The Teen Titans Project, Part XII: 

Danny Chase and Other Dreck (1988)

Every comic claims to focus on the characters but that can’t be true for all of them.  The New Teen Titans showcased its characters more than most and, over the next two years, writer Marv Wolfman would once again put the spotlight firmly on characterization.  He introduced new characters and reinterpreted old ones.  However, by 1988, neither Wolfman nor The New Teen Titans were in peak form.  Some characters shined brighter than ever before but that wasn’t true for all of them and therefore wasn’t true for the New Teen Titans as a whole. 

 The year started out well.  As he’d done periodically since “A Day in the Lives” (#8, 1981), Marv Wolfman spent an entire issue focused on the private lives of the Titans.  Raven was the biggest beneficiary.  It had been three years since she’d thrown off the influence off her demon father Trigon -- and eight months since she escaped Brother Blood -- but Raven was still a novice when it came to emotions.  She had repressed them for so long that she didn’t always understand them or know what to do with them.  The situation erupted in issue #39 when she invaded Dick’s dreams after mistaking his friendship for love.  Fortunately, Kory stepped in and saved the day, taking Raven on a vacation to teach her about emotions.  It was a wonderful moment for both characters.  They had been cast as opposites so often that it was great to see them develop a close friendship.

I enjoyed this story when I first read it and it’s only grown more on me over time.  My friend Gordon came out of the closet in his 40s and he described it to me as going through puberty a second time.  He was experiencing emotions he had suppressed for years, and it was both exhilarating and overwhelming.  Raven had different circumstances but her experience was similar.  Raven helped me understand Gordon and vice versa.  For that reason, “Raven Reborn” remains one of my favorite Titans issues.

Meanwhile, over in Teen Titans Spotlight, a couple of Titans participated in DC’s Millennium crossover.  Most tie-in issues are mediocre at best but Spotlight was surprisingly good.  Aqualad teamed up with Aquaman in issue 18, giving him a chance to vent about his recent captivity at the hands of Mento and his newly unreliable powers.  It was much better than the previous Aqualad spotlight with an emotionally charged conversation running through a fast-paced undersea fight scene.  Starfire teamed up with Harbinger in issue 19, giving the alien princess another chance to shine as the two heroines helped each other.  Starfire confessed her anxiety over recently killing the Wildebeest (she didn’t, though she didn’t know that at the time).  Then Starfire counseled Harbinger about adjusting to life on earth, an adjustment she’d had to make herself.  It was neat to see Starfire take on a mentor role for another heroine after previously helping Raven and it represented real growth for the character.

Truthfully, Teen Titans Spotlight was a mostly forgettable title.  You could skip the entire run without missing much (especially the “Stuck in the Sixties” finale in issue #21).  The only issues worth getting are Starfire’s apartheid story that started the series and these two Millennium crossovers. 

The great start didn’t last long as Danny Chase joined the title with February’s issue 40.  Wolfman previously introduced Danny in New Teen Titans Annual #3 at the end of 1987 and added him to the team at the end of that story.  Wolfman was excited about Danny Chase but he put on a clinic about how not to introduce a new character.  Danny was smug and arrogant.  He thought he was better than everyone else and even told Nightwing what to do.  But the worst part was his interaction with Changeling.  Wolfman mentioned in a letters column that he was going for a big brother/new brother vibe with Gar and Danny but what may be tolerable in a toddler is absolutely aggravating in a teenager.  Their banter was neither amusing nor endearing.  Wolfman tried to make Danny look good by making Gar look bad but fans sided with Gar whom they had known and liked for a long time.  Wolfman also tried to ingratiate Danny with readers by having him save the day several times in his initial adventures.  However, once again, other Titans looked bad so that Danny could look good.  Danny’s successes came across as contrived and his unabashed boasting about them made him look petty.  Plus, Danny’s constant calls to the CBI (DC’s cross between the CIA and the FBI) emphasized his contacts rather than his talents, making him mostly superfluous.  In the previous column, I mentioned that Danny Chase is one of my least favorite characters in comics.  This time, I’ll be blunt.  I hate Danny Chase.  Judging from that year’s letters pages, I’m not the only one.      

As the year proceeded, Marv Wolfman and regular artist Eduardo Barreto advanced several storylines.  In one of the more prominent subplots, Vic Stone’s relationship with Sarah Charles hit a speed bump when Sarah accepted a promotion to the San Francisco branch of STAR Labs.  Vic was not enthused about a long-distance relationship while Sarah didn’t want to put her career on hold for someone who was frequently away on Titans’ business.  Vic relented but it put a strain on their relationship.

