Going into the winter of 1992 and spring of 1993, DC was definitely riding a pretty high wave considering the sales it had gotten from the Death of Superman and upcoming Reign of the Supermen storylines as well as events like Knightfall, which was billed as the “breaking of the Batman.” The Titans franchise itself was still enjoying a decent amount of success, especially considering that 1992 had seen a very huge event (well, huge as far as the Titans were concerned), “Total Chaos.” The books had lost a bit of momentum after the whole “Sell-Out” storyline but a quality pinch-hit and a looming 100th issue still had it poised for something pretty great.
What had gotten them to this point was a good editor in Jon Peterson, who had taken a look at a failing title and said, “Let’s shake up the status quo.” So, we got Titans Hunt. Peterson left with the end of “Total Chaos” and Rob Simpson came on to the book. His first few issues were the “Sell-Out” storyline as well as the three-issue Red Star arc but the lead in to issue 100 and that event in itself was obviously going to be considered his biggest moment (oddly, nobody, not even Titans Tower or the Titans Companion people, have been able to pin down Rob Simpson for an interview about this period. Marv Wolfman has a bit of disdain for everything that followed Total Chaos, so it would be interesting to see another perspective). Once again, with the storyline that would start with New Titans #97–“The Darkening” (yeah, it’s a very 1990s sounding story title)–he’d go for the shakeup of the status quo again.
When I started to reread these issues, I had no problem remembering how we got here, but there were things that Woflman was working into his stories that anyone who picked up the book for the very first time wouldn’t know the first thing about. Like, what’s a Mento Helmet? Who are the Doom Patrol? Why does Nightwing want to marry Starfire? And what does that have to do with Raven? I mean, I would have been lost, too, because what leads up to #100 really has its roots way back at the beginning of the famed Marv Wolfman/George Perez run that started in 1980 with DC Comcs Presents #26 and New Teen Titans #1. And since I was immersed in the Titans back in these days and was buying as many back issues as I could, I thought I’d take a couple of entries to really get into the very long and involved backstory.
Then I realized how freaking long and involved this backstory is. I’ve heard a few podcasters say (and forgive me for forgetting who it was … probably Scott Gardner, Michael Bailey, or Thomas Deja b/c I listen to their shows on a fairly regular basis and sometimes they get mixed up in my head) that Marv Wolfman’s Titans was a soap opera that just happened to have super heroes. Considering how long some storylines and relationships in the Titansverse played out over the years, that’s a very accurate statement. It probably also explains why I’ve always been able to sit through All My Children and One Life to Live whenever I’m at my in-laws’. Anyway, I started combing through my back issues to see what I needed to pull for the best Dick and Kory and Raven moments and I found myself with a huge stack of comics. So, I’ve split it up. This time around, I’ll take a look at the aforementioned Wolfman/Perez run and how the characters first developed; next time, I’ll take a look at Wolfman post-Perez in the Baxter era, which gets quite sluggish at times. Then we’ll go back to the present for “The Darkening” and its corresponding story in Team Titans, “The Darkening Night.”
So the first time that Starfire meets Robin, she kisses him. It’s in New Teen Titans #2 (an issue I’ll probably cover way more in depth later on), and it’s not because she’s trying to nail him or anything, it’s just that Tamaraneans absorb another language through physical contact (which btw? Great “we need the alien to speak our language without a Green Lantern ring or a universal translator” plot device) and she thought that kissing him would be fun (this happens again a couple of times, most amusingly in the crossover with the X-Men). The relationship itself doesn’t progress until around the Blackfire storyline in issue #23, when Kory’s sister, Komand’r, shows up to take her back to her home planet and kill her. But before all of that, there’s one of the first big storylines that helps build the Titans legacy in the DCU and helps explain the Macguffin of “The Darkening”: The Doom Patrol quest.
When I get into issue #97, I’ll explain it in more detail, but the basis of “The Darkening” is that Changeling is so desperate to save his best friend, Cyborg, that he steals Steve Dayton’s newest version of the Mento Helmet. But the average person has no idea what a Mento Helmet is or does. Is it a super freshmaker?
Well, not really. You see, back in the 1960s, DC created The Doom Patrol, a team of freaks led by a guy in a wheelchair (sound familiar? Well, the X-Men actually came out just after this, believe it or not). One of the members, Rita Farr, was Elasti-Girl (no relation to the Incredibles character) who could become gigantic or smaller at will. Steve Dayton, a millionaire, fell madly in love with her and created a super hero persona for himself called Mento. Using a specially designed helment, he had mental powers and thought that this would impress Farr. I’ve never read the old Doom Patrol series itself but she did wind up marrying him and they did wind up adopting Gar Logan, aka Beast Boy. At the end of the Doom Patrol’s series, two of the team’s arch-nemeses, General Zahl and Madame Rogue, threatened to destroy an entire town and in a twist that was unprecedented at the time, the entire team sacrificed themselves to save that town.
