The New Teen Titans is the book that made me fall in love with superhero comics- rivaled only by the Uncanny X-Men. I loved the art and the stories. I loved the blend of characters. I loved the relationships: the friendships, the romances and the subtle rivalries. I loved the balance between the superhero action and their personal lives. It’s one of the reasons why I’m still a fan of team books today.
Yet one of the marks of Teen Titans, and some of the most memorable stories, are the issues that focused on one member of the team. They were a true ensemble- no one member was more important than any other. These spotlight issues illuminated and added to that texture by giving attention, back-story, personality and depth to each member of the team. Here are some of the most important and memorable issues.
Kid Flash (Wally West), New Teen Titans #20 (1982):This is the story- more than any other- that defines Wally West for me. He’s not the only Titan to appear. But the story is told from his point-of-view as he writes a letter to his parents back home in Blue Valley. It’s almost like a kid writing home from summer camp. Wally, despite all of the things that he has witnessed over the years, maintains his joy and innocence. And, in contrast to so many other heroes, he has a traditional family who loves and supports him- not just his Uncle Barry (The Flash) and Aunt Iris, but also his parents. That’s why I reject the later Manhunter story in which Wally’s dad is turned into a villain. It simply doesn’t fit my conception of Wally as the wholesome, Midwestern boy. Wally’s character is expertly contrasted here with the villain of the story, the Disruptor, who is desperately trying to win his supervillain father’s approval. And I love the twist at the end when Kid Flash decides to deliver the letter himself and visit his parents.
Raven, Tales of the New Teen Titans #2 (1982):In 1982, DC published a mini-series relating the origins of the newer members of the team. It was a good set-up. The team went on a camping trip for group bonding and they ended up telling stories of their
past. So we got to see not only their origin stories but also how those team members felt about their past and how the other Titans’ reacted. The most impressive, by far, was the issue focused on Raven. Though we’d had glimpses of her past, this was the first time that those glimpses were woven together into a complete narrative. We learned of her relationship with her father, the demon Trigon, and of her refuge in Azarath. The remaining Titans were
speechless when they learned of everything Raven had experienced. And this heartbreakingly tragic tale affects me every time I read it as well.
Starfire (Princess Koriand’r of Tamaran), New Teen Titans Annual #1 (1982):Okay, this isn’t technically a solo story. All of the other Titans are here and the Omega Men guest star as well. But it’s still all about Starfire. This is the climactic conclusion to a four-part epic against her sister Blackfire. And Starfire clearly takes center stage, from the first page to the last, including an extended sequence in the middle in which she faces her sister alone. This is what Kory is all about. She’s active, in the moment, passionate, emotional, powerful and unbridled. She is someone who loves deeply- both her family and her friends. She is someone who feels strongly- her hatred for her sister is as fierce as her love for everyone else. And those emotions give her strength. They help her stand against an enemy where another might have fallen. There are other stories in which Starfire faces Blackfire, including one in which the other Titans aren’t present (in New Teen Titans Vol. II #23) but this issue remains the benchmark that all of the others are trying to reach.
Cyborg (Vic Stone), New Teen Titans #35 and Teen Titans Spotlight #13 (1983 and 1987): Neither of these stories went down in history as Teen Titans classics but, as the two solo stories that feature Cyborg, they reveal a lot about his character. There are some other striking similarities as well. In each story, Vic’s girlfriend is kidnapped and Cyborg has to rescue her- Sarah Simms in 1983 and Sarah Charles in 1987. The differences, however, make it hard to decide which story is better. The first story includes Changeling and Raven as well as Cyborg. We get to see more of Vic Stonoe as a teammate and especially his friendship with Gar Logan- one of the great friendships in comic book history. The later story features the better villain: Two-Face. While Marv Wolfman tried to contrast the half-human Vic Stone with the fully human yet inhumanly crazed ex-boyfriend Mark, J. Michael Straczynski (yes, a JMS story in 1987) gives us a better contrast with the scarred villain Two-Face.
Robin (Dick Grayson), New Teen Titans #38 (1984):The story may be called “Who Is Donna Troy?” but it’s as much about Dick Grayson as it is about Donna. After all, he’s the one on the first page- in a Sam Spade silhouette. There are other solo stories about Dick, but those tend to focus on his relationship with Batman. This is the story that shows us Dick Grayson as a Titan. He’s the leader, the one they turn to for answers. He’s a detective, trained by the best. He’s also the best friend anyone could ever have, as he shows to Donna. There are so many great Dick Grayson moments in this story: quietly watching Donna’s reunion with her family while sipping a cup of tea, intimidating a convict into giving him necessary information, giving Donna a gift that moves her to tears. And, oh yeah, there’s that last page in which he gives Kory a call and asks her out on a date. He may not be wearing the Nightwing costume (yet) but this is Dick Grayson as his Titans best.
