Total Chaos (My Life as a Teen Titan, Part Nine)

Team Titans #1 had five different covers, one for each team member.

If the stereotype of a comic book fan, at least for when I was a teenager, was that of an outsider, then someone whose die-hard love was for the New Titans was an outsider squared.  I mean, I am sure that with two spin-off titles and a crossover with house ads and a decent amount of hype, the series was gaining fans and selling well, but at the time of the Total Chaos crossover, I was also a regular reader of Wizard and that magazine at the time rarely hyped anything from DC, let alone the Titans.

I know that I was pretty fair with Wizard a while back but honestly, I have beef with the obvious prejudice they had against anything DC (well, non-Batman DC) during the early 1990s.  The previous year had seen a pretty sweet storyline in Superman–Panic in the Sky!–and I don’t recall that getting much attention.  Now, in July 1992, Total Chaos came out, launching a whole new series with a whole new team of Titans after the book had been all but dead before I started reading it in 1990.  And?  Nothing.  Nada.  Zilch.

Not only that, but Total Chaos had an understandable plot with a clear resolution and a gimmick that was worth paying for while the X-cutioner’s Song, a barely comprehensible letdown of a crossover going on in the X-Men books at the time had polybags with crappy trading cards, and that got all sorts of hype through either Wizard articles or various American Comics/Entertainment This Month ads (which I’m sure will be an entry on its own one day).

But it was the 1990s, when the comic book world was sort of like a big high school–the big jock guys and the girls with the huge tits got all the attention and everyone else was just trying too hard.

Okay. Yes. Starfire. But anyway, like I have said before, this era had many flaws–and the post Total Chaos issues will definitely show that–but when it was on, the Titans universe was on.  This was one of those times.

Spanning nine individual comics, Total Chaos brought together two major storylines: the hunt for the now-fugitive Deathstroke, who was also losing all of his abilities; and the Teen (now Team) Titans’ quest to kill Donna Troy and Lord Chaos’s quest to stop them.  Each issue had a special banner on the cover and promised that something huge would happen, which was a refreshing break from what seemed like eons of the Teamers lurking in the background while the Titans played with Baby Wildebeest or changed their costumes, something that I think Marv Wolfman was tired of himself because at the end of part one Starfire showed up at Steve Dayton’s estate pissed off and said, “What the hell is this?”

You said it, Kory.

Starfire (well, Mirage as Starfire) unveils her new costume.

To be fair, they’d been under the impression that she had been with them for the last few days, had gone after Deathstroke, had cut dick’s hair, had given Dick a new Nightwing uniform, had gotten a sexy new uniform of her own (BOOBS!), and had screwed him silly.  But it wasn’t her, it was Mirage, something you would have known if you were paying attention to the pages that future Team Titans penciller Kevin Maguire had drawn in issue #86.  I, of course, wasn’t because I was too distracted by the Nightwing/Deathstroke fight.  But I went thumbing through that issue to see it, and there it was, sandwiched between Terra revealing herself to Changeling and that fight.  Mirage had bumped into Dick, disguised herself as Mr. Grayson, tied up Starfire, and then changed herself into Kory in order to infiltrate the group.

The crossover plays out with the two teams first fighting one another and then Lord Chaos, which is pretty much the same way every team-up crossover goes, like, ever.  But what I like about Total Chaos is the way Wolfman works in the non-action subplots with every action scene.  For instance, Councilwoman Alderman is still after the Titans because they are so unpopular and it helps her chances at becoming mayor, so she uses the Titans’ helicopter crashing in the middle of Manhattan as propaganda and even plays opportunist when Deathstroke is seemingly captured.  Except he isn’t, because while he was arrested and brought on an army helicopter, he’d tied up the pilot and put him in his costume before taking the chopper for himself.

The very first appearance of Rose Wilson, who would eventually become the Ravager.

Deathstroke’s role in this whole thing is pretty consequential and I am sure that you could remove him and still have a solid crossover between the two books and a decent “fugitive” storyline in his own book, but because of the fact that he once infiltrated the Titans and really knows them on more of a personal level than anyone else, we get an interesting perspective through his narration.  Plus, having reread that first year of Deathstroke issues, I can tell that Wolfman really loved writing the book because it was an action/adventure book and a break from the ongoing soap opera of the team books.  Plus, if Deathstroke hadn’t been involved, we would not have gotten a glimpse of a white-haired girl who was the daughter of Sweet Lili, Slade WIlson’s former lover.

Anyone who reads the current iteration of the Teen Titans knows that the white-haired girl in question is Rose Wilson, the new Ravager, something that would take nearly a decade to play out and right now what we have is a huge fight brewing between the Team Titans, New Titans, and Lord Chaos, who in part three, starts things out by kidnapping Donna and taking her to the moon so she can give birth to him and then he can kill her.

