Outsiders volume 1: Looking for Trouble

By Judd Winick, Tom Raney, ChrisCross, Ivan Reis, & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0211-8

Once upon a time superheroes sat around their assorted lairs or went about their civilian pursuits until the call of duty summoned them like firemen – or Thunderbirds – to deal with a breaking emergency. In the grim and gritty world after Crisis on Infinite Earths, the concept changed with a number of costumed adventurers evolving into pre-emptive strikers – as best exemplified by the covert penal battalion the Suicide Squad. Soon the philosophy had spread far and wide…

Following the break-up of Young Justice and the – temporary – death of founding Teen Titan Donna Troy (see Teen Titans/Outsiders: The Death and Return of Donna Troy) a number of her grief-stricken comrades also changed from First Responders to dedicated if morally dubious hunters tracking down threats and menaces before they attacked – or indeed committed crimes at all…

This volume collects the initial storyline which introduced Judd Winick’s aggressive new take on edgy team-concept the Outsiders, compiling material from Teen Titans/Outsiders Secret Files 2003 and issues #1-7 of the compelling and much-missed monthly comicbook.

In the aftermath of a deadly battle wherein a sexy robot arrived from the future and precipitated a mini robot rebellion, costing the lives of psychic heroine Omen and the much beloved Troy, the surviving champions reformed the Teen Titans as a group dedicated to better training the heroes of tomorrow.

However, CIA trained ex-Green Arrow sidekick Arsenal felt that it was not enough and convinced the heartbroken Nightwing to help devise a covert and pre-emptive pack of professions to take out perceived threats before innocent lives were endangered. ‘A Day After…’ by Winick, Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis & Mark Campos set the scene, after which the series proper began with the three-part ‘Roll Call’ illustrated by Tom Raney & Scott Hanna.

‘Opening Offers’ introduced new characters Thunder (daughter of original Outsider Black Lightning) and enigmatic super girl Grace, established player Jade, recently resurrected and amnesiac Rex Metamorpho Mason and, in a not particularly welcome, wise or team-building move, the futuristic fem-bot who had started the whole mess. With her memory-banks scrubbed and keen to redeem herself, Indigo added eagerness and innocence to an embittered but highly motivated and very determined team…

Their first mission caught them off-guard and began when a cruise ship was hijacked and an army of talking gorillas invaded New York under the command of super-ape Grodd, but the devastating action of ‘Lawyers, Guns and Monkeys’ was quickly revealed to be no more than a sinister diversion as the Joker used the chaos to abduct new American President Lex Luthor, leaving the team with the unwelcome task of rescuing one of the people they would most like to take out…

ChrisCross & Sean Parsons depicted the Outsiders’ first true hunting party in ‘Brothers in Blood’: part 1 ‘Small Potatoes’ as, after a series of small time busts (acting on information from a mysterious and secret source), the squad uncovered a diabolical scheme by religious maniac Brother Blood to steal one million babies…

The cult leader activated hypnotised deep-cover agents in ‘Finders Sleepers’ and almost murdered Arsenal, but even as the hero was undergoing life-saving surgery the Outsiders, assisted by two vengeful generations of Green Arrow, rocketed to Antarctica where Blood was attempting to free and recruit 1,600 metahuman villains incarcerated in the maximum security super-prison the Slab.

As the battle raged and casualties mounted, Nightwing was forced to choose between saving the infants or allowing Blood and an army of criminals to escape…

This first collection ends on a powerfully poignant and personal note as Metamorpho at last discovered the shocking reason for his lack of memories and faced ultimate dissolution in the superbly downbeat ‘Oedipus Rex’ (Raney & Hanna)…

Fast-paced, action-packed, cynically sharp and edgily effective Outsiders was one of the very best series pursuing the “take-‘em out first” concept and resulted in some of the very best Fights ‘n’ Tights action of the last ten years. Still punchy, evocative and highly effective, these thrillers will delight older fans of the genre.
© 2003, 2004 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Deathstroke the Terminator: Full Cycle

By Marv Wolfman, Steve Erwin, Willie Blyberg & others (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-0-93028-982-9

Deathstroke the Terminator is a flamboyant cover identity for mercenary/assassin Slade Wilson who underwent an experimental procedure whilst an American Special Forces soldier. He was invalided out but later developed fantastic physical abilities that augmented his military capabilities.

He debuted in New Teen Titans #2 (1980), assuming a contract that had been forfeited when neophyte costumed assassin The Ravager died trying to destroy the kid heroes. The deceased would-be killer was actually Grant Wilson, a troubled young man trying to impress his dad. Slade Wilson’s other children would also be the cause of much heartache and bloodshed over the years…

Deathstroke was an implacable Titans foe for years, instigating many complex schemes to destroy the team before a weary détente was achieved, all of which led to the graphic novel under review here. In recent years Deathstroke has returned to the path of pure – if complex – villainy.

This rather hard to find volume comes from that grim-and-gritty era when ruthless vigilantes and killers-with-a-code-of-honour were market leaders, so a villain-turned (anti)hero in the vein of Marvel’s Punisher was sound business sense. When the Terminator got his own title (with covers by the Punisher’s Mike Zeck, all included here at no extra cost to you) it instantly became a smash-hit: issue #1 even had a second printing – an extremely rare event back in the early 1990s.

