The Teen Titans Project, Part IX

New Faces (1985) 

 1985 was a year of change for the New Teen Titans.  Not that any year is static in a comic book series but 1985 was more turbulent than most.  Characters came and went.  Even more noticeably, artists came and went as George Perez was pulled off of the two Titans titles to work on the massive crossover Crisis on Infinite Earths.  That massive crossover would have its own turbulent effect on the New Teen Titans as well.  But we’ll get to that later.

The New Year opened with a pair of wonderful celebrations that, for me, cap off the New Titans’ “Golden Age.”  The first was the wedding of Donna Troy and Terry Long in Tales of the Teen Titans #50 (Feb. ’85).  The Titans’ personal lives had long been a hallmark of the New Teen Titans so it’s not entirely surprising, yet still kind of amazing, that several of their greatest single issue stories eschewed superhero battles completely, “A Day in the Lives,” “Who Is Donna Troy?” and now “We Are Gathered Here Today.” 

The wedding preparations had been building as a sub-plot for several issues and now Marv Wolfman and George Perez devoted an entire double-sized issue to the event.  There are no supervillain attacks as in the famous wedding between Reed Richards and Sue Storm, or other superhero complications as with Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson.  Instead, Wolfman and Perez simply allow the day to enfold.  It’s dramatic, poignant and beautiful.  As readers, we have come to care for these characters so much that we’re willing to revel in their day as much as they are.  Any tension comes from the characters themselves: Gar Logan’s worries that he won’t be up to the challenge of coordinating the perfect day, Vic Stone’s anxiety about being in a public setting, Questor’s awkward encounter with Garth and Tula by the pool.  Yet even those slight concerns are surpassed by the sheer exuberant joy of the moment.  There are great character touches.  We see the depth of Dick and Donna’s friendship in their conversation before he walks her down the aisle.  We see how Joseph Wilson is becoming more at ease as a member of the Titans.  And we get to see cameos of former Titans like Mal and Karen Duncan (aka Guardian and Bumblebee) and Hank and Don Hall (aka Hawk and Dove).  There’s also a great balance between superheroes and ordinary people.  Of course, that’s one of George Perez’s greatest strengths.  He draws a variety of body shapes, from pudgy groom’s men to adolescent flower girls.  Plus, all of the heroes are recognizable out of costume.  Perez even manages to plant cameos of the creative team without being obtrusive. 

The other great celebration is the New York City ticker tape parade for the Titans after their victory over Trigon in New Teen Titans #6 (Mar. ’85).  The previous arc was one of the longest -- and most tense --  for the Titans and this celebration is a welcome and necessary release.  It’s great to see the Titans get their due, not only from industry awards, but also within the pages of the comic.  However, this celebration isn’t quite as worry-free as the wedding.  Wolfman does plant the seeds for future stories in a few sub-plots and vignettes: Wally West is still worried that his powers are killing him, a strange angel-like being shows up looking for Lilith, and Raven’s mother Arella departs on a search for her daughter.  There are also more prosaic problems like Gar Logan’s disgust with movie offers from people who previously wanted nothing to do with him and Cyborg’s concerns about having to rebuild the tower after it was destroyed by Trigon.  Yet, again, the celebration outshines the worry.  This time, Terry Long suggests that the Titans take a second trip to the Grand Canyon to get away from it all and recuperate.  It’s a nice moment, once again showing that the Titans are friends as well as allies. 

These twin celebrations are two of my favorite Titans stories.  Joy tends to be an underrated element in longform storytelling.  Anyone can write about danger, but it takes a true artist to depict joy in a compelling fashion.  It’s also wonderful to be able to catch our breaths after the long epics of the previous year.  These change of pace celebrations were definitely necessary and, more importantly, done well.

