Terminators, Terrible Toddlers, and Terra (My Life as a Teen Titan, Part Seven)

The last page of New Titans #79, which introduced the new, time-tossed Teen Titans

“Dagon.  Chatter at Ground one.”

“Already misting, Jon-boy.”

“Hi, any luck?”

“Uh-uh.  Pulled a huss.”

“What if we don’t find her?”

“We will.  And we’ll kill her.”

‘Time’s on our side.  We can’t fail.”

“So why did you call us here, Jon?”

“We don’t need to talk.  We need to find Troy.”

“Terra says she found something.”

“And I have.  Troia’s ours for the killing.”

The era of the Titans that I am focusing on is generally, at least from what I understand, controversial.  I don’t think it’s very well-liked because characters that people loved were killed off or injured beyond repair or because what the stories began in New Titans #71 eventually morphed into.  But I defy anyone who wants to piss all over this run of stories to tell me that they didn’t read the last page of New Titans #79 and get completely psyched.  I was, and I was completely incapacitated.

Summers, in the past, were never good for any of my collecting habits.  When I had first started collecting comics with G.I. Joe and The Transformers back in 1987-1988, I didn’t get past issue 67 of G.I. Joe and issue 34 of Transformers because I went away for part of July, came back, and spent so much time playing sports with friends that comics and the toys they more or less advertised took a back seat to baseball and football and then the onset of puberty.  However, between the eighth and ninth grades, I spent half of the summer recuperating from laser surgery on the scar that’s on my upper lip, which meant that I had a bandage wrapped around my face for a few weeks and really couldn’t go outside.  I’d also gone to Florida in July to visit my friend Chris and he’d not only hooked me up with a bunch of X-Men and Spawn stuff but I’d also raided his local comic store’s stash of New Teen Titans comics, getting most of the original Wolfman/Perez run pretty cheap (again, this was the 1990s when books like this were very cheap in back issue bins, mainly because they didn’t have an “X” or “Bat” in the title).

The cover of New Titans #79, a "sickbed" book for me that kept me hooked through the summer of 1991.

So I had nothing better to do with my time except read comics and watch TV and I was able to get my sister to go to the comic store and pick up my reserved books a few times.  She came home one Wednesday with New Titans #79 and soon I’d get New Titans Annual #7, which came out more or less a couple of weeks later and thankfully that annual would explain who the people in that above exchange were, or else I would have been completely lost.  I twas also the best way for the book to get involved with the annual crossover that DC had been running at the time, which was Armageddon 2001.

For a better look at Armageddon 2001, I suggest going over to one of my favorite podcasts, “From Crisis to Crisis: A Superman Podcast” and listening to their two-parter about Armageddon 2001 from November 2010 (you can look at part 1 here and part 2 here).  But in brief, it’s the story of a hero named Waverider who travels back in time to kill one of our current superheroes because that particular hero will kill all the others and become a tyrant named Monarch.  When New Titans Annual #7 hit the shelves, we were smack in the middle of the “Who is Monarch?” mystery (the answer, btw, is one of the biggest disappointments in comics), but also smack in the middle of the Titans Hunt.  Now, the way the crossovers worked, Waverider would touch a book’s main character and then we’d all see his future, and what could happen to turn them into Monarch.  So the crosover would not interrupt the book’s current story and the writers wouldn’t have to worry too much.  However, the Titans annual took it one step further and became the only annual to have serious repercussions in its book.

When Waverider touches Nightwing during the moment he is being dragged away to captivity by Jericho and his Wildebeest brethren, we see a future ruled by a tyrant named … Lord Chaos.  Not Monarch.  Nightwing, by the way, is still alive and is part of a massive resistance movement called the Teen Titans that has been slowly winning more and more versus Chaos and his forces.  Nightwing’s heroism convinces Waverider that no, Dick Grayson will not become Monarch; however, the identity of Lord Chaos is more important.  He is Donna Troy’s son.

So the Teen Titans are sent back through time to kill Lord Chaos’s mother, in a Terminator-type of story.  They spend weeks sneaking around New York–all of which had been happening in between the main story of issues 77-79 and which was recapped in issue 80–then continue to stalk Troia until it’s time to attack.

