There’s no “variant” in “team.”

§ June 14th, 2021 § Filed under teen titans, variant covers § 20 Comments

So in the mid-to-late 1940s, and just barely into the 1950s, the comic publisher Fox would put out this big ol’ funnybooks, running well over 100 pages in length:


Back at the previous place of employment, we had a few of these come through, and they were impressively thick packages. And sometimes they had pretty great covers (like the one pictured above, which I’m pretty sure was one of the copies we had).

There were three or four dozen different Fox Giants released, with titles like Almanac of Crime, Romantic Thrills, Crimes Incorporated, and, yes, really, Throbbing Love, among other parent-pleasers. Each was comprised of four previously-published Fox comics, the covers stripped, and rebound under one cover. (Were the stapled together or glue-bound? I don’t recall, but watch this space!) As noted in Overstreet and in the various GCD entries, the first story in most Fox comics began on the inside from cover, which means, with the stripped covers, some of the stories would be incomplete.

And for the purposes of today’s discussion, the contents weren’t consistent. One copy of a Revealing Love Stories giant would not necessarily have the same issues bound within as another copy of that same giant. Overstreet also notes that if a giant were to have lucked into more desirable content (like a Phantom Lady story), that Fox Giant may be priced higher than the pricing given in the guide.

That, my friends, is Variant Interiors. I can’t say as to whether it was deliberately marketed that way at the time, to encourage kids to buy multiple copies of, say, All Real Confession Magazine so they can get lots of different stories while Fox unloads a bunch of remaindered/returned coverless comics that didn’t sell the first time.

A long time ago on this very online magazine weblog, I wrote about my copy of Adventures of Patoruzu, a weird book that featured the title character, a cartoonish Native American on the cover, while containing completely unrelated funny animal content inside. According to the GCD entry, copies of this comic have been found with contents other than what I discussed and what the GCD has indexed. They say that the covers were likely printed separately back in the ’40s, then repurposed in the ’50s for other coverless comics. Mostly, perhaps, a previously unpublished issue of Animal Comics, but a couple of others apparently got the Patoruzu treatment as well.

Now let’s jump to the ’90s, where instead of taking unsold stock and putting them into new packaging to clear them out, publishers were taking brand new comics and turning them into unsold stock! But I’m getting ahead of myself.

1992’s Team Titans was a spin-off series from the New (Teen) Titans, where Marv Wolfman was finding his second, or third…or whatever, he’d found a new wind that was creating excitement and buzz around the Titans that it hadn’t really had since George Perez left the book.

Between the exciting “Titans Hunt” storyline and the new and popular Deathstroke the Terminator ongoing series, there was seemingly plenty of demand for more Titans content. And in the true excessive style of ’90s comics, a wild gimmick was devised for the first issue.

There would be five different #1s each with a different cover…that’s pretty standard. But each variant cover would also contain a different story, five stories, each focused on one member of the team.

It has been a long time since I’ve actually looked at a copy of the first issue, beyond dumping ’em in the bargain bins. I do remember buying one (just one!) for myself at the time (I pretty sure I picked the Terra issue because I wanted to know what her deal was) but man, it’s been a while. Refreshing my memory at ye olde GCD yet again, I see that the “variant” story was the lead, running 18 pages, while the back-up story was the “main” story, part 3 of the “Total Chaos” crossover, the same across all three variants, and running 22 pages.

If all that sounds pretty wasteful and ridiculous…yeah, you’re right. I mean, I suppose it’s better than just a variant cover, in that you’re receiving actual new content, but…I don’t know, I’m trying to think of ways they could have done this without basically giving someone who bought all five half a book that’s the same? Maybe a five part Team Titans prologue series, half the size of the released #1s and at lower cost? One extra-sized issue with everything, including the “Total Chaos” “main” story?

