The Numbers Game (My Life as a Teen Titan, Part Sixteen)

You know, the 1990s take a lot of crap from comics fans (read: it’s cool to trash them on the Internet) and a lot of that crap is pretty justified (you find value in Brigade.  No, seriously.  I’ll sit here and wait.), but as I have said before and will say again, it actually was a pretty great time to be a comic book fan.  Not only were comics selling like crazy, but so many titles hit milestone issues.  Between the time I started collecting comics in the late summer of 1990 and the time I graduated high school in June 1995, there were plenty of “anniversary” issues to go around.  Either characters turned 30, 40, or 50 (such as happened over at Marvel) or titles hit an issue that was a multiple of 50.   For instance, you had Action Comics hit issue #700; Batman hit issue #500; and because they all more or less debuted around the same time after Crisis, The Flash, Superman, Justice League America, Wonder Woman, and Green Arrow all hit issue #100 within a few months of one another in 1995.  And the New Titans celebrated its centennial issue as well.

Now, considering that this was the 1993, an anniversary cover could no longer simply carry a special banner (like the “Anniversary” one that DC used for the better part of a decade on the cover of any milestone isssue–in fact, the last comic I remember seeing the “Anniversary” banner on was Detective Comics #627, which was the “600th” appearance of Batman in the title).  In order to commemorate said anniversary, you needed a gimmick.  For instance, Superman #75 (the Death of Superman issue) had a deluxe edition that came in a black polybag with some stuff (you know, I never opened the polybag and wound up selling it on eBay still in the polybag); Batman #500 had an overlaid cutout of Batman swinging through Gotham over Azbats swinging through Gotham in an entirely different costume.  And the title that during its formative years the Titans had been compared to–The Uncanny X-Men–had a foil cover with the X-Men’s logo in a hologram for its 300th issue that March, a mere three months before New Titans #100 debuted in July.

Considering that since its debut in 1984 with the epic return of Trigon storyline, the New Teen Titans series that would eventually would be renamed The New Titans with #50 had gone through many ups and downs and had nearly been canceled at least once, the fact that issue #100 was hitting the stands was something pretty remarkable.  Also, the fact that Nightwing and Starfire were going to be married in issue #100 was something pretty remarkable because if you go all the way back to issue #1, they were shown in bed together for the very first time and that caused quite a stir in the lettercolumns.

But if you look at the foil-embossed cover, which is all nice and rainbow-reflective when you hold it up to the light, Dick and Kory weren’t exactly on their way to wedded bliss.  The Grummett/Vey cover (their very last on the title) shows an unmasked Dark Raven looking excessively sunburned and wearing an outfit that is something out of a bad S&M fantasy holding both the bride and groom while the Titans plus guest stars Robin and The Flash look on.  It’s a revelation of a villain whose big “reveal” we would have expected to have to wait for during the issue but I guess considering that the average Titans fan had figured out that the cloaked figure who’d made out with Liz Alderman and brought us the Deathwing (seriously … Deathwing?) for the past few issues was Raven, so at least we weren’t left feeling insulted, and we were teased from the shelves by what promised to be a decent fight.

[A quick note: back in 2000 on the DC Comics Online message boards, this version of Raven earned the nickname “Evil Lesbian Raven” or ELR.  I’m going with Dark Raven here, but I at least needed to give that a mention because it became one of the longer running jokes on that board before it was revamped.]

When you open the issue, after looking at the inside cover and being reminded that big things were happening over in Batman, as Bane had just broken Bruce Wayne’s back and we were now on our way to the Azbats era, you see a splash page of a wedding invitation along with the ominous title: “Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something … DEAD.”  It’s clear this wedding will not go well.  But before we learn that, we have to pick up where New Titans #99 left off and see someone rescue Changeling from the bottom of New York harbor.

We then cut to Steve Dayton’s mansion where Dick and Kory arrive to tell everyone their good news, but nobody is there because they were fighting the Brotherhood of Evil in the harbor.  A moment later, the Titans return and recap the fight, then Changeling shows up with Aqualad, who had rescued him from the harbor.  It becomes pretty clear that this particular story is going to be dropped for the time being, though, because Dick and Kory interrupt everyone with the news of their engagement and that story will dominate the rest of the issue.  Now, this is kind of disruptive to the flow of the whole “Darkening” story arc and kind of takes us out of it, but the first few post-#100 issues go right back to a few of these loose ends, so it gets a pass even though we’re left hanging.