After the big wedding, Tales of the Teen Titans lost a bit of its cohesiveness.  The biggest story from issues #51-55 was the trial of the Terminator, the Titans’ nemesis who had been captured at the end of “The Judas Contract.”  However, several other storylines weaved in and out of the title during this time.  Changeling suspected Jericho of being a second traitor, before discovering he was mistaken.  Cheshire, one of the assassins from Annual #2, came back for another crack at the Titans.  And an angelic being appeared with an intense interest in Lilith. 

The team was a little unsettled as well.  Donna Troy was absent for several issues while on her honeymoon.  Raven was unavailable due to the events with her father --  events that had already occurred in the companion title but which were still in the future for Tales.  Even Cyborg skipped out on several team gatherings, setting up a story for later in the year.  Meanwhile, returning Titan Lilith and new Titan Jericho took on more of the spotlight.  For most of the year, it felt like the Titans were going in different directions.  That’s not necessarily a bad storytelling choice but in this case it made for an unsettled, even directionless, time for the Titans. 

The biggest story finally boiled over in issue #55 with the long-awaited confrontation between Changeling and the Terminator.  Slade Wilson had been found not guilty because they couldn’t prove that he was the one behind the Terminator mask on every occasion and Gar Logan had surprised everybody by undercutting his own testimony.  However, Gar had a more nefarious plan.  He wanted to kill Deathstroke the Terminator himself rather than seeing him go to prison. 

Deathstroke agreed to meet but he refused to fight back.  Frustrated, Gar breaks down in tears.  Then, surprisingly, they go out for coffee.  Despite their animosity, the two find that they have a lot in common and Slade helps Gar deal with his grief over Terra’s betrayal and death.  Gar finally lets Slade walk away.

For several years, DC had been trying to spin new concepts out of New Teen Titans by using the title as a host for preview stories or by showcasing new characters in the actual Titan stories.  These new titles often met with minimal success, but they never became smash hits.  However, I think DC missed their best chance to create a spinoff title right here.  By the time Slade Wilson walks away from Gar Logan, he’s evolved into a fascinating character.  Slade states that he has to leave his past behind and learn to become a new person.  He’ll probably still be a soldier of fortune, but he can no longer operate as the merciless assassin he once was.  As he walks away, I want to follow him.  I want to know what he’ll do next and how he’ll reinvent himself.  Yet DC lets him fade into the sunset, waiting seven years before finally giving Deathstroke his own title.  It seems like a missed opportunity for a title that DC otherwise saw as a launching pad. 

Meanwhile, New Teen Titans embarked on two medium-sized stories.  The first is a three-part tale from issues #7-9 and it’s actually a lot better than I remember it.  I guess I’m usually turned off by the prominent role for the winged angel.  He eventually gets a name, Azrael, but he’s an uninteresting new character.  There doesn’t seem to be much of a point to him other than serving as a love interest/stalker for Lilith.  However, Azrael is only one small part of the story.  The bigger story is the discovery that the lost goddess Thia is Lilith’s mother.  Thia is one of the twelve Greek Titans and she plans to attack Olympus using the monsters of myth.  The Teen Titans are quickly involved because of their connection to Lilith and the other Greek Titans (New Teen Titans #11-12, 1981).  It’s a great battle with shifting allegiances and giant monsters and it’s honestly a lot of fun.  We also meet one of Thia’s minions, a super-powered human with crystalline powers named Kole.   

The Titans rescue Kole from Thia’s control and she becomes the focus of the next two-part tale (issues #10-11).  Jericho takes her home only to discover that her father has gone mad.  He had previously given Kole her powers to help her survive the coming apocalypse but now he’s decided that only insects will endure.  He changed his wife into a human-sized cockroach and plans to do the same to the Titans.  I suppose there’s a bit of relevancy to this story with its fears of nuclear war, but it’s mostly just weird.  Even worse, Kole joins Azrael as an uninspiring new face.  She’s defined by her connections to others -- Thia’s slave, her father’s daughter, Jericho’s potential love interest -- but she doesn’t have a personality of her own. 

