A couple of weeks ago, I was browsing eBay for things Titans-related and among the auctions was a group of four or five comics that were being offered at a starting price of $5.00 (with some sort of astronomical shipping attached). I almost laughed out loud because the comics in question were New Titans #108-112 and in all honesty, those are barely worth their cover price anymore.
Okay, maybe that is a little harsh, but those books are smack in the middle of what was, at the time, the nadir of the New Titans. In fact, a couple of the issues in this pile still make my all-time, dumpster-behind-a-Sizzler, bottom five Titans stories of all-time. Yet unlike some of the other stories I would put on this list, these do have at least one or two redeeming values.
I’ll start, I guess, with what has been happening since it’s been a couple of months since i sat down and looked at the main Titans book (which is kind of how things went for me back in 1994 anyway–I was so into Team Titans and the lead-up to Zero Hour and so turned off by what I was seeing in New Titans that I’m sure I was reading these out of obligation). Anyway, the Titans are now being led by Arsenal and have returned from the whole Cyborg/Technis storyline a team member down and without any real support. Meanwhile, Nightwing, their former leader, is focused on taking care of Starfire because she’s still suffering from whatever Raven did to her in issue #100 (oh yes, Dark Raven is still out there … and they won’t truly get rid of her until issue #130, which is the last issue of the series). Basically, this is the focus of the book all the way to Zero Hour‘s aftermath, and the quality of the two plot lines differ incredibly.
I’ll start with Dick and Kory; specifically, Kory, who is the focus of the first two issues and quite frankly who Marv Wolfman seemed to want to write about. This was around the time when the “Knights” sagas (-fall, -quest, -end) were finally wrapping up in the Batman books and as a result, Dick Grayson was going to be brought back into that particular “family”.” Wolfman would be losing a character he had been writing for a decade and a half, and since Nightwing’s solo adventures would (at first) have little to no connection to anything Titans, Dick and Kory had to break up. So, in issues 108 and 109, Starfire undergoes Kynasf’rr (pronounced “k-eye-nass-ferr?” I have no idea. I mean, you pronounce “Koriand’r” “coriander,” which … spicy … but … yeah …), which is a Tamaranean maturity ritual that I can best describe as kind of like Pon farr, the Vulcan mating ritual. As a result, Kory goes from being a blubbering mess to a fierce, almost emotionless “Shaman of Tamaran.”
Where this starts is in an insane asylum. Kory once again visits Liz Alderman, who now looks like a crazy old woman who is … pregnant? Huh? Well, she tells Kory exactly what is gestating inside of her and our hero as well: a demon seed, the dead children of Trigon. Nightwing steps in to protect Kory and as he does, an image appears to her and she flies off to the Southern Hemisphere, burying herself deep in the Andes to begin Kynasf’rr.
That ritual is the entirety of issue #109. Kory stays buried in the mountain while seeing visions of Nightwing–who represents her connection to humanity–and Blackfire. Blackfire winds up being her guide through the ritual and as she always has with her younger sister, gives her what I guess is supposed to be “tough love.” Komand’r not only reminds Kory of her heritage, she reminds Kory of how weak their father has been in the past. Kory refuses to accept this at first, but then fights (“literally” in a sense — we need some action) her inner demons, including Raven, and in a sense she purges Raven from her soul and comes to realize how wrong she was to rush into marriage. Finally, she “transcends” in a sense and embraces her true role as a Tamaranean warrior.
Soon enough, she becomes the spiritual leader of a group of Amazonian natives and when their village is threatened by lasers from a satellite run by eco-terrorists (oh yes, more on that later), she flies off, leaving the natives and one Dick Grayson (who has tracked her down) behind.
This eco-terrorism storyline, by the way, is the absolute worst thing I had seen in the book up to this point. Basically, Arsenal is trying to negotiate a deal with the United States Government that would have the Titans be a sponsored super-hero group and clear them of all charges and lawsuits. It would also apparently help them financially since Steve Dayton has cut them off completely and has been acting even more hostile (especially to Pantha, who knows he’s responsible for the experiments that made her who she is and is seeking to find out more information).
