- Justice Society of America #20, by Geoff Johns, Alex Ross, Dale Eaglesham, Nathan Massengill, Jerry Ordway & Bob Wiacek (DC)
- The New Teen Titans Archives vol 4 HC, by Marv Wolfman, George Pérez & Romeo Tanghal (DC)
- Terra #1 of 4, by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti & Amada Conner (DC)
- Top Ten Season Two #2 of 5, by Zander Cannon & Gene Ha (DC/America’s Best)
- Gigantic #1 of 5, by Rick Remender & Eric Nguyen (Dark Horse)
When compiling a list of the most significant books during the bronze age of comics (roughly 1970-1990), Marv Wolfman & George Pérez’s New Teen Titans would certainly make the top ten, a little bit behind Chris Claremont & John Byrne’s Uncanny X-Men. The two books (and rumor is that Titans was intended to be DC’s answer to Marvel’s X-Men) brought stronger characterization and soap opera elements to mainstream superhero comics, essentially taking what Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko had done at Marvel in the 60s to a higher level of sophistication. As such, both series are worth reading for their historical import, but also because they both hold up pretty well today.
This week DC released the fourth volume of the Titans Archives, covering issues #21-27, which is roughly the midpoint of the Wolfman/Pérez run (Pérez left the series after #47, although he returned occasionally thereafter, but the book wasn’t the same without him). What really makes the series work is that it’s about a group of former teenage sidekicks who are growing up; rather than being 11 or 12, they’re now 19 or 20 and are coming into their own. This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: The original Robin was only going to become a man once, Kid Flash was only going to figure out how to come out of the shadow of his mentor once. Into this mix they dropped three brand-new characters from significantly different backgrounds and forged a team out of them.
This particular volume is something of a mixed bag: The first story involves the cult leader Brother Blood, who I never felt really worked as a villain due to being just too heavy-handed. The third story was notable for dealing with teenage runaways and the underworld they can often fall into. It does a pretty good job of both surveying many different characters’ fates with a central story holding it together, but again it feels a little too heavy-handed. But it was cutting-edge at the time, the sorts of issues (drugs, prostitution, minors getting involved with the mob) which had previously been verboten in comics. It’s the middle story which really shines, the longest story since the 6-issue one which launched the series: The alien Starfire’s evil sister comes to Earth and kidnaps her, and the Titans chase after her and get involved in the ongoing civil war in her home solar system. It’s satisfying as a science fiction adventure, but it also cements Robin and Starfire’s growing romantic relationship, while providing insight into her background. It’s still a fun read even today, at least as long as you ignore the political situation of the Vega system, which mostly makes little sense.
This was the point where George Pérez was making his transition from a Jack Kirby imitator to become George Pérez, with his outstanding sense of anatomy, unusually wide range of character faces, and detailed costumes and backgrounds. The changes occur almost before your eyes, and he’s now only about a year away from becoming the artist we know today, but he’s not quite there yet, and Romeo Tanghal’s inks – although they’d benefit nearly any other artist working at the time – are starting to feel not quite subtle enough to bring out the best in the pencils.
All-in-all, it’s a fine package, but the best was yet to come. Hopefully DC will keep going with these collections so we can get the whole run in hardcover.
Speaking of the Teen Titans, the volume above featured the first appearance of Terra, a Wolfman creation who was the pivotal character in the climactic story arc of his run with Pérez. Since then, as ComicVine’s entry on her says, she’s “probably one of the most retconned characters in the [DC Universe]”. She’s back this month, in a mini-series with yet another take on the character: This Terra is a cipher with the ability to telekinetically move the dirt and rock who protects the inhabitants below the Earth’s surface from intrusions from above – and vice-versa. In this first issue she gets in a little too deep and is rescued by Power Girl, who brings her to Doctor Mid-Nite who makes a surprising discovery about her identity. It’s a promising start, so we’ll see how it plays out.
It’s rare to see a female artist make it in mainstream superhero comics, so I’m always secretly rooting for them to hit it big, since I think it couldn’t help but be good for the industry. Unfortunately, it seems like there are only a few who make even a small impact in any decade: In the 80s there was Mary Wilshire and June Brigman, and in the 90s there was Jill Thompson.
In this decade we have Amanda Conner, who might be best known for drawing the sardonic graphic novel The Pro, and the Power Girl story in JSA Classified a few years ago. Terra may well end up being better than either of those. Conner’s strength is in facial expressions; she regularly composes pages with a series of panels from the same perspective which vary mainly in body language and expression, and they’re often the most memorable scenes in the issue. There are two such pages at the end of this issue. With the slightly cartoony edge to her style, reading this issue feels a little like reading a webcomic, yet it has a friendliness which sets it apart from the doom-and-gloom hyper-realism of many comics at DC these days.
The rest of this one ought to be fun.