Full Cycle opens with a detailed prose account of the events which led to the release of Deathstroke from Editor Jonathan Peterson before beginning the non-stop action with the contents of The New Titans #70 (October 1990) a fill-in issue by Marv Wolfman, Steve Erwin & Willie Blyberg, that abandoned the titular teens for an entire adventure of their greatest enemy as he undertook a highly suspicious contract in a war-torn South American nation.

‘Clay Pigeons’ found Wilson and his faithful aide-de-camp Wintergreen hired to keep a charismatic peace-making rebel leader alive whilst the republic of San Miguel negotiated a longed for lasting solution to decades of apartheid and revolution. But if every clique and faction needed Jorge Zaxtro alive who could be behind all the brutal attempts on his life?

That tale preceded ‘Titans Hunt’ an extended epic which heavily involved Deathstroke wherein the tragic mercenary was forced to kill his other son Joe – the hero code-named Jericho – but you’ll need to look elsewhere for that epic. Full Cycle commences in the aftermath of that tragedy as a deeply shaken Slade Wilson retreats to his home in Africa to lick his psychic wounds.

‘Assault!’ opens the campaign with a devastating mercenary attack on a train transporting nuclear material through Germany. At the same time a helicopter raid almost kills Wilson and Wintergreen. Later, we gain insight into Deathstroke’s past when the mercenary visits the bedside of a survivor of the railway raid – his estranged wife Adeline.

She was his army trainer, schooling him in exotic battle techniques before the secret experiment augmented his combat abilities. They found love and married but when Slade’s arrogance and neglect resulted in their son Joey being maimed by a terrorist dubbed The Jackal Addie shot her husband in the face and divorced him.

As she slowly recovers in a German hospital she has no idea that Slade has just killed her beloved boy…

Slade has never stopped loving Addie and begins hunting her attackers; reviewing his own past too since whoever attacked her is also targeting his few remaining loved ones. Even so, there must also be some other motive in play…

‘Kidnapped!’ builds on the frantic action and piles the bodies high as Slade closes in on the brutal and all-pervasive enemy, only briefly detouring to rescue a young boy abducted to force his mother to reveal her husband’s munitions secrets. Meanwhile somebody claiming to be the long-dead Ravager is slaughtering both Wilson and Adeline’s people, with a trail leading to the rogue middle-Eastern state of Qurac.

And then the CIA get involved…

‘War!’ sees Deathstroke go bloodily berserk in the strife-torn desert kingdom as its new ruler General Kaddam seeks to consolidate his power whilst demonstrating to the West that Qurac is still the World’s principal exporter of Terror. As his alliance with the Ravager looks set to shake the entire globe, a clandestine group hidden within the CIA makes their own move and their target too, is Slade Wilson…

After a near fatal clash with Kaddam and Ravager, Terminator is captured. Bombastically breaking out he drags the gravely wounded Wintergreen out of the Middle East as the scene shifts to Washington DC where the stolen Plutonium is being readied for use. ‘…Bombs Bursting in Air!’ sees the terrorists turn on each other before Wilson becomes an unlikely and utterly secret saviour of the free world after a savage final clash with the new Ravager…

Meanwhile, the recuperating Adeline has learned of her son’s death …but not yet who killed him…

The first Deathstroke epic ends rather inconclusively in ‘Revelations and Revolutions’ as writer Wolfman and artists Erwin and Blyberg laid plot threads for succeeding story-arcs. Slade is visiting Adeline in the aftermath of atomic plot when the covert agents within the CIA stage an all-out armed assault on the hospital where both she and the faithful Wintergreen are recovering. Never a dull moment…

Complex, violently gratuitous and frenetic, the tale is sometimes too complicated for its own good, but nevertheless the pace, varied exotic locations and all-out, human-scale action (like a James Bond film where everyone wears masks and tights) result in a frenzied rollercoaster of gory fun for any fan of blockbuster adventure. Deathstroke the Terminator is a perfectly-produced slice of lost DC history that still holds up and could easily find new devotees if given the chance…
© 1990, 1991, 1992 DC Comics Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Young Justice: A League of Their Own

By Peter David, D. Curtis Johnson, Todd Nauck, Ale Garza & others (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84023-197-7

There are many facets that contribute to the “perfect mix” in the creation of any continuing character in comics. How much more so then, when the idea is to build a superhero team that will stand out from the seething masses that already exist? In the mid-1990s a fresh batch of sidekicks and super-kids started cropping up at DC after some years of thematic disfavour, and as the name and modus operandi of the Teen Titans was already established something new needed to be done with them.

But why were kid crimebusters back at all? Ignoring the inherent stupidity – and illegality if you acknowledge child-endangerment laws – of superhero apprenticeships for trainees who can’t even shave yet, why should callow champions appeal at all to comics readers?

