NTT #1 (Nov. 1980)
Thirty years ago this month, the preview for a great new comics title, The New Teen Titans, came out in DC Comics Presents #26. For fans like me, who picked up that issue at a plain old newsstand (I can still smell the cigarette smoke, chocolate and bubblegum in the store, which has long since closed), that preview and the issues that followed immediately stood out as something special.
I grew into adolescence reading this title as the 80s unfolded. I read a lot of titles I'm sure my contemporaries would recognize: Atari Force, Alpha Flight, Amethyst, Legion of Superheroes, The Uncanny X-Men, The New Mutants, and later Elfquest, Love and Rockets, Swamp Thing, Hellblazer and Sandman, as well as several others - including mini-series like Sword of the Atom, Cloak and Dagger and Hawk and Dove, and ground-breaking graphic novels and limited series like The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: The Killing Joke, V for Vendetta, Crisis on Infinite Earths and The Watchmen. But among all these great books, at its best, The New Teen Titans stood out, head and shoulders above the rest. Maybe it's because the NTT captured the early-to-mid 1980s as seen from a youthful point of view so perfectly (the title had well passed its peak by the time the character Danny Chase was introduced in 1987). The lineup of core NTT members is here.
Along with Claremont's revamped X-men from this period, the New Teen Titans are Generation X's superheroes. There was something in the NTT title of a latchkey generation that felt (and still feels) forgotten, overlooked, misunderstood or dismissed by their elders. At first Gen Xers, like their parents, were seduced by the glamour of 80s' high life. But they were also the first witnesses of the private cost of that life within families. Xers were compelled to survive in Brave New social settings and develop new values to cope in Postmodern and Post-Postmodern circumstances, while riding the economic booms and busts generated by their predecessors. That's what The New Teen Titans was all about - and it was especially about building a family in a world where families had broken down. Later Titans titles have picked up the same themes. The Titans are a pop culture mirror held up to reveal the trials of a generation that has repeatedly absorbed the often unseen costs of Boomer-driven social change. And for skeptics out there who don't read comic books and think they're just for kids - that's why this title is relevant.
Every character fit a superficial Gen X stereotyped label endowed upon the cohort by the Boomers - but every character showed hidden depths that belied those labels. This is a big part of the Gen X experience - Xers were constantly being defined by Boomers, yet always knew in their hearts that they were something else. And so - Dick Grayson (the sell-out), Wally West (the Alex P. Keaton conservative), Donna Troy (the perfectionist), Gar Logan (the slacker), Victor Stone (the tech guy), Raven (the New Age wicca girl), Koriand'r (the anti-feminist sex bomb).
Beneath these Xer stereotypes, every superhero on this team was an anthropomorphized version of a specific archetype - an incarnation of a particular heroic value. For years, Boomers have accused Xers of being cynical, ungrateful and nihilistic. A close reading of this pulp fictional corner of pop culture can tell you at a glance how profoundly wrong they are. Generation X's values are, however, very difficult for Boomers to perceive, let alone understand. The bonds between the Titans represented how their heroic values played out as Xers struggled for years with a prolonged, misunderstood, cohort-wide introspection on behalf of their entire society. They also had to take on the legacies of their predecessors without compromising their own identities and convictions.
This is a tribute to the Titans as pop fiction icons that shows different ways that these superheroes reflected the Gen X experience. That's before we even look to the obvious accomplishments of DC's creators: Marv Wolfman, George Perez, Romeo Tanghal, John Costanza, Adrienne Roy, Len Wein and their immediate successors - including Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, Eduardo Barreto and Phil Jiminez.