The Teen Titans Project, Part V: 

A New Beginning (1980-1981)

When George Perez left Marvel Comics for DC in 1980, he worked out a deal with his new bosses.  He would draw one title of their choice and one of his own.  DC assigned him the flagship Justice League of America as their pick but Perez surprised them with his.  George asked to draw the Teen Titans.  The editors were reportedly flabbergasted.  Why would a rising star want to rescue a twice-canceled title from the ash heap of history when he could have any title of his choosing? 

The short answer is that Marv Wolfman talked him into it.  When Wolfman found out that Perez was following him to DC (Wolfman had recently changed companies himself), Marv talked to George about working on a Teen Titans title together.  They had previously collaborated, albeit briefly, on Marvel’s Fantastic Four.  Wolfman was a big Titans fan with a history with the team -- his Soviet Starfire story in issue #18 was one of his earliest professional scripts. 

Perez embraced the idea and the two of them pitched a new Teen Titans to DC.  DC accepted the proposal as part of their deal -- Perez was allowed to pick one of his own titles, after all.  Editor Len Wein, who co-wrote Teen Titans #18 with Marv Wolfman back in the day, was added to the mix and the adjective “new” was added to title.  They didn’t know it yet but the three of them would craft one of the seminal series in comic books, The New Teen Titans

It’s a bit difficult for me to evaluate this era.  It’s one of the series that introduced me to comic books and to superheroes.  It’s one of the reasons I’m a fan today.  I feel like Wayne and Garth from Wayne’s World protesting, “I’m not worthy, I’m not worthy.”  The New Teen Titans are the pinnacle of superhero art and storytelling.  They’re practically perfect.  Most of my ideas about what makes for a great comic book come from this series. 

However, at the time, DC wasn’t confident that The New Teen Titans would be successful.  They introduced the team via a 16-page preview in DC Comics Presents #26 and hoped the bonus story would entice readers to pick up the first issue of the new title.  The bonus story served as my introduction to the team as well, thanks to a 1985 reprint in Tales of the Teen Titans #59. 

Wolfman and Perez did an excellent job of introducing the new team.  They chose Robin, the most iconic character on the team, as their focal point.  Robin would participate in two conflicts.  In one, he assisted local police in confronting terrorists who had taken over S.T.A.R. Labs.  However, Robin experienced blackouts while helping the police and woke up in the near future as part of a new team of Titans.  The new Titans included new characters whom neither Robin nor the reader had met before -- Cyborg, Raven and Starfire.  The other Titans -- both new and old -- weren’t sure if Robin was joking around or suffering amnesia but they set out to fight an other-dimensional blob at S.T.A.R. Labs.  The two stories wove together brilliantly as Robin mentally bounced back and forth.  It was a clever storytelling trick and a great way to introduce readers to the new team.  The readers shared Robin’s point-of-view in meeting these characters for the first time yet Wolfman was also able to drawing upon developments that wouldn’t occur for months in depicting their fully-fledged personalities and relationships. 

The actual first issue was another solid introduction to the team (the double introduction was necessary since DC couldn’t count on every reader having read DC Comics Presents #26).  This time, Wolfman opted for the more traditional gathering-of-the-heroes story.  New Teen Titans #1 may have been built on a standard framework but it was masterfully done.  The story starts with a prologue featuring an unknown alien escaping from a slave ship.  It then shifts from that exciting opening to the more familiar face of Dick Grayson.  Raven mysteriously appears in Robin’s bedroom and encourages him to reform the Titans.  Dick recruits Wonder Girl, while Raven enlists the reluctant Kid Flash.  Changeling, the former Beast Boy and Titans West member, shows up unexpectedly and is added to the team.  Wolfman smartly built a core of familiar characters first.  Raven then recruits Cyborg before the whole team helps Starfire fight off the Gordanian battalion trying to recapture her.  It’s a fast-paced story.  The entire team is formed in 22 pages and there’s plenty of action.  There’s also plenty of characterization.  Wolfman clearly identifies each hero’s reason for joining (or re-joining) the team.  He spends extra time on Starfire, Raven and Cyborg since they’re new characters.  And Perez is able to demonstrate everyone’s powers in the big battle scenes.  It’s excellently done, with just a bit of mystery to entice the reader to come back for more.

