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Thoughts on the New Teen Titans

I got on this train of thought when I was thinking of Roger Stern, and how good of a job he did making both the Hobgoblin and Captain Marvel (Monica Rambeau) into major figures in the Marvel Universe. That is really, really hard to do, and as noted by the fact that the latter character disappeared from prominence basically the INSTANT Stern stopped writing her, and the former character only managed to hold on for a couple of years before also disappearing into virtual irrelevance (although Tom DeFalco is doing a nice job with the Hobgoblin in Spider-Girl).

That got me to thinking about how hard it is to debut a new characters into Marvel and DC comics PERIOD.

Marv Wolfman and George Perez introduced an astonishing FOUR prominent characters in the first couple issues of New Teen Titans (Starfire, Cyborg, Raven and Deathstroke)!

In an era where creators mostly have not been willing to create new characters for Marvel or DC (and if they DO, they’re usually just new versions of, say, Superboy or Supergirl or Blue Beetle or Green Arrow or Green Lantern or whatever), Wolfman and Perez debuted four of them within the span of two issues.

That’s really amazing.

39 Comments

If it’s new characters you want in the MU or DCU I’d say Marvel isn’t doing half bad right now with that whole Avengers: Initiative shebang. The Order, New New New Warriors, they all prominently feature many new characters don’t they (I don’t read ‘em myself)? ‘The Captain’ in Nextwave and Alias’ Jessica Jones were both completely new characters who debuted in their own series too.
I don’t think there’s much wrong with the ‘willingness to create new characters’, it’s just that not all of them stick around like those Teen Titans did.

Runaways has been a good addition of new characters. What will happen after Whedon leaves the title should indicate if they have true staying power or not.

Sasha Bordeaux has been a good supporting character but will probably disappear after Rucka stops writing her.

Harley Quinn is still around although she did start in the animated series and move over.

J, while I’d agree that Marvel is making the effort . . . THE ORDER is reportedly canceled with #10, and I don’t think it’s too far over the line to guess that NEW WARRIORS isn’t far behind.

That’s what makes NEW TEEN TITANS so amazing. Four new characters, yes, but four new DC mainstays?

I think the New Teen Titans were exceptional in the sense of how well they were crafted.

But I feel that new… GOOD! …characters are created on a daily basis; and then become cannon fodder as soon as its creator leaves (or is no longer around.)

Even the New Teen Titans were victims to this. I mean, Raven turned evil, then died, then turned evil again. Cyborg was a vegetable for awhile. And Starfire, well, I’m not up to date with her, but I remember that her planet was also destroyed (or eaten).

There’s also a bunch of excellent NEW characters out there that are running the risk of becoming cannon fodder, just becase:

1- Aztek
2- Major Bummer
3- Mirage (or any Team Titan, for that matter)
4- Argent (or any Jurgens’ Titan for that matter)
5- Stripsey/S.T.R.I.P.E.S.
6- Onyx
7- Terra
8- The guys from Young Heroes in Love
9- Anarky
10- Azrael
11- Chronos
12- Mr. Happy Jetpack!

Anyways, I would also mention some of those New X-men, or X-treme X-Men, or Exiles; but the problem there was that there were so many of them (and a new one was introduced almost on a monthly basis) that I could never keep up with them, or tell the good ones from the bad.

red-Ricky, aren’t a number of the characters you’ve listed already dead? I know Aztek, Chronos, Azrael, and the rest of the Team Titans are.

Was the creative atmosphere, vis-a-vis new characters, of 27 years ago really the same as today’s?

Very good point. I wonder if we’ve gotten to the point were every possible combination of powers or origin has been explored. I know I’m reluctant to pick up a new comic because I feel it will just be cancelled in a couple months anyway.

I do think the AoA/Exiles brought in a bunch of new characters that had somes legs. Blink, Morph, Nocturne and Mimic were interesting characters, even though techniquely they were revamps of older barely used characters (Blink died in the first Generation X storyline, Morph is the Changling from X-Men).

Was the creative atmosphere, vis-a-vis new characters, of 27 years ago really the same as today’s?

Basically, yeah.

Heck, Roy Thomas took the approach of “I am not going to let them take my original characters” as early as the mid-60s!

Unless you meant something else by the creative atmosphere (which you very well may have).

