Secret Origins Annual #3: Teen Titans

Ryan Daly welcomes Chris Franklin, Nathaniel Hubbard, and Tom Panarese to cover the origin—and more—of the Teen Titans from Secret Origins Annual #3. It’s a big story full of teen angst, and 75% of the people on this podcast really liked the issue.

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“Premonition” (Theme for Secret Origins Podcast) written and performed by Neil Daly.

Additional music: “Bastards of Young” by The Replacements; “Sex Bomb” by Tom Jones and Mousse T.

Thanks for listening!

18 responses to “Secret Origins Annual #3: Teen Titans

  1. So much childish innuendo in this episode. I’m just going to check out the Dick pics in the other post rather than indulge you guys.

  2. Top episode, and I agree with Ryan that this should have been a Titans giant rather than a Secret Origins issue for its sheer new reader unfriendliness.

    Also, that cover is the epitome of DC’s obsession with the T in Teen Titans which led to the worst HQ ever in comics, that stupid tower that’s just asking for a faceless space giant to come along and upend it. And I think Production cocked up – see that slanted purple bar behind the logo? Surely Pérez meant the masthead to be dropped in there a la the Haney run?

    Anyway, great guests, and it was clever to homage that first Brave and Bold issue by having three chaps.

    On the one hand, it’s commendable that George Pérez was trying to get all the previous origins in there – on the other, it makes for a very complicated, convoluted and not that exciting read… I think this is the same mental muscle that has him wanting to draw every member of the Titans here or every Legionnaire there. Perez is a brilliant talent and by all accounts a lovely man, but sometimes it’s good to dial back the detail.

    I remember Dick’s penchant for ugly disguises back then, and more so I remember what a mess he was – his Titans peak was Who is Donna Troy and after that it was pretty much all downhill. And as a listener to Teen Titans Wasteland (and ancient git who actually bought Teen Titans #38 when it came out) I know that Dick had long since conquered his fear of failure via hypnotic suggestion. The Antithesis may as well have been trying to make Donna worry about premature hair loss…

    I never thought of Lilith as akin to Jean Grey, maybe because she never wore a superhero outfit until that Omen business, or possibly because I came across her before I ever heard of the X-Men. Mind, I never thought of Jean Grey as a Lilith-type… I just thought her surname was spelt stupidly.

    One correction, in those Silver Age Wonder Woman ‘Impossible’ tales Hippolyte wasn’t to as ‘Wonder Mother’, it was always ‘Wonder Queen’.

    It was tres chucklesome to hear Ryan advise care about mentioning ‘Pyjama Dick’ and then to have one of the lads says ‘I’m gonna insert Dick into this …’

  3. “The comic has a stain on the cover which I HOPE is chocolate.”

    I laughed so hard I had to turn the show off and come back to it later.

  4. I appreciate Ryan leaving in the full five seconds of silence from his guests after his rant about the cover.

    Other things Ryan does not like: sunshine, pizza, the loyalty of a fine dog, Picasso’s Guernica.

    1. Den-mother Rob never fails to mention it when I get a little extra salty. Then he gets out the ruler.


  5. It’s like a crossover of several of my favorite podcasts.
    Covering the anual of one of my favorite titles covering one of my favorite teams. That’s a lot of favorites for an issue that isn’t on my favorites list… Great episode

  6. Another excellent show Ryan – you and your guest host provided an entertaining and informative podcast.

    I have to say, I have never had a major love for the Wolfman/Perez Titans run, probably because I have not read it from the start. I have a few of the trades – Judas Contract, Terra Incognito, The Terror of Trigon and Who is Donna Troy? – the art is gorgeous, and there are some good stories in there but I felt I was missing a lot of the story as it seemed to rely on a lot of back story from earlier tales, especially with respect to Brother Blood. In addition, was not a fan of the somewhat archaic speech patterns that was in evidence (a lot of “m’dear” and “M’love” in evidence) and some of the pair-ups (Deathstroke-Terra and Donna Troy-Terry Long) were somewhat creepy. I do know there are trades that go from the start of the storyline so maybe if I read those, I would enjoy the stories I mentioned earlier better.

