As I’ve noted before, Sims was twelve in the 1994, and the comics we read when we’re twelve shape our tastes and memories, for better or worse. I was in my late teens when New Teen Titans was published, and hadn’t read previous versions of the team. The magazine thrilled and pleased me by doing all I’d learned to like in superhero comics and more besides. I can reread those stories and enjoy the nostalgia, but it’s next to impossible to find the same thrill in other superhero stories—and nothing’s more disappointing than picking up a story touted as “classic” and finding that it’s, well, just a superhero comic showing the traits of the time it was written.
It’s fair to compare New Teen Titans to Uncanny X-Men, Marvel’s alternate-superhero team book of the same era, as Sims does. Wolfman, Pérez, and their editor Len Wein probably did pitch their Titans revival as a possible answer to Marvel’s mutant magazine. And the X-Men issues that Chris Claremont, John Byrne, and Dave Cockrum created in the late 1970s and 1980s are top-notch.
Unfortunately, Sims’s aside about when he read “The Judas Contract” is the only time he mentions that best-remembered New Teen Titans storyline. And the only page of Wolfman and Pérez’s work illustrating the essay is one that introduces a supporting character (one whom many readers hate far more than I think is healthy). Those details indicate how glancing this assessment is.
Let’s start instead with the differences between Uncanny X-Men and New Teen Titans to isolate the qualities of each. Wolfman and Pérez worked with a different universe and characters, and they created a different type of superhero saga.
The Uncanny X-Men had the overall theme of being outcast. The Marvel mutants were disliked and hunted by authorities. Their headquarters was a shadowy private school in upstate New York. In contrast, the Titans were celebrities who worked with the government out of a T-shaped skyscraper on an island in the East River.
all the Titans looked like supermodels, and the one who was a supermodel looked like a Playboy fantasy. Being accepted and popular wasn’t their problem. Their challenges grew from their internal lives and their pasts.
The overall theme of the New Teen Titans was inheritance. All four of the established heroes were sidekicks or younger versions of adult heroes, with varied feelings about their mentors and legacies. The three new heroes were all at odds with their parents. (One was sold into slavery by her father, another crippled when his father opened an interdimensional rift, and then there’s that four-eyed giant red demon—the usual issues.) The magazine’s breakout villain, Deathstroke the Terminator, was the epitome of a toxic father. The villainous cult of Brother Blood was a corrupted reflection of the new “family” that the Titans were creating for themselves.
Robin, and even “The Judas Contract.” Those emotional issues reflect the superhero storytelling style of the early 1980s when the big fights were held together with extended melodramas full of thought balloons.
As Sims says, that sort of superhero saga might not be to everyone’s taste. Undoubtedly my own fondness for those stories is rooted in the fact that I was in my late teens when they appeared. But the best of Wolfman and Pérez’s work stands up just as well as Claremont, Byrne, and Cockrum’s, and may hit deeper emotions.