The New Teen Titans Volume 1
Written by Marv Wolfman & George Perez
Art by George Perez, Romeo Tanghal, and Curt Swan
Robin, the Boy Wonder, now a college dropout is pulled down a critical path that will redefine his life forever. The mysterious Raven calls on him as well as Wonder Girl and Kid Flash to join a new group of teenage superheroes. As is stated in one story, this isn’t the junior Justice League. Filling out the ranks are Changeling (formerly Doom Patrol’s Beast Boy), Cyborg, and Starfire. They take down the Gordanian menace that holds Starfire in bondage and quickly follow that up with their first encounter against Deathstroke the Terminator. Raven’s real purpose is revealed shortly after that, as she explains she needs to prevent the demonic menace Trigon the Terrible from breaching the walls between universes and conquering Earth. He uses the Fearsome Five, a team of B-tier villains to herald his arrival and Raven must find a way to hold together a frequently splintering team.
My introduction to this iteration of the Teen Titans came via Saturday Morning cartoons in the 1980s. I remember watching The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians where Cyborg and Robin were featured. I had no idea who this Cyborg character was but was intrigued. It wouldn’t be until many years later that I finally delved into the comics proper via one of those buck fifty grab bags at the grocery store. It was pretty exciting to go back to the beginning and see how Wolfman and Perez began what has become iconic. The current and previous animated runs of Teen Titans have been squarely based on their concept. It makes sense though; the original Teen Titans run was quite odd and always felt like an old man trying to write teenagers. While certain aspects of New Teen Titans have not aged well, it does embody a youthful rebellious tone.
What surprised me most was how quickly all the core elements that remain with these characters today were introduced. In the first issue, we are presented to every member of the team, and the series premise is set. In effect two, we have Deathstroke and HIVE. In issue three, the Fearsome Five debuts. In issue four, the Titans take on the Justice League, and the Trigon store goes full bore taking us all the way to issue seven. Along the way, we get the origins of Cyborg, Starfire, and Raven. Trigon is wrapped up in issue seven, and we get a “day in the life” one-off in issue eight that sets up the next arc. In our current age of hyper decompressed storytelling, this would be a year and a half’s worth of stories.
One motivator behind the quickly complex world of Teen Titans was the X-Men. Marvel was riding the X-Men popularity pretty high by 1980, five years into Chris Claremont’s run. I’ve read Claremont’s entire run, and the one thing you can say about it is that it is not light. Dense continuity and infamous plot lines that go nowhere. Wolfman and Perez figured DC could have a similar young hero series with that same level of soap operatic plots. The characters even feel like analogs to an extent. Starfire is the Phoenix alongside her Cyclops, Robin. Raven is the Dark Phoenix mixed with parts of Storm. Changeling is your Nightcrawler type. Cyborg is physically a Colossus while emotionally Wolverine. These archetypes wouldn’t always be present, but in the inception, it is pretty obvious to see where the overlap is. Kid Flash and Wonder Girl feel like the outliers merely because they already came to the series with a sense of who they were already developed. And they have become the overlooked part of this lineup.
I cannot explain why, but I like the character of Wonder Girl. I think the costume has a perfect simplicity to it, red with gold accents. Her look is cleaner than Wonder Woman’s. However, her origin is a huge mess. That’s something we might get into when looking at later volumes. Kid Flash is a pretty interesting character to watch throughout all of this. Having almost forty years of hindsight, seeing him spend a good 20 years as The Flash, he feels very different in the primary issues of New Teen Titans. The writers are pushing for a relationship between him and Raven, and I’m interested to see how they played that one out. Wally West in relationships seems to be the go-to for the character, and has been imposed onto Barry in the current continuity. Don’t know what to do with a Flash in your comic? Just have him hook up with someone.
There is a lot of heart in this series, and it highlights a problem with DC Comics attempting to reboot and then recreate these characters. Wolfman and Perez spent a lot of time on character development. Issues are jam-packed with conversations between team members that emphasize how each person like against the other. The camaraderie and relationships that have become iconic needed this foundation laid. We need to see Cyborg annoyed with Changeling’s constant joking before they become chummy pals. We need to see Starfire’s first pangs of attraction to Robin before they are a full on item. We need to have the team mistrust Raven while she hides the secret of her parentage. If you have read the current Titans comic which is an attempt to meld the original line up with this version it plays as a lame attempt. Lilith has been put in place for Raven which doesn’t read well, and other characters have had their personalities altered to try to create this atmosphere. The reason this works so well is that the creators put it together one piece at a time.