I have this theory — maybe you’ve heard it — that DC Comics is slowly, steadily, perhaps unconsciously working towards a Platonic ideal of its entire superhero line, in hopes that a certain combination of creative personnel and/or character interactions will allow it to produce accessible, reliably marketable comics, week in and week out. It’s a variation on the perpetual-motion machine, and therefore it’ll never happen, but it’s fun to see how close DC can get.
This week confirmed a couple of ostensible developments toward that ideal: Jim Shooter returning to Legion of Super-Heroes, and an Old New Teen Titans title featuring the six constant members of the Wolfman/Perez era.* It’s a peculiar juxtaposition of comebacks: the writer who made his mark as a teenager, and a set of onetime teens now challenged by adult uncertainties.
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You’d think I’d have more of a reaction to the Shooter/Legion news, considering that the end of Shooter’s second writing stint came in the bucolic mid-1970s of my DC-loving childhood. For whatever reasons, though, I wouldn’t read the book regularly until (gasp!) the Giffen/Bierbaums’ “Five Years Later” relaunch in 1989.
Still, I think I know how those Shooter-Legion fans feel. My favorite reunions include Steve Englehart/Marshall Rogers/Terry Austin bringing back Silver St. Cloud in Batman: Dark Detective, George Perez coming back to New Titans for “Who Is Wonder Girl?” and “A Lonely Place Of Dying,” and the two Keith Giffen/J.M. DeMatteis/Kevin Maguire “Super Buddies” miniseries.
Shooter also joins Mark Waid (Flash), John Ostrander (Suicide Squad), and Chuck Dixon (Robin) in returning to characters with whom he’s closely associated. Additionally, Dan Jurgens (Booster Gold), Sergio Aragones (Bat Lash), and Marv Wolfman (Vigilante) are working again on characters they (co-)created.
These reunions are nothing new, of course. George Perez returned to the Titans twice, if you count inking Jurgens’ series. Carmine Infantino returned to The Flash. Paul Levitz wrote a JSA arc during Infinite Crisis. Joe Staton returned to Green Lantern after Dave Gibbons succeeded him; and Gibbons, in turn, came back after 20 years as writer (and sometimes artist) of Green Lantern Corps. Curt Swan left the Superman books once the Byrne revamp started, but later became a regular guest artist and drew Action Comics Weekly’s two-page Superman strip.
While it can comfort fans of the title, though, a returning creative type is no predictor of quality. The return may even be a disadvantage, because it must live up to the expectations the original work garnered. I liked Dark Detective and “Who Is Wonder Girl?” well enough, but they didn’t overshadow the originals by any means. (The second act in my mind that really sticks out as an improvement is Perez’s work on Avengers Vol. 3, and that’s probably more of a third act….)
The question then becomes whether in fact Shooter remains a good fit for the Legion. I can’t really speak to that. However, clearly it’s not “his” Legion anymore, nor is it the maturing Legion of the mid-‘70s. Today’s book is built in no small part on Shooter’s successes, so what more can he bring to it?
That’s the classic conundrum of a one-time innovator growing up to find his innovations commonplace. George Lucas put Star Wars together without all the tools he wanted, but when he finally got those tools they went to his head. Gene Roddenberry’s shot at doing Star Trek without network interference ended up producing the uneven early seasons of The Next Generation.
Not to say that success spoiled either entirely. Revenge of the Sith seemed to satisfy a lot of fans turned off by the other prequels, and Roddenberry was at least around when TNG hit its stride.
Actually, the more I think about it, Shooter/Legion 2K7 reminds me of the special-guest-judge week on “American Idol.” Shooter’s obviously in the Rod Stewart/Barry Manilow role, and the Legionnaires are the fresh-faced kids** gathered around the piano. Sometimes the kids click with the oldsters, sometimes they don’t.
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I’ve talked about the Old New Teen Titans previously, so I’ll try to be brief now. Not that the two fandoms necessarily intersect, but a week in which the 25-year-old Britney Spears looks ready for retirement can’t help the cause of an upcoming comic about former teen stars. The book does definitely need a couple of things: a name distinct from “Teen Titans,” and a reason for existing. The former sounds like it could well be “Titans East.” I guess that would be OK.
The latter probably has something to do with the cast of the Titans East Special likely being (ahem) rendered unable to serve by its particular villain. Considering that Cyborg is the putative Titans-East leader, that’s kind of ironic. The last Old New Teen Titans series started with him as the antagonist, seeking out all the former Titans.
(It might be more appropriate for the reuniting Titans to collaborate initially on the members’ solo projects: helping Starfire’s space mission with Adam Strange and Animal Man, hopping through the Multiverse with Donna, heading off Ra’s al Ghul’s resurrection, etc. However, I imagine those stories will have ended by the time Titans East begins in earnest.)
I suppose one of the main reasons the Old Teen Titans persist is that they are the signature team for DC’s third generation. The original Infinity, Inc., would have been another third-generation team, but many of its members graduated to the (various) Justice League(s) and the Justice Society. The original Speedy and Kid Flash are Leaguers now as well. Titans East‘s two ex-sidekicks have both taken over for their mentors temporarily, but they’ll never replace Batman or Wonder Woman permanently. The others have apparently hit a similar glass ceiling. Indeed, they all may have nowhere else to go.
Looking at it that way, then, the Old New Teen Titans could do worse than to re-establish themselves as DC’s answer to the Defenders, an ad hoc non-team composed of old friends who just like working together. It could even be a twenty/thirtysomething version of the “adventurer’s club” I thought would be good for the Justice Society. George Perez once described the Titans as “sitting around a table waiting for a safe to fall on them,” but as long as the Titans’ Tower utilities are paid and someone sweeps the place out every couple of weeks, who needs a purpose? None of these characters particularly needs a day job: Nightwing, Troia, and Beast Boy are independently wealthy, Starfire can go back to modeling, Cyborg can work at STAR Labs, and Raven’s still in school. If the new setup allows more old Titans like Lilith (she won’t stay dead for long) and Tempest (nee Aqualad) to stop by, so much the better.
But, you know, that’s what I’d like. There’s probably a much better way to demonstrate that this new book isn’t completely superfluous in DC’s grand scheme of things. Maybe Shooter-Legion Redux and the new Old New Teen Titans will even come that much closer to their titles’ Platonic ideals.
More to the point, they’re both part of a familiar just-like-before-but-better strategy. To be more prosaic, both are (at least superficially) concerned with recapturing that peculiar spark of youth that makes growing pains so attractive to adults. I’m eager to see whether either strategy pans out.
* Nightwing, Troia, Cyborg, Starfire, Beast Boy, and Raven.
** Which Legionnaire would Taylor be? I’m inclined to say the thousand-year-old Mon-El, but he looks more like Lightning Lord….