Traditionally, the issues after a big storyline in a comic book are pretty tame. Unless the reader knows that something big is right around the corner, a writer will spend that next issue cooling things down, whether it be Superman and Batman stopping a one-of villain or X-Factor going into therapy.
Marv Wolfman, over the course of his run on New Teen Titans and New Titans, became somewhat of an expert at the post-event story, starting all the way back in 1981 with “Private Lives,” the acclaimed story in New Teen Titans #8. The team had just formed, encountered Deathstroke, and fought back both Trigon and the Fearsome Five, so Wolfman and George Perez took an issue to show the heroes getting their lives in order before ramping up a multi-issue storyline that involved Deathstroke, the Titans of Myth, and a hunt for the killers of the Doom Patrol. Similarly, the parade/camping issue of #6 of the Baxter series came between a Trigon and Titans of Myth story.
There seems to be a pattern there.
Anyway, Wolfman seemed to be very aware that big events or moments, especially tragic ones, don’t end neatly, and many take a long time to resolve. The most famous new Teen Titans storyline of all, “The Judas Contract” (which I will delve into one day) officially endedn in New Teen Titans Annual #3, but there was action versus one of that story’s villains–The HIVE–for three more issues, and the resolution between the titans and Deathstroke wouldn’t come up until nearly a year later with a scene in a coffee shop.
So it is with “Titans Hunt/The Jericho Gambit.” At the end of New Titans #84, the Titans have escaped what’s left of Azareth and are sitting around wondering: a) what the hell just happened, b) what’s going to happen next, and c) does anyone have some clothes we can borrow? When “Dirge” begins in issue #85, what happens next is Jericho’s funeral, which Slade Wilson does not officially attend (he chooses the tried and true tactic of being in the cemetery but staying far away from everyone) and that leads to resentment from our heroes, who are already acting self-righteous because he killed his own son. Then again, you can kind of excuse it because they’re obviously working through some serious grief.
From there, we’re taken to several pages’ worth of revelations, as the Titans slowly learned what has happened when they were captive. You tend to forget that a lot happened to this team in what was supposed to be a pretty short period of time, like a few weeks or a month, which is something you never really get when you buy comics from month to month because it’s hard to separate real time from fake comic book time. But read all of the issues back to back and you’ll be able to get the feeling that a lot of this happened very fast, but even if it happened over a prolonged period of time it’s necessary to see how deep the cuts from the Wildebeest Society go. For instance, Aquaman shows up to STAR labs to retrieve his former sidekick, Aqualad (yeah, not so much with naming comics characters in the 1960s) and take him back to Atlantis for treatment; plus, we get to see Changeling react to Cyborg’s condition.
I can imagine that this was one of those moments that longtime Titans fans were curious about or dreading ever since Vic Stone’s rocket blew up at the end of issue 75 and he walked through the Russian science complex in a new suit but completely catatonic in issue 77. Vic and Gar’s friendship was one of the key relationships in the team and to have this broken up was going to cause major reprucussions, especially for Gar, who was the youngest Titan and resident smartass. In fact, as we go through the next 50 issues of the title, we will see Mr. Logan become so wayward that he becomes a villain and that starts on page eight of issue 85 when he sees what has become of his friend and is shocked that when they told him Cyborg was a vegetable, they weren’t kidding.
The Cyborg story would become a headache for Titans fans, as it dragged on for a few years (much to even the writer’s chagrin, from what I’ve read) and even when it started I don’t remember caring too much about his relationship with Changeling, but that’s mainly because my favorite character in the book at this time was Nightwing.
Dick Grayson had been the reason I started reading New Titans, not just because of the Batman connection but becasue i was also a huge fan of Robin, who at this point was being “played” by Tim Drake. Even though the Nightwing persona was a little darker (well, as dark as you can get with a disco collar) than Robin, he was not as tamped down and emotionally distant as Bruce Wayne had become. Woflman did an extraordinary job making Nightwing an almost perfect combination of batman and Robin, and had even gone so far as to establish a comfortable life for him, what with a long-term relationship with Starfire and proud leadership of the Titans. Now it was time to take a lot of that away.
He would start with the Terminator, who had just gotten his own series and would wind up having both a mental and physical breakdown in the first year after killing Jericho, which by the time he confronted the Titans again would find him a fugitive from justice who was losing his powers. But before he could do that, he and Nightwing would have to have it out, if not for the characters’ sake, than for the readers’ sake.
