--and misspelled--Superman foe and a old Wonder Woman one had been identified at one point), and a letter column in, I think, New Teen Titans #3 promised a satisfactory reveal down the line. Instead, we got some platinum blonde that we'd never seen before, who'd taken over from her husband, who was likewise without history, and the rest of the council was killed with most of them being unidentified, except for WW's foe, Dr. Torgo. If you can't find seven (ok, six, besides Torgo) mad scientists in the DC vault, you're not really trying.

I think the disco-era costumes and hairstyles were an attempt to be hip, like previous attempts by earlier editors, writers and artists. And just as successful. These styles weren't my thing or your thing, any more than the hippy-era styles were.

I've always felt that, despite some bloopers like Goliath II, the Golden and Silver Ages were the best times for superhero costumes. There's a reason why Spider-Man still wears Steve Ditko's costume, despite other artists pushing the black costume (Venom) and the armored suit (that looked kind of like it was made of a quilt; few artists can make metal actually look like metal the way Gene Colan did.)

I like the way the girls all look different. Gray Morrow has complained that artists tend to draw the same woman over and over, despite the fact that there are so many different types of beautiful woman. Have Starfire and Raven switch costumes and nobody would have any trouble telling them apart, even if you gave them the same skin color.

The disappointing reveal about the bad guys reminds me of the group in the Ulysses Bloodstone backups in Rampaging Hulk. We see a Cthulhu-like monstrosity and several shadowy figures that, naturally, I assumed would also turn out to be weird villains. Instead the Cthulhu spawn was the only interesting looking one (and he got killed early on.) I believe the rest turned out to be just a few corrupt business men, a stripper, and a dolphin. Don't bring out your coolest character first!

Nightwing, Jericho, and Cyborg all look like they stepped out of a sequel to Rocky Horror.



Richard Willis said:

I think the disco-era costumes and hairstyles were an attempt to be hip, like previous attempts by earlier editors, writers and artists. And just as successful. These styles weren't my thing or your thing, any more than the hippy-era styles were.

I hadn't thought of that, Richard, and I should have. But in my defense I have to say that I had lived through the psychedelic years, the disco years, and here we were in the '80s, and I was in my mid-20s, and had never seen anything like Perez's designs. They weren't just a bad attempt at being hip; they were just ex nihilo!

Maybe some sort of bondage outfits?

Wolfman drops Lilith for Raven then has her save the day? Obviously there's a lot more to her than we've seen.

I find it difficult to say much in 'reply' to your pieces Chris - as you basically say everything i'm thinking!.
Love the thread though.
I do feel that I agree the year you've shown here was the highlight of the title - indeed I feel that they were never really remotely as interesting again.
From here on in Wolfman seemed to coast on revisiting these glories.
Raven whines on about the same curse-of-Trigon for every following appearance.
Nightwing mopes about never actually marrying Starfire (and maybe the death of disco).
Changeling cries continually over his lost love - the murderous Terra.
Wonder Girl never fits a backstory again and becomes a cypher for every 'angst' going (happily married to a normal guy? No way!)
Jericho never was particularly interesting and the mute-but an artist was a bit wet even then...
really...was there EVER an excellent story/period for the Titans again?

It's tough to defend Jericho's costume -- I liked it fine at the time, but it's definitely busy. I do like that with the puffy sleeves and the fro (think Willie Aames from that era), he's got a distinctive profile -- especially important to the visual effects Perez used when showing him shifting in and out of other people's bodies. He's not just one more guy in spandex, and I'm sure that was important to Perez. (And not just one more guy with wavy hair, either -- like Dick, Wally. Gar, Roy...)

As for the him being mute, I was interested. I think that was another thing Perez wanted -- the chance to communicate non-verbally, and the chance to work a little with ASL in his storytelling. Jericho tends to be looked down on nowadays, but at the time he was introduced, he quickly became a favorite for me. His (much later) betrayal of the team in was pretty much the breaking point between me and the Titans. 

Wow, you guys have been having a great conversation without me.  I feel bad that I’ve been too busy this week to take part in it.  I hope you don’t mind a few better-late-then-never responses. 

 

First, the Judas Contract costumes.  Thank you to those who defended Perez’s attempt, even if none of us are willing to defend the result.  Richard Willis made a good point about trying to be hip.  I think that we make a mistake when we refer to Nightwing’s new duds as disco (which includes me).  Disco had been declared dead several years earlier so we make it sound like Perez (and Nightwing) are out of step or behind the times.  But, even though disco was allegedly dead by 1984, certain aspects of it lived on in terms of music and fashion.  Nightwing’s high collar would have been fashionable at the time- even if it looks ridiculous in hindsight.  I think a good comparison (and possible inspiration?) would be Prince.  He was the biggest musical artist of 1984 and Nightwing and Jericho share a lot of Prince’s fashion sense- high collars, puffy shirts under a tight vest, contrasting colors, etc.  Honestly, I had never thought of that connection before now, but Richard Willis’ comments helped me reconsider the time in which those costumes were created- and Perez’s (ill-fated?) attempt at timeliness.  Of course, attempts to be timely are rarely also timeless which is why those costumes look even worse in retrospect. 

