Over the course of 53 years, the Teen Titans have developed from a sidekick-centered “Junior Justice League” into a peer group for DC’s younger superheroes. Three generations have passed through its ranks, with some graduating to the adjective-less adult Titans and even to the League itself. Once considered an artifact of the Silver Age, the Teen Titans are now a pillar of DC’s legacy structure.
With Warner Brothers preparing a “Titans” TV series as part of its DC-centric streaming service, today we’re ranking the best and worst incarnations of the Teen Titans teams. Because the comics have given us so many different sets of Teen Titans from which to choose, we’re excluding the various adaptations in other media, as well as the older groups like the New Titans. That still leaves us plenty to discuss, so let’s get to it!
15. BEST: TEEN TITANS TAKE TWO (1976-78)
The original “Teen Titans” series didn’t make it very far into the 1970s, and was cancelled with January-February 1973’s issue #43. However, as part of a mid-1970s strategy to expand its comics lineup and increase its market share, DC revived “Teen Titans” for what turned out to be a 10-issue run. The new series reunited original members Robin (Dick Grayson), Kid Flash (Wally West), Aqualad (Garth), Wonder Girl (Donna Troy) and Speedy (Roy Harper). It also brought back Mal Duncan, an ordinary teenager who joined in the short-lived “no costumes” period. This time, though, Mal went full-on superhero, trying out three different identities — Golden Guardian (based on the 1940s hero), Herald and Hornblower — over the course of the run.
Mal’s girlfriend Karen Beecher also joined, as the Wasp-like Bumblebee. Robin’s new nemesis Duela Dent was there too, becoming Harlequin after brief stints as the sort-of villainous Catgirl, Riddler’s Daughter and Joker’s Daughter. Despite very 1970s touches like being headquartered in a Long Island disco, overall it was a good update. We like this version of “Teen Titans” for continuing the group’s development from Silver Age sidekicks to more mature heroes.
14. WORST: WONDER GIRL’S “ORIGINAL” TEEN TITANS (1986)
For a brief period in 1986-87, the New Teen Titans broke up. Starfire was in an arranged marriage on Tamaran, Raven and Nightwing were prisoners of Brother Blood, and Cyborg and Changeling left to look for Changeling’s deranged dad, the ex-superhero Mento. Therefore, when Wonder Girl got a tip that their old foe Cheshire was planning an assassination, she recruited the only Titans left. The problem was, none of them were quite their old selves.
Wally West was now the Flash, but slower than usual; Hank “Hawk” Hall was mourning his brother’s death; and Roy Harper hadn’t yet told the team that he was Cheshire’s babydaddy. Perhaps worst of all, Wonder Girl was looking to Robin for leadership — but this Robin was the inexperienced Jason Todd. Among all of them, Aqualad was probably the most well-adjusted. This group’s only adventure came in “New Teen Titans” vol. 2 issues #20-21 (May-June 1986). They stopped Cheshire, and Flash and Aqualad stuck around for a few more issues; but those two issues were a rough ride. Still, this group of Teen Titans wasn’t supposed to be that good, so dubbing them one of the “worst” may be a little unfair.
13. BEST: REBIRTHED TEEN TITANS (2016-PRESENT)
Regardless of era, odds are the Teen Titans are led by a current or former Robin. When the current Robin considers leadership part of his birthright, though, the team’s dynamics gain a whole new dimension. Such is the case with the current group, brought together by Damian Wayne and featuring a roster of Starfire, Beast Boy, Raven, Kid Flash (Wally West II) and Aqualad (Jackson Hyde). With Damian putting himself in charge of a team which boasts three more experienced heroes, “Teen Titans” is full of personality clashes. However, writer Benjamin Percy and artists Jonboy Meyers and Koi Pham have made those clashes very entertaining.
Of course Damian will mellow out to meet his teammates’ needs; and of course his teammates will recognize Damian’s raw talent even as they chafe under his domineering style. The fact that Damian picked these particular heroes to help him against Rā’s al-Ghūl adds yet another layer to their interactions. Nevertheless, the Rebirthed “Teen Titans” uses that friction to tweak the classic all-star structure, giving the book a welcome freshness and energy. It’s a fun spin on an old format, which fits “Rebirth’s” goals generally.
12. WORST: DAN JURGENS’ TEEN TITANS (1996-98)
This group of Teen Titans was a blend of new characters wrapped in old continuity. “New Teen Titans” had just ended a 16-year, 189-issue run which spanned two volumes. In its wake, Dan Jurgens and George Pérez collaborated on a new set of teenaged heroes; namely Argent, Risk, Prysm, Joto and (later) Fringe. They all shared basically the same origin. Each had an extraterrestrial parent, thanks to the H’San Natall, a race that wanted to destroy Earth’s super-population from within. With Superman’s help, the Titans convinced the H’San Natall to leave Earth alone, and in the meantime, they had some unremarkable adventures.