Those alternate stories were actually longer than I remembered, as I though the “Total Chaos” chapter was the first “main” story, and the different content was restricted to just a few pages. But given the significant length of the stories, this sort of variant is a little more…unfair, I guess, than just offering different covers. With variant covers, you can just pick up the copy with the image you like the most. Perhaps you like all the covers but can only pick up one…while you don’t get all the images, you are at least getting the entire story.

Whereas with Team Titans #1, if you want the whole story, you’re compelled to buy all the variants so you don’t miss anything. Granted, these are for all intents and porpoises five different comics with a shared back-up story. However, they were marketed as “the first issue” of Team Titans, it was presented as the debut of this new series, it was sold as “five different versions of #1, with alternate covers and interiors!” It says right on the cover “COLLECT ALL FIVE EDITIONS!” It was seen, psychologically, as the same comic.

Anyway, as it was the ’90s, we ordered high and it sold well-ish, though I recall have plenty left over afterwards. That was okay, we thought, as back issue sales were strong and we were sure to sell plenty of these as the years went on, presumably five at a time. But, as luck would have it, the push ‘n’ pull between what the creative team wanted to do and what DC wanted to do didn’t do the series any favors, and it came to a somewhat ignoble end just a couple of years later. Oh, and with the revelation that they were all just pawns of a bad guy anyway. You can read about the book’s travails here.

When it was new, we put together packages of the five number ones and sold them in a bundle for a small discount, though we needn’t had bothered. Most people weren’t weirdos like me and my one copy of the Terra issue and bought all five. As time went on and Team Titans went from “going concern” to “Teen Titans footnote,” back issue movement slowed down to nothing, thus beginning its migration from a slot in the bins under “T” to the purgatory of the quarter/50-cent/dollar boxes. And there they mostly remain, a forgotten artifact of that third or fourth time the New Teen Titans were red hot.

As I was putting together this post, I realized that if you’d asked me yesterday “who were the members of Team Titans,” there’s no way I would have gotten much past “Terra.” Maaaaaybe Redwing, if I dug deep. But, like, I couldn’t have come up with the hilariously-named Killowat if my life had depended on it. Even as I am typing this very sentence right now I can’t remember the names of the other two members, and I just looked a second ago to get “Killowat.”

Team Titans wasn’t the only modern comic to try the “variant interiors” thing, 1998’s Fathom did so, in its first issue:


…which had three main variants available on the stands, not counting the “Wizard variant” or whatever. But each of the three variants had alternate story pages…not nearly to the extent of Team Titans, as I think it was only a couple at pages at most. I tried looking once, a long time ago, and alas Fathom makes zero impression on me, and whatever I was looking at just went in the eyes and out the ears and I retaining nothing of what I saw. Thus I’m just going on what I remember reading about it and hope that’s right.

Now these aren’t nearly all the “variant interior” comics that were marketed as such. There’s 1996’s Savage Dragon #31, where you can get a version with a dirty word in big letters on one page, and a version (with a variant cover featuring “God Is Good” printed in the Image logo) without said naughty word.

There was also Barry Blair’s Leather and Lace, which, at least for part of the series, was offered in “Adults Only” and “General Audiences” editions “for his younger fans” with all the Tab-A-Fitting-Into-Slot-B content removed. Frankly, the “General Audiences” edition wasn’t really fit for children anyway, as I recall.

All this leaves out the “printing error” variants, as those were accidents and not intentionally marketed as differing editions available to consumers. Like, I don’t imagine Marvel intentionally wanted a copy of Wolverine with an in-dialogue slur as an alternative version side by side with the one without on the shelf. But I will say I’m still looking for a copy of the All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder #10 with the semi-visible dirty words that was recalled and reissued. Anyway, there are lots of examples of errors with corrected printings.

I’m sure I’m missing some other examples of intentional variant interiors. (And before anyone brings up 1990’s Exquisite Corpse, that’s a whole weird thing that’s sorta related to this, but not really. I’ll try to explain that eventually.) If you can think of any of the intentional variety that I didn’t mention, just drop ’em in the ol’ comments section.

