Monday, October 3, 2016

Then the 'Stroke's the Word... New Teen Titans 2

New Teen Titans #2 (December 1980)
"Today... the Terminator!"
Marv Wolfman-George Perez/Romeo Tanghal

Doug: Deathstroke the Terminator is suddenly in the news - big time! The character has been featured on the CW's Arrow, and the casting of Slade Wilson has taken place for Ben Affleck's solo-Batflick, The Batman. Since I've been purchasing the very-affordable trades of The New Teen Titans, I figured we'd check out Deathstroke's debut. It came in only the second issue of NTT, just as the group was getting to know each other.

A quick note on the cover: I don't like it. The inclusion of Deathstroke and his word balloon at middle right ruins it for me. Composition-wise it's not bad. Nothing we haven't seen before, however. Raven seems a bit too static, but then that fits her personality. The "I've killed X" trope is tired - and the hyperbole of "Can this truly be the end..." on a second issue is stupid. The word balloons from Ravager are fine as far as their existence and content. But overall I'd grade this one a C.

Among the many other things I missed during my high school hiatus from comics buying (you know, "The Dark Phoenix Saga", almost all of Frank Miller's run on Daredevil), go ahead and put The New Teen Titans near the top of the list. I think the first NTT story I read upon my return was the crossover with the X-Men, which I really liked. I started buying the Baxter paper series, but I never really understood why people were comparing it to Uncanny X-Men. Wasn't that a thing back then, those two books jockeying for the monthly top sales position? I just didn't see it. That being said, now knowing that the X-Men book had begun to slide a bit after the departure of John Byrne and Terry Austin, maybe NTT was coming along at the right time. I'd welcome input on this era from those who lived it as consumers.

For those wondering which character came first, the Taskmaster (Marvel) or today's subject, Deathstroke... it was the Taskmaster by seven months (Avengers #195, cover-dated May 1980). Both were co-created by George Perez.

Let's get rolling with a 100-Word Review of this issue's plot:
There’s no waiting for the baddie du jour, as Deathstroke graces the splash page. Standing in front of several robed figures who represent the H.I.V.E. Deathstroke requests the targets of his contract. He has words with his would-be benefactors, and is physically tested. He leaves in a huff. We then meet domestic abuser Grant Wilson, who has a run-in with the Titans. An angry sort, Wilson turns to the H.I.V.E. and is recreated as the Ravager. He attacks the Titans, and gets some unwanted help from Deathstroke. The Ravager’s powers end up killing him; his H.I.V.E. contract will be completed by his father – Deathstroke!
The Good: You know where this starts -- the art team of Perez and Romeo Tanghal. Just beautiful. And so busy! You know Perez is the God of Team Books; one never gets cheated on characters per capita. Perez never took shortcuts, either.
Most panels in the story have backgrounds. I cannot honestly say that those weren't added by Tanghal, but I believe that Perez was so thorough in his storytelling that I am going to make the assumption that what you see was what he intended.

Love, love, love the roll call on the side of the splash page!

Karen and I previously reviewed the 1st appearance of the New Teen Titans from an insert in DC Comics Presents #26. I also read NTT #1 so that I could bridge the gap between the premiere and this issue. I've liked the development of the characters to this point -- relationships are being formed, and the slow reveal of the backstories of Cyborg, Starfire, and Raven seems well-paced.

I thought it was interesting the manner in which Starfire broke the language barrier -- by kissing Robin. From the start she is over-sexualized, and this issue did nothing to dispel any wonder if that would continue. Raven seems almost asexual, yet Wally's obvious pining for her would make that interesting moving forward.

Deathstroke was a formidable foil for the young Titans, but I was left wondering if it wasn't merely because the team was new. I did bristle a bit at the suggestion that Deathstroke had trained himself to use his brain to 90% of its efficiency, as compared with a normal human's 10%. I'm thinking that at that high rate, photographic/muscle memory in fighting would be the last thing I'd do with that skill. But anyway, it made him an interesting foe, if perhaps a challenge for the artist. No stock image here!

I understand why the Ravager was a throwaway character here -- he's basically set-up for future stories and additional motivation for Deathstroke; an instant grudge. So as a plot point his presence was fine -- I'm glad he didn't last, though, as he was somewhat formulaic (feels wronged by the good guys, gets juiced up by a covert cabal, fights good guys, dies because his revenge motive got the best of him). There's enough mystery around Deathstroke -- who is he, how did he lose one eye, he seems rich, how was it that he was the Ravager's father yet they had no relationship, etc.