The next few issues are all solid, as well.  Wolfman does a great balancing act, crafting an ongoing narrative through single-issue stories.  The Titans fight the Ravager and Terminator in issue #2, Dr. Light and the Fearsome Five in #3 and the Justice League of America in issue #4 before battling Trigon and his minions in a two-part tale in issues #5 and 6.  Wolfman employs a common story-telling convention of the time, which Legion of Super-Heroes writer Paul Levitz described as the A-B-C technique.  There’s always an A plot, the main story happening at any moment which is usually a villain to be dispatched.  Then there’s a B plot, a second story simmering under the surface that the writer sets up to become the A plot in another issue or two.  Then there’s a C plot, the hint of a third story shown through seemingly unrelated interludes that will eventually grow into the next major story.  Wolfman does a few interesting things with this common technique.  He creates connections between A and C plots, like having Psimon of the Fearsome Five secretly work for Trigon.  And he allows some stories to drift between A and C status, like having Deathstroke the Terminator bide his time between bouts before bursting forth for another encounter. 

Of course, the story is only half of the story.  George Perez was already an industry favorite thanks to his work for Marvel on Avengers and the Fantastic Four, and he was a big drawing card for The New Teen Titans.  Perez was especially inventive in his page layouts, using height and width like no one else.  He was also creative in his use of multiple panel shots.  I once read a book on comic book storytelling that cited issue #2, page 14 as an example of how to create a sense of movement and time.  The Titans are simply enjoying a pool party but Perez has Kid Flash run through the background of the panels at super-speed changing from his costume into his bathing suit and diving into the water while Changeling is suspended in mid-air.  It’s a great way to convey Kid Flash’s powers, while also adding a sense of whimsy.  On top of that, Perez is also a master of detail.  He’s able to fit seven superheroes into most panels without having them feel squished.  His backgrounds help set the scene, whether it’s the rocky pillars of Trigon’s home dimension or the advanced machinery of Titans Tower.  Plus, as one reviewer noted about his later JLA-Avengers crossover, Perez draws great rubble. 

Yet, for all of that, The New Teen Titans was a fairly standard superhero series for its first seven issues.  It was better than most thanks to the talented people working on it but it wasn’t all that different from the rest.  That changed with issue #8, “A Day in the Lives.”  Wolfman and Perez allowed the Titans to take a break from the superhero biz and depicted them in their daily lives.  The issue wasn’t devoid of action -- Changeling thwarted a carjacking, Starfire caught a runaway horse and Raven rescued her soul self from her father’s dimension -- but the focus was on normal activities.  We met Donna Troy’s older boyfriend Terry Long.  We saw her at work as a fashion photographer.  We visited Vic Stone’s apartment and saw the beginning of a friendship between Cyborg and Changeling that would become one of the most famous friendships in comics.  We also followed Vic to a local park where he met Sarah Simms and a bunch of kids with prosthetic limbs.  And we listened in as Wally West talked to his parents about his reservations about being a hero.  For me, this is the issue that broke the mold.  The New Teen Titans were now a superhero soap opera -- and I mean that as a compliment.  The Titans’ personal stories were suddenly as interesting as their superhero battles.  I miss the days when there was a place in superhero comics for supporting characters who didn’t have powers like Terry Long, Sarah Simms and Wally’s parents. 

The second half of 1981 started out with more of the same.  There was a battle with the Puppeteer in issue #9 and a second encounter with the Terminator in issue #10.  The Titans’ personal lives also grew in prominence as the year progressed.  The series struck a good balance between one-shot supervillain stories and the ongoing narrative of normal life. 

