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Plot Synopsis

The issue starts with the rather emphatically named Deathstroke the Terminator being called before some mysterious guys in purple hoods who go by H.I.V.E. (The Hierarchy of International Vengeance and Eliminations) And as an aside right from the start can I point out that Deathstroke’s real name is Slade Wilson. This guy is seriously called Slade Wilson aka Deathstroke, the Terminator! One of those names would be sufficient for most mercenary bad asses but Slade’s sheer testicular fortitude cannot be contained by a mere one name.

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Deathstroke cuts right to business asking H.I.V.E. “Who do you want me to kill?”

It turns out they want him to kill the Teen Titans. Why? *shrug* I guess when you’re called The Hierarchy of International Vengeance and Eliminations you need to kill somebody.

They turn out to be surprisingly cheap mysterious guys in purples robes though because when Slade asks for the money up front they refuse. Slade calls the deal off and tries to leave but H.I.V.E. aren’t happy with his attitude and deploy their HR department in the form of some machine guns.

Slade escapes, in the process showing off his acrobatic abilities, grenades and bad attitudes and writes the meeting off as a waste of time. However H.I.V.E. were secretly recording Slade’s actions and taking DNA samples and they think they can recreate his powers to make a Terminator of their own.

Cut to Grant Wilson (and yes he is Slade Wilson’s son but, shush, that’s the big reveal) incredible dead beat loser and jerk arguing with his girlfriend. Grant is about to go full on Lifetime special on Carol when his abuse is interrupted by Starfire blasting him onto his ass with starbolts.

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Why are the Titans at Carol’s apartment? Well it turns out that after destroying her old one they felt obliged to set her up with a new one. Not sure how they managed that or why they feel they then have the right to just walk into her flat whenever they like but , hey, creep got star bolted so it’s all good.

Starfire, Wonder Girl and Kid Flash get summoned from Carol’s place to the docks where its time for a fight with hot pink robots!

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This scene exists to do things. Firstly it shows off our characters powers and code names again and secondly it prompts Starfire to finally learn English. Robin chews her out over not obeying orders and then laments that she can’t actually understand him. So Starfire kisses him and demonstrates that she has the power to learn languages by kissing people.

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This then prompts Changeling to continue to be a massive creep.

Look, I loved Beast Boy on the cartoon but Beast Boy was funny. Changeling all your ‘jokes’ are basically just you being a creep to women. Cut it out, right now.

So while all this has been going on Grant Wilson has donned an orange hospital gown (???) and is undergoing a procedure that will grant him 100% use of his brain!!

Sigh, oh comic book science.

In case you don’t know the little nugget that human beings only use 10% of their brain power is completely false. We use the full 100%. Now admittedly we don’t use the full 100% at any one time but that is for very good reasons. Different parts of your brain do different things and parts of it activate in sequence in order to trigger certain effects in your body or consciousness. We have a name for when these parts trigger out of sequence or when too many trigger at once. It’s called a seizure. So really Deathstroke’s real power is that he can function normally despite having seizure’s nearly constantly.

And whilst that is going down Raven is standing on an evil rock pleading with some eyes in the sky for forgiveness. Forgiveness that the eyes will not grant!

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The next day two things happen at once. First of all we go to Changeling’s mansion where…

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Oh fuck you Gar!

*ahem*

Anyway Changeling is having a pool party where we get to ogle Wonder Girl in a bikini and we learn that Starfire can’t go back to see her parents ever again.

At the same time Cyborg is in his dad’s lab arguing and we learn that Cyborg’s dad is dying. Cyborg doesn’t learn this yet though as he gets attacked by Grant Wilson, newly super powered and going by Ravager.

Ravager gets his ass handed to him by Cyborg but Deathstroke interrupts the fight, rescuing Ravager and telling him that his powers are killing him and if he uses them he’s going to die. Ravager ignores this and makes his way to the pool party to kill the Titans. Deathstroke joins him too and a battle royale begins.

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It’s a pretty great fight with Ravager and Deathstroke dodging and weaving between the 7 titans and both sides seem to be pretty evenly matched. That is until Ravager keels over. Yeah, turns out Deathstroke was right and Ravager’s powers have been artificially ageing him. He now looks like a mummy and is about to die. Before he does pass on though Raven plants an illusion in his mind of his greatest desire, the area strewn with the bodies of the deceased Titans. Satisfied his revenge has been sated Ravager dies with a smile on his lips.

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Deathstroke though blames the Titans and as he carries his son’s body away swears revenge against them. The Titans let him go though, showing compassion for their foe.

The issues ends with the H.I.V.E. again revealing that they have been manipulating all the events, pulling strings so that they can set Deathstroke up against the Titans without paying his extortionate price.

Issue 2 sets up an awful lot of plot elements that will come back to be more relevant in the book later on. The H.I.V.E. will be recurring antagonists and despite being dead we haven’t heard the name Ravager for the last time. Most significantly though this issue introduces Deathstroke the Terminator. The X-Men have Magneto, the Fantastic Four have Doctor Doom, the Titan’s have Deathstroke.

