TEEN SPIRIT: Dan Jurgens Teen Titans
A 1996 article – From Wizard #60 by Jack Curtin with John B. Lacey
Dan Jurgens banks on a new generation of teen heroes to breathe Iife into his Teen Titans relaunch
THIS AIN’T NO JUNIOR JUSTICE LEAGUE.
As DC Comics places its brand-name super-heroes in the impending Justice League of America title, Dan Jurgens is taking a different route with his Teen Titans relaunch this September. Instead of previous Titans incarnations, where popular teen sidekick characters like Robin, Kid Flash, Aqualad and Wonder Girl were staples in the seam, Jurgens is opting for mostly all-new characters.
“I think part of the problem-especially in the early days-was that the Titans were always seen as a junior Justice League, and seen as a #2 team at best,” the writer/penciler says. “The Justice League should be DC’s preeminent characters, but the Titans are different just because of the emphasis on the word ‘teen,’ which tome means youth and implies potential, and you can hit those high notes wish new characters. The challenge of the writer is making the reader accept the new characters.”
Jurgens further states his case by making a fair comparison to creators Marv Wolfman and George Pérez’s work on The New Teen Titans, a title that went toe-to-toe with Marvel’s Uncanny X-Men during the 1980s. “When Marv and George did Titans, what really invigorated that book-and I can’t emphasize this enough-was not Kid Flash, Robin or Wonder Girl. It was the new characters: Cyborg. Raven and Starfire, By the same token, what I can have here is a core group of four new characters, one ‘old’ character in the Atom, plus an outer circle association with Robin and Impulse-but it is the new guys that give it a freshness it needs.”
He adds that when using established teen heroes like Robin, Impulse, Superboy and the Ray, “character development becomes really impossible in a book like this. What you absolutely must have are characters who can really develop in this book.”
And to develop the Teen Titans, Jurgens has turned to inker George Pérez, along for his second tour of Titans duty. “I know a good deal when I see one,’ Jurgens muses, “George has become a very important component in the potential success of this book, Right away, he brings a stylistic integrity to the book. George also brings to the book a high degree of credibility with Titans fans, just because of his past association with the team,”
“It’s like having Captain Kirk appear with the ‘Next Generation’ crew in ‘Star Trek. Generations,’ ” quips Teen Titans editor Eddie Berganza.
AND WHO ARE THESE NEW CHARACTERS?
The line-up consists of Risk (who has enhanced speed and strength), Slag (heat-based powers), Argent (projects energy bolts) and Prysm (can absorb light, project light blasts and travel at she speed of light). And then there’s the Atom, a Silver Age DC character who went from thirty-something to teenager in Zero Hour two years ago. The shrinking hero will be team leader-, and Jurgens is looking forward to him being in the Titans, “The Atom has always been fairly conservative both socially and politically, and now he’s a kid again. He appears to be I7, even though he’s really in his mid-30s, and has been married and divorced,” says Jurgens, “How is he going to handle that?”
Jurgens believes the Atom (a.ka. Ray Palmer) is a pleasant throwback to the heroes of yesterday. “He becomes a DC Silver- Age character that’s preserved in a way, and need not become a dark, brooding character like many Silver Age characters have become. Hal Jordan has gone nuts, Aquaman is a hermit that lives under the sea, Hawkman is.. well, you figure it out.”
THIS SERIES IS ABOUT a sense of growth with all these characters and how they come together,” Jurgens says. “I really want to get back to the idea of comics where readers see the characters grow and develop.”
The first three-issue arc, he says, deals with the story of the teen heroes coming together to form the Titans, “At chat point what they start to deal with is the idea that here we are. we’re a group of kids who have never had power-s before. It becomes the story of ‘Are we heroes? And if we are, why? What are our powers? Gee, do we really go out and fight people?’ Just because you have powers doesn’t mean that you become a hero and fight bad guys. We will find out that there is a very specific reason why these heroes choose to become a family of sorts.”
After that, expect an alien invasion story that will be presented in a different way, explains editor Berganza. “We don’t even see the aliens for a long way into the story,” he says. “but instead learn how frightening they are because of the way that other characters, even Darkseid, are alarmed by their imminent approach.”
The aliens in question are the H’San Natall, a threat to the entire DC Universe. As it turns out, the four new Titans (as well as future Titans we have yet to see) are all half-human and half-H’San Natall, “The H’San Natall is picking on Earth because it’s got great commodities to exploit and conquer,” says Berganza. “As reader-s will see, they’ve picked Earth women to do their experiments with and create new meta-humans,”
There’s also the threat of a secret worldwide organization known as The Veil revealed at the end of issue #4. Says Berganza, “The Veil is the exact opposite of the H’San Natall. They believe in ‘humans only’ on Earth. As Dan puts Ic If all these aliens are ninning around Earth and you look at the real world with all these race problems, the racism in the DC Universe would really be upscaled when green men who can shapeshift exist as do Kryptonians that can fly.” Expect The Veil to affect the DC Universe in a bigger way somewhere down the road, as the Titans and other alien heroes come under investigation.
AND JURGENS DOESN’T DISCOUNT guest appearances by established DC characters during the first year’s worth of Titans tales, Aside from the veteran hero Wildcat, who becomes the Titans’ mentor, expect appearances by Robin, as well as Nightwing, who pops up “just to give the new guys his blessing,” says Jurgens.
Also, a very mysterious, cloak-shrouded character known as Omen shows up early on, and if that character seems strongly reminiscent of Titan-gone-villainess Raven, who helped bring together the last version of the Titans, Jurgens will only say, “We’ll see,”
And an older-Titans mainstay, Mr. Jupiter-the financier who once helped an earlier Titans team stay afloat-is back to pay the bills. For that matter. Jurgens asserts, anyone who ever appeared is the earlier Titans series is part of the vast tapestry he will draw upon to tell his story. “This is a new team, young and fresh,” he claims, “but they are also part of a long and important tradition.”
