Titans After Dark (My Life as a Teen Titan, Part Nineteen)

New Titans #100 is probably one of the better examples of a “sucker punch” big issue that came out in the midst of the much-maligned “Dark Age” of comics.  Oh sure, there were big events in other comics that people actually cared more about; Superman had just come back from the dead, Batman #500 came out and Azbats gave Bane a serious beatdown, and we were getting pretty close to the time when Magneto ripped Wolverine apart (which is also close to the time I stopped buying the X-books).  But aside from the moment that would basically become the genesis of Onslaught (look it up, kids), many of the “events” were pretty well-known at the time.  And I guess you could say that Evil Raven interrupting the wedding of Dick Grayson and Kory Anders was telegraphed as well, but I think that most Titans fans didn’t expect the mood of the book to change so drastically with its new art team.

To say the least, Bill Jaaska’s contributions to the title weren’t very welcomed by fans (though the editors did have a tendency to run positive letters stating otherwise), and looking at it now it looks clunky in some parts and hasn’t really aged well, but I can see where they were going for a newer, darker mood for the book.  And in order to take the book down this path, Marv Wolfman had a four-pronged approached, at least for the next year’s worth of issues.  He had the Nightwing/Starfire relationship reach its ultimate conclusion, Changeling started to lose his mind due to the manipulations of the Mento helmet, Arsenal would gain control of the team, and after nearly four years of wondering what was going to happen to Vic Stone, we finally would get the conclusion to the Cyborg story.

But since the biggest event of the previous issue was Raven kissing Starfire, it’s best to bring us back to our exploration of the Titans books of this era by looking at how Nightwing and Starfire recovered from the kiss.  Issue #101 was appropriately titled “Aftermath” and begins in S.T.A.R. Labs, where Kory is flipping out because she thinks that Raven is attacking her.  It’s a little bit different from many of the other Raven attacks we’ve seen because Kory seems to be fighting Raven’s influence and Phantasm–who at this point only seems to show up when the plot finds it necessary–uses his powers to help her fight.  It seems that they chase away the demon and Kory is back to the land of the living.

Meanwhile, Arsenal is wresting control away from a distraught Nightwing and it looks like he is about to strike a deal where the Titans may be a government-sponsored organization, something that pisses Nightwing off to no end and he and Roy come to blows.  Dick leaves the Titans to be at Kory’s bedside and Roy takes the team over, and in order to follow the story of the fan favorite Titans couple, we have to head to Flash #80-83, a four-part storyline where they help Wally West face off against a group called the Combine and an ex-girlfriend of his, Frances Kane.

Frances, or “Frankie” as she is referred to in these issues of Flash, has magnetic manipulation powers and used to go by the name Magenta.  Unfortunately, she’s flat-out crazy, which began with her first appearance in issue #17 of the first New Teen Titans series. At that point, she is a friend of Wally’s who seems to be possessed and in a story very reminiscent of Carrie, her mother thinks that she is possessed by the devil and believes that the magnetic powers she has are responsible for the deaths of her father and brother.  There is something inside of her and it manifests itself in the form of a giant magnetic monster.  The Titans destroy the monster and we see that Frances is fine (though she still has magnetic powers) and even displays feelings for Kid Flash (which is why she shows up in the Trigon storyline at the beginning of the Baxter series).  And although she does have latent magnetic powers, it seems that the monster was caused by Dr. Polaris manipulating her from another dimension.

Frances shows up later during the Brother Blood storyline as Magenta and then in Teen Titans Spotlight #16 and 17, where she is living in San Francisco and working at S.T.A.R. Labs, learning how to control her powers.  But unknown to her, her boss, Dr. Alysia Damalis, has hypnotized her into being an assassin. Damalis has her try to kill the C-list heroes Thunder and Lightning and there’s a huge fight until Frances realizes what happened and tries to kill Demalis (a demonstration, by the way, of how incredibly uneven Teen Titans Spotlight was as a series).  But she is fine  and never makes another appearance until Flash #80, when Wally, now the Flash, fights her and beats her by using their former relationship to his advantage, telling her he’ll get back together with her.  It’s a sham shown on live television while Wally’s girlfriend, Linda Park, watches.

