You hate to admit that sometimes a pinch-hitter is exactly what a team needs. I have watched too many hours of baseball in my life to see the Mets pinch hit with me wanting to pull my hair out at the supposed “intelligence” of that managerial decision. You know, because I have this awesome track record of knowing so much about and being so awesome at baseball. Anyway, in my experience, pinch hits usually wind up with someone like Rusty Staub or Julio Franco grounding into a 6-4-3, but every so often Kirk Gibson guts one out of Dodger Stadium.
I’m not saying that Louise Simonson filling in for Marv Wolfman in New Titans #94-96 was the comics equivalent of Kirk Gibson’s now-legendary homer (nor was it Rusty Staub), but I will say that her three-issue story with pencils by Phil Jiminez was exactly what the title needed. I will fully admit that the Sell-Out story and creations like Metallik showed that Wolfman was hurting a little and probably feeling a little burned out. So the editors gave him a break and had Simonson finally get us back to figuring out what might be going on with Cyborg.
If you recall, nearly two years earlier, in New Titans #75, Jericho had detonated Cyborg’s rocket and two issues later the team was in Russia, where Red Star and a team of Russian scientists had rebuilt him. Unfortunately, Vic Stone is more or less a robot because his mind was completely wiped out, something we have been reminded of either through Gar leading him around by remote control, entire pages of him staring off into nowhere, and the first two issues of the Showcase ’93 series.
In that two-parter, written by former Titans editor Len Wein, the scientists at STAR Labs are trying to get him back and accidentally trigger something that makes Cyborg walk to a cabin in the middle of the woods where he accesses a secret room that contains his backup files. by the end of part one, he’s been hooked in and his consciousness has been restored. However, the reboot fails when he is overridden by his new Russian technology and he destroys the small lab and the backup files before he loses his mind again.
We wouldn’t get back to Cyborg’s lack of mind until about a year later, but we would get to how the Russians would be fighting for control of his body, and that’s what central to this Simonson three-parter. What she writes is a classic espionage political thriller as Red Star’s father returns from the dead (so to speak) in an attempt to kill Boris Yeltsin by using Cyborg as a bomb so he could bring back the Soviet Union.
Red Star, at this point, is probably the Titan with the least number of stories. I mean, I’m pretty sure DannyChase got more action than he did. Red Star first appeared as “Starfire” in Teen Titans #18, which I don’t have but according to the Official Teen Titans Index, Interpol asks the Teen Titans to team up with the Soviet hero in order to safeguard the Crown Jewels of Sweden, and they part amicably. The next time that Red Star appears is New Teen Titans #18, smack in the middle of the Wolfman/Perez glory years. Here, he has secretly entered the country on a mission to track a woman named Maladi who has been carrying a plague (Madali, Malady? Get it?) and they argue and fight because his mission is to kill Maladi and yell about politics while punching Kid Flash (but Wally was being a prick, so he deserved it). They find her, she dies, they are able to cure anyone who contracted her “plague” and then Red Star reveals that the reason he went to the U.S. was because she was his fiancee.
The next time we’d see our Soviet strongman (aside from an appearance in Crisis on Infinite Earths) would be in New Teen Titans (2nd series) #48-49, a two-parter in which Red Star visits STAR Labs in San Francisco to have some tests run and two villains known as Hammer and Sickle (oh, it gets better … their names are Boris and Tasha. Yeah. I know.) screw that up and take Starfire hostage with Red Star going along for the ride because “his orders have changed.” Thankfully, Cyborg rescues Kory and the three Russians head to a hideout where Red Star discovers that Hammer and Sickle’s mission was to stop the American doctors from examining him and then they were going to kill him. Red Star and the Titans team up and capture the two, but it’s a hollow victory for the Soviet hero because his own government had sent those two to kill him and he now feels like a man without a country. Of course, we know that he gets back in with his government at some point because by the time he shows up in New Titans #77, he is working out in Siberia.
The two stories are typical of U.S.-U.S.S.R. team-up stories of the 1980s, like Red Heat or 2010: The Year We Make Contact or that episode of Supercarrier where the American and Russian pilots meet. I’ve never been really attached to them (in fact, my reading them for this entry probably marks the second time I’ve ever read them) and they’re pretty forgettable except to say that Perez’s art is strong in New Teen Titans #18 and New Teen Titans #49 was both the last issue with “Teen” in the title and the last issue I needed to complete the series. I bought it along with New Titans #75 at Tor Comics in Holtsville the summer after graduating college.
