Tuesday, August 25, 2015

'Cause Life Is Just a Dream Here -- DC Comics Presents #26

DC Comics Presents #26 (October 1980)(Special 16-page New Teen Titans preview)
"Where Nightmares Begin!"
Marv Wolfman-George Perez/Dick Giordano

Doug: When I came to the New Teen Titans, they'd already gone through their eponymous newsprint series, as well as the Tales of the Teen Titans stretch. They were just into the fancy Baxter paper volume when I arrived from my self-imposed high school hiatus. I'd been a fan of the original Titans crew, specifically from the revival in the latter 1970s (boy - those do not hold up at all!). So when I could get my hands on the first few issues of the Baxter series as back issues, adding them to my beginning collection (I think I had #s 5 or 6 "new"), I was pretty excited. After all, I've always been sort of a "ground floor" guy when it comes to comics. It's with a virgin eye, then, that I arrive at the steps of DC Comics Presents #26 today -- I'd not read it prior to research for this review. And by the way, DC has been publishing very affordable trades of the New Teen Titans, and the first volume (reprinting this tale, plus issues 1-8, online for approximately $10) is my resource for today's comments and pretty pictures.

Karen: We took pretty different paths to the Titans. I think I had read one issue of their pre-Wolfman and Perez series. I jumped aboard the New Teen Titans around issue #9 -I remember that 'puppets' cover. They didn't steal me away from the X-Men, but I definitely became a fan. It seemed very accessible, despite some of the characters having long histories.

Doug: We open across the street from S.T.A.R. Labs, where some goons have taken hostages. Robin has arrived to assist the NYPD (that's correct, we're not in Gotham City). The crooks are firing on New York's finest, but Robin tells a cop that he has an idea. He gets some cover, then heads across the street to launch his plan. But as he takes the first few steps he begins to fade, staggering to a halt. As the cop reaches to steady the Teen Wonder, Robin regains his wits... at the hand of Wonder Girl! She wants him to turn around and head into the Teen Titans' Tower with her, for a scheduled meeting. But something's not right with Mr. Grayson. He doesn't recognize the building, and apparently has no knowledge of any meeting! But once Donna's shepherded him inside, the confusion continues. Creators Marv Wolfman and George Perez (with some slick inks by Dick Giordano) use the next several panels to not only accentuate Robin's mental state but also to introduce us to these New Teen Titans: Changeling (offended that Robin referred to him by his former moniker of Beast Boy), Cyborg, Starfire, Kid Flash, and Raven.

Karen: The first thing I have to comment on is that reading this from the original comic, it looks terribly muddy. It was actually kind of difficult to read at times. I was also distracted by the way Robin's eyes were drawn/inked in his mask whites in some panels. He had 'googly-eyes' -you know, pointing in different directions! In most panels, the mask eye holes were just white. It was really odd. Otherwise, the art is great. The characters all look terrific.The Perez/Giordano combo is a good one.

Doug: I agree about the eyes. Obviously the art samples today are from the new "cleaned up" printing. But I will say that I also noticed Robin's eyes, and it does seem odd. I think I just prefer my masked men (and women) drawn with plain ol' white eyes.

Doug: It's Raven's arrival at the Tower that provides the reader with the team's debut problem. A scientist not yet named was messing around with things he couldn't control (dang scientists... Oh, sorry Karen) and wouldn't you know it -- he let some super-nasty protoplasm enter our dimension. When I was reading this I almost laughed out loud -- this "creature" looks like Silver Age Brainiac-5's pal "Proty", but hopped up on some serious steroids. Would you feel threatened by a large bread dough? Raven has learned that the creature is going to destroy the Earth by converting the oxygen in the atmosphere to methane (I think that's what cows and pigs do, right? "Smell my dairy-air", you know?). And since the JLA, Avengers, and FF are not readily available, it's Titans Time!

Karen: Yes, those scientists, always ruining everything with their discoveries... well, in this case, it's more likely they'd make everyone chuckle. A big blob turning the air into methane? Not really the most awe-inspiring foe. And maybe it's me, but boy does it feel talky. Maybe because there's so much exposition, what with introducing everyone and explaining what's going on.