Our time-tossed assassins are:

  • Mirage, a shape-changer.
  • Redwing, a Hawkgirl-type character with actual wings.
  • Kilowatt, a guy made of pure electricity
  • Nightrider, a vampire.
  • Prester Jon, Redwing’s brother who is now a living computer program.
  • Terra, a girl with the power to shift the earth who bears a striking resemblence to the most infamous Titan ever (and I swear, one day, I’ll write about “The Judas Contract”).

During the  next year or so of comics, these characters track both the Titans’ and Troia’s movements and prepare to make their move.  And in New Titans #88, Redwing does so, getting impatient and attacking Donna Troy when she is at STAR Labs getting checked out because she is feeling sick, unaware that she’s pregnant.  It sets up what becomes a monumental storyline for this era: Total Chaos, wherein Lord Chaos has also come back to our time to stop the Teen Titans and there is one huge fight after another.

New Titans #87, one of two straight "comical" covers featuring Baby Wildebeest.

But that’s for next year and right now we’ve got buildup and the unfortunate thing about this set of issues during this year of comics is that said buildup is way too long.  Now, granted, issues 82-84 are “The Jericho Gambit” and 85-86 has plenty of “Jericho Gambit” epilogue, which I covered last month.  But as for the Teen Titans and their buildup to Total Chaos, the amount of time that passes here is actually a few weeks or a couple of months.  Furthermore, if you look at how much the story stalls and the artwork gets very inconsistent, you can definitely see the first chink in the armor.

Well, that and this is where we get Baby Wildebeest.

It’s been a while since I have seen fan’s opinions on this era, but having reread these issues a few times now, I can tell you that when the weird-looking stasis tube that had been focused on a few times since we first infiltrated the Wildebeest headquarters opens up and a living Wildebeest baby is inside, I didn’t know what to think.  I mean, I was able to deal with the fact that everything was forced to a stop in issue 81 because of a very bad War of the Gods crossover issue (and the lest said about War of the Gods the better), and at the time I was so focused on what the Teen Titans were doing, I was able to ignore the fact that two covers–New Titans #87 and 88–were going for the “LOOK AT HOW CUTE THIS FURRY BABY CHARACTER IS!” angle.

The cover to New Titans #88 ... yep, "Bringing Up Baby!" I'll get to Starfire's costume next week.

Not that I don’t understand what their intent was with this character.  The Wildebeest Society had been conducting scientific experiments to create a being that would be strong enough to house the essence of the corrupted souls of Azareth and be a monstrous agent of Trigon.  Now, without anything to possess it, this particular being was simply like any other animal.  It would start as an infant and then grow, and as was seen through the next couple of years, grow at an insanely accelerated rate.  It would also come to see the hero Pantha (who herself was one of the Wildebeests’ experiments) as its mother.  Wolfman and editor Jon Peterson obviously wanted a Hulk for their team, and I can appreciate that; however, when you remove the Bruce Banner aspect of the Hulk and keep all the “HULK SMASH!” with no real other dimension to the character … PLUS add the whole “Bringing Up Baby” part of it, it’s going to get very tired very quickly.  So instead of getting maybe two issues where the Teen Titans are stalking the New Titans, Lord Chaos is in the background trying to establish himself so he can take over our world, and maybe the Titans fight a one-off villain just to have some action, we get FIVE issues where nothing happens.  The Teen Titans stalk, Chaos works, and Baby Wildebeest eats and poops.  No, really.

The cover to New Titans #70, which was a "pilot" for the Deathstroke series.

On the other hand, the other series that was leading into Total Chaos was Deathstroke: The Terminator.  The “pilot episode” story in New Titans #70 (which I wound up buying in 1998 or 1999 at a comic shop and read with very little interest to be honest — it’s an issue I completely missed when I was collecting comics and by that time I had just been filling in the holes of my comics collection) was successful enough to give Slade Wilson his own storyline and as I mentioned, the first few issues dealt with his dealing with being forced to kill his son.  Marv Wolfman (who signed the copy of my first issue along with penciller Steve Erwin, which I didn’t remember until I reread it today but now recall that I think it was part of a special promo for those of us who first subscribed.  I also got a poster) did this by having the first villain he faced be The Ravager, a terrorist who chose to dress up in the costume that Wilson’s other son, Grant, had been wearing when he died.  This terrorist was a guy named The Jackal who had been an old army buddy of Slade’s and whom held a grudge (because grudges are the best reasons to become an international terrorist).