And fittingly he’s a character whose motivation ties into their theme. Deathstroke is basically a grieving parent, one who wants to lash out at the kids that were a bad influence on his own son and lead to his ultimate demise. Unfortunately his motivations don’t make a huge amount of sense, he really should be going after the H.I.V.E. and the fact that he blames the Titans is more of a plot contrivance than anything else.

In time Deathstroke will grow to be one of the most complicated and sympathetic antagonists in D.C. comics but here his motivations and personality are sketched in at best. That said he does come across as confident and effective right from the beginning. Slade is able to take on basically the entire Titan’s team single handed, and without super powers. He’s athletic, agile and armed with swords, sticks and guns. He’s sort of an evil Batman and again, considering this team is led by Robin, that makes him a perfect foil for them.

As for our main cast? Well the issue gives each team member roughly a page to spotlight their character and remind us what their deal is. Kid  Flash doesn’t get any actual development to his angst and the only extra thing we learn about Raven is that the big threat she’s preparing the team for has eyes. In contrast we see Cyborg’s antipathy to his father first hand and it is ugly. We also learn that Cy’s father is dying and is trying to reconnect with his son and apologise before he finally passes away.

The Titan that gets the most development in this issue though is Starfire. Appropriate considering she was the least developed of the newbies in the first issue. Kory is your typical free spirit, she thinks nothing of kissing Robin, she doesn’t understand why human beings need to wear clothes and she’s also naive about humanity in general.  She’s also got a dark side though. She doesn’t understand the concept of compassion for your enemy and thinks nothing of blasting pink robots to pieces even before she knows they’re robots.

I find it hardest to get a bead on Kory as a character out of all the Titans at this stage. She’s something of a stereotypical male fantasy, the uninhibited exotic princess who is eager to learn our ways and naïve about how the world works. Basically if Starfire were Asian she would be a very problematic stereotype but as an actual alien she just about scrapes past my politically correct sensor.

On the art side of things can we start with this cover.

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God damn I love that cover.

I really miss covers that had a sense of narrative to them and told you what was happening in the book you were going to buy. This cover really sells this issue. No reader can possibly think  that the entire team would be killed off in the second issue but covers didn’t really lie to the audience back then so you assumed there would be something like that scene appearing in the book. You therefore had to buy this issue to find out just what was happening! It’s a classic use of the enigma in marketing and I love it.

What I love significantly less is Ravager’s costume. Assymetric, weird ear things, little skulls on giant thigh high boots on a guy, random arm discs. Ravager is a mess of a character. This is unsurprising because George Perez, as good as he is an artist, is a terrible costume designer. How else would we have gotten HOT PINK ROBOTS!!!

I will just take a moment to briefly described the characters looks. Robin, Kid Flash, Wonder Girl and Changeling all have existing costumes. I’ve never liked Robin’s outfit and the older the character is drawn the sillier it looks. Changeling’s look is pretty bland but considering he turns into animals and has the visually interesting bright green animal thing going on it’s kind of irrelevant. Wonder Girl and Kid Flash though have brilliant costumes. For both, the colours match the hero they’re a sidekick to but with a different heirarchy, Kid flash is primarily yellow with red highlights in reverse of the Flash. His loose hair conveys youth too in a subtle way and he just looks good on the page. Wonder Girl’s outfit has similar strengths helped by the fact that Perez draws a very beautiful Donna Troy and his great body language for her which always has her standing confidently.

For our newbies I’ll discuss Starfire a bit more when we get to her back story. Raven looks great. I love how her silhouette makes a bird shape using only a hood and a cape. The temptation would be to give her a mask of some sort to create the beak but the pointed hood pulls off the effect and has the bonus of feeling more mystical than traditionally super-heroic.

Cyborg is not the greatest design being mostly a guy who looks like he’s covered in bits of metal than a guy who is integrated with the metal but I have always liked his face mask. Nothing says cyborg better than half human face, half robot face.

Then we get to Deathstroke. hoo boy Deathstroke.

Deathtroke’s design is mixed. Like Cyborg I can forgive Perez’s fetish for assymtery because Slade is missing an eye and the half mask only showing one eye is mysterious and distinctive. I also get why he’s festooned in pouches, guns, sticks and swords since he is a skilled mercenary who uses all these weapons over the course of the issue.

But chain mail…on an acrobatic character? It didn’t make sense for Captain America and it doesn’t make sense for you either. Buccaneer boots? a massive dangling bandanna knot that anyone can yank? And worst of all the orange and blue colour scheme. It doesn’t look villainous or threatening it looks like he’s advertising Irn Bru.

In terms of his storytelling the main strength for Perez at this stage continues to be his figures, in particularly their body language. I mentioned Wonder Girl already but this approach applies to other characters too. Deathstroke always seems posed like he just landed or is just about to move again, he’s never still but constantly moving, ducking and weaving and for a character whose gimmick is supposed to be quick thinking it really sells him as a threat. Starfire is exuberant in her body language flinging her arms wide and always smiling, emphasising the character’s passion and Raven seems still and posed emphasising her restraint.