Doug: Arriving in NYC, the team engages the creature on the rooftops of Manhattan. Wolfman and Perez use this juncture in the book to show the readers what these new kids can do -- it's effective storytelling; even though I recognized what the authors were up to, they pulled it off in such a way that I didn't feel insulted or like I'd wasted time. But as Robin scales the building stairs he suddenly feels all woozy again. He begins to black out, when suddenly he feels someone's arms wrapped around his legs. It's the cop he was talking to at the beginning of the story and yep -- Robin's back where we began. The cop had tackled him as Robin had staggered into the terrorists' shooting angle. Robin wonders if he's been caught up in a dream, and really begins to doubt himself. But knowing he's the one best suited to end the terrorists' control of S.T.A.R. Labs, Robin fires his new Rocket Grappler to get himself up to the roof. But upon landing all those stories in the sky, he's again beset by the dizziness. When his head clears, the protoplasm is upon him!

Karen: That rocket grappler was huge! Where was Robin keeping that?

Doug: Dear readers, we just didn't have enough room to squeeze in the panel Karen references. Suffice it to say the device was about the size of the jack in your car. No utility belt was going to hold that doohickey!

Doug: The creature had snared Raven, and the Titans rushed to her aid. Unlike in most team books, this group fights together, which I welcomed. In that issue of the Champions we reviewed a few weeks ago, both of us were put out by the formulaic "I'll be the one to win the day" strategy employed by L.A.'s team for the common man. We find that the protoplasm can absorb energy, but also repel it. Changeling's rendered useless, and Starfire's energy bolts are hurled back at Wonder Girl. It's Cyborg who is able to wound the creature with a blast of white sound. That proves to be the most effective offense yet, and even causes the creature to take a powder. Raven's left on the ground in a pile -- but again in an effort to educate the readers in regard to these new characters' powers -- we "see" her soul reanimate her body. She admonishes her teammates for allowing the creature to leave, and firmly expresses the urgency with which the team should move.

Karen: I have to agree with you, especially after all the X-Men reviews we've done, seeing a team actually fighting as a unit rather than as individuals was refreshing. Wolfman was already showing that Wally was obsessed with Raven, and Raven was certainly mysterious. I liked that her astral form was a dark, menacing bird -- all the other characters I could think of with astral forms were drawn as ghost-like, invisible versions of themselves.

Doug: The Titans indeed move, on land and through the air, to arrive shortly at S.T.A.R. Labs. They hurry through the building to arrive at a laboratory, finding it completely trashed. Cyborg cryptically says that he knew they'd end up in this lab, and inexplicably excuses himself from the mission! Not so fast... the protoplasm appears and wallops Cyborg good. The team again engages, but the scientist we'd seen in Raven's vision is on the floor in distress. He calls to Robin and tells him that fighting in the manner that they are will do no good. Unfortunately, he's the one who brought the creature through the portal, and knows how to defeat it. He urges all of the Titans to leave the room, because they have to siphon the oxygen. Starfire says she'll cover everyone's departure, as she can continue to fight since she won't be affected by the declining oxygen levels. Robin protests, but she urges him to allow it. The scientist is right -- eliminating the oxygen causes the beast to go ballistic, firing methane clouds into the room. Starfire maneuvers the creature to the dimensional portal and blasts it through. She immediately destroys the computer that had opened the portal in the first place. Victory!

Karen: That was rather tidy. Starfire doesn't need to breathe? Hmm...OK.

Doug: I know I've seen her in space with no helmet or anything like a Legion transuit, but to not need oxygen? As they say, was there "more on that later"?

