THE TEEN TITANS
Now, this series has the unfortunate legacy of being at it’s best in the early 1980s, and every subsequent run on the book has since looked to that era and been judged against it. The book also has the reputation for having some of the most stringent editorial control in comics- neither rep is particularly helpful for good writing. Here’s a big recollection of the entire run (if it sounds a bit too much like the assessment on Narsil & Saint Matthew’s favorite site- TV Tropes, keep in mind I wrote most of that myself after some early rough drafts were done by others).
THE EARLY YEARS (aka “The Silver Age”):
The first appearance of the Teen Titans was in “The Brave and the Bold #54”, in July 1964. It was a one-shot story where Robin, Aqualad & Kid Flash, the sidekicks of three of the top-selling heroes, teamed up and saved the day. The issue sold particularly well, and in the 1960s that meant “More of the Same!” A few tryouts later and the addition of Wonder Girl & Speedy, the other two most-notable sidekicks, and we had a new ongoing series.
Of course, Wonder Girl was actually WONDER WOMAN when SHE was a girl, begging the question as to why her kid version was now a “sidekick” and teaming with other male heroes, but SURELY they’d fix any continuity errors surrounding the characters QUICKLY, right?
The book was and is rather notorious for old white men desperately trying to write awful “modern teen slang” in the book, resulting in a bunch of jive-talking fools and some HILARIOUSLY-bad dialogue that makes every single issue read like a comedy book that’s NOT SUPPOSED TO BE FUNNY.
They fought goofy Fad Supers like The Mad Mod & Ding Dong Daddy, dealt with the “issues of the day”, and the book was pretty goofy. It lasted for 53 issues, being cancelled in 1973, and again in 1978 after it’d returned in ’76.
THE BRONZE AGE (aka “The Series’ Peak”):
The concept was resurrected for the Bronze Age, coming back in 1980. Written by a couple of guys driven out from Marvel by Jim Shooter- Marv Wolfman & George Perez- they pretty much formed the ultimate Creative Team.
They aged-up Dick Grayson, Wonder Girl & Kid Flash, dumped Speedy & Aqualad, and added four new characters to the team: Cyborg (a black athlete turned into a monstrous self-hating cyborg), Raven (an unemotional half-demon with a smattering of bizarre abilities), Starfire (a giant-haired passionate Space Amazon with energy blasts) and Changeling (a “Doom Patrol” character now orphaned from that book- formerly Beast Boy, he could turn into green animals).
The book was Darker & Edgier, and extremely character-based, dealing with a combination of modern issues (drug dealing was a common thing) and interactions between the emotional young adults.
To say the book was a hit would be a huge understatement. It was HUGE!
“The New Teen Titans” pretty much ran neck & neck with The X-Men in the Claremont & Byrne years (and the Levitz/Giffen Legion of Super-Heroes), and was one of the top-selling books in the industry. All three books would hit on a number of things typified by the Bronze Age: a focus on “talking issues” (issues that involved no fight scenes), endless angst and tortured characters, arguments and make-ups between team-mates, character death becoming a feature (the whole “Terra” storyline), build-up towards larger Events that happened in-story (the slow, SLOW build towards the Return of Trigon), the books becoming sexier (costumes would shrink, and people were clearly shown to be in bed together), the language getting a little nastier (people would say “hell” and “damn” a lot more than in the ’70s), and more.
The creative peak of the series is generally seen as the whole Deathstroke/Terra arc known as “The Judas Contract”. When villain The Terminator took on the contract to kill The Teen Titans (and altered his name because a certain movie came out around the same time), he placed a mole on the team in young Tara “Terra” Markov, a geokinetic sociopath. But we wouldn’t find this out for some time- she was introduced as a smart-mouthed punk kid with attitude and a tendency to make fun of all her teammates in a pretty funny manner (the curvaceous Starfire was called “Balloon Bod”, f’rinstance)- the fans LOVED her.
Young girls took to her like they did Kitty Pryde, in that she wasn’t as hot as other comic book characters (her short hair and big teeth made her look more appealing and down-to-earth than your typical heroine) and was actually pretty funny, avoiding problems later characters like her would often encounter (one Wolfman would later introduce, in fact). Young boys even developed crushes on her, judging by fan reactions to what came later.