Speaking of that old continuity, the Titans’ leader was the Atom (Ray Palmer), who himself had been de-aged to 16 years old; they were joined by the mysterious hooded psychic called Omen; and their benefactor was erstwhile Titans sponsor Loren Jupiter. Eventually, other ex-Titans like Nightwing, Flash and Arsenal guest-starred, and Captain Marvel Jr. joined the team (asking to be called “CM3” for some reason). Still, it was too little, too late; and except for Argent (who joined a later Titans team and showed up in “JLA”), these Teen Titans mostly faded away.
11. BEST: POST-JUDAS CONTRACT NEW TEEN TITANS (1984-87)
Perhaps the most familiar New Teen Titans lineup, this roster includes Nightwing (Dick Grayson), Wonder Girl (Donna Troy), Starfire, Cyborg, Changeling (the former Beast Boy), Jericho and precocious telekinetic Danny Chase. These characters suffered through Terra’s death, celebrated Wonder Girl’s wedding, and even broke up for an extended period. In the real world, it also saw co-creator/penciller George Pérez leave the book to focus on other projects (like “Crisis On Infinite Earths” and “Wonder Woman”) — so that co-creator/writer Marv Wolfman had to guide the Titans with the help of Pérez’s successors.
Ironically, this was the lineup that Wolfman and Pérez had been cultivating since the book launched in 1980; and it was during this period that Wolfman brought closure to the series’ long-simmering subplots. Deathstroke retired, Brother Blood was defeated, Trigon crumbled into dust, Starfire settled her role on her home planet, Beast Boy got a girlfriend and Cyborg even got human-looking parts (which didn’t take). While it meant a lot to longtime readers, it left the team without much of a purpose… until Pérez returned and the “New Titans” era began.
10. WORST: “52’s” TEEN TITANS (2006-07)
After the upheavals of “Infinite Crisis,” many of DC’s super-people spent the next year in a state of flux; and the Teen Titans were no different. With Robin obsessing over bringing Superboy back to life, and other teammates off on their own quests, Raven and Beast Boy tried to hold the team together. In the process, some 20 members came and went, including an all-new Hawk & Dove, Zatanna’s cousin Zachary Zatara, Plastic Man’s son Offspring, Robin’s Earth-3 counterpart Talon and his girlfriend Joker’s Daughter, New Gods Power Boy and Little Barda, the shrinking Molecule, the cooperative speedsters Mas y Menos, Young Frankenstein, Osiris, Riddler’s Daughter, Red Star, Captain Marvel Jr., Flamebird (formerly known as Bat-Girl), Hotspot (formerly Joto), Argent and Mirage. (Whew!)
Again, while it may be unfair to label this group of Titans one of the “worst” — or even to call it a “group” — under the circumstances, it never had much of a chance to be one of the best. Still, if these folks had a compelling story to tell, we’d have heard it by now. Absent such a revelation, we don’t think the Teen Titans of “52’s” lost year can be one of the team’s better rosters.
9. BEST: TITANS WEST (1977-78)
Organized in “Teen Titans” vol. 1 #50 (October 1977) as part of the mid-1970s revival, Teen Titans West included some heroes who’d worked with the Titans previously, plus a couple who’d been all but forgotten. Former Titans Lilith Clay, Gnarrk and Hawk & Dove joined Beast Boy, Hawkman protegé Golden Eagle and the original Bat-Girl (Betty Kane) in the group’s fight against Captain Calamity, a bi-coastal bad guy who tried to hijack an aircraft carrier and float Long Island out to sea.
While it lasted, Titans West was an all-star alternative to the East Coast Titans team. In contrast to the main group, Titans West included only one real sidekick (Bat-Girl), since Golden Eagle never really worked with Hawkman and Beast Boy was just the youngest member of the Doom Patrol. This made it a different kind of teen super-group than the main Titans, because its members brought a range of experiences to the team. Titans West didn’t last long as such — in fact, “Teen Titans” ended an issue after the three-part “Titans West” arc — but the group showed up occasionally in flashback tales, and inspired alternate Titans groups for decades to come.
