Terminus! (My Life as a Teen Titan, Part Twenty-Three)

The last panel that the late Eduard Barretto ever drew for the New Teen Titans was of Victor Stone kissing the woman who was now the love of his life, Sarah Charles, as they entered a new phase of their relationship at the end of New Teen Titans #49.  So I guess it’s wholly appropriate that by the time we finally got around to resolving the Cyborg storyline, it’s Sarah Charles who has been watching over him and trying to help restore his mind, even going so far as to head to Russia for him back in New Titans #94-96, which was one of the stronger post-Total Chaos stories that rightfully featured two of the Titans’ strongest members.

Unfortunately, the storyline that sends this particular strong member off is one of the weakest in the latter part of Marv Wolfman’s run, and one of the lowlights during the post-New Titans #100/pre-Zero Hour period (I’d call it the Bill Jaaska era, but most of the issues featured here actually aren’t drawn by Jaaska).  Entitled “Terminus: The Final Fate of Cyborg,” the story builds on what was established at the beginning of “The Darkening” with the apparent return of Rita Farr and villains that were not really villains but weird beings of light, and then goes bi-weekly for issues #104-107 in order to wrap everything up in a timely manner.

But the story really begins in New Titans #102, where Sarah Charles is trying to restore Vic and brings in the Team Titans’ ethereal computer guy, Prester Jon (my second-least-favorite Team Titan, something I’ll get more into next time) to try to interface with him, kind of in the same way that the Justice League used to use The Atom to go waaaayyyy down to somewhere small.  Meanwhile, Pantha digs deeper into whether or not Dayton Industries had something to do with her origin,  Dick and Kory are having their issues and Gar fights a monster called Sinn while he also fights against what seems to be indulging the fact that he can only seem to transform into monsters.  At the end of the issue, Sinn is revealed to be an agent of Raven, who is also manipulating Councilman Quirk, the replacement for Liz Alderman–which begs me to ask, if she was going to ruin the Titans’ public image all along, why remove Liz Alderman from the picture?

But we will leave Gar and Raven, as well as Dick and Kory for another month and turn our attention solely to Cyborg, as Prester Jon spends most of issue #103 inside Cyborg trying to find Vic Stone.  He runs into a fair bit of trouble, even getting attacked at one point while the fake Doom Patrol members from “The Darkening” show up and reveal themselves to be denizens of a planet called Technis and that they need Cyborg in order to survive.  The next issue box promises two issues per month and a “hot newcomer” named George Napolitano on pencils, which at the time was promising.  If you read the letters column from this time (when there was one), you’ll see that there were quite a number of readers who really loved Bill Jaaska’s pencils and DC was clearly making an effort to show all of us doubters out there that he was a good penciller.  The problem was that I couldn’t stand him and when I saw that someone else was taking on the art for a couple of months, I was actually excited and I think that Harris and I actually wrote a letter to the editor complimenting the art.

Re-reading it nearly two decades later, one of the biggest problems with Terminus is that the art completely takes away from what could have probably been a halfway decent story.  In fact, just as with many bad runs of art on any comic book, it becomes hard to “see” the story unless you take the time to read closely.  And the story itself is … well, it’ll seem familiar after a while.

Prester Jon gets a body ... or maybe he just possessed Tony Hawk? Not sure. It looks extreme, though.

When the first part of “Terminus” begins, Technis takes the Titans aboard their giant planet-like vessel and shows them their technological prowess, while because he’s within the confines of cyberspace, Prester Jon gets an actual body (which looks like someone’s interpretation of a late-1980s “skater dude”).  Naturally, they fight their way through Technis until things calm down and they get the planet’s origin, which ties into one of the weirder stories of the post-Crisis DC Universe.

Back in Swamp Thing #60, which was written by Alan Moore with artwork by John Totelben, Swamp Thing was drifting through space and came upon an electronic-based alien and the two mate.  The particular Swamp Thing issue uses an unconventional (for comics, anyway) storytelling format, as Moore’s story is actual prose text instead of word and thought balloons and caption boxes against splash pages of Totelben’s almost-surreal art.  It’s some of DC’s best science fiction and a very interesting way to show comic book sex.  After the sex, Swamp Thing leaves the alien and she gives birth to their offspring.

According to the alien’s siblings, however, the mating caused her and all of their siblings to grow sick, and now the entire planet–Technis–is dying.  Technis needs to integrate with Cyborg in order to survive, although unknown to them, Victor Stone is actually waking up.  Plus, they’re not being completely honest and a suspicious Arsenal begins infiltrating Technis’s mainframe in order to figure out if Technis has something nefarious in mind.

