“Where Nightmares Begin”
Special Teen Titans 16 Page Preview in DC Comics Presents #26
Marv Wolfman / George Perez / Dick Giordano / Adrienne Roy
“Sometimes I wondered if Robin had to ask Batman’s permission to go to the little heroes’ room.”
That’s Marv Wolfman, writer of The New Teen Titans.
“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
That’s Mark Twain.
While maybe not all teenagers are rebellious, few kowtow completely to authority. For most, it’s a time of questioning. We second guess the rules and restrictions placed by parents, teachers and other adults, we test boundaries, make mistakes and, ideally, learn from them. Rare is the teenager who follows every rule without question.
Yet that’s what Marv Wolfman saw in the comic books he grew up reading: teenagers that, unlike Mark Twain, recognized wisdom and knowledge in authority and obeyed accordingly. No wonder he “hated kid sidekicks”; what fun is that?
When DC Comics Presents #26 was published in the fall of 1980, the free 16-page preview of The New Teen Titans contained something that had rarely been seen in a comic book: a teenager talking back to their parent. Cyborg, half-man and half-machine, lays into his father pretty hard: “You’re always fouling up, old man… destroying everything you’ve ever touched!” He goes on to declare as he storms off: “I never want to see you again, old man — never again!”
If you like that, don’t worry, there’s plenty more backtalk to come in the series; the relationship, or lack thereof, between Cyborg and his father Professor Stone will find echo in that of Robin (Dick Grayson) and his mentor and surrogate parent Batman (Bruce Wayne).
Robin was the first teenage sidekick. He debuted in 1940, which means that he had been by Batman’s side for four decades when DC Comics Presents #26 was published. Forty long years in which Dick Grayson had remained in the brightly colored garb of the Boy Wonder. That’s not much character development. While Wolfman was not the first to introduce conflict between the Dynamic Duo, he would take this tension and use it as a catalyst to grow Grayson out from under Batman’s shadow into his own man.
What’s missing from Mark Twain’s quote above is what happened in those seven years that changed his perception of his father. In only three years (well, forty-three, I guess, if you count back to his debut), Dick Grayson will abandon the Robin tights and adopt an identity of his own choosing: Nightwing. In this case, we get to follow the stages of the transformation in the pages of The New Teen Titans, a story that begins here in this 16-page preview.
What better character to put at the center of a series about growing up than the original teenage sidekick. Though three of the other Titans (Beast Boy, Kid Flash and Wonder Girl) were also around before the series, Robin would have been the most familiar. To introduce their new series, Wolfman and Perez plot a story that places the Boy Wonder in a position analogous to the contemporary reader: Dick knows just about as much as the reader would have in 1980. In other words, he is friends with Kid Flash (Wally West) and Wonder Girl (Donna Troy); he knows Gar Logan as Beast Boy and addresses him as such only to be corrected, finding out the green shapeshifter now goes by Changeling; and he, like the reader, knows nothing of the new Titans: Cyborg (Vic Stone), Raven, and the alien Starfire (Koriand’r). Notably, the other Titans are baffled by Robin’s strange behavior.
In this fashion, the reader is introduced to the “New” of The New Teen Titans. Our old friend Dick Grayson shares our wonder as we see Titans Tower, the new T-shaped headquarters of the team and our titillation as he is swept up into the arms of statuesque, scantily-clad alien princess as she takes to the sky. We discover as Robin discovers.
Robin’s confusion will carry into the debut issue of the series, as the plot of “Where Nightmare Begins” continues in The New Teen Titans #1. Literally, this 16-page story is where Dick Grayson’s nightmares begin, nightmares of a new Titans team fighting a protoplasmic blob that he will still be having when we enter the series proper. We may be a bit confused ourselves, but we will be intrigued not frustrated, as Wolfman and Perez make sure to compose the beginning of their new series in such a manner that reading this 16-page preview is not required to understand issue one and make sure to answer questions as often as they raise them.
At the end of the preview, the mysterious Raven remarks that Robin’s visions and dreams represent his future and that he will soon understand everything. Since we’re clearly meant to identify with Dick Grayson, Wolfman and Perez are making a promise to the reader: don’t worry, all will be explained. There are other promises as well, as seen in the father-and-son conflict of the Stones and in the camaraderie of the Titans team: this will not be the same old Teen Titans; this won’t be about teenagers that you can’t identify with, teenagers that obey authority always and without question; this won’t be about characters that never change.
Previews make promises, that’s nothing new. What makes this one rare is that the series that followed delivered.
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