The Masked Bookwyrm's
The Teen Titans Graphic Novel and TPB Reviews

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The Teen Titans published by DC Comics

For other significant Teen Titans appearances see:
JLA/Titans: The Technis Imperative, X-Men/The New Teen Titans: Apokolips Now, Batman: A Lonely Place of Dying, Wonder Woman: Gods of Gotham (Nightwing and Troia/Wonder Girl appear), and, of course, Robin/Nightwing appears in various Batman stories

Showcase presents The Teen Titans, vol. 2  2007 (SC TPB) 520 pages

cover by CardyWritten by Bon Haney, Steve Skeates, Robert Kanigher, Neal Adams with Mike Friedrich. Art by Nick Cardy, George Tuska, Gil Kane, Neal Adams, Dick Dillin, others. Inks by Cardy, others.
black and white. Letters: various. Editor: various

Reprinting: The Teen Titans (1st series) #19-36, Brave & the Bold #83, 94, World's Finest #205 (1969-1972) - with covers

Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 2 (some parts more)

Re-reviewed: June, 2012

"Showcase presents" are DC's belated answer to Marvel's Essential TPBs -- massive volumes reprinting consecutive runs of comics in economical black & white (as well as a few concurrent appearances in other comics -- including a team up with Superman and two team ups with Batman).

This is the second volume of the original Teen Titans, in their "glory" days mixing kitsch and sincerity -- the Flower Power era. The original concept for the team was to take pre-established teen-age sidekicks -- Robin, Kid Flash, Wonder Girl, etc. -- and have them form their own junior Justice League. But the concept also sprang out of the temper of the times, as the teen heroes became embroiled in generation gap conflicts (something later incarnations of the team, including the mega-successful Wolfman-Perez version in the early 1980s, de-emphasized as the generation gap became less tumultuous).

The result was hit and miss as middle age comics scribes attempted to create hip, teen heroes spouting hippy-era lingo -- not to mention mired in some of the sexist attitudes of the times (casually explaining that women often swoon when they first visit Italy!). Which is why the early TT, these days, are often regarded partly as camp. (Of course, one wonders how future generations will look back on modern comics, with their sometimes equally idiosyncratic dialogue of "dude!" and "way!").

By this point, the art on the book had matured significantly, with artist Nick Cardy evolved in both his drawing and composition to a moody, organic style. This collection also includes issues drawn by Neal Adams, Gil Kane and the under-appreciated George Tuska. And when Cardy wasn't pencilling, he was usually inking the others. The result is that, as a collection, the art can't be faulted at all, with hardly a single issue that falls below being well drawn (though I query some of the credits -- sometimes the pencils don't quite seem to evoke the artist credited).

Towards the end of this collection, the Titans began to move into a Gothic phase -- which might seem odd, given the brightly coloured heroes. It may have been a reflection of the times (occult films were all the rage and supernatural/horror comics were a new trend) or simply of a comic that was trying to find a formula that would click. But it might also have been an editorial response to Cardy's moody style. One could imagine editors looking at his pages and thinking, hmmm, we need to start writing to his strengths. An example is Teen Titans #28, which is particularly rich with creepy mood and stylish imagery despite not being overtly supernatural (it's the first part of a two-parter, and the conclusion doesn't fully live up to the first half). And this gothic flavour is particularly accentuated when reprinted here in stark black and white.

Writing-wise, there's a feeling the comic was struggling to find a direction. The first few issues are mainly written by Titans creator Bob Haney, who delivers goofy, but reasonably entertaining adventures of the faux-hippy heroes. Mike Friedrich also provides an enjoyable but decidely tongue-in-cheek affair (nicely illustrated by the combo of Gil Kane and Wally Wood). But then there's a shift to a more sombre, more socially relevant tone (courtesy Robert Kanigher) as the Titans fail to prevent the assassination of a peace activist (in a story coming at the end of a decade that had seen a number of American assassinations). Blaming themselves, the teens are then recruited by the mysterious Mr. Jupiter to take part in a vague project to create kind of super teens or something. The Titans discard their costumes, swear off using their super powers, and become a kind of junior version of the Challengers of the Unknown as Mr. Jupiter sends them on various training missions that involve everything from inner city slums to moon landings, with some token nods to non-violence. But then with Steve Skeates now the chief writer, before long, the characters are sort of using their powers, and sometimes back in costume. By the time Haney reassumes the writing reins, it's the old Titans again, except still answering to Mr. Jupiter, and with Haney dropping his earlier (intentional) camp and now with a Scooby Do flavour veering into a supernatural milieu, complete with the kids travelling around in a van!

