Sequelitis (My Life as a Teen Titan, Part Fourteen)

The cover to New Teen Titans (Baxter) 15 sums up this entire era perfectly.

So the Titans were popular when I was a teenager, but not that popular.  Sure, Jon Peterson’s editorial run put the book back in the spotlight with enough cache to warrant two spin-off titles with an “event” crossover between them, but they weren’t so popular that comics shops were charging ridiculous amounts of money for their back issues.  The Wolfman-Perez run on the book, which started in 1980 and ran until 1984 (or 1985-1986 if you factor in, by extension, Crisis on Infinitie Earths) is now one of those “classic” runs, something that comics fans put up as one of the best of that particular period (I don’t know if I’d say the best of all time because then you wind up in Lee/Kirby territory and I think that’s still considered blasphemy.  Anyway …) but Marv Wolfman and George Perez are not Todd MacFarlane, Jim Lee, or Rob Liefeld whose backstock on the X-Men and Spider-Man were selling for prices in the double-digits.  I should know … I’m the jackass who once paid $25 for a copy of Uncanny X-Men #248.  So like I said, I got most of the original New Teen Titans series for about $2-$3 an issue, with the occasional issue, usually a very early one or a Deathstroke appearance, costing more.

The back issues of the Baxter series, which began in 1984, were a little more expensive and a little harder to come by, at least at Amazing Comics.  Part of that was because the original price of each of those issues was more.  Back in 1984, instead of paying 75 cents or $1.00 for an issue of New Teen Titans/Tales of the Teen Titans, you paid $1.25 for the Baxter series (by the time I started collecting, the price was $1.75).  If you were buying off a newsstand, you could stil get the same stories for 75 cents or $1.00 because DC was reprinting the Baxter series in Tales of the Teen Titans, which continued the numbering of the original series.  This meant that anyone buying Titans off the newsstand got those stories about a year after they had originally been printed.

Why a year, if DC was publishing the books simultaneously?  Well, that’s because for the first year or so of the Baxter series, the original, newsstand series (which had been retitled Tales of the Teen Titans, if you didn’t guess that by now) was still running original stories.  I think it might have confused readers a little because the stories in the Baxter book featured events that hadn’t happened yet in the other book.  When Tales started reprints with #60 (well, technically #59, but that issue reprinted DC Comics Presents #26 and a DC Digest tale), it became apparent that if you were going to read the New Teen Titans from beginning to end, you’d start with DCCP #26 and work your way to Tales of the Teen Titans #58.  Then you’d pick up the second series starting with issue #1 and the Raven/Trigon storyline.

Now that we’ve gotten that exhausting bit of explanation out of the way, I have to say that I think I agree with those fans who think that one of the contributions to the decline in the Titans through the late 1980s was the fact that the book was part of this direct market push.  This was at a time when the idea of a comics shop was really starting to gain steam and both DC and Marvel (but honestly, I think DC more than Marvel because I don’t recall that many “direct market only” titles from Marvel) were creating products specifically to be sold in comics shops.  For DC this meant books like The New Teen Titans, The Legion of Super-Heroes, The Outsiders, Vigilante, and The Omega Men being printed on Baxter paper and sold at a higher price as if they were meant to be in a bookstore instead of a spinner rack at the 7-Eleven (I think we kinda see this today with the trade paperbacks market … more books are coming out in hardcover and then softcover because DC and Marvel are clearly following a traditional publishing model that caters to Barnes & Noble rather than the LCSes of the world).  Sure, of the three super-hero titles (Titans, Legion, Outsiders) there were newsstand-available reprint books, but I think that this move still took the Titans off the market and damaged sales potential.

But that’s not what really hurt the book so much as the actual stories did.  Wolfman and Perez were a great team, but they tend to have the same faults as a Lennon/McCartney pairing.  Both are great writers on their own but their weaknesses definitely get the better of them at times.  I haven’t read too much of George Perez’s Wonder Woman, which is the title he took over after Crisis (I intend to, eventually), but I can say that Wolfman’s work suffered a bit … and he admits it, having said that during the post-Crisis period he went through a serious case of writer’s block, which caused the quality of the book to suffer and storylines to drag on way longer than they had to.  I mean, Chris Claremont was writing the X-books at the time and his run is notorious for long-assed storylines, but the x-books in the 1980s had really hit their stride and Marvel was doing the right events and hiring the right artistic talent to put that book on top and keep it on top.  I mean, I enjoyed Eduardo Barretto’s run as an artist on New Teen Titans, but the guy wasn’t Jim Lee.