Then again, by all accounts, Kole was created in order to be killed off.  The Titans' top-notch creative team of Wolfman and Perez was now responsible for DC’s world-shattering crossover, Crisis on Infinite Earths.  A number of characters were slated to die in order to add emotional weight to the story and Kole was sacrificed to represent the Titans.  However, her death didn’t actually provide emotional weight because we had never come to care about her in the first place.  Jericho may have missed her, but I doubt that any of the readers did.

Azrael and Kole weren’t the only new faces.  To be honest, the most significant new faces didn’t appear in a single panel yet their presence was felt on every page: the new regular artists.  These new artists had a tough act to follow and they inadvertently demonstrated just how much of the Titans’ success was due to George Perez.  His ability to render facial expressions and convey emotion through body posture was instrumental to the depth of characterization for which New Teen Titans was famous.  The new artists were competent professionals but they couldn’t measure up and many stories from this time didn’t seem to have the emotional weight that they should have. 

Rich Buckler took over as the main artist on Tales of the Teen Titans and he should have been a natural fit.  After all, George Perez had worked as Rich's assistant back in the ‘70s before breaking into comics in his own right.  However, Buckler didn’t have Perez’s inventiveness in laying out panels and he certainly didn’t have Perez’s flair for drawing faces.  It hardly seems fair to complain about Buckler as I’ve enjoyed his work on other titles but it just wasn’t the same without George. 

Jose Luis Garcia Lopez took over on The New Teen Titans and was, honestly, a much better choice.  Garcia Lopez wasn’t nearly as inventive as Perez with panel shapes and sizes (then again, who is?) but he provided a number of powerful splash pages, especially during the huge battle between the New Teen Titans, the Titans of myth and the Greek monsters.  Furthermore, Garcia Lopez could fill a page with dozens of characters to convey the chaos of war without having it feel overcrowded.  Garcia Lopez was a worthy heir to Perez, even if he wasn’t George’s equal.

Tales of the Teen Titans ended its run with a three-part Cyborg story (issues #56-58).  As previously mentioned, Vic Stone had been sneaking away from the Titans for several issues.  With this story, we learn that Vic plans to undergo an operation that will replace his metal parts with new plastic implants.  It’s his chance to look human again though Vic is embarrassed about it just enough that he doesn’t confide in any of his friends.  At the same time, the Fearsome Five gets back together, minus Dr. Light.  They recruit two members (though they don’t change their name to the Fearsome Six) and take revenge on the Titans.  Cyborg risks himself to protect his friends but his new plastic parts aren’t up to the challenge.  They defeat the Fearsome Five but Vic has to revert to his metal parts.  In one sense, it’s an illusion of change story since Vic is the same at the end as at the beginning.  But that isn’t really true.  Vic may look the same on the outside, but inside he’s learned to accept himself.  He now views his cyborg side as a conscious choice rather than an accident.  It’s not the greatest story but at least it has some personal ramifications.

New Teen Titans close out the year much the way that Tales began it: with several ongoing and overlapping stories.  However, this storytelling approach worked a lot better for the prestige series than it did for Tales.  There’s a one-shot murder mystery in issue #12 that was probably supposed to evoke “Who Is Donna Troy?” but is mostly forgettable. 

Then there’s a Crisis on Infinite Earths tie-in in issue #13 that shows how the Titans were involved in those earth-shattering events.  However, the sub-plots are more significant and more interesting than the tie-in vignettes.  Cyborg finds out that Sarah Simms started seeing someone else while he was busy with Titans’ business and, to be honest, a little self-loathing.  They have a good heart-to-heart and it’s an amicable but bittersweet break-up.  In the other main sub-plot, a Tamaranian vessel arrives on earth with orders to bring Starfire home.  That sub-plot leads to the next major Titans epic stretching from the end of 1985 into early 1986. 