In the time it took for me to get from New Titans #71 in September 1990 and New Titans #86 in March 1992, I’d gone from the beginning of eighth grade to the end of ninth grade, which meant moving from junior high to high school and also meant that I’d had plenty of time to amass a decent comis collection. This was the days of Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man and Jim Lee’s X-Men, so nobody was buying old Wolfman-Perez New Teen Titans back issues and that meant I could get them for about $2.00 apiece at Amazing Comics. I got to know most of the characters pretty well and knew that you didn’t team Nightwing up with his greatest adversary without something going wrong somewhere.
Issue 86 promised that, as the cover showed Nightwing fighting Deathstroke with teasers like: “This issue! Nightwing vs. Terminator! –And only ONE shall lead!” This was enough to get me really hped when I snatched it off the comic store shelf and I am sure that I was so eager to read it that I rode my bike straight to the public library one block over and read it at a table instead of waiting the extra five minutes to get home.
Sadly, the knock-down/drag-out fight that my fourteen-year-old self was hoping would happen didn’t and instead of 22 pages of Slade and Dick beating the piss out of one another for true leadership of the Titans, I got “If This Be Chaos,” most of which served to set up the next storyline (which I will get to next month) and made me wait until the last few pages for the advertised fight. This became one of my first lessons in comic book cover deception and I am sure that I would have remained disappointed in, if not annoyed with Marv Wolfman if the art hadn’t hadn’t been flat-out amazing (by Jerome Moore, who at that point was mainly known for drawing the covers to Star Trek comics but really outdoes himself here. You can see some of the uncolored pages here and they really are amazing) and the writing been some of the best five pages involving Nightwing that he’d ever done.
We begin with sunset on the island that once held Titans Tower and this is where we see Nightwing–sans mask–contemplating what the Wildebeests did to his team. A guy in a construction hat reminds us of the further cost to the team: a city councilwoman, Liz Alderman, has made persecution of the Tiatns from New York City her main concern. The way she sees it, the team owes the city for damages caused when the tower exploded and set half of the East Side on fire, and this is the perfect platform on which to run for mayor. It is–until later events more or less derail the story (as you’ll see)–one of the better politicians vs. superheroes stories. Because usually, politicians take on heroes because they see a threat to their power and influence (and said power and influence usually has organized crime ties) or they’re stoking fear or racism. With the Alderman storyline that begins here, we simply have a political opportunist, one who has ambitions for a higher office and seizes on one event or one issue and tries to ride it all the way to the election. And soon, she’ll be grabbing much of the spotlight. Right now, however, the city has simply repossessed the island.
Dick’s about to get all emo when he hears someone coming and instantly knows it’s Deathstroke. Wilson gives him some flack about regurgitating the past but instead of getting into a discussion about the five stages of grief, Dick lashes out, punching him and kicking him, accusing Slade of murder. Wilson doesn’t fight back until he’s had enough and says, “Get it all out. Get it all out of your system. And maybe you’ll realize you weren’t he only one who lost someone. I LOST A SON!”
Grayson respons true to character: “I … I –Ahh, dammit. How the hell do people like you and Bruce keep it bottled up inside you? Odn’t you ever have to cut loose? To let go? If I didn’t … I think I’d explode.” Doon after, they part ways. Deathstroke’s story continues in the first issue of his own series and we’ll see Dick Grayson’s life gradually unravel until he walks away from the Titans in 1994.
At the time, I didn’t realize that this is where Wolfman’s renassiance would start to crest. The peak would last the better part of a year, and I am not going to get into everything about the downside now because at the time I really didn’t see a downside. In fact, all I kept seeing was the upside here. I hate to perpetuate a stereotype, but I spent most of ninth grade becoming more and more of a dork. Sure, i had friends and I wasn’t fulfilling that ultimate “mom’s basement” stereotype for a comics fan because I spent much of my weekends playing hockey or football. But some of the friends I’d spent my youth with were now heading toward social lives and girls and I wasn’t. I don’t remember feeling very lonely per se; however, when I glance through old journals I was definitely a bit lovesick, pining after girls who barely knew I existed and struggling with being a very smart kid who was expected to be smart and wasn’t living up to his own expectations.
It’s cliche to say that comics were a refuge, becuase they weren’t, at least not entirely. But comics were that one thing that I seemed to really know. I’d go to Harris’s house every Wednesday and when we weren’t playing video games or watching the Super Mario Bros. Super Show, we were poring over the latest comics or reading months’ worth of Direct Currents, which was DC’s monthly solicitation magazine that we got for free before we started pull lists and were getting Previews each month. We knew every character and all of the goings on, so much so that our letters became regular and even published, the first one coming in New Titans #85.
What did that letter say? Well, we’ll have to find out about that next time.
Next Time: From Armageddon to Chaos, it’s the Teen Titans and the next big storyline.