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!