It all feels unfocused, careening back and forth (from no costumes to costumes, from pacifism to fisticuffs), not really progressing logically. The Hawk and the Dove join the team during this period...and then disappear with barely an explanation. The comic is clearly trying for a greater sophistication, dealing with gritty themes of race and ghettos and violence...yet this slapdash approach to logic and continuity seems as though they aren't ready to step up to the challenges. This mix of more "adult" material with a fundamentally juvenile tone occasionally results in some questionable material -- like a scene where Speedy and the black Titan, Mal, playfully trade ethnic snipes. Granted, it's only one scene -- in fact, there's a later issue where the Titans trade racist barbs, but then it's supposed to be a sign of something very wrong with the characters. And, indeed, some of the "race"-based banter can actually take on a charming camaraderie ("Black is still beautiful on you, Mal," says Kid Flash at one point).

Also joining the team in these issues are Mal, an inner city black youth without powers, and the enigmatic psychic, Lilith (who might be intended to be Eurasian) -- characters who, unlike Hawk and Dove, stuck around. And they give the series more of an identity than just being the "sidekick team" as they are not junior versions of other DC heroes.

I always kind of liked the hip, relaxed interplay between the team that helped distinguish them from their more stodgy adult mentors -- not so much the sometimes clunky hippy lingo ("groovy") but the way they referred to each other by nicknames as if these really are teenage friends hanging out together -- Robin the Boy Wonder is "Boy Wonderful", Kid Flash is almost always called "Flasher". But though initially there seemed to be some, vague, sense of personalities (Speedy the hot head), for a lot of it, the characters are pretty indistinguishable -- a fact made even more awkward once they're no longer wearing costumes (and reprinted here in black & white so you can't even go by hair colour). You literally can't tell who's supposed to be who in some scenes! The whole concept behind Hawk and Dove was the contrasting personalities, and Skeates was actually a writer on their own series -- yet they too often seem without distinctive characters. Robin leaves the team for a few issues in the middle (given that Robin was such a high profile character, perhaps they felt he couldn't be part of the whole "no costume" change) but there's something about Robin/Dick Grayson that works, and his absence I think hurts those middle issues.

Why the series went through these changes, I don't know. One suspects sales were slumping and they were desperate to try anything (explaining why they didn't stick with the concepts). With the addition of Mr. Jupiter, you almost wonder if we were seeing a patronizing agenda. After all, the Titans came about in the generation gap of the '60s, yet by making them agents of Mr. Jupiter, it's as if DC suddenly decided their teen heroes should go back to being subservient to an adult.

After a later reading of this collection, I realize some of it can be more clearly attributed to the writers -- that the shifts in tones and themes often accompany a change in who's at the helm (though presumably equally reflecting an editorial edict...perhaps explaining why there was a change in writers in the first place). For example, Robert Kanigher writes three issues that could be seen as an "arc", introducing the more sombre tone of the assassination and the Titans renouncing their powers...and violence (and introducing Mal and Lilith both!). There's a stream-of-consciousness to it (something I've noticed about some of Kanigher's other writings!) with an almost dreamlike logic, as one issue alone segues from a tale of the inner city to...a space mission! Then when Skeates takes over there's an almost instant reversal, as other characters berate the Titans for rejecting their powers, and violence...his opening story immediately back pedalling from that. Skeates also prominently features the Hawk & the Dove in one issue (Skeates having written for their own short-lived series) before writing them out -- though even here, strangely, he weighs his story more in favour of Hawk's philosophy than Dove's.