Not trying to demean what Wolfman and Perez did in any way, but it always struck me that what they really did when they’ve created Starfire, Raven, Cyborg, Changeling, and Deathstroke was to introduce Marvel-style characters (angst, complicated backstories, real soap opera, limited powers, moral grayness in the case of Slade) into the DC Universe.

That’s what makes NEW TEEN TITANS so amazing. Four new characters, yes, but four new DC mainstays?

Yeah, thanks, ED! That WAS the main point of the piece.

Obviously, good new characters are being created each year, but rarely do they survive well past their creator working with them.

And while there are certainly some that DO survive as prominent characters, they are pretty rare, which is why it is amazing to note that Wolfman and Perez created FOUR such characters in TWO ISSUES!!

And Changeling is practically a new creation (but he isn’t! So don’t think I’m counting him! :))!

Not trying to demean what Wolfman and Perez did in any way, but it always struck me that what they really did when they’ve created Starfire, Raven, Cyborg, Changeling, and Deathstroke was to introduce Marvel-style characters (angst, complicated backstories, real soap opera, limited powers, moral grayness in the case of Slade) into the DC Universe.

I don’t think Wolfman and Perez would even really argue that point, as that did appear to be what they did with New Teen Titans.

The reboot Legion of Super-Heroes introduced a bunch of new characters in a relatively short time: XS, Gates, Kinetix and Kid Quantum II. All stayed Legion stalwarts through the reboot… which of course isn’t around anymore…

Basically, yeah.

Heck, Roy Thomas took the approach of “I am not going to let them take my original characters” as early as the mid-60s!

Unless you meant something else by the creative atmosphere (which you very well may have).

Maybe Roy Thomas was like that, but back then it seemed people were making new characters willy-nilly like nobody’s business. Look at Chris Claremont for example. Jim Shooter tells the story, for example, of how he wanted people to not introduce new characters until he had a royalty system in place. He had to constantly battle to make creators stop making new characters, they’d insist on making new characters anyway. CLaremont, especially. The 70s at Marvel and DC before the DC implosion especially were throwing new characters out there like crazy. Look at the Detroit JLA, Firestorm, New Gods, Skull the Slayer, Howard the Duck and others. And as someone points out, Marvel has created tons of new characters post-Civil War.

I think what made New Teen Titans notable was not that four new characters were created but that fans supported them. It’s fans that determine a new character’s staying power more than creators. In DC’s case, I think it may help that pre-Teens Titans there just weren’t that many cool looking characters and all the rage was about Marvel. Only old-school heads and hardcore fans would even venture into DC territory. The threshold to creating a new, lasting character was very low since there was little preexisting competition. It’s like how easy it was for Kirby to create a supervillain mainstay like Darkseid because the existing DC villains were mostly lame guys with underwhelming abilities. At Marvel he’d just be another awesome villain. By creating Marvel-style characters at DC, Wolfman and Perez made it easy to blow away the rest of the existing DC books, which actually looked and felt like traditional DC books.

Another reason why I think they had so much staying power is because it’s similar to a person who peaked in high school, you want to keep around as many reminders of your heyday as possible. New Teen Titans was one of DC’s all-time heydays, one of the few times they felt as cool and hip as Marvel, and as a result they will never let those characters go and will keep relaunching that lineup as often as possible in hopes they can eventually recapture what happened back then. Over at Marvel in the sea of constant hot characters and preexisting competition, I think those four characters would have fallen by the wayside or been forgotten members of the New Defenders.

Roger Stern’s vastly underrated run on The Amazing Spider-Man is a nice blast from the past. I remember the Hobgoblin mystery being HUGE at the time.

Roy Thomas? Isn’t that the same Roy Thomas who gave us Gaard, the interstellar hockey goaltender from an alternate universe?

Yeah, I wouldn’t want anyone else handling a creation so magnificent, either…

Colin McCormack

January 22, 2008 at 7:16 am

It should also be remembered that Wolfman wrote these characters continuously for nearly 15 years. Any character that’s around this long is hard to simply forget about. Also, in term of the Hobgoblin and Captain Marvel, the former was really only interesting due to the mystery surrounding hime, which got old eventually. Also, since he was a replacement for the Green Goblin, Harry’s return to evil in Spectacular and then Norman’s return after the Clone Saga kind of made him irrelevant. As for Captain Marvel, I always felt she was kind of thrust upon readers, and not really given a chance to become popular in her own right. It just seemed like we were supposed to like her because Stern liked her.

As for Captain Marvel, I always felt she was kind of thrust upon readers, and not really given a chance to become popular in her own right.