Kid Flash has one of my top 3 superhero costumes - alongside Havok and Green Lantern.

Did I mention the art?

The Bad: Beast Boy. I would slap the crap out of him if I were Wonder Girl. Or if I was Cyborg. ANYONE should have punched him repeatedly. What an annoying character. He's the Jar Jar Binks of the New Teen Titans. For that matter, why am I writing this here? It should be a section below.

I thought it was dumb that in the second issue there was an organization like the H.I.V.E. bent on the destruction of the Titans. Who even knew they existed? I'll bet Batman, Flash, and Wonder Woman did not. Just an extension of the hyperbole at the top of the cover.

I liked the mystery of Raven, but being somewhat of an impatient fellow, I know I wouldn't like waiting to find out about her. So that's a good and a bad -- the bad's on me.

The Ugly: Beast Boy. I would slap the... Oh, I already said that. Well I still would!

I do believe I'll revisit the trades I've purchased. As I've said, I'm coming to these early stories for the first time. Thank goodness for the golden age of reprints!


Eric said...

Slade is hands down my favorite DC villain. Complex motivation and a stunning look. Standing in line behind you to slap Gar. Never understood his appeal to others.

david_b said...

Greetings.., I actually may not own this ish yet, It's probably one of the few remaining holes in my early NTT. I effectively stopped when Perez left.., probably more so around when Robin and Kid Flash hung up their suits.

The art..? It's certainly beautiful. Never have the characters looked so realistic, probably the best ever. As Doug knows, the Kid Flash outfit is easily one of my all-time favorites as well. The stories were still a bit wonky at this phase.., much like the Gar character. I didn't find him slipping into focus per se, ie, hitting his groove until the teen issues (no pun intended).., perhaps after ish 13. It's then that he started finding a real voice and helped keep the Titans somewhat light-hearted. But agreed, he was always a bit annoying, somehow trying to be a 'Roy Harper', but a bit too immature. Roy by the way was always a welcome sight, especially when he tagged along for a spell some 2 dozen issues later (didn't like him much in the Baxter issues).

All in all, still an impressive start to what would soon be a flagship title for DC's 80s output.

Redartz said...

The Titans were one of the few DC's I bought consistently, and your review shows the reasons why. Great book, beautiful art, and interesting characters (even if Gar was a bit much). Those trades you have, Doug, sound like a fine investment: another couple additions to my 'find it' list.

Again, the art is incredible. Makes me wonder, who was the best inker over Perez' pencils? So many good ones: Tanghal, Jerry Ordway, Dick Giordano, Terry Austin (my pick; as one of the greatest inkers ever, period)...

Doug said...

Thanks for the early feedback, guys. David, totally agree that the stories are taking a bit to get fully rolling. I can see how this book was a hit. The debut in DC Comics Presents #26 was strange, but then dream sequence stories usually are. NTT #1 was OK, again building on characterization. So I'm thinking reading this in the trade paperback format may not be all bad.

Good call on Roy Harper, a much more grating version of Hawkeye when at his worst.

Redartz, Romeo Tanghal is slick. The art looks great. Terry Austin inked Perez in X-Men Annual #3 and it's a fabulous looking book!


Edo Bosnar said...

Great review, Doug. To me it's quite apt that you picked this one and skipped the first issue, because NTT#2 was the first issue of the series I bought (as I noted in the comment for your review to the NTT preview in DC Comics Presents #25, NTT#1 simply did not appear on the spinner racks anywhere near me). Even despite feeling miffed at missing the first issue, I swallowed this one up with great enthusiasm and became an instant fan. Heck, I even like the cover - although I agree it would have been better without the hyperbolic dialogue.
And I've got to defend Changeling (yep, I simply can't call him Beast Boy) a little bit at least: I liked the character well enough because he had cool powers, and pretty cool look. But yeah, his behavior was ... well, not so much annoying as obnoxious. The way he was portrayed when dealing with Wonder Girl, Starfire and pretty much any other female character was awful; he basically acted like a stereotypically dumb, sexist frat boy. I know this was probably by design, as Wolfman wanted to really differentiate the personalities of the team members, but it often went too far.

