Rob looks back at his collection and finds this 1980s gem and discusses why New Teen Titans 15 from way back in 1982 could well be the best comic ever.
OK, I admit it this was probably one the first comics I was ever bought and looking back it has a lot to answer for, however to me recently re-reading this slightly tattered issue of New Teen Titans issue 15 it got me thinking that maybe this one book could indeed be the best comic ever.
Now before the trolling and angry talkback shouts let me explain my decision – let me explain, comics are essentially 22 pages of pure ‘escapist’ entertainment be that Cowboys, giant robots, romance or for the most part super-heroes. From ‘funny-books’ and magazine shelf semi-disposable fodder comics have always been around in one form or another but really the modern age of comics deemed as a legitimate art-form did not really start until the middle of the 1980s when the more mature intellectual comics and graphic novels of Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman became commonplace.
As such comics such as Sandman, Watchmen, Invisibles are all without question exceptional pieces of artwork/literature and noted for their more adult approach to the medium of comics but in moving to this new more ‘intelligent’ they lost the little bit of child-like wonder, a sense of kids clashing toys together in an imaginary battle, making up an imaginary disposable world in which everything is happening at once – and that idea, a concept of throwing everything together in one glorious mess of imagination is what my decision to rank New Teen Titans issue 15 the best comic book ever.
This is a stand-alone monthly ‘floppy’ book, probably found on e-bay for a couple of pounds or even in the bargain bin of your local comic shops, it’s a single issue and has not really ever come onto the radar of the goatee beard scratching pundits and commenters of the comic book world it is for all intents and purposes a forgotten book but for that very reason that is why it is so great, in the 25page of this single issues holds everything that makes comics great pure unadulterated entertainment without consequence.
And this is where the crux of the argument comes in, comics by their very nature are episodic, from one comic to the next things have to flow and the bigger picture and overall story-telling has to be taken into consideration both by the writer of the book and the reader as well. For the best reading experience you cannot just jump into a story half way through or buy a random book to know what’s going on, especially if the story is part of a multi-crossover arc and while comic companies want you to buy everything off the shelves you will probably not for your first comic book pick up issue 314 of say Uncanny X-Men as essentially you will need 313 issues worth of back reading to know what’s going on. That is why comic companies are always enticing new readers to come in with natty issue ones, or indeed re-booting an entire universe after a huge cross-over (DC you are listening aren’t you) but with New Teen Titans this one unique book doesn’t need this, it has everything a new comic reader would need in one issue, a cavalcade of excitement, visually stunning pages and masses of imagination – it is disposable fun of the highest order meant to do everything a single issue of a comic is supposed to do .
Now why this issue in particular? It is not even really just a stand-alone issue, it is in fact the second issue of a two-part story arc which in the history of this comic has no real significance to the ‘canon’ of the characters or storyline, nobody of importance dies, nobody does something ground-breaking and it is not to initial appearance of a character, by all standards it is just a generic ‘silver-age’ comic from the early 1980s. However due to this fact, that it indeed has none of these major significant factors and for all intents and purposes had no major context (not tied into a company-wide crossover, in a whole new issue 1 poly-bagged collector’s edition or a ‘must read’) that makes it so effective as the best comic book ever as without any of these restraints it makes for a perfect one-off read.
Again why this specific comic? Well, the answer is in both the creative teen and the story within its faded early 1980s pages. The book was issue 15 of the relatively new title ‘New Teen Titans’ which was launched under the creative eyes of Marv Wolfman and George Perez, two of DC’s most prominent and well respected creative teams.
This paring was DC’s tag-team for success and with ‘New Teen Titans’ eventually proved it and for a time the title was as popular as Marvels X-Men who were at the top of their game courtesy of Chris Claremont and John Byrne, so popular in fact that the team eventually met-up with the X-Men for a superb cross-company promotion comic which was sort of like the Beatles and the Stones jamming together.
As to who the ‘New’ Titans were, well essentially they were all the teenage counterparts to classic DC heroes such as Batman, Superman and Wonder-Woman and were really up until the Titans used as plot devices and a sounding board for what was going on in the comic – a person to be rescued, mentored or ‘loved’ (no not in that way) However by the time the New Teen Titans came about Robin, Wonder-Girl, Kid Flash and co had to a point outgrown there side-kick persona and were having adventures by themselves without the supervision of the grown-up heroes.
