Review: New Teen Titans Archives Vol. 1 hardcover (DC Comics)

Monday, December 28, 2009

As it comes time to the end of the year, I've been looking to my shelf to see what I might've meant to read this year and never got around to. One such set of books is the four-volume New Teen Titans Archives, the only DC Comics archives from the "modern age" of comics.

If any comic can be considered above reproach, these ground-breaking stories by Marv Wolfman and George Perez certainly fall into that category. Rather than a formal review, what will follow here and in the next few posts will be some more off-the-cuff thoughts and observations in reading this series, which is likely a must-read for anyone wanting full exposure to DC Comics history.

[This review well spoils the New Teen Titans Archive volume 1]

One of the first things that struck me in reading these stories (New Teen Titans #1-8) is how the writers set up these characters as near perfect superheroes. Of course, you and I know the exploits of the original New Teen Titans as the stuff of legends, but back then no one had heard of Cyborg, Starfire, or Raven -- and yet by the end of the volume, Wolfman calls them "the best of the best." Though the Titans do face some growing pains in learning to work together, they are all for the most part natural superheroes, even those like Cyborg who had been "normal" until just before the start of the book. Superheroing for them is the easy part; it's the emotional journey of finding themselves that proves more challenging.

Contrast this with the modern incarnation of the Teen Titans. Whereas the New Titans needed no adult supervision nor anyone to train them to use their powers, the Teen Titans under Geoff Johns warranted a chaperone. I chalk this up in part to needing to give the original Titans something to do in the current era, but also a strange shift in our sensibilities -- in the wake of any number of school shootings, I wonder if this reflects a "children are dangerous" ethos in the mid-2000s that wasn't present in the early 1980s.

I recognize, of course, that there's something of a purported age difference between the Wolfman/Perez and Johns-era Titans. At the same time, we could argue, a story is what its creative team makes it: Johns' Titans no more needed a chaperone than the writer wanted them to have one -- that is, chaperones could have been written out of the series and subsequently have been.

In fact, the most recent Sean McKeever Teen Titans team functions without adult supervision, but that team highlights the other difference from the Wolfman/Perez era -- those heroes are not the best at what they do. Sure, the Wolfman/Perez era Titans bicker and some don't get along with others, but not on the scale of McKeever's Titans, nor do they suffer the kinds of humiliating failures that McKeever's do (Red Devil throwing essentially a frat party, and Wonder Girl alienating a whole room of potential recruits, to name a couple of examples). The Wolfman/Perez stories highlight to me how it's possible to have interpersonal drama on a team book without outlandish or overly melodramatic storylines (and this is a difficulty of many modern team books, not just McKeever's Teen Titans).

In reading the first volume of the New Teen Titans Archive, I tried to approach it as if I knew nothing about the characters, and I found the mysteries inherit in the series quite compelling. At the center of it, of course, is Raven and her reason for bringing the Titans together -- more than the slow revelation of Trigon or that Wolfman and Perez keep Raven's features hidden until the emotional scene with her mother Arella, what always gets me is the scene just after the Titans fight the Justice League, after they find out that not only might Raven have brainwashed Kid Flash to think he loved her so he's stay in with the Titans, but also that Raven approached the Justice League before the Titans and the Justice League rebuffed her because they could sense Trigon's evil within her -- when the Titans walk away and the team seems disbanded, that's just a perfect dramatic moment.

My second favorite is the mystery surrounding Cyborg's origins. I think everyone can tell from the start that Cyborg is a little too mad at his father, Silas Stone -- mad enough that we can tell that probably Silas isn't the villain that Cyborg makes him out to be. Then the Titans Tower comes along and it seems its creator might have nefarious purposes, and then we find out Silas created it (a fact unfortunately never referenced these days) and that he's dying, and that it was Cyborg's mother who caused the accident all along, when Cyborg blamed Silas for his mother's death. So many twists and turns, wrapped up in such a wonderful, bittersweet ending -- Wolfman says they really hit their groove on the book in the third volume, but the stories in this first book are really quite remarkable.

Finally, I remained impressed through this reading how Wolfman and Perez managed to tie every story back to the theme of family. Most notable are not just Raven's issues with Trigon and Cyborg's with his father and Robin's with Batman, but how the Titans' very first enemy, the Ravager Grant Wilson, unknowingly competes with his father, Deathstroke the Terminator. I also appreciated that even seemingly silly villains like the Fearsome Five contain the siblings Mammoth and Shimmer -- in the same vein as we now see in Geoff Johns' material, there are no throwaway characters here, but rather everyone has some sort of roundedness that makes them pop off the page.

[Contains full covers, introduction by Marv Wolfman, preview story and pin-up pages]

That's my take on the first volume of the Teen Titans Archives, in which the Titans come together, get a headquarters, and fight Deathstroke, the HIVE, the Fearsome Five, and Trigon. Thoughts on volume two coming soon.
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1 comment:

  1. I think the "chaperone" thing actually warrented it, really. The Wolfman Titans had themselves relatively together and never really needed it. They pretty much took care of themselves.

    The underlying tone of the current Teen Titans has been, for me, that these kids are completely unstable. It wasn't until Beast Boy and Raven left the team that the whole thing fell apart; when Cyborg left the second time, that was went it all went down the tubes completely. The kids were on their own and over the course of the post-OYL stories they've proven they can't handle things, or at least that's what's been subtly proven. When you look at it, pre-OYL things were relatively together with Beast Boy, Raven and Cyborg watching over the younger ones, but after they were left to their own devices they fell apart in general.

    Of course, they now don't like being told that they need a chaperone, being typical teenagers. But the results spoke for themselves. Robin wasn't so hot as a leader and Wonder Girl has been, well, even worse, really. But if they can't get the job done, what is there to do but step in before they self destruct?

    I don't know. I also think a large difference between today's Teen Titans and the Wolfman era is that the latter were actually interesting. With the current team there's Aquagirl - who does little and serves little purpose - Bombshell - a poor mans Ravager - and Kid Eternity, who was there and gone so fast it was ridiculous. Wonder Girl's a tool, Kid Devil's gone. What's really there? All the Wolfman guys were interesting, but with the Teen Titans since Johns it's felt like only half the team is really worth following at any given time and the other half is just a massive turn-off.

    Sorry, I'm rambling again. I'm pretty much going to be getting back on board with Teen Titans seeing as Beast Boy and Raven are back, but I'm hoping things pick up. It'll be tough to follow a title with only some characters that work enough for me to want to read them. Bringing Superboy back is a step in the right direction; I've softened over time to the characters return, thanks in part to Geoff's Adventure Comics run where Conner was likable to me.

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