Why, then, did it always seem that the books published between New Teen Titans #6 and New Titans #50 were such a pain in the ass to find?  I have no idea.  If I could speculate, perhaps the first year or so the book was selling so well that there weren’t that many back issues, and once the book started to fall off, the number of books ordered probably declined.  Bob just didn’t have that many of the second series, so it meant going elsewhere, like to Sun Vet and any other shop I could find.  Thankfully, the trip was always worth it because here and there I wound up with a couple of books at the low price of $3-5 each and eventually collected the entirety of an enormous storyline that starts with a spaceship crashing in Tales of the Teen Titans #52 and ends with Raven getting naked in New Teen Titans #39.

Uh … what?  Trust me, I’ll get to it.  It’ll take a long time, but I’ll get there.

Azrael (as he'd come to be known) makes off with Lilith in a storyline that involves the Titans of Myth.

Sooooooooooo we start in 1984-1985 with the first few issues after George Perez had left the title (though he stuck around for a few covers) and the team had settled in to a pretty comfortable groove.  Dick Grayson had quit being Robin and become Nightwing; Joe Wilson, son of Deathstroke, had formally joined the Titans as Jericho; and Donna Troy and Terry Long were married.  Raven was the one loose end but we’ve covered that.  In Tales #52, a spaceship is discovered in the arctic and it houses a winged alien whom Lilith Clay, the precognitive member of the original Teen Titans, takes a liking to.  He fights with the Titans in one of those “huge misunderstanding” type of stories and then more or less disappears for a little bit, although he would show up post-Trigon, as would Lilith, who at this time was also having wicked nightmares that tie into that first post-Trigon story.

The first non-Perez art we see on the title, btw is by Rich Buckler who is one of those perfect fill-in guys because he was a young George Perez’s mentor back in the 1970s and therefore has a bit of a similar style, if it’s not a little stiff.  The only problem with the art on these first few issues is that Mike DeCarlo is inking and while he’s a capable inker, his artwork tends to take over the pencils, which works well with some artists and not so much with others.

Anyway, we briefly skip to the second series’ first issue, where there is a one page interlude on Tamaran with the planet having been freed from the Citadel and everyone celebrating while they send a spaceship to Earth to get Starfire.  That’s the only page drawn by Perez in this story (though he would do quite a few covers) because we skip right to issue #7 where that mysterious winged alien guy shows up again.  He’s now mysteriously able to speak English (he wasn’t able to previously) and is clearly in love with Lilith.  He goes to see her but she is abducted by Thia, a Titan of myth, who reveals that Lilith is her daughter.  The fight shifts to Paradise Island and ends in a Clash of the Titans-esque battle royale were the Titans fight mythological creatures and Lilith is shuffled off to a life as a goddess (much to the chagrin of our alien) and the team gains another new member in Kole, a girl who can spin crystal and is not so much a goddess but the result of her mad scientist father’s experiments, which end in issue #12 when he transforms himself and his wife into cockroaches so they can survive what he thinks is the coming apocalypse.  No, seriously.

Kole's parents turn themselves into bugs and go off to survive the oncoming apocalypse. Kole then joins the Teen Titans and is killed in the Crisis. No, I'm not being snarky. It really happened that way.

As silly as that sounds, the books from #7-11 of the series are pretty solid with beautiful art by Jose-Luis Garcia Lopez, who draws Wonder Woman just as well as George Perez ever did, and really knows how to handle a story that has so much mythology to it, even if it is a little bit cumbersome at times.  Kole is the second new member of the team in as many years, after they had spent the better part of their existence with a relatively static membership.  However, she was a bit of an editorial mandate because at this point Crisis was kicking into high gear and Wolfman was killing off characters left and right.  The problem that some people had with this?  Well, he was killing off other people’s characters, and this ruffled some feathers so he pretty much agreed to create a character specifically as Crisis on Infinite Earths cannon fodder.  The result?  Kole, a crystal-spinning  redhead teenage girl whom Jericho obviously falls for and winds up being a character that fans really took to, cared about, and were sad to see go in Crisis #12.  In fact, I can hear the Titans fans now … “Why couldn’t you have created Danny Chase in 1984 and Kole in 1986?”