Doug: Cyborg, back among the awake, is very curt with the scientist. He tells him that he's not surprised the man screwed up, because it's what he does. Then Cyborg stalks away. Robin is mystified, but the scientist tells him he's not surprised at the reaction... from his son. Obviously "to be continued". Someone off-panel calls Robin's name, and he whirls to find himself back on the street with the cop we'd met at the beginning. Robin had urged the police to evacuate the air supply from the lab where the terrorists were holed up. That had done it -- the baddies gave up pretty quickly once it was apparent they were either going to pass out or possibly die. The solar reactor the terrorists were after had been preserved. A scientist came by to thank Robin. That's right -- the same man from Robin's "nightmare" who'd unleashed the protoplasm. Robin wandered away once everything was stabilized. He muttered to himself that he'd need to sleep this one off. But in the shadows we see Raven, who comments to herself that this was no dream, no nightmare -- in fact, the New Teen Titans are very real, and soon to be a very real part of Robin's life. So I guess back in 1980 we should have been on the look-out for New Teen Titans #1, to see how this would turn out!

Karen: The situation with Cyborg and his dad was obviously going to provide some good story material. Actually all of the characters, new and old, seemed interesting. It was just this story that came across as flat for me. I wasn't too thrilled with the back-and-forth mechanism, or the menace. But as far as introducing the team, it wasn't bad.

Doug: The first time I read this, when I was out in Washington, DC in July, I was a little put off by it. The story just seemed too formulaic -- as I remarked above, it's pretty obvious what the creators are trying to do here. But I sort of self-chastised myself for feeling that way... Of course they wrote it this way. Duh... in 1980, who knew these characters? Sure, Robin, Wonder Girl, and Kid Flash were "household names" in the comics community. But I'd wager that a fare number of readers didn't recall Beast Boy from the old Doom Patrol. I know I wouldn't have. So as I did the second read for this writing, I really came to a spot where I enjoyed the story. No, I'm still not sold on the idea of a huge farting blob threatening the Earth, but the opportunity to see these young heroes strut their stuff was fun. Raven was played effectively as a mysterious, and Starfire was interesting. Cyborg seemed to be the guy with the token chip on his shoulder, but his anger at and lack of acknowledgement of his father was interesting enough to make me wonder where that plotline would go.

Karen: Origin stories, and especially team origin stories, can be very difficult things to do well. In this case, they were trying to launch a team of both old and new heroes, using a name that had been around for over a decade, but making it seem fresh and exciting.I guess you would call this a pre-origin story, but it still achieves its objective.

Doug: I think your coining of the term "pre-origin" is apt, as the team appears fully-formed. I am certain that back in the day, having been a reader of the Titans revival of the '70s I would have wondered where Speedy, Mal, Harlequin, and the whole Titans West kids were hanging out. There's certainly no mention of them here.

Doug: Many writers and fans have stated that the New Teen Titans were DC's answer to the X-Men juggernaut (no pun intended) being contemporarily crafted by Chris Claremont, John Byrne, and Terry Austin over at Marvel. I can see that. Although seemingly a bit younger than the mutants, the broad array of powersets and colorful costumes, with a nice splash of anticipation for more information, surely made the Titans the success they became in the 1980s. I have the first two volumes of the new trades, and in the past I'd purchased trades of the arcs, "The Judas Contract" and "Terra Incognito", both of which I've read and liked. So a "hat's off" to Wolfman and Perez -- I think I'll be back!


Edo Bosnar said...

Hey! I thought this was a review of DCCP #26! Where's the discussion of the Superman & GL team-up?! Just kidding, although I recall that was a pretty solid story...

Great review of this little insert, Karen & Doug. I haven't read this story since the early 1980s, so I recally can't say to much about it from a fresh perspective. However, I do recall back then that I absolutely loved it, although much of that feeling was just due to the excitement of this new Titans series. I was so stoked for the new series, and waited with such anticipation to pick up the first issue and then - nothing. It didn't appear on the spinner racks in any of the grocery and convenience stores I usually frequented to buy comics at the time. Man, I was so miffed about that - first issue I got was no. 2, and not long after that I discovered my first comic book shop in the nearest bigger city, and never missed an issue of NTT again.
Anyway, you're both probably right that this story was probably not the best, and it was very likely slapped together by Wolfman and Perez after they had already plotted, wrote and drawn the first few issues of the actual series. But I think it did what a good preview should do: introduced the characters and situations and whetted the public's appetite for more. And Wolfman & Perez immediately demonstrated that they had picked up the lessons of Claremont/Byrne/Austin's X-men, what with the soap-opera elements (Vic's troubled relationship with his father), potential romances (Robin & Starfire, Kid Flash & Raven), and a character with a mysterious past (Raven), with the latter also being crucial to another Claremontesque element, the running sub-plot that eventually develops into a bigger epic.