Fast forward to 1981-1982 and Beast Boy is now Changeling and is part of the New Teen Titans; one of the DP members, Robotman, has been found and “resurrected” (I mean, he’s a robot, so it was plausible); Mento is missing; and the Doom Patrol’s killers are still at large. New Teen Titans #13 opens with Robin, Cyborg, and Kid Flash looking for said killers and Mento in the jungles of Africa. They find a dismantled Robotman and eventually they find Dayton, who has gone nuts for the first (but definitely not the last time), as well as Madame Rogue and General Zahl. It is in this three-parter that we also have the first appearances of the Brotherhood of Evil and the nation of Zandia, which would both inform the Dick-Kory-Raven triangle (of sorts, anyway) that rears its head in issue #100.
The Search for the Doom Patrol or whatever it was called (this is back in the days when naming story arcs and putting said name on the cover was a rarity) wraps up in three issues where all of the Titans take on Madame Rogue and General Zahl, get captured, and Changeling is able to escape and get the Brotherhood of Evil to help him take the two down. This new Brotherhood would be a staple set of villains for the Wolfman-Perez run and included some pretty cool villains if you don’t mind me saying so. They are led by The Brain (a brain in a robot’s body) and Monseiur Mallah (an intelligent gorilla), who were also responsible for the DP’s death but somehow get off and have four new members: Phobia was kind of a female version of The Scarecrow, although she could make you feel specific fears as opposed to just gas you to the point where your fears come to life; Plasmus was a giant goo man whose touch burned; Warp had the power to create portals and send you wherever, a skill that didn’t make him strong per se but definitely helped the team escape a lot; and Houngan was a voodoo guy (not my favorite, to be honest). They had beef with Rogue and Zahl and in the end, Gar actually kills Rogue, although she says the he more or less frees her from having a tortured existence. It’s a pretty neat three-parter that wraps up a loose end in the DCU in a nice way.
Well, until Mento goes … mento again a couple of years later. And we’ll get to that, but first we’ll get to Brother Blood because the Brotherhood of Evil winds up becoming obsessed with both the takedown of Brother Blood and using Raven to their advantage. Brother Blood first appears in a two-parter in New Teen Titans #21-22 and is shown as being a supervillain-like leader of a cult, or “church” as his members who have infiltrated the media refer to it. At one point, they recruited Cyborg’s ex-girlfriend Marcy and she tries to escape but is killed by Blood’s enforcers who resemble a paramilitary group more than actual clergy, and the Titans infiltrate the “church” for the purpose of taking him down. Key to the story here are the facts that Blood is a grand manipulator, the type who preys on weak emotions and uses that for actual power (this becomes more explained in a later storyline) and that he is somehow immune to Raven’s powers.
Since Raven’s an empath and Blood literally walks through her use of her powers on him, the Brotherhood of Evil goes after her and kidnaps her to try and find out what the heck is Blood’s secret. Their torture of her in issues #30-31 doesn’t reveal anything except that Trigon (who we’ll see again in the first issues of the Baxter series) is a threat and if she is to get angry he will probably possess her and that will be the end of everything. In fact, the cover of New Teen Titans #31 says “Raven Berserk!” and she does come very close to killing the members of the Brotherhood, but resists and fights Trigon off. She also scares the living shit out of Kid Flash, but that is another story.
This all informs a Brother Blood subplot that finally is resoved in New Teen Titans #40/Tales of the Teen Titans #41 where Blood captures Dick Grayson, brainwashes him and tries to get him to kill the Titans. It’s his love of Kory that ultimately wakes him up and he frees his teammates while the armies of the Zandian government–another enemy of Blood–close in and lay waste to his compound, seemingly killing him.
In all honesty, that’s a lot to absorb, although it’s about two or three years’ worth of comics so it’s not like this all happened in six months. I had originally caught sight of Brother Blood in the Titans Index that Harris had owned at the time and I knew much of the story behind the “Raven Berserk!” cover, but still remember enjoying those issues when I finally got my hands on the full storyline. They were, for the most part, available at Amazing Comics and at the time relatively cheap. I think the Doom Patrol-based issues were going for $3.00 apiece and the otheres were about $2.00 each, so whenever I got paid from my job putting together newspapers at a local stationery story, I would take my $12.50 or $25.00 and dive into the back issue bins.