I’ll get to that in a minute because it was a monumental moment in the “People for the Death of Donna Troy” campaign that Harris and I had been mounting since we started writing to the book a year earlier, but now I need to address what was one of only two gimmicks on the part of the Titans books during this era of polybags, chromium colors, and whatever other sales tricks people could come up with.  There were five different versions of Team Titans #1 produced, much like the adjectiveless X-Men title from a year earlier had five different covers for its first issue.  However, the difference here was that instead of getting a different cover and the same story five times for your $1 or $1.25 per issue (all of which I got for a quarter each at a comic show in 1993), you had a different story in each issue: the origin of each Team Titans member.

Redwing discovers her parents have been killed from her origin story in Team Titans #1.

They’re pretty standard origins for a super-hero team in a war-torn future, and while I know that sounds weird if you’ve read enough comics you’d know what I mean.  Mirage was a street urchin of sorts drafted into Lord Chaos’s army who then realized how wrong she was an turned traitor; Kilowatt was another soldier to turn on Chaos but not until he was electrocuted and turned into a living energy being; Nightrider was a vampire created by some sort of Frankenstein-type of experiment right out of a horror flick (I don’t know if it’s the Tom Mandrake art on this one or the way that Woflman obviously liked getting back to his horror comic roots but for a character whom I thought was the weakest of the Titans, it was a fun origin story to read); Redwing had been a girl born with wings and was only alive because her parents had been killed by Chaos’s troops while she was out flying (and her brother had died physically but had essentially uploaded himself into a computer); and Terra was originally planted in the group as a saboteur but turned on Chaos.

In future entries in this series, I’ll get to how Wolfman’s not liking these characters as much as he could have definitely led to the Teamers’ wasted potential, but right now these origin stories start things off on an exciting note, especially since this team is together and strong whereas their counterparts are still pretty wayward.  Plus, these issues introduced me to the artwork of Adam Hughes, who drew Redwing’s origin; and Phil Jiminez, who drew Terra’s (with inks by George Perez).  Jiminez, to me, was a revelation because I’d spent so much time during the last years with inconsistent artwork.  Tom Grummett was an excellent penciller but this was around the time he’d picked up both Robin and Adventures of Superman so you got the feeling that he was being stretched a little too thin. Jiminez’s early work isn’t as fluid as what he’s done in the last 5-10 years, but I felt pretty excited seeing it because it looked like he was an heir of sorts to Perez and I really hoped he’d be a regular on some sort of Titans story.

Donna Troy dies in New Titans #91. She'd be back by the end of the issue.

The rest of Team Titans #1 was the aforementioned main story, the third part of the crossover and it ends with Lord Chaos attacking Donna.  Two parts later–after a Deathstroke interlude that with the exception of he and Changeling having a moment or something like that–he does kill her and I’m sure that the letter that Harris and I wrote to the book started like: “New Titans #91, page 2:  THANK YOU!!!”

Hey, our parents brought us up to be polite and when you spend months writing that you want Donna Troy dead and they actually do it?  Well, you say thank you.

You know, even if she winds up coming back almost right away, 50 feet tall, with the powers of a god, and slightly insane.

Soon after her death, Donna Troy becomes a 50-foot goddess.

In a story where the powers that be were trying to up the ante with every issue, it made total sense and was much better than making Baby Wildebeest the Titans’ version of the Hulk because he got huge whenever he got pissed off.  This worked too because it wasn’t permanent.  When Lord Chaos is finally defeated, the Titans of Myth, who gave Donna her powers a few years earlier, take them away and send him to another plane.  The original idea was going to be to let Donna keep her powers and give her a better costume but somewhere along the line the decision was made to make her completely human.

I think Harris and I were wishing that they would Dark Phoenix her altogether, but we were still excited by everything that happened, even to the point where we were doing lines from the comics as if they were one of our favorite movies.  For instance, right before he dies in issue #16 and kills a legion of Chaos’s soldiers, Deathstroke

Slade Wilson gets one last HELL YEAH! moment before he drops dead of a heart attack.

screams: “I’M A GODDAMNED KILLING MACHINE!”  When Mirage brags about how she slept with Nightwing, Pantha says: “Dick, you slut!  So tell me, who was better?  Huh?  Huh?  Huh?”  And we thought that it was really hilarious that after Changeling confessed to Deathstroke–whom he thought was asleep–that he felt bad for what he’d gone through and Slade revealed he’d been awake and listening the whole time, Gar called him a “schmuck.”

There are many things that I suppose could make me toss Total Chaos aside, from Baby Wildebeest to the introduction of Battalion, who is the Team Titans’ lion-maned “Drill Sergeant from Hell!”  and this truly is the last shining spotlight of greatness for New Titans for at least another year or two.  But Marv Wolfman and company got me through another summer with a blockbuster of a story.  Every week I was at Amazing Comics and every week Harris and I were poring over the issues, wondering what was going to happen to Donna Troy, who the Team Titans’ leader was, and if Cyborg would ever return to normal.  It was a blockbuster in the sense of the entire part of that decade was a blockbuster, but it was OUR blockbuster … and I know we definitely appreciated that.

Next Up:  The Titans Sell Out! … and the rest of the Total Chaos fallout in three Titans titles.

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