Titans West! Titans East!—Teen Titans Vol 1 #50-52 Review

(This review may contain spoilers for the story content.)

Introduction: Returning to DC Comics, my next comic review is on Teen Titans Vol 1 #50-52 (1977). These three issues from the original comic series encompass a three-issue, multi-part story that introduces Titans West, a splinter group of the Titans stationed on the West Coast, as opposed to the East-stationed Teen Titans team that had been around in the title up to this point. I love this story, as it sets up Titans West and has 15 Titans interacting. As a major Titans fan, a story featuring all 15 members of the original incarnation makes me giddy.

Plot Summary: The Teen Titans begin to deal with strange calamities, and when more calamities occur on the West Coast, teen heroes who happen to be in the area respond to the call. These heroes, a mixture of characters who had previously been Titans and characters who were joining for the first time, form Titans West so that they can organize a response to these happenstances. The Teen Titans, West and East teams, collaborate to solve the mystery behind these events. The groups make the connection between villains Captain Calamity and Mr. Esper, whom they discover is the same person and subsequently defeat.

Plot Analysis: Here, Bob Rozakis writes a story that was novel and exciting for its time period. As far as DC Comics is concerned, I have not found any stories of teams forming splinter groups before this one. Having the two teams working together made for a fun story—especially since many of the teenage heroes would butt head about half as often as they would work as a unit. This multi-part story differed from most of the episodic stories that preceded it. Rozakis effectively juggled 15 characters by having them group off and by incorporating shifting scenes between the multiple groups.

Titans West : East group photo
Group-shot of all 15 original Titans

Characterization: Rozakis uses 15 Titans in this story. While some people could fear that the use of so many characters could limit the amount of characterization, let me assuage those concerns by telling you that Rozakis gives each of these characters time to showcase their personalities and/or abilities in a way that left this reader an even bigger fan of each Titan included. Some of these characters received different portrayals when handled later by other writers, but Rozakis’ portrayals are fun. Here are some descriptions of how Rozakis spotlighted each character. Feel free to read all of them or read only the ones that catch your interest—as the many entries make this a longer post than usual.

 

  • Teen Titans (Titans East)
    • Robin (Dick Grayson): The Boy Wonder exhibits leadership skills you would expect from Batman’s protégé. He knows how to divide responsibilities among the heroes according to the need and their skill sets. Lastly, Dick is the one who deduces that Captain Calamity and Mr. Esper are the same person.
    • Kid Flash (Wally West): Rozakis has Kid Flash show a little emotional vulnerability. Wally confesses to Donna that he is crushing on her, but she turns him down. Although disappointed, Wally is resilient enough to properly help out in the battles against Captain Calamity/Mr. Esper using his super-speed.
    • Aqualad (Garth): Aqualad returns to the team after recovering from a sickness that he admits was psychosomatic, a ploy by his subconscious to preemptively remove him from the heroic game before he failed his teammates as a result of his water dependency. Aqualad wants to leave the team, but when the calamities occur, he decides to stay for this final mission. Ultimately, Aqualad plays a major part in rescuing a lot of civilians from one of Esper’s calamities, proving to himself that he is not so useless after all. I call this a nice development of his character.
    • Wonder Girl (Donna Troy): Wonder Girl’s great strength (thank Hera) allowed her to prevent many of the calamities taking place. Ever the group’s den mother, when all of the Titans begin fighting, Donna steps in and stops all 14 other Titans. Finally, when Wally confesses his crush to her, she lets him down gently.
    • Speedy (Roy Harper): As usual, Speedy can be a little quick-tempered, and Rozakis has Roy being snappy with Harlequin and Hawk during the story. Despite his rushed actions, Roy cleverly uses his trick arrows (and even his bow) to help take down the criminals.
    • Guardian (Mal Duncan): At the beginning of the story, Mal Duncan retires his Hornblower identity and returns to being Guardian. He claims to do so because the public knows that Mal and Hornblower are the same person, which could lead to enemies attacking them. But he secretly did so because he cannot find the Gabriel’s Horn. Still, after the Titans take down a villain, Mal is the one to remind the group to help save civilians. Mal uses the Guardian gear with proficiency, employing the exoskeleton’s super-strength to tear a makeshift door in a fallen airplane to rescue its inhabitants. Additionally, he skillfully throws his shield as a weapon to help take down Captain Calamity.
    • Harlequin (Duela Dent): Rozakis has Harlequin incorporate a number of themed gadgets to help fight criminals, from sleeping powder puffs to bubble gum containment bubbles. Duela defended her Titans and expressed a strong desire to help the civilians in danger even when there was little she could do. In the end, though, Harlequin is the one who gets the final blow against Mr. Esper, allowing him to be arrested.
    • Bumblebee (Karen Beecher): Bumblebee is shown to be efficient in the field, but once the team was winning, she tried out a few quips like “Have a nice trip. See you next fall,” which her boyfriend Guardian/Mal playfully teased her about.
  • Titans West
    • Titans West diner scene.jpg
      Titans West (sans Gnarrk) gathering at a diner