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Panel to panel wise Perez is using a grid but  shifts the number of panels in the grid, the layout and the proportions to best fit the needs of the scene. I particularly like the page where Ravager first attacks cyborg where the grid uses lots of different shapes and sizes as if emphasising the chaos of the attack in the layout of the page.

New Teen Titans Issue 2 is a nice follow up to the first issue. It goes over much of the same territory in re-establishing our main character’s personalities but adds a lot, 2 new villains, moves Kory’s arc along and has a nice fight scene t boot.

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The New Teen Titans Vol1 Issue 1 by Marv Wolfman and George Perez

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Plot Synopsis

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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 New Teen Titans 1Part 1: Introduction 

Superhero fans usually cluster around a few key characters that form their thing. You’re a Spider-Man guy, or a Batman guy, an Avengers fan or a Justice League fan.  Sure every character is somebody’s favourite and I’m sure that somebody had a Maggott Geocities page back in the day but there are a few A-list titles that have been perennially published and which sort of carve out their own corner of the universe, with spin-offs, villains and recurring characters all their own.

For me, I’m an X-Men guy. That doesn’t mean I don’t read other comics or that I uncritically appreciate every X-Men book without questioning its flaws. It means that my primary interest in super-heroes is the X-Men. I have a love for them that goes far and above how I feel about Spider-Man, Superman or Batman even though I’ve read great stories with all of those characters. It means that I get as much Batman as I want to read from one title but I currently subscribe to about 8 X-books.

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And for people of my generation being an X-guy is pretty common. From the early 80’s through until the mid-90’s Uncanny X-Men was hands down the most popular and best selling comic on the stands and it was able to support a line of successful spin-offs, New-Mutants/X-Force, X-Factor, Wolverine and Alpha Flight. X-Men #1 from 1991 remains the biggest selling single issue of a comic of all time. The X-Men were a juggernaut that the industry had never seen before and probably never will again.

And the effect of the X-Men’s success was that many books morphed into X-Men clones. Chris Claremont along with stellar collaborators like Chris Cockrum, John Byrne and Paul Smith established a storytelling language and conventions for super-hero teams that would be imitated by basically every other super-hero team to follow right up until the early 2000’s and the development of “decompressed” storytelling, The impact was comparable to Lee and Kirby’s Fantastic Four. That had brought forward the ides of inter-team conflict, of filling a book with strong distinct personalities that clashed. Claremont extended this to turn team books into soap operas that treated characters as real people with stuff going on in their lives other than fighting bad guys. He would dedicate issues at a time to characters hanging out with each other adancing sub-plots and character development but conaining no big super villain of the month beat downs. Plot threads would build over years before coming to a conclusion. And angst, so much angst. Nearly every X character had some tragic flaw they could angst about. Not only could they all have a big whine about being mutants and being discriminated against but Wolverine had amnesia, Cyclops had a dead lover, Colossus loved a girl too young for him, Storm had lost her connection to the earth, Nightcrawler is an outcast even amongst outcasts, Rogue “cahn’t touch yuh remy.”

Stop, right there. Why are you talking so much about the X-Men in a review of Teen Titans?

Well, because I want to establish some context. I’m an X-Men guy, most people who got into comics from the 80’s and early 90’s are X-Men guys. But the other big group, they were the Teen Titans guys.

The Titans are D.C.’s equivalent of the X-Men. They were never as popular but when they launched din the early 80’s they became D.C.’s number 1 book. They wouldn’t stay at that position forever but they captured as much excitement in the D.C. audience as X-Men did for the Marvel zombies. Titans is not a rip-off of X-Men in any way shape or form. It builds on D.C. continuity very effectively and has its own stories to tell but in terms of tone, content, it’s use of continuity, storytelling style and place in the overall universe TT was clearly D.C.’s answer to The X-Men, a comparison Marv Wolfman has never denied and which is patently obvious when you consider the Teen Titans/X-Men crossover book jointly published by Marvel and D.C.

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So in theory I should like TT, since I like the X-Men and they have similar styles. However, I’m not a Titans guy, or a D.C. guy. I know very little about the team and don’t have the strong emotional connection to them that many fans do. I have read Teen Titans volume 3 (the 2003 – 2011 series) which I mostly enjoyed and I tried to read the New 52 version before I gave up but I haven’t read any of these stories before. My main knowledge for Titans history is the Teen Titans cartoon that aired in the early 00’s and the recent Young Justice cartoon.

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I’m therefore going to be looking at them from a different lens to your typical fan. My intention with this project is to ultimately review every issue of The New Teen Titans Volumes 1 and 2 and probably the New Titans as well. This is the first time I’ve read any of these issues and whilst I might know a few things (Terra isn’t going to be much of a twist for me for example) almost everything here will be brand new to me.

 

 

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