I dunno, Colin, I mean, Marvel even featured her on the cover of their games at the time!

That’s not something Stern could control.

I think she was legitimately a big character for them for a short period of time.

Then they destroyed her for rather bizarre reasons, and she’s been a D-Lister ever since.

Maybe Roy Thomas was like that, but back then it seemed people were making new characters willy-nilly like nobody’s business

Yeah, Thomas was the exception during the 60s and early 70s, but by the late 70s/early 80s, I think everyone basically knew the deal.

Yeah, Thomas was the exception during the 60s and early 70s, but by the late 70s/early 80s, I think everyone basically knew the deal.

Agreed.

Someone else brings up a great point. Since Wolfman wrote the books himself for so long, he was able to make them long-term mainstays singlehandedly. That’s something else that has to be taken into account. Kind of like if Steve Englehart had a 15 year run at Marvel, Mantis would have been in continuious print all that time and have saved the world 1000 times over by now.

To reinforce some of the comments as raised before, the Titans were based on the blueprint of the “New” X-men.

Look at the characters introduced in that book, they are all major mainstays of the Marvel Universe now.

In my youth (the 80′s) the Titans and X-men were the books I consistently read more than any other. (along with Spiderman)

I think I still harbour a teenage crush on Kory…

To reinforce some of the comments as raised before, the Titans were based on the blueprint of the “New” X-men.

Actually, according to Wolfman he says he was actually going for more of a Fantastic Four vibe, even though everyone thinks it was actually X-Men. It makes sense when you see the parallels between Ben and Johnny’s relationship and Vic and Gar’s, although the latter had way cornier dialogue.

See, I don’t find Gaard quite as funny as Puck, who actually resembled a hockey puck and hurled himself around. Surely SOMEONE must have gotten those two together. It’s their destiny.

The big problem is this: who in their right mind is going to pour their creative heart & soul into developing a brilliant new character for Marvel or DC when you don’t retain any ownership or creative control? Back in the 1960s and 70s, yeah, Marvel and DC were pretty much the only game in town. But nowadays, there are other alternatives. Yeah, sure, most creators won’t make much (if any) money self-publishing or going through Image with a new property. But what they do make is theirs, and they retain control of the direction of the character.

I think that a part of the problem is that creators don’t want to touch each other’s characters. Bendis seems immune to this, and has gotten characters like Sentry, the Hood, and Echo out of obscurity, and even jump-starting the popularity of almost-forgotten characters like Jessica Drew, Luke Cage, Ares, and Ms. Marvel. The only problem with this is in instances like the Hood, where he morphs characters almost completely to fit his story, ignoring what made them unique. Bendis’ Jessica Jones is possibly my favorite character of the last twenty years.
Dwayne McDuffie has been good at using newer creations like Gravity, the Hood, and the new Firestorm. Also, Dan Slott seems to be all about creating new characters in Amazing Spider-Man and the Intiative and using newer characters like Kirkman’s Ant-Man and the Skrull hero from his Marvel Team-Up.
And speaking of Kirkman, all of his books do a great job of introducing new, rich characters. Ok, the Magician in ultimate X-Men was lame, but everyone trips up.
I would say that the newest characters with the most staying power are the Runaways (although Whedon is lamost killing them with his pacing), Sentry, Echo, the Hood, Jessica Jones, X-23, and Gravity.

Longlevitiy of a writer is a good point.

Look at how Claremont’s protected Sage over the last few years.

I dunno, Colin, I mean, Marvel even featured her on the cover of their games at the time!

Well, those games were using the art from Secret Wars.
Now you could comment that she was on the cover of the major crossover of the time, which was due to her being prominent in Stern’s Avengers, qed.

Not their roleplaying games:

MSH.jpg

But now that you mention it, the fact that she was used for Secret Wars is pretty significant, when you consider that not every character WAS used (no Vision or Scarlet Witch, for instance).

“But I feel that new… GOOD! …characters are created on a daily basis; and then become cannon fodder as soon as its creator leaves (or is no longer around.)

“Even the New Teen Titans were victims to this. I mean, Raven turned evil, then died, then turned evil again. Cyborg was a vegetable for awhile. And Starfire, well, I’m not up to date with her, but I remember that her planet was also destroyed (or eaten).”

