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Author Topic: In defense of the NEW Teen Titans  (Read 3857 times)
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JulianPerez
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« on: March 27, 2006, 07:21:31 AM »

It's become fashoinable to call the Wolfman/Perez NEW TEEN TITANS one of the " 'smart' books for dumb people," along with Y: THE LAST MAN and the Claremont/Byrne UNCANNY. This is unfair, however, to what was essentially an entertaining book, which was able to tell a lot of decent stories. Yes, I know, this is SUPERMAN THROUGH THE AGES and we're all not supposed to not like Wolfman or anything (though the whole "Brainiac is out to find and replace God" thing absolutely BLEW MY MIND) and while for the most part this sentiment is deserved, Teen Titans has a lot of goodwill because it gave the audience what it wants: super-fights, good looking broads, these sort of "personal subplots," that they gave every character one each neatly, and it had gobs of good old DC stuff: the riding Kangas on Wonder Woman's island (something I had forgotten about), a farewell episode to the Doom Patrol featuring a "de-evolution pit" that turns all of them into apelike creatures, and the battles against the Citadel with Changeling assuming the form of a Gordanian (!). And maybe it was the Perez art, but the whole "you have sinned, Mary - sinned against the Church of Brother Blood!" and then Cyborg's girlfriend threw herself in front of a train, was a frankly impressive way to introduce a villain. Okay, NEW TEEN TITANS didn't rock my socks the way good old Stainless Steve Englehart and the Schwartz Superman writers did, but in the days before comics inflation became ridiculously out of control, you could follow a book like this with interest for less than the cost of a couple candy bars a month - even if you spring for the baxter paper version.

On a related note, does that mean that standards of what is passable for a comic book have increased since the cost of comics have increased (and inflation certainly has nothing to do with it)? Because I for one know that if a book like TEEN TITANS came out TODAY, and was sold for $2.99 each, I personally would not buy it; I would save my pennies for the books that really get me to groove like ALL-STAR SUPERMAN, and anything at all by Dan Slott, Geoff Johns, Gaiman, and Kurt Busiek.

One subplot I found interesting in NEW TEEN TITANS was the semi-relationship between Raven and Kid Flash, which nobody has seen fit to follow up (including Old Man Mark Waid, who doesn't like any "evil touching" with HIS Flash, nossir!), with the exception of Marv Wolfman himself in a TALES OF THE DC UNIVERSE issue a while back, where he revisits their relationship. The most powerful moment of their relationship came in NTT #4, where Zatanna reveals that Raven had been using her emotion control powers to make Kid Flash love her.

"Raven? What is she talking about? Tell her that's a lie?"

And then poor Raven breaks into tears, confessing her power misuse in order to get Wally on the team.

I especially like how subtle the change over in the art was with Raven - how her round, soft features eventually became gaunt and spooky, until she started wearing a hood full time, and how this eventually lead to the return of Trigon story arc.

Titans Tower was a genius idea. A gigantic building shaped like a "T." Wolfman could have been half-assed about the whole thing and created rooms as he saw fit to, just like they do on the Starship Enterprise, which has a volleyball court appear in it like magic once every few episodes. No; Marv Wolfman contacted a PROFESSIONAL ARCHITECT, mind you, to design plans for a real Titans Tower. One of the most pleasant surprises in my first edition boxed set of the Mayfair Games DC HEROES roleplaying game were several pull-out sections containing the actual detailed layout of the entire building.

The Titans under Wolfman had pretty great vehicles. The Titanscopter, the Titansjet, the skycycles used by the Titans - one has to look back toward Wally Wood's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS to find a bunch with such neat toys.

Another thing about the Titans was, it was not dominated by a single character, which shows a surprising amount of maturity for a writer. Occasionally, writers tragically tend to have the characters of a book play second banana to their favorite character. This is especially apparent with writers like Bendis, whose NEW AVENGERS can best be described as "Spider-Woman and her Amazing Friends." Even my hero, Stainless Steve, was not immune to this phenomenon: the Valkyrie, for instance, dominated the events of the DEFENDERS. Wolfman could have made Titans "Robin and Friends." But thankfully he showed restraint and gave every character their subplot and moment.

Most of the best Titans stories were the single issue ones. The Hawkman guest-shot featured statues from India that sprang to life, including a giant fish and a guy with an axe that when thrown homed in on Kid Flash (!).

Most of the villains introduced in NEW TITANS were forgettable: Mammoth, Glitter, Jinx, Gizmo, and Psimon, who saw a great deal of use mostly on account of the fact he was so incredibly grotesque that he could be a HE-MAN AND THE MASTERS action figure, and his powers were so vague that writers could have Psimon do anything.

But there were a few ideas introduced in NEW TITANS that legitimately blew the mind. The Church of Brother Blood, as mentioned, was introduced as a creepy bunch, and remained so. Ditto for the concept of Zandia (the "crime country"), and the new Brotherhood of Evil was in the spirit of the original.