Doug, to answer your question about the comparisons to X-men: I was in the very thick of my comics reading at the time, with X-men by far my favorite title, as soon as NTT came out, it basically jumped into my top five instantly - sharing a common no. 2 ranking with Miller's Daredevil and Micheline/Layton's Iron Man, and it was the only DC title I liked that much at the time. And once, Byrne/Austin left X-men a few months later, I started to like NTT even more. In fact, to be honest, for a while there during Cockrum's second tenure as X-men artist, I actually liked NTT better - although I don't want to make it sound like I'm dissing Cockrum's art too much. Yes, he was apparently having trouble keeping up with the tempo of a monthly book, but Claremont also seemed to have lost a bit of his mojo for a while as well, and didn't seem to get it back until a few issues before Cockrum left the title again.

Doug said...

Edo, thanks for your input on the X-Men/NTT in regard to sales and popularity. Unfortunately, I tend to downplay in my mind the period after Byrne/Austin left and right up to before X-Men #200, when I resumed buying the book. I've seen some of the Paul Smith art from that era, and I'll declare that I like it much better than John Romita, Jr.'s turn on the title. So once the Titans hit the Baxter version and X-Men was beginning to roll toward Fall of the Mutants and whatever other crossover there was back then, I didn't see that NTT was "better".

So if a reader came aboard with the DC Comics Presents insert and then onto the monthly, how long was NTT a top-tier book? How long did the initial wave last?


david_b said...

Doug, I'm totally on a limb here but I'd guess the top-tier moniker came after the first dozen issues. I recall DC making some big announcements about it's success. Probably just typical industry promo exclamations, but you could sense a synergy happening.. I'd say it lasted until the Baxter editions came out.

Once folks realized the 'magic' was gone with Perez's departure (and that excruciatingly-long Blood story arc in the Baxter edition didn't help much....), I'd suspect the most loyal (original) fans moved on.

Edo Bosnar said...

Doug, for me it remained a top-tier book as long as I kept reading it, which was sometime just before the whole Judas Contract storyline started to heat up (and the reason I stopped reading it had nothing to do with quality of the title itself, it was because at that point in my life I started to seriously cut down on my comics reading/buying). My impression, though, is that the initial wave lasted for a while after the Judas Contract at least, with Wolfman and Perez still at the core of the creative team.

And not to get too off track, but on the subject of Paul Smith as X-men artist, yep I loved his all-too-brief run on the title. As I noted above, it was right around that time that Claremont seemed to get a second wind and the stories got a lot better again. But man, I really didn't like it when Romita took over as artist. I soldiered on for a while after that (such was my love for X-men), but that was the beginning of the end for me.

Garett said...

Nice review Doug! For me New Teen Titans was the best series of the Bronze Age. I followed it right from the DC Comics Presents insert up till the mid 40s. There are a few issues that aren't quite as good, and yes the ball really gets rolling past issue 10. But #2 is a good one.

I like the cover, and I like Changeling. Yes he has a corny sense of humour, and is constantly flirting with and getting shot down by women. He's the youngest on the team and represents that awkward stage of being a young teen. He's not threatening, more insecure and trying to cover it up.

Tanghal is the best Perez inker in my book. He gets the detail, and the warmth of the characters. I like Giordano and Austin, but not as much. Perez inking himself is also great, as on many of the covers and a few interiors.

I'm not a fan of the Baxter series-- too dark, although there's some nice art in there. Perez and Wolfman teamed up again in issues 50-54 of the New Titans in '88-- I just picked these issues up and so far they're good. But the magic was in those first 45 issues or so of the first series. Garcia Lopez had a short run afterwards that was good. John Byrne also drew a special issue with Garcia Lopez inking--the pair is uneven, some images great, some not so good.

I read the Byrne era X-Men all at once, shortly after he left the series (my cousin lent me the whole run). While I thought it was very good, the Titans series spoke to me more, and still does today.

Anonymous said...

I loved this series when it first came out and I still do. I read it sporadically at first, but it soon became a favourite; the Judas Contract is still one of the best "series-within-a-series" I've ever read. In fact, I was thinking about doing a review of it for BAB...

I agree with Edo; Changeling started out pretty annoying (by design) but later became more sympathetic when we learn more about his background. His friendship with Cyborg and his ill-fated romance with Terra helped make him more tolerable (to me anyway). Doug, your comments about Raven were interesting; she starts out quite aloof, but gets more personable eventually (and definitely stops being "asexual", especially in the Baxter series, though not necessarily to her credit :))

It always seemed to me like Marv wrote this is a "Marvel" style, meaning there's a lot of focus on the characters' personal lives and on non-powered characters, which is something I always liked about Marvel, especially in the Bronze Age.

