Forever Evil (My Life as a Teen Titan, Part Fifty-One)

Thunder and Lightning, who hadn't been seen in years, are taken by Evil Raven in New Titans #118.

Thunder and Lightning, who hadn’t been seen in years, are taken by Evil Raven in New Titans #118.

During the time I’ve spent the last few years blogging and eventually podcasting about my time as a die-hard Titans fan through the early 1990s, I’ve sometimes gone back to remember what I was doing as a comics collector when certain issues or storylines were coming out.  After all, New Titans #71 was not just my first issue of this series but it was one of my first comic books and had it not been for the Titans Hunt storyline and Wolfman-Perez-era back issues being so cheap at the time, I probably wouldn’t be so passionate about this particular group of super heroes.  It probably wouldn’t also pain me so much to read these post-Zero Hour issues because they are kind of painful.

Kind of like my life was in the winter of 1994-1995.  Oh, who the hell am I kidding, it’s not like I lost a limb or anything.  I had a girl break up with me in November and pissed and moaned about it until I started going out with another girl that following February (a story that’s best saved for another space and is … odd at times, to be honest).  But I was that nerd, the kind who barely had a girl look at him prior to this and now I had to contend with the fact that I had some semblance of a love life.  Plus, I was trying to get into college and still trying to get good grades, so my weekly comics haul, while important, sometimes took a backseat.  At times, I was disengaged, and I can see that in what I remember actually picking up from that week (and by the way, a quick pause — Mike’s Amazing World of Comics has provided an enormous amount of information for my own research here and it’s only because I can see that he posted every comic that was available on December 20, 1994 that I remember what I was picking up:

  • Aliens/Predator: The Deadliest of the Species #9
  • Batman #515
  • Batman: Shadow of the Bat #35
  • Darkstars #27
  • Deathstroke: The Hunted #44
  • Detective Comics #682
  • Flash #98
  • Legion of Super Heroes #65
  • Legionnaires #22
  • R.E.B.E.L.S. ’95 #4
  • Robin #13
  • Spawn #27
  • Star Wars: Dark Empire II #1
  • Superman #97

Add New Titans #118 to that and you get … well, I don’t know what you get out of all of that aside from an argument for a waste of money and time.  Half of those series I was buying because I had been buying them for a while, and some of them I had a genuine interest in (I wound up sticking with Flash right up until the time Mark Waid left), but I look at a few and go … huh?  I spent my money on that?

Look out, Mirage, it's the most evil Village Person of them all, Biker Leather Deathwing!

Look out, Mirage, it’s the most evil Village Person of them all, Biker Leather Deathwing!

But in all honesty, I was barely paying attention.  I know that the Bat-books that I bought were the “Troika” storyline and that I was pretty psyched for the sequel to Dark Empire, but back then I couldn’t tell you what was going on in either Legion book, I was only buying Spawn because everyone was still buying Spawn (and hey, I got close to $100 for my Spawn collection back in 2001, so I can’t complain too much.  And New Titans was on the verge of getting to the same point (Deathstroke, in fact, was already there, but more on that in the next post in the series).  But not yet because #118-121 and the next annual were guaranteed to wrap-up some long-standing storylines as well as provide answers to some questions.

Okay, let’s say “guaranteed,” shall we?

Titled “Forever Evil,” New Titans #119-121 was the showdown with Evil Raven that fans had been waiting for since the wedding disaster that was New Titans #100 a couple of years earlier.  Raven had spent time recruiting various auxiliary Titans members and other heroes and villains to be her servants by planting similar kisses on them.  Kory’s never took because she was too strong of an alien warrior and because Raven had somehow planted her soul self in the Tamaranean princess instead of a Trigon seed.  We knew that from the Showcase ’94 and Darkstars issues that came out around Zero Hour but wouldn’t get to see any of that until the very end of the series.  Instead, we have Raven hiding out in the city and getting people like Changeling and Thunder and Lightning to collect the souls of the innocent.

Before we get to any of that, however, we have “Downtime,” in New Titans #118, which serves as a prologue for “Forever Evil” and an epilogue for the Psimon storyline, basically a “Titans hang out” issue that’s supposed to allow readers to take a breath from all of the EXTREME TITANS ACTION that had been going on for the last few issues.  Or something.  We get a lot of setup, at least, starting with Jarras Minion, the green-skinned alien who had seen his planet destroyed by Psimon and then attacked him using a mighty morphin’ spaceship/battlesuit known as the Omegadrome.  At the beginning of New Titans #118, Donna Troy hands Psimon over to the Darkstars and we see that Minion is following the Darkstars’ ship, which goes into Darkstars #28, an issue I actually didn’t have until I sat down to write this entry because for some reason I don’t remember thinking it was that important to the story.

It is and it isn’t.  You could have read just New Titans and been fine, but what happens in Darkstars #28 is that Minion goes to kill Psimon and is eventually talked down by Donna Troy, John Stewart, and his own father, who apparently survived the destruction of their homeworld.  Jarras isn’t exactly happy about not being able to kill Psimon (it’s more or less against his genetic code), so he flies out in space to have a timeout.

