So nearly halfway through this second Showcase reprint trade of my favorite teen team, I picked up my hardcover of the Bronze Age reprints to see if there was any gap that I might have to compensate for; after all, I was working with a black and white reprint from one particular cycle of trade paperbacks and a full-color reprint from another. Lo and behold, there wasn’t a gap–there was an overlap! So, I ditched the black and white for color and decided to ride that out until the very end.
Now, the Bronze Age omnibus is one of those enormous hardcovers that sells for an enormous amount of money and something I definitely would not have paid full price for. But I didn’t. Much like I got the two Showcase trades off the discount rack at my LCS and from In Stock Trades (although I can’t remember which one was purchased where), I got this on an extremely deep discount from Amazon–free. It just happened to be one of those years when I got a ton of Amazon gift card money and it coincided with a really nice sale on the site, so I paid nothing for it.
I’m kind of glad because while I did enjoy reading the later Silver Age and complete Bronze Age adventures of the Teen Titans, I can’t say this would have been worth it at its full price. This also makes me see how much of a change–an improvement, of course–the Wolfman-Perez era was right from the jump. At least as far as I can remember. After all, that’s next in the reading order.
So we start these collections with issue #19 of the original Teen Titans series, a Mike Friedrich/Gil Kane story that features one of many forgettable villains of the era before a few Neal Adams-written stories that feature art by Adams with Nick Cardy inking, a pretty solid combination (although Adams during this period is best off inking himself) before hitting the classic “New Wonder Girl” issue that shows Bob Haney’s return to the title, at least for one issue, as we get storylines written by Robert Kanigher and Steve Skeates before Haney takes the series over until its cancellation in 1972 with issue #43.
While it doesn’t make me the best fan to say this, I can see why the series was cancelled. As much as the art is consistent because when he wasn’t doing pencils, Nick Cardy was doing heavy inks over the likes of Art Saaf and George Tuska, the stories are more suited to a Saturday morning Hanna-Barbera cartoon of the time. At least the Haney stuff is. The issues written by Kanigher and Skeates actually have a little more substance than just the one-and-done adventures that Haney is writing (even if there is some continuity among them) because it’s during those issues where the Titans wind up being responsible for the death of nobel prize winner Dr. Arthur Swenson and renounce their uniforms while training and operating under the tutelage of Mr. Jupiter.
Now, the uniform-less Titans last all of an issue or two (and I have to say that I could have sworn that I thought they lasted longer), but I was pretty glued to this storyline, as short as it was. The Titans had some actual character development here and we’re introduced to Mal Duncan, a hero who would have two or three different names before the original series’ ultimate cancellation in 1977. He’s a character that I’d obviously know about for years, but never had much of an opinion on, and I can see why–throughout both the late Silver and Bronze Age issues of the title, the writers don’t seem to know exactly what to do with him. I guess it’s probably why even though he was one of the earliest African-American heroes in a superhero book, he’s kind of a footnote in comics history. I mean, they can’t even decide on a costume or code name for the guy.
More on that later, because we get some very solid stories, especially when Skeates is writing, and even though I don’t think this holds a candle to what was being published in The Amazing Spider-Man at the time, the Teen Titans actually seem like teenagers and not Bob Haney’s “teen-agers.” Yes, there are monsters and supervillains, but there’s an attempt to put them in “relevant” situations (read: hippies appeared in the book). Haney’s return marks a return to the sillier stuff he was known for, although some of the stories are good–I actually own a copy of issue #34 (“The Demon of Dog Island”) and it’s a pretty nice story that taps into what DC was starting to do with their 1970s horror books. But overall, they’re disposable.
Unfortunately, things don’t get much better once the title comes back in 1976 with issue #44. Bob Rozakis does his best to make the book compelling and give the fans something to latch on to; unfortunately, like I said, it’s that continual effort to make Mal a vital part of the team. And yes, he is. And while I get that they’re trying to get across the “teenager trying to figure out who he is” thing with the character, it grinds things to a halt. So once again, the series gets canceled with issue #53, which is a really solid story that tells the origin of the Teen Titans and at least brings the series out on a high note.
There are some high points in the Bronze Age collection, by the way. I already mentioned Cardy’s artwork and some of the last few issues of Rozakis-written books have their moments, but there are also some Bob Haney/Jim Aparo Brave and the Bold issues included in here and they are absolutely amazing. I mean, it’s not hard for me to get to like a Jim Aparo-drawn Batman story, especially from the 1970s,
So all in all, these are not collections I would actually seek out at cover price, but since I have them I am holding onto them because I get a “completist with an asterisk” credit here and won’t have to track down the individual issues. In fact, I’ll get to offload the issues I actually own.
Stick with the Showcase or Upgrade to the Trade?
For consistency’s sake, yes.
Keep the Omnibus?
Yes. But I don’t recommend buying it unless you find it at a great price.