Yet despite the weaknesses...this collection still offers some decent entertainment. For one thing, this actually collects some of my (previously read) favourite stories. F'rinstance, there's the three-part tale illustrated and written by Neal Adams (#20-22) that not only is beautifully drawn, but surprisingly well written. In its three part structure, it's as if Adams set out to write the definitive Titans epic by capturing three different facets of the team -- the first chapter has the Titans in their generation gap role, helping a troubled teen involved with urban revolutionaries, while the second part is more super-hero action, teaming them for the first time with Hawk and Dove, then the climax goes all sci-fi leading to a showdown in another dimension. (I review it in detail here).

Another of my -- literally! -- all-time favourite stories, is "Rebels in the Streets" by Haney and Cardy, from Brave and the Bold #96, teaming the Titans with Batman in another story playing up the generational issue, while also grappling thoughtfully with inner city poverty and reflecting the temper of the times (I also mention it here).

Even beyond these there are memorable tales. Some which work precisely because of the attempts at redefining the comic. A story where the costume-less Titans go to the moon ("Nightmare in Space") seems just a little silly at first, but taken not as a super hero adventure, and more as a techno-drama, it actually does have some mood and atmosphere. While a later story, "Less Than Human?" has the Titans trying to civilize a prehistoric caveman, essentially playing Higgins to his Eliza -- not really a typical plot for a super hero story...which is why it works (in fact, the story was essentially re-imagined for DC's post-Crisis reality in The New Titans #56 (1989) -- and re-told as a more conventional action-thriller, complete with mad scientists and evil corporations, it doesn't work nearly as well, as a story, let alone as a Human Drama). Likewise, the veering into supernatural, though somewhat corny, nonetheless succeeds as page-turners precisely because they're story-driven...not just mindless action (such as "The Demon of Dog Island"). Other stories nicely reflect their era of social unrest -- a story about strange goings-on at a university might seem overwrought today, but less so in the context of the times.

Part of the appeal of these stories is just the willingness to be stories. "Punish Not My Evil Son!" (from B&B #83) in which Batman adopts a new ward for the span of 24 pages might have continuity realists rolling their eyes (how does he figure to keep his identity secret with another person in the house?) yet that's because it's meant first and foremost as an interesting plot...not just a loose collection of splash pages.

And maybe the weakness of this collection is also its biggest appeal. From a continuity point of view, it's all over the map, changing tones and themes every few issues, from light-hearted romps, to social earnestness; super hero adventure to Gothic mystery; sci-fi, fantasy, and down-to-earth realism; multi-part arcs to short eight page filler tales; characters coming and going (and some short solo tales!). Though, to be fair, at least they acknowledge the changes...Skeates may back pedal from some of Kanigher's ideas...but he still acknowledges it as part of the characters' recent history. BUT...the flip side is there's a little something for whatever mood you're in if you're looking for something to drag off the shelf on a rainy afternoon. No one style has a chance to out stay its welcome: bored by tongue-in-cheek camp? Read on. Bored by earnest pretension? Read on.

Part of the appeal of these Showcase presents/Essential volumes is the very mass of material. You can take a little chaff among the wheat. I mean, 17 bucks for over twenty comics -- that's less than a buck an issue. In fact, there's a strange hypocrisy on my part. After all, if DC had released this as a much slimmer volume, collecting Neal Adams' TT #20-22 (which had previously been collected in a digest years ago), B&B #96, and a few others...I would have had no qualm about giving this even five stars! So really, I should review this saying, you get some great a lot of extra padding. I guess you could see my final rating as an averaging of the review, as the stories range from 4 or even 5 some 3 and 2 star stories.

In fact, what's odd, is that though I was kind of disappointed by this after a first reading, I've actually re-read it again, and enjoyed it more. I never found it a slog, with even the lesser issues easy enough to breeze through. It reminds me a bit of my reaction to Essential Daredevil vol. 2 -- intellectually, I thought it was only okay...yet I found myself happily re-reading parts of it when I was feeling blue. It has to be a mark of something good that I actually whipped through this 500 page titan faster than a lot of other Essential/Showcase volumes I have -- even ones that I initially regarded as better and more rewarding!

So...hit and miss, but certainly not unentertaining.

