DC’s reprint project collecting the classic Marv Wolfman/George Pérez New Teen Titans run hits a crucial phase with Volume 5.
The first two years of The New Teen Titans had been excellent. But as the series worked its way through its third year, it began to achieve critical mass. Key to this period was the emergence of Terra, the troubled young powerhouse who joined the team while keeping a lot of secrets. Against this backdrop, the Titans found themselves in the crossfire of a war between two of their enemies, Brother Blood and the Brotherhood of Evil. They also dealt with a return from the Terminator, the mystery of costumed villain Trident and the debut of Thunder and Lightning, siblings from Vietnam with a mysterious American father and hard-to-control powers.
While the superhero action was first rate, Wolfman and Pérez made these stories truly memorable with their deft handling of the complex interpersonal dynamics. The Terra saga was one of the duo’s best plots. The killer twist included in this arc really grabbed fans’ attention and set the stage for the book’s most famous arc.
Lots of other elements in this stretch became crucial for the DC Universe. Both Kid Flash and Robin went through major identity crises. The issues developed here would soon lead Dick Grayson to give up being Robin and adopt his long-running Nightwing persona. And longer term, the work that Wolfman and Pérez did with Wally West put him on the path to become the new Flash a few years down the road. Wolfman and Pérez provided fans with a tease of their landmark Crisis on Infinite Earths series with early appearances by the Monitor and Harbinger, though their true nature wasn’t even hinted at here. And this arc midwifed the creation of the new Vigilante, who would become one of DC’s more controversial characters of the mid-80s.
Old friends like Speedy and Aqualad turned up in guest roles. Kid Flash’s ex-girlfriend Frances Kane took a big step toward the mental instability that would one day turn her into the villain Magenta. And Cheshire, who would grow into a key part of the DCU within a few years’ time, made her memorable debut in the Vigilante story. Wolfman and Pérez also teased their end game for Raven, one of their most fascinating creations.
The creators’ willingness to portray the ups and downs of being a part of the team infused the stories with relatability. The Titans were close friends, but they got on each other’s nerves. The romantic connections had significant ups and downs. And despite being a superhero saga, real world issues like drugs, organized crime and terrorism wove into the plots with finesse. It was state of the art ’80s comic book storytelling that still holds up quite well.
On the visual side, Pérez, working primarily with inker Romeo Tanghal, made the art as dynamic and compelling as the written component. While many issues deployed a more traditional approach, dividing most pages into grids broken up by the occasional dramatic splash page, Pérez infused a lot of energy and drama into those panels. His design work has always been one of the artist’s hallmarks and that’s on full display here. The characters are sharp and interesting without being overly fussy and the backgrounds they inhabit are detailed without being overstuffed. When Pérez let his imagination loose, though, it was truly impressive. A sequence detailing Raven’s desperate hallucination was innovative and unnerving (in the best way). And even when using the grid approach, Pérez found ways to put a twist on it, with repeating motifs or unique panel arrangements, that gave the action a propulsive quality. It was bright, clean work that injected enough shadow and invention to keep the book at the forefront of its peers.
The entire New Teen Titans reprint series is worth picking up. But Volume 5 is where Wolfman and Pérez’s larger plans for the series really started to come into focus, with impacts that are still felt three decades later.