(This review may contain spoilers for the story content.)
Introduction: Hello, valued readers. Today’s comic review is on a story arc that I have known I had wanted to review for a while but kept putting off because I did not want to oversaturate this review blog with Titans tales. However, whenever I would reflect on what comic story to review next, “Teen Titans: Then & Now” continually sprung to mind, so I finally gave in. This story is from Teen Titans Vol 2, which lasted from 1996-1998 and starred a brand new team of Titans that had no prior connections to any of the past incarnations. The main arc of “Then & Now” takes place within issues #12-15, with #16 being an epilogue. The comic is written and penciled by Dan Jurgens, with the Titan-famous George Pérez running inks within the main arc. “Then & Now” is by far one of my favorite Titans stories ever—and this statement is coming from someone who has read every Titans tale from inception to 2018. The title “Then & Now” stems from the fact that the story equally uses both original Titans as well as the new team, marking the first meetings between the veterans and the rookies. Additionally, the story’s name reflects how the events of the story are a result of the Titans’ past affecting the present. All-in-all, this story holds much significance, on which I will elaborate shortly.
Plot Summary: Nightwing (Dick Grayson) summons his old teammates, Flash (Wally West), Tempest (Garth), and Arsenal (Roy Harper), when he receives a distress message from Loren Jupiter, their incarnation of the Teen Titans’ old benefactor and now current benefactor for the team’s newest incarnation, which consists of Atom (Ray Palmer), Argent (Toni Monetti), Joto (Isaiah Crockett), Risk (Cody Driscoll), and Prysm (Audrey Spears). Learning that Jupiter has been kidnapped, the four original Titans investigate. As they do so, they slowly begin to regain memories of a past adventure, shown via flashback. The past adventure put them up against the villain Haze, Jupiter’s son, whom they deduce is behind the current goings-on as well.
Arriving at Haze’s hideout, the original Titans are forced to battle the new Teen Titans when Haze’s illusion-casting powers cause each set of Titans to perceive the other as enemies. The originals fight off young versions of themselves, who taunt them about their insecurities, while the Teen Titans face off against a grouping of the foes they have already gone up against. Once the illusion is broken, the teams work together to defeat Haze. While Haze is defeated, Joto dies in the process, when he absorbs a raging inferno into himself to rescue Jupiter. The heat was too much for Isaiah, and he burnt out and died in Risk’s arms, using his last breaths to say, “Tell…my family I love them very, very…much. Tell them…I died…a Titan.” Everyone involved attends Isaiah’s funeral. Joto’s teammates, unsure how Isaiah felt about them, feel ill-at-ease until Omen teleports into the room and reads Isaiah’s journal aloud to them, so that they can all know how he felt toward them. Inspired by Joto’s serious attitude toward being a hero and a Titan, Argent buckles down and decides they should likewise take being heroes seriously. She rallies her teammates, but Jupiter enters the room and announces that the Teen Titans are once again disbanded.
Plot Analysis: Dan Jurgens crafts an intricately executed plot that accomplishes a multitude of significant objectives at once. Firstly, Jurgens brings the founding members of the Teen Titans together (sans Donna Troy, who was de-powered and grieving the loss of her child at the time). At this point, this new Teen Titans series has been around for about a year, but because the five members did not have ties to the previous incarnations of the team, some fans were skeptical of them and kept them at arms-length, emotionally speaking. Fans missed the classic characters. Jurgens addressed this issue by having the active founding members guest-star for this story arc. Not only did Jurgens use Dick, Wally, Garth, and Roy, he used them to serve as proxies for the fans who favored the “traditional” characters. Each issue of the main arc had one of the four narrate, allowing readers to see their thoughts and view the story from their varying perspectives. Jurgens wrote each character so that their thoughts toward the new Teen Titans reflected various opinions fans had (and had published through the titles letter columns), while making sure the words were given using each character’s respective voice so that they were still “them” and not simply stand-ins for the readers.
They wonder if the new kids deserve the mantle or if they have what it takes to be heroes, but they ultimately come to view the kids as Titans. By having the older Titans acknowledge the new kids, Jurgens placates many Titans fans who were similarly skeptical of the newest TT team. “If Nightwing and the others can accept them as Titans, so can I,” is what I believe Jurgens was hoping fans would think. In this effort, I think Jurgens enhanced the effect of the original Titans’ acceptance of the newer team by having them address many fans’ issues with the new group. If they had not, their acceptance may have seemed like a transparent ploy to have reluctant readers accept the new kids, which could have made them dislike Atom’s team even more. However, by raising the concerns and pushing through them, the original Titans’ acceptance gained more credibility. In-universe, this acceptance worked on two levels: The older Titans felt better about the new kids using the name, and the new team felt like they had earned the right to use the name. Having the two incarnations being connected by their shared association with Loren Jupiter helped by giving Jurgens an extra excuse to unite these heroes (Titans Together!)
