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OVERWORD 1 · Teen Titans

I wanted colorful superhero comics. 70s, 80s Bronze Age stuff -- clean art, lots of characters.

I also wanted to continue feeding my hunger for back issues, a sub-hobby that I sometimes try to suppress due to both space restrictions and oversaturation. My sights naturally fell on the Teen Titans corner of the DC Universe. I resisted the urge to binge, desperately collecting in mass quantities as I am wont to do, but I gave in.

There I was: #TitansFix

The New Teen Titans/Tales of the Teen Titans (59 issues & 3 annuals, the classic run), The NEW Titans (92 issues & 7 annuals, the Baxter-era), and Teen Titans Spotlight (21 issues) plus the 4 issue mini-series, the X-Men crossover, the 3 drug-free school giveaways, a couple of Secret Origins issues, and a few cameo appearances. Throw in some Deathstroke the Termintaor and Team Titans with a few specific Amazing Heroes and you get over 200 comic books.

Marv Wolfman wrote 99.9% of those stories. George Pérez was the first and most associated artist of these comics. Both men took the 60s Teen Titans concept and updated it, creating the roster we all know and love. The fan-favorite title became DC's best selling book, locking its place on the company's top shelf. I thought TT was a safe bet to take a deep dive in because I 1) had more than a passing familiarity with the characters and 2) The creative team was small and focused. The chances of a strong vision were high. I was interested to see how it performed throughout an entire decade.

Two hundred comics, though -- GULP. What if this stunk? I mean, I read about less of a third of this lot over 20 years ago. But still, why couldn't I just act casually, taking in the stories in smaller chunks? I'll tell you why. Because that's not me.

First issue (released August 1980) was as solid as I remembered. Everyone's introduced cleanly, compellingly. Solid inks by Romeo Tanghal, really nice colors by Adrienne Roy; she colored all of these comics and I have to tell you, it really completes the package. Color was an important component of that specific thing I was looking for.

Issue number two. Deathstroke's first appearance. Having never read it, I was pretty goddamn giddy.

It was awesome. Jam-packed, full of action and great art. Pérez was still drawing baby heads on everyone, but he's clearly kicking ass. The passion is there and he's putting in the work. School of more-is-more. I had forgotten the details of one of the new members' weird origin, Starfire. From issue three:

By issue four, the Titans fight the Justice League of America, which pushes all of my right buttons. This is what I wanted: buff bods in clean costumes doing crazy shit on newsprint paper.

By issue 5, legendary Superman penciller Curt Swan dropped by to fill in for Pérez. It's not as jarring as I remembered it being. Swan pulled off this monster-filled feature, but there were plenty of smaller character moments that allowed him to shine. This page in particular steals the show, the last panel perhaps being Wolfman's best writing to date.

Moving along. It's neat to see this hungry, scrappy little title -- this project Pérez himself had reservations about working on -- and seeing it rise steadily. Those early lettercols are funny in their nervous energy. Wolfman & Co. gave it their all at first, as if the ship was going to sink anyway but they were gonna go down punching. Something clicked, the enthusiasm came through, and by issue 7, the New Teen Titans was a bona fide hit.

Issue 8 featured the more personal "A Day in the Lives..." story, Puppet-Master is brought back from Silver Age oblivion for the 9th issue, and then Deathstroke returns to own the Titans in #10. I felt good, I felt confident in my decision to pursue this interest. I was even stoked for next issue's "When Titans Clash" and its follow-up chapter, both of which I never owned or read.

I've read enough X-Men comics to be almost desensitized to non-consensual kisses in comics, but Donna "Wonder Girl" Troy lets her feelings known from the top. And yet, that doesn't stop the Olympian god Hyperion from proceeding to brainwash her.

The scene lingers a little too long. Whatever, let's get this battle over with and move one. Oh, wait, Hyperion has taken Donna away.

That's... cool. He'll probably just spew some exposition until they're interrupted by a rescue team or a natural disaster or something, anything that won't keep them in seclusion long enough for him to do something questionable.

We got page after page of exposition, sure, but where's that rescue squad, Marv? Any minute now, guys. Hey, look, there they are --

Wait.

Uh... "days"--?

One can just pretend that absolutely nothing happened between a manipulative god and a teenage girl (I just described Teen Titan Raven's conception, by the way) in seclusion and in the span of days, but that's asking a lot. That scenario is so wrong on so many levels. Arguing that Donna Troy was a computer simulation or a magically made clay figure who is unfortunately named "Troia" later on or a Wonder Woman mirror-image duplicate doesn't make it less creepy. Never mind that she's a Teen Titan. How old is her adult boyfriend, Terry Long, anyway?

From issue 12:

What is it with male scribes of this era writing stories around quasi-helpless, mind-controlled women? All these examples came to me at once: Mark Gruenwald's Lady Lark from the Squadron SupremeJohn Byrne's performative Big BardaPaul Levitz's Dream Girl/Atmos thingChris Claremont's Dark Phoenix (whose Saga is just one big psychological takeover, but specifically the Mastermind scenes). How about Avengers #200 for being the sleaziestRoger Stern used Starfox for a stretch, whose power of persuasion might or might not have affected the already flirty She-Hulk (with a suspicious Wasp feeling uneasy about the entire thing at least). Those are just off the top of my head. Same sort of thing happened between Jessica Jones and the Purple Man as scripted by Brian Michael Bendis. In Valiant's Harbinger (2012), writer Joshua Dysart did something similarly transgressive between two major characters and forty issues later, it remained unaddressed. (Still is, I believe.) I'm not being sensitive to this, but for argument's sake, let's just say that when all this hit me, it was a bad time to chalk these up as mere plot devices.

And goddamn, Starfire never catches a break, huh?

I felt gross reading that Olympians/Teen Titans story. I peeked ahead to later issues to see if any readers objected, if they even brought up this misbehavior. Nothing -- all the letterhacks gushed over how emotionally powerful the two-part story was. (At least one was brought to tears.) Maybe the appalled letters weren't printed. Maybe the times were that different. I know modern readers feel similarly skeezed out. Mind control is a benign comic book trope, but when it's used to a sexual degree, it quickly gets creepy.

Is it fair to judge an old story by modern standards? Hey, I read these comics keeping the context in mind, but that extended story beat in Hyperion's cave is cruel. I argue that it's entirely unnecessary. It's a cheap way at arriving at "character development" that never gets addressed in any developmental way. I don't doubt or question that these characters mean a lot to Wolfman and Pérez, but that somehow makes it worse. All of these big company superheroes get fucked with every time a creative team goes through them, they're built to be resistant to multigenerational disrespect and are measured by just how well they survive the experience. I can't imagine Wolfman and Pérez, the prime custodians of the Titans, casting their characters into such light.

The reality is that my enthusiasm crashed and burned. I had zero interest in continuing. I even thought of getting rid of the comics. But I held on to them, not wanting to act brashly. I went through all the trouble of hunting them down, I might as well look through them, at least. Some of the non-Pérez stuff looked kinda dull, so no big loss there, but I was looking forward to "The Judas Contract", the return of demon-daddy villain Trigon, the José Luis García-López issues, the Eduardo Barreto issues (I love Barreto). Aw, crap, "The Judas Contract" reminded me of the relationship between Deathstroke and that underage psychopath.

Only one thing could save this, I thought. TITANS HUNT.

[Cont.]