But the first villain they’re sent to fight? The Teraizer. Yes, The Teraizer. A guy in a white mask who leads the band of eco-terrorists with the laser satellite. No … seriously. The Teraizer.
Trust me, I remember my friend Harris and I seeing the back page of issue #110 for the first time and laughing our asses off. The Teraizer. I mean, Wolfman was obviously stretching here.
It goes without saying that The Teraizer is easily defeated and the Titans are well on their way to being a government-sponsored team. I think they were even supposed to get a satellite base but I can’t remember if that even happened. What did certainly happen, though, was that Starfire aided the team in defeated The Teraizer and because she’d undergone Kynasf’rr, her memories of her life on Earth had been wiped away and so she didn’t recognize them. So, Red Star comes up with the idea of kissing her in hopes that it will bring her memory back (hey, it worked for her to learn English back in New Teen Titans #2), and it works (much to Changeling’s chagrin: “That coulda been me!”). By the end of issue #112, the Titans (specifically Arsenal with a little help from The Flash) seal the government contract on their terms, Kory decides to stick around … at least for two more issues … and doctors at the insane asylum cart away what’s left of Liz Alderman after the Trigon seed made her explode from the inside (and Raven realizes that The Titans, being superhuman and all, will be better hosts for the seeds).
Despite the horrible, horrible premise of this part of the story (again … The Teraizer), it serves as a decent beginning to the end of Nightwing and Starfire’s relationship. It even sets up a decent premise for future stories–the Titans’ working with the government is a little more interesting than the miserable team we’ve been seeing since issue #100. And believe it or not, a couple of the issues had me standing up and taking notice oft he art for the first time since Tom Grummett left the book.
Issue #112 was the first of four times in which Rick Mays (who I know at one point worked on David Mack’s Kabuki) pencilled a Titans story. His style, which owes a little bit to manga and was definitely more “cartoonish” than we’d seen in the past, was not only refreshing but it was so good that I read and reread that issue several times. While there are a few awkward panels, Mays drew the issue’s action in a clear, exciting way, and more importantly, he drew a great Starfire. His Koriand’r is muscular, statuesque, and sexy without constant attention being drawn to her breasts, something that’s pretty tough to accomplish considering she was once nicknamed “balloon bod.”
I wanted to see more of Mays on the Titans and while he would pencil issue #114, that would be it for a while. It didn’t wind up mattering, though, because by the time Zero Hour was over, Bill Jaaska would be but a memory for Titans fans–I think he was fired because he was unpopular or because he couldn’t meet his deadlines. Funny enough, for as much as I couldn’t stand him when I was 16 and as much as I still think his style never fit in with the Titans, issues 108 and 109 made me do a double-take and actually make me want to mount a bit of a defense of the late artist’s work (sadly, Jaaska committed suicide a few years ago).
These were two issues that he penciled and inked and the dark tone of the story–Starfire facing her inner demons and the darkness of her own soul–fits perfectly with his very dark artwork. When we begin the story in the asylum, Liz Alderman looks genuinely scary and the images of Kory as she struggles through Kynasf’rr are nightmarish and eerie without being cheesy. When Kory realizes that her weakness during her time on Earth was not who she really was, Jaaska does a great job of conveying her emotions and
then plays with shadow and light so that the moment she embraces her alien heritage really has an impact. I get the feeling that the Kynasf’rr story was a way to show fans that Starfire would not be sacrificed with all of the turnover in the team and that the badass inside of her would return after such a long time of her whining her way through the book. Plus, since she was not going to be an ongoing member of the team after Zero Hour came and went, having Kory become more of a “warrior” and then fly off to be with her people (as we will see her do) was a way to write her out of the book that respected her character.
The New Titans, at this point, had turned a corner, and after Zero Hour, would enter a new phase. They would have a new leader, a new headquarters, and a new mission (even if we’d see some of the old villains from time to time). But before we could get there, we had to tie up a few loose ends; specifically, this relationship between Starfire and Nightwing and Nightwing’s status as a team member, which would officially be over by the end of New Titans #0 and the fall of 1994 as he moved into a more pivotal role in the “Bat-verse” and even got his own title..
Next Up: The beginning of a long look at the career of Dick Grayson (and the other guys who have served as Robin) as we prepare for his exit from the Titans.