Teen Titans (1996 series)

I detailed my “Life as a Teen Titan” years ago over on Pop Culture Affidavit, and in doing so, I mentioned that when The New Titans ended in late 1995/early 1996, it didn’t register with me the way you’d think that it would for someone who had been such a die-hard fan for so long. Then again, I was in my freshman year of college, a chaotic time for me where comics collecting wasn’t at the top of my priority list.

A few months after issue #130 came and went (along with an Arsenal special that I’m holding onto because it’s an epilogue to the series), DC announced a NEW Teen Titans series. Simply called Teen Titans, it featured all-new characters and was independent from the original concept.

Well, kind of.

What Jurgens did is create four new heroes: Risk, Argent, Prysm, and Joto, all of whom were half-human/half-alien children, the alien part being from a race called the H’San Natall, who were a race of conquerors that at the moment were stationed around the moon of Titan. in the first couple of issues, all of their powers manifested on their sixteenth birthdays and they were taken under the wing of Loren Jupiter, the onetime benefactor of the (Silver Age) Teen Titans. Also helping out was The Atom, who was stuck in a teenage body after the events of Zero Hour. So it’s actually in keeping with The “New” of The New Teen Titans in that there were new characters added to the Titans concept when it debuted (as opposed to future iterations of the team, which seemed to just draft its members from existing heroes).

When I first read this title back in 1996-1997, I was in college and would mostly read comics on my breaks away from school. This was a book that at times was a top priority for me, especially when former Titans were featured, but other times it wound up being my third or fourth read. The stories and art were always solid, and at least a couple of characters were intriguing. The problem, of course, was the title. Even Dan Jurgens, when I spoke to him years ago at the Baltimore Comic-Con, said as much: had the book been called something other than “Teen Titans,” it might have had a chance.

After all, there hadn’t been a ton of successful new teen characters created in the post-Crisis era. Oh, sure, you had a decent amount of characters, but those who had a modicum of success had ties to more established heroes or were legacy characters and those created out of whole cloth had maybe one or two chances to prove themselves before being put on the bench somewhere.

But I think most of the people reading this post are pretty aware of this, so I should get to what’s the most important part of my review here, which is: almost 30 years later, what did I think of this book?

First of all, the artwork is still very good. George Perez inked Dan Jurgens for the first half of the book’s 24-issue run and he really makes the art shine. The stories are also still very good, which was honestly a bit of a surprise. DC’s 1990s output can be hit or miss in places, and this particular Teen Titans run ties heavily into the Superman books, which were in the “electric blue” era. Now, it’s been a while since I read those stories, but for this part of my reading project, I read all of the Millennium Giants crossover, which doesn’t hold up as well as a number of the other Superman storylines from the triangle era. Still, the comics I read–which also included an issue of The Power of Shazam as well as an issue of the very underrated Chase series–were all entertaining, and the characters were compelling.

The downside? Looking back a few decades later, some of the dialogue in the book is very cringey, with Jurgens trying to do “teen speak” at times. It’s not Bob Haney levels of “teen speak” cringe, but there are … moments. Plus, some of the characterization–whether it be dialogue or appearance–doesn’t work as well as it might have back in 1996-97. There’s a little too much focus on Risk, the “bad boy” character of the bunch, who was probably my least favorite of the four. Joto, who was an intelligent African-American male character had a lot of Victor Stone in him without the cybernetics but he often seemed to be the group’s fifth wheel; in fact, he was killed off about halfway through the series only to be resurrected toward the end. It would have been interesting to see him get more of a spotlight, especially considering the dearth of characters like him in the DCU at the time.

When it comes to Prysm, she had an interesting origin–a girl raised in a simulation that was basically old-school Nick at Nite–and so she’s adjusting to the idea that life is not hanging out with Wally and The Beaver, and that her entire body is that of a light being and not a “normal” human. At times, we get some interesting story beats about appearance and body issues, but she gets a little irritating from time to time. Argent winds up being the most interesting character, as Dan Jurgens gives us Meadow Soprano with superpowers a full two years before the show debuted. She also has the most growth as a character over the course of the series, going from a spoiled brat to someone who wants more and more to become a serious superhero. I have to say that I kind of cringed at her costume, though. Maybe when I was 16, I would have found her extremely low-cut original costume (think J. Lo at the Grammys in 2000) “hot,” but at 45 … well …

Anyway, it was fun to visit this series one more time, even if I’d probably file it next to Team Titans in the pantheon of Titans lore. Fun, but flawed, and if I ever want to revisit it again I can always read it online.

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