And it turns out, he is right.  Technis really is dying, and the beings that brought everyone aboard were the siblings of the alien that mated with Swamp Thing, but there is another player in the game and that is Zavior, who is actually the offspring conceived in Swamp Thing #60.  Zavior is not only sentient, but he’s gone completely V’ger and wants to assimilate the Earth.  Even when I was fifteen, I found this to be an absurd way to conclude the plot.  I would have settled for Prester Jon’s involvement, as it made sense for him to get into Vic’s mind and try to reboot him in some way, but the Titans in space has never been my favorite thing and this “cyberspace” thing isn’t the greatest.  In fact, I wondered that “cyberspace” was used as a way to make the artists feel comfortable because it meant they wouldn’t have to draw backgrounds.  Napoltano is replaced in issue #106 by Mark Tenney and the art goes down another notch.  So not only are we ripping off Star Trek: The Motion Picture with this one, we aren’t doing it well.

The ... uh ... climactic moment from Swamp Thing #60

The only things that did keep me going–aside from the fact that I naively thought the art was better than what I’d seen from Bill Jaaska–were some of the subplots paying out.  Pantha tries some more to find out who she is but once again absolutely goes nowhere (and spoiler alert: it wouldn’t go anywhere, as Pantha would exit the book seven issues later and then Geoff Johns … well, let’s just say he had her get a little ahead of herself in Infinite Crisis), and Kory seems weirdly drawn to Liz Alderman, who is shown being loaded into a paddy wagon bound for Arkham or some other insane asylum.  But that’s secondary to Zavior/V’ger attacking Earth and the Titans and Technis–now with a fully restored Cyborg–faced with stopping him.

The final part of Terminus, which has a cover that has some of the worst Liefeld-esque legs on any characters that I’ve ever seen, is basically a showdown between zavior and the Titans with the fate of the planet in the balance (as it always is in these things).  They defeat Zavior by ripping him apart from inside and then using the Technis beings to blow him up, and in the end Prestor Jon winds up with an actual body but while Vic has regained consciousness, he discovers that he cannot stay alive and in what is supposed to be a lovely moment, he bids farewell to Sarah Charles forever and goes off with Technis.

The problem is that by the time you get to the end of the last part of Terminus, it’s hard to figure out what was going on.  I know that Arsenal had infiltrated Zavior and figured out how to beat him and that involved Cyborg tearing up a bunch of stuff, but the artwork is so bad that I couldn’t tell what was up and what was down.  It’s all just boxes and circuit boards and … well, something that’s supposed to look like the inside of a computer.  I mean, even in ST:TMP, V’ger created a walkway to its center so that it could absorb Decker and Ilia-bot.

Even when I first read Terminus all those years ago, I got a little tired of the inconsistent artwork across these six months of the book and thought that Cyborg going away for good was the wrong decision (Wolfman’s said as much from interviews about this era, but it seems like he’s more or less disowned this period).  Terminus is the beginning of the lowest point in the New Teen Titans/New Titans, one that would have a couple of highlights but would not really start to pick up for at least another year or two and sometimes I think that my commitment to the characters and wanting to see their stories play out is what kept me buying it from month to month.

Because I would not have kept buying it if I didn’t already care about the characters.  After all, how can you want to keep buying a book that has an ending like Terminus does?  After Cyborg and company defeat Zavior and save the earth from being completely assimilated (seriously, Marv, how much Star Trek were you watching?), everyone figures out that neither Technis nor Cyborg can survive independently.  In other words, in order for Victor Stone to go on, he has to allow himself to be absorbed into Technis.  So he is given a split second to say goodbye to his friends and then is literally swallowed up by the planet.  The Titans are then transported back to New York where there is a one-panel joke of Pantha almost getting hit by a bus and then a shot of Planet Cyborg Technis–no, seriously, it’s Technis with Cyborg’s giant face on its side–taking off for parts unknown while the group says something about him being a good man.

This is how we say goodbye to Cyborg. I ... I just really can't say anything except that THIS is how we say goodbye to Cyborg.

I’m sorry that I sound overly snarky here because I usually don’t get this way about Titans comics, but after re-reading all that I did for the last part of “My Life as a Teen Titan” and seeing how the character had evolved from an angry young man (and an angry young black man stereotype at that) to a character who had as much heart as he did muscle and brains, a page at the end of an incredibly subpar story does not do him justice.  And at the time, I believe that this was the last I would see of him; thankfully, it isn’t.

Next Up:  With a new creative team, the Team Titans try to figure out where, or when they came from and fans finally get the answer to the question of who their mysterious leader really is.

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