The Teen Titans Project, Part XXII: 

 The Slow Exodus (2000)

 

The latest version of The Titans had gotten off to a good start in 1999.  Devin Grayson and Phil Jimenez paved the way with the instant classic JLA vs. Titans mini-series.  Then, Grayson and Mark Buckingham built on that foundation with an incredible opening arc.  The title stumbled a bit in the middle of the year as Grayson focused on subsets of the team rather than the entire group, but it recovered by the end with an epic battle against Vandal Savage and Tartarus.  There was reason to be optimistic as The Titans entered its second year, but there was also reason to be cautious.

The year opened with a Beast Boy mini-series by Ben Raab, Geoff Johns and Justiniano.  When the original Titans formed the new team, they didn’t ask Gar Logan to join.  When Gar showed up anyway, they admitted it was an oversight and invited him to be the 11th member.  Gar surprised everyone by turning the offer down.  He decided to move to LA to restart his acting career instead.  In the main title, Gar returned in time to participate in the year-end epic.  This mini-series took place in the interim.  It started with a short story in Legends of the DC Universe 80-Page Giant #2 (January 2000) in which Gar was attacked by one of his old enemies, Mr. 104 (a reference to the number of elements in the periodic table).  In his mini-series, Gar found that Hollywood wasn’t interested in a former child actor with a very specific skill set.  He moved in with a cousin, met up with Bette Kane (the first Batgirl, now going by Flamebird), was attacked by new enemies and framed for murder by a Beast Boy doppelganger.  Nightwing arrived in issue 3 and helped Gar discover that the alternate Beast Boy was Madame Rouge in disguise.  They cleared his name and Gar decided to become a West Coast superhero while Bette floated the idea of a new Titans West.  The mini-series was a delightful romp with quick action, fun guest-stars and a suitable sense of humor.   

Back in the main title, Devin Grayson dealt with the fall-out from the Tartarus epic.  That adventure had revealed relationship rifts and questions of trust.  With those issues now in the open, the Titans spent an entire issue arguing with each other.  It wasn’t quite “A Day in the Life,” but Grayson showed that a story focusing entirely on the Titans’ personal lives could still be compelling (issue #13, Mar. ‘00).  Cyborg quit.  Nightwing told the replacement Flash not to return.  Donna finally boiled over and yelled at everyone when they came to her for advice.  Jesse Quick quit.  And Nightwing ignored a summons so he could focus on his work in Bludhaven. Mark Buckingham did a great job of signaling the discord, evoking the classic cover to New Teen Titans #39 (1984) by having the entire team walk away from their costumes. 

It wasn’t entirely dire.  Grayson also took time to show the continuing bond between Arsenal and Damage as Grant tried to help Roy sneak in to see Cheshire.  And she also showed the burgeoning connection between Tempest and the younger Titans as Toni lent an ear to listen to Garth’s problems.  All in all, it was a solid character issue, moving several stories forward. 

Honestly, the behind the scenes signs were more worrisome.  Team discord is occasionally necessary and interesting to read when done right.  But there were also signs that the creative team was drifting away, the same as the characters.  Mark Buckingham provided a great homage cover, but he was absent on interior art for the third time in less than a year.  Meanwhile, Devin Grayson brought in a co-writer for the first time.  Artist Patrick Zircher was a solid replacement, especially for such a character-focused issue, and the writing was still top-notch even if Grayson shared chores with Jay Faerber but I was concerned that the top-flight creative team wouldn’t stick around much longer. 

Issue #14 (Apr. ’00) was another partial fill-in with Brian K. Vaughan guesting as co-writer and Cully Hamner as artist.  Hamner intentionally drew in Buckingham’s style to maintain stylistic continuity but I preferred Zircher’s more expressive approach in issue #13.  Zircher may have borrowed more from Kevin Maguire than Mark Buckingham but it worked for such an emotionally fraught issue.  Story-wise, Tempest stepped up to lead the team on a rescue mission, saving Lilith from the clutches of Tartarus.  It was a fairly standard story but I have to admit that Tempest’s expanding leadership role was one of the my favorite developments of the Grayson Titans.  Garth went from being a joke to the Titans’ most consistent mentor and conscientious leader.