 

As to Jericho, it’s harder to defend his weird purple tunic, though I could see someone like Prince trying to pull it off.  But I’ll at least defend the curly blonde hairdo.  Rob Staeger mentioned Eight Is Enough’s Willie Aames as a possible yardstick, but I thought more of Greatest American Hero’s William Katt.  They’re both redheads rather than blondes, but I didn’t have a problem with Perez giving somebody a different style of hair.  Plus, I know plenty of curly blondes in real life so it didn’t seem like a stretch.  However, it is another example of Perez devising something that was hard for other artists to draw. 

 

In addition, I’m glad that Cap brought up the issue of the age of the reader.   Cap mentioned that he was in his 20s and had seen a lot of fashions come and go by this point.  However, I was a kid when I first read these comics and encountered these costumes.  You accept things more when you’re a kid, and ridiculous costumes aren’t going to be a breaking point for you the way it would be for someone older.  I accepted Nightwing’s V-neck and criss-crossing stripes as easily as I accepted Starfire’s starbolts and Raven’s soulself.  If people are going to have impossible powers, it makes sense to a kid that they would also wear outrageous outfits.

 

In this way, I think that Perez is a lot like Jack Kirby.  They’re both masters of the field but neither of them are great costume designers.  They tend to come up with costumes that are too detailed or outlandish, and that are difficult for other artists to draw.  Ron M mentioned Steve Ditko as a master costumer, but I think that Gil Kane and Wally Wood are the gold standards for design.  Kane had a sleek simplicity to most of his costumes that is somehow timely and timeless.  Perez had a few good designs.  I think his Cyborg design works really well.  It has an interesting asymmetry and it’s functional.  Of course, it did have to be simplified for later artists and cartoon adaptations.  I also like his design for Raven with her hooded cloak.  It has that Gil Kane sleekness to it and it allows for several layers- hood up, hood down, cloak on, cloak off, etc.  Plus, Raven can open her cloak wide, making herself look bigger than an animal that feels threatened.  There’s a reason why her look stayed constant over the years, even as her facial features changed. 

 

Second, the Greatest Year.  I knew that I was potentially opening up a can of worms with that declaration.  But I also hoped it would prompt some conversation, which it did. 

 

I do think that 1984 is the Titans’ greatest year with Who Is Donna Troy?, the Judas Contract and The Terror of Trigon stories.  Yet I also agree with Cap that the endpoints aren’t as exact as January through December of that year.  The Titans had clearly been building momentum for several years and I don’t object if Cap wants to include 1982 and ’83 in there.  I think I mentioned it in the column but the New Teen Titans were already award winners heading into 1984 as they took home an Eagle Award for 1983. 

 

I also think we need to distinguish between “never quite as great after that” and “never good again.”  Babe Ruth may have never had another year like 1927, but you still wanted him on your team for 6 or 7 seasons after that.  The Rolling Stones’ greatest album may be Exile on Main Street (Cap and I agree on that one, at least) but that doesn’t mean I don’t like Some Girls.  When I say that 1984 was the Titans’ greatest year, I’m not saying that they were never any good after that.  They clearly had some good stories after this, even if the series wasn’t as consistently excellent as it was from 1982-84.  One of their best villains hadn’t debuted yet and another had only shown up briefly as part of a passel of assassins.  I’m definitely looking forward to reading stories from 1986 and ’87 (I’ve already finished re-reading ’85), not to mention later series by different writers.   There’s some great stuff in there, just not stuff that I would rank ahead of the Who Is Donna Troy-Judas Contract-Terror of Trigon triumvirate. 

 

Furthermore, I think some people are selling the later stories short, especially regarding Raven.  Yes, there is some repetition in her later story arcs- similar to the way that Chris Claremont and other writers have kept going back to the Dark Phoenix well.  But I can think of a major Raven story arc that went in a different direction.  I don’t want to get into it too much as I’ll get to write about it in a later column but Raven’s white costume period is clearly not the same turn-to-the-dark-side tale.  It was even the source of a Teen Titans cartoon story featuring an entire rainbow of Raven costumes, and the inspiration for a Halloween costume for my younger daughter (anacoqui sewed a homemade White Raven costume for her). 

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