Changeling (Gar Logan), Tales of the Teen Titans #55 (1985): I love the wise-crackin’, practical joke playin’ former Beast Boy. But that’s not the Gar Logan that’s in this story. Rather, this is the Gar Logan who is still grieving for the death of Terra. This is a Gar Logan who is hurt and betrayed. This is a Gar Logan who unintentionally reveals that a lot of his humor is an attempt to get people to like him- not surprising for an orphan who had to struggle so hard to win the affections of his foster father. And this is a Gar Logan who goes off on his own in an attempt to kill Deathstroke. It’s not surprising that he doesn’t succeed. DC isn’t about to turn Changeling into a murderer. What is surprising is what happens next. After Changeling fails to kill Deathstroke, Gar Logan tearfully relates his grief to Slade Wilson. It’s a wonderful release. Gar couldn’t have been this honest with his friends. But he could share of himself in this unusual way with someone else who knows what it is like to experience loss. This issue humanizes both Deathstroke and Changeling. And while I wouldn’t want Gar to cry in every issue- I would miss the laughs- this is easily one of his most memorable stories.
Special Bonus Entries: Speedy and Aqualad!
They may not have been part of the official line-up at the time, but Speedy and Aqualad were still part of the Titans family. Whether it was Aqualad asking the Titans to help defeat the HIVE (starting in Tales of the Teen Titans #45) or Wonder Girl asking Speedy to join her new line-up as they tried to take down Chesire (in New Teen Titans Vol. II #20-21), their guest appearances were always welcome . After all, they were original Titans. However, as regular guest stars, Aqualad and Speedy didn’t exactly have a lot of opportunities to star in solo stories (though Aqualad was in two issues of Teen Titans Spotlight). To find their seminal solo stories, we have to look to the Titans resurgence in the late ‘90s.
Tempest (Garth, formerly Aqualad), Tempest #1-4 (beginning in November 1996): A number of Titans were given mini-series over the years- including Arsenal, Beast Boy, Cyborg and Donna Troy- but Garth’s is the best. It’s even better than the Nightwing mini-series that preceded his ongoing. The only caveat is that this mini-series spins out of Aquaman rather than the Titans. But that’s no reason to neglect this great story. It’s about lost love and new infatuations. It’s about history and heritage. It’s about magic and sacrifice. And yeah, it’s about Garth growing up to become his own hero, including gaining a wide array of magical talents which make him a more formidable opponent. This story was so good that this image of Garth as Tempest has completely supplanted the image I had of Garth when he and I were both growing up.
Arsenal (Roy Harper, formerly Speedy), Batman plus Arsenal #1 (1997):Roy Harper has had a few solo turns but this Devin Grayson story is my favorite. It’s light-hearted and funny. There’s a flashback to Roy’s younger days when he was a bit of pest. In the present, he’s a little bit intimidated by Batman. He still feels like the little boy who couldn’t do anything right in the eyes of the expert. But he’s playful about it, cracking jokes with Dick before the team-up and making fun of Batman during it. Plus, we see that both the fear and the fun belie a deeper relationship as he allows his daughter to refer to him as Uncle Batman at the end. And, oh yeah, he’s a good enough hero despite his insecurities to hold his own in a team-up with Batman despite competition from Checkmate and a showdown with KGBeast.
Donna Troy (aka Wonder Girl and Troia), Wonder Woman: Donna Troy (1998): This was the hardest one to decide. Do I pick “Who Is Wonder Girl?” even though that story was rendered moot by later ret-cons? Do I go with any of her later origins, some of which were pretty good? I could have picked her wedding in issue 50 but while that issue captures her loveliness, it doesn’t show her range. In the end, I chose the best Donna Troy story, even though it wasn’t written during the team’s ‘80s heyday. This one-shot by Phil Jimenez shows us who Donna Troy is more clearly than any of her many origin stories. We see her in mourning over the death of her husband and her son, going to church to ask questions of God. We see her in action, fighting side by side with Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel against an old Nazi villain. In the one story, we see her abilities. In the other story, we see her hope. And in both stories, we see her remarkable tenacity and perseverance. Like many young boys, I was in love with Donna Troy. This issue gives us a grown-up Donna Troy, who is no less lovable.