Comic Books From The Vaults: That Strange Buzzing Sound – The Titans #1 (1999)

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They say that every good story has a beginning, a middle and an end.

When it comes to comic books though, that isn’t quite true. There are origins and lots of middle parts, but the closest a comic book comes to an end is when it’s cancelled. It’s kind of the same for collectors and long-time readers. You may know when you were hooked, and the middle can be every moment from simply buying a new issue or talking with friends about the latest superhero movie. Often fans may abandon their love of the genre only to return to it years later. Getting cancelled seems to be the only ending, once you’ve been bitten by the comic book bug.

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As for comic books themselves, they’re like soap operas. Stories overlap but every “ending” is a beginning too, a new adventure. That’s why fans tend to divide the stories into “runs” with certain creators standing out more than others. Frank Miller on Daredevil. Claremont and Byrne on X-Men. Peter David on the Hulk. Chuck Dixon on Robin and Detective Comics. That’s why, for many, Marv Wolfman and George Perez were the ultimate creative team on the (formerly Teen) Titans. But what about when something old is new again?

In terms of new beginnings, Titans #1 by Devin Grayson and Mark Buckingham was a relaunch that was both something new and definitely something in the middle.

That Strange Buzzing Sound may not sound like the most promising title, but this issue was one of the most promising starts to a relaunched series ever, jump-starting (and bringing the chemistry back) to a mix of the various Teen Titans incarnations from over the years. With a double cover which boasted that this was the team you DEMANDED! – quite a statement – the whole thing seems almost unbelievable.

If you were a new reader, would you get instantly lost? If you were a long-time fan, would it live up to the glory days of Marv Wolfman and George Perez issues? Incredibly, it caters for both. Also, despite the “charging into action” cover, a large part of this story takes place with our heroes simply sitting down in a diner, wearing their civilian garb.

And that’s a good thing.

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After several pages showing our heroes engaged in a battle against members of H.I.V.E., the scene shifts to four days previously. The old Teen Titans (Dick Grayson, Wally West, Donna Troy, Roy Harper and Garth of Atlantis) are sharing a meal and talking. After discussing times gone by and the state of their lives, the suggestion is raised that they reform the old team. Dick Grayson – Nightwing – shoots the idea down as a bad one but is coaxed into it by Wally, even though Wally’s own time as the Flash will mean that he has to pull double-duty since he’s already with the Justice League.

Deciding that they should also encourage a JSA-style mentor/student relationship with newer heroes, they each name who they want fighting alongside them. Garth – Tempest – chooses former member Cyborg. Donna – Wonder Girl – picks Argent, while Wally chooses second generation speedster Jesse Quick. Roy – a former sidekick of Green Arrow – chooses the highly inexperienced Damage in the hope of setting things right between them. Dick picks alien warrior princess Starfire, which as usual raises suspicions about the current status of his love-life.

Naturally their team needs funding. The solution comes from the unlikeliest of sources, whilst the matter of who should lead their team makes them all wonder who the leader of the Justice League is… a question which yields a surprising answer. Things seem to be going smoothly. Unfortunately, they haven’t counted on H.I.V.E. and newcomer Damien Darhk (seen these days in TV’s Arrow) ruining their homecoming party.

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As first issues go, this was a gamble. In the years previously, the Titans never quite lived up to the glory days of old and had a membership roster which few cared about. Instead, by revisiting the past yet updating the team dynamic, it trades on a level of charm which makes it instantly accessible to readers. The rapport between the old characters seems natural and flows smoothly, and by seeing them gathered in a social setting without their costumes it reminds us that they’re friends first and costumed heroes second.

It’s as good a jumping-on point as you’re likely to find in comic books. It covers their history simply and lays out the foundations for what the new series is going to be, without ever feeling clunky or boring. The writing and art are both good, a standard which the series maintained.

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