And when she was revealed as The Mole, not to mention being shown as BANGING DEATHSTROKE (who was at LEAST thirty years older than her, and her a minor!), people FREAKED. Within the year, the storyline would cap off with Terra going CRAZY, demolishing a H.I.V.E. base, turning on Deathstroke, and basically going to as low a depth as a character could go in a 1980s comic book, until… she died. Like Frank Miller with Elektra, and Claremont/Byrne with The Dark Phoenix, they killed a major character at the peak of a story arc. This basically cemented the book’s legend forever, and to this day it’s still revered. The book is JUST as good as people say it is- believe the hype.
Reading these older issues is a special, special thing. I discovered it after reading the late ’90s “JLA/Titans” cross-over story that played up their old book’s history and characterization, and started grabbing old back-issues from local stores in Red Deer & Edmonton. And they were AWESOME!
Perez’s art is untouchable in this era, marking him as the major contender for The Greatest Comic Book Artist of All Time. The girls look GORGEOUS, and the team wisely drew a cast of handsome male characters as well, realizing that the growing female comic book fanbase might appreciate some Fanservice themselves (not only THAT, but it’d draw off any accusations of SEXISM for showing the girls in bikinis while the males were fully-clothed).The art is BEYOND detailed, and every character looks different- Perez is one of the FEW comic book artists who did not default to SameFace, the way even most of the BEST have done.
The storylines are perfect, too! They build off of each other, the characters are moody and full of angst, but you can TELL they all have deep feelings for each other all the same- every single member of the team is a fully-realized character, not dependent on Archetypes & Stereotypes. Starfire & Nightwing were a great pair, and Donna & Terry was initially a pretty good version of the “Self-Insert Bangs The Team Hottie” cliche later used in fanfic (check out old pictures of Wolfman & Perez in the 1980s and then look at Terry Long).
The Rogues Gallery was pretty intense, though most people only really remember Deathstroke & Trigon. I always found Brother Blood to be pretty weak and dull, and the Fearsome Five were really just a batch of Filler Villains more than recurring threats.
I would EASILY bring this era of the book against any other series in comic book history- it’s better than the Levitz/Giffen “Legion”, and I wouldn’t argue against those who found it better than the Claremont/Byrne “X-Men”, “Squadron Supreme”, or any number of great series. They had a special, special thing with this book- as good as The Judas Contract was, the story “Who Is Donna Troy?” is one of the best single issues in comic history, and there are TONS of great moments throughout with this book. Jericho was a weird, but unique, character, and he replaced the departed Terra & Kid Flash quite well.
THE DOWNWARD SWING (aka “The New Titans”):
Alas, it could not last. Perez left eventually to reboot Wonder Woman post-“Crisis on Infinite Earths”. Left to his own devices, Wolfman just couldn’t keep it going, and when sales faltered after DC’s AWFUL decision to take Titans & the Legion off the newstands to prop up their fledgling “Direct Sales” market, things hit a snag.
Members left (Raven wouldn’t be a regular for a LONG time after this), Cyborg got altered repeatedly, awful new characters showed up in the awful “Annoying Kid Character” Danny Chase (he is WORSE THAN SCRAPPY-DOO, and I mean that as someone who DESPISES Scrappy), antagonistic Pantha, and the worst-named character ever: Baby Wildebeest.
The book spends the late ’80s and early ’90s copying all the tropes of the day with killer cyborgs and junk, and the art always suffered since EVERYONE could remember when Perez was King. At least The X-Men book replaced Byrne with a succession of great, state-of-the-art artists. “The New Titans” (the new title) got crap all.
There was an awful, WAY TOO LONG “Wildebeest Society” arc (seriously? Could they have chosen a WORSE animal upon which to base themselves than the Washington Generals of “Animal Planet”?), Danny Chase got ENDLESS focus, they brought Terra back, but not really, thus diluting the character & concept, and finally the Bat-editors finally got a longtime bug up their ass solved by taking Nightwing back from the Titans people (Wolfman had been the sole creative force behind Dick Grayson since 1980), The Team Titans (copying an X-Men concept by using a team of future heroes). Ultimately, the book was cancelled.
To say nothing of the mess that became of Donna Troy’s history… it’s too complex to even go into here.
In any case, stay tuned for Part 2 of my history of the Teen Titans coming soon!