The concept of the Teen Titans began in 1964 when teenage sidekicks Robin, Kid Flash and Aqualad joined forces in the pages of The Brave and the Bold #54. They were joined by fellow sidekicks Wonder Girl (Donna Troy) and Speedy, Green Arrow’s teenage apprentice. There were some other characters too, but those were the main ones in a series that had only moderate success in the 1960’s and ’70’s. 1980 though, would see a brand new creative direction for the team when writer Marv Wolfman and penciller George Perez relaunched the title as The New Teen Titans.
In addition to the returning sidekick characters of Robin, Kid Flash and Wonder Girl, Wolfman and Perez brought several new characters to the team. Doom Patrol member and shapeshifter Garfield Logan joined, dropping his Beast Boy alias in favor of Changeling. Three new characters were created; the former athlete Victor Stone who now lived life as a half-human Cyborg, Tamaranian princess Koriand’r (alias Starfire) and Raven, an empathic monk who brings the new Titans together to defend the world from the threat of Trigon the Terrible. Debuting in the pages of DC Comics Presents #26 before moving to the new monthly series, the Titans quickly became a hit; eventually, the best selling comic that DC was putting out at the time. The first eight issues (as well as the story from Presents #26) were recently collected in a new paperback trade, and that is what I’m reviewing for you today.
The first thing that has to be said about these comics is that George Perez is an outstanding artist, and someone who only gets better when there’s a multitude of characters on the page. The book is absolutely gorgeous to look at, both in the action scenes and in the quieter moments where the characters are talking and getting to know one another. Even from the early stages there are several covers, panels and full page spreads that feel truly iconic. I especially admire George’s dedication to making sure that each of the characters has a wildly different body type and facial structure that is consistent throughout the book.
Of course, pretty pictures only get you so far without a good story and engaging characters. Fortunately, Marv Wolfman is one of the very best writers to ever write comic books. Each member of the Titans has a distinct personality and skill set, and each is given a respectable amount of backstory. While obviously more focus is given to explaining where Starfire, Raven and Cyborg came from, the other characters all have moments where we get some insight into their minds. The early standouts are Raven and Cyborg, who even in the short span of eight issues have a ton of character development. They are the most introverted and least cooperative with the team concept, yet by the end they seem to feel at home in the group. Changeling is also a star of the book, serving as the primary vehicle for Marv’s keen sense of humor (and George’s for that matter).
Marv’s gifts for writing multiple characters and balancing them extends to the supporting characters and the villains. Both the awesome force of ultimate evil that is Trigon and the somewhat comical group of baddies known as the Fearsome Five are given equal care; Trigon is terrifying and the Five are entertaining. But another key theme is that of parents: Cyborg’s dad and Raven’s mother play key roles and have made some mistakes that have severe consequences for their children. Each parent feels real and the emotional conflict between parent and child is some of the strongest material in the book. Cyborg’s subplot with his father Silas is a story that I’m not ashamed to say brought me to tears at points.
The issues collected here offer almost anything a reader could want in comics. There are exciting adventures with high stakes, rich character development, a good mix of male and female characters, and just an overall sense of fun in these comics. Whether Wolfman and Perez want you to feel empathy, fear, joy, or sorrow, the one-two punch of excellent writing and stellar art always delivers. There is a reason these comics are considered classics; even today, they hold up as some of the best ever produced. This book gets the highest recommendation possible.