Comic Book Review – New Teen Titans Omnibus Volume 5

New Teen Titans Omnibus Volume 5 (2020)
Reprints New Teen Titans v2 #32-49, New Teen Titans Annual #3 & 4, Tales of the Teen Titans #91, Infinity Inc. #45, Secret Origins #13, Secret Origins Annual #3
Written by Marv Wolfman (with Dan Mishkin, Roy Thomas, RJM L’Officer, and Paul Levitz
Art by Eduardo Barretto, Erik Larsen, Michael Collins, Romeo Tanghal, Kelley Jones, Colleen Doran, Ty Templeton, and Paris Cullins

And so we reach the end of the road. New Teen Titans would end with issue 49, becoming New Titans with number 50. It was decided the characters had grown beyond being kids, and Marv Wolfman apparently wanted to tell more adult stories with them. The Nightwing/Starfire relationship with images of them in bed together unclothed already hinted that we were dealing with legal adults. Then Donna Troy’s marriage to Terry Long was also a significant signal that the “teen” days were coming to an end. Wally West had become The Flash with the closing of Crisis, and so it was that this generation joined their adult counterparts as peers now, not just sidekicks. That doesn’t mean these are good comics though, in fact, I think we got to some of the worst stories Wolfman ever wrote on this series.

When you read interviews with Marv Wolfman, the interviewers usually stick with questions about Crisis on Infinite Earths or New Teen Titans up to the Judas Contract, the storyline that saw Robin becoming Nightwing. There is a very good reason. After that brilliant arc’s conclusion, which saw Deathstroke’s personal arc coming to an end and gave some great closure to these teenage heroes, it was clear Wolfman didn’t know what to do with them next. What transpired was a constant repetitive cycle of characters stuck in loops. Cyborg has angst about his machine side, Raven is caught in the torment of fear about becoming her father, Nightwing is out to prove he’s his own man, Starfire has to balance her loyalties to Earth with her homeworld of Tamaran. These are all great story hooks and character beats, but Wolfman seemed stuck on them. 

New characters got introduced, like Jericho, Kole, Azrael, and Danny Chase. Former Titans would pop in for a few issues like Speedy, Hawk, Lilith, even Mal Duncan & Bumblebee. But it never felt like the plot was moving forward. What was a problem a year earlier still seemed to be the same problem a year later. In an interview with Wolfman, he was asked about his favorite Titans stories. He didn’t name a single one that was published after 1984. Note that he remained as the writer on the title until 1995! That’s eleven years Wolfman doesn’t really have any favorites from.

He’s trying in these issues, though, introducing new allies and enemies to move away from the handful he kept going back to. By this time HIVE, Deathstroke, and Brother Blood were all basically off the table (though they would be revived many times in the future). His new big bad is Wildebeest, a villain whose real identity is the great mystery surrounding him. Several fakeouts had me recalling The Amazing Spider-Man and its constant teases of linking people in Peter Parker’s personal life to his rogues’ gallery. The big spoiler here is years later, in the pages of New Titans, Wolfman basically gave up and introduced the Wildebeest Society so that – ah-ha! – multiple people are the villain, and then he killed them all off. If we ever get New Titans collected, we’ll talk more about that. But here, Wildebeest has an impressive enough design but doesn’t hit as a genuinely threatening villain, more one in the mustache-twirling camp.

These pages also introduce us to Danny Chase, one of the most hated members of the Titans. He was Adrian Chase’s (Vigilante) nephew though it’s completely inconsequential here. Danny has telekinetic powers and photographic memory, making him a bit of a Mary Sue character. Putting salt in the wound is that Danny possesses one of the most grating personalities of any character to appear in the title. He has quippy one-liners and always has a solution to every problem, knowing everything about every hero and villain. I enjoy how annoyed Changeling is with Danny because he expresses most readers’ feelings about the new addition. 

I sometimes wonder if Wolfman was playing a game of chicken with Chris Claremont on Uncanny X-Men, the books that Titans most closely resembles. Claremont found new directions to take his characters though he also infamously abandoned so many storylines as the cast became more crowded. If Wolfman had stepped away and allowed someone new to take over the title, we might have seen some better Titans stories as a result. The Judas Contract would have been a perfect jumping-off point, Wolfman and Perez at the height of their game. It’s incredibly telling that Perez left about a year later, and I think the artist understood the steam was running out of the book. I don’t regret reading through these nine years worth of issues because it definitely allowed me to read some classic stories I’d hear about since I was a kid and study the decline of quality on a book that was a powerhouse at DC at one point. 

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