The New Teen Titans Vol1 Issue 1 by Marv Wolfman and George Perez
The issue starts with a mysterious alien princess known as Koriand’r breaking out of an alien space craft operated by what she calls slavers. Using bolts of energy from her hands she defeats her captors and escapes in a small space craft to parts unknown.
Cut to, Dick Grayson aka Robin, having bad dreams. He has visions of a team of New Titans battling a protoplasmic blob and losing. He wakes up from his nightmare to find one of the women from his visions, Raven, is standing in his room. She tells him that the visions were planted in his head by her to prepare him because a great evil is coming and a new team of Titans must form.
Raven gives Robin the phone to call Wally West, Kid Flash, who has quit the super heroing business. Before Robin can ask any more questions she disappears with instructions to find Wonder Girl.
Raven guides Robin to an abandoned building where Wonder Girl is helpfully expositing her origin for no apparent reason. It seems Changeling, another super-hero with green skin and the power to turn into any animal so long as its green, has also been guided there. Kid Flash also shows up, apparently he changed his mind when Raven told him to come.
The 4 follow Raven again as she guides them to newcomer Victor Stone aka Cyborg, who is presently showing off his cybernetic body to his sports coach who tells him that now he is a cyborg he can’t compete with normal people. Vic doesn’t take this particularly well.
He also explains that he was turned into a cyborg by his father in order to save his life.
The other heroes show up and Cyborg decides to join them since they’re all “freaks” like himself.
Raven then gets a psychic impression that the final Titan has arrived and needs rescuing so the team move off to do so and find the aliens from the prologue attacking a normal apartment building. Inside is Koriand’r, babbling in an alien language and seemingly exhausted by her flight to Earth.
The Titans fail to stop the aliens who escape through some kind of star gate with Koriand’r in tow. They also wreck the apartment of Grant Wilson and his girlfriend Carol in the process. Thanks to Raven’s teleportation powers though the Titans are able to follow and eventually free Koriand’r from her captivity, destroy the spaceship and escape back to Earth.
Of course, this isn’t the first issue of the Teen Titans at all.
Going way back to Brave and the Bold #54 in 1964 there was a team consisting of Robin, Kid Flash, Aqualad and eventually Speedy and Wonder Girl. Wonder Girl was famously a continuity error. Wonder Girl was the teenaged version of Wonder Woman and not a separate character to her like Supergirl was to Superman. She was included as a separate character in Titans comics though and went on without an origin of her own for nearly 5 years until 1969’s Teen Titans #22 which established her as a non-Amazon orphan, rescued by Wonder Woman from an apartment building fire. Unable to find any parents or family, Wonder Woman brought the child to Paradise Island, where she had eventually been given Amazon powers by Paula Von Gunther’s Purple Ray.
That story was written by Marv Wolfman, writer of this issue, and it represents some of his earliest comics work.
Wolfman broke into comics at D.C. and worked there extensively during the 60’s, principally on the original Teen Titans and Blackhawks. But in 1972 he moved to Marvel and became such a Marvel guy that he eventually rose to the position of editor-in-chief, generally considered to be the highest ranking role on the creative side of the business. Wolfman oversaw some of the most important comics of the decade at Marvel including many of those influential X-Men tales. He kept his hand in writing too being the author of Tomb of Dracula one of Marvel’s biggest commercial and critical successes in the 70’s.
When he went back to D.C. in the 80’s then to write New Teen Titans he was in a unique position. He was familiar with these characters, with the rich continuity of the DCU and its history. He had even been part of shaping it as the creator of Wonder Girl’s origin. However he was a Marvel writer through and through at this point, trained in the house style at the time. This tension really informs New Teen Titans in its early years.
In terms of story this issue makes me nostalgic for the number 1s of days past. This is a very functional issue, more concerned with establishing characters than telling a great story in its own right but still giving us a beginning, middle and end with tension, some super heroic fisticuffs and some mysteries along the way.
The main thing this issue needs to do is establish the characters, establish the set-up for the team and plant the seeds for a few future plots. It does it very effectively hitting all the necessary story beats with aplomb whilst still throwing in some excitement for the story itself.
Every character gets a moment to shine here and show off their powers. Raven drives the plot popping in and out and teleporting the team to safety. Robin gets to lead the team and give orders. Changeling gets to turn into a mouse and fix some circuitry and Cyborg also gets to play with computers. Starfire gets to blast things, Wonder Girl gets to be strong and Kid Flash races halfway across the country in an instant. Personalities and origins are sketched in but present and we quickly get a sense of who these people are.
In particular Wolfman chooses to start with the characters that have already appeared in comics previously, Robin, Kid Flash, Changeling and Wonder Girl. He doesn’t bother to establish an origin for these characters, trusting that readers will know it already, except for Wonder Girl who is the least well known of these. What he does do though is establish that these four have a prior relationship immediately drawing on the history of the team.