Anyway, issue #12 is a pretty inconsequential issue except that it starts to answer the questions, “How are we going to bring Raven back?” and “What’s going to happen to the winged alien guy?”  Well, there’s a half a page of a town in Alabama where people have claimed to see a witch that heals people; and there is a page where Mother Mayhem–she of the church of Brother Blood–sees the alien, comforts him, names him Azrael, and feeds him some line about his destiny.  During the next three issues, we are set off on our three major storylines and have our regular penciller for the next couple of years or so: Eduardo Barretto.

The Wolfman/Barretto pairing is actually not that bad when you look at the book overall during this period of the New Teen Titans.  Barretto draws a decent comic (and really draws Wonder Girl well) and while his idea of what’s fashionable for clothing in the 1980s (seriously, some of the stuff is pretty godawful), his stuff is fluid and lends itself to the very soap opera-like story that Wolfman was telling.  Issue #13 is a Crisis crossover and we see the Tamaranean ship from issue #1 get closer to Earth before it shows up in #14 (something so important that it got a couple of panels in Crisis #9).  Dick and Joey go off to Tamaran; Arella looks for Raven and finds her before they’re both kidnapped by Brother Blood’s church; and Steve Dayton has upgraded the Mento helmet and it has driven him insane (he even attacks a “Dr. Richards,” who has graying temples … heh).

A retailer poster for Starfire's wedding. Art by Eduardo Barretto. Poster from Titanstower.com

So let’s start with the Tamaran story since it is the first one of the three to get wrapped up.  Basically, the reason that the ship has been sent to earth is so that the crew can bring Starfire back to her home planet where she is expected to marry Karras, the prince of the planet’s southern state.  Doing so will prevent an encroaching civil war.  As expected, this pisses off Nightwing and by issue #18 he winds up leaving the planet and heading back to Earth where he mopes around and gets into a fight with Donna before going off to find Raven.  Starfire, meanwhile, doesn’t exactly have a good marriage because her sister is not only revealed to be alive but she leads a rebel army against her parents and a civil war does break out, ending in another smackdown between the two, except this time there is no winner.  They are made to stop fighting and Blackfire is given control of the planet with her father as an adviser.

Like I said, I wasn’t a big fan of the outer-spacey Titans stories and I’m not a huge fan of the Omega Men, who cross over with the book during the height of this story (we go from Omega Men #34 to New Teen Titans #16 to Omega Men #35 to New Teen Titans #17 and the Starfire-Blackfire confrontation finally takes place in New Teen Titans #23).  Having Dick and Kory spend time on a relatively “peaceful” Tamaran (as opposed to the war-torn world of the first Blackfire ark a few years earlier) seemed like an excuse for showing scantily clad aliens (because apparently, open-faced sexiness abounds on Tamaran).  The civil war aspect of it is interesting at times, especially because Wolfman doesn’t make Blackfire a villain this time around.  She has, as he shows, less of a lust for power and more of a desire to return her people to glory by capturing their true warrior spirit.  So she’s not necessarily evil at this point but definitely not good and the ending is more complex and probably more mature than you’re used to seeing from a comic book.  Let’s face it, if she had simply come to Earth to wipe out Starfire, it would have been a cut and dry ending.  Here, after she takes over the planet and exiles her family,then her family comes back with an army, Starfire is just as guilty of destruction and mayhem as her sister, even if it is “for the greater good.”

House ad for the Starfire wedding storyline.

The wedding arc, from what I gather, had its fair share of promotion.  Within comic books, an ad that simply said “Starfire is getting married and it’s not to Nightwing” popped up (usually under an advertisement for the FHE release of the first few Transformers cartoons on VHS) and there was at least one poster released to comics shops (it goes for about $25 on eBay).  I guess at this point, comics readers still saw Nighwing and Starfire as a key couple in the DCU and the idea that she would get married to someone else would be enough to get them reading.  For what it’s worth, while the half-naked aliens thing does get tiring after a while (Tamaraneans are orange and dress like they’re from the 1980s so basically everything looks like it was taking place on the Jersey Shore), the cover to New Teen Titans #17, which was also used on the promo poster, is pretty sweet.  Kory in a tattered wedding dress with starbolts at the ready is one of Barretto’s more dramatic covers.