Finallly, the dialogue was crisp and cut like butter. Like when Cyborg says, "My strength is the strength of ten 'cuz my heart is pure. And if you say 'pure what,' saladhead, I've got a fistfull of metal knuckles for ya!"
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« Reply #1 on: March 28, 2006, 06:24:59 AM »

I was a huge fan of those comics as a kid and agree that it was probably the freshest DC superhero comic of the period --the concept still holds up and has been translated to tv.  Unfamiliar with his 70s horror output at Marvel, I nevertheless thought Wolfman was a great writer at the time.  Even Nightforce was a valiant attempt to repeat the Titans success in another genre.  

There must be a leak around my window allowing the diesel fumes from the truck parked across my street to seep in here because I generally agree with almost everything you said about the good qualities of that series!  Cheesy  The basic level of craft devoted to that comic should be standard kiddie fare, not a highlight, alas.  The comic based on the tv show by fellow Canuck J.Torres is unreadable.

What I don't get is the "smart books for dumb people" slam.  My impression is that the books you mention were unduly venerated by fans who should have known better at the time, and continued to be venerated for many years as canonical superhero books that all others would be judged by.  Is this a common phrase in talking about the latest comics?  Based on your past critiques of Morrison, wouldn't his work fall more into that category?
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JulianPerez
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« Reply #2 on: March 28, 2006, 10:42:36 AM »

Quote from: "TELLE"
I was a huge fan of those comics as a kid and agree that it was probably the freshest DC superhero comic of the period --the concept still holds up and has been translated to tv.  


Like I said, people have a lot of goodwill towards the series. And that goodwill was deserved.

As for the Titans cartoons - since I don't have cable television, I can't comment. But from what little I saw, it looks neat; a THUNDERCATS and JAYCE AND THE WHEELED WARRIORS for the Britney generation. The Japanime style was jarring, but then again, so was the blocky, simplified Bruce Timm animated style and I got used to that, too.

Extended series runs that have subplots, like Titans did, and the Claremont UNCANNY X-MEN too, are designed for television. It doesn't surprise me in the least that Titans became a cartoon, nor was I surprised when the Morrison JLA became a cartoon that had everything but Morrison's name tied to it.

What DOES surprise me, though, is that THUNDERBOLTS never got a show.

Quote from: "TELLE"
There must be a leak around my window allowing the diesel fumes from the truck parked across my street to seep in here because I generally agree with almost everything you said about the good qualities of that series!


Same here. I can't believe I wrote a whole darn article talking about how much I liked Wolfman's NEW TEEN TITANS. I mean...am I off my medication here, or what?

I wouldn't describe the Wolfman/Perez Titans as "fresh" - their subplots, with each character having one passed out among themselves neatly, were entertaining and highlighted the character, but they weren't that different from the "hero with problems" that say, Danny Rand (Iron Fist) or the X-Men had.

Again, I have to say that I love that Wolfman never gave in and made the book about any one character that he fell in love with. Everybody got equal screen time. Every character got a subplot and a supporting cast. While they weren't characterized with the brilliance and suckerpunch powerful moments that somebody like, say, Kurt Busiek would give them, the subplots MOVED, they weren't just page-killers: Donna Troy got married. Starfire became a model, lost control of her emotions, and then acquired control of them. Raven and Kid Flash fell out of love, and Raven was mastered by her evil Pop, and then came back.

Stuff HAPPENED. Unlike say, the 90s X-Books, where they harped on the theme of the Twelve for TEN YEARS, before it was revealed in a titanic anticlimax, to be thunder made of a fart. True, after ten years anything would be an anticlimax, but the Twelve resolution was such an incoherent betrayal that it wasn't just anticlimactic, it was downright stillborn.

In a perfect comic book climate, TEEN TITANS should be the sort of work that composes 90% of titles. Decent work that satisfies the reader and makes them feel like they got their money's worth. It's tragic how far comics have become acceptant of utter idiocy and mediocrity in recent decades, that Titans stands as a highlight.

Quote from: "TELLE"
What I don't get is the "smart books for dumb people" slam. My impression is that the books you mention were unduly venerated by fans who should have known better at the time, and continued to be venerated for many years as canonical superhero books that all others would be judged by. Is this a common phrase in talking about the latest comics? Based on your past critiques of Morrison, wouldn't his work fall more into that category?


Yeah, you just defined it there, pretty much.

The term as I and others use it, refer to comic books that are pointed to as being "adult" and "intelligent" that are really, neither of these things. Some unworthy recent comics, too, though, have been bafflingly enshrined and fall into this category.

