The Teen Titans Project (1995): Beginnings and Endings

By Chris Fluit

The New Titans of 1995 were vastly different from anything that had come before.  The Fab Four of the ‘60s were long gone.  The Magnificent Seven of the Wolfman/Perez years had finally disintegrated.  In the wake of Zero Hour (Oct 94), a new team arose.  This new team was quite different and, in a way, it would set the template for most of the iterations to follow.

The new line-up was a blend of two generations.  On the one side, there were the twentysomethings.  On the other side, there were the teens.  The twentysomethings were dealing with adult issues like children, divorce, romance and running the team.  The teens brought the requisite angst, but they also brought a lot of exuberance as they figured out their new powers. 

As I mentioned in the 1994 column, I enjoyed the new line-up.  I enjoyed watching Arsenal grow as the team leader.  The Titans had other leaders in the past, like Donna Troy and Cyborg, but they usually felt like substitutes while Nightwing was out of town or off-planet.  For the first time, the Titans had a leader who didn’t seem like he was looking over his shoulder all the time. 

I also enjoyed Donna Troy’s return to the team.  She had been mostly absent since the end of “Total Chaos,” when she gave up her powers to raise her son.  Donna returned with a new set of powers and a new storyline.  She had been drafted into the Darkstars and had a sharp new costume.  However, her superhero connections -- as den mother to the Team Titans and then as a Darkstar -- continued to cause problems.  Her husband, Terry Long, finally had enough and filed for divorce in New Titans #118 (Feb 95).  The divorce and child custody proceedings would become an ongoing subplot that I found unexpectedly interesting.  It felt like a return to the classic days when the Titans’ private lives were as important as their superhero adventures.  Although it was sad, it also felt very real.  The divorce gave Donna Troy new emotional depth and opportunities to connect with Arsenal as old friends.  I might have been one of the few fans who approved of the Donna-Terry wedding in the first place but I thought Wolfman ended the relationship in a very real -- and very raw -- way that made it one of the better storylines of 1995.

Kyle Rayner and Supergirl were the two new young adults.  The new Green Lantern arrived in issue #115 (Nov 94) and decided to stick around.  Wolfman had hinted at Supergirl’s addition since before Zero Hour.  She finally showed up in issue #120 (Apr 95) before joining the team in #122 (Jun 95).  I was overjoyed.  Fans had been clamoring for Supergirl to join the team since the mid-1960s, but Bob Haney argued she was too powerful.  A lot had changed in 30 years, and Supergirl was an excellent fit as a New Titan.  She and Donna worked together in a way that was reminiscent of Starfire and Wonder Girl.  Moreover, Wolfman had the team fight numerous space-based threats so the added power came in handy. 

Kyle Rayner was another good fit.  He quickly became the person that Roy looked to for confirmation and served as sort of a deputy leader.  Kyle’s relationship with Donna was even more important as they quickly developed interest in one another and started dating.  The relationship felt a little rushed to me as Donna was still going through her divorce and Kyle was grieving the death of Alexandra.  Then again, that might have been the point as two hurting people found comfort and new love in each other.  Kyle was also a good mentor to the younger heroes.  He was fairly new at the superhero game himself and understood what they were going through more than Arsenal did.  Kyle’s best moment came in Damage #15 (Apr 95) when he encouraged Grant to attend his girlfriend’s funeral and opened up about his own loss.

Damage, Impulse, Terra and Minion represented the younger generation.  Damage and Impulse were relatively new heroes who had titles of their own (Impulse #1 would debut in April ’95).  They quickly became good friends and were as memorable in their way as Changeling & Cyborg.  They complemented each other nicely between Impulse’s exuberance and Damage’s broodiness.  I prefer Damage as a Titan than a solo star, perhaps because the team relationships made room for more aspects of his personality to shine.

Terra had a long history with the Titans, though this wasn’t the same Terra that betrayed the team in “The Judas Contract.”  This new Terra took over as the team jokester -- and did a better job of it than Danny Chase or Pantha.  Her good-natured teasing of Damage was especially well done, as Marv Wolfman showed that her wisecracks might have been covering up a bit of a crush.  However, Terra’s humor covered more than that.  We also glimpsed moments of anxiety as the alternate timeline Terra worried that she didn’t really have a place in this world.  The angst was never overdone, and helped round out the character nicely.