With this in mind, Perez and Wolfman collected these teens together and added a few extra characters for the launch of this title – so as well as the original side-kicks new modern heroes such as Cyborg, Raven, Beast Boy and Starfire were to the mix to launch this new title. As stated before the title was a huge success and even now stories based on these early issues resonate through the comic world today with classics such as ‘The Judas Contact’ always appearing in ‘best of’ lists.
However, as mentioned this comic has no tie-ins and has no discernible legacy so why then is it the best comic ever? Well, the creative team aside I have never read a comic that manages to pack so much into itself and contains not one team of heroes in the Teen Titans but also features DC’s weirdest team of heroes the Doom Patrol.
The issues kicks off with the Teen Titans and the Doom Patrols Robotman captured by the evil Madam Rouge and her partner in crime General Zahl who have used their giant flying based (which is packed with robots and evil looking machines) to enslave the nation of Zandia. With the Titans stuck in a sticky situation, it’s up to Teen Titans member Beast-Boy to make the save with the help of an unlikely source, the Doom Patrols nemesis ‘The Brotherhood of Evil’.
Now, what’s not to like! From a one paragraph synopsis this comic has more goings on, action and imagination than ten Michael Bay movies, and did I mention that the peril the Teen Titans are in is actually a ‘Devolving Pit’ that is making them into Neanderthals and ape-men, yes folks as well as all this the book contains monkeys as well
Really two teams of good guys, the evil Brotherhood of Evil lending a hand and everyone up against the main protagonist in flying fortress of evil filled with pink robots under the leadership of a rogue Nazi this book has it all, all contained within 25 pages of one comic. They say that currently there is a trend to decompress stories, to create a flow and narrative to a book that will last over six issues conveniently done to fit into the page of a trade paperback. Now if this story was done now it would take six issues to tell just to get the Titans in a weird ‘Devolving Pit’ and another three to get them out, then at least four separate titles being taken over by the cross-over (with all the design dress changed for the event), as well as numerous spin-offs for characters, a navel-gazing ‘front-line’ book taken from the perspective of the third cyborg guard on the left and finally an extra paged expensive finale edition that will be the best part of five pound and will be filled with ‘bonus material (ie crap) like a directors commentary and some scrappy character designs that the artist threw together as ‘filler’ but here in this one issue we get a four-way battle between everyone set on this immense giant flying bases full of pink robots and through all this chaos every character getting a chance to shine, from heroic deeds to climactic battles to brooding character moments and a final resolution to the entire events all over one comic!
Whether is seeing Teen Titan Cyborg bodge his robotic components together to free is primate devolving teen-mates to the Brotherhoods nasty way of dealing with their opponents such as protoplasmic Plasmus melting then and the sinister Hogun zapping them apart with high-tech Voodoo dolls every scene is just jam-packed with scripts and intricately detailed art-work from Perez, this is comic book story-telling as it should be, the right mix of visually enthralling panels and detailed and crazy dialogue all set before the dark and gritty evolution of comics in the mid-1980s.
With a fantastical silver-age feel to it the book is brimming over with detail, from the intricate flying base to the perfect rendering to Beast-Boys animal forms to the gritty grim jawed shootout with Dooms Patrols Cliff Steele the entire book is swept away in pure comic indulgence without any need for layered plots, story-arcs, character progression or to move the Teen Titans onto anything other than a clean win victory without any major ramifications.
With later issues we have the bogged down issues of continuity, the addition of teen angst, the recurring nightmare that is Deathstroke the Terminator and the characters going through changes both good and bad but for here, in one issue the whole continuity of the DC universe if put aside for a good visually stunning battle with robotic brains, French Gorillas, empathic gothic heroes and just so much visual fun busting at the seams that in today’s comic book world would take an entire cross-over event just to tell.
There are of course other books that could be put into this category, other fights that might have been better, more epic conclusions sorted out, more perfect character changing or defining moments but that’s not needed, as between the adverts for Bazooka Joe chewing gum and games for the Atari console system lies a comic that epitomises all that is good about the escapist fantasy of the four coloured comic book world.