GAMES is not like anything I’d expect. First born in the late ’80s, when collected editions of comics like WATCHMEN and THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS proved that their was an adult market for superhero stories in bookstores, Wolfman and Perez’ reunion on THE NEW TEEN TITANS ended up being put on the backburner for various reasons. Brought back to life in the mid-2000s, it finally saw release in late 2011 as an original hardcover, a swan-song to a classic run, just before DC started their universe from scratch. However, it’s not the nostalgic love letter you might expect – it’s not a disappointing reach for glory of a classic, but potentially outdated, run – it really is a testament to what made the creative team so strong to begin with, what made these characters so unforgettable. Conversely, it’s also an attack on nostalgia, on the attempt to put these characters in never changing tombs with no room for new characters to be created and developed. It’s also the most ’80’s comic of all time, with government-sanctioned heroes, terrorism, and the psychological trappings of superheroes all being major focuses. It’s essential reading not only for TEEN TITANS fans, but for anyone interested in the cyclical nature of superheroes.
The story begins with King Faraday, agent for the Central Bureau of Intelligence, recruiting the Titans after a massive terrorist attack in Greenland by the Gamesmaster. A previous agent of the CBI, the Gamesmaster was an attempt on the government to recruit unique voices to offer pre-emptive advice for future terrorist attacks. Sci-fi authors, game designers, ex-super villains…those with wide enough imaginations to come up with scenarios that America isn’t prepared for. Unfortunately, the Gamesmaster went one further, and put his ideas into execution to see if the country was prepared to handle it. Naturally, he’s also amassed plenty of private information on the Titans, and has sent a litany of unique Arkham inmates to take each member down.
This is where a lot of the really fun and unique ideas first show up; Wolfman and Perez set each Titan adversary as a direct attack on the characters unique personal flaws. Beast Boy, a juvenile prankster and star of television’s SPACE TREK, is attacked by a series of TV cartoons come to life. Starfire, the beautiful alien starlet, is attacked by a brilliant tactician who can’t be harmed by her cosmic flame. Jericho, the sensitive and mute romantic, must face the real savagery of medieval times, in the form of a knight attempting to destroy all the art gallery’s and museums of New York. Seeing these characters in desperate situations, not only where they care on a personal level about the outcome, but have the pressure of seeing their biggest weaknesses and flaws right in front of them. It’s a really cool threat that could only be executed as well as it is by two creators who have these characters so ingrained in their blood.
I hate to speak in clichés, but Perez’ art on the title reminds you why he is the legend that he is. Innovative panel lay outs, beautiful character rendering, wonderful character expressions and acting…even if his style does look a little ‘retro’, the guy sure hasn’t lost it. The pages are all drawn oversized, and the book looks great for it. Wolfman’s dialogue and characterizations are equally wonderful, and carry over none of the awkward, stilted feel of many Bronze Age writers. Nightwing’s visit to Batman quizzing a young Tim on his detective work shows how clearly Wolfman gets the character of Dick Grayson, and reminds you what a loving legacy and concept the Bat-family is. In the end of the story, the day is saved by the only one who could save it; Danny Chase, telekinetic and boy-genius. One of Wolfman’s created characters, passionately hated by the TEEN TITANS fan base when first introduced, Danny seems to represent the superhero fanbases reluctance to embrace new characters. “I-I-I’m in really deep TROUBLE.” he says to himself as he attempts to diffuse a bomb, seemingly aware that if any character is going to bite the bullet, it’s going to be him. But the precocious kid makes it out alive, while still making a massive mistake and screwing up in a pretty big way. Wolfman seems to imply that this is what was great about the character from the beginning; he was selfish, and afraid, and too full of himself – like we are. And maybe that’s why we were uncomfortable reading about him in the first place.
GAMES is full of twists, turns, and plenty of great character moments. But it ends the way it has to – these characters adventures are never over, and GAMES wasn’t a farewell. It was a revisit, a drop-in on old friends. However, these characters aren’t going anywhere – they’ll outlive all of us. And if sometimes we forget that, if sometimes we want things to stay the way we remember them, then Wolfman and Perez are here to remind us that nostalgia can be an enemy as much as a friend.
THE NEW TEEN TITANS: GAMES is available in TPB in comic stores now.