Welcome to “How to Collect,” a series of articles about how to collect a comic book series in trade paperback, with all the irritating research done for you, to make sure you have the best, most thorough collection of great comics possible. To start us off, let’s talk about the 1980s The New Teen Titans.
Created by Marv Wolfman and George Perez, The New Teen Titans had Wolfman on plot and writing duties, and Perez on plot and pencils for the first third of its run (and other incredible talents to follow). George Perez is the man, and that’s enough for anybody to read the series.
But if blind fanboyism isn’t enough, what’s more likely to get your attention is how well New Teen Titans managed to integrate the soapier, more character driven pieces that made it DC’s pseudo-rival to Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men. This is the series that launched Nightwing, the series from which the 2003 Teen Titans cartoon adapted its first four major arcs, the series that just straight up decided that they’d show nothing but a day in the life of the Teen Titans (Issue #8), ala “Tales of Ba Sing Se” from Avatar The Last Airbender.
It started strong, as Wolfman and Perez figured the title wouldn’t last for longer than a single arc. So they poured everything they had in to those six issues, bringing characters old and new to the forefront to fight the evil cosmic entity Trigon that was totally not Satan (he was Satan). Every panel had tons of ideas and detail poured in to it.
That, to me, is Wolfman’s real strength: the man had more ideas popping around in his head on any given day than a bag of popcorn. And while Perez hadn’t yet become the writer who defined post-Crisis Wonder Woman, he knew how to craft a story from a narrative and visual sense from his time over at Marvel, with extensive team book experience from Avengers.
If you like George Perez, this series is for you. If you like team books with a lot of characterization, this is for you. If you like X-Men but want to try something different, this is for you. If you like the 2003 cartoon, this might be for you – the tone is a lot more serious, and the humor is much more wry and dialogue-heavy.
The comic is also older, with all the writing style tics of its time (narration being key), but I don’t think that’s a fault. It’s very backwards, I think, to say comics have evolved when it’s more accurate to describe it as change. It’s why the addition of character profiles and introductions in something like West Coast Avengers is so welcome, making it easier for the reader to get a grip on what’s happening, despite being an older tool.
The New Teen Titans is a great series – and it is also a great example of how DC can be wildly incompetent and incapable of welcoming new readers. Teen Titans was renamed and renumbered a few times during its run, so if you don’t know that Tales of the Teen Titans started with issue #41 after being called The New Teen Titans for issues #1-40, you might lose your mind trying to find Tales of the Teen Titans #1-40 like I did. I don’t know why they changed the name like this. No one knows why they did this. There is no reason in the world to do this unless you look at the rise of the direct market and the hardcover/softcover initiative, which isn’t really a reason because it’s just ridiculous and it’s not even a better title.
After “The Judas Contract” storyline (the last regular issue it was published in being Tales of the Teen Titans #44), The New Teen Titans got a brand new #1… while Tales of the Teen Titans continued concurrently, with Marv Wolfman writing both titles. There’s a big long why here, but the digression is frustrating and doesn’t help anyone – and luckily, is really only a problem if you were trying to read the single issues in the 1980s.
The reason it’s not a big deal here is because the trades have the issues in their internally chronological order: Tales of the Teen Titans is reprinted until that title stops putting out new content, after which it switches to The New Teen Titans (Volume 2), which, while published concurrently with Tales of the Teen Titans, took place a year after the events of “The Judas Contract”. I’ve included a breakdown of issues in the order in which they were intended to be read, which is the order in which they will eventually be collected. The annuals’ numbering may be confusing: they continue their numbering through the title change in Tales of the Teen Titans, restart for The New Teen Titans (Volume 2), and continue uninterrupted with the title change to The New Titans.
The New Teen Titans #1-40, Annuals #1-2
Tales of the Teen Titans #41-44, Annual #3
Tales of the Teen Titans #45-58 (takes place prior to New Teen Titans Volume 2 #1, published concurrently with The New Teen Titans [Volume 2] #1-13)
The New Teen Titans (Volume 2) #1-49, Annuals #1-4
The New Titans #50-130, Annuals #05-11
Of course, there’s a poorly collected omnibus series that didn’t bother with any order at all that I have to address first.
Beware the Bad Omnibuses
This column is going to recommend omnibuses a fair amount, but not these. Back in 2011, DC published three omnibuses and they are all terrible. If you see an omnibus that isn’t blue all around, stay very far away. These are the covers and contents:
Volume 1: DC Comics Presents #26
The New Teen Titans #1-20
Best of DC Blue Ribbon Digest #18
Tales of the Teen Titans (Volume 1) #1-4
The New Teen Titans #21-37, #39-40
Tales of the New Teen Titans #41-44
The New Teen Titans Annual #1-2
Tales of the New Teen Titans Annual #3
Batman and the Outsiders #5
The New Teen Titans #38
Tales of the New Teen Titans #45-50
New Teen Titans (Volume 2) #1-6
The New Titans #50-61, #66-67
Secret Origin Annual #3
Here’s the quick rundown on this mess: this is a de facto collection of George Perez’s work on Titans rather than a full collection of the series, which is why over sixty issues were skipped. There is no reason at all to get these omnibuses: They’re stupidly expensive, the binding is painfully tight, and they skip around like unedited footage interview footage from Drunk History.
