Running Out of Time (My Life as a Teen Titan, Part Twenty-Five)

The cover to Team Titans #14 by Phil Jiminez

While I have no experience actually writing comic books, I think that taking over a failing title might have to be one of the hardest things that a creative team has to do, maybe even harder than following a very successful run because at least in the latter case, the book you’re coming into is selling well. In 1993, I was sixteen and didn’t know that Team Titans wasn’t selling well because out of the three Titans books that were being published at the time, it was the one I followed the most closely. As I said last time around, I was barely paying attention to Deathstroke; and New Titans, while definitely still an important comic book in my monthly reading pile, had artwork that was either so inconsistent or lackluster that I often found myself tuning out.

Team Titans, on the other hand, had two things going for it. First, there was an ongoing mystery as to the identity of the “leader,” the guy who sent the team back into the past to kill Donna Troy all the way back in New Titans Annual #7. Harris and I, who had been writing the New Titans editors since the first time we asked them to kill Donna Troy a couple of year earlier, were also writing to the letter column of this book, with our usual M.O., but also trying to figure out who this mysterious red-haired person was. It kept us on the lookout for clues all the way until issue #20 when it was revealed on the last page.

The other thing going for the book was the art. Phil Jiminez and then Terry Dodson are very well-known artists by now, but back then nobody had really heard of them. I had started to really enjoy Jiminez’s work when I first saw it in the Eclipso-related Titans annuals and the three-issue Red Star/Cyborg storyline written by Louise Simonson. It was reminiscient of George Perez, the famous New Teen Titans co-creator and artist who’d left the book for the second time a couple of years earlier; furthermore, it was so much the opposite of what New Titans was providing with Bill Jaaska that it was, by comparison, amazing.

Jiminez was also one of the writers on the title, co-writing with Jeff Jensen who is now a senior writer for Entertainment Weekly and recently wrote Green River Killer: A True Detective Story, a graphic novel about the search for the Green River Killer. Re-reading the last 13 issues of this title, it’s clear that they were cutting their teeth and while there are some missteps, I find this particular portion of Team Titans to be underrated, especially considering the problems they had as a creative team.

For starters, Marv Wolfman never really was happy writing the characters, or at least that’s how he has characterized his time on the Team Titans. in The Titans Companion, he says in an interview:

I always thought it was a stupid idea.  I didn’t like it; didn’t like working on the book.

Furthermore, the editors of the book, as Jiminez said in the Companion

…wanted was DC Comics’ X-Force.  They, DC management at the time, saw Team Titans as this answer to Rob Liefeld’s X-Force and what we wanted to do was something much more character-driven [and] self-aware, something more like Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol.  So from literally the first issue, it was a struggle editorially to the point that the book just fell apart on us completely and a long-term story that we had planned got condensed into four issues.  Then Zero Hour came along and undermined everything anyway.

So you can see where they were kind of behind the eight ball when it came to writing the title, and in looking at their first storyline, you can see where it was obviously meant to be something bigger.

Jensen and Jiminez started with issue 13, cleaning up what was left from the Wolfman period, and that means they are dealing with tensions in the Troy-Long household because every time you turn around, part of the house is destroyed; Mirage’s recovery from her attack from Nightwing (and the fact that she seems to be nothing but throw up these days); and the team’s being time-tossed and wondering where they actually wound up.

Terra completely schools the time villains at the end of their mall battle in Team Titans #14.

But instead of going through the motions and trying to simply tie up what Wolfman left untied, Jensen and Jiminez immediately introduce a new team of Titans–The Spectrum–and add a layer of mystery as to where our heroes actually come from. Furthermore, they begin some character development that in some cases works and other cases doesn’t. Kilowatt begins to show shades of being a racist, which will come into direct conflict with his crush on Miri; and Terra, whose powers seem to be malfunctioning, will almost immediately drop the “follow Gar Logan around like a puppy dog” thing. In Kilowatt’s case, it’s an effort to change a character that wasn’t that interesting to begin with. In Terra’s case, they improved the character significantly and it’s annoying that editorial changes after Zero Hour really screwed her up.

The motif for issues 13-20 is time. Time travel, using knowledge of the future to your advantage … and even at one point, fighting four D-list villains who are all about time–Chronos, Clock King, Calendar Man, and the Time Commander. Issue 13 and 14 set up a four parter that ends in issue 20, with the villains breaking out of prison, the Teamers stopping them at a shopping mall when they try to retrieve the Time Commander’s hourglass, and the introduction of Sylvie Eisenberg, who runs a clock repair shop.

In fact, all of issue #14 takes place in the mall, and is one of the best in the series because it shows what Jensen and Jiminez would have done with Team Titans had they been allowed to go through with their entire pitch. The team goes shopping (a reluctant Redwing waits outside) while Batallion searches for Sylvie, who he is hoping will be able to the antique grandfather clock that Mirage broke the previous issue. To his surprise, she is in possession of a Titans communicator/Prester Jon bracelet, but doesn’t get to tell him about why she has it because the four time villains attack. They’re easily taken down and pretty humiliated (basically because Time Commander is a loon and different versions of Chronos seem to be popping up leaving the bad guys very confused), and the Teamers wind up as front page news, which sets up the opening of the next issue.