I’d say this argues for another point, actually: sometimes a character’s creator stays with them too long, and changes them from what made them good characters in the first place (or, at least, can’t protect them from editorial mandate). Wolfman was on-board for Raven’s turning evil/dying, Tamaran blowing up the first time, and Cyborg’s virtual lobotomy. (Also the awful period when Changeling could only turn into monsters to reflect the darkness he felt in his soul.)

I’m not sure how much of this was driven by Wolfman (though I do get a sense of burnout from his last 4-5 years on the title) and how much of it was editorially driven, but the fact does remain that sometimes characters’ creators aren’t necessarily their best defenders.

The significance of Monica Rambeau’s Captain Marvel might be overstated by her cover/promotional appearances … she represents two key demographics that are wretchedly under-represented in comics, 1) women and 2) minorities. So it’d make sense if she’s showing up in a lot of prominently-displayed places … comics are hardly immune to tokenism.

As to how important the character was … how important was the uncannily similar Kimiyo Hoshi Dr. Light?

For my money, the best new Big Two characters in recent history are the Young Avengers … too bad Marvel is allowing this property to languish, waiting for the perennially-late Allan Heinberg to return to the characters. Get someone on this book before the window of relevance closes on this title!

I always really liked the Monica/Captain Marvel character, but couldn’t it be that part of her prominence for a short period of time wasn’t because she was popular or because of Stern, but because of Marvel trying to protect/maintain their copyright on the name? Isn’t that why every few years there’s a new Captain Marvel series out, because if they stop using it then DC’s Captain Marvel can obtain the copyright again?

It’s true, not too many new characters get introduced these days that have staying power. Think about how many new characters came out in the 90′s at Marvel and have vanished (mercifully, mostly). But interestingly, several from Liefeld’s New Mutants/X-Force run have had real staying power: Cable & Deadpool for sure, but Domino stuck pretty good too.

Then there’s people like Garth Ennis, who will create a complete and interesting supporting cast of new characters and then kill them off before he leave the book. (Hellblazer, anyone?)

I always found Monica Rambeau’s jheri curl really disturbing.

i remember being kinda impressed at the time that they gave her a jheri curl at all… considering the fact that in the mid-80s so many black characters still looked and acted like they stepped out of a Dolemite movie, it was a breath of fresh air to see an attempt to make her look somewhat contemporary.

they ended up giving her braids later, though, right? that was even weirder.

Trust me, by the time Monica Rambeau hit the scene the jheri curl was dead in the black community. Watch COming to America and Hollywood Shuffle for proof.

I think the Dolemite hair would have been less embarassing.

Aren’t most of the characters in New Warriors and The Initiative pre-existing characters?

I mean, Slapstick is the father of the Silver Age!

Then there’s people like Garth Ennis, who will create a complete and interesting supporting cast of new characters and then kill them off before he leave the book. (Hellblazer, anyone?)

And Hitman. The only character that was even remotely interesting from Bloodlines

J, while I’d agree that Marvel is making the effort . . . THE ORDER is reportedly canceled with #10, and I don’t think it’s too far over the line to guess that NEW WARRIORS isn’t far behind.

That’s what makes NEW TEEN TITANS so amazing. Four new characters, yes, but four new DC mainstays?

Uhm.. Isn’t that pretty much what I was saying? I didn’t mean to tone down Perez and Wolfman’s effort, I just wanted to point out that it’s the staying power that’s exceptional, not their creation as new characters. Brian’s comment about creator willingness struck me as a bit off in that regard.

Aside from the Teen Titans characters mentioned, Marv Wolfman created Blade, Nova, Black Cat.

Not grade A characters, but still… you gotta give credit to the guy for creating something NEW.

Aside from the Teen Titans characters mentioned, Marv Wolfman created Blade, Nova, Black Cat.

Not grade A characters, but still… you gotta give credit to the guy for creating something NEW.

Sorry, but I still think that creating new characters was the norm in Marv’s day, not the exception. Gerry Conway created a bunch of new characters over at DC like the Detroit League and Firestorm while creating Punisher and Tombstone over at Marvel. Englehart created Mantis, Dr. Phosphorus and others. Len Wein created many of the New X-Men while Claremont created lots of other X-Men, the Hellfire Club, the New Mutants and the Hellions as well. JM DeMatteis created new characters, as did Roger Stern.

You make it sound like Wolfman is an anomaly for daring to create something new in his day.

“You make it sound like Wolfman is an anomaly for daring to create something new in his day.”

Well, not my intention. Just wanted to give credit to the guy, since the topic was about NTT…

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