      Lilith (Lilith Clay): Lilith showed considerable leadership during the story, organizing the Titans West members into a functional team. She uses her psychic powers to help track down Mr. Esper out of responsibility—given that Mr. Esper has been zeroing in on an borrowing Lilith’s powers to create the calamities.

    • Hawk (Hank Hall): Hawk is an action first, thought later type of hero. Hawk was quick to charge into action to help others when there was a threat right in front of him, but he was skeptical of Lilith’s premonitions. Still, Hank was able to swallow his pride and admit he was wrong and work as a Titan.
    • Dove (Don Hall): Unlike his brother, Dove calmly assesses situations before acting. Rozakis maintains Don’s pacifistic nature by having him use his superhuman abilities for relief efforts rather than criminal fighting, which I found to be a befitting approach.
    • Bat-Girl (Betty Kane): Rozakis revives Bat-Girl, bringing Betty out of retirement to join Titans West. He incorporates her pre-existing background as a professional tennis player into the story, and I appreciated that. Betty was aware of what roles she needed to perform and performed them accordingly.
    • Golden Eagle (Charley Parker): Charley has the misfortune of being fired from his job due to his timid nature toward patrons who walk over him. But as Golden Eagle, Charley exhibited confidence and succeeded in his job as a Titan.
    • Beast Boy (Gar Logan): As per usual, Beast Boy livens things up with regular jokes. Rozakis also gives Gar more to his history, making him an actor in a show named Space Trek 2022. As a teenager who enjoys attention, life as an actor befits him.
    • Gnarrk (John Gnarrk): Rozakis gives Gnarrk a different personality than he had exhibited in previous appearances. Here, Gnarrk is very protective of his fiancee Lilith, sometimes needlessly aggressively so. Still, once he is on the same page as the other Titans, he is able to effectively work with him to stop Mr. Esper.

Art: I have to give Don Heck credit for penciling a story such as this that uses so many characters. I imagine that task took a lot of time and effort, but I think the overall product benefitted greatly from it all. Whether it was by accident, by instruction, or by his own idea, Jerry Serpe is the colorist who first colored Beast Boy completely green. Beforehand, Beast Boy’s transformations had him as the same color as the animals he transformed into, except for the head, which stayed green. Serpe making Gar fully green cemented the way Gar became depicted from then on out—which is a fairly significant accomplishment.


Final Remarks: 
This three-issue storyline is filled with young superhero fun. For Titans fans, this three-issue story needs to be on your to-read list, given how much historical significance it has on the Titans mythos. For those who are interested in but do not know a great deal about the Titans, this story serves as a sample platter, allowing readers to experience all 15 official Titans up to that point. And finally, anyone who enjoys a nice team-up story should be able to appreciate the way these two groups of Titans collaborate. In short, I love this story.

Closing: I know I have said a lot about this story, and I hope you have enjoyed what you have read. If you have any thoughts on the comic or on my review, feel free to comment below. Thank you for reading, and I hope you have an amazing day.

Embrace Nerdom,
-Nerdy N8

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3 thoughts on “Titans West! Titans East!—Teen Titans Vol 1 #50-52 Review

Add yours

  1. Nice N8. My kind of post. More of an encyclopaedia than a review. Lot’s of surprises – let’s start with Teen Titans West? Years before there was a West Coast Avengers at Marvel? I’ve got to find it. I didn’t know half the characters (or didn’t know them in Earth-One continuity) either – Duela Dent was a blight on the Source Wall in Countdown, I thought. I remember Guardian being a… well, different guy in NE. Nope. N8 takes us back to the Source material.