The last two issues do a fairly good job of juggling these multiple stories.  Starfire returns home with Nightwing and Jericho along for the ride.  Arella continues her search for Raven, which she started all the way back in issue #6.  And the remaining Titans -- Changeling, Cyborg, Kole and Wonder Girl -- continue to fight the Crisis along with the other earth heroes.  The Titans have pursued separate stories before, sometimes successfully (issues #11-15, 1981) and sometimes not (Tales #51-55).  I’d count this run among the former.  Marv Wolfman does a good job of balancing the different stories, counterpointing moments of joy in one storyline with suspense in another, setting up one storyline while tying up another.  It’s a good sign -- an indication that the Titans might get back to being a great title, with or without George Perez. 

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Absolutley loved and still do the Wedding issue.

Will never forgive DC for killing off Donna's husband and family after this - I don't expect 'happily ever after' but...!

 

What I didn't like was the Gar after violent revenge - it was a bit too cliche'd even then. So I was actually refreshed to see the Slade walking away a changed man fascet as you highlight Chris and have disliked any depiction of Slade as a two-dimensional villain ever since.

I am reminded of the Thing and Sandman sitting down for a drink together towards the close of the Marvel-Two-In-One series which was an early 'bad-guy-reforms' plotline that even though the Sandman joined the Avengers for a while he was never much used and reverted to 'evil' all too soon.

Wasted opportunities. Nowadays no-one wants to become a 'hero' everyone seems to turn bad instead!

Oh, nope, never liked Azrael or Kole or Lilith (even when she morphed into Omen)

Questions Chris - was there a specific reason why Wally was retired as Kid Flash? He seemed to be an acceptable character sidelined because, I presume, someone didn't like him..? Also what was with Frances Kane? She was built up quite early on as a powerhouse and then sidelined further than Wally even though she later got a (awful) costume and the name Magenta?

Great piece again Chris

I believe Marv Wolfman has been on record stating (correctly IMO) how difficult it is to write Kid Flash.  Speedsters are just way too powerful for most situations.  I assume that is why he felt the need to write him out of the series,

Another great article, Chris! I usually don't have anything to add since you cover a lot (most?) of it. While a lot of people had big shoes to fill in following George Perez I think most of them did a good job of it. This era is actually when I started getting a lot of the Titan comics out of 20¢ boxes.

Also I did have a brief review of New Teen Titans #6 - here, which you covered in this article.

I remember thinking that if Donna could marry Terry Diana should be able to marry Steve. But I wasn't really following comics at this point.

Yep, right here from Titans Tower:

http://www.titanstower.com/flash-wally-west/

Marv Wolfman: “[If] you think logically, all he has to do is see the villain and the fight’s over. He moves too quickly. I like his personality very much because I like playing his middle class, Midwest personality against the others. But as far as his power goes, I don’t like it. Much too inconvenient. If used correctly, he’s really too powerful. [...] He’s a good character. I like his personality. It’s just that his powers are a very big problem. He just moves too fast.”

(...) “We’re going to play some games with him. Probably move him out of the book for a few months and then decide what to do with him when we bring him back. (...) So I was hoping by working very hard on Kid Rash (sic), I’d be able to conquer the problems, resolve the problems I was having with the character. Unfortunately, I still haven’t.”

Ok, so Wally became too difficult to write - but what about the other part of my question...anyone?

 

"Also what was with Frances Kane? She was built up quite early on as a powerhouse and then sidelined further than Wally even though she later got a (awful) costume and the name Magenta?"

As I remember it, Frances was an important player in the pre-Crisis issues of one of the titles, gathering a team to rescue the Titans from Brother Blood (including Superman, Batman and Booster Gold).  Titans Tower tells me it was in 1987's New Teen Titans #28-31.

http://www.titanstower.com/magenta/

But apparently before that (still in 1987) she debuted the Magenta identity in Teen Titans Spotlight #16-17, which seems to be an unremarkable tale where she is brainwashed and sent to kill Thunder and Lightning.

1987 was a busy year for Frances, for she was also with Wally in the first couple of issues of his first solo series as Flash, although it was largely to write her out of his life.