Up next in the variant cover-age: maybe the 35-cent test market Marvel books? I’ll see what I can dig up on those. As always, thanks for reading, pals.

• • •

EDIT: Reader BobH has added some valuable information, including reminding me that the Team Titans first issues were all priced at a normal-sized comic’s price for the time. As he said, it still felt like a rip given the repeated content of the “main” story.

BobH also mentions Outsiders Alpha and Outsiders Omega from ’93, with separate mostly-different stories, with a handful of shared pages. I’d honestly forgotten about that. Reminds me a bit of this Fantastic Four Annual and the Avengers Annual from 1985 and their shared pages (though with different inkers).

Matthew also brings up Marvel’s Slingers, where there were four variants of the first issue, where part of the story would focus on a different one of the four main characters. Dating from 1998, clearly my long decades toiling in the comic field drove this from my memory. Not to mention the fact I can’t even remember the last time I handled a copy of Slingers.

As far as repurposed coverless comics rebound for newsstand sale, Andrew remembers this being fairly common in the UK during his childhood. And ArghSims notes that the old EC Annuals did the same thing.

20 Responses to “There’s no “variant” in “team.””

  • will richards says:

    Loving this thread!

  • Matthew E says:

    That Titans gimmick ticked me off so much at the time, I quit collecting comics for about a decade.

    If I had it to do all over again, I wouldn’t have quit entirely; I would have continued with LSH, Sandman, and Groo. As it is I eventually started jonesing for the Legion so much I jumped back in, and was able to mostly catch up on Sandman and LSH, but Groo back issues are scarce in the wild.

  • Thelonious_Nick says:

    “Each was comprised of four previously-published Fox comics, the covers stripped, and rebound under one cover.”

    I’m surprised this hasn’t been done more often in comics history because it’s kind of brilliant. Would drive collectors nuts, of course. But not a bad deal for readers, especially if you’re, say, a kid who just wants a lot of comics reading material for a long car trip.

  • Glenn says:

    I don’t remember that Titans line-up *at all.* I know most of the characters but I’ve never heard of Redwing and I don’t know why Michal Morbius is there.

    Now, who wants to come upstairs and see my Throbbing Love?

  • Chris Gumprich says:

    I knew you’d get to TEAM TITANS eventually. Released when I was at my peak of Titans fandom, and was the trigger for me to start dropping them. Within a year I had given up on Titans completely.

    The concept wasn’t a bad one really, but it was an unneeded bit of confusion in the otherwise-good “Titans Hunt” storyline, and just wasn’t strong enough to hang a spinoff.

    And the less said about “Battalion” and “Deathwing” the better.

  • BobH says:

    Should be noted that at least TEAM TITANS #1 was priced the same as a normal issue, so if you only bought one you effectively got the origin story of the character of your choice free, and if you bought all five you got approximately five issues worth of comics for the price of five. It just felt like you were getting ripped off because you ended up with four duplicate copies of the main story.

    They did another variation of this the next year with THE OUTSIDERS (https://www.comics.org/issue/247623/), releasing “alpha” and “omega” versions of the first issue, mostly different comics following each half of the team, with the stories overlapping for a few pages when they end up in the same place. Don’t recall how many pages are repeated, but it’s a 26-page story instead of the 24-page standard of the time, so if it was four repeat pages you wound up with two issues for the price of two, even if it didn’t feel like that (and if they just made it a double sized issue it probably would have cost $2.99 instead of $3.50).

  • ArghSims says:

    EC did that repackaging trick as well for their annuals.

    https://www.comics.org/series/13243/

  • Andrew Davison says:

    When I was a kid in the UK in the 1960s, there use to be quite a few of these rebound comics for sale. I still have one (or more) at home — an assortment of Marvel and DC comics (a Fantastic Four story, and a Batman, at least).

    I think they were a result of the policy of distributors returning covers of unsold comics to the publishers for a refund. The distributors were meant to pulp the rest of the unsold comic, but repackaged them instead.

    I vaguely remember reading that these comics were also
    repurposed “comics as ship ballast”.