Wilson overcomes the Jackal/Ravager but in the course of that winds up being associated with a terrorist coup in the fictional country of Quarac (a catch-all Middle Eastern country that will play a role in later issues), becoming more estranged from his ex-wife after he tells her about their son’s death, and is framed for murders that occur at a hospital in Germany.  So, basically, by the time that the New Titans and his own title are hurtling toward Total Chaos, Deathstroke will be a wanted man who is being hunted down by the FBI, CIA, and someone else who is the “big bad villain in the dark” that’s been pulling a lot of strings since issue 1.  After a quick stop in Gotham City for a four-part Batman team-up that results in the creation of a new version of the Vigilante, a more or less “forgotten” Marv Wolfman character from the 1980s, he actually does get captured and put in jail by Superman and then escapes and eludes the Justice League.  The last panel of issue 13 is of the Titans watching news of his escape on television and saying they’re going to go after him.

The cover of Deathstroke: The Terminator #1. I had this on a poster on my closet door in high school. The tagline was: "He doesn't solve problems. HE TERMINATES THEM."

I probably could have done a better job of summarizing the first year or so of Deathstroke stories, especially since it was the one of the two Titans books with a decent amount of action (whereas the Titans was comedy and a bit of soap opera), but the stories themselves really aren’t more than basically some solid action stories with a super-villain running a conspiracy in the shadows thrown in to tie it all together.  From what I gather, the series was actually quite successful at first, mainly because of the fact that Deathstroke was seen as DC’s answer to The Punisher, and while I can see that for the 1990s, he owes more to Captain America than anything else.  After all, he got his special abilities as the result of a military experiment.  But instead of becoming a “super soldier” and fighting Nazis for the U.S. military, his experiment was a “failure” and his special abilities (better reflexes, healing factor, etc.) didn’t surface for a little while and he became a mercenary.  The Punisher?  Yeah, he’s an ex-soldier but he’s got that whole “the mafia killed my family so now I wear this skull shirt” thing going.  But DC wanted the obvious Punisher connection as a point of promotion, which I’m sure is why Mike Zeck, who drew The Punisher in the 1980s did the covers for all of these issues.

And like I said, for what it’s worth, the Deathstroke series at this point had a strong start and is worth tracking down.  Wolfman has always had a knack for action and he had just come off a couple of years of writing the Caped Crusader, so when Batman shows up for the four-part “City of Assassins” storyline, he’s solidly written and comes off as not brooding or omnipotent, which is how Grant Morrison seems to write him, but a true detective/action hero.  He also uses Bruce Wayne effectively, having Batman’s alter-ego in a few key scenes that also remind us how much Slade Wilson knows about the super-hero community and how that puts him on equal footing with Batman.

The cover for Deathstroke #5, which was a very Punisher-esque cover drawn by Mike Zeck.

For the past decade, Deathstroke’s been written as a bit more heartless than he is here.  Not that he’s a nice-guy mercenary or anything, but Wolfman really brings across the humanity in his character.  The man has an ex-wife and now two dead sons and tends to keep the grief inside of him, shutting out Major Wintergreen (his sidekick, a retired British military officer who has been Slade’s friend for years and serves as more or less as his manager and does play that role of “link to humanity” from time to time) as well as his new lover–Pat Trayce, the new Vigilante.  I get the feeling that they considered a new Vigilante series at the time because not only did she become the Vigilante at the end of the Batman story, but Wilson trained Pat Trayce to really fight and she got a costume redesign in the two issues following as well as was forced to leave her family behind because she was wanted as well.  I suppose a mini-series would have been pretty cool, but it never materialized.

So when Wilson is seen roaming the streets of New York at the beginning of his next issue and the Titans are after him, the Teen Titans make a move on Donna Troy.  But aside from being the reverse Sarah Connor of the DC Universe, who is she … and more importantly, why did I want her dead, too, when I was 14?

All I can say about that is, to be continued …

Next Up: Later this week, a background primer on Donna Troy/Wonder Girl/Troia as well as a look at the letters page of New Titans #85.

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5 comments

  1. Great post! The “return” of Terra was one of my favorites and while many hated this Titans period I ATE IT UP!!:)

  2. I’m glad I am not the only one. I think there are a lot of people who ate all this up but for some reason they don’t want to admit it.

    I still didn’t like Baby Wildebeest, though.

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