I don’t buy the old line about giving young readers someone to identify with: the kids I grew up with all wanted to be the adult who drove the whatever-mobile, not a snotty smartass brat in short pants. Every mission would be like going to school with your dad…

I suspect it’s actually the reverse case: duffers like me with responsibilities and chores could fantasize about being powerful, effective and dangerously irresponsible: able to beat people up without having to surrender that hormone-fuelled, irredeemably juvenile frat-boy capacity for goofy fun that we’ve all missed ever since it finally died away…

After a delightfully cool try-out miniseries (see Justice League: World Without Grown-Ups) the latest crop of “ands…” soon stampeded into their own highly habit-forming monthly series. Also included in that introductory graphic novel collection was a subtly distressing tale wherein Robin, Superboy and Impulse rescued a young girl composed entirely of smoke and vapour from a supposedly benign federal agency: the Department of ExtraNormal Operations.

This second collection (repackaging issues #1-7 of the monthly comicbook with portions of Young Justice Secret Files #1) features fan-favourite writer Peter David scripting some inspired, tongue-in-cheek, gloriously self-referential adolescent lunacy, beginning with ‘Young, Just Us’ (illustrated by Todd Nauck & Lary Stucker) wherein the unlikely lads go for a sleepover in the old Justice League Secret Sanctuary and fall into a whole new career.

When a nearby archaeological dig uncovers an ancient New Gods Supercycle the boys are too busy vandalising the decommissioned mountain lair until the android Red Tornado objects. Before things become too tense the boys are called to the dig-site where DEO operatives Fite and Maad are attempting to confiscate the alien tech. After a brief skirmish with a fabulously mutated minor villain (transformed by a booby trap!) the bike adopts the kids and makes a break for it…

After a brief interlude with the pneumatically empowered Mighty Endowed the action switches to the Middle East for ‘Sheik, Rattle and Roll’ where the semi-sentient trans-dimensional cycle has brought Robin, Superboy and Impulse. Apparently uncounted years ago an Apokoliptian warrior named Riproar was entombed beneath a mountain after stealing the bike from New Genesis. Now the machine, enslaved to the thief’s ancient programming, is compelled to free the monster, but it has brought some superheroes to fight Riproar once he’s loose. Of course, they’re rather small heroes…

Hilariously victorious, the kids return to America just in time for Halloween and a riotous Trick or Treat time travel romp as meddling kids dabbling in magic snatch a nerdy Fifth Dimensional scholar out of his appointed place – endangering the entire continuum. Sadly, although YJ’s best efforts in ‘The Issue Before the One Where the Girls Show Up!’ restore reality they might have had a delayed bad influence on the quietly studious Master Mxyzptlk…

A bunch of chicks join the boys’ club in ‘Harm’s Way’ as writer David unerringly injects some dark undercurrents into the frenetic fun. Impulse’s sometime associate Arrowette (a second generation trick archer forced into the biz by her fearsome stage-struck mother) is being hunted by a psychotic youth who intends to become the world’s greatest villain and that aforementioned mist-girl Secret and the latest incarnation of Wonder Girl are dragged into the clinically sociopathic Harm’s lethal practice run before the assembled boys and girls finally manage to drive him off…

D. Curtis Johnson, Ale Garza & Cabin Boy then step in for ‘Take Back the Night’ as Secret leads the now fully-co-ed team in a raid against the clandestine and quasi-legal DEO orphanage-academy where metahuman kids are “trained” to use their abilities. It seems an awful lot of these youngsters aren’t there voluntarily or even with their parents’ approval…

‘First, Do No Harm’ (David, Nauck & Stucker) sees the return of the malevolent young nemesis as he invades their HQ and turns Red Tornado into a weapon of Mass destruction (that’s a pun that only makes sense after I mention that the Pope guest-stars in this tale). As the Justice League step in, the tale wraps up with a majestic twist ending…

The senior superstars are concerned about the kid’s behaviour and set a test, but since this is comics, that naturally goes spectacularly wrong in ‘Judgement Day’ as the ghost of alien horror Despero turns the simulation into a very practical demonstration of utter mayhem…

This terrific tome concludes with the edgy and hilarious ‘Conferences’ as the assorted guardians and mentors convene for a highly contentious parents/teachers evening, blissfully unaware that their boy and girls have snuck off for an unsanctioned – and unchaperoned – overnight camping trip together. As ever, it’s not what you’d expect but it is incredibly entertaining…

Teen issues and traditional caped crusading are perfectly combined with captivating adventure and deft, daft home-room laughs in this magical blend of tension and high jinks, comedy, pathos and even genuine horror in Young Justice.

The secret joy of sidekicks has always been the sheer bravura fun they inject into a tale and this book totally epitomises that most magical of essences. Unleash your inner urchin with this bright shiny gem and pray that now the kids have their own cartoon show DC will finally get around to releasing all the Young Justice tales in graphic novel collections.
© 1998, 1999, 2000 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase presents Teen Titans volume 2

By Bob Haney, Nick Cardy & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-677-1

It’s hard to grasp now that once kid heroes were a rarity and during the beginning of the Silver Age, often considered a liability. Now the massive brand that is the Teen Titans (with numerous comicbook iterations, a superbly successful TV show and even an award-winning early reading comic (Aw, Yeaah! Tiny Titans!) their continuance is as assured as anything in our biz, but during the tumultuous 1960s the series – never a great seller – courted controversy and an actual teenaged readership by confronting controversial issues head on.