    I pick up a few issues of the Titans around the end of Titans Hunt – beautiful art by Tom Grummett – but then came issue 100 and terrible art by Bill Jasska and the story went downhill big time! I didn’t pick up the post Zero Hour titans or Dan Jurgens’ Teen Titans – I came back to Titans after the JLA/Titans crossover and there was some good stories again but nothing really special. It was only Johns’ run on the book that I really began to like the team (It didn’t hurt that it featured alumni from Young Justice as I was a big fan of the book).

    I picked up the two Showcase Presents TPBs – some good art but the stories are very much out there. One trope I picked up on the early issues was the four members entering arm in arm – wonder who decided that was the best way to make an entrance? 🙂

    Just on the note you made from my comment on the last issue re Alan Moore and Congorilla – I’m surprised you hadn’t heard of the Twilight of the Gods proposal Ryan – found a copy online – it is an interesting proposal and I’m sure you could probably see echoes of this in the later DC crossovers. Would have been very interesting if that had been greenlit!

    1. I first heard of Twilight of the Gods in the Kingdom Come Companion book Jon B. Cooke put out, that DC quickly put a cease and desist order on. There are many similarities between Moore’s Twilight proposal and KC, but Moore went in some really…nasty directions. Having Captain Marvel and Mary Marvel marry being the chief offense. And you guys think Terry Long and Deathstroke are icky. BRRRR!!!


      1. Jimmy – I’d heard about Twilight of the Gods years ago and I knew about several of the details and ideas Moore came up with, but I never read the whole proposal.

  7. Ryan THANK YOU for being the voice of reason on that cover. I looked at that thing and immediately thought “yeesh, what a mess,” and I was starting to wonder if I was crazy as everybody else was praising it. Thanks for confirming that I’m not actually nuts… or at least no more than you are.

    As with so much of DC’s stable I’m far more familiar with the animated versions of the Titans, which I wish I could say have made me interested in the characters… except they really haven’t. The original show was a weird mash up of Batman the Animated Series crossed with all the anime tropes I really hate 90% of the time. I’ll admit to kind of liking the currently running Teen Titans Go (which my daughter enjoys) but I also recognize that wacky comedy take is in no way representative of the source material. And the team’s latest appearance in the film Justice League vs. Teen Titans was just… ugh… so very VERY painful.

  8. Another of the few issues of Secret Origins I actually have and was able to read along with. To your comments that this issue was more a history of the Teen Titans than it is the origin, this is my impression as not having read any of the runs apart from the Terra/Deathstroke trade and going off the discussions of this Ep. Perhaps they were trying to cover the “origins” of the many different “versions/incarnations/volumes” of the team as represented on the cover. Well that’s my 2 cents. I might have to read a few more of the Teen Titans in order to grasp how on earth Dick could be so depressed when he has Starfire so desperate to be with him!!

  9. Late to the game here.

    I only read the Teen Titans with any regularity when Wolfman/Perez took over. As you all say throughout the show, without a longer history, I was basically lost here. I mean, I knew who the characters were because of a life of comic reading. But I knew nothing of these flashback stories. So hearing you guys discuss these plots and villains added a ton of backstory that made me at least get what Perez was going for. It is a love letter to the Titans continuity. Too bad I was lost. Especially the villain reveal. Who the hell is that guy?

    I think having multiple artists contribute pages in a book like this is a risky endeavor. On one hand, I like seeing these guys who have a history with these characters returning. On the other hand, if one guy shines (the Maguire pages here) you end up thinking ‘I wish they drew the whole book’ the whole read.

  10. With the obvious exception of Robin, I may not have been exposed to the Teen Titans from infancy, but it was early enough that I could never determine my definitive introduction. House ads? Guest appearances? The 1966 cartoons? I do recall the hullabaloo surrounding the arrival of The New Teen Titans, so I tried the first issue I recall finding on the newsstand a bit after the first year. NTT was DC’s answer to the X-Men at a time when X was my favorite letter in the comics alphabet and DC stood for DefiCient. Even if the book didn’t often come home with me, NTT was accessible and interesting enough that I at least routinely tossed through it on the stands. The truth is, the book was overrated in its early years anyway, taking a while for Marv Wolfman to figure out how to approach the team as more than an opportunity to ape Chris Claremont. It certainly wasn’t George Perez’s best work, thanks to Romeo Tanghal’s inferior inks. Going into the third year, Perez often inked himself or had better embellishers like Giordano and DeCarlo, while Wolfman began introducing key figures like Terra and Adrian Chase. For me, it was the second two years where Titans earned their name, from Vigilante to “Who Is Donna Troy” to “The Judas Contract” and its fallout before culminating in the Trigon arc that launched the Baxter format series.

