From Zero to Breakup

MORE THAN ZERO: ZERO MONTH 20 YEARS LATER

In 1994 DC Comics published Zero Hour, a five issue mini-series designed to not only serve as a major summer crossover but also fix some of the continuity problems that had plagued their universe after the end of Crisis on Infinite Earths.  Some have suggested that Zero Hour caused more problems than it fixed but at the time it was the dawn of an exciting new era for DC.  To kick off this new age DC followed Zero Hour with Zero Month.  As the name suggests all of the main DC books were rolled back to zero though each one had a different approach to the idea  Some books featured a new origin.  Some contained tweaks to the existing origin.  Some contained brand new versions of old characters.  All of them served as a jumping on point for new and old readers alike. To celebrate this new era (or perhaps to bury it) some of us in the comic book blogging community have banded together from remote galaxies to discuss how the characters we cover were rebooted/revamped by looking at the solicitations of our character’s zero issues as well as delving into the Wizard Magazine Zero Hour Special, which was a magazine published around the time of Zero Hour to promote the series, what was coming next and the history of DC in general.

I have been struggling for days to figure out some sort of simile or metaphor to use as a way to represent what the post Zero Hour Titans books were like.  I figured it would be easy–I am, after all, a sports fan and have seen more than my fair share of lineup changes that were both beneficial and detrimental.  But for some reason, I keep coming back to the first two weeks of July 1996 and what amounted to the last gasp of a dying relationship.
Kate was … well, I can’t say that she was a nightmare or anything, but it was the first relationship that I had ever been in where things lasted longer than a couple of nights or a couple of weeks.  But by the time i was making my way through my freshman year of college, we both were slowly discovering that our high school romance wasn’t compatible to my being away at school.  We spent the summer breaking up, getting back together, and fighting for various reasons–I knew she was cheating on me, I was getting some, we had concert tickets–and I am sure that we would have been done way before I left for school in August had it not been for that week in July when my parents were away and we, for some reason, were getting along.  Of course, I would later find out it was because the guy she was hooking up with behind my back was also out of town, but ignorance proved to be bliss.
When Zero Hour hit, the Titans and Deathstroke were both at that point.  Deathstroke had been spinning its wheels with one-off action yarns after a very solid “World Tour” storyline in 1993 and the Titans was literally sputtering. W hole issues would go by where it seemed like nothing was happening, there didn’t seem to be any actual villains to fight (the Terrarizer, really?), the team never felt like an actual team, and with the exception of a couple of really good Rik Mays-pencilled issues, the art by Bill Jaaska was downright terrible.  Enter new editor Pat Garrahy, who was assigned, much like Jonathan Peterson four years earlier, to do something, anything to keep the titles afloat.  Zero Month, it was decided, was the perfect time to do that since Team Titans–the title I though twas the better of the three–had been cancelled, Nightwing was being given back to the Batman books, and the various other members of the group were sent packing in one way or another except for  Arsenal and Changeling, who had given the team to the U.S. government and were somehow going to find new members.
Unfortunately for the readers, the new direction chosen was more of a complete dismantling of both books rather than a refocus.  The solicits promised new and exciting things as Previews put a spotlight on the bold new direction that each book was taking:
ZM Solicits - Deathstroke #0 ZM Solicits - New Titans #0
The menaces that began to ravage characters in both books seemed to come out of nowhere.  Yes, ther ewas a lead-up to the Titans having an affiliation with the government, but the Deathstroke assassination plot and the Crimelord were simply dropped in, and by the time that Garrahy was let go from the title in late 1995/early 1996, the supporting cast of Deathstroke would be mostly killed off and Marv Wolfman would be given five issues to end his sixteen-year run on New Titans with at least some semblance of dignity.
I can’t tell if it is hindsight being 20/20 since I have read interviews about how displeased Wolfman was with his last year and a half on the title, but when I now read the features in the Wizard Zero Month special, I think I can already hear the disdain, or at least noncommittal:
Beyond Zero Hour New Titans Beyond Zero Hour Deathstroke
Take a look at the last lines of each of those features and you see what seem like non-comments or at least prefabricated talking points:
The book has gone under a lot of changes in the past few years, but all were evolutionary … heroes died, new heroes replaced them, tempers flared, and because they were young, mistakes were made.  That is the way life is.  But now we begin with a new group.  A revolution, so to speak.  New heroes, all with their own lives, hopes and desires.  This allows us to create a very different Titans book.
I think Slade’s ambiguous nature as well as not being sure what he’ll do next makes him someone you want to follow … His relationship with his ex-wife, his friends and co-workers is more than another ‘Man on a Mission’ comic.  He’s not out to stop the mob.  He’s not out to stop evil.  YOu hire Slade, he does his job.  Unofrtunately, his own life gets in the middle of things and mucks it all up.
I can’t remember if I found this all enticing, because prior to issue #0 of both titles, I was already a committed fan.  I will say that the idea of a new artist on Titans was enticing and the conspiracy plot in Deathstroke at least had me interested and the way a “Titans Universe” was being cobbled together using Green Lantern, Damage, and The Darkstars was a draw, especially since I was already reading those titles.  So I guess it worked on some level.
Unfortunately, the internal strife among the creators and editors contributed to the titles’ ultimate downfall.  In interviews, Wolfman had said how quite a number of the plots from issue #0 onward were not his own and dialogue was completely rewritten and he went as far as to threaten to quit if Garrahy was going to continue.  This new era lasted through a lengthy Deathstroke story involving the Crimelord, who was revealed to be Steve Dayton, and a Titans story where Raven was an evil soul-sucking dominatrix before everyone headed off to space in a forgettable four book crossover called “The Siege of the Zi Charam.”  At a DC office party late in 1995, Wolfman was given notice about the titles being cancelled and eventually negotiated to have Garrahy removed from the book and began “Meltdown,” a storyline that more or less restored all of the characters that he loved to write to some semblance of normal.
Kate and I had our Zero Month … well, Zero Week, where everything was great and we remembered what worked, but after a while, we were left to look at the mess that was being ignored and had to make a decision to clean things up or walk away.  One day, we decided it was over and haven’t spoken in nearly twenty years.  And this is where the simile kind of falls apart because I would be back with the Titans a year or so later with Dan Jurgens’ Teen Titans book and then would follow them through The Titans, Teen Titans (the Geoff Johns title), and Titans before finally ending my relationship with the book when the New 52 was announced.
But that’s another breakup story.

A big thanks to Michael Bailey and Jeffrey Taylor of From Crisis to Crisis for having me be part of this crossover.  Be sure to check out the links below to find out how other characters were treated during Zero Month.

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One comment

  1. I think the breakdown of a relationship is a good metaphor for my experience with the Titans as well. They’re the team that got me into DC back in the 1980s, and I held on to the bitter end post-Zero Hour despite the ups and downs. I skipped the Dan Jurgens series because they weren’t the same characters, but came back for the JLA/Titans relaunch. Eventually, though, you do have to recognize when it’s just not working for you: In my case, that was shortly before Infinite Crisis, when I realized I hadn’t *really* enjoyed the series in years, and it was time to walk away.

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