I must have been just lucky, because these stories of lost youth searching for meaning were released just as I turned into a teenager.  They resonated because they were talking directly to me.  It didn’t hurt that they were brilliantly written, fantastically illustrated and staggeringly fresh and contemporary.  I’m delighted to declare that age hasn’t diminished their quality or impact either, merely cemented their worth and importance.

The concept of underage hero-teams was not a new one when the Batman TV show prompted DC to entrust the big heroes’ assorted sidekicks with their own regular comic in a hip and groovy ensemble as dedicated to helping kids as they were to stamping out insidious evil.

The biggest difference between wartime groups like The Young Allies, Boy Commandos and Newsboy Legion or such 1950s holdovers as The Little Wise Guys or Boys Ranch and the creation of the Titans was quite simply the burgeoning phenomena of “The Teenager” as a discrete social and commercial force. These were kids who could be allowed to do things themselves (within reason) without constant adult help or supervision. As early as June-July 1964 Brave and the Bold #54 had tested the waters with a gripping tale by Bob Haney & Bruno Premiani in which Kid Flash, Aqualad and Robin thwarted a modern-day Pied Piper.

What had been a straight team-up was formalised a year later when the heroes reunited and included Wonder Girl in a proper super-group with a team-name: Teen Titans. With this second collected volume of those early exploits the series had hit a creative peak, with spectacular, groundbreaking artwork and fresh, different stories that increasingly showed youngsters had opinions and attitudes of their own – and often that they could be at odds with those of their mystery-men mentors…

Collecting Teen Titans #19-36, and the team-up appearances from Brave and the Bold #83 and 94 and World’s Finest Comics #205, these stories cover the most significant period of social and political unrest in American history and do it from the perspective of the underdogs, the seekers, the rebels…

The wonderment begins with a beautifully realised comedy-thriller as boy Bowman Speedy joins the team. ‘Teen Titans: Stepping Stones for a Giant Killer!’ (#19, January/February 1969) by Mike Friedrich, Gil Kane & Wally Wood, pitted the team against youthful criminal mastermind Punch who planned to kill the Justice League of America and thought a trial run against the junior division a smart idea…

Brave and the Bold # 83 (April-May 1969) took a radical turn as the Teen Titans (sans Aqualad, who was dropped to appear in Aquaman and because there just ain’t that much sub-sea malfeasance) tried to save Bruce Wayne’s latest foster-son from his own inner demons in a tense thriller about trust and betrayal in the Bob Haney & Neal Adams epic ‘Punish Not my Evil Son!’. TT #20 took a long running plot-thread about extra-dimensional invaders and gave it a counterculture twist in ‘Titans Fit the Battle of Jericho’, a spectacular rollercoaster romp written by Neal Adams, penciled by him and Sal Amendola and inked by brush-maestro Nick Cardy – one of the all-out prettiest illustration jobs of that decade.

Symbolic super-teens Hawk and Dove joined the proceedings for #21’s ‘Citadel of Fear’ (Adams and Cardy), chasing smugglers, finding aliens and ramping up the surly teen rebellion quotient whilst moving the invaders story-arc towards a stunning conclusion. ‘Halfway to Holocaust’ is only half of #22; the abduction of Kid Flash and Robin leading to a cross-planar climax as Wonder Girl, Speedy and a radical new ally quashed the invasion forever, but still leaving enough room for a long overdue makeover in ‘The Origin of Wonder Girl’ by Marv Wolfman, Kane & Cardy.

For years the series had fudged the fact that the younger Amazon Princess was not actually human, a sidekick, or even a person, but rather an incarnation of the adult Wonder Woman as a child. As continuity backwriting strengthened its stranglehold on the industry it was felt that the team-tottie needed a fuller background and this moving tale revealed that she was in fact a human foundling rescued by Wonder Woman and raised on Paradise Island where their super-science gave her all the powers of a true Amazon. They even found her a name – Donna Troy – and an apartment, complete with hot roommate. All Donna had to do was sew herself a glitzy new costume…

Now thoroughly grounded the team jetted south in #23’s fast-paced yarn ‘The Rock ‘n’ Roll Rogue’ (by Haney, Kane & Cardy), trying to rescue musical rebel Sammy Soul from his grasping family and his lost dad from Amazonian headhunters. ‘Skis of Death!’ (#24, November-December 1969) by the same creative team saw the quartet holidaying in the mountains and uncovering a scam to defraud Native Americans of their lands. It was a terrific old-style tale but with the next issue the most radical change in DC’s cautious publishing history made Teen Titans a comic which had thrown out the rulebook…

For a series which spoke so directly to young people, it’s remarkable to think that ‘The Titans Kill a Saint?’ and its radical departure from traditional superhero stories was crafted by Bob Kanigher and Nick Cardy – two of the most senior creators in the business. It set the scene for a different kind of human-scaled adventure that was truly gripping, bravely innovative. For the relatively short time the experiment continued, readers had no idea what was going to happen next…

While on a night out in their civilian identities Robin, Kid Flash, Speedy, Wonder Girl, Hawk and Dove meet a telepathic go-go dancer Lilith who warns them of trouble. Cassandra-like they ignore her warnings, and a direct result a globally revered Nobel Laureate is gunned down.