    I still wasn’t a regular reader of the book, picking up random issues as I found them, or just found them interesting. Curiously, I was into the oddball supplemental material in Tales of the New Teen Titans spotlighting goons like Jericho before the title went all-reprint. Out of nowhere, I up and bought a Teen Titans Spotlight starring Aqualad with trippy Erik Larsen art for reasons I cannot explain. I could still find the books at convenience stores well after the franchise had gone out of style, but my interests had drifted elsewhere, and eventually the Titans disappeared from shelves.

    In 1989 I had a neighborhood comic shop for less than a year before the doors closed without warning one day, but that was still the longest I’d had the opportunity to consistently shop at a direct market outlet up to that point. Thanks to the Titans having gone in the toilet following Perez’s departure and Wolfman’s years long writer’s block, I managed to fish a bunch of prime back issues out of quarter boxes. A couple years later, at one of the mall bookstores, I found an issue of the rebranded New Titans with inexplicable former favorite Jericho menacing his friends and flouting the fashion police with his gawdawful shoulder length perm. It was enough to pique my curiosity and make the trip home (but not without taking massive sun damage on a particularly sweltering summer day from just an hour or so in a parked car.) I immediately fell in love with the exciting art team of Tom Grummett and Al Vey, while Marv Wolfman was finally firing on all cylinders again in the midst of the status quo shattering “Titans Hunt” mega-arc.

    Despite continuing to fund a slew of their ongoing titles, the esteem of the letter X was beginning to sink for me at Marvel. I had been hugely excited by Rob Liefeld’s final issues of New Mutants transiting into X-Force and the creative resurgence of X-Men under Jim Lee prompting a new primary series, but those books soon proved to be fandom breaking disappointments. Within two years I would drop every X-title, replacing them with the growing Titans franchise. I moved to another state and another nearby comic shop that happened to have the majority of the original NTT back issues I didn’t already have in their cheapie bins, plus I bought full price back issues backwards on New Titans until I had the entire Grummett run. I was all in on “Titans Hunt,” and while the book had peaked for me with that arc, I continued to enjoy the next phase, involving a Titans team from a dystopic future with shades of Future Past trying to change the present. The crossover “Total Chaos” was a big deal for me, since it got me to retroactively follow the Deathstroke the Terminator solo series and the newly launched Team Titans with its multitude of variant debut issues, each containing a different bonus origin story for the individual members of the group. A year earlier, the only DC titles I was following were The Sandman and the two JLI books. The Titans alone had doubled that number. A year later I was up to about fourteen.

    Just as DC was becoming my primary collecting home, the Titans were falling apart. Their resurgence had largely been engineered by editor Jonathan Peterson, who quit to go freelance and took Team Titans artist Kevin Maguire with him after just three issues. He’d been developing Phil Jimenez though, who took over the art chores and proved a revelation. Tom Grummett departed, replaced by the fair Bill Jaaska for a few months before a disastrous bi-weekly schedule necessitated a run of terrible fill-in “artists.” Marv Wolfman briefly played with turning New Titans into a quasi-horror title, but then gave in to the worst visionless hackneyed 90s EXTREME directionless treadmill jogging. Jimenez took over writing Team Titans with a not-ready-for-prime time Terry Dodson on (very bad) art and a buddy of his with an advertising background scripting the now absolute slog of a book. After a brief shining moment of murdering X-Force analogues and kicking Justice League members in the nards, the ultimate badass Slade Wilson eventually returned to being Wild Dog with a sword. Zero Hour blessedly put Team Titans down, and made Deathstroke a Highlander with more interesting art. New Titans was forced to give up Nightwing and jettison most of their core members in favor of whichever youth heroes DC was pushing at the moment. Despite featuring the rookie Green Lantern Kyle Rayner romancing Darkstar Donna Troy alongside a positively cherry Impulse and even Supergirl, the soul and storytelling had clearly gone out of the title. After one of the lengthiest tenures in comics, Marv Wolfman and his former fan favorite title were both put out to pasture, while fill-ins wrapped up Deathstroke.

