The New Teen Titans Volume 6
Reprints The New Teen Titans #35-40, Tales of the Teen Titans #41, Batman and the Outsiders #5
Written by Marv Wolfman (with Mike W. Barr)
Art by George Perez, Romeo Tanghal (with Keith Pollard and Jim Aparo)
The personal lives of the Titans is an ever-changing soap opera of personal conflicts and powerful villains. Cyborg’s potential love Sarah Simms becomes the target of an abusive ex-boyfriend. The team helps out mutant twins Thunder & Lightning uncovering the truth of their parentage. The Fearsome Five stage a jailbreak and this time the Titans need the help of Batman and his Outsiders, which leads to Terra being reunited with her brother Geo-Force. Dick Grayson sets out to learn the secret history of his teammate Donna Troy and help bring her closure about where she came from. Everything comes to a significant turning point when Wally West can no longer handle the ticking time bomb his powers as Kid Flash have become. Moreover, Grayson decides to abandon his identity of Robin forever.
This is the sweet spot of Teen Titans, the cluster of years where Wolfman and Perez are firing on all cylinders. They have confidence about who these characters are, both the established ones like Robin and Wonder Girl as well as all their creations. We get some real depth with issues like “Who is Donna Troy?” that is equally about Dick Grayson as it is the title characters and moves his relationship with Starfire forward. Much time is spent on Terra and her ongoing double cross against her teammates, working with Deathstroke to undermine the Titans. The team member being a secret villain is the one big element X-Men, the series that this era of Titans owes a lot to, never incorporated and it such a great story hook.
Changeling becomes closer to Terra who feigns a small amount of affection towards the shape-shifting hero. The payoff to this story won’t come until the next volume, but Wolfman and Perez are not interested in rushing to that climax. The longer they can plunge the knife in the worse things will be when Terra is revealed. This is my first time reading these issues, and I was under the impression Terra was some Mary Sue the way the fans clamored around her. I was delightfully surprised when it turns out what a rotten person she is, thus making her a more exciting and complex character. The reader must remind themselves she’s a child being manipulated by Deathstroke, yet she is so unlikable.
I was also unaware of how present The Church of Blood was throughout the 1980s Titans series. They are a near constant menace but also make HIVE a bit redundant. Having two secret cabals can get a bit confusing, and I think integrating the two into one monolithic villainous organization would have been better. I do enjoy how the public face of The Church of Blood is one of positive, philanthropic endeavor and so the Titans are always failing to convince the public of Brother Blood’s real intent. It was smart to have Bethany Snow, a news reporter, in the Church’s pocket so she can affect the public perception of the Titans. I wonder how deep this element of the series cut as it is very clearly inspired by the growth in cults that attracted youth in the 1970s and 80s, as well as the very psychically devastating Jonestown massacre of 1978. In an interview with TwoMorrows publishing, George Perez admits that Brother Blood is “a little too villainous looking for people to be following him as a cult? Shouldn’t he look a little more benign to make him acceptable to the modern media on first glance?” I agree, the second costume we get in this volume with its skull mask complete with horns is comical.
The decision to phase out Robin and Kid Flash is a little deceptive. Since the beginning, I didn’t get great characterization from Kid Flash, and I think Wolfman and Perez didn’t know what to do with him. Introducing the idea that his powers are killing him is an idea that can only go so far until you have to kill the guy. So they allow Wally to go off into the sunset with Frances Kane. Robin, on the other hand, retires as a hero but doesn’t miss a single issue, settling into life as Dick Grayson, still a relatively active member of the Titans. The next significant chapter in his life won’t happen until Volume 7, but it is a monumental one.
George Perez is firing on all cylinders with his artwork, and this is going to continue up to his eventual departure in 1985. He’s still a master of detail but is now improving his framing and layout. Perez is most definitely a figure overlooked by the media outsides of comics. I would argue that Perez’s work on Titans, Crisis, and Wonder Woman is some of the most iconic art that came out of DC at this time. His take on the universe is sort of the definitive late bronze age DC Comics. Perez and Wolfman have some big surprises in store for the next volume where the Titans become something even greater than a group of kid heroes.