Jurgens also resolved a mystery that had been perplexing the Titans mythos for decades—the origins of Lilith Clay. In the original Teen Titans series, Lilith grew up as an adopted child. When her powers manifested, she wondered who her birth parents were and how they may have been the source for her psychic abilities. In a few backup features during that era of publication, Lilith investigated this mystery, to no avail. In pre-Crisis history, when Lilith briefly joined the New Teen Titans, an origin was given. In this history, Lilith was the daughter of Thia, one of the Titans of Myth, a sun goddess, and an unnamed human businessman whom Thia killed to gain wealth and status on the earthly plane. Lilith had developed heat-based powers on top of her classic precognitive powers. The NTT defeated Thia, and Lilith decided to stay in Olympus with her newly discovered family, as a demigoddess. However, Crisis on Infinite Earths retconned this origin. The Titans of Myth were good-natured people who had connections to Donna Troy. Thus, Lilith was without an origin again.
Meanwhile, the character Omen began appearing at the beginning of Jurgens’ new Teen Titans title as a quasi-member of the team, but everything about Omen was purposefully left as a mystery to the team. They did not even know her gender. All they knew were her various powers, including teleportation, levitation, precognition, telepathy, and other psychic abilities. “Then & Now” revealed the mystery of who Omen was, while also providing a new origin for Lilith Clay, as she discovers that she is the daughter of Loren Jupiter and an unnamed psychic woman who taught her how to develop her powers (although she did not learn this until long after the original Teen Titans had disbanded). Omen/Lilith also served as an extra means of connecting the two teams, as she was a member of both groups. Plus, her relation to Jupiter (and thus Haze) furthered the plot. Additionally, with Donna Troy not being used in this story, Lilith met the role of “female original Titan,” and it felt nice to see Lilith catch up with the four older boys at a bar in the epilogue.
While Jurgens focused on the original Titans a considerable amount, I assure you that “Then & Now” had a large impact on the new team as well. As a whole, this team did not take being heroes very seriously. They did not even give themselves the Teen Titans mantle; a reporter who saw them in action when they first met and worked together did. Furthermore, Jupiter more-or-less pushed them into being heroes, financing their operation. Most of the 16-year-old kids were immature and lacked perspective. They did not fully comprehend the weight of what it means to be a hero: sacrifice. At least, they did not understand until one of their own, Joto, died in front of them after sacrificing himself to save Jupiter. This tragedy changes the hearts of the Titans remaining, especially Argent and Risk, who had been taking heroics the least seriously up to this point. Many readers saw these carefree, reckless attitudes and refused to consider these new kids Titans. However, after this story arc, readers wrote into DC, having had changed their minds. Joto’s sacrifice embodied what it meant to be a Titan, and readers began accepting him and the rest of the team as Titans as a result. With Jupiter forcibly disbanding the team, Argent takes it upon herself in issues after this story to gather everyone and be a team again to honor Isaiah, and this time, she understands the weight of being a hero. Jupiter’s ending the Titans is symbolic in a way—it signified the end of the team as they were, so that readers new that the team had gone through a metamorphosis into true heroes, true Titans (complete with new uniforms for Argent and Risk).
Characterization: Within “Then & Now,” Jurgens manages to juggle 10 Titans, as well as creating and exploring the psyche of a villain, Haze. Each character used is not simply a puppet performing a show. None of them are “all action.” Jurgens emphasizes each character’s personality traits, as well as their skills and abilities. Those interested in reading “Then & Now” can be at ease knowing that characterization is a strong point of the book in addition to the consequences of the plot points discussed above.
- Original Titans: Jurgens captures the essences of the original Titans used in the story by exploring a number of their traits. Beyond just focuses on their modern-day personalities, Jurgens also illustrates his knowledge of the characters by depicting their past-selves personalities in the flashback scenes. The flashback shows the original Titans using their cheesy lingo (“Robin-O” and the like), and it shows Wally and Roy competing to flirt with Donna. I found Jurgens’ ability to implement varying personalities in both the past and present to be impressive.
- Nightwing/Robin (Dick Grayson): Dick is a highly empathetic and compassionate person. When the four founding boys regroup at the beginning of the story, Wally breaks the news to Dick that Donna lost her son Robbie. Dick is shocked and instantly sheds a tear. He takes a moment of silence to process the information before regaining himself and telling them, “Come on. Let’s get to work,” which shows his sense of responsibility and duty. Additionally, Jurgens highlights Dick’s natural leadership. At first, Roy and Wally each challenge his leadership, but Dick’s research and understanding of the situation, among other things, leads them to accept Dick’s instructions yet again. When the originals meet up with the new Teen Titans, the younger heroes also immediately accept Dick’s leadership. Dick’s demeanor demands respect, and I respected Jurgens’ use of that trait.