    This annual was likely the first Secret Origins I ever bought, as a back issue, when I was still more a Titans fan than a DC one. I found it exasperating on first read. I had picked up some Silver Age Teen Titans cheap in the early ’90s when nobody wanted them, including myself, because I stopped bothering with those p.d.q. Much of this annual covers that material, but in such an oblique fashion that I often didn’t know what the hell was going on for lack of description and context. Also, the circular, repetitive, obtuse conversations/cut-rate wannabe-Ditko mindflips between Dick and the enigmatic entity were driving me up a wall. It was deeply frustrating, unsatisfying, and dull. I have a greater tolerance on this reading, but I still think everyone would have benefited from a more linear and comprehensive look at the pre-NTT team. It’s spending the equivalent of a mini-series’ page length on a “clip show” still tries my patience.

    If I recall correctly, George Perez came back for the first New Titans arc inked by Bob McLeod, then switched to inking Grummett before leaving altogether. That pairing looks okay here, but Perez makes Grummett’s characters too lean and angular. The Irv Novick section was appropriately retro while benefiting from Templeton’s inks. I initially thought Randy DuBurke did the next overview in Sienkiewicz mode, but when I saw Wonder Girl’s hips* I thought for sure it was Mark Beachum (ghosted panel?) so I was surprised to learn it was Michael Bair. Looked cool and contemporary regardless of who’s credited. Woof, Trevor Von Eeden looks like he drew his section with a Sharpee over a long lunch after temporarily losing his depth perception. Dave Cockrum was well past his prime, but he fit better on a Titans flashback than X-Men at this point in his career. Is it just me, or was anyone else not ready for Cockrum’s jelly spread across these pages? Donna, Mal, and Light all got dumps like a truck, truck, truck. They make a good case for The Herald, a character Wolfman co-created then dropped again and again. Kevin Maguire’s art is so good it’s no wonder he erroneously convinced fans of the viability of a Titans West series for years after this annual.

    The pairing of Colleen Doran and Tanghal not only evoked the early years of NTT, but also recalled a common thread with the Legion of Super-Heroes… youthful sensuality. How many other teams could boast that many members, male and female, with plunging necklines, exposed thighs, and so forth. Such overt exploitation of PYTs was one area where DC always seemed a bit more game than Marvel, and as a kid, I compared my own developing legs with Robin’s approvingly. Wish I still could say that, instead of just hoping I look better in jorts than Kevin Smith! And who did they fight but a literally and figuratively horny devil, running around in thigh high boots and little else beyond a white loincloth, even when he was the size of a building? Starfire’s time as a slave in the Gordanians’ BDSM dungeon? Wonder Girl’s ecstatic encounters with the Titans of Old? The Slade/Terra pairing? Not a coincidence, but a safe space for burgeoning kink.

    I’ve been a fan of George Perez since my earliest reading of comics, specifically Logan’s Run #1. That said, I’ve been down a lot of roads with the man, and that familiarity has made me see faults others would gloss over. I think a busy cover loaded with Titans and design elements works great for a book like this, especially in contrast to the often slight, half-assed covers thrown together over the rest of the Secret Origins series. It also reflects the specific story, including an unappealing Dick hogging the spotlight and an overwrought representation of too much Titans history. I didn’t care about this material when I first read the issue, and despite my investment in overall DC history since, I still don’t. The man made his name by elevating standard super-hero material to greatness through a wealth of intricate detailing in the art. His approach to writing is much the same, which unfortunately means burdening a standard story with excesses they aren’t equipped to shoulder. I’m not sure what happened more often here– that I got confused by the flow of captions across the panels so that I wasn’t sure I was reading the script correctly, or that I shrugged because most of the captions and dialogue didn’t matter because all those words were pointless when the art was clearer in conveying a career overview story. There’s the first adventures, there’s Titans West, here’s NTT, then Dick fights a bird-guy and everyone celebrates. I get it. Shut up already.

