Friday Flashback: X-MEN & TEEN TITANS

Last time out, we talked about Darkseid’s resurgence in 1982, thanks largely to the Great Darkness Saga.  Well, this sure as hell didn’t hurt.  The X-Men/Teen Titans remains one of the best intercompany crossovers ever attempted, and it remains a high-water mark of just fun, anything-can-happen super-hero comics from that era.

First, a little background.  Marvel and DC had dipped into the crossover waters before with meetings of Superman and Spider-Man and Batman and the Hulk.  Obviously, those characters are pop culture juggernauts, and each has a groundswell of cultural awareness about it.  However, in 1982, there were no mainstream books hotter than X-Men and Teen Titans.  Uncanny sat atop the sales charts for Marvel, and Titans was DC’s number one as well.

The natural synergy of that concept was appealing, but the creative team made it even moreso.  The wildly popular Chris Claremont, then writer of Uncanny, took on the writing chores, taking care to consult with Marv Wolfman (then writing Titans) and deftly handle continuity.  The artists were Walt Simonson, well-known to audiences at both Marvel and DC, and inker Terry Austin (an X-office mainstay).

What really made the thing great, aside from the fannish thrill of seeing two classic line-ups interact, was the fact that Claremont had such a clear grasp of who the characters were all around.  Every time that anyone has dialogue, they sound perfectly in character.  Obviously, Claremont had been setting the agenda for the mutants for years by that point, but he really nailed the Titans as well.  His Garfield Logan (then called Changeling, as he should be) was spot-on, and his Slade Wilson/Deathstroke the Terminator was perfect.

From the art side, Simonson did a terrific job.  You have to consider that the X-Men and Titans had, even then, artistic associations with some of the best in the business.  The Titans were, of course, in the hands of George Perez, and X-Men was enjoying the second run by Dave Cockrum.  So then, it’s easy to see that the visual representation might be a daunting task.  Simonson (with familiar X-inker Austin) took it all and ran.  Not only did he convey the look and personality of over a dozen characters, he had to capture locales that ran from the X-Mansion to deep space and The Source Wall.

Did I say Source Wall?  That’s right, kids.  The creators shot for Epic Scope here.  After Darkseid uses a device to collect memories from the X-Men, he employs Deathstroke to use special machines to extract energy from locations wherein the Phoenix Force had manifested itself.  His goal?  Resurrect Dark Phoenix and use her to conquer the galaxy while converting Earth to a new Apokolips.  Not exactly small time.

And while that all works as a Big Plot, the whole Phoenix angle was untapped at the time.  This was the first visit to that well after the death of Jean Grey.  The characters had raw nerves about that loss, and it made the story mean something to the readers.  This is some time before the debut of Madelyn Pryor, and WAY before the whole Phoenix mythos had become a much-too-beaten dead horse.  If you were an X-fan, it had weight.

Similarly, the special developed the Titans in that it put them up against another world-beating menace (like Trigon).  Darkseid was in the midst of his “Great Darkness” run, and these two stories cemented his A-List Villain status.  Deathstroke’s profile increased as well, particularly when he displayed effectiveness against the X-Men.

I could go on and on about the specifics of this one, little moments I love like Changeling becoming the Parademon, Wolverine outsmarting Deathstroke, the Kitty/Gar flirtation, and the just plain enjoyment of it all.  Today, it’s a hard solo book to find, as is the trade collection, Crossover Classics Volume 1, which brought together the two Spidey/Supes stories, Hulk/Batman, and this one.  Nevertheless, it’s a potent artifact of an era where super-powered teens ruled comics and certain angles seemed totally fresh and new.  I know that I still love it, and I can’t wait to share it with my oldest, who will no doubt flip that the X-Men and Titans are together.  And that, of course, is your Friday Flashback.

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