Now, while Starfire is off fighting for her planet, Nightwing returns home dejected (and Jericho returns home upset when he finds out Kole died in the Crisis) and almost immediately picks a fight with Donna in issues #18-19 (the cover to issue #19 is a sweet Perez cover of Nightwing against a cracked mirror with a furious Wonder Girl in the reflection), then decides that being a Titan isn’t worth it so much as finding Raven is.  He winds up sneaking into the Church of Brother Blood and makes a startling discovery–Raven is now wearing a white cloak and is part of Blood’s church.  This finally breaks him and by the end of issue #22, he is a brainwashed cult member, which is what he would be for the next eight months or so.

Meanwhile, Cyborg and Changeling are dealing with Mento who has had some divine revelation as a result of what happened in Swamp Thing #50 (an issue I’ve read but don’t really remember, to be completely honest) and decides that he is going to create a new version of the Doom Patrol.  This Doom Patrol is The Hybrid, a team of half-human/half-mythological creature freaks that he controls and uses to attack Vic, Gar, and the other Titans.  It’s a battle that interrupts the overall Brother Blood storyline and then is interrupted itself when the Titans (or what’s left of them) see Nightwing and Raven on television as members of Brother Blood’s church and travel to Zandia where they finally go after them.  Brother Blood is resurrected, and then somehow uses his emotion-manipulating powers to control half the planet’s population so they can topple their governments.  A number of super-heroes stop the mad people and the Titans stop Blood when Raven and Nightwing get their minds back and Raven more or less mindwipes the villain, leaving him and Azrael in a monestary in Virginia.

Raven takes down Brother Blood for good.

That is a short way of summing up the better part of a year and a half’s worth of stories, but honestly it’s an exhausting story to read and was an exhausting story to collect.  I can see where Wolfman was getting a little burned out.  He had set up three storylines that were going to break the team apart and pull them together–and they did, but it took incredibly long.  I mean, Starfire is off-planet for the better part of a year and then makes her return in issue #26 but not before having the first couple of issues of the solo series Teen Titans Spotlight dedicated to her traveling to South Africa and learning about Apartheid.  No, really, it’s one of those issues, because apparently she had become so warrior-like on Tamaran that she needed to be reminded that on Earth you don’t kill people and that Earth really is her home.  I mean, I guess it’s a good reminder that deep down Kory is the passionate one who is a bit innocent and will always need to learn things about her new home, but it seems a little forced, as if she can prove to both the reader and her wayward boyfriend that she’s okay and she loves him and she’s a hero.

This is where Brother Blood would remain ... until Geoff Johns showed up.

Then, well, as much as I think the idea of Brother Blood was kind of cool this drags it out so much and is a bit unrealistic.  Yes, I get that he would try to get as much influence as possible and using Raven and Azrael to stage his ressurection on national television is a good ploy, but I find it a little hard to believe that he would rise to national prominence and have so many followers with such a harsh image.  A more realistic portrayal of Blood and his church would have them be more of a “fake Christianity” kind of in the way that the reverend in the classic X-Men graphic novel God Loves, Man Kills.  But if you’re going to have what’s basically a Satanic cult be a formidable enemy, you probably should have them always bubbling just below the surface and not be using 1980s sci-fi comically huge computer arrays to control the emotions and thoughts of the world.

Kory, Dick still loves you ... he just has no interest in starring in your Tamaranean porno flicks.

Plus, this entire part of the series–both Tamaran and Brother Blood–is weirdly sex-obsessed.  I’m not a prude by any means but Wolfman spends a lot of time on the “exotic Tamaranean sexytime,” even going as far as to show Kory and Karras consummating their marriage (all the while she’s thinking of “Dick,” which … yeah, I’m not the only one to make that joke on the Internet, trust me), and then the better part of an annual showing how Brother Blood came to be (he’s one of a long line of Brother Bloods, and the son always kills the father) in a story that reads like a blood and sex-filled Hammer horror movie.  In fact, there were a couple of offended readers who wrote in letters, and many others who thought that this whole story had dragged on for way too long.

But the ending is at least satisfying.  This is during an age when villains weren’t killed on a regular basis and either were put in jail or Arkham Asylum, or escaped.  Brother Blood doesn’t need to die, as much as Mother Mayhem wants him to at some point, and Raven more or less taking all of his mind and leaving him slightly lobotomized at the end of it all is a bit more humane, even if it is questionable.

As for Mento … well, he finally, finally, FINALLY gets his due in issue #34.  Raven “cures” him of his madnessk after he adds more to his Hybrid team and eventually the relationship he has with his son, Gar, is patched up, as is the relationship that Nightwing has with Starfire.  It’s a bit of an anticlimax because he got shoved aside for the end of the Brother Blood storyline and then is brought back in an, “Oh, yeah, this has been going on for two years” sort of way.

