Review Of Old Comics: New Teen Titans #38

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ntt038-00fcNew Teen Titans #38
January  1984

There’s a pattern here at Reviews Of Old Comics that I try to do DC one week, Marvel the next, an Independent comic the third, and then I repeat. Unfortunately, that pattern does not always hold when I go through my comics and find something that I remember as a comic that definitely needs to be remembered for what it was, an award-worthy comic book story.

SYNOPSIS:

Dick Grayson, aka Robin, starts recounting an investigation case that he has taken up regarding a friend and teammate in the Teen Titans, Donna Troy, aka Wonder Girl. Her fiancé, Terry Long, has hired him to uncover Donna Troy’s past before she was found by Wonder Woman.

His first stop is to talk to Donna directly, who recounts how, as a very small child, she was rescued from a burning building by Wonder Woman. Unfortunately, the apartment she was in was not rented to anyone. Donna was raised by Wonder Woman’s mother and the Amazons, who used their technology to give her the abilities of an Amazon so she could be raised as an Amazon. Wonder Girl then sets off with Robin to try and uncover her past.

Their first stop is the ruins of the apartment building that she was found in which, all of these years later, although it soon will be demolished to make way for a shopping mall. Sifting through the rubble with blueprints, Robin discovers a coal bin, and inside, mostly protected from the fire, is a doll that sparks repressed emotions in Wonder Girl. They then interview the widow of the former landlord who just tells them that her dead husband had been involved in lots of shady, if not completely illegal operations, but she knew very few details and just wants to be left alone.

Wonder Girl asks him to stop the investigation, but he doesn’t comply, and begins a long, arduous process of trying to recover the writing that was on some fabric with the doll and on the doll itself. Using chemicals and his computer, Dick Grayson uncovers that the doll had a sign that said “Hello, my name is Donna.” Donna could actually have been Wonder Girl’s real name, but uncertain, he uses chemicals to uncover writing on the doll that reveals that it came from “Uncle Max” at Mystic Mt. in Newport News. He travels alone and finds “Uncle Max” who still runs a toy shoppe. Max used to repair toys for an orphanage that was closed down when it was involved in a child slavery scandal. Investigating the scandal, he finds that Mrs. Cassidy who ran the orphanage was found innocent, having no role in child slavery. He asks around, trying to locate her with no luck but has a visitor at his hotel room, an old man who used to be the orphanage’s gardener who knows where to find Mrs. Cassidy. He calls Donna and they go to visit the nursing home where she now lives.

Donna is nervous to meet this old woman who might have known her before she was found by Wonder Woman, although Dick cautions that she may not be able to help. Mrs. Cassidy has barely spoken in the ten years she’s been in the nursing home, and is unresponsive until Dick takes out the doll, which sparks a memory of the young girl Donna was, still named Donna, who had been given up by her teenaged mother who had been diagnosed with cancer. Donna was adopted by a loving couple called Mr. and Mrs. Stacey. Donna is thrilled to finally have some of the answers, but Dick is unsure, as he still doesn’t know how the Staceys and Donna came to be in an unrented apartment that caught fire.

Returning to town, Donna finds herself driving up to a house where the mother of the family that lives there immediately recognizes Donna by the doll she is carrying, and they embrace. Inside, Fay Evans tells everyone about her and her first husband Carl Stacey adopted Donna, but that when he died in a work accident she was left as a young mother with no skills and very little money. The crooked lawyer that was behind the child slavery scandal pressured her into returning Donna to the orphanage, but sold her to a cruel couple who beat her right before they died in the fire. The Evans welcome Donna into their family.

As Robin, Dick visits the crooked lawyer in prison and threatening to leak word to the general populace that he was an informant, gets him to tell what happened to Donna. He gave Donna to go-betweens that posed as Donna’s real parents, taking her to an unrented room that the lawyer used to sell children. When the building’s furnace exploded, the go-betweens died.

Dick finds Donna at the grave of her birth mother, Dorothy Hinckley, telling her how wonderful her life turned out. Dick gives Donna the gift of the doll, which Uncle Max has restored. This closes the story that started with Dick recording and shutting off the tape recorder, he calls his girlfriend, his fellow Teen Titan Starfire.

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REVIEW:

This story is wonderful in how brilliantly simple in its storytelling, with very little reason for Robin and Wonder Girl to be in costume, and for most of the story, they’re not. There are no battles and no villains, save for the lawyer that was selling children into slavery until he was exposed. Marv Wolfman wrote such an excellent story, that explores the simple question of who Donna Troy actually was. The title means so much, because this is not about Wonder Girl, but about what happened to rap a frightened little girl in a burning apartment building around fifteen years ago. This was one of those stories that didn’t try to develop subplots or add unnecessary pathos, it stayed simple and kept everything relatable on a human level. With only some slight re-writing, you could make the characters normal people in a drama or detective story and it would still work. This is one reason that I would even recommend this issue to someone that doesn’t like super-hero comics.

I mentioned the detective story because we actually see Dick Grayson do real detective work, taking hours instead of going to some dive bar and threatening people. Too many writers have forgotten that Batman is a detective and trained Robin to have the same meticulous attention to methods for finding clues and solving mysteries.

George Pérez made this some of his best artwork at the time, and it still holds as an example of his best work. He showed that he could draw normal people and make Dick Grayson and Donna Troy recognizable without their costumes. Too many artists fail at that. The only problem is that the colors are a little too flat, with Perez using sharp shadows, there is almost zero transition between brightest and darkest colors, which would have helped. Some of the uses of those transitions as shown above, are haphazardly done. The first page suffered from a horrible printing error that switched the blue and yellow plates, making for a horrible first page. I understand that this error is remedied in the collections that it appears in.

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NOTES:

This issue has been collected in numerous collections, such as The Best of DC #61, New Teen Titans, The: Who is Donna Troy?, and Teen Titans: A Celebration of 50 Years. It has also been collected in The New Teen Titans Omnibus Vol. 2, if you really like those big, all-inclusive collections of great comic book series.

If you’re looking for the individual issue, then you shouldn’t have to pay more than few bucks for it, even in pristine condition. I personally wouldn’t recommend paying more than five  dollars for a copy, and in a lesser condition, you may even be able to find a copy in bargain bins.

(FULL DISCLOSURE: The links to pages on Amazon are where you can buy those books and support Needless Essentials through their Associates program.)

FINAL RATING: 9.3 (out of a possible 10) It’s almost perfect, but sub-par coloring, even given the limitations of the time, make for the few flaws I can find with this comic. I take no points away for the printing error.