If you were creating a comic book in the 1990s or if you were revamping a flagging title, you probably wound up doing one of four things (if not all four): added a lot of guns and maybe some leather jackets to the cast’s wardrobe; gave the entire female cast, even the mousy girl, boob jobs; made half of the characters darker, edgier, or maybe even evil; killed someone; and hired an artist who drew like Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, or Todd MacFarlane. By the time that New Titans hit its “zero issue” (in other words issue #0) in 1994, they had either attempted or accomplished all five. It started, of course, with issue #71, which is where we started this journey, but the process ramped up with New Titans #100, which was the conclusion to a story arc called “The Darkening.”
Yeah, they actually called it “The Darkening.” Moreover, there was a companion story that ran in Team Titans called “The Darkening Night,” which wrapped up in that title but the implications of which were shown in New Titans #100. It’s kind of hard to figure out the order in which to read the individual comics of these stories, as they are two separate continuous stories, but in looking at them again I broke it down by reading New Titans #97, 98, and 99, then following with Team Titans #7-10 before reading New Titans #100 (and Annual #9, which will get a little bit of a mention at some point). I know, this is one of those “get back to the nerdery” moments here, but the only books that I knew at this time that were doing a continuing story across several titles and let you know what order in which to read those titles were the Superman books, so sometimes you have to figure these things out for yourself.
New Titans #97 begins the very last story arc for the art team of Tom Grummett and Al Vey, who had more or less been working on the book during the end of George Perez’s second tenure, which was about issue #56 or so. I was going to miss this art team, although not too much–not because I didn’t like them, but because Grummett was already on Adventures of Superman and would be working on the regular Robin title, so at least I got to see the same pencils somewhere else. I’ll … uh … get to his replacement in a later entry, so for now let’s just get to “The Darkening.”
We open with Gar stealing Steve Dayton’s latest Mento helmet and being confronted by Plasmus, whom he is bringing it to. This provides a really solid opening and since we haven’t seen The Brotherhood of Evil in quite a long time, you begin to think that issue #100 is going to be some sort of really sweet knock-down, drag-out battle between the two groups. Gar’s got solid motivation for stealing the helmet and making a deal with them because if The Brain is alive he may have the know-how to use the helmet to cure Cyborg.
Meanwhile, Dick and Kory are fighting again, which seems a bit inconsistent with the three issues that Louise Simonson wrote wherein Dick and Mirage played it up for the media and Kory seemed … well, not great about it, but she wasn’t getting all ticked off at him in the middle of the video store like she does here. To make matters worse, he is evicted from his apartment and Roy Harper is pressuring him to cooperate with the government, which has offered to take care of the Titans’ debts and legal troubles. Not wanting to be a government stooge, Dick tells him off.
And then, we get to see who the big bad villain is going to be for … well, for the rest of this series. Or at least we get a clue as she appears in Liz Alderman’s office and seduces the city councilwoman before kissing her and making her obviously go crazy; in fact, this effectively ends the Alderman/NYC lawsuit storyline because by the time we hit the beginning of issue #98, she is Renfeld to this mysterious woman, bringing her children to “feed” on.
Meanwhile, the Titans are called to investigate why Gar stole the Mento Helmet and Pantha starts to remember that the technology the Wildebeests used to create her was from Dayton Technologies, and wonders what they had to do with anything. Considering that we as an audience know that Dayton, when he was crazy back in the Brother Blood storyline, created the Hybrid, so there’s precedent here. Unfortunately, this really never goes anywhere because Dayton pressures the Titans to find Gar with help from … Roy Harper, who was formally Speedy but is now ARSENAL! Complete with a 1990s color-scheme blue and purple costume! Seriously, it gives some of Nightwing’s worst looks a run for their money.
Bickering between Arsenal, Dayton, and the Titans is interrupted by Warp, who has been with the Brotherhood of Evil and the captured Changeling, and he relates a few things: Rita Farr, the former Doom Patrol member and Gar’s adopted mother, is alive; she, Mallah, and the Brain used the Mento Helmet on Gar and it screwed him up like crazy; and apparently she’s not really Rita Farr but some sort of light being disguised as Rita Farr. When New Titans #99 has ended, Arsenal has led the team, except for Nightwing, to a boat in New York Harbor and is fighting Rita Farr when the boat explodes. Meanwhile, Nightwing goes to see Starfire and proposes, effectively putting an end to the Nightwing-Starfire-Mirage fight.