  • Snark Shark says:

    “Team Titans”

    I’d rather read “March of Crime”!

    Andrew Davison: “comics as ship ballast”

    Now, that would be the ONLY suitable use for Barry Blair comics!

  • Thom H. says:

    From their Wikipedia entry, Team Titans sounds like a huge mess. If DC really did want the book to be their answer to Liefeld’s X-Force, then they missed every single characteristic that made that comic popular. Except maybe “alternate timeline”? Kevin Maguire is much too talented to turn in hacky, XTREME art. And not a gun or sword in sight.

    Even if I had been a Titans completist at this point, I would have thought twice before I dropped almost $9 on the third part of this storyline. At least with the Outsiders gimmick BobH mentioned, you only had to buy one extra comic that week, not four.

  • Cassandra Miller says:

    Am I misremembering, or did all the issues of Team Titans #1 also come bagged with a trading card of the respective member?

  • Mikester says:

    Cassandra – somehow, DC missed this bet. No polybags or cards!

  • Matthew Surridge says:

    Marvel did the same variant-interior team book scheme with the Spider-Man spinoff Slingers: “… the first issue had four variant covers: each one featuring a different member of the team. Nothing wrong with that. However, the covers were not the only difference among these four variants. Each one contained sixteen pages exclusively on the cover-character. So, if you wanted each character’s full story, it would cost you almost $12.”

    https://www.popmatters.com/115753-slingers-2496121217.html

  • […] added some good information to Monday’s post in regards to variant interiors and repackaged remainders. I added a big ol’ addendum to that […]

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    American comics were definitely used as ship’s ballast during World War II. Once safely in England, they would be sold at reduced prices. George Orwell wrote about this in one of his “As I Please” newspaper columns, claiming that they were generally known as “Yank mags.” In this column, he describes coming upon an issue of MLJ’s “Hangman Comics.” He was, as you might expect, appalled.

    Incidentally, the fact that MLJ comics were available in England during the ’40s makes me assume that there was something more than mere coincidence in the name that ventriloquist Peter Brough came up with for his dummy: Archie Andrews. (If you find the name “Archie Andrews” in something British, this will almost always be a reference to the dummy, not the comics character. Brough was the star of a long-running radio series, “Educating Archie.” It was very popular in its day, and the BBC still runs it occasionally–though now, that is not because of Archie, but because of the supporting cast, which included Julie Andrews, Benny Hill, Bruce Forsyth, Tony Hancock, and Harry Secombe.)

    I will still give the benefit of doubt to the creators of the British cop show “Strange Report,” and assume that they did not have the comics character in mind when they named their hero Adam Strange. I think it more likely they were influenced by the previous year’s film “The Strange Affair,” starring Michael York as a policeman named Peter Strange.

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    By the way: If you ever occasion to use the phrase “Yank mags,” be very clear at the start that you mean American comic books. Otherwise, people will give it a very different interpretation.

    I know this from bitter experience.

  • Snark Shark says:

    “Fantastic Four Annual and the Avengers Annual from 1985”

    Now, THAT was actually COOL.

  • Andrew Davison says:

    Turan — interesting stuff. It brings to mind the question of if “The Avengers” TV show influenced the naming of “The Avengers” comic. It seems unlikely according to the show’s Wikipedia entry.

  • Andrew Davison says:

    I just wasted a few minutes tracking down Turan’s intriguing George Orwell reference.

    The “Hangman” cover can be found at:

    http://premiumblend.net/2010/02/21/ok-now-hes-just-piling-on-george-orwell-on-american-coloured-comic-books-part-3/

    The complete article by Orwell is online at:

    http://www.telelib.com/authors/O/OrwellGeorge/essay/tribune/AsIPlease19461227.html

  • Pj says:

    The first mini-series I did (The Utopian) offered “regular” and “deluxe” editions of the first few issues; they had different covers, same contents, but the deluxe editions were in full color (versus black and white for the non-deluxe).

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