    Titans East/ West does seem to need a database to read, especially with the characters being as delineated as you describe. The character differences are especially noticeable in your descriptions of brothers Hawk and Dove. Thanks.

    And please, more historical notes like the one about Beast Boy’s coloration changing with this run/ artist. I love it. You are getting across why this three issue series is important to you and to TT history.

    More history!

    TT 50-52 is on my list this weekend for my ‘secret’ basement comic book store with the dirt cheap in-stock back issues. It’s not on ComiXology or iTunes. Damn! You made me want to get it, anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you a bunch for your comment, Roscoe.

      I have to admit, when I was writing up this review, I knew that much of what I was saying was informational. I was slightly worried how readers would feel about this approach, but I felt that the method was the best one for helping my readers understand the significance of the story while also helping them learn about characters they may not have known about before (or at least, information about these characters that they did not know before). Funnily enough, as long as this post may have seemed (it was a little longer than my usual ones, thanks to the massive array of used characters), my first draft was longer. I actually had to do a lot of trimming to get it to this length. Still, your words are encouraging, and I am happy you appreciated the post—even its “encyclopedic” tone this go-around. I am unsure if I will have such an informational element in all of my future reviews (not everyone may love that sort of thing), but I will definitely consider it down the line now and then.

      Yes, Duela Dent and Mal Duncan were much different in Earth-One than they were once New Earth began. Pre-Crisis Duela was not insane at all. She was very intelligent, given that she was a skilled inventor and investigator (She even discovered Robin’s secret identity, which is part of why he invited her to join the Teen Titans in the first place). As Joker’s Daughter/Harlequin, Duela adopted a persona of a crazed teenage girl to throw off her enemies psychologically. Outside of the costume and makeup, Duela was pretty enough that Roy was hitting on her (that good-natured hound dog!). Meanwhile, Mal joined the TT as himself, simply a champion boxer with the heart of a hero. Later, when he helped the group reform after a temporary disbandment, he adopted the Guardian identity. Thanks to the exoskeleton he wore, he had superhuman strength, and the shield provided solid protection. He later gained the Gabriel’s Horn (the supernatural version) after beating the angel Azrael in combat. The horn made miracles happen in Mal’s favor, varying depending on the situation and what he needed. He gained a new costume and became Hornblower. But as I said, he changed back to his Guardian identity with issue #50. Now, we know Mal mostly as Herald, who uses technology (or in the case of Prime Earth, a metahuman ability) to use sonic blasts and portal creation powers.

      I am glad you enjoyed the historical notes about Beast Boy! I thought it was interesting that the character began sporting the fully green coloration in this story. Who knows, it is possible George Pérez and Adrienne Roy would have made Gar fully green anyway, but I like to believe it was Deck and Serpe’s decision to do so in these books that helped spur the idea of having Gar stay green, despite his initial portrayals in Doom Patrol.

      I am glad to hear that my review has made you want to obtain and read the issues yourself! I hope you find a way.

      Thanks for reading and engaging, and have a great day!

      Embrace Nerdom
      -Nerdy N8

      Like

  2. Thanks N8. You took the ‘encyclopaedic’ comment the way it was intended. The format works very well for a book with 15 characters, but other single character driven stories like Spotlight: Jericho didn’t call for it. I like extensive notes, but not everyone does.

    Can I just say that Roy hitting on someone don’t necessarily make them pretty. He’d hit on a kilted Scotsman if he saw them from behind. But yes, Duela sounds like she was a more interesting character back when she had her sanity. Play-acting crazy was a thing back then? Didn’t the original Creeper do the same? These days it’s bonker time for all the villains – a real dis-service to the mad-pride community.

    The Titans photo you posted from TT by Don Heck really reminds me of the style of Dave Gibbons Minutemen portrait in Watchmen. Weird.

    Final thought: i notice that Bumblebee didn’t have a PE history on the database… (I should talk. I haven’t
    had time to do any synopses in months.)

    Liked by 1 person

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