Cover price: $__ CDN./ $16.99 USA

Pocket Book Reprint
cover by George PerezThe New Teen Titans  Published in 1982 by Tor Books, re-issued in 1992 - Black & White

Reprinting: DC Comics Presents #26 (the Titans story), The New Teen Titans (1st series) #1-3 

Written by Marv Wolfman. Pencils by George Perez. Inks by Dick Giordano, Romeo Tanghal (and Frank Chiaramonte?). 
Letters: unbilled. Editor: Len Wein

Rating: * * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: a few times over the years

Originally published right in the thick of the New Teen Titans mega- success, this pocket book compilation collects the first appearance of the team (from a insert in DC Comics Presents #26), plus the first three issues of the regular comic -- broken up into a couple of panels per page, and in black and white. For old time fans of the series, these early stories quickly establish the characters and the group dynamics, as some original Titans reunite and new characters are introduced, plus they introduce various aspects that would be hallmarks of the title for years to come (such as villain, Deathstroke the Terminator, in #2). For those unfamiliar with the team that was, for a time, DC Comics' hottest selling title, it, likewise, provides a nice window on the series. I was never a huge fan of the series, but I still think this is an enjoyable tome. There's plenty of action, ranging from space aliens to costumed villains, plus the series' trademark soap operay angst and character introspection. Plus there's the nice, solid art of George Perez. 

The main quibble is that issue #3...ends to be continued! Normally I would object, saying if they didn't have enough pages to include the next issue, better to have just collected the DC Comics Presents story, plus issues #1 and #2 (most such paperback collections only reprint three issues anyway) and allow the collection to be relatively self-contained. In this case, though, I'm ambivalent. While it's true the action-adventure plot of issue #3 doesn't resolve, that issue introduces various pertinent aspects of the series, giving more background to Starfire and Raven, introducing the team's H.Q., etc. So, in a way, as a book establishing the foundations of the team, including issue #3 isn't such a bad idea. 

Another quibble is that there are a few spots where dialogue doesn't quite make sense, leading me to assume that a few panels may've been edited out in order to fit into the book. 

The "New" Teen Titans started out, unapologetically, as DC's answer to Marvel's The X-Men (at a time when those merry mutants were first really becoming hot) and Wolfman and Perez seemed to hit paydirt with their first try, as the New TT became one of DC's hottest selling titles. Of course, like so many things, such popularity eventually waned (though they had a good run), with the series being overhauled once or twice, then cancelled, restarted, cancelled, etc. Just within the last few years, a revived Titans series went for a while, and now is being replaced by another Teen Titans. Clearly, DC hasn't managed to duplicate the earlier formula for success. 

And just as a belated thought about the series, one wonders how much the original Doom Patrol was influencing the creators. Not only did the new Titans include ex-Doom Patroler Beast Boy/Changeling, but other characters included a man in a robotic body and a character who could transform into a black energy silhouette that could only be separated from her body for a short period -- both evocative of Doom Patrol characters. Another question is how come Cyborg talked in stereotypical comic book "black" lingo (lots of "ain't"s and dropped "g"s) when his dad was an educated, successful scientist who didn't? 

All in all, a nice read, given that early Titans comics are still probably pretty pricey in the back issues bins, and the only other collection of these early issues -- The New Teen Titans Archive Edition (reprinting the first nine or ten issues) -- is hardcover and very, very expensive. 


The New Teen Titans vol. 1 2014 (HC GN) 244 pages.

cover by George PerezWritten by Marv Wolfman. Pencils by George Perez, with Curt Swan. Inks by Romeo Tanghal, with Frank Chiramonte.
Colours/letters: various.

Reprinting: The New Teen Titans (1st series) #1-8, plus insert story from DC Comics Presents #26 (1980)

Rating: * * * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Reviewed: Nov 2017

This collects the first eight issues of the "New" Teen Titans -- the massively successful 1980s relaunch of the old Teen Titans concept by Marv Wolfman and George Perez. And these eight issues do make a decent arc of stories -- a graphic novel.

These issues feature the assembling of the new team (involving stalwarts of the original team, Robin, Wonder Girl and Kid Flash, as well as occasional player Beast Boy -- given a name change to Changeling -- joining with brand new characters Cyborg and Starfire all at the behest of the mysterious Raven), plus a few different adventures and the introduction of recurring villains like Deathstroke the Terminator. All this while a story arc unfolds involving Raven's mysterious past and her demon lord father, Trigon, who attempts to invade the earth. This plot is introduced, developed, and resolved all within these issues (as are secondary threads like the mystery of who built their new HQ and why). The collection then closes out with a kind of appropriate palate cleanser: "A Day in the Life," a mostly low-key issue (with some action) that successfully demonstrated that the characters had become strong enough to carry an entire issue just hanging out, living their lives (and was itself reprinted, long ago, in one of DC's annual Years Best digest collections they put out at the time).