However, the latter part of the year features one of my favorite sequences in Titans’ history.  At the end of issue #10, Deathstroke apparently killed Gar Logan.  Wonder Girl rushes him off to Paradise Island, hoping that the Amazons’ Purple Ray will be able to save him from certain death.  But men aren’t allowed to set foot on Paradise Island so the team is separated in two.  The three women -- Raven, Starfire and Wonder Girl -- are caught in the midst of a battle between the resurrected Titans of myth and the Amazons.  Meanwhile, the men -- minus the comatose Changeling -- set off in search of Gar Logan’s adopted father, Steve Dayton, by following a trail left by Gar’s former teammate in the Doom Patrol, Robotman.  The smaller subsets create even more room for characterization.  For example, in the first story, Starfire feels at home with the warrior women of Paradise Island and, in the second, Cyborg builds a quick bond with Robotman.  The full team finally reunites for a giant two–issue battle against Madame Rouge in issues #14 and 15 (Dec 81 and Jan 82). 

This short run also features a pair of classic Perez covers.  For issue #12, George draws the Titans and Amazons charging towards each other in profile -- an arrangement he will use again for his famous cover for the abandoned JLA-Avengers project.  Issue #13 is one of my personal favorites as it depicts a decrepit Robotman strung up on the side of a temple with a sign hung around his neck reading “Trespassers Will Be Executed.”  That cover captured my imagination and was one of the first back issues I ever bought as a teenager. 

These five issues also build upon one of the classic Titan themes: the generational divide.  In the original series, the generation gap tended to be communal.  But in the new series, the generation gap was much more personal.  Indeed, the rivalry between parent and child was one of the most prominent themes throughout The New Teen Titans.  It started with Raven’s rebellion against her demonic father, Trigon.  But it also showed up in Robin’s occasional resentment of Batman’s plans and demands.  Generational anger was a major part of Cyborg’s story as well.  He hated his father for causing the accident that killed his mother and resulted in his disfigurement.  Cyborg reconciled with his father in issue #7 when he found out his father was dying, but a few of those hard feelings outlasted the grave.  The Greek Titans story in issue #11 and 12 exemplified the battle between parents and the children in the mythical struggle between Cronus and Zeus.  Cronus pontificates that it has always been true that the child must overthrow their parent in order to fashion the world they want.  And Changeling must literally fight his father figure when Steve Dayton, aka Mento, attacks the team after they rescue him from Madame Rouge.  This generational rivalry speaks to teenagers of every generation.  We may not have supervillains or demons for our parents.  But we still feel confined by our parents like Robin.  We hold them accountable for our pain like Cyborg.  And we definitely want to break free from them -- like Raven -- and chart our own destiny.  These feelings may not always be accurate (our parents seem smarter the older we get) but they’re definitely real and the New Teen Titans tapped into them for some excellent stories.    

Views: 661

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

It’s a bit difficult for me to evaluate this era. 

Chris, you did a great job.  Very enjoyable read and I second all your praise of this series.  Like you, #13 was one of my earliest finds for back issues; even for Perez, that's a very memorable cover.  I was able to obtain all of the series from the back issue bins - well, NTT 1-59 anyway, as you know it became a reprint title with #60.  My first issue that I bought new was #40, the first part of a Brother Blood two-parter, which was followed by The Judas Contract, and I was hooked.  It took me a while to get all the back issues - and I spent more than this cheapskate usually does on #1, 2, and 4, but I'm glad I did.  Once the debut in DCCP 26 was reprinted in #59, I was fine with not tracking it down.

To me, the quality of the stories still holds up.  I'm perplexed to this day that DC hasn't released a series of trades collecting the entire series.  The Archives stop at #27, and the Omnibi stops at #50 (although the three Omnibus volumes cover all of the issues Perez drew in this series as well as his issues in the 1984 Baxter series), but those are high-end purchases imo.  The Judas Contract tpb (NTT 39-44, Annual 3) was released in 1988; the Terra Incognito tpb (NTT 28-34, Annual 2) came out in 2003.  NTT 38 and 50 were part of the Who is Donna Troy tpb that was released in 2005.  A few other issues have been reprinted in digests - #8 and #20, and #1 got a Millennium Issue reprint.  That's a lot of high quality stuff not in trades - DC leaving money on the table imo.

I came in late so I missed a lot of this, but I loved the series and the art when I did finally get to it.

I only came to these comics as an adult, but I was very impressed, nonetheless. 