So soon after the death of John and Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King and the even more controversial murder of Malcolm X this was stunning stuff and in response all but Robin abandoned their costumed personas and with the help of mysterious millionaire philanthropist Mr. Jupiter dedicated their unique abilities to exploring humanity and finding human ways to atone and make a difference…

With Lilith beside them they undertake different sorts of missions, beginning with ‘A Penny For a Black Star’ in which they attempt to live in a poverty-wracked inner city ghetto, where they find Mal Duncan, a street kid who becomes the first African-American in space, although it’s a one-way trip…

Issue #27 reintroduces an eerie element of fantasy as ‘Nightmare in Space’ (Kanigher, George Tuska, Carmine Infantino & Cardy) finds the Titans en route to the Moon to rescue Mal but encountering something far beyond the ken of human imagining.

Meanwhile on Earth Donna Troy’s roommate Sharon had stumbled upon an alien incursion. ‘Blindspot’ by Steve Skeates & Nick Cardy, was tangentially linked to another innovative saga then playing out in Aquaman’s comicbook. Both were edited by young Dick Giordano, who was at this time responsible for the vast proportion of bold new material coming out of DC, even whilst proving himself one of the best inkers in the field.

You’ll need to see a (hopefully) forthcoming Aquaman Showcase edition for that delight, but suffice to say that the Sea King’s foe Ocean Master had allied himself with aliens and Sharon became involved just as Aqualad returned looking for help. Unable to understand the Titan’s reluctance to get involved he tries to go it alone but hits a problem only the original team can fix, which they do in Skeates & Cardy concluding instalment ‘Captives!’

However, once the alien threat is thwarted the heroes once more lay down their powers and costumes…

Teen Titans #30 featured three short tales, all written by Skeates. ‘Greed… Kills!’ illustrated by Cardy, is a canny mystery exploring street and white-collar crime, ‘Whirlwind’ a Kid Flash prose novelette with art from Sal Amendola and ‘Some Call it Noise’ (Infantino & Cardy) an Aqualad solo tale in which his girlfriend Aquagirl takes a near-fatal wrong turn at a rock concert.

Student politics took centre-stage in #31’s lead feature ‘To Order is to Destroy’ (Skeates, Tuska & Cardy as the young heroes investigate a trouble-free campus where unhappy or difficult scholars are given a small brain operation to help them “concentrate” whilst a Hawk and Dove solo ‘From One to Twenty’ pitted quarrelsome Don and Hank Hall against a crafty band of murderous counterfeiters in a deft crime-caper by Skeates, Tuska & Cardy.

The gifted trio then opened up the fantasy element again with a time-travelling, parallel universe epic beginning in #32 with ‘A Mystical Realm, A World Gone Mad’ as Mal and Kid Flash accidentally changed the past turning Earth into a magical madscape. However undoing their error resulted in a Neanderthal teenager being trapped in our time, presenting the group with their greatest challenge: turning a savage primitive into a modern man.

Illustrated by Tuska and Cardy ‘Less Than Human’ signaled the full return of Bob Haney as writer and the gradual return of powers and costumes picked up pace as the grand experiment, if not over, was restated in terms that looked less harshly on bread and butter fights ‘n’ tights scenarios.

Brave and the Bold #94 (February-March 1971) was a powerful counter-culture thriller as the team infiltrated an inner city commune to solve a nuclear bomb-plot in ‘Rebels in the Streets’ and the exigencies of publishing moved the series into the blossoming world of the supernatural as costumed heroes temporarily faded in favour of tales of mystery and imagination.

‘The Demon of Dog Island’ (Haney, Tuska & Cardy) found the team, including Robin who had quietly rejoined during the civilisation of cave-boy Gnarrk, desperately battling to prevent Wonder Girl’s possession by a gypsy ghost whilst ‘The Computer that Captured a Town’ (World’s Finest Comics #205, September 1971) cleverly examined racism and sexism as Superman found the Titans trapped in a town that had mysteriously re-adopted the values of the 1890s (Skeates, Dick Dillin & Joe Giella)…

Teen Titans #35 continued the supernatural theme as the team traveled to Verona in ‘Intruders of the Forbidden Crypt’ (Haney, Tuska & Cardy) wherein Lilith and the son of Mr. Jupiter’s business rival found themselves drawn into a beguiling web of tragedy as they were compelled to relive the doomed love of Romeo and Juliet despite all the rationalisations of modern science and the best efforts of the young heroes…

‘A Titan is Born’ by the same creators was a rite of passage for Mal as the everyman hero had to face the murderous Gargoyle alone and unaided, whilst the reincarnation tragedy concluded with fate foiled in ‘The Tomb Be their Destiny’, the cover feature of #36. Filling out that issue and this book are two brief vignettes, the Aqualad three pager teaser ‘The Girl of the Shadows’ by Skeates & Jim Aparo and an impressive opening episode in the origin of Lilith. ‘The Teen-Ager From Nowhere’ by Haney & Cardy showed the ten year old orphan’s first prescient exploit and the distrust that it engendered, promising much more to come: a perfect place to end this second monochrome masterpiece of graphic literature…

Although perhaps dated in delivery, these tales were a liberating experience for kids when first released. They truly betokened a new empathy with independent youth and tried to address problems that were more relevant to and generated by that specific audience. That they are so captivating in execution is a wonderful bonus. This is absolute escapism and absolutely delightful.