And it's pretty good.

And let me back track a bit to say that my relationship with the New Teen Titans was always complicated. I liked the idea of it: the X-Men-inspired themes, the heavy emphasis on characterization, Perez's strikingly detailed art (though he would only get more detailed in later years!). But I also found the characters themselves not always that ingratiating, Wolfman's scripting sometimes clunky and heavy handed, the plotting (shared by Wolfman and Perez) often rather thin and running to long fight scenes.

So when I say these first eight issues form a good, satisfying run -- I'm saying they won over even a skeptic like me!

Maybe it's because these are the earliest stories, so they can milk extra mystery and intrigue from the events, as the characters -- and the reader -- have to slowly learn about the team, some, like Raven, with decidedly big secrets they are hiding. Maybe it's because Wolfman & Perez do manage to make it feel like a suitably twisty epic, built upon the first few stand alone issues, but even once the main Trigon plot moves to the fore there are a few different aspects keeping it from settling too much into a rut. Admittedly, once that aspect kicks into high gear, some of my problems with Wolfman & Perez's plotting rear their heads. It can feel a bit undeveloped, like they don't really know what to do once the last act arrives.

Part of the appeal here may be nostalgia as I had read some of these issues before, and the Trigon thing was referenced enough in later issues that it's neat seeing it finally unfold (it's more effective than the later reprise of the idea collected in the TPB -- The Terror of Trigon).

In addition to Perez's usually fine pencils (mostly inked by Romeo Tanghal) old pro Curt Swan pinch hits an issue (and actually ends up being the first guy to draw Trigon I believe). I was and remain a fan of Swan (whose signature character was most definitely Superman) but it wasn't until seeing him here that it occurred to me how much stylistically he and Perez had in common. So Swan's subbing for an issue doesn't interrupt the visual flow. Indeed, I might even go so far as to say Swan is even a little better than Perez! (His characters are just a touch more natural-looking).

In certain respects, one could argue these old comics have dated rather noticeably. Most obviously in the character of Changeling, the green-skinned Lothario who was/is supposed to be the wisecracking joker of the team. Except a lot of his wisecracks don't seem so funny these days -- he's a living, breathing poster for sexual harassment. A lot of his "jokes" are simply peppering Starfire and Wonder Girl with lewd come-ons. Even when Wonder Girl specifically asks him to stop -- he doesn't. 'Cause, gosh, y'know, it's all just in fun.

It's actually kind of icky.

Indeed, the gender (or specifically sexual) politics of the team have always struck me as problematic. Especially given they are "teens" (says so in the name). Changeling, the youngest of the team, hardly talks about anything but sex. Starfire was arguably among the most sexually exploitive of heroines at the time, both in terms of her costume (and her tendency to question the need for clothes period!) and her voluptuous dimensions. Although to be fair, Perez doesn't really draw any of them like teens, the guys being heavily muscled. Then there's the idea of the teenage Donna (Wonder Girl) working as a glamour photographer taking pictures of other hyper-sexualized teens and dating a divorced man ten years her senior (and am I reading too much into it when her boyfriend, Terry, has a beard -- and I believe Perez and possibly Wolfman both sported beards at the time?)

I mean, I get that the readership was assumed to be teens, so doing a series about sexy teens aimed at teen readers isn't so strange (well, except for endorsing the idea of a 29 year old boyfriend). But, y'know -- Wolfman & Perez weren't teens.