As far as his involvement in the Titans during the Titans Hunt and Total Chaos era? Well, you don’t have Cyborg on the team anymore (well, you kinda do but … you know … vegetable …) so you need a quality strongman and Kovar fills that void easily. When our current story begins in New Titans #94, he is called back to Russia with Cyborg. Dr. Sarah Charles, a STAR Labs doctor and Vic’s girlfriend, goes with them. Almost immediately, they discover that the Russians have been trying to duplicate the Cyborg experiment–something that we, the readers, discovered a few months ago because Red Star’s friend Raskov had seen it with his own eyes in what has to be the ugliest two-page splash in the history of ugly two-page splashes (and that’s saying a lot in the early 1990s when Rob Liefeld was popular …
Anyway, we get a game of spies right away, as Red Star returns to Russia and his father–who everyone thought died years ago–reveals himself and captures his son. Anna, who had accompanied Red Star to Russia, appears to be working for Red Star’s father; however, she rescues the Russian superhero and they fight off the “Meta Men,” while Kovar heads to Russia with a bomb planted in Cyborg that will kill Yeltsin. Naturally, Red Star and Anna follow them there, after it looks like Red Star is killed but instead exhibits the ability to set himself aflame (it was established back in the “Hammer and Sickle” storyline that his powers are constantly evolving because of a plot devi–er, whatever gave him his powers).
Meanwhile, back in New York, the Baby Wildebeest crap continues as Steve Dayton pulls a million strings to get the little thing into a preschool. Terra proceeds to hang around Gar like a lovesick puppy, which is distrubing and makes me glad that for the most part her best stuff was with other writers. But most importantly, Nightwing and Starfire get back at Mirage. Dick goes out on several dates with Miri and each time, she poses as a different woman, which leads the media to think that Grayson is a playboy of the Bruce Wayne variety. It works, too, until he goes out with Kory and “declares his lover for her” in front of everyone. This pisses Mirage off and sometime after, she agrees to a “We need to prove I’m not me” moment, disguising herself as Nightwing to confront Dick.
It’s classic comic book silliness but is weaved into the books in a way that it doesn’t feel too jarring. Plus, it explores the “superhero as celebrity” idea (Kory, after all, is a supermodel) and at least during one point we get to see Nightwing bust some heads.
The main story comes to its climax when Red Star and Anna show up in Moscow and foil his father’s plan, which we all knew would happen. Cyborg’s bomb is found and Red Star manages to contain the blast without hurting the Titan and then Anna shoots his father between the eyes, thinking not about protecting our hero but her own agenda–foil the current government in order to bring the Tsar back. It’s probably not too far-fetched, although I don’t know how many Russians in 1992 were devout Romanov loyalists, but it has the same sort of thrill that stuff like GoldenEye would bring a few years later.
In fact, this would have made a great Red Star miniseriees, even if said mini would probably have gotten lost in the big event of the time–The Death of Superman (there is even a black armband reference or two in here). The writing is tight; the art, while a little stiff and not as fluid as what Jiminez does later on in his career, is better than what we had seen recently or would see after Tom Grummett left a few months later; and the covers were outstanding because they were a triptych, so if you put them together they made one image. I actually put them side by side on the floor whenever I sat down to read them because I loved seeing all one image and was grateful for a gimmick that I could enjoy, unlike the polybagged deluxe edition of Superman #75 which I never opened because I wanted it to retain some “value” (yeah, I know … I was a schmuck in 1992).
Superman’s death rightfully overshadowed just about everything at that time, just as Knightfall would grab our attention soon after, but Harris and I remained loyal fans, and our constant badgering of the Titans’ editorial staff was rewarded with blurbs in the “Titanic Thoughts” that ended the lettercolumns of New Titans #95, where we said “If there is no letter column next issue, we’ll get Guy Gardner after you and Donna Troy!!!”; and in New Titans #96, we were “still calling for the death of Donna Troy. They also want to know if there’s a possibility of a Robin/Titans team-up. We’ll see what we can do, guys. If Tim Drake appears then, at one time or another, all three Robins will have fought alongside the Titans!”
I’d like to note that it took WAY too long for this to happen.
Why? Well, I am sure that there was some sort of editorial hogging of certain characters between the Batman people and the Titans people (we’ll get to this a little more in the coming issues), but when the two of us weren’t poring over Titans issues or waiting to see what was going to happen in the whole Death/Funeral/Return of Superman saga, Robin was the reason we were reading comics. Both of us even wrote in to that comic a couple of times and had at least one or two letters published (I’m sure I’ll address this at some point).
So, with the pinch-hit story under our belts, where were we headed? Something called “The Darkening,” which at a glance sounds odd and would prove to be the point where, in many fans’ minds, the book went off a very, very steep cliff.
Next Up: Before we get to “The Darkening,” a look at a year’s worth of Deathstroke adventures.