The New Teen Titans – 2015 Weekly Writer Challenge: Marv Wolfman (Part 1)
52 weeks. 52 different writers. 2 trade paperbacks or hardcovers a week. Each week I’ll take a look at a different writer and read two different collected editions from within that person’s repertoire to help in the examination of their work.
Marv Wolfman is a legendary writer having jumped between the Big Two publishing companies for many years. In the early 1980’s, Wolfman came back over to DC Comics and relaunched the New Teen Titans with penciller George Perez. The New Teen Titans was an instant hit as Wolfman and Perez became a dynamic force of nature on the book. Together the two men created Starfire, Raven and Cyborg, all three of which became mainstay Teen Titans characters. More recently, the characters of Cyborg and Starfire have seen a surge in popularity, with Cyborg getting a call up to become a permanent member of the Justice League and both characters getting their own solo series this year. This only helps to solidify the lasting impression both Wolfman and Perez left on DC Comics, all starting with their New Teen Titans run.
The New Teen Titans Volume 1
The New Teen Titans come together when the young heroes are called to prepare for an impending and great evil that heads their way. The mysterious Raven gathers Robin, Kid Flash, Wonder Girl, Cyborg, The Changling, and Starfire to form the New Teen Titans, with little time to craft this group of teenagers into a well oiled team. Coming from plenty of different walks of life, the many young heroes struggle to work together at first before discovering that they are truly stronger united than they are divided. Deathstroke, Psimon, Trigon the Terrible and many others stand between this newly reformed team and becoming the heroes they were meant to be.
The early 1980’s is, in my opinion, one of the best eras in the history of comics, punctuated by the phenomenal talents of creators like Marv Wolfman and George Perez. Together, the two men crafted a roster of young heroes who are still wildly popular to this day. Taking mainstay heroes like Robin, Kid Flash, and Donna Troy as well as creating new heroes like Starfire or Cyborg, Wolfman and Perez redefined the dynamic team of the New Teen Titans. What might be lost upon fans of modern comics is how dense the comics of previous decades were. In the 90’s comics became more about gimmicks and splash pages than actually storytelling, an unfortunate tradition that still continues today in some places. But back before the 80’s, comics were a far more rich platform for telling serious or powerful stories. Wolfman’s New Teen Titans is a great example of this, displaying that you can pack a ton of story into twenty five pages. With a comic like the New Teen Titans, you have to really sink your teeth into the story, investing more of your time to read it than say your average comic published now in 2015. To put it in perspective, I can read your average length of a graphic novel for today (which is about six issues) in the range of a hour or so, whereas this volume of New Teen Titans took me multiple sitting stretched out over a couple of days and it only had roughly ten issues. There is so much text packed into every panel and page that you have to prepare yourself to actually read instead of just breeze through. It’s a beautiful thing to read comics like that, the ones that force you to actually pay attention and read because there is so much story in just a single issue. It’s not even that Marv Wolfman overloaded every panel or issue with too many words, as far as I can see he still abides to the “Stan Lee rule” of 28 words per panel as a maximum but it’s the fact that there are more panels per page than your average comic nowadays that impacts the amount of time it will take you to read.
Like I said in the previous paragraph, each issue in this collection is a rather dense read and I mean that in only the best of ways. For twenty five pages of story you definitely get the bang for your buck as there is so much happening story wise every issue. Each issue has a clear beginning, middle, and end, reading like a three act play. Even with that in mind for every issue, Wolfman still strings together issues to make arcs but you get the genuine sense from his strong storytelling that you never actually have to read the previous issue to understand what the story is actually about. Instead, if an issue is the second part of the arc, that issue will quickly bring you up to speed on the happenings in the story clearly, using character dialogue to seamlessly explain what you may have missed if you never read the issue before. It’s a style of storytelling that feels lost in today’s comic market, with every issue needing to be closely intertwined with the one before. Wolfman shows the best of his style of storytelling right in the middle of the volume with issues 5 through 7, following along with the “Trigon The Terrible” saga. Each issue connects with the one before and after it but still stands out on its own as a sole body of work. As such, you can take away compelling stories from just reading each of those issues independently or take away an even more engaging story by reading them all back to back. Wolfman does such an amazing job with Perez in telling a story that you can’t help but keep reading.
Wolfman and Perez certainly have what feels like a rather deep pool of characters to draw from for their work on New Teen Titans, seemingly using as many well established characters as they do for the ones they create. Each member of the New Teen Titans feels vital to it’s success, either during the present narrative or down the road in the future. With Robin, Wolfman and Perez have a clearly designated leader for the group, using Dick Grayson’s experience as the linchpin for what keeps the group together. One could argue that Grayson is the most well connected DC character across the entire line due to all his different affiliations and as such, it makes him a clear candidate for leadership. Then Wolfman sprinkles in the character of Starfire, a beautiful, gold skinned alien who was the prisoner to another alien race for a time. Her escape to Earth makes her an immediate romantic element in Dick Grayson’s life and her youthful nature mixes with her naivety as well as her sense of wonder towards Earth to make a compelling character. With Cyborg, Wolfman and Perez really try to tug on the reader’s heartstrings, stripping Vic Stone at any chance of a normal life by making him a robotic freak. He is resentful of his father for making him Cyborg following an unexpected lab accident, feeling robbed of a successful athletic caree. Over the course of the story they chip away at the hard exterior of Cyborg to make a great character who learns and experiences so much. I could genuinely spend all day examining the characters and their arcs from just this collection alone but the development of these characters is better experienced by reading the comic than it is from reading this post. Trust me when I say, it’s worth investing your time into all of these characters.
The only genuine and glaring weakness I found in this series of stories by Wolfman and Perez is how they portrayed Raven at times but even then it falls within the parameters of the era of comics these stories fall in more than anything else. It feels like there is hardly an issue that goes by where you don’t see Raven as a sobbing mess on the page, crying seemingly at least once an issue after the first handful of stories. As such, these moments really work to strip away all the other solid work done with some of the other female characters like Starfire or Donna Troy. Raven is displayed as strong time and time again only to have that robbed away from her by making her an emotional train wreck of a character. Again, I believe that this is all a byproduct of that era of comics more so than the actually intention of Wolfman or Perez.
Collects: DC Showcase Presents #26, The New Teen Titans #1-8
Best Character: Cyborg
Best Line Of Dialogue/Caption: “Wondy you’re a spoil sport. Don’tcha know I love having bats for dinner?” – The Changling
Best Scene/Moment: Cyborg meets a group of children with prosthetic limbs – Issue 9
Best Issue: Issues 4-6. I’m cheating on my choice and don’t even care. The entire Trigon arc is truly incredible stuff from Wolfman and Perez, making this entire volume of stories worth purchasing for this arc alone! There’s tons of character development and awesome moments to pick from here. You have the first fight between JLA and The New Teen Titans, the Teen Titans learning to be a team, or even their climatic battle against Trigon. No matter where you look there are tons of great moments in this arc but more importantly there’s a fantastic story happening the entire time. Cool moments are important but a great story being memorable is far more important.
Why You Should Read It: This is a fantastic era in comics, reminding readers that comics can be fun and still tell serious stories. Wolfman and Perez tell some timeless tales with this collection of their work on The New Teen Titans. There’s tons of great character development for new and old characters, thrilling villains and dense stories that you can’t help but invest yourself into. If you want good comics there’s plenty of solid stories kicking around nowadays. But if you want truly amazing stories, like some of the best ones ever told, do yourself a favour and read Wolfman and Perez’s collections of their time with The New Teen Titans.