Main plots focused on nemeses, both new and old.  Wildebeest recruited former Titans’ villains Puppeteer, Disruptor, Trident and Gizmo to kidnap Mother Mayhem before she could give birth to Brother Blood’s child.  Wildebeest revealed himself as a doctor from STAR Labs, though that would turn out to be another red herring.  The Titans rescued Mother Mayhem and she gave birth to a daughter while the Wildebeest was presumed dead after his lair exploded.  This was actually a pretty good two-part tale with returning villains and more Wildebeest misdirection, though the presence of Danny Chase- saving the day again- brings it down a notch. 

Raven received another dose of emotions when she was attacked by Phobia of the Brotherhood of Evil in issue #43.  She successfully confronted her fears and resisted Phobia’s powers.  Then, in a demonstration of her compassion, Raven helped Phobia reunite with her father and enter psychiatric care. 

Godiva returned in issue #44 but her second adventure wasn’t any better than her first (Annual #3, 1987).  Guest writer R.J. L’officier tried to establish Godiva as Danny Chase’s special nemesis but he apparently forgot she had already killed his parents as they showed up to formally entrust Danny to the Titans.  The rest of the issue was a forgettable revenge story, guest-starring Danny’s grandfather, as Godiva attacked a retirement village for spies. 

The New Teen Titans’ slump continued with a two-part story guest-starring Chris King and Victoria Grant of Dial-H-For-HERO.  Vicki had spun her dial backwards- OREH- and gone insane.  Chris asked the Titans for help since they were one of the few supergroups with a known address.  The Titans flew to the west coast to help Chris save Vicki.  However, it was more of a Dial-H story than a Titans tale and the Titans felt like guest-stars in their own book.  It doesn’t help that I don’t care for Dial-H as a concept (sorry, Silver Age fans).  The one good thing was that Wolfman spent more time on the Vic and Sarah relationship subplot with Vic visiting Sarah in San Francisco. 

The year ended with a slightly better story guest-starring Red Star.  Leonid Kovar was undergoing tests at STAR Labs as part of a US-Soviet exchange of information.  However, elements inside the Kremlin opposed glasnost and tried to kill Red Star instead.  The Titans thought that Leonid was part of the attack against STAR Labs and attacked him.  Sarah straightened things out and the Titans joined their occasional ally to prevent Hammer and Sickle from causing further damage.  It wasn’t a great story but it had a few twists and an interesting political angle.  That made it one of the better stories of the year by virtue of not being awful. 

Looking back, it’s kind of amazing that the Titans packed so much dreck into one year.  I didn’t even cover the poorly plotted origin recap in issue #47 or the miserable annual in which everybody dreams about their worst fears.  At the same time, there was some good stuff in 1988.  There were strong character subplots for Raven, Starfire and Cyborg and there were intermittently interesting stories with Wildebeest and Red Star.  But those few bright spots couldn’t salvage an otherwise awful year for the New Teen Titans.   

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Wow, there's so much of this year that I completely forgot about. And the annual you mention at the end was a complete blank for me, though I know I bought it. I looked up the cover on the GCD, and of the four New Teen Titans Annuals, it looks like what's probably the best of the issues -- #2 -- has arguably the worst cover of the bunch. 

And man, Soviet villains were everywhere back then. Hammer and Sickle were part of Mike W. Barr's The People's Heroes over in Outsiders... along with Molotov and Bolshoi, IIRC.

And also, these covers show just how much I was underappreciating Eduardo Baretto at the time. Gorgeous stuff! Love Conundrum and Raven Reborn (esp. the negative space!) particularly.

Was Teen Titans Spotlight the book that had an issue featuring the Brotherhood of Evil and an odd Tintin pastiche?

Issue #11 is the one I was thinking of, apparently.


Rob Staeger (Grodd Mod) said:

Wow, there's so much of this year that I completely forgot about.

Lucky you.  Your memory is protecting you, kind of like how we sometimes have trouble recalling the details of traumatic events. 

And the annual you mention at the end was a complete blank for me, though I know I bought it. I looked up the cover on the GCD, and of the four New Teen Titans Annuals, it looks like what's probably the best of the issues -- #2 -- has arguably the worst cover of the bunch. 

You're right.  The Volume Two Annuals are disappointing, especially in comparison with Volume One.  The Volume One Annuals always seemed like events.  They were the culmination of major storylines such as Blackfire vs. Starfire, the Vigilante and the Judas Contract.  But the Volume Two Annuals were less connected to the main title and, quite frankly, not very good.  The Vanguard annual was awful (#1).  The Godiva annual (#3) was at least connected to the main title in that it introduced Danny Chase, but that's not exactly a point in its favor.  And the Private Lives annual (#4) was eminently forgettable.  Honestly, I got it mixed up with the origins issue because they cover much of the same ground at the same time.  However, despite an ugly cluttered cover, Annual #2 was pretty good.  It tied into the main title by giving us Brother Blood's origin before the final BB epic- and the origin was actually interesting.  Plus, there was a second story guest-starring the new heroic Dr. Light- and that story was good enough to be reprinted in Tales of the Teen Titans.  It's true what they say- you can't judge an annual by its cover, or something like that. 