But the best part of the issue is Terra, who not only takes out the villains almost single-handedly due to her powers having an unexpected extra burst, but schools them on the psychological issues they appear to be having. For the better part of a page, she talks about their obvious self-esteem issues and inadequacies and the villains are very “Uh … WTF?” It’s obviously done for comedic effect, but since up until this point she had done nothing but drool over Changeling, it’s the beginning of her becoming a very interesting character. In fact, for most of the ensuing storyline, she is back at the Long homestead and does her best to protect Terry and his infant son from a group of elemental spirits that seem bent on eliminating her (a clue to her being the earth elemental of her alternate earth).

The cover to issue #20 by new artist Terry Dodson.

Kilowatt winds up stepping into the spotlight with issue 15–and stepping into it, as he tells a reporter that he thinks Mirage is pretty but he likes white girls and she immediately decks him. It’s exactly what the reporter and the man who is paying her want because he’s out to destroy the Team Titans’ reputation and them along with it. This villain’s name is Lazarium and he is the only member remaining of a Titans team that had been sent back and wound up in the 1930s instead of the 1990s. It seems like that was an accident at first, especially since quite a number of Titans teams were sent back to the past and wound up as far back as prehistoric times and the old west, but in this team’s case it was deliberate. They were working for Lord Chaos and the leader discovered this so he sent them back to when they couldn’t stop Donna Troy’s death.

While it’s not the best plan (why didn’t the leader just off them?), it makes sense for the story and when this Spectrum team shows up in the 1970s to take the team away (to where we don’t know right away), Lazarium is left behind. So he schemes and manipulates events and people around him, including Sylvie Eisenberg, who he’d had fix the Prester Jon bracelet. His ultimate goal is to step into Lord Chaos’s now-vacant shoes and become some sort of ultimate Titan. Part of this is done by smearing the team’s name, part of it is done by amassing money and a media empire, and part is done by taking part of Kilowatt’s power.

Meanwhile, The Spectrum, that team we had seen in the first panel of issue #13, shows up in the past and tells Terra that they have been collecting Titans teams because they think they have found a way back to their own dimension. Prester Jon also shows up, having been granted a body by Technis during the “Terminus!” storyline. He has these Plastic Man-esque powers and acts a little … darker, I guess you could say.

Anyway, the two, along with the teams that The Spectrum has collected, go after Lazarium and wind up stopping him and his soldiers–time-tossed Chaos troops that he had “super-powered.” Dagon delivers the final blow to the evil leader when he kills him in order to sustain himself, which is a good “out”, I guess, but under a good writer would be a great way to have a vampire with a moral dilemma.  Nightrider was never my favorite character anyway, to be honest, especially since there were only so many directions the writers could take him.

The biggest thing that happens at the end of this storyline, however, is not the death of Lazarium, which really ranks #3 on the list of big events in Team Titans#20.  At the time, I wasn’t too hot to the idea of Lazarium as a big bad, mainly because I couldn’t understand why someone I had never heard of was all of the sudden the biggest threat to the world.  Now, having read Jiminez’s comments about how this storyline was planned for several issues and not just for the four it was ultimately relegated to, I appreciate the idea of that villain more.  I also don’t know if he was always going to be tied with the Teamers’ attempt to get back to their Earth, which is the #2 event on that list because it’s thwarted when the portal they open shows itself to be simply nothingness that sucks them to oblivion.  Quite a number of the Team Titans die, but the rest that are saved will wind up in the remaining issues in varying capacities.  I remember feeling bad for the characters because I was hoping they would get to return home and maybe either continue their fight or live new lives as heroes, but then again I’ve loved the idea of an alternate earth or reality so it would have been fun to see that explored (this was around the same time that Alan Davis was doing such in Excalibur, which got horrible after he left the title for the second time).

At the end of the Lazarium storyline, the Teamers try to return to their Earth, only to find out they've opened a vortex to doom.

The biggest event?  The thing that I had been glued to each page waiting for?  The identity of the Team Titans’ leader.  As I said, back in the team’s first appearance, the leader sent the Teamers back to 1991 so they could kill Donna Troy.  Eventually, they did attack her and the result was Total Chaos, during which Mirage gave her account of a history of the Team Titans.  She revealed that the leader was once a Titan and had drained what was left of his powers hiding from Lord Chaos’s army before being  jailed.  He then led a prison revolt and began the resistance, naming them Titans after his former teammates.  While there weren’t many lettercolumns during the Jensen/Jiminez era, there was definitely fan speculation, and the choices were all over the place.  There were plenty of hints that Danny Chase was going to be the leader (even though he was dead on our Earth), and I believe that was the original plan; however, on the very last page of Teen Titans #20 we saw who the leader was and it was … Monarch.

The leader of the Team Titans--held in secret for two years--is finally revealed to be Monarch.

Yes, Monarch, the villain from Armageddon 2001 who was once Hank Hall, a.k.a. Hawk.  Our minds?  Completely blown.

Next Up:  The Team Titans take their final bow as the series wraps up.

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