I hadn't come this far just to trip up. I had to at least find out for myself what all the hubbub was about, so I skipped ahead. It's not officially titled (and has never been collected), but the "Titans Hunt" storyline begins with The New Titans #71 (released September 1990) -- though I recommend the previous issue's spotlight on Deathstroke, which leads into his solo series. This 71st issue also serves as a good introduction to the entire team with the perfect blend of set-up and exposition. The art team by then was Tom Grummett, who had been pencilling the title for about a year before this storyline and had a handful of credits before then. Al Vey was his inker and Adrienne Roy remained as exemplary colorist.
It didn't take long to convince me: these are great comics.
The entire thing had forward momentum, natural cliffhangers, an overall point, it had agency, it had zero fat, zero nonsense.
Apparently, this run was inspired by newly appointed editor Jonathan Peterson, working closely with a burnt-out Marv Wolfman who was admittedly going through writer's block up to that point. (Thankfully, he stopped being a writer/editor several years prior.) The book needed more of a spark than a complete overhaul. Like a decade earlier, it's super interesting to see the creative team try their best to turn the ship around. Peterson constantly promising a letters page and routinely not delivering the letters page is pretty hilarious. It just adds to the frenzied clip of getting these comics out the door. They were swept in the moment - a readers poll, a contest, spin-offs - you can see the book breathe life back into itself. It adds to the reading experience. It makes you root for everyone involved.
I was warned several times that things took a sharp turn for the Hunt, not for the better. Not quite a spoiler, but I had that in the back of my mind reading these comics. I figured it would be so obvious that I'd definitely know it when it hit me in the face. Well, let's see... issue 85 begins with somewhat of a natural stopping point but then goes into several unresolved subplots. That's fine, it's to be expected in serialized mainstream comics. One rarely gets a clean break -- you always gotta string the readers along, giving them something to come back for. This issue also has some fill-in artists, an appearance by the previously inducted Team Titans, and the introduction of a baby creature.
That couldn't be the sharp turn, could it? Deathstroke and Titans-leader Nightwing are pummeling one another on the cover of 86, certainly things will go back to normal.
Issue 86: fill-in artists again, okay. And Team Titans again... er, fine. And a lot more baby hijinks. I was suspicious of that year's (Armageddon 2001 crossover! That's a big plus!) annual drawn by Tom Grindberg; not the best way to introduce a new team to an already packed book. So let's say that issue 84 is THE END. Looking at its last page now -- yeah, that's a good ending.
There you have it. The Titans Hunt. Issues 71-84. Well, you can skip 80 (Team Titans) and maybe 81 (War of the Gods crossover), but hey, that still leaves you with a year's worth of good comics.
I might one day give the "Total Chaos" storyline/crossover a shot. Team Titans, too, which has some really gorgeous art by Kevin Maguire, though the Lord Chaos/pregnant Donna Troy plot whiffs of Avengers #200. I really don't want to read any of those comics at the moment. I'll temper my impulse to throw them away for now. I'm no longer fixated on the Teen Titans franchise, but fuck me for keeping these comics around at all despite them being... awkward. What else am I willing to overlook, though? This is an uncomfortable question I've cornered myself into asking. If those early issues bother me so much, do I ignore my concerns because my collection won't be complete or something? Are a few pretty pictures worth holding on to something that offends me? The collector junkie in me is screaming to look the other way, but it's a faint plea. I don't think it's going to win this one.
Titans. You had me, you lost me, you had me again, and you won't get rid of me until it's convenient for me to break up with you.
One rarely gets a clean break.
What did we learn here today? I don't know about you but on a positive level, I learned that my tolerance has been tested, paving the way for a deeper appreciation of other titles I once dismissed. As a result, I have unlocked a way of reading comics that is new to me. It's a way I've never heard described before, actually. I can't wait to get into it next time, when I discuss the unlikely instrument of my understanding.
On the next OVERWORD: All-Star Squadron by Roy Thomas and Jerry Ordway.
The New Titans Sourcebook cover drawn by George Pérez & John Stracuzzi.
The Comics Journal cover/header drawn by Scott Hampton.