Now, here is where we actually have to go completely out of the comic in order to stay with New Titans continuity.  I’ve mentioned before that I have trouble figuring out where annuals go, especially when they do not have anything to do with the story at hand or make no mention of when that double-sized adventure takes place (i.e., the Deathstroke and New Titans annuals from 1992).  With New Titans Annual #9, I did my best to place it and I have to say that if you are going for a true “continuity read” of this run, you would place the annual between pages 12-13 (or 9-10 if you aren’t counting the ads) of New Titans #100.

"She went to your house to tell you she was falling for you and Kory answered the door in her underwear! She was so upset, she and Glenn just jumped a plane to Vegas."

But do you really want to read New Titans Annual #9?  Weeellll … just know that it’s part of one of the more notorious annuals-based crossovers, Bloodlines.  This story was about a group of aliens who come to Earth and spend several books feeding on various people.  Most of them die but some who had latent metagenes come back to life as new heroes.  The New Titans annual gives us Anima, a punk girl (grrrrl?) who winds up having some type of life force-sucking spirit bonded to her and now has heightened strength and a “Nineties Attitude!”  In all honesty, the Titans’ presence is kind of unnecessary and this could have been a halfway decent story if they hadn’t been there.  The writers of the story were Paul Witcover and Elizabeth Hand, and they don’t have the same feel for the Titans characters that, say, Louise Simonson did when she pinch-hit on the title, although they do seem to give Anima some depth (and even include a Swamp Thing cameo).  I have a feeling that this was a proposed series that DC made them shoehorn into the annual event, especially considering that Anima’s own series started in December 1993.

But what is worth reading in the context of Nightwing and Starfire’s wedding is a book that came out fourteen years after New Titans #100, Nightwing Annual #2.  That particular book recaps the “missing year” in Nightwing’s life that took place after Infinite Crisis when all of DC’s titles jumped “One Year Later” in their stories.  It’s mainly a story about the relationship between Barbara Gordon (aka Oracle and formerly Batgirl) and Dick Grayson, showing how she helped him recover from trauamtic injuries and also giving several flashbacks into their relationship over the years.  Two of these flashbacks directly involve starfire.  The first takes place when Dick and Kory first started getting serious and in that Barbara shows up at Dick’s apartment to tell him that she loves him and is greeted by Kory, who is wearing her underwear and Dick’s Van Halen T-shirt … I mean his varsity jacket.

Giving the girl you just slept with an announcement for your wedding isn't the best way to thank her the morning after.

The second takes place right between these pages of New Titans #100.  It’s only two pages, but six months after Barbara is shot and crippled in The Killing Joke, Dick finally comes to see her, saying he was on Tamaran when it happened (it’s a bit of a stretch continuity-wise, considering The Killing Joke came out in the years between Tamaran trips for the Titans, but it’s believable enough of an excuse) and is about to tell her something when Barbara kisses him and they sleep together.  Then, the next morning, he finally gets around to what he was going to tell her and hands her his wedding announcement.

Wait … what?  You thought Dick loved Kory?  Well, when we go back to New Titans #100 where the couple is denied a marriage license because Kory’s an alien and City Hall finds something wrong in wanting to marry a six-foot tall orange-skinned alien with Eighties hair and  a huge rack, Dick is insistent that they get married.  It smacks of some sort of desperation to have his life in order and if that’s the case, then it makes total sense that he would have slept with Barbara because as tight as he wants to hold on, he keeps screwing up, something that even Donna Troy notices as the wedding is being set up on her farm and he’s about to blow a gasket when Alfred tells him that Bruce Wayne can’t come to his wedding.  At least he calms down when Alfred tells him that Bruce has a broken back (and that, btw, is the only time Dick Grayson goes anywhere near Knightfall.  But don’t worry, Bat fans, you’ll be seeing him on a regular basis in a little more than a year).

While getting dressed, Kory has her doubts ...

Kory has her doubts, too, but she doesn’t seem to have the courage to tell Dick and the two of them careen down the aisle (in a manner of speaking).  The music plays, the guests swoon at Kory’s dress, and the minister gets all the way to ‘husband and–” before he is barbecued by the one Titan who wasn’t invited:  Raven.  She, Deathwing, and Judge and Jury take on the Titans, Robin, and Flash.  Deathwing goes after Dick and we get a “You’re fighting your darker self” sort of banter from the evil version of Grayson before Raven finally gets what she came for, and that’s Kory.  Protecting the two of them in some sort of force field, she holds her close and does the same sort of sweet talking that worked on Liz Alderman, then says something about a soul being planted in Starfire before she kisses her.  Raven then takes off with Deathwing.