- Flash/Kid Flash (Wally West): Wally is a very conservative, traditionalist in nearly every way. As such, he is very hesitant and even initially rude to the new group of kids using the name that he helped found. Given how he worked to earn respect and acceptance as Barry Allen’s successor to the Flash moniker, he feels that the kids had not earned the name Teen Titans yet, although he eventually warms up to them a little. Additionally, his status as a JLA-er may have something to do with how harshly he treats the kids who initially treat heroics haphazardly.
Arsenal/Speedy (Roy Harper): When “Then & Now” begins, Roy is still using his yellow, metal-plated uniform, as well as the crossbows and guns and he used while wearing it. He notes, though, that he misses a bow. When Haze amplifies his powers to allow him to actually affect reality in issue #15, he reaches into Roy’s mind to show off how he could make their innermost dreams come true. When he does so, Roy’s yellow, armored uniform is replaced with a red, sleeker uniform that greatly resembles Green Arrow’s original uniform (but in red), the uniform Roy grew up admiring when he was Ollie’s sidekick as Speedy. With the new uniform came a longbow and trick arrows (which he had not used since he first gave up the “Speedy” moniker). After Haze is apprehended, Roy decides to keep the uniform, admitting that it feels “right” to him. He says that the previous Arsenal uniform was him running away from his roots and that he feels more at home in the red suit. In this way, Jurgens used this story to slip in a development of Roy’s character as Arsenal. Additionally, after the funeral, Dick suggests that Roy should stay around with the new Teen Titans team and use his experience to serve as a mentor (which he does in later issues).
- Tempest/Aqualad (Garth): Garth has always been the more soft-hearted and level-headed of the original group. He is diplomatic and keeps the others from bumping heads as often as they would otherwise. This story is the first time that his friends have seen him since he acquired the Tempest identity and the new abilities that came with it, powers he displays rather efficiently in this story.
- Omen/Lilith (Lilith Clay): Lilith was kidnapped as well during the initial parts of the story, but her advanced powers as Omen came in handy multiple times in the arc, particularly her teleportation ability. After her identity is revealed, she seemed nervous in approaching Dick and the others, but after having the chance to explain herself, she is visibly relieved to spend time with her old friends again.
- Teen Titans (current incarnation): The new team of Teen Titans received a decent amount of characterization as well, considering they are the stars of the book and considering Jurgens created them and knows their personalities quite well.
Atom (Ray Palmer): A veteran hero and JLA-er who wad de-aged into a teenager during the “Zero Hour” event, Ray Palmer had a habit of insisting (more to himself than to others) that he is Justice League-class, partially because he doubted his own abilities upon becoming a teenager again and losing some of his memories. By the start of this story, the Teen Titans had just finished helping during the “Genesis” event, whereupon an energy wave affected metahuman powers. In addition to regaining some of his memories, Atom gained the ability to grow as well as shrink, an ability that he exclusively uses during his tenure as a Teen Titan. Jurgens debuted this ability in this story, and the ability was very helpful in a number of situations.
- Argent (Toni Monetti): Argent was the spoiled rich kid who was used to getting everything she wanted. She was very extroverted, proud of her body, and she liked the finer things. Like Risk, Argent did not always take being a hero seriously, but Joto’s death really affected her. She was humbled and understood the weight of what it meant to sacrifice for others. The lesson Toni learns in this story carries with her, as she gradually matures and becomes a truer hero. In later stories, she adopts a leadership role in the field, and her sincerity in becoming a hero impresses the older Titans so much that she is invited to join the reformed Titans when the older members reform in Titans (1999). So, this story was a major turning point for her character. Argent’s powers include construct creation out of a silver plasma energy she can generate.
- Risk (Cody Driscoll): Risk is an overconfident, hot-tempered teenager who wants to charge into a fight rather than think ahead, for which Tempest scolds him. Risk had a habit of underestimating opponents, including Haze. Risk’s powers include superhuman physical stats across the board (strength, durability, speed, reflexes, agility, etc.). Risk and Joto had a love-hate relationship. They ragged on each other constantly, especially Cody toward Isaiah. So when Isaiah dies, Cody regrets being so hard on him, but he is very relieved to hear Isaiah’s sister tell him that he considered Cody a friend, a sentiment that was elaborated upon when Omen read Isaiah’s journal aloud (shown in an image earlier in this review; scroll back to it to read Isaiah’s thoughts on Cody and the others). Given that Isaiah died in his arms, Cody’s haphazard attitude is changed by the epilogue.
- Prysm (Audrey Spears): Raised in a virtual world where life is perfect and everyone gets along, Prysm remains a little innocent and naive at times, and those traits presented themselves in this story. Because of her upbringing, she shows great respect for the veteran Titans. Prysm’s powers include flight, illumination, and energy projection (hot blasts of destructive energy). Her body has a semi-transparent crystal appearance, and she changes color according to her mood.