            The next story (#15-16, May-June ’00) had all of the elements for success.  Grayson and Buckingham were together again- no co-writers or guest artists in sight.  They reused a classic Titans trope, sending the original five on a camping trip together.  And they brought back a classic villain in the Gargoyle.  Unfortunately, the ingredients didn’t combine into a satisfying story.  The camping trip quickly devolved into squabbling and, this time, it wasn’t interesting to read.  The Titans acted cruelly and out of character.  The heightened emotions can be blamed on the Gargoyle’s mental powers but Grayson had recently demonstrated that she didn’t need a super-villain to craft believable conflict.  The resolution was also ham-handed as the Titans determined they were walking in circles and just stopped.  The allegories may have sounded like a good idea but they just didn’t work on the page.  It’s doubly disappointing that Grayson and Buckingham went out on such a sour note.  This was Buckingham’s final story and Grayson’s last as the sole writer.

            Meanwhile, former Titans creators Dan Jurgens and Phil Jimenez were engaged in the Titans/Legion of Super-Heroes: Universe Ablaze mini-series (Mar.-June ’00).  It was an inspired creative team but the result was similarly disappointing.   A squad of Legionnaires woke several Titans from cryogenic sleep.   For some reason, Jurgens and Jimenez left half the Titans behind.  The explanation was that they were killed in the past but it felt oddly lopsided to have half of the smaller team mingle with the full Legion.  The telepath Universo mentally controlled the Titans, using them to undermine Earth’s defenses and hold off the Legion for his eventual conquest.  At least, Jurgens did a better job of depicting the mental manipulation.  We knew something was wrong with the Titans and could make a reasonable guess before the inevitable revelation.  The Legionnaires devised a device that would protect them and the Titans from mind control.  The two teams then combined forces to fight Universo and his ally Brother Blood.  Saturn Girl and Omen also sent a mental image into the past, guiding Nightwing to defeat Brother Blood 1000 years earlier.  Jurgens and Jimenez checked many of the boxes for a successful crossover.  Unfortunately, the characterizations seemed dated even though Jurgens had written the team only two years earlier.  He depicted Arsenal as a ladies’ man and Argent as a bubblehead, completely ignoring Grayson’s character development of the past year and a half.  I wanted to like Universe Ablaze but it just didn’t click.

            The next four months represented a slow dismantling of the team.  This version of The Titans had always had a large cast.  That’s one of the reasons Devin Grayson had often focused on smaller sub-sets.  In issues #17-20 (July-Oct. ’00), Grayson and Faerber wrote exits for several Titans.  Starfire received a call for help from her brother Ryand’r and left for outer space.   Most of the team joined her, but they turned against the Tamaraneans when they learned that Ryand’r was the aggressor.  The Titans returned home in disgust while Starfire remained behind to help her people build a new homeworld. 

Arsenal and Damage skipped the space trip to deal with some personal issues.  Namely, Grant revealed that he had been abused as a child.   Arsenal brought Damage to the reservation where he grew up so that Grant could get away and heal for a time.  Nightwing skipped the trip as well, though he spent most of this time trying to convince Jesse Quick to rejoin the Titans.  Jesse was worried that she was redundant with the Flash already on the roster and didn’t want to put up with the rest of the team’s dysfunctional family bickering.  When Wally returned from outer space, he offered to resign his spot on the team if Jesse agreed to come back.  Jesse was intrigued by the new situation and signed up.  Unfortunately, she also adopted a poorly devised new costume that mainly consisted of a circle around her boob. 

            Cyborg was the fourth Titan to walk away.  He had been disgruntled ever since he found out that Nightwing had put him on the team as a way of keeping an eye on him.  Nightwing arranged to have Cyborg visit Red Star in Russia where Russian scientists were cloning a new body for him.  The olive branch wasn’t enough.  Cyborg accepted the new body, which could house (and hide) his golden cybernetics, but left the team anyway.  For Vic, it was his first shot at a regular life since he had been a teenager.  

            As a whole, I enjoyed the departure stories.  The team had felt a little bloated and I liked how Grayson and Faerber gave everyone a good exit.  I also appreciated the use of alternating main plots and sub-plots.  It reminded me of the story structure of the ‘80s and felt entirely appropriate for a Titans team in transition.  Artist Adam de Kraker did a decent Buckingham impression throughout.  His ease at depicting emotions kept the exit stories from feeling forced.  It was clearly a transitional time for both the characters and the creative team but there was a pleasant feeling of progress, even as the team was downsized. 