Beyond that more controversial stuff, it's interesting to think about the creative influences. There's little doubt that The "New" Teen Titans was hoping to muscle in on the mega-popularity of Marvel's revived X-Men also about misfit heroes struggling with their inner lives as much as with villains (Perez and popular X-Men artist John Byrne cut from similar stylistic cloth, too). Starfire could be seen as the aggressive mirror face of the X-Men's Storm (beautiful, underclad, "ethnic" heroines who find American society alien...and who both question the need for clothing!) and with Cyborg, at least visually, standing in for Colossus. While one wonders if the 1960s Doom Patrol influenced the membership: Changeling actually was a member of that quirky team, with Cyborg (again) serving as a Robotman substitute, and with Raven's black silhouette soul self similar to Negative Man's (including with a limited time it can stay separated from her body).

Anyway -- that's just me trying to add a little deeper analysis to my review.

I'll admit, reading ahead to a few issues beyond these stories, I found myself remembering my ambivalence toward the team. But this first eight issue arc of the New Teen Titans is a good run. If you're a long time fan of the team, it establishes many of the foundation stones for the team. And if you aren't familiar with this once hugely popular series or, like me, tended to find it uneven, this run of issues is a good collection to let you appreciate what fans saw in it.
Cover price: $__

The New Teen Titans: Games 2011 (HC GN) 144 pages.

cover by George PerezWritten by Marv Wolfman (co-plotter George Perez). Pencils by George Perez. Inks by Mike Perkins, Al Vey, George Perez.
Colours: Hfi. Letters: Travis Lanham.

Additional notes: intro by Marv Wolfman; afterward by George Perez; original story proposal.

Published at tabloid dimension.

Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Comic books have had their share of "lost" projects -- half completed but never published. And one such example was the "lost" Teen Titans graphic novel, tentatively called "Games". Marv Wolfman and George Perez had revived the old Teen Titans comic as the "New" Teen Titans in the 1980s and made it a major hit for DC Comics. By 1988, Perez was ready to move on, more or less permanently, so he and Wolfman decided to collaborate on one final opus with the team. And not some minor 48 or 64 page story -- but a true epic: 120 pages (of story), a brand new, never-serialized-in-a-monthly-comic graphic novel.

Perez turned in scores of page...but for various reasons, the project languished, stalled, went on hiatus...and eventually died, those unscripted pages left to languish in closets as a hint of what might have been.

But never say never, and more than two decades later, Wolfman and Perez reunited to finish the story and with much ballyhoo, the lost epic Games hits the shelves.

Perez had only drawn half the pages back then, and no dialogue had been scripted. So when it came time to revive it, not only was Perez drawing new pages, and Wolfman writing the dialogue for the first time, but the plot itself was re-thought in spots. As such, the published Games is a mix of old and new, of Wolfman and Perez in a sense collaborating with Wolfman & Perez, 20 years apart.

And the result is promising...and disappointing.

First up -- it's gorgeous to look at. Perez is a legendary artist, with his realist faces and figures and his hyper detailed backgrounds. And when he's "on" shows an imaginative flare for composition and panel arrangement. And he's on top form here, with little difference between his 1988 pages and his modern pages. One stylistic quirk is that Perez is traditionally given to firm, solid ink lines, but here there can be a softer, rounder look at times -- lending the faces more humanity than some of his other projects. Sometimes ink lines seem to have been eschewed entirely, allowing the colourist to shape and flesh out the faces and cheekbones. The result is the colours too are vibrant and lush, lending it an almost painted feel at times -- particularly when you contrast it with colouring in comics circa the 1980s. As well, this is an over-sized book, with tabloid dimensions. This allows Perez to indulge in his sometimes insanely busy pages, crammed with lots of panels -- yet the individual panels themselves can be bigger, allowing the art and the figures to breathe. It may well be some of the best showcasing of Perez's art -- well, ever!

There are some visual flaws. Supporting character Sarah Simms, who I recall as being young and pretty, here looks more middle-aged and a bit like the Joker's in-bred cousin! And Perez's compositional experiments (aided and abetted by Wolfman) can sometimes be confusing -- like a sequence where we see the Titans heading out on missions, then cut to those same Titans back at their HQ, and it takes a moment to realize they're juxtaposing the "now" with a flashback. There are also spots where dialogue balloons seem to point at the wrong people, or where the words don't quite match the action.