What Wolfman does take the time to do, and this is quite Claremontian, is show off every character’s angst in the first issue. The problem they’re currently wresting with in life. Wonder Girl is angsting about her origin and not knowing who her parents are. Kid Flash angsts about whether he wants to be a hero and there is also the mystery of his connection to Raven and why he changed his mind when she told him to. Robin angsts about being in Batman’s shadow and we get something you don’t see anymore these days, Smoking Jacket and Cravat Batman.
Man he used to wear a smoking jacket non-stop back in the day. I haven’t seen that thing in years.
Raven and Starfire’s deal is less clear although Starfire clearly has escaped slavery and Raven is trying to prevent some kind of coming doom. Cyborg gets the most screen time of the three newbies but unfortunately his portrayal in this issue is as the cliche angry black man. Cyborg has a good reason to be angry, his father has turned him into a freak and whilst he may have gained super-powers and would have died if his father had not intervened he has seemingly lost everything he cares for in life.
The only angst free character is Changeling who provides absolutely cringe worthy comic relief and hits on Wonder Girl.
If you want me to hate you Changeling then you’re onto a really good start.
One thing that connects all these characters is that their angst stems from their relationship with their parental figures. Wonder Girl is an orphan and seeking to find her identity because she didn’t have normal parental figures. Cyborg is angry with his father for his treatment of him and seeming abandonment. Robin feels stifled by his father figure and wants to forge his own identity separate from Batman. Kid Flash has a great and healthy relationship with his parents and worries about jeopardising it by becoming a hero.
Teen Titans then is a book with a central theme to it, the stories are all about being a teenager and the relationship between teenagers and their parents. in this way TT is also very similar to the X-Men. Unlike books like The Avengers of JLA, TT and X-Men have a central idea at the heart of the book that drives what kind of stories get told. For the X-Men its the metaphor of Mutants as outsiders from normal society, hated and feared. It’s a very flexible metaphor being able to stand in for race, sexuality, disability or even the disenfranchisement felt by teenagers and that’s partly the reason X-Men resonates to well with a readership of teenaged nerds.
The Teen Titans theme is less flexible, it is explicitly about the issues facing teenagers but whilst more limited than the mutant allegory it does provide plenty of fertile ground to inspire different stories all reflecting back on the themes of being a teenager and how they relate to the world and their parents. Also TT isn’t restricted to the Titans being seen as outsiders. Being a teenager can be wholly positive and good, as we see in Kid Flash’s relationship with his family.
As well as establishing characters and themes we also get some plot threads established that will pay off down the line. Chief amongst these is the threat Raven formed the team to stop. At this stage we know nothing about it other than that it requires these particular people to defeat it. We’ve also got Grant Wilson asking some mysterious shadowy figure to destroy the titans, Kid Flash’s weird change of face and the mystery of Koriand’r.
The New Teen Titans Issue 1 is never going to be held up as a masterpiece of the comic medium but it accomplishes all the goals it sets out to do and leaves the reader interested in these characters and wanting to read more. As such, it fulfils the brief for a first issue.
Artist George Perez is of course one of the most respected and influential artists in the medium and was so even back in 1980. Perez is usually praised for his detail. He draws backgrounds and figures with far more detail than most artists and he thinks about the realism of objects more so than most so that his anatomy, machinery and architecture feel far more realistic than many of his contemporaries. A great example of Perez’s strengths as an artist is how he’ll draw characters with very different body types but all with quite realistic anatomy. Kid Flash is svelte but with powerful calves and thighs that represent that he’s a runner.
He’s also famous for his layouts which use non-conventional grids that pack in tonnes of panels and details in a single image. He isn’t without weaknesses as an artist. Perez’s panel to panel story telling is good but never particularly inventive. He’s a great artist to look at, to stop reading and admire the artwork but not the best storyteller. He is also a dreadful costume designer and regularly creates characters which look okay when he draws them but that other artists can’t replicate due to the detail in their appearance. And he has a fondness for assymetric designs I’ve never understood.
Perez was already a superstar when he started New Teen Titans but he isn’t half the talent he’ll become by the end of his tenure and one thing I am looking forward to with this project is seeing him grow as an artist.
This is good stuff, even in this issue though. I particularly like this page.
The top 4 panels use a grid but Perez has them getting gradually larger with one panel being part of the next one. It gives the impression of the reader zooming through the skylight and into the apartment. It’s not earth shattering and it’s subtle enough that you normally wouldn’t notice the effect but it just demonstrates that Perez takes so much time and care in his art.
Then you get a double page splash like this one that really shows off what Perez can do.