            Late in the year, The Titans were involved in two special issues: Titans Annual 2000 and Titans Secret Files & Origins #2.  The Annual was part of the “Planet DC” event, introducing new heroes from around the world.  I’m an easy mark for events like this.  I have a soft spot for international characters (maybe because I’m dual citizen myself) and I enjoyed “Planet DC” immensely.  The Titans Annual was one of the better installments as well.  Beast Boy and Flamebird took a trip to Japan where they got mixed up with a shape-shifting villain and a local hero named Bushido.  They called the Titans for help and the five originals answered.  Raab, Johns and Justiniano, who had been collectively responsible for the Beast Boy miniseries, turned in another solid story.  There was a lot of action and just enough mystery to keep the story hopping.  There was also a second story with artist Rick Mays showing Bushido’s origin.  The Planet DC characters weren’t all designed to join the ongoing super-teams but Bushido was one of the few who showed potential.

            Secret Files featured a few short stories.  The first one, by the incoming creative team of Jay Faerber and Paul Pelletier, showcased the five original Titans as Dick Grayson invited his friends over to meet his new girlfriend Clancy.  It was humorous and revealing, and it also served to set up a future Dark Angel story for Donna Troy.  Johns and Raab contributed the rest of the stories.  They teamed with artist Georges Jeanty on a Cyborg story, showing him settling into his new home.  Derec Aucoin drew a Tara Markov story, updating us on a character we hadn’t seen regularly since the end of Arsenal’s team.  But the best of the bunch was the Drew Johnson drawn tale about Beast Boy and Flamebird.  They’d been kicking around the idea of restarting Titans West for a while so Gar’s cousin, Matt, decided to jumpstart things by holding a recruitment drive.  Naturally, hijinks ensued.  It was a delight to see so many guest stars and it was easily the funniest Beast Boy story the Johns and Raab team had done so far.  It even resulted in a Bushido cameo, raising my hopes that the new character would become a regular part of the title. 

            The year ended with a new creative team and a new direction.  After half a year of transition, Jay Faerber finally took over as the lead writer.  Paul Pelletier joined him as the new regular penciller.  I love the later work of both creators- Faerber’s superhero titles for Image were dynamic and Pelletier’s sci-fi art for CrossGen was outstanding- but they were honestly a little rough in these first issues.  Pelletier’s style is similar to Tom Grummett and Mark Buckingham but his characters were a little too puffy and round at this point.  He also had trouble fitting characters into his panels, resulting in some awkward poses.  He would get better, even during his time on the Titans, but it wasn’t an auspicious debut. 

            The main story featured an assassination threat against Cheshire, with the Titans caught in the middle.  It gave them a good chance to fight some super-villains in issue #21 (Nov ’00) and Deathstroke in issue #22 (Dec. ’00).  It also helped that Faerber had pared the team down to six members so everyone had a chance to shine. 

In one of the secondary stories, Faerber brought Jesse’s mom, Libby Chambers, into the title.  It was a good idea.  Jesse was one of the least developed Titans so it made sense to spotlight her relationships away from the team a little more.  However, Libby was a bit of a jerk toward her daughter so it wasn’t the most enjoyable subplot.  But even that bit of forced conflict was better than the introduction of new superhero, Epsilon. 

            It can be tricky to introduce a new character into a long-running title.  Readers are often cool towards new characters and might even resent a johnny-come-lately for sharing the stage with their favorite heroes.  Even if a writer does everything right, the new character still might not click with fans.  Sometimes, it just doesn’t work.  And Epsilon didn’t work.  Faerber made the mistake of having the character announce that he was a new star, which made him come off as arrogant- not an appealing feature in a new hero.  The costume design was also kind of boring, and unfortunately reminiscent of Mystek, another poorly received character from Justice League Task Force.  Epsilon’s story would continue into the next year but he didn’t make a good first impression.  It was particularly confusing to me in that The Titans had just done such a good job of introducing Bushido.  He would have made an intriguing addition to the cast, especially after all of the departures.  But Faerber decided to introduce Epsilon instead, shoehorning an unwelcome new character into his new direction.