I wonder why all superhero comics can't be of this quality?  Clearly Perez and Wolfman were giving their all here.

It's funny how often great comics can result from creators with something to prove being given low-selling cancelation fodder to work with.  Obviously that status allows the creators more freedom to follow their vision, and to do surprising things with the corporate trademarks.

Another factor is how 'of their moment' these comics are.  The clothes and the haircuts and the whole Disco-era vibe.  (Also the loosening Pre-Reagan social/sexual politics of it).  That's hard to replicate.  Creators have to be fairly young and 'with it' to get that across in their comics, but not so young that they haven't developed their craft yet.  I feel most creators only have a limited period in their lives when they are able to channel the zeitgeist in this way, and Wolfman and Perez hit their sweet spot while on this series - Perez especially.

As ingredients this series used the brand new Cyborg etc, the long-defunct - Doom Patrol elements - and the currently extant - Robin - and made them all feel part of something fresh and new and of it's moment.  That's something that you can only find in ongoing mainstream superhero comics, but this series does it so well.

The 'of it's moment' thing is very important.  I see people wailing on the internet about bringing this Teen Titans group back, but the early 80s was part of it all, and you can never make that part of the mix again.  I enjoyed Geoff Johns Teen Titans series of the mid-2000s, but it was set in an hermatically sealed comicbook world, and there was very little reference to the Noughties as we lived it in there at all.  The Wolfman/Perez comics, however, make you feel that you're there, in the New York of the early 80s.

(Wasn't  it set in New York?  It certainly felt like New York.  That's a leaf out of Marvel's book if so.)

I have a whole bunch of Teen Titans comics of this era under discussion, but I've only read up to issue 12 or so.  I should dig them out again.


John Dunbar (the mod of maple) said:

Chris, you did a great job.  Very enjoyable read and I second all your praise of this series.  

Thanks, John. 

It took me a while to get all the back issues - and I spent more than this cheapskate usually does on #1, 2, and 4, but I'm glad I did.  Once the debut in DCCP 26 was reprinted in #59, I was fine with not tracking it down.
Same here.  I was content to own the reprint in issue #59 and never bothered to track down the original DC Comics Presents. 

 That's a lot of high quality stuff not in trades - DC leaving money on the table imo.

I agree.  I've heard the explanation that DC didn't bother because the back issues are still relatively cheap but that doesn't really hold water anymore since they're reprinted practically everything else and more than once.  



Figserello said:

Another factor is how 'of their moment' these comics are.  The clothes and the haircuts and the whole Disco-era vibe.  (Also the loosening Pre-Reagan social/sexual politics of it).  That's hard to replicate.  Creators have to be fairly young and 'with it' to get that across in their comics, but not so young that they haven't developed their craft yet.  I feel most creators only have a limited period in their lives when they are able to channel the zeitgeist in this way, and Wolfman and Perez hit their sweet spot while on this series - Perez especially.

You beat me to it, Figserello.  I thought about including a paragraph on the fashion and hair and general timeliness of the stories.  Then I decided that this article was long enough and figured I'd save it for the next installment.  But yeah, re-reading these comics, they feel very much "of their time" and yet they don't feel dated.  The fashions scream early '80s, especially as the title spends more and more time on their personal lives.  Sarah Simms has a puffy '80s bob.  Vic Stone wears a great purple beret.  Donna Troy wears a couple of pantsuits.  All of the guys wear vests with their suits.  But, for me, the fashion adds to the fun.  It's like watching early episodes of Saturday Night Live.  These also happen to be the fashions that were popular when I was growing up (I was 6 in 1980) so they augment that comfortable nostalgic appeal.  In fact, I'm pretty sure I had the same haircut as Sarah Simms.    

