The Hunt is On (My Life as a Teen Titan, Part One)

“What started as a celebration has turned into a NIGHTMARE!”

You don’t get exclamations like this on the cover of comics these days, and it’s very rare that you can look at a cover, go “Wait, what’s this?” and pick it up without having read the soliciation months before on the web followed by spoiler-filled message board and blog posts.

But then again, this is September 2010 and the comic in question with that excalamtion came out in September 1990.  It’s amazing to me in a way that twenty years have gone by since I started the eighth grade at Sayville Junior High and had just started buying comics that summer.  Okay, re-started, because I spent 1988 buying G.I. Joe and Transformers comics.  Now, though, I was into Batman, and had started collecting the two Bat-books going on at the time: Batman and Detective Comics.  Both had been intriguing because this was around the time that Tim Drake became Robin and The Joker came back after a couple of years of being “dead”.  I’d collect Batman comics for at least the next decade, but the omic that I would pick up one Thursday in that September would be New Titans #71.

Entitled “Beginnings … Endings … and (we promise) New Beginnings,” I picked it up because I saw Nightwing on the cover and having read the “Batman: Year Three” and “A Lonely Place of Dying” (not the best title, I know) storylines, I knew that Dick Grayson, the original Robin, had become Nightwing.  My friend Harris, who owned all of the “A Lonely Place of Dying” issues, recommended that I pick up New Titans.  It would actually be the start of a great friendship through comics, one that I will get to when describing those issues in which our letters were published, but at that point, I thought I would give it a try.

Honestly, it was kind of a big try, or at least somewhat of a leap of faith.  New Titans #71 cost $1.75, which made it one of DC’s more expensive comics at the time becuase most of their books were still going for a buck (although the Superman books were “Still only 75 cents”).  But when you have a cover where Nightwing is holding the costume of his former comrade while an ominous shadow looms, you definitely have to plunk down that money.

Starfire gets taken down by Wildebeest in New Titans #71

Issue #71 begins a storyline known to fans a “The Titans Hunt” (although interestingly enough that’s neither mentioned on the cover or collected in a trade paperback) in which all of the Titans are captured by an enemy known as the Wildebeest, leading to a massive lineup change, something that truly lived up to the “New Titans Era!” advertised on the cover.

There’s nothing that is very notable or game-changing about th eissue, as most of it is devoted to the Titans being captured and Dick Grayson reflecting on all of their origins while it is going on.  The Titans are, for the record:

  • Nightwing: Dick Grayson, the former Robin
  • Starfire: Princess Koriand’r (aka Kory Anders) of the planet Tamaran, a seven-foot, orange-skinned alien with giant red hair and similar endowments who can shoot bolts from her hands.
  • Cyborg: Victor Stone, half man/half machine
  • Raven: Empath from the dimension Azareth, whose father was a demon named Trigon who formed the Titans to fight her father.
  • Changeling: Garfield Logan, formerly known as “Beast Boy,” a green-skinned shape changer who can take the form of any animal.
  • Jericho: Joseph Wilson, a mulleted mute with the power to enter someone’s body and control it via eye contact.
  • Troia: Donna Try, formerly Wonder Girl, who was at one time Wonder Woman’s younger sister/sidekick but then had her origin messed with and is a normal woman who received powers from the Titan-Gods of Greek myth (at least at this point … it’s a bit complicated).  A note, btw, that she’s not in the issue except at the beginning as she leaves for Greece after the first couple of pages.

After everyone else has been captured, Wildebeest takes out Nightwing.

While Dick thinks about who his teammates are and what his experiences with the Titans have brought to his life, a gold-plated and furry villain named Wildebeest (who had been around since an issue somewhere in the thirties or forties, but you didn’t need to know that) takes each of htem down before finally attacking Nightwing when he arrives at an Italian restaurant for the anniversary dinner.  And it appears that he, too, is captured.  Then, on the very last page, Steve Dayton (Changeling’s adoptive father and the former hero known as “Mento”) tells a shadowy figure that he’ll pay anything to get his son back.

“Wallet the money, Dayton,” the figure says, “They took my son, too.  Deathstroke The Terminator is definitely in!  And this time it’s personal!”

Now, anyone who knows modern-day DC Comics is well-aware of who Deatstroke is (DC dropped the “Terminator” label in the mid-1990s, probably not to confuse anyone with the Schwarzenegger movie, although Deathstroke was created in 1980 and the film was released in 1984). But in 1990 he was rarely seen, and I, never having read any issues of any Titans series, had no idea who he was, so I didn’t know the significance of the last panel or even the identity of the son he mentions (Jericho, which you can tell by going back through the Jericho “origin” flashback).  I looked at the costume, though, and said, “Wow!  This guy is cool!”

Deathstroke takes the job.

I seriously said that.  Out loud.

Then again, why not?  Years later, when I finally amassed a complete run of New Teen Titans/New Titans comics from 1980’s DC Comics Presents #26 all the way to 1996’s New Titans #130, this was still one of my favorite moments because with the exception of a mini-comeback between issues 50-61, the book had stalled out for at least a couple of years and if I had been a longtime fan, I would have been salivating for #72 because I was finally getting my money’s worth.  Heck, I wasn’t a longtime fan and I was psyched.  That issue, which I’ll talk about in the next part of my “Titans Hunt” coverage) was worth the wait.

New Titans #71 was a rare issue, one that was a perfect jumping on point and an example of extremely perfect timing.  And Wolfman juxtaposed exposition and BIG CHANGES AHEAD (whereas other books are all: LOOK WHO’S ON THE TEAM and you’re like “Who the hell are these people?”), what would happen would truly shake things up and be one of the more controversial periods of the team’s history.  But like it or not, we hung on every word.

Next Up: The Titans Hunt begins and ends in New Titans #72-79, 82-84.

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