Wednesday marked the official end of the “New 52” — all of DC’s ongoing series (for now) have been released and, although some are better than others, overall the initiative has been a success. People are talking about DC in every corner of the internet and, with the exception of the crazies who are boycotting because Superman made a guttural noise, people are buying a ton of DC books. And how easy is it for us to forget that not even six months ago, people were calling DC a hopeless publisher, forever resigned to second place in market share.
The truth is that the comics industry is cyclical and constantly changing. This isn’t the first time that DC has been considered left for dead, and it certainly isn’t the first time a fresh perspective on their characters has been brought in to try and entice new readers. In the early 1980s, DC revamped one of its most iconic teams, The Teen Titans, by bringing in talent from the competition, creating new characters, adapting old ones, and giving others new costumes/names. Does this sound like a familiar strategy?
Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s time on The New Teen Titans is one of the truly great runs of the last thirty years. More than anything else, when you read one of their Titans stories, it is like being dropped into a fully formed world and being met by characters who not only exist to fight crime, but also live to hang out, to form couples, to truly love and, sometimes, truly dislike each other. Because of the complexity of the relationships, it may seem like a daunting task to drop into the work; but that is not true in the slightest. Their work is accessible and refined; a rare combination both then and now.
And now is the time where the possibly final piece of their Titans puzzle has been released, some 23 years after its beginnings. Call it the Chinese Democracy of the Wolfman/Perez Titans. Except that, unlike Chinese Democracy, people will love this and it will be celebrated as one of the best Titans stories of any time. Read below for why this book is well worth the cover price.
The process of how Games came to be is wrongly attracting most of the attention thrown at this book, so I will try and keep my comments about it brief. Wolfman and Perez had an idea for a story, plotted it out, and Perez drew about 70 pages of it. This was done in the “Marvel Style,” which means that none of the dialogue has been written before the pages were drawn — Perez worked from an outline and eventually turned the pages over to Wolfman for the dialogue. Writers block hit Wolfman hard, and the book sat, unfinished for over twenty years. Finally, with new pages, a new ending, and a still willing audience, the book was released last week.
The story takes place at some point not long after the Wolfman/Perez run ended, so the story assumes the role of a “lost passage” from this era. This presents a few interesting vantage points for readers; if you haven’t read any of these characters since this period, you are simply picking up where you left off. If you’ve been following these characters throughout the years, then reading the story is almost like picking up a yearbook and seeing where people were: Dick Grayson hasn’t stepped in as Batman yet (either time), Donna Troy is still married to the most unassuming character ever drawn in a comic book, and people still know/hate Danny Chase.
The story deals with a villain called the Gamemaster, who has set up an intricate plan to take down the Titans, and all of New York City in the process. Some of the best pages of this book are the scenes of the various minions setting up elaborate devices and plans to fight various Titans. These scenes set the stage for the grand scale of the story; for each Titan, there is one of the Gamemaster’s pawns to match up with them, and each trap seems more intricately planned than the last.Continued below
All of this is gorgeously presented by Perez. In the forward to the book, Wolfman tells how Perez used oversized paper for the artwork, and that really shows here. The layouts are epic, crafted and varied — I don’t think there is one page that is presented in a standard 4 or 6 panel layout. Panels are different sizes, flow in and out of each other, and sometimes characters bridge them together through dialogue or movement, and yet none of it appears to busy for the sake of being busy. Some of the best-drawn sequences are those featuring Raven in her alternate realm; the black and white, heavily shaded dreamscapes are so far outside of Perez’s usual areas of expertise that they take you by surprise and act as a nice break from the brightly colored action.
Every corner of every panel is popping with detail, and these characters have never been drawn better than by Perez. Some characters look more cartoony than contemporary comics audiences may be used to, but then a scene will be genuinely disturbing and scary, and the juxtaposition works like a charm. Cyborg and Starfire, both of whom have seen redesigns in the DCnU, are presented here in their classic incarnations and, despite some of the less than contemporary costumes, look great. Even a character like Changeling, who is presented with his hip in 1985 but laughable in 2011 mullet, is drawn in what feels like the definitive incarnation, even when that incarnation is dated.
The artwork reinforces the idea that this is a trip back to the late 80s, and it makes no apologies as such. A tip of the hat is deserved for Perez’s ability to blend 20+ year old artwork with recent pencils — no seams show here, and I think most people would believe that this was all drawn yesterday or during the Reagan administration. The consistency is part of what makes the book work; this could easily feel like a piecemeal graphic novel, but it never does. The art is worth the price of the book alone.
Wolfman’s love for these characters practically drips off the pages. Danny Chase, a character that never exactly became a fan favorite, is given a very touching moment of redemption late in the story. This is interesting because I don’t know if too many creators would be stubborn enough to include the team’s least popular character in a stand-alone piece. I doubt many would have missed him, but Wolfman and Perez would have, and so he is here. And their stubborn love for their creation pays off here, as Chase provides an integral role that wouldn’t work with any other character on the team.
Ultimately, this book serves as a bookend to the recently released New Teen Titans Omnibus (also highly recommended), and closes the door on the Wolfman/Perez era. But it also acts as a life preserver for untold stories of the pre-Flashpoint DCU. Perhaps the original graphic novel can be a way for DC to go back and tell stories that never got told about old versions of their characters. I know I would love some new Ron Marz penned Kyle Rayner stories, or the long rumored Jack Knight in Japan story by James Robinson. A few of those OGNs a year, and the sting of losing Wally West and Power Girl may not be so painful.