Of course, the fight isn’t over and when we open up issue #81, Wally is fighting Combine agents and is about to be overtaken when Nightwing and Starfire show up and help out.  They sneak into the Combine’s headquarters, Kory gets captured, they rescue her, and Wally winds up racing across the city to defuse a bomb, only he doesn’t know where the bomb is and winds up needing Frances’s help.

Dick and Kory take out the Combine’s forces while Frances uses her powers to keep the city from being destroyed.  Then, Dick heads off to Gotham City and things are a little confusing because in New Titans #102, Kory seems to be suffering from the same nightmares plaguing her in the previous issue of New Titans.  throughout the Flash storyline, Kory has her wits about her and it seems that she is in control of herself again.

Furthermore, Dick will head to Gotham City to work with Tim Drake (a.k.a. Robin) in order to take down some drug runners in Showcase ’93 #11 and 12.  This is around the time of “Knigthquest”  when Jean-Paul Valley, or Azrael, was running around Gotham as Batman nad Azbats had kicked Robin out of the Batcave and Wayne Manor, so it is actually kind of big for Bat fans who have been wondering why Nightwing wasn’t really involved in Knightfall.

The only problem here is that during the course of the two months or so that Nightwing is being written by three different people and seemed to have a different or at least a slightly inconsistent personality across these three books.  Wolfman has had Dick Grayson becoming slowly unhinged ever since the beginning of the Titans Hunt and now that Kory has been injured and Roy’s taken over the Titans, he’s lost a lot of confidence.  Mark Waid, who wrote Flash at the time, follows through on this but doesn’t seem to make Kory very screwed up.  I realize that she needs to be able to fight and maybe she’s just having nightmares, or she might be on meds–which is plausible–but there isn’t one provided.  Then, when Dick is in Gotham, he’s very stand-office with Tim, a person he’s always been close to because he helped train him at one point.  I mean, I guess it serves the story but why is he being such a … well, you know; and where is Kory when he seems determined not to leave her side?

At any rate, this marks the beginning of the end for Dick Grayson in the Titans (at least this time around), as he would return to the Bat fold in the fall of 1994 and the Titans themselves would be completely rearranged.  At the time I was honestly turned off by the main Titans book because of that artwork change and because aside from Evil Raven, there wasn’t much of a villain presence in the book.  But because of Nightwing and Starfire’s problems, I began reading Flash regularly and this was a time when Mark Waid really hit his stride with that title and his introduction of Impulse about a year later would have significant repercussions, especially for the Titans.

And I refused to give up on this book, not with so many plot threads still up in the air and the possibility that things would get better.  Although I do have to say that it was annoying to see it start to take a back seat to other more prominent books, and even, I admit, stuff that Wizard considered hot at the time.  Yeah, I don’t know why I bought the first issue of Bloodstrike  except to say that I was at an age where I easily fell into the trap that was the overhyped comics of the day and it was easy to see that the Titans titles were starting to lose the steam they had picked up with Total Chaos.  But it would not be without minor flashes of brilliance.

Next Up: We check in with the Team Titans as Marv Wolfman ends his run on that title.

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3 comments

  1. I dig your Titans columns. Are you going to write at some point (soon, please!) about New Titans 0, 115-130? I know that a lot of Titans fans don’t like this particular period but it is not that bad & it had potential. Thank you!

    1. I definitely will be covering those, probably in a few months after I have wound through all of the Dick Grayson/Tim Drake stories I am covering in “Taking Flight.” The Arsenal-led Titans are underrated and were fun to read at the time, despite the book’s obvious flaws.

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