Plagues, Monsters, and Jokers (My Life as a Teen Titan, Part Forty-One)

New Titans 63So in a previous part of this exploration of my Titans comics (in fact, I’m sure it was an episode of “Taking Flight”), I mentioned how sometimes there are storylines that are so huge that the issues that come after it are a bit lackluster.  I think I probably compared it to a hangover–that there’s a letdown after a huge event.  After The Judas Contract, there was a series of stories that seemed a bit rushed as well as phoned in (with the exception of the Donna Troy-Terry Long wedding issue) mainly because Wolfman and Perez were working on two books at the same time as well as Crisis on Infinite Earths.  Perez would leave the book soon after, but then returned with issue 50 of New Titans and drew the Who is Wonder Girl? storyline as well as several subsequent issues before slowly going off pencils (handing them off to Tom Grummett) and then going off co-plotting after a while as well.  At the time, he was also working with Wolfman on the Games graphic novel, but this would mark a time when George Perez was more or less burning out and wound up leaving both DC and Marvel for a good deal of the early 1990s.  Wolfman would,  of course, fly solo on New Titans until the title was cancelled in the mid-1990s.

A Lonely Place of Dying was one of the biggest and best-selling Titans storylines of its time, mainly because of the tie-in to Batman, who was DC’s hottest property in 1989-1990 due to the Tim Burton film.  Plus, this storyline featured Robin, who had been killed off a year or so earlier.  So, you’d think that the boost in sales to New Titans would have been enough to keep that book going for a while.  However, that wasn’t the case and I think part of it is due to the storylines that came afterward because the title was near cancellation as it headed toward issue 71, but was saved by Jon Peterson, who had been made editor by his former boss, Mike Carlin.

I’m not going to go into great detail as to what happened between issues #62 and #69 of New Titans.  They are issues that I own and my favorite of the bunch is #65 because of the scenes between Dick Grayson and Tim Drake, which I felt really contributed to the latter’s character.  In fact, the next parts of “Taking Flight” will take a look at Tim’s final steps toward becoming Robin.  They are issues that I consider to be placeholders at best.  The art is gorgeous–Tom Grummett took over full pencils on the title and he was a great replacement for Perez.  In fact, with all due respect to Eduardo Barretto, who did a wonderful job as penciller for years, Grummett is my second-favorite Titans artist, even though the latter part of his tenure was a little sketchy (no pun intended) due to rushed deadlines, fill-in artists, and his own jobs on Adventures of Superman (and later Superboy) and Robin.  But the stories were pedestrian at best.

New Titans #62-65 is the “Titan Plague”  or “Scourge” storyline that is notable not just for a Tim Drake appearance in #65 but because it features the first appearance of Deathstroke: The Terminator in any Titans comic since the Baxter series started (I think he’s an apparition at one point, but all in all, when he said he was going to retire in Tales of the Teen Titans #55, he actually held to that promise).  Deathstroke is forced back into action because the main villain of the storyline–Scourge–goes after him.  Scourge is a monster that has the ability to transform people into demonic werebeasts of sorts and his power winds up infecting a couple of the titans, namely Raven, who attacks her former teammates with the same ferocity she displayed whenever she was possessed by Trigon.

New Titans 66The team, at this point, is mainly made up of everyone but Nightwing–Speedy comes in to help as Cyborg is the team leader and not having Dick on the book shows how important he is to the dynamic that is the Titans.  In fact, he seems to be involved in the storyline’s climax because he and Tim would wind up at one of the main villain’s houses for totally unrelated reasons and wind up taking the villain down.  It’s not a horrible story–there are some Danny Chase-related stories from the issues in the mid-4os that are absolutely dreadful–but it’s not something that I particularly remember liking.  In fact, when I bought issue #62 at a comics shop in Baltimore when I was in college, I had forgotten that I had already owned it so I actually have two copies of it.

Issues #66 and 67 are only important to me personally because they were among the first I read when my friend Harris lent me “A Lonely Place of Dying” and other comics right around the time I started collecting again.  They involve Raven falling in love with Eric Forrester, a douchebag scientist who had been a recurring STAR Labs character since the Danny Chase days.  But it turns out that he’s actually some sort of lifeforce-sucking cyborg who has sex with women and then kills them.  It explores a couple of themes that hadn’t been explored with Raven yet–the fact that she’s still a virgin, and what happened to her mother after the Brother Blood storyline–but overall is way too soap-opera for a superhero comic, a problem that persisted throughout Wolfman’s solo writing issues (although sometimes it worked for the better).

Batman_451And finally, there’s #68-69, which is the Titans taking on what is quite possibly one of the lamest group of villains in the DC Universe of the time, The Royal Flush Gang.  I mean, there’s a great Justice League episode where the Joker has the Royal Flush Gang working for him, but this storyline, which was fill-in courtesy of Barbara Kesel and Steve Erwin, had them working with someone whom they thought was The Joker but was just a guy pretending to be The Joker, something that mirrored the then-current goings-on in the Batman books as The Joker returned for good in Batman #450, Detective Comics #617, and Batman #451.  Those Batman issues were written by Marv Wolfman and were a pretty tight storyline that involved a Joker impostor whose presence basically forces the Clown Prince of Crime to come out of hiding before he feels like he’s ready–in fact, there is a great scene in that story where The Joker actually puts on his old red hood, almost as a way to go through a “rebirth” (the red hood would obviously come into play a decade later when Jason Todd was reborn).

But the Titans at this time?  Let’s just say that if it wasn’t for Jon Peterson being named editor in a move that was obviously Mike Carlin seeing what he could do with a title that was no longer considered important–in other words, if he screwed up, it wouldn’t be that bad because the title was failing to begin with, so it was a tryout of sorts–I would have never been much of a Titans fan.  The book was lackluster once again and not shipping on time, although I would jump on board for an era that was truly exciting, even if the reviews are often mixed.

Next Up:  Continuing the origin of Tim Drake as Robin.

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