But that tradition will be given a ’90s spin, and Jurgens is confident Teen Titans will compete in a market with other popular teen books like Gen13 and Generation X. “I start with the characters first,” he notes, on his formula for success. They are characters first, superpowered characters second. Let’s build characters we can get to know first, and fill in the rest later. Second, so many of the other ‘teen’ books are just big guys with big muscles and women with big breasts. This is not that type of book, If is is, IT is not the book for you. Third, I’m hopefully trying to build a backdrop to the DC Universe that is really the bonding agent that brings these kids together. By the end of the first ish there’s a mystery in place. a powerful, mysterious background that also becomes a threat to the entire DC Universe. We want to build this book to make it both fun and a little complex at the same time, It’s an interesting challenge, and we’ll see what we can come up with.”
TITANS ROLL CALL
HERE’S A LOOK AT THE NEW CHARACTERS THAT DAN JURGENS IS INTRODUCING IN SEPTERMBER’S TEEN TITANS #1, HIS OWN WORDS.
RISK: “Cody Driscoll is loose, flamboyant and bored stiff by school and other aspects of everyday life. And he’s hyper, in the truest sense of the word. His abilities are increased over those of the average person by a multiple of five: five times the speed, five times the strength and five times the ability to get into trouble. I could see him emerging as the real star of the book, and he’s certainly a character who is very different from the Atom, which should prove interesting.”
SLAG: “lsaiah Crockett has heat-based powers. He can do incredible things with waves of heat and, when he’s touching it, he can even melt steel or concrete with his bare hands In many ways, he is the most stable and normal member of the group, because the last thing I to write was yet another sullen black youth from the ghetto. lsiah is very solid middle-class, with a very healthy family relationship.”
ARGENT: “Toni Monetti comes from a very wealthy family, one where material things have been more important than love and understanding. She seems bright and happy and perky, but she is really very lonely and isolated. Her power is the ability to create and fire plasma energy bolts that become instantly tangible.”
PRYSM: “Audey Spears comes from the most bizarre family situation of all, in that she did not grow up on earth, but was raised by aliens in a controlled atmosphere, something like living in a ‘Brady Bunch’ or other sitcom world. She can capture and reflect light, fire light beams and travel at light speed. By emptying her body of light, she can become nearly invisible. She is potentially the most powerful of all the Titans.”
Sidebar One: TITANS AMONG TEENS
“I think it wos [DC Comics editor] George Kashdan who first said, ‘How about a series starring the kid superheroes?’ and that I later was the one who came up with the name Teen Titans,” recalls Teen Titans co-creator Rob Haney, “but it was long time ago”
1964, to he exact, when teen sidekicks Robin, Kid Flash and Aqualad teamed op for the first time. A year later the youthful heroes returned to the scene, this time with the addition of Wonder Girl, who had curiously never existed as Wonder Woman’s sidekick (hey, those were simpler times). Teen Titans #1 debuted in 1966 and enjoyed 43-issue, seven-year run.
Series artist Nick Candy admits that he was not above playing a few favorites as he designed the book. “I had drawn the Aquaman book for a while” he chuckles, ‘so I had a soft spot in my heart for Aqualad and I would always give him a boost by placing him as one of the strangest elements on the page. And I’ve always liked drawing pretty girls, so I paid special attention to Wonder Girl.”
Though a Titans revival was attempted in 1976 (introducing Titans West, no less), it lasted two years. It seemed that the era of the teen heroes was over. Who could guess that the best was yet to come?
Sidebar Two: NEW TEEN AGE
All George Pérez wanted to do in 1980 was draw the Justice League.
But to do that, he agreed to one creative pit stop: DC’s New Teen Titans, joining writer Marv Wolfman.
“Marv had left Marvel to go over to DC,” Pérez remembers, “and he asked me to help him revive the Teen Titans. My first thought was that a new book would lost maybe six months, and the second was that this could lead to a chance to do the JLA. Pretty soon, though Marv’s enthusiasm won me over just like it did the folks at DC.”
“I had written some Titans stories during the first series and really liked the concept,” says Wolfman. “I thought that a high-action book with solid characterization, including several new characters [Starfire, Changeling, Cyborg and Raven] would work. As soon as (sow George’s character sketches, I knew that we had something special that would move past the old Titans and became something brand-new.”
Even Wolfman didn’t anticipate the tidal wave of success. After being introduced in DC Comics Presents #26 in October 1980, the revamped Titans debuted in their own title a month later. The New Teen Titans (renamed The New Titans in 1988) quickly became DC’s best-selling title, a pace it maintained for most of the decade, becoming the most successful team book this side of its rival, namely Marvel’s Uncanny X-Men. The two teams actually met in Marvel and DC Present: X-Men/New Teen Titans #l in 1982.
One of the several classic stories that are still talked about today is “Who Is Donna Troy?” (issue #38), while “The Judas Contract” story (Tales of the New Teen Titans #42-#44, Annual #3), featuring the reintroduction of Nightwing, the debut of Jericho and the treachery of Terra, is probably the most popular of the title’s run.
The New Titans was one of those hooks that never seemed to regain a focus in the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths DC Universe and died a merciful death last December. The gauntlet was thrown, waiting for another brave soul to pick it up and broaden the Titans’ horizons.
Bill Walko is an author and artist and the man behind titanstower.com. He's been reading and drawing comics since he was 5 years old and hasn't stopped since.