8. WORST: TEAM TITANS (1991-94)
The group which came to be called “Team Titans” originated in one of DC’s possible dystopian futures from 1991’s “Armageddon 2001” crossover. There, the Titans were freedom fighters who rebelled against the super-powered Lord Chaos. Led by a more cynical Nightwing, they included shape-shifter Mirage, earth-mover Terra, flying Redwing, vampire Nightrider, energy-projecting Killowat, electronic presence Prester Jon, and the Cable-esque Battalion. Eventually, they were sent through time on a mission to kill Lord Chaos’ mother before she could give birth. Problem was, Lord Chaos was the son of (wait for it) Donna Troy!
As you might expect, before long, the Team Titans and New Titans joined forces, and defeated Lord Chaos while saving Donna. However, this left the Team Titans stranded in the past, since their own timeline had been destroyed. Making matters worse, the future Nightwing turned evil, took the name Deathwing and journeyed to the past as well. Envisioned as a companion team — the X-Force to the New Titans’ X-Men — it all made for a messy “Team Titans” series which still lasted 24 issues, running from September 1992 to September 1994. In the end, most of the Team Titans were erased from history by “Zero Hour,” which sounds about right.
7. BEST: SILVER AGE ORIGINALS (1964-73)
They weren’t the first teenaged super-team (the X-Men had appeared eight months before the proto-Titans’ July 1964 “Brave and the Bold” #60 team-up), but the original Teen Titans — Robin, Kid Flash, Aqualad, Wonder Girl and Speedy — created the model for the teen groups which followed. Just as importantly, that group of sidekicks showed that the JLA’s all-star formula could be duplicated for another demographic. The difference was that the Titans brought more of their personalities to their adventures, and treated their team like a hangout as well as a force for good.
Problem was, “Teen Titans” began as a painfully un-hip attempt by super-square DC to co-opt the burgeoning 1960s youth culture. However, as the decade progressed and the Titans slowly aged (including Dick Grayson moving on to college), “Teen Titans” lost its “Monkees”-esque humor and became more of a conventional superhero title. The new focus allowed the Titans to come into their own as heroes (foreshadowing their eventual “graduations”), and set the stage for them to mentor new characters like Lilith and Mal. Later creative teams would come back to these developments as the Titans became part of DC’s generational chain.
6. WORST: NEW 52 TEEN TITANS (2011-2016)
Some groups of Teen Titans have included kid sidekicks, and some have been composed primarily of new characters. As impossible as it may sound, the New 52’s “Teen Titans” were neither. Thanks to the New 52’s continuity reboot, Robin (Tim Drake), Superboy (Kon-El), Wonder Girl (Cassie Sandsmark) and Kid Flash (Bart Allen) were no longer that close — if at all — to their adult counterparts; but clearly they weren’t new characters. (To be sure, this “Teen Titans” included some new-ish characters too, including Solstice, Bunker and Skitter.) Considering that Robin, Superboy, Wonder Girl and Kid Flash had been part of the same super-team book since “Young Justice’s” early issues in 1998, that was a lot of interpersonal history to wipe away.
The new character dynamics took some getting used to. Wonder Girl was a thief, Kid Flash was a fugitive terrorist from the future, and Superboy was still acclimating to the outside world. By the time Raven appeared and the team battled Trigon, the book was a churning soup of plot twists and frantic art. We haven’t even mentioned the redesigned costumes.
5. BEST: YOUNG JUSTICE (1998-2003)
For five years “Young Justice” was the Teen Titans in all but name. It had a Robin (Tim Drake), a Wonder Girl (Cassie Sandsmark), a speedster (Bart “Impulse” Allen), an archer (Cissie “Arrowette” King-Jones), and an aquatic hero (Lagoon Boy). Superboy (Kon-El) was also part of the group, thanks to his team-up with Robin and Impulse in the “JLA: World Without Grown-Ups” miniseries. In fact, each of the three had his own series when “YJ” came along — a first for any Titans-type group. Accordingly, “Young Justice” saw DC taking advantage of its newest generation of legacy characters, after several years of Titans teams getting away from that model.
Under writer Peter David and penciller Todd Nauck, “Young Justice” was a pun-infused comedy, superficially similar to “Justice League International” but with a slightly wackier tone. Like “JLI,” the book focused on relationships, showing the beginnings of friendships and romances which would help define these characters. “Young Justice” also got serious on occasion, as members dealt with personal demons and other tragedies. It was grounded firmly in current DC events, and even spun off its own crossover, “Sins of Youth.”
4. WORST: THE LOW POINT (2007-08)
After Geoff Johns left “Teen Titans” in July 2007’s issue #46, so did Starfire, Cyborg, Raven, Beast Boy and Jericho. The roster became unsettled: Blue Beetle and Supergirl (briefly) joined; and Ravager and Robin left. Ultimately, a membership drive added Kid Eternity, Aquagirl, Static and Bombshell. Still, the changes kept coming, as Red Devil sacrificed himself and Kid Eternity was kidnapped. Meanwhile, the Titans fought the Calculator, an evil-again Jericho and the diabolical Terror Titans.
