The New Teen Titans Volume 7
Reprints Tales of the Teen Titans #42-48, Annual 3
Written by Marv Wolfman
Art by George Perez and Mice DeCarlo (with Steve Rude, Dick Giordano, and Al Gordon)
Deathstroke the Terminator is ready to make his killing blow on the Teen Titans, finally sending his mole Terra into action against the team. One by one, Cyborg, Changeling, Raven, Starfire, and Wonder Girl are taken out and delivered into the hands of the HIVE. Dick Grayson escapes capture only to run across Adelie Wilson and her mute son Joseph. Adelie is the ex-wife of Deathstroke and reveals the mercenary’s origins as well as the fate of their youngest son Joe. Grayson finds himself at a crossroads and taken on the moniker of Nightwing, joined by Joe Wilson, who as Jericho can transfer his consciousness into the bodies of others. This story is a brand new day in the history of the Titans and a moment that will resonate throughout their entire run and into contemporary comics.
Wolfman and Perez are running at full steam, and it lasts for a few volumes here. The main draw of this volume is the three-part The Judas Contract story arc that sees the first appearance of Nightwing and tragic fate of Terra. The legacy of this event can be seen in the Total Chaos and Titans Hunt arcs later in Wolfman’s run as well as the recent Lazarus Contract story and the current Terminus Agenda. You could argue that the iconic nature of the Judas Contract is a detriment to the remainder of this iteration of the Titans and everyone to come after. This is likely the moment Deathstroke transcended his role of a villain for the team and became an anti-hero, eventually inspiring Rob Liefeld’s parody through Deadpool. It’s also where the concept of Teen Titans calcifies, becoming a thing that seems to be repeated ad nauseam.
Any reboot of the comic series, cartoon show, or the new live-action show always present the same elements. Not just the origins, but we can always rely on seeing Deathstroke, Brother Blood, Trigon, HIVE, and Terra. While the live action show hasn’t gotten to all these yet, if it continues, we’ll see them all. That’s not necessarily bad because all comic characters have their iconic characters and events, but Titans feels particularly paralyzed in these elements. After Wolfman left and the series meandered new writers like Devin Grayson, and Geoff Johns would retread so much of this ground, some times adding what already existed. The current Titans run by Dan Abnett feels painfully redundant and assumes reader familiarity with these elements so that they are never really given context. If you go back to the re-introduction of the Fearsome Five in Titans: Made in Manhattan I can’t believe a new reader would have any idea what the hell was happening. However, that speaks to the power of Wolfman and Perez’s work back in the 1980s.
At the time of Nightwing’s debut, there had not been this level of development given to Dick Grayson before or any other sidekick. Wolfman and Perez spent a lot of their time letting the audience learn about who Grayson was separate from this Robin identity and out from under the shadow of Batman. In an interview in Amazing Heroes #50 (1984), George Perez explained that Gerry Conway, the writer on Batman in the late 70s, had no interest in using Robin, so the Titans creative team had carte blanche to do what they wished. Grayson had grown to the point that the father figure of Batman had faded and created a more combative relationship between the two. Editorial wanted to get back to that mentor-protege dynamic with Jason Todd, and Perez said he was more than happy for Grayson to drop being Robin.
Nightwing originally came out of a recurring side story in the Superman comics where the title hero and Jimmy Olsen would journey to Kandor, a Kryptonian city shrunk by Brainiac and kept in a bottle. While there they would become their take on Batman & Robin – Nightwing & Flamebird. There is a short line from Grayson as he forges the Nightwing identity of his inspiration from his friendship with Superman, but it seems like a way to repurpose the name and take some costume design elements. The original Nightwing costume appears to be inspired more from Grayson’s days as a circus acrobat than the Superman alternate identity.
In the Amazing Heroes interview, Perez expresses the feeling of the creators to make Dick Grayson his character finally, develop him independently of Batman and on reflection it is a complete success. While Nightwing is still a member of the Batman family, he is truly his person, and I argue better developed than Batman. Batman will forever be defined by his trauma, as it is the only thing that seems to drive him forward. Nightwing, on the other hand, has experienced trauma but also processed it. He doesn’t let the trauma detrimentally mark him. You could argue that Nightwing is Batman’s greatest success, a freedom that the Dark Knight will never personally experience.
Volume 7 is one of those essential reads that marks a turning point in the New Teen Titans. Things start to get a little weaker as Wolfman is pulling double duty for a short while between two Titans ongoings before condescending it back down into one. Crisis on Infinite Earths is right around the corner that will tax Wolfman even further, and in future volumes, we’ll see that the series doesn’t hold its shine for much longer.