Terra wasn’t the only character from a different world, though she was the only one who fit in.  I never warmed up to Jarras Minion.  He was a bundle of contradictions -- an avowed pacifist with a quick temper.  I never cared for the Omegadrome either, the supersuit that sometimes looked like a miniature spaceship and sometimes like a silver Hulk.  I felt like Wolfman couldn’t quite decide what to do with the character -- was he the cute team mascot or the outer space powerhouse?  Minion was eminently forgettable as the only entirely new character.

Mirage didn’t exactly fit in either.  She wasn’t part of either age group -- too old to be one of the kids, too green to be one of the young adults.  She had an established friendship with Terra but that quickly faded into the background as Terra hung out with the kids her own age.  Mirage was also sidelined early on due to her pregnancy, making her part of the cast but not part of the team.  She didn’t have much to do during this run, and what she did wasn’t very memorable. 

The new line-up didn’t last long enough to make a major impression on Titans’ lore but, with a couple of exceptions, I liked the new additions. 

The New Titans started the year by finishing an old story.  Raven’s corruption had been a concern since the end of “The Hunt” in March 1992.  The issue had occasionally come to the fore, as in the anniversary issue #100 (Aug 93) but it had never been resolved.  Marv Wolfman finally wrapped up one of the Titans’ longest running sub-plots in issues #118-121. 

In the prologue issue, Raven recruited former Titans’ allies to her new team.  As I noted in the 1994 article, Wolfman had intentionally avoided old Titan enemies since 1987 but, with a mostly new lineup, he felt comfortable bringing back familiar faces as both friends and foes again.  Raven possessed Thunder, Lightning, Magenta and Supergirl as her new henchmen.  Changeling and Deathwing formally signed up after causing trouble independently.   Wolfman also introduced a new character as one of Raven’s recruits -- a young African-American named Rafael who could turn his body into rock crystal.  I thought Rafael was more interesting than Jarras Minion -- even without a superhero codename -- and was disappointed that he didn’t join the Titans after “Forever Evil.”  I’ve often wished that a later Titans writer would bring him back for his untapped potential but no one has. 

“Forever Evil” was a solid story.  It wasn’t the most original set-up -- heroes fight their friends who’ve been possessed -- but it was a good resolution to a story that had gone on too long.  It did have a few nice twists -- like having Supergirl join Raven’s team before becoming a Titan.  And it packed a good emotional punch, particularly when Mirage had to fight the father of her child, Deathwing.  Maybe my good impression has more to do with my sense of relief that the evil Raven story was finally finished but I was generally pleased with “Forever Evil.”

The next few stories were more problematic.  With Zero Hour, the New Titans were intentionally integrated into the broader DC Universe.  They guest-starred in Damage and had a crossover with Green Lantern.  Early on, I enjoyed the interplay between the Titans and the other titles.  However, that integration increased in the summer of 1995 and became a disadvantage.  June’s issue #122 was part of a crossover with Deathstroke and Darkstars.  July’s issue #123 was a solo Minion story responding to recent events in Darkstars.  The end of the summer brought another crossover, “The Siege of the Zi-Charam,” that weaved its way through Titans, Damage, Darkstars and Green Lantern.  It was hard to keep track of the story with so many events taking place in other titles.  I don’t mind picking up the occasional extra issue but the sheer frequency of the crossovers was too much.  Instead of increasing attention on the various titles, the incessant interaction drained on all of them. 

Yet, somehow, in the midst of this morass, Marv Wolfman turned out one of the best stories of this new incarnation.  New Titans Annual #11 was the pinnacle of the post-Zero Hour team.  “Year One” was the theme for 1995's annuals.  It was supposed to be a look back at the beginnings of longstanding heroes but this version of the Titans was in its first year.  Wolfman avoided the easy alternative of writing a ‘60s Titans story.  Instead he focused on the personal lives of the current characters, showing how they were coming together as a team and as friends.  Mirage received a cryptic message from the future.  Terra visited her doppelganger’s grave.  Donna Troy lost the custody hearing for her son.  Minion visited the Statue of Liberty to learn about being an alien on earth.  Kyle visited his girlfriend’s grave.  Impulse and Supergirl engaged in a race reminiscent of the classic Flash-Superman races of old.  Arsenal took his daughter to visit the Eiffel Tower.  Everybody took a turn in the spotlight, deepening their character and their relationships.  It was a great issue.  It also helped that Greg Land guest-starred as the annual artist.  Land wasn’t a comic book superstar yet but he wasn’t reliant on light-boards either.  His characters were personable and expressive.  He drew a variety of body types, from a slightly pudgy Terry Long to the petite child Lian Harper, and it all looked good. 