None of it was particularly engaging, but the low point came in issue #62. Wendy and Marvin Harris, in the book since issue #34, turned out to be the Calculator’s children. Despite patching up Cyborg and becoming Titans Tower’s caretakers, they still felt under-appreciated. Given the team’s other interpersonal drama, this wasn’t unexpected. It set the stage for #62, when the stray pooch they’d nicknamed “Wonderdog” turned into a hellhound, tore out Marvin’s throat and put Wendy in a coma. Learning of this, the vengeful Calculator set the Fearsome Five against the Titans, killing Red Devil in the process. This descent into overwrought soap opera and cheap shocks came from the book’s lack of direction, and the fluctuating roster was just another symptom of that.
3. BEST: TEEN TITANS 3.0 (2003-06)
In 2003, the “Titans/Young Justice: Graduation Day” miniseries brought both “YJ” and the adult “Titans” series to a tragic end. A Nightwing-led “Outsiders” series replaced “Titans,” while Robin, Wonder Girl, Kid Flash (formerly Impulse) and Superboy were the core of the new “Teen Titans.” Joining them were old pros Beast Boy, Starfire and Cyborg, with Raven and Jericho showing up later on. Unlike today’s Damian Wayne-led team, there wasn’t much of a generation gap between older and younger characters. Although the light-heartedness of “Young Justice” was largely absent, its relationships progressed considerably.
Written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Mike McKone, the group faced traditional Titans foes like Deathstroke, Brother Blood and Doctor Light; and learned that Superboy had been cloned partially from Lex Luthor. The Titans were also involved in the run up to the Johns-written “Infinite Crisis,” including the “Return of Donna Troy” miniseries. However, “Infinite Crisis” shook the Titans to their core. The deranged Superboy-Prime killed Superboy, Cyborg was damaged severely, Starfire was teleported across the galaxy and Kid Flash’s trip through the Speed Force aged him prematurely into the newest Flash. The Teen Titans continued, but with a very different roster.
2. WORST: THE PLAINCLOTHES TEEN TITANS (1970-71)
As the 1960s gave way to the 1970s, DC aimed to modernize its superheroes. Green Arrow lost his fortune, Wonder Woman gave up her costume and powers, and the Teen Titans gained a couple of new members — and also gave up their costumes and powers. It started in “Teen Titans” vol. 1 issue #25 (January-February 1970), when the Titans failed to prevent the death of a prominent peace activist. Since psychic Lilith Clay had warned the Titans beforehand, the remorseful teens agreed to join a youth program sponsored by Lilith’s benefactor, Loren Jupiter. (The college-bound Robin demurred.) Moreover, the Titans volunteered not to use their costumes or powers in order to prove to themselves that they could succeed without them.
While that might sound intriguing for a few issues, it was presented as a wholesale change, and it made for some fairly underwhelming comics. It didn’t even last that long: in issue #28, Aqualad chastised the Titans for abandoning their responsibilities. By issue #29, the Titans were back in the super-swing of things, helping their undersea teammate defeat Ocean Master. Although the “plainclothes” setup didn’t go away completely, the Titans realized they couldn’t just stop being superheroes.
1. BEST: PRE-“JUDAS CONTRACT” NEW TEEN TITANS (1980-84)
You can’t talk about DC Comics in the 1980s without mentioning the New Teen Titans, and the first few years of “New Teen Titans” are perhaps the best any Titans book has ever been. Wolfman and Pérez found Robin, Wonder Girl and Kid Flash near the end of their teenage years (although Wonder Girl was already somehow an accomplished photographer at age 18), threw in the 16-year-old Beast Boy — now wanting to be called “Changeling” — and created three new characters to play off them. Everybody had a long-term subplot, and the new characters felt like old favorites. Most importantly, the Titans finally distinguished themselves from the Justice League, as Robin told off Batman about the League’s refusal to help Raven against her demonic father.
After two years — which culminated not just in the introduction of Brother Blood, but Starfire’s hardcore duel with her malevolent sister — Wolfman and Pérez raised the stakes by introducing Terra, another new character. A flinty 15-year-old hardened by her experiences, Terra ended up testing the Titans in every way. Her no-nonsense inclusion in the otherwise sunny relationships made the book even better, and set up one of comics’ great tragedies.
Which Teen Titans teams are at the top and bottom of your list? Let us know in the comments!