Redartz said...

Hats off to you, Karen and Doug, for a fine review! I dug this book out and re-read it last night for the first time in years (yes, did my homework Doug!). You both covered it quite well; and you are right about the printing quality. This vintage newsprint did seem rather muddy; with many places the ink seems rather thin. Noticed this especially in the lead Superman/Green Lantern story; Jim Starlin's art here seemed to suffer...

Incidentally, DC had a winning idea here in offering previews to new titles as free extras in existing books. No doubt many readers were led into trying out the Titans via this DC Comics Presents issue who wouldn't have otherwise tried a first issue on it's own merit. Seems like the big two could do worse than to try this approach again (although I don't recall Marvel ever including an intro story in this manner; anyone know of an example?).

Anonymous said...

I'd only seen this story on muddy newsprint (it was reprinted in Tales of the New Teen Titans 59) and WOW what a difference! The art looks fantastic. Dick Giordano certainly dominates some panels. Cyborg's dad looks like an extra from Green Lantern 76.

I bought a bunch of veeerrry used Teen Titans comics a number of years ago. Seeing George Perez strut his stuff issue after issue was a joy. He brought so many storytelling ideas to the panel layouts and plot structure! You can se how hard he worked without the art looking labored. Romeo Tanghal was a decent inker, although occasional Perez-inked pages looked so much sharper. Marv Wolfman hit the mark sometimes (and the plots were usually great) but the dialogue could take me right out of the story. He out-angsted Claremont and wasn't very good with the humor. Changeling was unbelievably grating.

Anyway, it was weird reading the preview story long after the characters had gone through the events of the first 58 issues. It was like watching a pilot episode after the season 4 finale. Looking at it now, I wish we'd gotten more of the Perez/ Giordano team.

- Mike Loughlin

Dr. Oyola said...

I never got into Teen Titans, or much DC comics in general, but I had a few I got my hands on after the X-Men/Teen Titans crossover (which is where I first learned of Darkseid and saw Dark Phoenix - though the latter was legendary to me by that time). I think it'd be interesting to revisit those early days of the New Teen Titans.

As for the old (Silver Age) Teen Titans, I've been listening to a podcast by one of the dudes that did Traveling Through the Bronze Age (which is on hiatus), called "Teen Titan Wasteland." It is a humorous take on Haney's hey-day, starting with the TT's first appearance in Brave and the Bold. You should check it out if you like podcasts. Click here for their site.

Anonymous said...

I always liked the New Teen Titans, and I'm pretty sure I had this comic way back when. I think it's hard to introduce a new team in a short story (kinda like on a TV show when they try to set up a spinoff in a regular episode...*cough*Gary Seven*cough*), so I'm not surprised the story doesn't completely hold up. But it did what it was meant to do--for me at least--it got me interested in picking up the regular series. The Outsiders preview in B&B #200 and the Infinity Inc. introduction in All-Star Squadron accomplished the same thing. DC was pretty good at promoting new stuff back then.

Mike Wilson

Edo Bosnar said...

Mike W., on the topic of All Star Squadron, I really liked the preview to that series in JLA #193. In fact, it was my second favorite of these previews after this New Teen Titans one.

Anonymous said...

The Teen Titans were never my cup of tea (teenagers) but Perez' art is something to behold.

Martinex1 said...

I really enjoyed the Wolfman Perez run on Teen Titans, and I would have to say that there were issues and arcs that I thought were better than the X-men of the era, but it didn't have the lasting power and impact and I'm not sure why. It was a very consistent book with a top notch art team for a long time. I started collecting it in the mid teens and worked my way back to collect some earlier issues. The Terra traitorous story was big at the time and I don't recall if it appeared before or after Dark Phoenix. Even though it is a high point it is not as revered as the X-Men epic. I particularly liked the Doom Patrol search and the Brother Blood storyline. I also like how the characters matured as time went on, particularly Nightwing and Wonder Girl.