Unfortunately, that was the last bright spot for this version of the Titans.  Wolfman was given one last arc to bring things to a close.  “Meltdown” started out quietly enough.  Issue #126 (Oct 95) featured a training exercise that got a little too rough.  It also brought Deathstroke’s daughter, Rose Wilson, into the Titans’ cast.  On the one hand, it was yet another interaction with another title.  On the other hand, her presence was intriguing.  I find it fascinating that the guest writer, Dale Hrebik, was planting seeds for future storylines even at this late date although it would take Rose another 11 years to finally become a Titan as Ravager. 

The middle issues of “Meltdown” featured a weird transition.  Apparently, Wolfman wanted the final story to feature the classic cast rather than the newcomers.  I understand the logic and the sentiment, but it didn’t really work.  Damage, Impulse, Mirage and Supergirl quickly disappeared while Changeling, Cyborg (now Cyberion) and Starfire returned.  The changes occurred very abruptly and “Meltdown” felt jagged and uneven.  It didn’t help that the revamped cast was sent off to Tamaran for one more outer space adventure.  Tamaran and the Citadel had been the site of some classic Titans adventures in the past but it wasn’t a good choice for the series finale.  The Titans spent much of the adventure sitting on the sideline while other races fought it out.  They became bystanders in their own title when the final spotlight should have focused on them.  It was emotionally unsatisfying and poor storytelling.

The big twist at the end was that Raven and Trigon were the new evil behind the Citadel.  Raven apparently hadn’t been cured by Phantasm at the end of “Forever Evil” and the Titans had to defeat her own more time.  This time, with the help of Arella, they were able to purge Raven of her father’s essence and she was reborn as a new golden girl.  I admit that it was interesting to blend a Tamaran story with a Trigon one.  It was also a nice bookend, ending the title with Trigon as it had started with him 16 years ago.  But, while the idea was there, the execution wasn’t.  The New Titans went out with a whimper rather than a bang. 

The Titans wouldn’t be gone for long.  Their next title would debut 8 months later.  But this marked the end of the version that launched in 1980 with Marv Wolfman and George Perez at the helm.  The title had seen tremendous heights and terrible lows since then.  The New Teen Titans had made their mark on comics and would never be forgotten.

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Chris, this project has been an incredible recap of the Titans.  I can tell this was a true labor of love for you, and I've enjoyed every installment.  Well done.

Thanks, John.  I ended up writing a lot more of these articles than I expected.  I figured I'd keep the 3-4 years per article pace that I established for the '60s when the title was a bi-monthly but I had so much to say that I couldn't fit it all in except by going year by year.  I'll probably take a bit of a break before coming back for the Dan Jurgens, Devin Grayson and Geoff Johns eras.  But I'll definitely get to those versions too. 

 

Awesome -- I'm glad you'll be getting to those eras, as I tried each of them out, too. I've been enjoying this series a lot as well -- there's a lot to chew on, both about storytelling, and how series premises and characters age.

Quite some time ago now, your series of articles inspired me to buy Teen Titans Omnibus v2-3. After thinking about it a while, I read the first three Archives (starting with the Wolfman/Perez era), Omnibus 2, and about half (so far) of Omnibus 3. After that, I plan to re-read "Games" for the first time. I enjoyed the Jurgens and Johns eras, and may well re-read those (for the first time), too... probably right around the time you get to them.

Enjoy your break... we'll be waiting for you. And good job!

There were definitely some interesting ideas in 1995's Titans, and others that were not IMO at all appealling (I don't think I will ever actually want to read a story with Kyle Rayner, for instance).

The divorce plot could be very moving, but I feel that it, most like anything else at the time, had a hard time fighting for breathing space amidst so much sound and fury.

The book also suffered IMO, and that may have been the decisive factor, from a terminal creative mismatch between Marv Wolfman and his editors (and he has said as much on interviews).  

At this point the New Titans were suffering from full-blown 1990s crossoveritis, to the point that I don't feel anyone was expected to actually understand the plot without buying at least a couple of additional books (mostly Darkstars, sometimes Deathstroke and even Damage - it must be a "D" thing that I would not understand).  

That might have been a good idea as a novelty event telling an exciting story, but by 1995 it was best described as a blackmail attempt - and a weak one at that.  The stories were often difficult to follow or even understand, and could not reasonably be expected to sustain such weights.  Sometimes I feel that they were never truly meant to.

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