Games (My Life as a Teen Titan, Part 18)

When I picked up New Titans #71, which at this point was more than two decades ago, I remember reading it from cover to cover several times over, especially after I read the next few issues of the Titans Hunt and was instantly drawn into the world of the Titans.  One of the more helpful parts of that book was a very long editorial in the lettercolumn by new editor Jon Peterson, who introduced himself and answered some fan comments, then teased the readers with what was coming in the future, which included an original Titans graphic novel.

Yesterday, almost exactly 21 years after I picked up that issue, that graphic novel came out.

Entitled Games, it is a full-length story by the classic New Teen Titans creative team of Marv Wolfman and George Perez, who began working on it back when Perez returned to the title in the late 1980s (New Titans #50 and the “Who is Wonder Girl?” storyline) for what wound up being a rather short stint, and takes place during that particular time period for the team.  It revolves around a new villain named The Gamesmaster, who has been making things tough for the C.B.I. (Central Bureau of Investigation, a fictional shadowy government agency) and its most prominent agent, King Faraday.  The Gamesmaster has been committing acts of terrorism that are part of an elaborate–and very deadly–war game that he now intends to draw the Titans into.

Faraday visits the Titans and makes them aware of the situation while we see several different people getting into place for what will be an eventual takedown of each of the heroes.   But first, after the Titans refuse to help Faraday clean up his mess, he begins to mess with their lives and the lives of their loved ones–Steve Dayton is audited, Starfire is investigated by the INS, and Joe Wilson’s mother’s company is under investigation.  So, they agree to meet again and he shows them, through the use of cards that look like they’re out of a role-playing game, that the Gamesmaster knows just about everything about them.  The team mobilizes to get their loved ones to safety and while they’re doing that, Sarah Simms doesn’t make it.

The death of one of Cyborg’s oldest friends enrages him and he almost takes it out on Faraday, but soon whatever pieces of this “game” there are is set into motion and each of the Titans is attacked individually by a villain that is meant to match his or her strength.  This leads to two key injuries:  Starfire takes a beating at the hands of a villain named Asteroid, and Danny Chase uses his telekinetic powers to protect people from a bomb.  From there, it’s a matter of two things:  uncovering the identity of The Gamesmaster and stop him from what appears to be his ultimate endgame, which is to destroy New York City, neither of which I’ll get into here for the sake of protecting spoilers, as this is a rare “current” post.

Now, like I said, Games is something that Titans fans had been waiting twenty years for, and for both Wolfman and Perez it was a longer journey.  As they detail in their introduction and afterword, the two had started working on the graphic novel back in 1988 when Perez decided to return to the title and at the time it was going to be worked into the current continuity.  They plotted the book and Perez drew 70 pages before the project was scrapped for various reasons.  After a series of rumors and false starts, Perez completed the final 50 pages and Wolfman wrote the dialogue during the last year or so.   The plot is actually a little different from the original, as times and continuities had changed since the late 1980s, but luckily they were able to use what Perez had created (unlike, say JLA/Avengers, which was a whole different story).  And I admit I was excited to pick this up this week.

I mean, who wouldn’t be?  The two people who made these characters who they are returning for a big story and not just a few pages in an anniversary issue?  Oh hell yes, sign me up!

But … would it be worth it?  I’ve seen enough bad reunions in entertainment to know that going home again is near impossible.  Sometimes you get a great product, like Springsteen and the E Street Band’s The Rising and Magic albums; other times you get The Phantom Menace (for the record, I don’t hate the Star Wars prequels, and I’m sure that’s something I will get into one day).  Games thankfully leans toward the former.   Perez’s art is as superior as it always is, and the two of them work hard to present the Titans with a credible threat and an interesting villain that is worthy of a match-up.

Most of the story is paced very well and has a cinematic feel to it, which is what I think you need in something like this, although it throws things off at times because when this team was in its heyday, they were producing serialized stories that usually had great cliffhangers and while we get that in here, it’s odd to see it resolved a page or two later rather than a month or two later.  In fact, if I have any beef with the writing, it’s probably with the ending.  Not the ending itself, mind you–I really liked the villain and I thought that the way that the book ended was an appropriate “final episode” for Wolfman and Perez’s Titans–but how quickly it came about.  It seems that the group goes from recovering from their individual battles to figuring out who the Gamesmaster is and going after that person way too quickly.  Then again, the action is meant to be fast-paced at this point so it kind of makes sense (and really, it’s more of a nitpick than anything).

And whatever faults the book has I can excuse because of this one thing:  they made Danny Chase cool.

No, I’m serious.  If there is a Cousin Oliver/Scrappy-Doo in the Titans universe, it’s Danny Chase.  Introduced a little more than a year before this was supposed to take place, Danny was a wisecracking redheaded kid who I guess was meant to breathe new life into the team but that just didn’t work and fans hated him.  Here, he is able to verbally spar with King Faraday because his own parents were C.B.I. agents and when he is actually in a fight that gets serious and then takes on a bomb himself (and loses both his hands), it’s a pretty badass moment.

I’m sure this will show up in trade paperback sometimes down the road, but right now the hardcover is available for $25 at your local comics retailer and honestly it is worth the money.  Wolfman and Perez’s reunion, since it is not stifled by the continuity at the time (and if you’re trying to place it, it’s probably somewhere between New Titans #62 and 71, although there are some odd continuity gaffes), is a very nice final chord on the end of whatever symphony they started back in DC Comics Presents #26, and since the old DC Universe washed away a few weeks ago and the Teen Titans look like they have been reinvented as a cheap X-Force knock-off (maybe one day I’ll say if I wind up liking it), this was a nice way to say goodbye.

At least for now, anyway.

Next Up: Back to the 1990s and the aftermath of New Titans #100 with Starfire and Nightwing.  For real, this time.

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