My Misspent Youth — The New Teen Titans #4 by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez

I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.

What George Pérez really wanted to do was draw the Justice League of America. The preeminent penciler first significantly established himself with Marvel Comics in the nineteen-seventies. In particular, he proved a whiz at team books, ably handling the extensive casts of characters found in titles such as Fantastic Four and Avengers. So when writer Marv Wolfman, Pérez’s occasional collaborator at the House of Ideas who had recently sauntered across Manhattan to take up professional residence with DC Comics, was looking for someone to handle the art chore on a revived version of the Teen Titans, Pérez immediately came to mind. Pérez wasn’t particularly interested in the concept, but his entreaties to be given the publisher’s preeminent consortium of costumed do-gooders were met with baffling indifference. Maybe proving he was a true team player, in every sense of the term, would be his pathway to the JLA. Besides, he liked working with Wolfman. Pérez signed on, and the first issue of The New Teen Titans was published midway through 1980, its cover promising “25 PAGES OF ALL-NEW ACTION WITH THE SUPER-GROUP YOU DEMANDED!”

As Pérez’s prized assignment, Wolfman knew a workaround. If DC was reluctant to let Pérez go to the Justice League of American, then Wolfman would bring the Justice League of America to Pérez. The fourth issue of The New Teen Titans would have some very special guest stars.

This was early in the run of the new series, and Wolfman was still slow-playing the mysteries set up with the freshly assembled version of the Teen Titans, which provide the narrative gateway to the requisite task in any superhero crossover of getting the good guys to scrap with one another before realizing they basically have common goals. Raven, one of the new characters created by Wolfman and Pérez, had a largely hidden agenda around a fearsome being named Trigon. She convinces her new teammates that Trigon is a imminent threat who can only be stopped by preventing the Justice League of America from doing battle with a group of sorcerer they’d identified as foes. The Teen Titans travel up to the orbiting satellite headquarters of the Justice League of America and waste no time.

In truth, the plot particulars are incidental. Although Wolfman does the proper work of moving his multiple story threads along, giving the readers morsels of new information about the overarching saga and adding to the grand melodrama of various interpersonal concerns within the starring team, its clear that the real purpose of the issue is letting Pérez draw zingy action so that the sheer joy of it pops in the page.

Before the issue is over, the dueling dynamos will battle to a draw, Trigon will reveal himself in very Sauron-like fashion, and the Teen Titans will have bitter feelings of betrayal when they learn that Raven has been misleading them. It’s all rendered marvelously in Pérez’s intricate, fine lines and casually inventive layouts. Few artists could tell a story in sequential panels like he did, and the issue is a delight of details, just like all of the other Teen Titans comics Wolfman and Pérez worked on together. Roughly in alignment with the marketplace growth of the similarly spirited Uncanny X-Men, published by Marvel, The New Teen Titans became a sensation for DC Comics. Admirably, Wolfman and Pérez responded to the success by only getting better. The series got stronger and more ambitious as they went. Some of the stories they created together are true classics of the form.

As it turned out, importing the Justice League to the pages of The New Teen Titans wasn’t strictly necessary to fulfill Pérez’s wish. He got many more opportunities to draw the Justice League of America. Boy, did he ever.

Previous entries in this series (and there are a LOT of them) can be found by clicking on the “My Misspent Youth” tag.

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