All in all, it does not look like Marv Wolfman had too much of an idea of what to do with her.

I think I'm remembering the Spotlight issues with the awful costume.

Didn't she have magnetic powers? I always thought someone had misspelt Magneta as Magenta when preparing the brief for those issues!
 
Luis Olavo de Moura Dantas said:

As I remember it, Frances was an important player in the pre-Crisis issues of one of the titles, gathering a team to rescue the Titans from Brother Blood (including Superman, Batman and Booster Gold).  Titans Tower tells me it was in 1987's New Teen Titans #28-31.

http://www.titanstower.com/magenta/

But apparently before that (still in 1987) she debuted the Magenta identity in Teen Titans Spotlight #16-17, which seems to be an unremarkable tale where she is brainwashed and sent to kill Thunder and Lightning.

1987 was a busy year for Frances, for she was also with Wally in the first couple of issues of his first solo series as Flash, although it was largely to write her out of his life.

All in all, it does not look like Marv Wolfman had too much of an idea of what to do with her.

According to one of the special Preview "comics" that DC was doing back then, Frances Kane's "super" name was supposed to be Polara (her power was somehow connected to Dr. Polaris, which probably explains her recurring ethical flip-flops).  That same issue previewed the then yet to debut female Dr. Light, who was then going to be Black instead of Asian.  I'd guess that when push came to shove, someone decided that "Polara" sounded more like someone with ice powers than magnetic ones, and of course, "Magneta" was dangerously close to "Magneto".  Magenta was nonsense, but no more so than "Jericho" (it's not his name, it's his codename, so what does it mean, and how does it relate to his powers?  It would have made sense for Mal's Hornblower persona, since the Biblical Jericho was famously associated with horns, but what it meant to Joey Wilson, we never found out.)

Aside from the difficulty in dealing with Kid Flash's power level, I've always wondered what would have happened if, post-Crisis, DC had gone ahead with the entirely new Flash concept that had been rumored (a hero with light-based powers) after they killed Barry.  Would Wally have just been quietly retired to avoid confusion with the new guy?  Wolfman had set things up so that Wally's powers were apparently killing him, so there would have been no reason for him to not just settle down to a quite life in Blue Valley.  Instead, the Crisis did something to his powers so that they were no longer killing him, but his speed was greatly reduced.  Of course, once he got easier to deal with, he was no longer available to use as more than a guest star in the Titans.

Getting back to Donna Troy's wedding, I found it interesting that Hippolyta, while giving the happy couple her blessing, referred not only to her own wedding (presumably to Prince Theno, a character unmentioned since the end of the Wonder Family era), but also to her own mother, who I don't recall ever having been mentioned before (altho during the white jump suit era, iirc, Ares/Mars was identified as Diana's grandfather, but I can't recall if he was also explicitly Hippolyta's father).  Still, what I remember most about the wedding to this day was that nonsense with Duela Dent--I don't care how much anyone despised that character, but having Dick Grayson take that long to figure out that a 30 year old Harvey Dent couldn't possibly have a 20-something daughter did far more damage to Dick's reputation as a detective than it did to the Harlequin, since she could still turn out to be anybody and still have worked as a character (if anyone wanted to work with her), but unless  the vagaries of comic book time made Duela's alleged parentage at least possible, Dick's an idiot for falling for it for a second!

For what it's worth, the only time I liked the character Jericho was when he turned down Kole's sexual advances, showing that he at least had better taste in women than he did in costumes...

I totally agree  Dave, I liked the attention to detail and continuity that the scene with Duela Dent represented but felt it did so much harm to Dick's detective skills that it outweighed any good in it.
 
Dave Elyea said:

 Still, what I remember most about the wedding to this day was that nonsense with Duela Dent--I don't care how much anyone despised that character, but having Dick Grayson take that long to figure out that a 30 year old Harvey Dent couldn't possibly have a 20-something daughter did far more damage to Dick's reputation as a detective than it did to the Harlequin, since she could still turn out to be anybody and still have worked as a character (if anyone wanted to work with her), but unless  the vagaries of comic book time made Duela's alleged parentage at least possible, Dick's an idiot for falling for it for a second!

