Mythmaking ETC is a weekly column about comics books and related pop culture, primarily focused on comics published during the 1980s and ’90s. Check out the column index for past installments, subscribe via RSS, send an e-mail and follow Mythmaking ETC on Twitter!
Mythmaking ETC #5: The New Teen Titans (1980) – Issue 1
“The New Teen Titans”
Marv Wolfman / George Perez / Romeo Tanghal / Adrienne Roy
Yea, you. Did you read my column on the preview of The New Teen Titans that was included for free in DC Comics Presents #26?
If you didn’t, feel free to do so now, but if you’re pressed for time, don’t worry: you can jump on with this installment, just as the first issue of The New Teen Titans doesn’t require that you have read the preview.
After a prologue that sets up events to come later in the issue, we return to the character at the center of the series preview: Dick Grayson. While he’d later wake up with an orange-skinned alien princess in his bed, a pale-skinned half-demon in a blue cloak turns out to be his company this morning (though not company of the coitus type). Robin’s A.M. visitor is Raven, of course, and, as in the preview, she insists that she will become his friend and that he should reform the Teen Titans, the team of super-hero sidekicks he’d once formed with Kid Flash (Wally West), Wonder Girl (Donna Troy) and others.
While the original Teen Titans was predicated on the fact that the members were sidekicks, the New team contains more members that have not apprenticed directly under a superhero. That’s quite fine with Dick, who has clearly had enough of being Batman’s boy in pixie boots. It feels a bit heavy-handed now, but Wolfman may have felt the weight of four decades of history upon his fingers as he wrote the scene wherein Dick rejects any help from Bruce Wayne.
Storming past his mentor as he leaves the manor in his Robin costume, Dick clearly plans to depart without interrupting Lord Wayne’s morning smoke. “Something wrong, Dick? You’re in costume. Need any help?” Bruce asks. “Help? Not at all, Bruce,” Dick responds with a cold expression, “This is one thing I can handle by myself!” As he speeds away on his Robin Cycle, Dick’s thoughts help us understand that the estrangement between the partners has its origin in a disagreement over Dick dropping out of college and his feeling that Batman still treats him like a child. We’re also given a motivation besides his nightmares for Robin going along with Raven, a stranger at this point after all, in that he sees the opportunity to prove himself as more than a sidekick to the Dark Knight. Later in the issue, he thinks, “We’re untested, we barely even know each other, yet were already a team! A team where ‘Robin’ isn’t always preceded by — ‘Batman and–’!” Over three decades later, writing this direct may read a tad hokey, but I assume it seemed necessary at the time to establish a change in the Dynamic Duo’s status quo.
Dick will not be the only one to change, of course. The New Teen Titans #1 gets numerous balls rolling; there’s indications of dramatic elements involving nearly all of the Titans individually, including Wolfman and Perez’s new characters. Since the issue opens with Starfire escaping slavery and the Titans’ first battle involves fighting off her green-skinned pursuers, clearly the statuesque alien has conflict in her life. As for the other two new characters of Wolfman and Perez, Cyborg and Raven, the former displays further frustration over his compromised humanity — in case the reader missed the preview — and the latter’s life contains so much strife it forms the basis of the team’s foundation and first major battle.
Our established Titans are not neglected either. Our introduction to Donna Troy finds her clearing the wreckage of the abandoned house from which Wonder Woman rescued her as an infant. She’s there with questions about her past, questions that will wait some time to be answered. These panels that introduce Donna also plant the seed of a mystery that will be some time in flowering.
Likewise, questions are raised about Kid Flash that will not see resolution until later issues. When phoned by Robin, Wally West rejects the invitation to join a new incarnation of their old team, as he plans to focus on college. However, not long after Robin and Changeling are led by Raven to Donna Troy’s location, Wally shows up in costume gung ho about super-heroics and offers little explanation for the quick change of mind. Furthermore, throughout their battle to rescue Starfire, Kid Flash acts odd, defending the mysterious Raven against even the slightest suggestion of wrongdoing.
Wolfman and Perez also fit in signs of the threats that will face the team in upcoming issues. In fact, hindsight makes clear just how much was at least teased in the first issue of The New Teen Titans. Only Changeling, Gar Logan, the former Beast Boy, seems somewhat neglected, but his wisecracking — about all he does in this and the next few issues — will turn out to be a cover for hidden grief. The title’s second year will begin with a multi-issue story arc derived from Changeling’s history; the youngest Titan is not forgotten.
For all that it contains, there’s a nice balance to the first issue of The New Teen Titans. Those that read the 16-page preview would have been pleased, I think, by how much more they discovered about this new team of young superheroes, yet those that missed it would not likely feel confused. If you think pleasing both kinds of readers at the same time is easy, just pick up a handful of current issues off the shelf at your local comic shop and see how many do the same.
Since most accept The New Teen Titans as a classic, it comes as little surprise that the first issue has a lot to offer. Even though Wolfman and Perez will have a better grasp of these characters later in their run, their excitement is clear as these pages are chock full of ideas. It’s a foundation, to be sure, but a solid one, and that’s what you need to build something great.