Kory is rushed to the hospital, Judge and Jury are taken away by the police, and a few days later, Roy Harper is in front of Sarge Steel in Washington, D.C. being told that the Titans need to work for the U.S. government or else they’re done for, and the box on the bottom of the last page says “Needless to say, to be continued …”  It’s the beginning of the end of this particular version of the Titans, and the beginning of what is greatly considered one of the worst periods of the book, and that’s due to the introduction of a new penciller, Bill Jaaska. I’m not going to get too much into what I think of Jaaska’s artwork because I have a future entry in this series that will be entirely devoted to it, but I will say that once Raven and company show up and it’s time for the big fight, the artwork shifts and it’s such a change (and a downgrade, to be honest) in styles that it’s extremely jarring.

... Raven frying the minister confirms those doubts.

But overall, the issue at least was as monumental as promised.  Whether or not that was a “good” monumental or a “bad” monumental is really up for grabs.  I personally thought it was worth the $3.50 that I paid for it at the time because at least there was some action and some true answers to the questions of the “mystery” villain lurking in the background of the Titans titles.  Plus, it set up about a year’s worth of stories so I can’t say that there wasn’t any follow through, even if Dark Raven would be kind of dragged out and the Cyborg storyline that would come out of the whole Brotherhood of Evil appearance would be more of a merciful ending than anything.

I can definitely say that it was a “deluxe” book, though.  New Titans #100 has more pages than usual and ends with four pinups, plus it was important enough to DC to warrant some merchandise and promotion.  The pinups are of varying quality.  John Costanza delivers a Teeny Titans pinup which marks the last appearance of those characters ever in a Titans book; Bill Jaaska brings a ferocious Baby Wildebeest, which showed a little more potential than his actual pencils in the issue; and Alan Davis and Mark Farmer provide an awesome Nightwing and Starfire pinup, which reminds the average fan that there was a Nightwing miniseries planned at one point but would be shelved for a few years.

The infamous Dark Raven/Starfire kiss.

The other two pinups represent the best and worst of this title and comics at the time.  Near the end of the book is a two-page spread of Titans villains drawn by Phil Jiminez, who was still on Team Titans at the time.  It was and still is absolutely gorgeous and shows just about every single Titans adversary going back to the team’s 1960s beginnings in The Brave and the Bold. It has that old-school, George Perez feel to it and makes you wish that the editors could have gotten Perez to contribute at least something to the issue, although it’s my understanding that at the time Perez wasn’t doing much mainstream work and didn’t have the best relationship with DC after the failure of War of the Gods.  But Jiminez has always been a good artist and I love this acknowledgement of the team’s rich history.

On the downside, though, is a Titans swimsuit pinup by an artist named Mal Davis who I am not familiar with outside of this one pinup.  It’s one of those pinups that were all over the place at this point (in fact, Marvel and Image both did “Swimsuit Issues” at this time) and was kind of unnecessary for the book, as was Raven’s look.  I mean, I’m  not a prude or anything, but the bad cheesecake pinups of this era are a bit unbecoming, especially when I would have wanted to see a couple more pages of story.

The promo poster for New Titans #100. Image courtesy of Titanstower.com

The New Titans #100 T-shirt. The front is on top and back is on bottom.

I wouldn’t have to see too much of Kory trying to rip her bathing suit off, anyway, because the character that would show the most skin from here on out would be Dark Raven, whose look was hot enough to make it onto a promotional poster and a T-shirt, neither of which I knew existed until I went searching on eBay for Titans posters one random afternoon.

The poster was a comics shop poster that also made its way to a house ad that was included in that month’s issues, such as New Titans Annual #9, proclaiming that New Titans #100 featured the “wedding of the year” but it’s too bad that nobody invited Raven and showing the former-teammate-now-villain looming over the decimated Titans.

The T-shirt is actually a lot cooler, with the Tom Grummett-drawn team charging out of the front, but the Dark Raven on top of the 100 on the back is something that would have definitely gotten me in trouble in high school.  I do not own the poster, but I do have this T-shirt, having found it extremely cheap on eBay a few months ago.  It hadn’t been worn, either, as it came in the original plastic bag that Graffiti designs packaged it in nearly twenty years ago.  However, it did reek of whatever patchouli oil the seller bathed in and it took two runs through the washing machine before it was wearable.  Even then, I think I’ve worked out in it and done yardwork.  Maybe I’ll wear it to a comics show one day if I ever manage to be able to go to one.  You know, because that will give me cred.

Anyway, though, this should have been a great turn of direction for the book and wound up being one of the most derided eras in the team’s history.  But die-hards like me would stick with it, hoping for a light to appear at the end of the tunnel, even if that did take nearly two years to get there.

Next Up: The immediate aftermath in New Titans, plus the continuing adventures of the Team Titans.

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