Welcome to Comic Book Legends Revealed! This is the six hundred and forty-fifth week where we examine comic book legends and whether they are true or false.
As we’ve been doing it for some time now, one legend today, one tomorrow and one Sunday.
DC originally turned down New Teen Titans.
DC Comics was in a weird position at the start of the 1980s. The Direct Market was only JUST starting to play a major role in comic book sales, so DC and Marvel were still mostly beholden to the newstand market, and comic books were losing sales on that market rapidly. DC was in particularly bad shape, with only one title, Superman, doing even sort of well in the sales department. They were moving product, of course, but they were producing, say, 400,000 copies of Justice League of America and selling 100,000 copies of them and getting returns on the other 300,000. Plus, newsstands were pushing comic books out of their rack space to the point where you would have instances where you never even really knew if all of those 400,000 Justice Leagues even made it out of the delivery truck before they were just sent back for returns.
Only a year or earlier, DC had canceled a huge swath of their titles in what became known as the “DC Implosion” (in response to the fact that DC had just recently INCREASED their product line under the tag line “The DC Explosion!”). So things were looking pretty grim for DC Comics as the 1980s began.
Creatively, they had an interesting mixture of creators, as they had recruited Len Wein in 1978 and then soon after, Marv Wolfman left Marvel in a contract dispute with Marvel Editor-in-Chief, Jim Shooter, over the fact that Shooter would not allow Wolfman to edit himself on his Marvel titles, which Wolfman had been doing for years at the time (and had been doing well under the set-up). That was the same basic issue that led to Roy Thomas also leaving Marvel for DC.
So Wolfman is at DC and he’s working again with his old friend, Len Wein. Wolfman wasn’t thrilled with the books he was assigned at the time, so he wanted to launch a new title. The problem, of course, was that DC books were selling so poorly that it was an absolutely terrible time to launch a new series. He and Wein had had history with the Teen Titans, so Wolfman worked up a pitch for a NEW Teen Titans series that he would write and Wein would edit.
They pitched it to DC Comics Publisher Jenette Kahn, and Wein later recalled her reaction to Glen Cadigan…
The last time we canceled that book, it was making a profit when we canceled it, one of the few occasions in history that we canceled a successful book because we were so embarrassed by the creative content. Why in Heaven’s name would you think I would let you revive the book now?
Wolfman and Wein simply responded, “Because we’ll do it right.”
This was big, as this was their new hires essentially throwing their reputations on the line and saying, “Trust us.”
Kahn did, and when they produced New Teen Titans #1 (with art by the amazing George Perez)
Kahn liked it so much that she authorized a second New Teen Titans story to be inserted as a preview in DC Comics Presents, one of DC’s better-selling titles at the time.
Perez, by the way, also thought that the project was doomed (in large part due to DC’s poor sales at the time, so any book would seem to be dead on arrival), but he saw it as an opening to get a gig on Justice League of America if he played ball with this book.
Of course, the first issue shocked everyone by selling like crazy. Sales settled down a bit over the next few issues and then rebounded after six issues or so and then just kept going up and up until it was DC’s best-selling book by a wide margin!
The great Tom King recently noted on Twitter that there is a good case to be made that the good faith that Len Wein earned by putting his (and Wolfman’s) neck out there on New Teen Titans and succeeding big time played a major role in Wein later getting Watchmen approved by DC.
Check out some legends from Legends Revealed:
Check back Saturday for part 2 of this week’s legends!
And remember, if you have a legend that you’re curious about, drop me a line at either firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com!
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