Yes, Morrison and his hipster sycophants are guilty of this, but Morrison loves Weisenger Superman so I can forgive him anything. Smiley

The "smart comics for stupid people" biggest offender, however, is Warren Ellis. I can't BELIEVE his PLANETARY, a work based on plagiarism whose characters do nothing to aid in the resolution of the story, whose idea of what characterization is, is having characters swear and explain who they are to each other, is pointed to as the biggest thing since WATCHMEN. And then we have Y: THE LAST MAN, a big dumb action movie of a book that if it came fifteen years ago, would have been called "not as good as TANK GIRL."
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« Reply #3 on: March 30, 2006, 05:20:54 AM »

Hey, I said fresh for DC.

I can't speak for the 90s X-Men (stopped reading after Paul Smith left in the early 80s) but I have to say that the number one contributor to the qulaity of the Titans book was George Perez.  Despite my apathy bordering on resentment for his art today, he always turns in 110% on a job.  Basic quality control helps make a comic entertaining --Superman maintained that basic level thanks to Curt Swan and Shaffenberger, mostly.

I wonder, did other DC team books follow Wolfman's lead with the Marvel-style subplots?  Batman and the Outsiders?  Infinity INC?  I only know All-Star Squadron, which had way too many characters to maintain individual subplots for each (really the creative downfall of the series, beyond inconsistent art).
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« Reply #4 on: March 30, 2006, 06:20:28 AM »

Quote from: "TELLE
I can't speak for the 90s X-Men (stopped reading after Paul Smith left in the early 80s) but I have to say that the number one contributor to the qulaity of the Titans book was George Perez. Despite my apathy bordering on resentment for his art today, he always turns in 110% on a job. Basic quality control helps make a comic entertaining --Superman maintained that basic level thanks to Curt Swan and Shaffenberger, mostly.


Hear-hear! George could DRAW. He could draw back when he was doing "Go West, Young Gods" with Steve Englehart, and he could draw during Titans, too. Notice the Terminator wears chainmail - a very "busy" costume design, whereas a lazier artist would have just stuck to spandex.

I thought JLA/AVENGERS was some of his best stuff. I mean, all the people he was able to cram into those panels. I have headaches just REMEMBERING all the Wasp's costumes, and here was Georgie Porgie faithfully duplicating dozens of them.

And George Perez's 1990s run on AVENGERS with Busiek was the highlight of an already distinguished career. Some artists only draw the same faces day in and day out. Not Perez. He gave the Scarlet Witch these angular, pointed features that gave her more than a passing resemblance to Quicksilver, very different from, say, the Vanna White-esque Warbird and the She-Hulk, who was drawn thicklipped, wide, muscular, and almost African or otherwise ethnic.

Quote from: "TELLE"
I wonder, did other DC team books follow Wolfman's lead with the Marvel-style subplots? Batman and the Outsiders? Infinity INC? I only know All-Star Squadron, which had way too many characters to maintain individual subplots for each (really the creative downfall of the series, beyond inconsistent art).


Well, there was the Gerry Conway JLA, which was much more "Marvel" in tone than DC: reliant on use of past history to tell current stores, use of casual, wisecracking dialogue instead of bombastic Gardner Fox superheroic talk...

Arguably, the Superman comics of the 1980s relied a lot on the Marvel subplot approach, too. There was the Superman/Lana Lang hanky panky, Brainiac in the background trying to find and replace God, Lois Lane "getting over" her crush on Superman and becoming her own woman, Supergirl getting work as a model and soap opera actress and running for governor, and Superman discovering the Kents took in a juvenile delinquent before him. There also were "running" stories all through these years, like the stuff with Lord Satanis and the runestone.
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« Reply #5 on: March 30, 2006, 09:41:52 AM »

Yeah, I now think Perez is too busy in terms of detail.  His attempts to give his characters more facial personality also strike me weird but maybe among the least offensive innovation in superhero art in the last 20 yrs and really a logical extension of his style and a sign of maturation.  Most of his faces look creepily old and elongated to me still.

I have to admit, I read alot of the Busiek and Perez Avengers (and most of Avengers Forever) and got a nostalgic charge from it.

I realize that DC was Marvelized through the writer and artist exodus but I was wondering about character development in the team books.
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« Reply #6 on: March 30, 2006, 12:16:02 PM »

I used to quite like the Wolfman and Perez issues -- Perez could certainly draw, even if his characters sometimes seemed a bit stiff.

Then, one day, I read that double-sized issue in which Donna Troy married that bearded guy and it sent me into paroxysms of near-psychopathic rage. Good heavens, what a load of hooey. All that forced delight. What was that blonde guy with the sideburns? Joshua or something? He painted their portrait for the wedding, and boy, was that thing ugly or what? And all those tuxedos with frilly shirts. And John Denver.

The whole issue was so maudlin and bittersweet and genteel and precious, I almost tore it up (but I have never done that to a comic book, never ever), but I could never look at the Teen Titans in the same way again.
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« Reply #7 on: March 30, 2006, 01:14:47 PM »

The book was very good originally.  After Perez left it seemed that Wolfman ran out of ideas.  He couldn't keep up the quality of the stories and it became clear why it eventually ceased publication.
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