© 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Teen Titans: Titans of Tomorrow

By Sean McKeever, Geoff Johns, George Pérez & others (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-899-7

This slim volume of frantic Fights ‘n’ Tights teen angst follows on from an earlier saga when the constantly changing team of junior heroes arrived a decade into their own future and were aghast to find that their adult selves had conquered America in the name of peace and security. Forearmed with the knowledge of this dystopian tomorrow the kids came back to now (see Teen Titans: The Future is Now) and resolved to counter those events…

Superhero lives are fairly chaotic and in the interim a number of Crises occurred which seemed to guarantee that Tomorrow would never come true. This volume, collecting issues #50-54, opens with a memorial for Superboy and Kid Flash (both recently deceased) as Robin, Wonder Girl, Ravager, Kid Devil, Miss Martian and Supergirl share their grief and memories with previous members.

‘Passage’ (team written by Sean McKeever, Geoff Johns, Marv Wolfman & Todd Dezago and illustrated by Randy Green, Mike McKone, George Pérez, Todd Nauck, Andy Lanning, Sandra Hope, Marlo Alquiza & Larry Stucker) finds the survivors reminiscing in ‘Friday Night Lights’ and ‘Dear Barry…’ whilst including a neat, entertaining digression that provides the other side of a team-up with the new Blue Beetle against Biker-Berserker Lobo (the main part of that saga is collected in the superb Blue Beetle: Reach For the Stars).

Meanwhile a mysterious gang are systematically defeating the Justice League and replacing them…

The four-part epic ‘The Titans of Tomorrow… Today!’ begins with ‘Futures of the Past’ (McKeever, Alé Garza, Derek Fridolfs, Rob Hunter & Marlo Alquiza) as the future Titans – including versions of the dead Superboy and Kid Flash – arrive in contemporary times to ensure their own existence by forcing their younger selves to comply with their draconian counterparts continually re-editing memories.

Simple, no? Perhaps not, as wild card Blue Beetle has inexplicably re-entered the mix…

Selecting a key moment when the alien invader Starro nearly conquered Earth, the future Titans substitute themselves for the JLA and attempt to seduce, demoralise and even thrash their teen incarnations into becoming the fascist monsters they are, but youth is always rebellious and plans go very wrong indeed in ‘Beat Yourself Up’ (art by Jamal Igle, Alquiza, Jesse Delperdang & Hunter) as Robin finds a uniquely dramatic way to stymie his tomorrow tormentor and Blue Beetle leads a counterattack…

The temporally fluid situation shifts again as the future Luthor materializes with a battalion of tomorrow’s corrupted superheroes in ‘Combine and Conquer’ (illustrated by Eddy Barrows & Rob Hunter) to finish the battle and save his own timeline, but his Titan’s Army has overlooked the mind-controlling power of Starro who (which?) simply takes them all over.

The action spectacularly concludes in ‘Fight the Future’ (Barrows, Joe Prado, Greg Tocchini, Hunter, Julio Ferreira & Oclair Albert) as allegiances shift and the future dies forever in an explosive battle and simple resignation…

Fast, furious, this extremely twisty-turny, time-travel extravaganza is better than most of its ilk, and on the whole this is a genuinely fun-filled action romp; but once again I can only remark that for the less well-informed reader or DC newcomer, the bits without hitting and explosions might be very confusing. As always, the choice is yours. The future is not immutable…

© 2007, 2008 DC Comics. All rights reserved.

Teen Titans: Titans East

By Geoff Johns, Adam Beechen, Tony Daniel, Peter Snejbjerg, Al Barrionuevo, Chris Batista & various (DC Comics)
ISBN13: 978-1-84576-607-8

After the never-ending calamity of the DC Infinite Crisis event, the company re-set the time line of all their publications to begin One Year Later.  This enabled them to refit their characters as they saw fit, provide a jumping on point for new converts and also give themselves some narrative wiggle-room.

Following the first major story-arc after the One Year Later reboot (Titans Around the World: ISBN13: 978-1-84576-442-5) the Teen Titans soon settled back into the rather chaotic and fearfully muddled sub-plotlines of old. This volume, collecting issues #42-47, revives the Pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths concept of Titans East as a villainous teen counterpoint to the junior heroes, but only after a wonderfully engaging origin for the satanic side-kick, Blue Devil.

‘Devil-May-Care’ is by Geoff Johns and Peter Snejbjerg, with delicious colouring from Richard and Tanya Horie. Following directly on is the main event as Deathstroke the Terminator organizes Batgirl, Match (a Bizarro clone of Superboy), super-speedster Inertia, Kid Crusader, Sungirl, Red Hood (AKA Jason Todd), and former Teen Titans Risk, Bombshell, Riddler’s Daughter and Duella Dent (The Jokester’s Daughter) into his latest weapon.

