A couple of posts ago, I mentioned that in the midst of many issues penciled by Bill Jaaska, which was clearly the nadir of Titans artwork, there were two issues penciled by Rick Mays, who would go on to pencil another issue of New Titans as well as a four-issue Arsenal miniseries in the later part of the decade. These two issues had artwork that was refreshing and showed the potential that a book with this particular group of characters had. Unfortunately, it was a brief moment before we returned to what had been plaguing the book for the better part of a year.
DC editorial seemed to think the same thing because after Zero Hour blew through and took Team Titans with it, the group was completely redone and relaunched with issue #0. This team consisted of a hodgepodge of long-standing Titans characters as well as some new faces: Arsenal officially (and not just temporarily) replaced Nightwing as team leader and was joined by Changeling, Terra, Mirage, Damage, Impulse, and later Green Lantern, Donna Troy (now a Darkstar), an alien named Minion, and the Matrix Supergirl. This also meant the beginning of a new editorial team. While Jon Peterson had been given a dying title as what would essentially be a “tryout” for him as an editor and had turned it into a strong seller, Rob Simpson’s tenure had started strong yet limped into its finish and the reins were handed to Pat Garrahy who was also a newly minted editor and whose job, I assume, was to once again right the ship.
Unfortunately, as we’ll see as I wind my way through the last year and a half worth of New Titans issues, this didn’t go the same way. Garrahy and Marv Wolfman clashed often because of the way Garrahy was dictating plots and even changing dialogue–Wolfman had been used to a significant amount of creative control during his nearly decade-and-a-half tenure as the Titans’ scribe–and the characters that were on the team were not his by choice and he so hated writing the book at this point that he threatened to quit and will not even speak the editor’s name in interviews.
But that will take a few issues to really bear fruit (as it does) and the two issues–along with a few side comics–are the beginning of this “era” and I have to say that at the time, I didn’t realize that anything was going to get worse because after reading both issues #114 and #0, I thought things had already gotten better. Of course, that’s because Jaaska was off the book and any improvement to the art was a major improvement to the book in my mind. But it also seemed like there was some sort of progress being made on storylines that had stalled for a while. And hey, as much as I liked characters like Pantha and Red Star, maybe their exit from the book–as well as Nightwing’s into his own miniseries and eventual ongoing series, which I had been hoping to read for years–was very welcomed.
New Titans #114 apes the cover to New Teen Titans #39 with a white background and a bunch of characters flying off or walking away while Arsenal (in his purple ’90s uniform) stands facing us under a banner of “Changing of the Guard.” Inside, Arsenal is also left holding the bag as over the course of 24 hours, the team disbands: After a lead she thought she had on her former identity doesn’t pan out, Pantha takes Baby Wildebeest and joins Red Star in heading off to Russia; Starfire leaves for space; Nightwing heads to Gotham to go solo and officially gives things to Roy; and only Gar decides to stick around, but he’s changed.
That last point is an important part of New Titans #0 and the issues that follow because when we begin issue #114, we see Gar in Raven and Deathwing’s clutches and it seems that she has attacked him, possibly in the same way she attacked Starfire in issue #100. He doesn’t know exactly what is going on, but within issue #0, we see that the terrifying creatures he’s been morphing into since the Brotherhood of Evil tortured him with the Mento Helmet have become significantly more horrific and he’ll eventually turn evil because he has been possessed with a one of Raven’s Trigon seeds.
Of course, Roy Harper doesn’t know this when he and Gar meet up at the end of #114 and much of the focus of the zero issue is Roy–with a new “Nineties Special Forces Guy” costume that is half-Liefeld/half-G.I. Joe–trying to lead the team as they get established in a new headquarters under the overview of the U.S. government and combating a new threat in the guise of the mysterious Crimelord (more on that in future posts). Furthermore, after the old team got together one last time in Damage #6 to recruit that title’s character, other people were added to the team and he now had to deal with a completely new dynamic. And if I’m being honest, I don’t have much to say about issue #0 other than that it’s setup for future storylines and the split-second “I’ll be watching to make sure you don’t ruin the Titans, Sarge Steel” cameo by Nightwing at the end really points a finer point on the fact that he’s completely gone from the team.
But #114 is important because it’s Marv Wolfman putting an official end to something he’d been writing about since 1983, which is the relationship between Dick Grayson and Koriand’r. Out of the two Dick Grayson-related “goodbyes” in this issue, this is the better one–the other, his “Hey, I love swinging on the rooftops” moments feel a little forced and make me wish we had more of a proper goodbye instead of this, which is shoehorned in so that he can go off to be in the “Prodigal” Batman crossover. But this ending of Dick and Kory’s relationship is done in a way that’s way more mature than I think anyone would have expected from an early 1990s comic. Since the beginning of the Titans Hunt, there were plenty of opportunities for the relationship to completely implode–in fact, the wedding in issue #100 would have been the perfect opportunity for Raven to turn Kory evil and have that be the basis of everything between them ending “Dark Phoenix” style.
Instead, Wolfman had Kory go slightly insane as a result of what Raven did and then undergo the Tamaranean version of Pon Farr so that she basically purged whatever evil Raven put inside of her and then went full Red Sonja, which we saw in issue #112 (followed by Red Star “bringing her back” with a kiss). And with the exception of the three-part Flash storyline where Mark Waid had her a little more lucid than Wolfman was writing her at the time, Dick and Kory hadn’t interacted since the destruction at their wedding. At least as we had seen. But in the evening this issue takes place, Dick has set up a rooftop dinner for him and Kory, knowing that this will be it for the both of them because he knows they’re going to break up. But he wants closure.
She, however, doesn’t know what to do next. She knows that her relationship is finished but also can’t figure out if Earth is where she belongs anymore. For much of her time in the Titans, Kory was a woman of two worlds, and always struggled to fit into life on Earth when her Tamranean way of life was so much different. Then, after the marriage to Karras storyline, it seemed like she had found her place with Dick and on Earth. Woflman reintroduced the previous doubt with recent events and gave her the catalyst she needed to act on those doubts and realize that it was time to to back home. She leaves New Titans #114 by flying away without a goodbye to Dick and then heads off to a Showcase ’94 appearance–where it’s revealed that she wasn’t just cured of Raven’s evil, she actually now possesses Raven’s soul self–followed by a team-up with Donna Troy in two Darkstars issues. She won’t be seen again until the final few issues of New Titans and she and Dick Grayson will not interact until the JLA/Titans miniseries four years later.
It seems silly to feel sad at all about a couple breaking up in a comic book, but the fact of the matter is that Kory and Dick are the Brenda and Eddie of DC and there’s a sense that even though the book would go on for another sixteen issues and the team would reunite time and time again, it would never be the same because these two had moved on, just like all of us had moved on.
Next Up: We move on to new members, new threats, and the return of an old villain.