    That said, Perez is the Kirby to Marv Wolfman’s Stan Lee. Wolfman cannot seem to plot this book on his own, and as much as I’ve heard about his writers block, he seemed to be okay on the other titles he was doing at the time. I understand that the creation of the writer/editor position was a desperation play on DC’s part, but between guys like Wolfman and the advent of Image, it’s no wonder editors became the chief creative entity in ’90s comics (and were equally detrimental to the creation of good comics.) If the fatal error of doubling productivity then staggering newsstand reprints hadn’t been such a debacle across the board, they might have realized Wolfman needed to be replaced before their golden goose nearly went out of circulation with The Outsiders. Chris Claremont had his ups and downs on X-Men, but he earned his leeway by typically waxing and waning dependent on his many talented collaborators, including his editors. As soon as Perez left, Wolfman was lost, despite cycling through Chuck Patton, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Eduardo Barreto, and more, including the earlier part of Tom Grummet’s run. It wasn’t until Jonathan Peterson guided his hand that Titans came alive again, and then there weren’t no sunshine once Jon went away.

    * “I look at your pants and I need a kiss”

  11. Previous to this issue I had only read two issues of New Teen Titans, thanks to those old DC Ribbon Digests (Year’s Best Team Stories, etc.) that were published in the 1980s. One was the classic “Who is Donna Troy?” issue and the other was the wedding of Donna and Terry.

    So when I got this issue it was a treat to not only get a history lesson on the Teen Titans, but to get a new Nightwing (a character I knew nothing about other than the fact that he was the first Robin) story along with it. This issue is what got me interested in the Teen Titans, particularly the fact that they were more of a family unit than a combat group like the Justice League.

    A few years ago I got the trades for The Judas Contract and The Terror of Trigon. They didn’t impact me as much as they would have if I had been following the books/characters all along (and the betrayal of Terra was literally written on the cover so it was no surprise). Right now I’m collecting the new trades DC is publishing of the Wolfman/Perez era. So far I have the first four volumes, and I think vol. 5 and 6 will take me right up to the Judas Contract, which is nice.

    I’ve also read the entire Teen Titans series started by Geoff Johns, which had some major ups and downs (mostly downs after Johns left) but it did introduce me to some cool characters like Ravager (Rose Wilson), Kid Devil, Miss Martian, etc. Haven’t been reading the New 52 Titans books, but I’ll pick up the Rebirth Titans book just because (the original) Wally West is in it.

  12. Late to the party, thanks to the new job. I started with the Teen Titans waaaaay back with issue #35, of the original series. My cousin had it and I got to check it out at a family gathering. That was followed by issue #45, where Mal get’s Gabriel’s Horn (after giving up the Guardian identity). The book had been cancelled, then revived, with Bob Rozakis. I also read DC Super Stars #1, which featured reprints from TT #11 and 24. A different cousin had the Titans West issues, which came at the end of the original series. Where I became a true fan was with New Teen Titans #1.

    I bought NTT #1 on the newsstand and devoured it and the second issue even more. i was hooked; but, dicey newsstand distribution left gaps. I had solid runs from the teens onward, then got the missing issues in college. I loved that series. I bought the Tales of the Teen Titans mini-series, with the origins of the new characters (and Gar, since his wasn’t well known). After Judas Contract, I pretty much left the book behind; but stopped back from time to time. I had high hopes when Perez came back; but, didn’t care much for the yet-again revised origin of Donna Troy and flittered in and out again. After the Willdebeast and Jericho’s death, I was done.

    This story is okay and tries to cover a lot of territory. Some of it works well, some doesn’t. I’m still mixed on post-Crisis history, as it tended to screw up characters like the Titans and they exhausted a lot of comics trying to resolve things, instead of just starting over, like they did with Superman and Wonder Woman. I didn’t mind transforming Betty Kane into Flamebird, instead of Bat-Girl, as it was a decent solution for minor character. I still think she could have been Bat-Girl, before Babs (as she was); but, the powers that be…. I did like seeing the lesser heroes, like Mal and Lilith and the Titans west gang, who I felt were sadly neglected characters. However, they seemed to have no place in the post-Crisis world, not that they were very prominent in the pre-Crisis Earth-1. I think it’s more that they represented untapped potential.

    For me, the Titans were a family, more than a team; definitely more than the JLA or others. I felt that the family element was there pretty early on. They start out as a club for kid sidekicks; but, they grew into more. Wolfman and Perez picked up on that well.

    One of the things about whether this should have been a Titans Annual; this was an era of DC trying to shore up pre-Crisis continuity problems and I kind of suspect DC (or Mark Waid) preferred that Secret Origins do the heavy lifting, rather than bog down the regular books (not that they didn’t do that anyway).

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