Elseworlds (My Life as a Teen Titan, Part Twenty-Eight)

As I’ve said before, when you’re trying to cover a series, annuals can be problematic.  They don’t often fit into the continuity, or you find yourself struggling to fit them in, and even when they do they’re often not that good.  During the sixteen years that Marv Wolfman wrote the New Teen Titans and New Titans series, there were fourteen annuals, and when I think of it there were three that were good and three that were worth reading.  The three that were great were the exceptions to the rule–three annuals that wrapped up major storylines (the original Tamaran storyline, the origin of the Vigilante, and The Judas Contract in the 1980 series’ three annuals).  The three that were worth reading either wrapped up long-standing questions (New Titans Annual #6, where the team returns to Tamaran and Karras dies), introduced new characters (New Titans Annual #7, which introduced the Team Titans), or carried the story along (1995’s New Titans Annual #11).  But for the most part, the annuals from the New Teen Titans/ New Titans “baxter” series badly introduced new heroes or villians or spent time trying to reconcile post-Crisis continuity issues.

For what it’s worth, during the 1990s, DC did try to make their annuals relevant and for a couple of years it seemed to work.  I don’t have the exact sales figures or anything in front of me, but I found both Armageddon 2001 and Eclipso: The Darkness Within fun, and Bloodlines … well, I read Bloodlines, does that count?

Okay, pithy comments aside, I’m sure that lack of quality and/or interest in Bloodlines proved a little problematic because when 1994 rolled around and it was time for annuals, DC decided that it wasn’t going to force its readers to buy every single annual out there to get a full-on storyline, but still wanted to tie together all of its annuals in some way and went for a thematic tie-in with Elseworlds.

Elseworlds was a concept that up until this point had mainly been applied to prestige format one-shots that mostly featured Batman or Superman, beginning with the excellent Gotham By Gaslight, which placed Batman in 19th Century Gotham City trying to solve the mystery of Jack the Ripper (it didn’t have the “Elseworlds” emblem on it, but is considered one of the very first).

The concept, as described by DC, is, “In Elseworlds, heroes are taken from their usual settings and put into strange times and places–some that have existed and others that can’t, couldn’t or shouldn’t exist.”

The Elseworlds specials seemed to be pretty successful each time and fans seemed to love the idea so much that the 1994 annuals were all “Elseworlds” stories starring the characters from those individual comics.  This made it easy for continuity geeks like me to figure out where the annuals go, even if some of the annuals were pretty good and others seemed to come from the hackneyed “Die Hard on a ______” type of storytelling model.

The Titansverse had three annuals going for it, as Deathstroke: The Terminator Annual #3, New Titans Annual #10, and Team Titans Annual #2 were Elseworlds tales, and apparently I found these so significant that I didn’t realize that I didn’t even known the Deathstroke annual until a couple of years ago when I was sorting my collection into fresh long boxes and I noticed it wasn’t there.  My local comics shop had it for a whopping $2.00, so it’s not like it was a crisis.

That Deathstroke annual, which was written by Marv Wolfman with art by Ed Benes (yes, that Ed Benes, and it’s extremely early Benes, so there’s no butts in anyone’s face), is the story of how Deathstroke fights in a future gone made against a race called The Genetix.  Since he has been made immortal because of all of the experiments conducted on him, he seems to be the only man who can take down The Genetix, especially after learning their secret.  Reading the story made me wonder if Wolfman had been watching Mad Max movies or reading old issues of Hex, because the post-apocalyptic world is right out of the 1980s.  But to his credit, he chooses not to rework an origin story (which is what so many of the Batman Elseworlds tended to do) and that makes it the strongest of the three and a decent stand-alone story.

New Titans Annual #10, on the other hand, which was scripted by Louise Simonson from a plot by Wolfman, tries a little too hard.  The creative team tries to place the Titans in a sword-and-sorcery epic and relies on a plot by Raven to bring back Trigon so he can take over the world, which is what had already been going on in the regular title (and what, quite frankly, fans were a little tired of) and quite frankly it feels like … well “It’s Die Hard but with magic!”  and is rather forgettable.

Team Titans Annual #2, on the other hand, is not too bad.  This came out a week before Team Titans #20, so Monarch hadn’t been revealed as the Team Titans’ leader and we weren’t aware of how he had this master plan that involved the upcoming Zero Hour crossover, but it wound up revealing one of the plot points for the last issues of the series.  The adventure takes place in outer space with Lord Chaos essentially using Earth as some sort of Warworld and the Teamers being a band of rebels committed to destroying his tyranny.  Most of the characters stay who they are, except for Redwing, who is able to transform into a beast called “Warhawk.”  The difference between this and her transformation during Team Titans #20-24 was that in the annual she changes back to her more humanoid form and in the series the change is permanent, but I do remember seeing the regular issues and thinking it was pretty cool that I was able to see that Carrie would become “warhawk” in the regular comic.

Otherwise, the comic feels like a rehash of the Team Titans’ origin but a good enough rehash to stand on its own as a halfway decent story.  Jeff Jensen and Phil Jiminez wrote a story that seemed to be a throwback to Marvel’s Star Wars series from the late 1970s and early 1980s, with its rebels and swashbuckling sort of space adventure and much like the series they were writing, they did their best to show that they were having some sort of fun.  Had there not been three art teams, it may have been a little more solid, but reading “The Titans do Star Wars” is worth tracking  it down.

So I’m sorry if this seems a little rushed, but that’s annuals for ya — something you’ve got to read because you’re reading everything, but nothing that you really remember when you’re done and file it away among the regular story.

Next Up:  Raven haunts Starfire as New Titans heads toward a huge change.

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