Terminator’s daughter Rose (or Ravager to you) had finally shaken off her father’s influence and joined the forces of good, and even been instrumental in resurrecting her brother Jericho. Now their deranged and deadly dad wants them back and is prepared to do anything to achieve his aims.

This decidedly fan-specific saga is scripted by Johns and Adam Beechen, with art from Tony S. Daniel, Al Barrionuevo, Jonathan Glapion, Edwin Rosell and Bit, and although the epic is of very high quality if you’re au fait with the intricacies of the continuity it is perhaps a little involved for new readers.

The volume’s final tale ‘Of Clowns and Clones’, by Beechen, Chris Batista and Glapion is both epilogue to preceding events and a nominal introduction to the mega-crossover event Countdown to Final Crisis as the team gathers to investigate the murder of Duella Dent. The slaying by a Monitor is one of the key triggers for the whole saga and provides a lot of character insight for two of the major players, Donna Troy and Jason Todd. If you’ve followed the multiversal saga this vital chapter might otherwise have escaped your notice.

Steeped in both DC trivia and super-hero lore this is a great piece of work for the already-converted, but might be hard-going for casual or neophyte readers.

© 2007 DC Comics. © 2005, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Teen Titans: Titans Around The World

By Geoff Johns, Tony Daniel & various (DC Comics)
ISBN13: 978-1-84576-442-5

After the non-stop calamity of the DC Infinite Crisis the company re-set the time line of all their publications to begin One Year Later.  This enabled them to retool their characters as they saw fit, provide a jumping on point for new converts and also give themselves some narrative wiggle-room.

One of the titles that made the most of that creative opportunity was the Teen Titans. In the missing year not only did the characters undergo vast personal changes but the team and the core-concept itself was stretched leaving a broad canvas to tell tales and spring “Big Reveals” on the reader (who after all had only been away for thirty days!).

Collecting issues # 34-41 of the comicbook series, the story opens with team lynchpin Cyborg coming out of a year-long coma caused by injuries received during the aforementioned Infinite Crisis. He awakens to a team he doesn’t recognise, including Rose, daughter of their arch-foe the Terminator, who was actively trying to kill him when he last saw her.

In rapid fashion Cyborg goes into action trashing not only her but also a teen-aged demon, and a couple of preppy teen whiz-kids before Robin intervenes. The Boy Wonder explains that in the past year since Superboy died saving the universe, Wonder Girl has gone solo, Beast Boy/Changeling has returned to the fatalistically surreal Doom Patrol and more than two dozen young heroes have joined – and mostly left – the ranks of the teen super-group.

Determined to pull the Titans back together, they set off to re-recruit some old friends only to fall afoul of both the Brotherhood of Evil and the Doom Patrol themselves, in a taut, devious thriller that perfectly kick-starts the new era. But what is the obsessive secret Robin is hiding from his comrades?

The four-part ‘New Teen Titans’ is by scripter Geoff Johns, penciller, Tony Daniel, with inks from Kevin Conrad, Andy Lanning and Norm Rapmund.

It’s followed by the eponymous ‘Titans around the World’ another four parter that reveals some of the incredible events of that lost year. While Cyborg was recovering, a huge number of troubles super-kids passed through the doors of Titans HQ, but as the new team mentor reviews recordings of that time he is unsettled…

The mystic Raven has disappeared and by checking with some of those past recruits he discovers that the team may have been harbouring a traitor in its midst…

Produced by Johns, Tony Daniel and fellow pencillers Carlos Ferreira, Paco Diaz and Ryan Benjamin, with inks by Conrad, Art Thibert, Drew Geraci, Silvio Spotti, Jonathan Glapion, Michael Lopez, Edwin Rosell, Saleem Crawford and Vincente Cifuentes, this is a thoroughly enjoyable romp in the classic Teen Titans manner that should delight fans of the superhero genre and might even make a few new converts along the way.

This is another fights ‘n’ tights triumph for Geoff Johns who seems determined to revitalize the entire DC pantheon. Surely such a noble undertaking deserves a few brief moments of your time?

© 2006, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Teen Titans: Life and Death

Teen Titans: Life and Death

By Johns, Willingham, Daniel & McDaniel (DC Comics)
ISBN 1-84576-297-5

As DC’s Infinite Crisis loomed, it impacted on all the titles then being published by the company. As well as being a little hard and unforgiving for new readers it also played hob with narrative structure when simply trying to tell a story in a collected edition, but if you’re willing to read ‘em then I’m game to try and explain the mess.

Collecting Teen Titans #29-33, Teen Titans Annual #1, Robin #146-147 and more-or-less pertinent extracts from Infinite Crisis #5-6, this fraught and angst-ridden story begins with the return of previously dead members of the team who reveal that the doors between Life and Death are breaking down. When deceased villain Brother Blood turns up leading an army of corpses including a team of dead Titans, it takes a desperate trip to the Great Beyond to set things right.