Joto (Isaiah Crockett): Much has already been said about Joto. While he does not have the strongest personality among his group, Isaiah shows the most heart. When his teammates get heated or otherwise out-of-hand, Joto is the one to calm them down. Furthermore, he repeatedly expresses his earnestness in wanting to be a hero, to be somebody younger kids can look up, somebody whom Superman would be proud to stand by. Joto’s primary power is thermokinesis, meaning he projects heat from his body. His body gets hot and he can melt almost anything he touches, turning it into slag. Additionally, he can project a “heat pulse” to sense everything within an area, including the amount of people in a building and other details. Isaiah is extremely smart, already attending university by the time he turned 16 years old. If the “Joto” moniker is not familiar, perhaps you will recognize the moniker “Hot Spot”/”Hotspot,” the name he uses in the Teen Titans animated series and in later comics (spoiler alert: he does not stay dead for long, but the consequences of his death are everlasting).
- Haze (Jarrod Jupiter): Jarrod Jupiter, only slightly older than Dick and the others, is upset that Loren Jupiter was not around when he was growing up. He thought that Loren abandoned him, despite the truth being that Jarrod’s mother left Loren. Jarrod was jealous of the Titans for taking Mr. Jupiter’s attentions, both the older and newer teams. And he was especially hateful toward Lilith, whom he believed Loren left his family to be with (again, a deluded falsity). As Haze, he kidnapped and killed popular students at his private high school to lure the Teen Titans to investigate so that he could exact revenge on them. His plans then were foiled, but he resurfaced in the present to set up this situation. In the midst of the chaos, he pleaded repeatedly for Loren to love him and asked why he refused to do so. The “Genesis” event awakened a number of telepathic powers in Jarrod, which he used in this latest attempt. He imprisoned over a hundred people in his home base to leech psychic energy from. Ultimately, he used a drug he invented to send himself into lucid dream where he, Loren, and Lilith were all one happy family. Haze was a tragic villain, but given the amount of deaths he caused, my sympathy is miniscule.
Art: Dan Jurgens’ work throughout “Then & Now” is superb. I really love his style, with the detail put into the line-work. Because Jurgens is the writer, he knows exactly how he envisions the characters appearing when they are doing or saying certain things, and the story greatly benefits from that story-art coordination. He draws the older Titans as if he had been doing it for years, and he draws his own creations (the current Teen Titans) as consistently well-done as ever. One moment that thoroughly impressed me was the scene when Haze creates constructs of a massive array of adversaries from the Titans’ past (displayed below). The sheer amount of detail that was used for each character on those pages wowed me. I also loved how he used Punch (Sylvester Sebastopol), a one-off villain from the original Teen Titans series. Given how the story focuses a lot on the original incarnation of the team, I appreciated a villain from that era thrown into the mix. Now, some characters who are not villains, per se, but were adversaries at one point (Red Star, Thunder, and Lightning) are shown among the crowd, but I can accept that, especially when they are drawn so well. It is not an error, given that Dick notes in the story that Haze’s records of who their adversaries are was a little off. George Pérez’s inks assisted Jurgens’ pencils. Anyhow, as with everything else from this comic, I enjoyed the art.
Final Remarks: One more significant detail about this story I would like to give is that the flashback has Aqualad/Garth with the team under Mr. Jupiter’s supervision. However, pre-Crisis, Aqualad was not a member during the Mr. Jupiter era. Back then, the Teen Titans went on missions using a rotational roster of Kid Flash, Wonder Girl, Speedy, Lilith, Hawk (Hank Hall), Dove (Don Hall), and Mal Duncan. Later, Hawk and Dove left, and Robin and Gnarrk took their spots on the rotational roster. Crisis on Infinite Earths, though, removed Gnarrk’s tenure on the team from continuity. So, I suppose Jurgens’ story replaces Gnarrk with Aqualad in terms of the Mr. J era of TT history, which is cool to note, as Garth had not previously ever been a teammate of Lilith before this story.
As a final note, I reiterate that “Teen Titans: Then & Now” is one of my favorite Titans stories ever. It combines the classic “team-up” story type with various other elements that enhanced the story. More importantly, the story had a major impact on many of the characters used in this story and cemented Jurgens’ Teen Titans team into Titans lore and helped many readers accept them as Titans. If any of you are fans of Titans, either the well-known traditional ones or the lesser-known ones here, you will want to read this story arc at some point. It is a quality story with quality art with quality aftereffects. For you guys, I have a question and a challenge. Question: Which of the characters included in this story piqued your interest the most? Challenge: How many villains from the two-page spread I inserted below the “Art” section can you name?
Closing: I know I have said a lot about this story (because it is that important), 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.