            The second year of The Titans was much like the first- some good stories, some disappointing ones, but generally worth reading and following.  The year ended with a new creative team.  Though it was too early to grade the new direction, it had already shown both good signs (a smaller team) and bad ones (an unlikable new character).  Only time would tell.

 

Views: 520

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

Quality write up as always Chris,

This was when I finally did give up on The Titans.

I enjoyed the Beast Boy mini-series (although I felt the return to the name 'Beast Boy' was an odd backward step.)

Like you I desperatly wanted to like the Titans/LSH series but I agree it was lopsided and felt incredibly dated.

That was kind of enough for me, 'my' Titans weren't getting particularly well treated, there was nothing fresh about the team and I had no interest or empathy for any of the newer guys.

I agonised but I finally left them to it ....I applaud your determination in keeping on with the title. 

I always had the impression that something had gone on  behind the scenes that threw a wrench in whatever Devin's original plans for the book were--the JLA/Titans crossover seemed to make it clear that she intended to follow up on the Cyborg/Changeling relationship, yet Gar was conspicuously absent when the new title started.  Because of my suspicion of editorial interference, I've never been sure if what seemed to be a running theme thru this incarnation of the title was deliberate, or just something that bubbled thru on its own, but looking at the dynamics of the original "Fab Five" Titans, it was interesting to note that, unlike most comics characters, each of them had grown up significantly, but it always seemed like the originals still thought of each other as "Bird-Boy", "Twinkletoes", "Gill-head", "Princess Ponytail", and "Hot Shot" (Did Speedy ever really have a go-to nickname?  It seems like he was the one who applied them to most of the others.), without ever really quite processing that none of them were really the same people that they were back when they fought Ding-Dong Daddy.  That's an aspect of friendship that I've never seen explored in comics before, and the original Titans are the only super-heroes that such a concept would work, since they're the only characters who've actually gone from teeny-boppers to functional adults (and at least three of them were parents by this point, even if Donna's son had died) in print, despite all the reboots, regressions and ret-cons thrown at them.

Thanks for the kind words, Richard.  I've left the Titans a few times over the years and we'll get to those.  But I've also gone back and filled in the gaps with $1 and 50 cent boxes.  Thankfully, I was absent for the long, dark saga of the late Wolfman years since I'd left comics completely at that point (I came to my senses a few years later).

I've never been sure if what seemed to be a running theme thru this incarnation of the title was deliberate, or just something that bubbled thru on its own, but looking at the dynamics of the original "Fab Five" Titans, it was interesting to note that, unlike most comics characters, each of them had grown up significantly, but it always seemed like the originals still thought of each other as "Bird-Boy", "Twinkletoes", "Gill-head", "Princess Ponytail", and "Hot Shot" (Did Speedy ever really have a go-to nickname?  It seems like he was the one who applied them to most of the others.), without ever really quite processing that none of them were really the same people that they were back when they fought Ding-Dong Daddy.  That's an aspect of friendship that I've never seen explored in comics before, and the original Titans are the only super-heroes that such a concept would work, since they're the only characters who've actually gone from teeny-boppers to functional adults (and at least three of them were parents by this point, even if Donna's son had died) in print, despite all the reboots, regressions and ret-cons thrown at them.

That's a great observation, Dave, and something I didn't really cover in the last two round-ups.  Grayson did a great job of portraying the "Fab Five" as longtime friends who had grown up together.  I think that was part of what made the Secret Files & Origins and first issue so wonderful.  She resurrected the old nicknames and had the characters playfully tease each other.  At the same time, she showed how the Titans had grown up.  Tempest bristled a little bit at the pet names and got annoyed with Arsenal's incessant teasing.  Yet Tempest redirected that resentment into taking more of an active role as financier, mentor and finally leader.  He would show everyone that he was grown up by, well, acting grown up.  The "Fab Five" friendship was a core part of Grayson's concept for the team.  Sometimes, it was in the foreground- sometimes to good effect (the aforementioned Secret Files) and sometimes not so much (the Gargoyle two-parter described in the current column).  At other times, it was in the background as Grayson turned her attention to villains or the other Titans.  But it was always a part of this incarnation, even when the writing reins were turned over to Jay Faerber and Tom Peyer.