So what does this have to do with the fact that when we start New Titans #97, Gar Logan is swiping the Mento Helmet and in Team Titans #7, someone who looks like an evil version of Raven is lurking in the background?  Well, I’ll break it down:

Raven uses her new emotion-controlling powers to cure Mento of his insanity.

Steve Dayton:  The relationship between Gar and Dayton is repaired and immediately after Mento’s defeat and the arguments they get in from here on out are more about the fact that Gar’s grades in school suck and that means he can’t be a Titan (seriously, this actually happens).  But being that he’s a billionaire and much of his company’s technology is used for things like defense contracts, it makes sense that Dayton would tinker with the Mento Helmet either for his own personal use or for a new product he can launch.  Besides, at this point the Brotherhood of Evil really isn’t around (Brain and Monseiur Mallah are believed dead in issue #27 and killed off for real during Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol run) so there’s nobody to try and steal the helmet or attack Dayton so he can work on projects like this quietly.  I guess you don’t need to know who any of those characters or what the Mento helmet actually is but since issue #97 features story elements that hadn’t appeared in a Titans in a few years, it definitely helps.

In this issue, Starfire and Raven swim naked. Hide it from your parents.

Dick/Kory/Raven:  Prior to Raven’s death, she and Starfire were never really that close.  Since Raven’s giving into any emotion would send her down the path toward Trigon’s control, she didn’t allow herself to get close to anyone.  After Trigon is dead and Raven is ressurrected, she is able to feel emotions without consequences; furthermore, she has gained the power to control people’s emotions, or at least let them feel certain things.  Raven, as a result, becomes a bit more innocent and also starts to fall for Dick and manipulates him into thinking he might have feelings for her.  Kory gets wind of this and instead of a fight breaking out, she has Raven take them to Tahiti so they can talk.  New Teen Titans #39 is a book that when I picked it up made me feel a little uncomfortable, like I’d purchased porn or something.

I mean, it’s not like I was buying Tarot or Lady Death or Vampirella, but a naked Raven emerging from tropical waters followed by several pages of Kory (and Raven, at points) in the buff or very little clothing unsettled me for some weird reason, especially since the story was very much the “Titans soap opera” and was all about them exploring their emotions and feelings and figuring out how she really feels about Dick.  It was an odd issue that really only serves to set up the fact that Raven and Kory once bonded.  Otherwise, it’s probably one of the low points in the series.

Mother Mayhem gives birth to a girl, which "breaks" the curse of Brother Blood. Until Geoff Johns shows up.

There were a few dangling plot threads left over that were tied up before the Titans Hunt began.  Mother Mayhem was pregnant with Brother Blood’s child and in New Teen Titans #41-42, The Wildebeest (who had first appeared a few issues earlier but was not yet in the “Titans Hunt” mode) captures her, probably to see if he could gain the power of Brother Blood through the child.  She eventually has a baby girl and declares that the curse of Brother Blood (i.e., the son shall grow up to slay the father and become the new Brother Blood) has been broken.  It wraps it up in a nice little package, although I wonder why the woman was never put on trial for Blood’s crimes or why nobody thinks that her daughter could grow up to be Sister Blood.  Then again, that whole storyline had probably left such a bad taste in fans’ mouths that they were happy to get it over with.

Karras dies in battle on Tamaran in New Titans Annual #6

 

The issue of Starfire’s marriage took longer to resolve.  Kory was technically married to Karras and he returned in Annual #6 when Blackfire asked her sister to fight alongside her against alien invaders.  Karras joins the fight but is ultimately killed and the two sisters part ways with a mutual respect for one another, even though they don’t necessarily see eye to eye.

It is amazing to see how much was truly “wrapped up” before the Titans Hunt storyline began with issue #71, even if the point where I’m at in recapping the books has very deep roots, roots that would not only be explored in the coming months but would unravel the team for good.

 

 

Next Up: The Darkening and The Darkening Night in New Titans #97-99, Annual 9 and Team Titans #7-10 takes us to the monumental New Titans #100.

3 comments

  1. Pingback: Anguilla Tours
  2. Barretto is no Jim Lee. True. Barretto actually draws more than one face and body type and knows his anatomy. Lee just sucks donkeys.

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