Back on Earth, Mirage worries about whether or not her baby is going to wind up being as evil as Deathwing, and the team teleports home for their much-needed downtime while enjoying the type of witty banter we’ve come expect from this team (as in, not witty at all).  But we’re not without action, as Thunder and Lightning–two Titans allies who rarely, if ever, are seen outside of two issues of the original New Teen Titans series and a Teen Titans Spotlight story, fight the Crimelord’s minions and are then taken by Raven (who kills said Crimelord minions).  She also takes control of some kid named Rafael who is a new hero with the power to turn his body into solid crystal (and what became of him beyond thie storyline, I have no idea).  Meanwhile, Changeling does some of Raven’s bidding, showing up to a hot nightclub looking like Haddaway’s green brother and hooking up with a girl named Maureen, whom he takes across town to Raven’s lair while Terra, Damage, and Impulse take care of some bullies and hustle a three-card monte dealer on the streets of Manhattan.

It all leads into New Titans #119 and the first official part of “Forever Evil,” which starts out with Raven possessing Frances Kane who is in one of her more normal phases of life but is forced into action when some baddies attack a concert at Shea Stadium (there’s in implication that the lead singer of the band has powers but that isn’t explored further).  We also get Green Lantern joining the team for real and Donna Troy going to court over a restraining order that Terry Long has filed against her because he believes that she cannot be around her kid and expect him to be safe.  This is something that spills over into Darkstars #29 as does an ongoing conflict between Crimelord and The Syndicate, an alien criminal organization, and a conflict that will wind up being a central part of the next storyline that encompasses Titans, Deathstroke, and the Darkstars (at this point, aliens show up, destroy some things, and fight with authority figures/super heroes before we get back to the main plot).  But in the Titans, after Frances gets taken and Roy flirts with the very hot nude model in Kyle’s apartment, we see Mirage get chased through the streets and captured by Raven and her Anti-Titans, who are comprised of all of the people she’s captured and turned over the last couple of issues along with Changeling and Deathwing.

After coming home to Raven in her apartment, Supergirl gears up to fight the Titans in New Titans #120.

After coming home to Raven in her apartment, Supergirl gears up to fight the Titans in New Titans #120.

This takes us into Showcase ’95 #2, which features a gorgeous Stuart Immomen-drawn story that has nothing to do with “Forever Evil” except that on its last page, Supergirl (this is the Matrix Supergirl, by the way) comes home to her apartment and is met by Raven, who moves in for a kiss and gets her all evil-ed up for the cover of New Titans #120 (well, there’s Outsiders #17, but more on that later).  And when we open that issue we see that Raven has a vast underground lair that has some sort of huge soul-bridge which has been built out of the husks of her victims.  They’re keeping Mirage unseeded for some reason, probably because of the baby, but also so Deathwing can yell at her.

And I have to pause here and mention that if you thought Deathwing’s look was dumb when he first became Deathwing, you should see what he looks like in this storyline.  The Dick Grayson from another timeline, who apparently isn’t Dick Grayson from another timeline (we never find out exactly who he is and he’s eventually retconned away so it’s not an issue, I guess, although at the time I wanted to know who he was), is wearing leather pants and a leather vest with spikes on it as well as spiked wristbands.  He’s shaved his head, gotten a Jane Child-esque piercing, and his entire chest is tattooed with a red demon head.  It’s … it’s the ’90s, Jake.

Anyway, the villains all do Raven’s bidding and back in what was Azareth, Phantasm awakes again, although he’d awoken way before that because he was one of the Titans who joined Arsenal in the new team, but maybe he was sleeping until he was needed or something.  He then heads into space to find Jarras Minion, whose power he needs, while the Titans fly through the city in search of Mirage, who has activated her distress signal.

What they find is Raven’s underground lair, which is guarded by an evil Changeling and a demon named Trogg (yes, Trogg .. he’s a wild thing), as well as a newly evil Supergirl.  So it’s fight time!  And as is customary with second acts of storylines like this, all of the Titans fall, save for Terra and Mirage whom Supergirl is about to take out when Phantasm and Minion show up and remove her Trigon seed, which helps turn the tide in New Titans #121 as Phantasm uses the power of the Souls of Azareth to send her away, Terra takes down Changeling, Deathwing kills Trogg because he tried to kill Mirage (but not before the baby somehow protects her–another thing introduced and then mysteriously ignored later on), and the Titans escape this new hell.

In the end, the possessed Titans are given over to STAR Labs and Mirage apparently loses the baby.  Okay, she loses the baby but I say apparently because of something that happens in a later storyline that makes no sense.  And what was becoming apparent to me at this point was how badly the series was being edited.  Marv Wolfman, in the past, had been pretty good at keeping track of the continuity within his own title but during this time he was writing under duress, getting plots and having dialogue changed by editor Pat Garrahy who was misspelling and mislabeling things all over the place.  In fact, I have two copies of New Titans #121 because editorial had admitted entire pages in the first version and had to go back and reprint them (I think Bob gave me the new version for free because I’d bought the other one).  The pages omitted in the original version and replaced with house ads were page 12 where Phantasm first attacks Raven, Terra knocks out Changeling, and Deathwing shows us that he’s actually not possessed by Raven anymore and goes after Mirage and Trogg; and page 17 where Mirage loses the baby (kind of important, don’t ya think?!) .  I suppose that the error version might be worth something if anyone cared, but I just file it behind the corrected version.