John Dunbar (the mod of maple) said:

To me, the quality of the stories still holds up.  I'm perplexed to this day that DC hasn't released a series of trades collecting the entire series.  The Archives stop at #27, and the Omnibi stops at #50 (although the three Omnibus volumes cover all of the issues Perez drew in this series as well as his issues in the 1984 Baxter series), but those are high-end purchases imo.  The Judas Contract tpb (NTT 39-44, Annual 3) was released in 1988; the Terra Incognito tpb (NTT 28-34, Annual 2) came out in 2003.  NTT 38 and 50 were part of the Who is Donna Troy tpb that was released in 2005.  A few other issues have been reprinted in digests - #8 and #20, and #1 got a Millennium Issue reprint.  That's a lot of high quality stuff not in trades - DC leaving money on the table imo.


Chris Fluit said:

I agree.  I've heard the explanation that DC didn't bother because the back issues are still relatively cheap but that doesn't really hold water anymore since they're reprinted practically everything else and more than once.  

There isn't a comprehensive New Teen Titans collection or series of trades? Really?   photo eek.gif

I don't need it; I've got the whole run. I got most of them back when the series was alive and it wasn't that hard, back then, to find the ones I didn't have.

But the argument for not publishing a trade of this series because the back issues are cheap makes no sense to me; if people buy back issues, they aren't buying them from DC!

The early issues and the intro in DCCP 26 were not cheap, at least not in the late 90s / early 00s when I was hunting them down.

That cover to #13 stood out for me, too. I was reading this volume from the DCCP preview, although it took me years to track down an issue 1 that I could afford. But I read my friend Tim's, and was there for issue 2 and everything going forward, into deep into the Baxter series.

As much as I enjoyed the stories, at least this early in the run, I never really warmed up to the new characters--Cyborg was, and remains, utterly generic: Cliff Steele's personality and much of his speech patterned trapped in a chrome-plated version of Deathlok.  Raven & Starfire (each something like the fourth DC character to use those names) always struck me as if someone had just jotted down all the key attributes of Jean Grey/Phoenix/Dark Phoenix and then randomly split them between two "new" characters: "Dates Team Leader, hair leaves flaming trail while flying, ruled by emotions"= Starfire, "Manifests energy bird, team psychic, prone to join Dark Side"= Raven.  I find it hysterical that Wolfman once said that he created Raven, rather than bring back Lilith, because Raven had more story potential, yet here we are, decades later, and so far there have been exactly two Raven storylines: Raven fears being taken over by Trigon, and Raven actually is taken over by Trigon.  These stories repeat on an infinite loop as long as Raven is in print, but there's still only two of them, and they got pretty dull after the second go-round.  I had hoped that when the character was literally resurrected they would take advantage of the fresh start to remake her as a snarky "goth" chick, like she was in the animated series, and let Trigon stay dead, but that was too much to hope for.

Son of Satan also had a tendency to follow that pattern: Daimon fears his darksoul will take over, and his darksoul does take over. How many times did he insist he was no longer human at all and didn't belong on Earth anymore?

 

Son of Satan never had an extended run as long as Raven had in the Titans, nor have we ever heard anyone tout him as having more story potential.  Nor has there ever been a far more entertaining version of Son of Satan on an animated series that could have served as a template for a more interesting comic book character.  For that matter, Daimon's Darksoul has never been remade snow white (as Raven's soulself had been), nor has his father ever been as "permanently" destroyed/defeated/contained in the ways that the far less interesting Trigon repeated was.  And of course, since Son of Satan came first, that makes Raven's similar schtick not only boring, but derivative.  As ever, your mileage may vary.

His father was killed and ended up in some death god's army once. Does that count? He also got turned into Mephisto somehow, which might count as destroyed/defeated/contained since we know he's not Mephisto unless he likes to make fake bodies for himself and have them talk to each other.
Actually that might make an interesting story, having Daimon find out Satan has multiple personalities and one of them is proud of his son. (Just before one of the other personalities kills that one, of course.)
Well, Marvel Spotlight#12 made Ghost Rider practically part of the furniture that just stood there waiting for Daimon to save him, so somebody seemed to think he had more potential than Johnny Blaze. Maybe Tony Isabella should have asked to use him to save Ghost Rider instead of the "friend" storyline that caused him so much trouble.
What would you call him in an animated series? Satan and Hellstrom would both be automatically out. Daimon Son of Fiery Red Horned Guy doesn't have a good ring to it.

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