Still, the structure of the story makes use of the epic one-shot format. It opens with a dramatic, apocalyptic vista of a destroyed military installation in the Arctic snow and there is a kind of slow build up at first, cutting between various incidences and characters. It gives the book a more special feel -- that this is the way it was meant to be read, and not that the creators were simply transposing a story plotted for the monthly comic into a single volume. One grey area when DC and Marvel first started doing "graphic novels" with their mainstream heroes was whether the "sophisticated" format should reflect a "mature" approach -- sometimes such books did flirt with grittier material, or slightly harder profanity...but usually only slightly. And I'm not sure that was ever intended here -- occasional bits of dialogue might seem a bit coarse for 1988 mores...until you realize Wolfman didn't actually script it until now, when it seems pretty mild. The terrorism theme and mass destruction might have been intended as a reflection of grittier story...but it's hard to say definitely.

The result is that, with the number of pages, the physical size of the pages, the use of colour, it does feel like a genuine "graphic novel" featuring the team. Or, put another way, if we liken the Teen Titans comic to a weekly TV series, Games feels like a big budget motion picture.

There is an appeal to the self-containedness of the story. Some reviews lamented that it wasn't a "greatest hits" story, trotting out signature villains. But that means it feels like a story unto itself, with a unique adversary. With that said, some of the character stuff is tied into then on going themes, and could've been better articulated for those struggling to remember what was going on with these guys 20 some years ago!

The theme is almost eerie in its prescience, about a terrorist attack on New York City -- years before 9/11! The premise is that a terrorist has been staging various attacks, taunting C.B.I. Agent King Faraday (a long time DC character who had been a recurring figure in 1980s Titans' comics). The terrorist, calling himself the Gamesmaster, ironically is not a foreign foe out to destroy American but rather, in a twisted sense, he's a rogue patriot, staging attacks as a wake up call to the American intelligence organizations who are still focused on the waning Cold War, unprepared for the new war on terrorism that (he feels) is around the corner. But intentions aside, the Gamesmaster has killed hundreds and Faraday comes to the Titans to help him stop the madman.

As that premise maybe makes clear, the story is unapologetically set back in its era of Titans stories -- and in the political interregnum between the end of the Cold War and the dawning of the War on Terror.

What's also worth noting is that the story is, in a sense, apocryphal. The fact that it is a "retro" story might lead one to assume nothing can occur to alter the status quo. But in fact, some life altering things do occur to our heroes (and presumably would've affected the monthly comic had Games been published in the late 1980s), and clearly we aren't meant to ask "how does this gel with later events?" The answer: it doesn't. So just go with it.

The problem with Games is that for a 120 page epic, playing around with real world themes of terrorism, and supposedly two decades in the making -- it can seem a bit slap dash, haphazard, and just kind of lazily thought out. Part of that is because, in a sense, Wolfman and Perez are struggling to recall the plot themselves (as they acknowledge in their commentaries). And part of it just is, well, a certain laziness, a mediocrity, that tends to plague comics in general, and Wolfman's work as well. Even in some of the story notes they describe plot points as contrivances, or suggest that "somehow" the characters figure something out.

It's rather thin and basic -- no Byzantine twists and turns, no multitude of story threads that slowly tighten around each other. The Gamesmaster doesn't even have much of a plan, or a hidden agenda -- just a lot of random destruction and chaos. In a sense, one suspects that Wolfman and Perez see plot as simply an excuse for key scenes -- rather than that scenes should build upon each other to create a plot. And that relates to my point about "contrivances", where needed clues or information are essentially just handed to the Titans as the moment arises to set up the next action scene, either by Faraday, or because the Gamesmaster himself conveniently leaves clues he wants the team to find. Often without ever really making it clear to us, the reader, how or why or what or how.

Faraday, who's a bit of a hard nose, shows up, not only asking for their help -- but insisting they must kill the Gamesmaster. This leads to the moralistic Titans rebuffing him, and Faraday, in turn, bringing the weight of the U.S. government to bear to coerce them -- auditing their parents, questioning their citizenship, etc. Frankly, that could almost have made an interesting story -- or a good chunk of the story -- on its own, an off-beat tale of the heroes being persecuted by their own government. Unfortunately, it only lasts a few pages. And it all seems a bit, well, contrived. Faraday's insistence the Gamesmaster must be brought in Dead (not Dead or Alive) seems silly (whether or not there's a later justification, at the time he offers them no plausible reason other than because he says so), and even his very ability to bring the forces of the government to bear seems dubious given his own position/authority was tenuous (a character even remarks he has exceeded his authority)!

