Before I start, I should mention my wife. She has been awesome in all of this. She’s put up with my nose being in various comic books for the past 6 months, and has also done an excellent job in feigning interest in such topics as “Why Brian Bendis’ Daredevil is vastly superior to Ed Brubaker’s Daredevil” and “Yes, The Hulk could beat Superman in a fight, but only if it’s the green Hulk as written by Greg Pak, and not the grey Hulk as written by Peter David”. The one snag is that she has an annoying habit of leaning over my shoulder to see what I’m reading right around the time that I’ve turned the page to a panel of some anatomically impossible trollop dressed in a thong thinner than Michael Ignatieff’s credibility. Usually she gives me a sigh, and then goes on with her day. Not when I read Teen Titans however. Because as any self-respecting comic book fan knows, Teen Titans means Starfire. Or as my wife put it, the love child of Sailor Moon and Chaka Khan.
That being said, my wife’s mocking of my hobbies is a small price to pay for paradise, so there you go.
As is the usual with some of the weirder DC concepts we’re discussing, some back story for the Teen Titans is required.
In the late 1960’s, DC realized that they had a glut of teen sidekicks (Robin, Aqualad, Kid Flash, Wonder Girl, Speedy) taking up a lot of space, and decided to put them in a team. And so the Teen Titans were born. As befitting the era, there were a lot of “Groovy, man!”, and “Out of sight!” & “I can’t believe Batman touched me there, dude” and so ons. The comics were corny, and for the most part shouldn’t be discussed.
Fast forward a decade and a bit. Marvel had a HUGE hit with the X-Men, a motley group of powered young people who spent a lot of time dealing with personal drama. And so since coming up with an original idea would have been too hard, DC remembered that they had their own group of powered young people who spent a lot of time dealing with personal drama, and dusted them off. They put two up and comers on the book (Marv Wolfman and George Perez), and the New Teen Titans were born. There have been endless versions of that group ever since, of extremely variable quality.
Teen Titans – Terra Incognito, The Judas Contract, The Terror Of Trigon, Who Is Donna Troy?
When people think of the Titans, they think of this version, the early ’80’s one created by Marv Wolfman and George Perez. These Titans were superheroes, but they were also teenagers. Which meant that they were moody, had problems with father figures, and screwed each other silly. This sounds superficial, but in reality this was a hell of a comic book. The focus was character development first, plotting second, but Wolfman supplied a healthy amount of both on a regular basis. The traits and backstory that Wolfman wrote into these characters are still used today, which is pretty rare in an industry that reinvents it’s characters about as often as Sarah Palin edits her Facebook page. And what can I say about the art? It rocks, that’s what I can say. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. When it comes to big-time superhero action, nobody beats George Perez. Nobody.
Although Judas Contract is usually considered the pinnacle of the series, my personal favourite is the Terror arc. It’s a mini-masterpiece in how build tension in a superhero comic. You truly feel as if these heroes are beyond redemption, and that this is the last time you’re seeing them. The despair leaks from every page. And I don’t think there has been a more disturbing image in superhero comics than the shot of Raven finally going over to the dark side and following in her father’s footsteps. Creepy, powerful stuff. The only “miss” in this batch of trades is the Who Is Donna Troy collection, simply because it highlights how rediculous DC’s attempts at salvaging the character of Wonder Girl have been. It’s still worth owning for the beautiful art by Perez and Phil Jimenez, but it’s a bit of a mess in places. I’ll also use this quote from my friend Donovan, where he calls me out for not mentioning that “the original issue of Who is Donna Troy? Is one of the single greatest stories in the history of the medium and one of only two works of art that nearly succeeding in getting a young B-Boy Dram E. Dram to shed a single tear of appreciation. (The other being when they shaved the Lion’s mane in The Witch, The Lion, and The Wardrobe.)” For those of you who need that translated, he meant to say that it was really good, and that he liked it. He also says that “no other single issue meant so much to establishing Dick Grayson as more than Batman Jr. while in costume.”
Teen Titans – A Kid’s Game, Family Lost, Beast Boys & Girls, The Future Is Now, Life & Death, Around The World, Titans East, Titans Of Tomorrow
Although there have been numerous Titans reboots since the Wolfman/Perez version, most of them have failed miserably. And so a few years ago DC got their golden boy Geoff Johns to try his hand at rebuilding the franchise. For the most part, he succeeded. Although this series isn’t going down in my all-time favourites any time soon, Johns and Mike McKone took a credible stab at reminding people why teen superheroes were a good idea in the first place. Specifically Johns spent a lot of time building up the friendships and relationships that are necessary in any teen book, and the Titans team up with their future selves is one of the better time travel stories that DC has attempted recently. However, as I reread I found that the series quickly wore out its welcome, and that pretty much everything after the Future Is Now storyline started to slowly deteriorate in quality. I got the impression that Johns told the story he wanted to tell early on, and that it didn’t take long for him to lose interest in the characters.
A Kid’s Game, Family Lost, Beast Boys & Girls, The Future Is Now: KEEP
Life & Death, Around The World, Titans East, Titans Of Tomorrow: CULL
Teen Titans & Outsiders – The Insiders, The Death And Return Of Donna Troy
Since Geoff Johns’ Titans and Judd Winick’s Outsiders were launched as companion books, it was inevitable that the two books would cross over occasionally. In fact, the Death and Return arc is the storyline that launched both books. Although not essential, these are books that read nicely for fans of Titans or Outsiders.
Next up: The utterly fabulous character known as Wonder Woman.