Ares was Hippolyta's father? Saying Zeus was Diana's father means Zeus slept with his granddaughter. Then again, he did marry his sister.

I'm not familiar with this part of the Titans' history, but it sounds like Crisis hit them pretty hard. I'm wondering how many ideas and opportunities got tossed out the window when the Multiverse short-circuited.

It's kind of suprising Marvel hasn't made a Magneta just to grab the trademark.

Perhaps with all the wacky space/dimensional/time traveling going on Grayson jumped to the conclusion Harequin was from the future? From the stories I've seen with her in them, I always assumed she was on drugs.

Apologies for duplication. I posted this query on the 'Wonder Woman's Father : Prince Theno thread' last week. Seeing as the above issue (Tales of the Teen Titans 50) is actually the source of my query, I thought it no harm to post the query here. I'm posting the collective information from the responses on the other thread as well as my original query so please note that not all the information noted below was suggested by myself :

I have a Hippolyta reference query that has been driving me crazy. I have already messaged Marv Wolfman (the writer of the TT issue in question) but unfortunately he does not remember the specifics and cannot shed any light on the reference.


The reference pertains to a panel in Tales of the New Teen Titans 50 (Donna's Wedding) whereby Hippolyta states that she has been granted leave from Paradise Island by Athena. She mentions to Donna and Terry Long that she has only been granted leave from the shores of Paradise on ONE other prior occasion.

Which occasion was Hippolyta referring to? There have been several instances where she actually left the island pre-Crisis (though they may all have been retconned by the publication of ToNTT 50)

The Golden Age Hippolyta once ventured to Man's World under the guise of WW. That GA story was from Sensation Comics 26 and was titled 'The Masquerader. It may have been incorporated into later Silver Age stories as some of the GA adventures were.

The GA Hippolyta was also kidnapped by Villany Inc in WW 28.....but I haven't read the issue so I'm not sure exactly where they took her or if she actually left the island???
The Silver Age Hippolyta seems to have ventured off the island at least a handful of times.


''In "The Terror Trees of Forbidden Island!" from Wonder Woman #143 Hippolyta leads an Amazon fleet of one-pilot spaceships against alien invaders. The story implies the Amazons do stuff like that from time to time. But Kanigher/Andru-era Silver Age Wonder Woman stories weren't referenced all that often in the 70s/80s, and I've no doubt that's not the story Marv Wolfman had in mind.''

''In Wonder Woman #253 Hippolyta and the Amazons travel to the moon. (The whole Astarte/Diana Saga)''

''The story in Wonder Woman #190-#192, from the Mike Sekowsky era, might also qualify; the main action takes place on another planet which may be in another dimension, and Hippolyta and the Amazons appear there at the end of the third part. But as with #253, there's no way of knowing if Wolfman was aware of the tale.''

''In New Teen Titans #11 the Amazons, under the leadership of Hippolyta, go on an expedition into Tartarus to rescue Wonder Girl, and in the next issue they travel to Olympus to fight the Titans of myth there''. This 'expedition' may well have been what Hippolyta was referring to at Donna's Wedding. Although taking only these Teen Titans issues into account, technically Hippolyta still left 'the shores of paradise'  at least twice (once to Tartarus and again to Olympus) These stories were also written by Marv Wolfman.....but he seemed to be referring to something much bigger in TOTNTT 50....it sounded like Hippolyta was referencing an important event. And she definitely states it was ONE time in the past.

I was hoping somebody here might know the instance that Hippolyta was referring to? Other journeys off the island might also be worth noting.

ps. I did e-mail John Wells and he is of the opinion that Marv was indeed referencing Sensation Comics 26 where Hippolyta actually petitions a visit to Man's World.

A big thank you to all the posters who made the majority of the above suggestions on the other thread.

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