The Titans (1999 Series)

After a “fun but flawed” (as I put it) two years’ of the Dan Jurgens-penned Teen Titans series, DC decided to give the original Titans concept another shot. I could dig deep into my Titans Companion volumes to see why the company waited so long to get it going again, but the timing of it kind of speaks for itself: Grant Morrison’s JLA had hit its stride by late 1998 and Young Justice–a Teen Titans by another name–had just gotten off the ground. So, in late 1998, the company published a three-part crossover series called JLA/Titans (which would be collected in the trade paperback JLA/Titans: The Technis Imperative) and that would set up the first issue of The Titans, which debuted in January 1999.

Both series were written by Devin Grayson, with Phil Jimenez doing plot and art on the JLA/Titans miniseries. Grayson left the book after issue #20, and Jay Faerber took it over for about a year and half before it was finally put in the hands of Tom Peyer. Along the way, The Titans had artwork by Mark Buckingham, Paul Pelletier, and Barry Kitson–quality art for a series that never quite hit the mark it was trying to hit.

With the exception of a couple of issues that I read for podcasting purposes, I hadn’t read this Titans series since its original run, which lasted until issue #50 in February 2003. So the decision to offload these books was going to be a no-brainer, especially since my memories of it were not the greatest. Still, since I was doing a complete read-through of all things Titans, I had to wonder if my memories were playing tricks on me and it actually was better than I remembered. In the span of just about a week, I read through everything from this Titans run: The JLA/Titans mini, the Titans series, and the Titans/Legion of Superheroes: Universe Ablaze miniseries, which Dan Jurgens wrote and penciled and Jimenez inked in 2000.

It was … well, kind of what I remembered, although I will say that because I’ve read the “inside story” about what went on behind the scenes, I certainly found myself reading it with a more sympathetic eye. And instead of running through the entire series and all of its storylines in chronological order, I thought I’d just plant some observations here, the high/mid/low of it all (if you will).

The Highs

The JLA/TItans miniseries was clearly a big high for this particular era of Titans. I know that when I bought it in 1998, I read each issue over and over again, and more than any of the other books in this run, it’s the one I’ve come back to the most. In fact, when Stella needed someone to cover it on Batgirl to Oracle, I basically forced myself onto the show. So you can see my full synopsis and review there. I actually considered holding onto these comics because I love them so much, but I also own the story in trade and because that’s on my bookshelf and not in a long box in a closet. It’s a definite recommend even if it’s admittedly a bit of fanservice.

Titans/Legion: Universe Ablaze. This Dan Jurgens-written prestige format miniseries is well worth the price of admission, as it uses a solid conceit to get the Titans in the 30th Century–after fighting Brother Blood, most of them wind up in suspended animation and are awoken after 1000 years. But all … isn’t right, and that might be the machinations of Universo. What’s also great about the book is that it’s pretty much out of continuity, so aside from knowing who those characters are in the moment (both the newest iteration of The Titans and the reboot version of LOSH), you can go in pretty cold.

The Mid

The first 25-30 issues of The Titans. This series had a lot of potential. Devin Grayson had already been doing some solid Batman and Nightwing work and was the scripter for JLA/Titans. Mark Buckingham’s art was great. The team felt as if the pieces were back in place after having been scattered for the last few years. But as intriguing as many of the storylines in the first half of the title’s run were, something was slightly off. The Titans as a comic felt like that thing that happens when a well-loved television show has a very successful reunion movie so the network decides to milk that cow some more and create a “new” version of the series. That rarely works and when it does, it’s more “next generation” (see: Star Trek, Degrassi) than “revival.” Grayson and Jay Faerber (who took over after she left around issue #21) knew the characters but went just a little too soap opera with the relationships and dramatics. At least issue #25 had the return of classic Titans creative teams.

The Low

The last 20-25 issues of The Titans. As promising as the series was, once Andy Helfer took over from [REDACTED} as the editor, everything went downhill very quickly. Jay Faerber had an interesting concept with Epsilon who IIRC was being set up to be some sort of hired killer of super heroes who was posing as a hero. In fact, I want to say he was kind of a serial killer of super heroes. But he had to shoehorn his plans into this prolonged storyline with a group of kids who had escaped from the DEO. The “DEO Kids” is notorious to Titans fandom, right up there with the art of Bill Jaaska and Evil Raven. After Faerber left and Tom Peyer took over, the kids were shuffled off somewhere and we had a few decent stories, but the damage was already done and despite solid art by Barry Kitson, the series was basically mercy killed with issue 50 an issue that sees Starfire wearing a literal tinfoil hat to stop an alien invasion. Yeah, not great, Bob.

But what was coming up next made the quick read through of these low points worth it, as Geoff Johns and Judd Winick would usher in a second golden era of sorts for the Titans concept. That’s where I’ll be going next.

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