The other thing that puts an end to that fight is the appearance of the “future Nightwing” from New Titans Annual #7 (the Armageddon 2001 crossover) in Team Titans #7. We knew he showed up a few issues ago but this time, he sneaks into Donna Troy’s house and after tussling with the former Wonder Girl reveals himself and Miri is beyond happy. However, Donna and some of the others are suspicious … as they should be, because at the end of the first part of “The Darkening Night,” our mysterious woman from “The Darkening” has gotten future Nightwing and he has been transformed into DEATHWING!!!
Oh yes, we have an evil version of Nightwing named Deathwing. He comes home (after stealing a new wardrobe complete with ultimate extreme disco collar!), has sex with Mirage and then tries to kill her. It’s chaos at the Long farmstead again and when Donna calls Nightwing and Starfire all upset about it, Kory answers the phone in the middle of her champagne sex celebration with Dick to basically say, who cares … they’ve both got their Nightwings, so everyone’s happy.
The main plot of “The Darkening Night,” by the way? Well, it seems that Dagon, aka Nightrider, has stumbled upon a cult of vampires adn the Teamers have to fight them off. In all honesty, it’s one of those stories where there is a lot of blood and some decent fighting but Nightrider was never one of my favorite member of the team and I have to wonder whether or not Marv Wolfman had rented The Lost Boys before sitting down to write this. Besides, I found myself being more interested in what was happening in the scenes between the action. That included the mysterious woman who was turning people evil, as well as the Team Titans’ attending school, where they quickly realize that being a super-powered teenager is not all it’s cracked up to be. Terra’s extensive knowledge of her alternate earth’s history makes her seem utterly stupid; Redwing’s wings make nobody want to play volleyball with her; and Kilowatt gets detention for daydreaming.
Also, Kole appears. No, really. Kole, who was Crisis cannon fodder, appears and uses her crystal to shine sunlight into the vampires’ lair during the climactic battle in issue #10 and it looks like she is going to have something to do with the mysterious evil woman. I think that I wasn’t the only person who jumped to that conclusion and knowing how things would turn out in both books I have to say that I can’t help but feel a little disappointed in rereading these issues.
Because we actually start off nicely here. “The Darkening” leaves something to be desired and even back in 1993 I thought Arsenal’s costume was ridiculous (and that Roy was really, really whiny) but Grummett and Vey were back to some pretty solid artwork; moreover, the artist on “The Darkening Night” was Phil Jimenez, whom I had wanted to see more of ever since I saw his pencils on the Terra origin in Team Titans #1. Jiminez does seem to take a lot of crap on the internet for aping George Perez’s style, but honestly … I don’t see anything wrong with that, especially considering that half the comics coming out at this point had an artist who was aping one of the Image Comics creators. And since Perez was the ultimate Titans artist, getting Perez 2.0 was welcoming.
In fact, Harris and I let the editors know as much because our letter about issue #95 was printed in New Titans #98. In the letter, we go with what had become a typical format for the letters we were writing. We’d talk about the latest issue, make some comments or critiques, ask some questions, and then ask them to kill Donna Troy. In this particular letter, we not only praise the fact that issue #95 actually had a lettercolumn but that Simonson and Jiminez put together a really solid story, some of the best since Total Chaos (which doesn’t seem like much but consider that we had to endure that whole “Sell-Out” storyline, which was quite subpar).
Our questions really weren’t that great. We asked if the press knew that Dick Grayson was Nightwing (which was more or less answered by the time #96 was on the stands anyway), tried to get them to reveal something about New Titans #100, and asked if the Justice League and Titans were ever going to team up. The answers we got from then-assistant editor Frank Pittarese? A couple of quips and a paragraph aboout Bloodlines, that summer’s annual crossover. His response to our Donna Troy request was witty, at least. “What’s the deal with Donna Troy?” he asked, “Why do you guys hate her so much? Will you ever tell me? Don’t you hate it when people answer questions with questions?”
In the very least, with its heroes becoming villains, mysterious enemies, and Nightwing and Starfire getting married, we had the makings of an awesome New Titans #100. Unfortunately, we were about to dive headlong into a lesson on how disappointing 1990s comics could be.
Next Up: New Titans #100. ’nuff said.