When Teen Titans by Geoff Johns and The Outsiders by Judd Winick launched in 2003, I’d been reading comics for about a decade. I still loved them, but my reading habits had changed, mostly because I was in college and diving into my to-read pile Scrooge McDuck-style when I’d come home on breaks. I still read Wizard when I could, but my actual exposure to comics was very different than it had been.
And then at some point in my junior or senior year, I discovered that a nearby hobby shop sold comics. I can’t remember if I found this out myself or if this one girl I knew mentioned it, but I started buying a few books here and there. I stuck to ones that I knew I wasn’t getting in my pull box. I think the two I started reading were Runaways and Outsiders. Not bad choices, if I do say so myself.
Later on down the line, I also got into Johns’ Teen Titans and have gone back and gotten all of the trades for both runs. Lately, I’ve been feeling nostalgic for those days leading into Infinite Crisis and 52. For me, that was the last great era of DC Comics where it seemed like a lot of people were on the same page, working for the same goal: great comics set in a well connected universe. So, why not go back and read both series’ together as well as any other relevant books that pop up?
Why not indeed! So, I went back to the very beginning and started with 2003’s Titans/Young Justice Graduation, a three issue series written by Winick with artwork by Ale Garza. For what it’s worth, I read this story in my copy of Teen Titans/Outsiders: The Death And Return Of Donna Troy, which I guess is a major spoiler for what happens in Graduation Day if you haven’t already read it. These posts will be deep dives, so expect plenty of those.
Leading up to this series, there were two books, Titans and Young Justice. The former featured the original Teen Titans, now adults, continuing their adventures but each with a trainee of sorts while the latter starred Robin (Tim Drake), Impulse, Superboy, Wonder Girl (Cassie Sandsmark) and other teen heroes. I’ve tried a few issues of Titans and they didn’t quite land with me, but I’ve grown to adore Young Justice after both Ben Morse and Rickey Purdin said how much they loved it while we were all still working at Wizard together a few years later.
Anyway, 2003 DC wanted to mix things up with these two teams and hired Winick to do exactly that with Graduation Day. He brought the teams together in the first issue by having the giant corporation Optitron offer both of them hands-off sponsorship. This might feel like a minor point now, but it’ll come back into play later on down the line.
Both squads happen to be in the San Fran-set lobby when a crazy robot from the future pops up out of nowhere and interfaces with Cyborg right in front of everyone.
The two teams jump in to defend their friend and fellow hero, and do a good enough job to chase the robot away. Even with his teammates on the ground next to him, Cyborg tries to tell everyone that the attacker didn’t mean any harm.
The next issue kicks off with the downed heroes in the hospital where S.T.A.R. Labs Dr. Sarah Charles takes over on the metahuman health issues.
Meanwhile, at the S.T.A.R. Labs site where our fallen heroes will be transferred, the mysterious blue robot reappears. There she interfaces with the system and reboots a Superman Robot, which, as you might guess, is a robot with many of Superman’s powers, but you might not know that he’s tried the idea several times only to shut them down when they become unreliable.
Back at the hospital, Nightwing and Donna Troy have a heart-to-heart before Donna does the same with her legacy, Cassie. Then Cyborg explains that the robot came from 2,000 years in the future, got damaged along the way and is simply trying to communicate with other similar robo-beings.
Before long, the still-standing heroes get word that something bad happened at the S.T.A.R. Labs site and head over to investigate. They see Superman there and are relieved at first, but that goes away when he reveals himself to be a robot while snapping Lilith’s neck. This then leads to an epic battle between Robo-Supes and the assembled might of Donna Troy, Nightwing, Tempest, Arsenal, Robin, Superboy, Wonder Girl and Impulse. Oh and Metamorpho gets woken up from a container held at the now-busted-up S.T.A.R. Labs lab.
The huge, knock-down, drag-out battle nearly comes to a close when Donna finally gets the upper hand on the droid. She’s got it on the ground and is straddled across him with her fist raised for the killing blow…when it uses its heat vision and blasts a whole right through her heart. It’s actually the blue, time-traveling robot who appears to finally take out the Superman Robot as the heroes look on, stunned.
After Donna’s funeral, Cassie tells Robin and Superboy that they’ll never learn enough to save everyone. Cyborg says, “You’re wrong…and I’ll show you why…” from a distance because he’s eavesdropping. Then Arsenal and Nightwing get into it with the latter ending his own team with, “The Titans are finished.”
The last two pages of the story actually show Donna waking up in a weird, red world, grabbing a sword and shield running off to fight something. We’ll get into that when we get to the And Return part of the trade title later on down the line.
This might seem like the perfect time to jump right into Teen Titans and or Outsiders, but wait just a second! Personally, I think it’s important to first check out Teen Titans/Outsiders Secret Files & Origins 2003 (even though it actually came out a few months after both books launched.
This issue’s got the usual pin-ups and bios, but also a great short story called “A Day After” by Winick, Johns, Ivan Reis and Carlo Barberi. Half of it’s collected in the version of Outsiders Volume 1: Looking For Trouble I have (published in 2004), but only the Outsiders-related stuff. The Titans bits are not in the first volume trade of that book I have from the same year.
Anyway, six weeks after Donna’s death, Arsenal cuts his hair, gets a great new costume and starts looking to put a team together even though Nightwing wants nothing to do with it. Meanwhile, Beast Boy and Starfire talk about how super teens need a place they can go to be themselves, which is what Cyborg alluded to while listening in in the last issue of Graduation Day.
This issue also shows Conner living in Smallville, someone stealing data about his life at Cadmus, Thunder arguing with her dad about becoming a superhero, Cassie’s school troubles, Impulse’s boredom and Arsenal visiting S.T.A.R. Labs to find out when they’re shutting down the blue robot, now dubbed Indigo.
While there, Arsenal talks with Cyborg who reiterates that she didn’t mean any harm. Roy then says that they should reactive her, reprogram her so she can’t hurt anyone again and use her for some good, a sentiment that Cyborg agrees with. Roy adds, “If she goes wrong again, it’s on me to put her down.”
Meanwhile, Metamorpho wonders why he can’t remember the details of his old life and Nightwing and Robin talk about what happened to their respective teams. Tim seems to want to get back to the team life, but Nightwing now simply desires to go it alone. The issue also contains a beautiful Donna Troy story by Phil Jimenez, but we’ll get to that later.
So that’s a lot to take in and we’re just getting started. I remember the first time I read Graduation Day, I was bummed out. Back then I was sad anytime a character got killed off. Lilith would have been one thing — I barely knew anything about her — but Donna Troy was in books I’d read for years like Wonder Woman and Green Lantern. Plus, she’s such an important — although utterly confusing — piece of the DCU fabric that it was sad seeing her go. Then again, I was no spring chicken when this happened and I assumed she’d be back relatively soon, as evidence by those last two GD pages.
Between the decimation of the previous two teams and the great set-up in the Secret Files issue, I think we’re beautifully set up to dive into the first volumes of each series next week!