It's that longtime friendship that I've always enjoyed about the various Titans' appearances in Flash comics over the years -- Nightwing and Starfire have guested, as well as Cyborg, and I'm probably missing a few others. It's actually his history with the Titans -- the old friends who knew me as a kid aspect -- that's one of the things I miss most about Wally. We never see any of Barry's old pals (Daphne Dean aside, and the one story in Adventure when he went to his high school reunion) -- and even if we did, they're basically normal folks, rather than super-powered peers, since Barry didn't get his powers until his adulthood. Early JLA buddies like Ralph and Hal are the closest equivalent, but it's not quite the same -- at least without aging Barry further than the New 52 would prefer.

One of the places I enjoyed that aspect the most was when Wally was the JLA's Flash, and one of the few members who wasn't intimidated by Batman, since to him, the scary ol' Batman was just his best friend's "Dad", whom he'd known since he was a kid.


The concept should also work with the original X-Men.
Chris Fluit said:

I've never been sure if what seemed to be a running theme thru this incarnation of the title was deliberate, or just something that bubbled thru on its own, but looking at the dynamics of the original "Fab Five" Titans, it was interesting to note that, unlike most comics characters, each of them had grown up significantly, but it always seemed like the originals still thought of each other as "Bird-Boy", "Twinkletoes", "Gill-head", "Princess Ponytail", and "Hot Shot" (Did Speedy ever really have a go-to nickname?  It seems like he was the one who applied them to most of the others.), without ever really quite processing that none of them were really the same people that they were back when they fought Ding-Dong Daddy.  That's an aspect of friendship that I've never seen explored in comics before, and the original Titans are the only super-heroes that such a concept would work, since they're the only characters who've actually gone from teeny-boppers to functional adults (and at least three of them were parents by this point, even if Donna's son had died) in print, despite all the reboots, regressions and ret-cons thrown at them.

That's a great observation, Dave, and something I didn't really cover in the last two round-ups.  Grayson did a great job of portraying the "Fab Five" as longtime friends who had grown up together.  I think that was part of what made the Secret Files & Origins and first issue so wonderful.  She resurrected the old nicknames and had the characters playfully tease each other.  At the same time, she showed how the Titans had grown up.  Tempest bristled a little bit at the pet names and got annoyed with Arsenal's incessant teasing.  Yet Tempest redirected that resentment into taking more of an active role as financier, mentor and finally leader.  He would show everyone that he was grown up by, well, acting grown up.  The "Fab Five" friendship was a core part of Grayson's concept for the team.  Sometimes, it was in the foreground- sometimes to good effect (the aforementioned Secret Files) and sometimes not so much (the Gargoyle two-parter described in the current column).  At other times, it was in the background as Grayson turned her attention to villains or the other Titans.  But it was always a part of this incarnation, even when the writing reins were turned over to Jay Faerber and Tom Peyer.

I'd considered the original X-Men, and the original Legion of Super-Heroes, when I made that statement, and a case could be made for the X-Men (The Legionnaires never seemed that young, and thus decades later when at least some of them were married and living "adult" lives, they didn't really seem all that different).  To me, the original X-Men didn't grow up as much as they seem to have been randomly replaced by different character concepts from time to time.  Except for Cyclops' brief interlude as a husband & father, none of the original X-Men seems to have really entered a sustained adulthood (not that marriage & children are necessary to become a "grown-up", but inexplicably turning blue isn't at all).  Of course, in commercial terms, that's worked out pretty well for them, and is probably a strong reason why the various recent reboots at DC have tended to leave most of the original TT in the dust--there doesn't seem to be any room for adults in today's comics, just immature angst-wallowers of all ages.

Reply to Discussion

RSS

Welcome!

No flame wars. No trolls. But a lot of really smart people.The Captain Comics Round Table tries to be the friendliest and most accurate comics website on the Internet.

SOME ESSENTIALS:

RULES OF THE ROUND TABLE

MODERATORS

SMILIES FOLDER

TIPS ON USING THE BOARD

FOLLOW US:

OUR COLUMNISTS:

Groups

© 2019   Captain Comics, board content ©2013 Andrew Smith   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service