The Good Omnibuses
Not to be confused with the bad omnibuses, this is the series in the correct order (no skipping around here) on oversized, high quality paper. DC has been printing better omnibuses for years now, lightweight and easy to carry. I never feel encumbered reading a DC omnibus the way I do with something from Marvel, which has a weight that you could use to kill a man.
The trade dress is really cool too, a lovely blue color with a picture of a Titan on the side. I’ll often admire a cover, but it’s rare for the printing on the side to impress me. The only ones that have managed it to my recollection are JSA‘s Omnibuses, Kurt Busiek and George Perez’s Avengers Omnibuses, and the various DC Golden/Silver/Bronze Age reprints.
It also includes the tie-ins you’d need to understand the story, which is fantastic. And this is ultimately cheaper than the paperbacks from most online retailers. Even at retail, the price of the first three omnibuses rests comfortably at $75 apiece, while the individual trades are $20. Meaning for $15 more, you get the contents of the book early (we’ll talk about why in a minute) and in better quality all around.
The oversized art is helpful for such a word-heavy comic, and in showcasing the detailed art by giants such as George Perez and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez.
But if you’d like to read the stories in a smaller format, one that’s a little easier to deal with, there is another excellent option out there.
The Smaller Trades
DC has been doing some interesting things with their trade paperbacks. They’ll publish an omnibus, then re-publish the series in roughly three paperbacks with the same contents. The only real downsides are the smaller size and a longer wait time for the trades to be released rather than getting the entirety of the omnibus in one go.
Except for The New Teen Titans (which started as paperbacks after the disastrous first omnibus collection, then went to the new, better versions of the omnibuses later). The contents are the same, but up until Volume 8 the paper quality is a fairly decent-quality newsprint, which later became a glossy stock. There are also some printing errors in one volume, I believe Volume 7, where the colors are misaligned with the linework. That said, it might just be my copy.
If you’re cool with newsprint, this is honestly a great way to read the series. The only missing contents are a four-page forward from the first omnibus, which I can honestly say is not worth that much more.
“And the rest!” (did you know there were two theme songs for Gilligan’s Island?)
New Teen Titans Games
This non-canon graphic novel reunites Marv Wolfman and George Perez. Its production took place over the course of twenty years, finally released in 2011. The story behind its creation is fascinating, and entirely too long to go in to here. Fortunately, it’s cheap, easy to find (grab the hardcover, it’s a better price pretty much anywhere), and both Wolfman and Perez give their accounts of its creation within the graphic novel itself. The story is well told, the collaboration sings like the original series, and it’s oversized Perez art. Well worth buying.
The Uncanny X-Men and the New Teen Titans
Believe it or not, back in the day, Marvel and DC used to be able to do things together without killing each other, sort of like when your sibling who you stopped speaking to after the twentieth fistfight has to work together with you to take care of a sick parent. One of these things was The Uncanny X-Men and the New Teen Titans, written by Chris Claremont and drawn by Walter Simonson (Marvel creators both – if they’d managed to put out another issue, DC’s creators would have had a turn. But much like my aunts, clenching your teeth to work together only works for so long). Like much of Claremont’s work, it ties in to the Phoenix Force and Jean Grey. Like much of Simonson’s work, it also ties in to Jack Kirby and the New Gods. In this case, Simonson created the depiction of the Source Wall that is used to this day. It’s an oversized issue of 64 pages, more like a graphic novel than a comic, and is also somewhat canon. More so to the X-Men than to Teen Titans, but still.
You’ll need to look for Crossover Classics: The DC/Marvel Collection Volume 1, which also includes two Spider-Man/Superman crossovers and a Hulk/Batman crossover. That might not seem like much, but the trade totals 320 pages and all four stories are good ones. I picked up my copy for about 25 bucks on Amazon, and copies are easy to come by if you’re willing to be a little patient. There are two different covers for the trade dress, but as long as you have the right title, you’re fine.
New Teen Titans Drug Awareness Comics
These comics are well-known enough that I have to talk about them despite the fact that they are, horror of horrors, three single issues that have not been reprinted in any trade paperback. Each one has a 28 page story, all of which were in some way associated with Presidential anti-drug campaigns. They occupy a strange, pseudo-canonical state, not dissimilar to the X-Men/Titans crossover. Robin’s place on the team replaced by The Protector due to licensing issues, and Wolfman kept Protector across all three issues to provide a sense of continuity between them. At no point was his costume redesigned or recolored to be black instead of purple as originally intended, but nobody’s perfect.
If you recognize that name or face somewhere, it may be because he appeared briefly in the execrable Heroes in Crisis. I strongly suggest you put your money towards getting copies of these PSA issues instead.
The Drug PSA comics are interesting stories and worth the price of used copies, though they are admittedly more dated than other New Teen Titans issues. Part of that is because Wolfman has stated that he wasn’t allowed to include the entirety of the research he did, as it would have been too much for kids and parents to handle. I personally hope that DC eventually includes these stories in the main printings, or even in a separate collection. In the meantime, they’re easy to find at a place that sells used issues, whether it’s online or a local store.
DC did a good job with making The New Teen Titans easy to read in trade format, at least once they started the new reprinting project after their disastrous first omnibus run. The crossover with Marvel and the Drug Awareness specials being out of print is unfortunate, but their absence doesn’t affect the story. The collection in progress is an affordable set of gorgeous comics with compelling stories that hold up, and I recommend them very highly.
And the cartoon’s pretty great, too.
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