Today, I want to look at, nay, celebrate one of my favorite comic books of all time. Originally published in 1982, somehow I was able to snag a copy in the late 80’s early 90’s simply because it was the combination of two things I really liked at the time: The New Teen Titans and the X-men.
I never paid attention to the names at that point, but later on I would realize how great of a creative combination the creative team was. Chris Claremont, writer extraordinaire who may be best known for his definitive X-Men run, scripts; Walt Simonson, whose run on Thor is one I point to still today as exemplifying what makes comics great, draws; and Terry Austin, whose inks improved every artist he’s worked with, which is no small feat considering he’s inked the likes of John Byrne, Art Adams, Marshall Rodgers,etc., finishes. With that talent,it’s no wonder this is such a fantastic issue.
One thing that’s worth pointing out starts with the credits and how the talent distinguishes itself. Claremont is scripter, not writer, implying that the story was a more collaborative effort. Even with Austin taking the role of finisher instead of inks implies a greater and more collaborative role on his behalf. While the trained eye can definitely see Simonson’s art throughout, Austin does just enough to make his contribution one that gives this book a different look than the majority of Simonson’s work–in a good way. Although I love the work of Walt Simonson all around, Austin smooths over some of the edges and adds a bit more of a mass appeal to the stylistic energy of traditional Simonson work. Both versions are great and have their merits, and while personally I would choose Simonson finishing his own pencils more often than not, here, it works to perfection to appeal to a wider audience. Regardless, the fact that this work is clearly a collaboration makes it an better whole as opposed to the sum of its (impressive) parts.
This book is a masters class on how to handle superhero team-ups. How do you handle the awkward merging of universes: You don’t. Here, they pretend the Titans live in a universe where they would consider contacting the Justice League or the Avengers.
They didn’t spend pages describing a battleworld-like merging of planets, they merge the parts that easily merge like the Shi’ar and Kory’s planets interacting with the Phoenix, and they just pretend like it’s always been possible to interact, but the Marvel characters have been ghosting DC heroes for years and vice versa. I’m ok with that. Who wants to hang out in Gotham? It’s dark and dangerous there all the time. It’s like it’s perpetually night time all the time.
The next step in the grand superhero crossover after getting the characters in the same place is the misunderstanding. Check! The Titans suspect the X-Men are up to no good because of this Phoenix drama, which leads them to break into the mansion, an act Robin feels uncomfortable with.
But wait, now it’s time for the next phase of the great crossover: the bad guys. Because the Marvel side of the equation is playing with the Dark Phoenix, Claremont and Co. brought it a comparable big bad from the DCU: Darkseid. Darkseid brings with him Parademons and Metron and New Gods and the like, but the problem is that Darkseid isn’t traditionally a Titans baddie. The solution: Darkseid hires the man of multitudinous monicers Slade, Deathstroke, the Terminator, to lead his ground forces. This was the one part of the story that I felt miiiiight be a stretch, as it was difficult for me to conceive of why Darkseid would need Mr. Wilson when he has so many other options at his disposal. But it works!
Deathstroke is such a bad@#% that when he takes out Titans and X-Men alike, it’s totally believable.
Thanks to the parademons, Deathstroke never seems outmatched, even when facing the premiere teams of the 80’s. It makes sense to leave Darkseid to the bigger picture schemes while Deathstroke takes care of business on the ground level.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what made both the Teen Titans and Uncanny X-Men so popular at the time: the soap opera characterization, which Claremont nails to a tee. One of the best parts of the classic X-stories involves the danger room training sessions. If you had never picked up an issue of X-Men prior to this crossover, that session gives you everything you need to know about the team, their powers, their teamwork, their personality clashes–everything whether the characters were in the room or not. If you’re an experienced X-fan, the sequence is fun watching masters at their craft (both the X-Men and the creative team). The Titans we see more so as they’re dealing with Raven’s Phoenix dream and banding together to find a solution.
Finally, the melodrama comes to a head when the teams intermingle for the best part of the crossover: the team-up. The soap opera elements shine here, too, as Kitty is smitten with Gar and Colossus is just a bit jealous. Until, of course, the tension is broken with Starfire trying to learn Piotr’s language the only way she knows how: the French way. Gar makes bad Logan jokes with Wolverine, and Cyclops and Robin both get opportunities to showcase their leadership abilities.
Even the ending of the story is that of hope and love, as Phoenix via Cyclops realizes her story is better off not being manipulated (a lesson that would have served the creative teams of Avengers vs. X-men three decades later, but whatever). By the end of the issue, all of the pieces are put back in their respective places, and anyone outside of the crossover never need be the wiser. But if you had the opportunity to experience this tale, you got it all: top notch characterization, art with clarity and kinetic energy, and a story of hope and humanity amidst the crazy cosmic ridiculousness of comic books. It’s done in one and perfect in just about every way.
Final Grade: A+.
Bravo! If only this creative team could’ve handled X-men or Titans or both at the same time…sigh…we might have missed out on their other greatness. Or it might have made this crossover less special. As it stands, I wouldn’t point to it as just masterful from Claremont or Simonson or Austin, but all parties involved. Each added just enough that they don’t overpower each other, instead creating that masterful blend of talent and execution. I’ll just appreciate this for what it is: one of my favorite comics ever.
Until next time, I’ll continue ghosting other podcasts until our universes merge… for guest appearances!