The strange thing is I never knew this Preview issue existed. This is my first exposure to it. Perez was really in top notch form on Titans; I think his work here is cleaner and more consistent than his Avengers work. The coloring in the samples is also very nice. One thing that always struck me about Perez is that his explosions and amorphous shapes ( like the enemy here) is of his own styling. I can recognize Perez by his blasts, explosions, and shapes. It is different than Kirby's work which other artists tend to emulate. I also like that his female characters all look different, Raven, Starfire, Donna, Terra were all recognizable just in silhouette. He used a lot of head and shoulder shots like the examples here with Robin's bust. I like how that breaks up the panels.

Nice review Doug and Karen. Never would have read this otherwise.

Anonymous said...

@Edo: Yes, that All-Star Squadron preview is another favourite...how did I forget that one? I must be getting old :)

Mike Wilson

Garett said...

Thanks for the great review Karen and Doug! This is one of the top series of the Bronze age. I remember reading this preview and getting very excited about the upcoming comic. This opening story is a bit odd, but an interesting way to get into the action and characters fast. I agree with Martinex that the Doom Patrol and Brother Blood arcs are highlights. By the way, interesting look for Green Lantern on that Starlin cover--would've been good to see Starlin write and draw Green Lantern for a while, as a cosmic hero.

This is the series where Robin became a three dimensional, compelling character--quite a feat! The other characters are also great, and I'm glad the creators chose the ones they did to carry over from earlier series. I disagree with Mike L. about Changeling- I liked his cornball sense of humour, and his character was essential to the storyline with Terra.

I have Omnibus 1 and 2 (which take us up to issue 44), and I think Perez's art has never looked better than in these volumes. I do have a few old NTT issues lying around, and yes sometimes the ink can get muddy in those comics. The big omnibus size really shows off Perez's detailed art. His style gets more refined as the series goes on, as do the stories by Wolfman.

More Titans reviews please!! : )

david_b said...

Agreeing with Martinex1, I've heard about this intro, but haven't picked it up as of yet. Great review.

Yeah, the drawing of Robin's eyes early on was something George had to master, but it's great to watch his style develop in the first dozen issues. If I recall, I was first introduced to the NTT with issue 21, the first Brother Blood issue. I was quite impressed with the plotting and urgency of the team dynamics, encouraging me to start picking up back issues in the following few months.

As I've said on occasion, I often found it odd that while in NTT, Dick Grayson was considered some master tactician, yet in the same timeframe in the Batman title, he was portrayed as bit of a clod.

Not a big Perez fan with his work at Marvel, he really reached pinnacle status here on NTT, rightfully so. Arguably next to Cardy and Dillin, no one drew the Titans better.

Doug said...

The Perez/Sinnott combination in the Fantastic Four was a definite winner, as was Perez's teaming with Terry Austin in X-Men Annual #3 (which Edo corrected for me in Monday's post). But he did seem to shine here on NTT.

By the way, I read one of the JLA stories that he and Conway did -- in my opinion his NTT, Wonder Woman, and Crisis work is superior.


R. Lloyd said...

I remember this preview. I couldn't wait for Teen Titans #1 to arrive on the stands. I do remember his X-Men collaboration with Terry Austin on inks. The Titans were my favorite in the 80's and I plan to get one of the Paperback collections if they still are available on Amazon. Can't get enough of George Perez's art and I still think he's one of the best artists in comics. I just bought Teen Titans: Games paperback and read it twice already. I wish that I could get the entire run of the Perez/Wolfman run on the book without spending hundreds of dollars on the omnibus books.

I even have a silver slipcase special edition hardcover, which I paid a $100 for, of Crisis on Infinite Earths. I don't know why Perez and Wolfman didn't go longer than their five year run, however it was comics gold to me. You'll never see creators today stick with a book this long.

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