Mike Wilson

Martinex1 said...

I first jumped on board the Teen Titans in the mid-teens and I think they were really hitting their stride. Relationships were more fleshed out by then and I agree with Mike Wilson that it was very Marvel like in its feel. The villains and threats were also a nice blend of personal vendettas and global impacts. I didn't mind Beast Boy but by then he had started to take shape a bit.

Unknown said...

Although the New Teen Titans were popular before my time, I recently did pick up a mid-grade copy of NTT #1, which I will enjoy reading, for the first time, in about 15 minutes! I too recently heard the news that Deathstroke would be the main villain in the new solo Batman film. If done right, he could have great potential. On paper, at least, with his enhanced intellect, martial arts prowess, superhuman speed, endurance, reflexes, and healing, he should prove to be a memorable adversary.

As for Teen Titans #2, I agree with Doug that it is utterly ridiculous to put "Can This Truly Be The End Of…" on the front cover of a second issue (unless that number two issue really is the end, which of course in this case it's not). Seems like a weak ploy to me. Even elementary school children wouldn't be taken in. Does anyone ever really believe that some baddie, no matter how powerful, has actually slain a comic's entire team? Well, not me. Now if he had killed one of them, such as that annoying character, that might be plausible.

I confess I know little about the New Teen Titans, so I'd better get reading and catch up with the rest of you all!

Anonymous said...

Nice review, Doug. I, too, was in the middle of a break from comics when this issue came out, so I missed out on the beginning of what was probably the best thing DC had going in years. I came along well into the 3rd year, but I soon picked up all the back issues. Sadly, I sold #2 about 2 years ago and now don't think it'll ever be in a price range I'm willing to pay to replace it. Anyway, The New Teen Titans was really the ONLY DC comic that was any good until we got into Crisis on Infinite Earths. But the title carried the company through the first half of the 1980s quite well. I agree that Beast Boy was a total annoyance and that Kid Flash had one of the coolest costumes of all time. I really liked seeing Robin grow into a strong, independent character in this title, eventually becoming Nightwing. I felt the series, while flawed in some ways, was mostly pretty good through the first 50 issues delivered by Wolfman, Perez, and Tanghal. That's a pretty long run for any title to maintain a level of quality. Later we'd get the multi-part Starfire/Blackfire war, and of course there was the Judas Contract, and a couple other good story arcs thrown into the mix.

Until next time.... Terry in Virginia

William said...

NTT is one of my personal favorite titles. I was on board from the beginning (except like Edo I too somehow missed the first issue). I kept reading and loving the book until shortly after Perez left. I tried to keep reading it for several issues after that, but without George it just wasn't the same.

I loved the "Judas Contract" storyline and Dick becoming Nightwing. That was really great stuff.

I have the first 3 or 4 volumes of the trades, and I plan to re-read all of those great old stories soon.

JJ said...

My copy of the first NTT story in DC Presents had no cover; I'll always remember it that way. Then, somehow I missed #2 entirely, and didn't really get into the swing of things until the first Brother Blood story. This series is where I truly went ga-ga for Perez's pencils. If I only knew then how much great Avengers and JLA material was waiting for me!

I generally loved the writing, but like Doug had a real problem with The Changeling. A missstep for Wolfman, but luckily not fatal. The other characters were so well done, specifically Wonder Girl, Cyborg and Kid Flash, that it provided enough balance toward quality to overcome the deeply annoying Gar Logan.

BK said...

This was my intro to the team and really to DC after growing up a Marvel fan. I guess you could say i followed Perez to DC, but as a kid I kind of missed out on any of the drama of that. My family moved cities and a year later, instead of Perez drawing Avengers and FF, he was drawing Teen Titans.

I loved this comic and read and re-read it until the cover fell off. Everything about it is burned into my brain. At one time I thought it was perfect and brilliant, writing- and art-wise. Great cover. Raven's pose registers as shock rather that stilted --and she's not the dramatic center anyway. Great storytelling and universe-building. Great costumes. The sexy, cutesy and jokey stuff worked perfectly for a young audience.

I drifted away from Perez and superheroes in general a few years later, as Perez became even more baroque and mannered. Inevitably, the creative team shifted on the book as well (there was a fill-in issue as early as #5 or so). By decades-end i was mostly into alt/indy/underground comics...

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