I remember having a plan for this. Like I’d know exactly what Bob had and I knew exactly what I wanted at what time. I held off on getting the books that were summarized in the Titans Index because I already knew the story, so I had the Doom Patrol storyline first and the the first Brother Blood story (Issue #21 was also “special” to me because it had the very first appearance of The Monitor, and at the time was trying to get as many pre-Crisis Monitor appearances and Crisis crossovers as I could) before I had anything that was published between issues #26 and 50 (except for the “Judas Contract” TPB). I probably had a checklist written down at the time, too, because I tended to do that when collecting certain titles so that if I ever happened to find myself in a different comic shop, I knew exactly what to look for. In fact, it would be a few years before I wound up seeing how Dick and Kory got together. For all I knew, they were teammates early on (Kory even had a boyfriend/fiance in New Teen Titans #16) and then they were completely in love. When did it happen?
Well, at the end of New Teen Titans #22 we get our first shot of Blackfire, Starfire’s sister who once sold out her entire home planet to alien overlords and as a result had her sister enslaved. Those aliens were after Starfire in the very first issue of the series and now, as the first Brother Blood storyline ended, we see they’ve tracked her down again. This would take us into issues #23-25 and the first Annual, which starts a tradition in the New Teen Titans series of having a major story arc reach its climax in a double-sized annual.
I honestly have never been a huge fan of this particular story. I had Annual #1 for a couple of years, having fished it out of Amazing Comics’ back issue bin for a pretty cheap price, but it wasn’t until a trip to Floria to visit my friend Chris that I picked it up cheap from his local comics shop. I’ve read the whole story a few times and while the “Evil Sister” villain who is about as powerful but definitely more shrewd than Starfire works, I found that I either like it for the artwork (Perez outdoes himself with both the aliens and the otherworldly settings) or simply read it out of obligation because I am reading more of the series and need to read this in order to read other stories (kind of like I’m doing now).
I mean, it’s not that it’s bad or anything, but when super heroes get too outer-spacey it doesn’t tend to work as much. Some of Wolfman and Perez’s best Titans stories come when the team is fighting a villain like Deathstroke or a group like the Brotherhood of Evil, but when you have them jetting off to Tamaran with the Omega Men, it’s just not that interesting. Then again, that’s probably because I’m not as big of a fan of straight-up science fiction (the kind that doesn’t involve Star Wars or Star Trek). The story itself is straightforward and pretty solid: Blackfire kidnaps Starfire and brings her back to the Vega System (where Tamaran and other worlds are), which is ruled at the moment by a race of aliens known as The Citadel. The Titans team up with a group of Vegan freedom fighters known as The Omega Men (this includes Kory’s brother, Ryand’r) to rescue her, which they do. It ends with a huge fight between the two sisters wherein Kory is left standing and Komand’r’s body is missing.
The fight at the end of the storyline is honestly worth the price of admission here, as both have similar powers (except that Blackfire can’t fly, which means that she’s “disabled” as far as Tamaraneans are concerned and the major reason that she was shunted into the background by her parents all her life while Starfire was the pretty, pretty princess that everyone loved) and spend the better part of the Annual beating the shit out of one another. Wolfman expertly has Komand’r seemingly fall to her death but never shows a body, just in case he decides to bring her back (and he will) and at the beginning of issue #26, the Titans finally head home to New York.
But what’s more important to the story is that Robin spends most of his time being very angry that Starfire is in trouble and he eventually realizes that he is in love with her and the two begin dating. They become one of those “class couples” of the DC Universe for a number of years and definitely are the key romantic couple of the Titans (Okay, there’s Donna and Terry, but … uh … yeah) and if Wolfman was creating a soap opera with super heroes he definitely had a major couple going and would honestly spend the better part of a couple of years breaking them up and getting them back together again. Here, the beginning of their relationship seems pretty organic, like it wasn’t rushed, even if it is pretty simple. I can appreciate that, especially considering the complicated mess that the title would become after George Perez’s departure in 1984.
I know that I should have fond memories of collecting this part of the Titans’ era because it is generally considered the best of the Teen Titans stories (in fact, DC felt it was worth it to archive it and that’s awesome, even though I can’t afford the archive editions) and I do love these stories, but aside from the very early issues and the issues that featured Deathstroke because they were hard to come by and more expensive back in the day, I don’t remember having to seek them out. They, quite simply, always seemed to be in my collection as I worked my way through what was the present Titans stories. You know, how there are stories for characters that every fan just … well, just knows. But I guess what this boils down to is that at least I didn’t have the Internet back then because collecting the stories and finding out what happened for myself instead of, say, looking it all up on Wikipedia, made it a little more special, probably because it took more effort.
Next Up: Continuing a look back, it’s the second series and its Raven-Starfire-Brother Blood-Mento-Nightwing mess of a storyline that worked its way through most of the late 1980s.