But this is mere prelude to the catastrophic battle between the recuperating modern Superboy (see Teen Titans/Outsiders: The Insiders, ISBN: 1-84576-247-9) and the deranged Superboy Prime, one of the survivors of the 1985 Crisis on Infinite Earths and a key instigator of the even greater Infinite Crisis. In a cataclysmic battle that involves an army of super-folk the young hero is grievously injured, and Robin leads a team to Luthor’s Lair in search of a cure for his injuries (this sequence, scripted by Bill Willingham, is a beacon of quality in an otherwise pedestrian and workmanlike affair).

Superboy recovers just in time to team up with Batman’s original sidekick Nightwing for one last Grand Hurrah before meeting a final fate which sadly is all too predictable.

Despite the best efforts of a huge number of quality creators such as writers Geoff Johns, Bill Williams, Marv Wolfman and the aforementioned Willingham, eight pencillers, sixteen inkers and five colourists, not to mention four letterers, this histrionic tale doesn’t fare well read alone, yet is actually all but lost in the greater cacophony of the main event. If you want to read this you will definitely need a large pile of other Crisis tie-in volumes for anything even approaching the full story.

© 2005, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Teen Titans/Outsiders: The Insiders

Teen Titans/Outsiders: The Insiders

By Geoff Johns, Winick & various (DC Comics)
ISBN 1-84576-247-9

In the build-up to DC’s Infinite Crisis crossover event lots of long-running story-threads were all pulled together ready for the big bang. This volume collects a shared storyline that ran in Teen Titans #24-26 and Outsiders #24-25 and 28 with art by Matthew Clark & Art Thibert, Carlos D’anda and Tony Daniel & Marlo Alquiza.

Superboy was always believed to be a clone of Superman, but the discovery that part of his DNA was Lex Luthor’s deeply unsettled the young hero. However, just as he is about to share the revelation with his young team-mates, Luthor activates a deeply seated program that overrides Superboy’s consciousness and makes him evil.

Indigo was a robotic being from the future who travelled back to our time and inadvertently caused the death of Omen and Donna Troy (see The Death and Return of Donna Troy, ISBN13: 978-1-84576-248-3). She subsequently joined the Outsiders but here is revealed as Brainiac 8, a deadly cybernetic killer determined to wipe out the heroes and re-configure her own time-continuum.

Fast-paced and well illustrated this lightweight but engaging tight-and-fights thriller goes through all the expected motions with great style and enthusiasm but it’s rather charmless for all that and the casual reader will definitely wonder what all the fuss was about.

© 2005, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Teen Titans/Outsiders: The Death and Return of Donna Troy

Teen Titans/Outsiders: The Death and Return of Donna Troy

By Phil Jimenez, Judd Winick & various (DC Comics)
ISBN12: 978-1-84576-248-3

For the continuity conscious comic reader, Wonder Girl — or Donna Troy, or Troia, or whatever — has always been a problem. From the very first moment that she joined the rest of the DC Universe in Brave and the Bold #60 (a Teen Titans tryout issue) she was a vital part of the team, despite actually only being a projection of the adult Wonder Woman in her home comic. Over the years a succession of writers has tried to retrofit the character into a semblance of logic without much success. Best then to just accept that she’s there and leave it at that, if you can.

This volume collects the latest attempt to validate her existences, reprinting her last major stories just prior to the DC Infinite Crisis storyline which reset everything. Featured here are Teen Titans/Young Justice: Graduation Day #1-3, Teen Titans/Outsiders Secret Files 2003 and DC Special: The Return of Donna Troy #1-4; a series of specials that attempted to reposition some of the company’s core titles in advance of that looming mega event.

‘Graduation Day’ saw a sexy robot arrive from the future as the juvenile superhero team Young Justice was breaking up. Her confused actions inadvertently release a deadly android stored at S.T.A.R. Labs, which neither the child heroes nor the Teen Titans can stop. In a cataclysmic battle both Omen and Donna Troy are killed. These tragedies lead to the dissolution of Young Justice, the formation of the covert and pre-emptive Outsiders and the reformation of a new Titans group dedicated to better training the heroes of tomorrow. Even though a frightfully contrived ploy to launch some new titles, this tale is still a punchy and effective thriller from writer Judd Winick, penciller Alé Garcia and inkers Trevor Scott, Larry Stucker and Marlo Alquiza.

‘Who was Donna Troy’, written and drawn by Phil Jimenez, with inks by Andy Lanning is a short but moving eulogy for the character set at her funeral with friends and guest-stars discussing her life and career.

‘The Return of Donna Troy’, scripted by Jimenez and illustrated by José Luis Garcia-López and George Pérez, reveals that Donna Troy’s soul was intercepted by the Titans, the mythical progenitors of the Greek Gods who reanimated her body and elevated her to their ranks. The backstory of this is much too complicated for this review, but if you’ll just accept that in one of her previous refits Troy was revealed as an adopted child of these morally ambivalent deities and they have returned to exploit her you’ll be fine.

These Gods are using her to further a plot to conquer a planet with a cosmic secret, but Troy’s near seduction to the Dark Side is thwarted when her old superhero comrades get involved. However, although beautifully drawn this tale menders and waffles way too much to be anything more than eye-candy for the faithful and a big headache for any fool brave enough to try it without a degree in Teen Titans continuity.

© 2005, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.