The cover to New Titans #121.  This is the second version with the correction that included pages originally missing from the issue (the error cover had a dark blue-colored logo).

The cover to New Titans #121. This is the second version with the correction that included pages originally missing from the issue (the error cover had a dark blue-colored logo).

But the most egregious evidence of editorial having gone completely off the rails would happen in that year’s annual, which was part of the “Year One” series of annuals for 1995.  Most of the annuals from that year retold origins–the Robin annual, for instance, updated Dick Grayson’s origin–but New Titans Annual #11 shows how this new team of Titans got together and explains a few things that had been changed as a result of Zero Hour character by character, especially after a mysterious orb shows up and has some messages for Mirage and Tara.  The messages are from the Time Trapper, the Legion villain, who tells them that he had plucked them (and Deathwing) from our reality and planted them into the Team Titans (who were all from alternate realities and therefore erased from time when the universe was re-formed in Zero Hour) to be his sleeper agent against Extant’s sleeper agents.  We then learn that Mirage was a street rat named Miriam Delgado and was living in Brazil who more or less had to steal to keep herself alive and had shape-shifting powers to help.

He begins talking about Terra but for some reason she freaks the hell out, grabs a blaster from the Titans’ wall o’guns and shoots the thing before they can get her story.  Terra storms off and we then get recollections from other Titans:  Donna’s divorce proceedings are interrupted by a Crimelord goon and it’s basically ensured that she’s not getting custody of Robert (John Byrne will run the kid off a cliff later on anyway), Bart misses his parents, Jared gets acclimated to Earth while spending a night out with Kyle and Donna (after Kyle visits Alex’s grave), Supergirl and Impulse remember how they came to be members of the team, and we get an explanation as to why Arsenal’s costume changed (other than it needed to be more ’90s, it seems that the updated weaponry of the old costume, which had been created by Lex Luthor II was rigged to fail and Supergirl saved his life).  Every member is accounted for and then on the very last page we get a scene that I know irritated Marv Wolfman to no end and irritated legions of Titans fans:  Terra II unearths Terra I’s coffin and it’s … EMPTY!

Now, backing up about a month or two, Terra had been a guest star in Outsiders #17 where she encountered Geo-Force and they argued over whether or not she was really Tara Markov.  He and GL mix it up but then eventually Geo-Force talks to Tara about his sister and who she is.  Of course, they’re then attacked, but we leave the issue with the idea that this version of Terra, even though we don’t know who she is, is different.  She’s not Tara Markov, and Geo-Force really was working through some leftover issues he had surrounding the death of his half-sister back at the end of The Judas Contract.  Now, that was quite a number of years earlier but if your sister’s clone walked through the door, I’m sure you would have had some issues too.

Terra pries open her notorious predecessor's coffin in what has to be the most notorious scene from a 1990s Titans comic and one that would ask a question that took about a decade to answer.

Terra pries open her notorious predecessor’s coffin in what has to be the most notorious scene from a 1990s Titans comic and one that would ask a question that took about a decade to answer.

But it’s a nice issue and it really does make you think that this Terra is different.  Furthermore, it makes you feel that perhaps they’re giving her a different personality (though not as good a personality as Jeff Jensen and Phil Jiminez were giving her in Team Titans) and when she goes to open that coffin in the annual there are so many things wrong with that scene that I don’t even know where to start.  First of all, we have a scene that’s not even necessary since she already went and “talked” to Tara back in Team Titans #6 and over the course of that series it seems that she had come to terms with who she was and was not and I don’t think that much changed about her as a result of Zero Hour.

Second, she’s wearing a new costume that is spandex pants, a midriff-revealing corset top under a leather vest, goggles, and gloves.  Again, it’s like the leather jacket over her original Terra costume wasn’t ’90s enough.  And third (and finally because I’m running long here), she has absolutely no motivation to tear open the coffin and we have no reason to believe the body wouldn’t be there.  Was that supposed to be shocking?  It’s certainly shocking to her, but why the heck did she shoot the Time Trapper’s orb thing in the first place?

The Titans had been a mess before this and were becoming more of a mess as a result–the fact that Greg Land did the pencils here and his idea of women’s fashion looks like something out of your average Silk Stalkings episode doesn’t help–and like so many books I’d read over the years they were beginning to slide lower and lower down by reading priority list, especially as Harris and I stopped writing letters to the title and my senior year barrelled into spring.  By the end of that summer, I’d be reading the Superman books, a few of the Batman books, and the Titans would be headed into “Meltdown.” The mystery of Terra’s identity would take close to a decade to finally be solved (and it was more or less shunted aside in a miniseries that introduced a third version of Terra), and it would take a while for me to get the bad taste of these waning days of the Titans out of my mouth, although it seemed that Raven was gone for good as a threat and that meant that the team and the title were ready to move on.

Or so I naively thought.

Next Up: Deathstroke is framed for murder and becomes “The Hunted.”

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