And man, Soviet villains were everywhere back then. Hammer and Sickle were part of Mike W. Barr's The People's Heroes over in Outsiders... along with Molotov and Bolshoi, IIRC.

True.  I think that the era of perestroika and glasnost opened up new story possibilities that a lot of writers wanted to play with.  For one thing, they could be anti-Soviet without being anti-Russian.  For another, they could write international spy stories that had a little more depth than us vs. them.  Finally, they could depict differing viewpoints within Russia which also led to interesting story complications. 

And also, these covers show just how much I was underappreciating Eduardo Baretto at the time. Gorgeous stuff! Love Conundrum and Raven Reborn (esp. the negative space!) particularly.

I wrote about Barreto more extensively for 1987 but he was put in a tough position.  He would never be able to equal George Perez but that's kind of what fans demanded.  Judged on his own merits, he's a really good artist.  I thought he turned in some excellent issues during this time period.  And, as you noted, he had a great sense of composition which resulted in some memorable covers.  The "Starfire Kills" cover for #36 was really good too.  Of course, he was still competing with George Perez who came back to draw the great "Raven vs. Phobia" cover for #43.  However, I will admit that I think the cover for issue #49 is flawed.  It looks like Sickle is fighting beside Red Star rather than attacking him so I kind of expected her to switch sides during the story. 

Yes, but then you already figured that out.

The Baron said:

Was Teen Titans Spotlight the book that had an issue featuring the Brotherhood of Evil and an odd Tintin pastiche?

The "Brotherhood of Evil" story was written by the Lofficiers. They'd written a Superman Asterix story for Action Comics #579 the previous year. Their website credits "Lofficier" with the script of the Godiva annual, over Wolfman's plot.

Hey--we're incomplete agreement about Danny Chase!

On the other hand, as much as I enjoyed the bit with Starfire mentoring Raven in the whole emotions thing, I always found it hard to believe that someone whose major super-power was reading and manipulating the emotions of others having such little knowledge of emotions in general--it's kind of like Element Lad being ignorant of the Periodic Table. Presumably, even while she was actively repressing her own emotions, she should have been fully aware of what those around her were feeling, and at least have had second hand knowledge of the difference between the romantic love that existed between Dick & Kori, and the fraternal love that existed between Dick & Wally or Donna, and been able to tell which one was closer to what Dick seemed to be feeling towards her. I also never really understood Phobia as a Raven-foe, since she only dealt in one emotion, and Raven could manipulate all of them--just picture poor Phobia completely overwhelmed by the full spectrum of Care Bear rainbows & unicorn Happy Thoughts! I always thought the ideal foe for Raven would have been some sort of alien or AI that actually had no emotions at all, and nothing she could use against him/her/it.



Dave Elyea said:

Hey--we're incomplete agreement about Danny Chase!

On the other hand, as much as I enjoyed the bit with Starfire mentoring Raven in the whole emotions thing, I always found it hard to believe that someone whose major super-power was reading and manipulating the emotions of others having such little knowledge of emotions in general--it's kind of like Element Lad being ignorant of the Periodic Table. Presumably, even while she was actively repressing her own emotions, she should have been fully aware of what those around her were feeling, and at least have had second hand knowledge of the difference between the romantic love that existed between Dick & Kori, and the fraternal love that existed between Dick & Wally or Donna, and been able to tell which one was closer to what Dick seemed to be feeling towards her. I also never really understood Phobia as a Raven-foe, since she only dealt in one emotion, and Raven could manipulate all of them--just picture poor Phobia completely overwhelmed by the full spectrum of Care Bear rainbows & unicorn Happy Thoughts! I always thought the ideal foe for Raven would have been some sort of alien or AI that actually had no emotions at all, and nothing she could use against him/her/it.

Raven vs. the Cybermen!

Or Vulcans.

Hey--we're in complete agreement about Danny Chase!

 photo thumbup.gif

Beast Boy: "What do you mean you don't don't know how to experience emotions? Of course you do!"

Raven: "I don't, really! How do I learn?"

Beast Boy: "Easy. Just look at this picture I took of you swimming the other day and I guarantee you'll feel some sort of emotion." Shows her the cover of New Teen Titans#39.

Raven: "You...Beast! I'll kill you for this!"

Beast Boy: "Gasp! Choke! See? I told you that you already knew how to express emotions! Hack! Choke! What a world! What a world! Koff koff! I see a light..."

Starfire: "That's enough, Raven! Take your hands off his throat!"

Raven: "But he's not dead yet!"  

A good read, Chris. I am in total agreement about Danny Chase as well. I read his introduction about a year ago or so ago, and I really disliked it. In real time, I was out on the Titans myself.

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