Sunday, April 2, 2017

Team dynamics always made Teen Titans stories great: 'The New Teen Titans Vol. 5' trade paperback review

When I watched the preview of "Teen Titans: The Judas Contract" as an extra on the "Justice League Dark" Blu-ray, I started look for a trade paperback of THE JUDAS CONTRACT at my local library. I haven't found a copy — yet.

Before I see the animated movie, I want to read the issues covering the two main villains in that story, Brother Blood and Deathstroke. So I returned to the young adult collection to see what trades were there that I hadn't read already.

And sure enough, there was Vol. 5 of THE NEW TEEN TITANS (Nos. 28-34 and THE NEW TEEN TITANS ANNUAL No. 2), which coincidentally includes early appearances of Terra?Tara Markov. And who else? Brother Blood and Deathstroke.

Nothing like hitting something close to the jackpot on a random choice!

This is an emotionally tough time for the Teen Titans. Wally West (Kid Flash) and Dick Grayson (Robin) are struggling with balancing their personal lives and being superheroes.

Grayson's push is especially trying — he is attempting to do everything and be everything for everybody: Asserting himself as a solo version of Robin, being the leader of the Teen Titans, a student, Kory (Starfire)'s lover and at this point, dealing with his estranged relationship with Bruce Wayne/Batman.

All this leads him to distance himself from Starfire, who is helplessly in love with the Teen Wonder and doesn't know how to deal with the way Grayson is acting. (Even after reading Vol. 3 and this collection, I maintain what I did when I read issues of THE TEEN TITANS in the 1980s: I've never understood his attraction to Kory, who aside from having a ridiculously shapely figure just doesn't offer a lot in the way of a personality.)

Two other Teen Titans are going through what sounds like a soap opera of their own.

Victor Stone (Cyborg) is under the assumption the woman who has been interested in him is back with her abusive boyfriend. Having a body of more cyborg parts than human ones, this leads him to wonder why he bothers with trying to establish a relationship outside of his dependable teammates.

Donna Troy (Wonder Girl) is having some love-life drama of her own; her boring boyfriend has issues with his ex-wife, which leads to Troy second-guess their romance, yet he asks Troy to marry him. Yet she hasn't given him an answer by the end of this collection.

Yet there is plenty of superhero-ing. But those plot points take a backseat to the heroes' drama and the tension it brings.

Amidst all this tension is the cranky and sharp-tongued Terra, who has the ability to move parts of the earth. She manipulates and pushes the Teen Titans into making her member and is disgusted that the team won't reveal their secret identities to her.

If you get the feeling that Terra is up to no good, you'd be right. Twenty-three year-old spoiler alert! Deathstroke has placed Tera in the middle of the Teen Titans. His always shady motives, which I'm sure include tearing apart the team from the inside, aren't revealed as this trade ends. My assumption is this all plays out in the "The Judas Contract" storyline.

It's easy to see why the THE NEW TEEN TITANS sold so well when it was on the newsstands.

For one, it was the rare DC Comics title with mostly new characters. Unlike the established Justice League of America (as it was known at the time), the team dynamics of the Teen Titans are exactly that — interesting given its variety of personalities. Readers see what's going on with the team members, whereas fans rarely got such an in-depth look at the personal lives of the Justice League.

Yours truly — Cary's Comics Craze blogger Cary Ashby —
with legendary comic book writer Marv Wolfman in 2014.
He co-created the Teen Titans with artist George Perez.
CARY'S COMICS CRAZE file photo
What makes reading THE NEW TEEN TITANS so interesting is the same thing that makes the "Supergirl" TV series so compelling to watch; they don't have it figured out and despite their experience as superheroes, they don't get it right — either as a hero or in their personal lives. The Teen Titans' struggles are interesting to read even if the villains they face, aside from Deathstroke, are less than compelling.

Finally what made THE NEW TEEN TITANS such a runaway hit was the one-two punch of its co-creators, writer Marv Wolfman and artist George Perez.

Since the pair remained the creative team for each variation of the Teen Titans-related titles, the group's stories had a consistent tone and voice throughout the 1980s. Perez was at the height of his immense artistic talent, which makes makes Wolfman's dramatic, character-focused stores not a pleasure for the eyes, but a joy to read.

Grade: A-

How about that time I thumb-wrestled George Perez?! It's true; read about it here.

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