Once Faraday and the Titans kiss and make up, the team splits up to track down various bomb threats and other aspects of the Gamesmaster's plan, each team member then encountering a hitherto unknown super villain who's lying in wait for them (and on the Gamesmaster's payroll). I initially assumed this was another act in the broader story -- but pretty soon it turns out this pretty much is the rest of the story, as we cut back and forth to each Titan in solo action, and back and forth, and back and forth for some 50 pages! Some of the conflicts are supposed to have emotional resonance, or relate to the heroes' psychology.

And, again, it all feels...contrived.

It's not really a story, so much as it is a collection of action scenes, written to accommodate the number of heroes. If the team had half the membership, Wolfman and Perez would've just dropped half the sequences, without it impacting on the overall plot. A good plot should be one where each sequence is crucial to furthering the story, and isn't simply a mirror image of each other. In other words, maybe instead of each hero going off alone, and battling a villain (matched to their powers), one or two could go off alone and battle villains, while maybe two are paired up to go undercover somewhere, while another is busy, I don't know, saving orphans with nary a villain in sight. You know -- so the sequences are different from each other.

The idea of introducing a new super team to battle our heroes for a one-times adventure is a staple of team series, and of the Titans. And the structure reminded me of the Terror of Trigon arc (collected as a TPB) where we spent a couple of issues cutting between each character in solo action, supposedly exposing some inner angst or fear. I found it kind of dull in that story, too.

What do I mean by contrived? I guess I mean even in the context of the story it has no logical -- or organic -- justification. For example Donna Troy faces a villainess who conjures hallucinations that supposedly evoke Donna's childhood nightmares. But if the creators wanted that (not that nightmares about dragons really gives us any deep insight) why not write a story where Donna really does have to face a dragon? That's what I mean by even in the context of the story it feels contrived.

With that said, there are some good bits -- like Jericho, the artistic one of the team, having to defend a museum and its works of art from destruction, his horror at the wanton destruction well depicted on his face.

Even then, the characterization tends to veer from obvious heavy handed bits (Cyborg wanting to kill the villain, or Beast Boy and Danny Chase bickering) to kind of, well, non-existent. I tend to think of Donna as one of the bedrocks of the team (since she, along with Dick Grayson, date back to the original 1960s incarnation) yet I barely remember a line she had here. Part of the problem with breaking the team up into solo sequences is it kind of loses the point of a team -- the interaction. Fans of Wolfman/Perez's run on the series (and, to be fair, of this particular volume) wax on about the "family" camaraderie -- but I just didn't really get much of it. Perhaps because it is mainly focused on the plot/action, there was very little time put aside for the characters to just hang out and interact, like pals. The series' supporting characters often appear in barely more than a panel here or there (Sarah Simms, to whom I referred earlier, although having a pivotal sequence...still barely has any lines, and shares no actual scenes with Cyborg!)

The story then wraps up with a surprise twist -- though one you can see coming, at least in part (actually, reading the accompanying description of the original 1988 proposal, I saw that ending coming even more than the revised one). But as with so many of the other plot aspects, it can feel a bit...vague. Like you understand what and who...just not entirely how or why.

Indeed, I mentioned that I often wasn't always clear on what was going on, or how the characters arrived at certain deductions. The irony is, reading some of the accompanying commentaries, I actually found myself going "Ah-hah -- so that's what was supposed to be going on in that scene!"

In the end -- Games leaves me frustrated. It starts out well, it's beautiful to look at, and it does nicely have the feel of a "graphic novel". But the basic story is, well, basic, and not particularly imaginative, and kind of repetitive. Admittedly, the cutting between various members of a team fighting an individual foe is a tried-and-true staple of super hero comics, so clearly a lot of fans like that. And I do too -- sometimes (heck, it dates all the way back to Justice Society tales from the 1940s!). But here it just seemed protracted, the action not that interesting, and the character insight not that insightful.

20 years in the making, and Games still feels a bit like they tossed it together in a week.
Hard cover price: $__ CDN./ $19.95 USA.

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