Teen Titans

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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Life’s End (My Life as a Teen Titan, Part Fifty-Eight)

130 Last Page

The last page of New Titans #130, which has a cameo by Nightwing.

I stopped reading Titans in 2011.  DC announced the New 52 and the new series looked so horrible (as did Red Hood and the Outlaws) that I finally declared that I’d had enough.  My life as a Teen Titan, however, really does end with New Titans #130.

I mentioned in the last entry that I saw the Previews solicit for the comic during parents weekend of my freshman year of college and was surprised that the series was coming to an end.  I wasn’t upset, though, because comics at the time were taking a back seat to everything else–movies, music, girls, beer–and while I still collected and read them, they became something to read on breaks and during the summer when I was on my own and wasn’t sifting through assigned reading.  The Titans during that time took an even further back seat, as I became more interested in other books as well as big events like Kingdom Come.

The Titans themselves would, of course, go on.  Arsenal had a special shortly following the end of the title, an international espionage story that did wrap up one loose end from the series–we find out that the Titans had disbanded at some point following the events of “Meltdown”–and even got a lettercolumn about New Titans #130.  About a year later, Dan Jurgens would write and pencil Teen Titans, a series that is a bit of an oddity but that I enjoyed and find to be underrated.  Then again, I haven’t read it in at least 10-15 years, so I’ll have to see if my opinion changes when I get around to it.  The Devin Grayson/Jay Faeber Titans series deserves much of the criticism it gets, and I have mixed feelings about the series that started in 2003, especially Geoff Johns’s run.  I intend to reread all of those comics all the way through, although I won’t be writing about them because they all feel like they are part of different times in my fandom and comic collecting life.

I started reading New Titans when I was thirteen and the final issue came out when I was eighteen.  By then, the comic store was no longer around the block and I was no longer a lonely, worried junior high school student.  Moreover, I had moved beyond the point where I was reading about the Titans because I was looking for characters with whom I could identify.  The 19802 books had been like watching a John Hughes movie or hanging out with my older cousins–these were people I might wind up being–and the 1990s comics had characters I wanted to get to know.  By the time that title left the world behind, I had stopped needing to have a personal investment in the people I was reading about.

And really, the timing of the end of the series was perfect because the subsequent relaunches did feel like going back to my old town or old high school and seeing that things weren’t ever going to be the same:  the Dan Jurgens title was the new class you didn’t know very well, The Titans was Wooderson period, and the 2003 Teen Titans was almost like coming back to teach (your dreams were your ticket out).

Closing out what wound up being an enormous blogging endeavour isn’t easy to do.  After all, this spawned a podcast that is still going and some of the posts I wrote have gotten quite a number of hits these last few years.  But I found a source of inspiration in the last pages of that very last issue.   Though he hasn’t been in the book since issue #0 (and even that was a cameo), “Where Nightmares End” concludes with the person with whom it started–Dick Grayson.  Standing on a rooftop, he thinks:

There have been so many moments to think about.  Moments good and bad.  Moments I’d love to live all over again … and others I’d pay anything to forget.  But I don’t think if I could I’d change any of them.  I move on, but I don’t leave my childhood behind as if it’s gone.  It can never be gone … while it’s so alive inside me.

The future’s always uncertain, but that’s okay.  If I’d know what was ahead of me all those years ago, I might have avoided all the bumps … but I’d also have missed all those laughs.

He then says,

Take care, guys.  You’re the best!

Marv Wolfman then gives a farewell to the audience and thanks everyone he’s worked with in the fifteen or sixteen years he’s been on the title and I’m glad that on some level, that he ended the series on his terms.  I’m also glad that even though it took a while, I had a chance to look back on comics that have been so important to my life as a comic collector.

Meltdown (My Life as a Teen Titan, Part Fifty-Seven)

New Titans 130For all of my devotion to The New Titans, it’s ironic that I almost missed the ending.  Okay, I wouldn’t have actually missed it because I had the book on my pull list, but the final issue came out during my freshman year of college, a time when I was incredibly disengaged as a comics fan.  In fact, I remember the day I discovered that the book had been canceled:  it was parents weekend and I was flipping through Previews while waiting for my mom and dad to show up.  The solicit for The New Titans #130 read FINAL ISSUE and featured a cover by George Perez that showed the current version of the team in the same exact pose as the original team did in the very first issue of The New Teen Titans back in 1980.  After sixteen years, Marv Wolfman’s nearly uninterrupted run on the title was about to come to a close.

The story behind this as told in The Titans Companion is basically that Wolfman had been fed up with editor Pat Garrahy’s mandates and manipulations for quite some time, and at a DC Christmas Party, asked to be taken off the book.  Being that the book was on the chopping block anyway, DC told Wolfman he could “have the book back” and he was given a few months to wrap things up.  He then set out to write a story that put every one of the original Titans who were still around back to some approximation of who they were.  The only restriction was that Wolfman could not use Nightwing, who was then well on his way to being entrenched in the Batman family.

What we got was “Meltdown,” a five-part story that is actually a four-parter with a first chapter that doesn’t really seem to make too much sense.  Then again, that issue is done as a fill-in by Dale Hrebik (whose only other credits are Deathstroke #50 and Annual #4) with art by Rik Mays with the other issues pencilled by then-regular artist William Rosado.  As far as storylines from this era go, it’s one of the stronger ones, although I suppose that’s not saying much.

Basically what happens is that while a fair amount of infighting happens among the team members, the Titans are summoned to Tamaran by Starfire and Cyberion–formerly Cyborg–because Raven has returned and is leading an entire legion of hostile aliens against Kory’s home planet.  After being attacked by a now-conscious Changeling, the group subdues their former teammate and Kory reveals that she has Raven’s soul self.  She is unable to heal Gar, but he is eventually cured when Raven draws all of the Trigon seeds into herself, basically revealing that Trigon himself is trying to use her as a vessel for his resurrection.

Her war reaches a critical point when she destroys Tamaran–and in one last act of bravery, Kory’s parents stay on the planet–and Starfire and Blackfire (two sisters who have had a reconciliation) lead their rebellion of sorts, finding their adversary and destroying Raven’s body as well as the evil contained within.  At the end, on a planet that will become known as New Tamaran (that is, until the Sun Eater destroys it in Final Night), Raven is good again and an ethereal/astral form; Gar and Cyberion go off to travel through space; Kory is pregnant with her new husband, Ph’yzzon’s child; and Donna Troy is still a Darkstar (and will remain a Darkstar until John Byrne gets a hold of her).  So status quo is sort of  reestablished.

Upon my reread, I realized that much like the rest of the post-Zero Hour Titans, this story is a bit of a mess.  I am not sure when Wolfman’s meeting took place in the creative process, but the first part feels like the start of an entirely different story than the one we got.  That could have been due to a different writer being on that issue, of course, but in New Titans #126, we have an Arsenal character piece that shows how the team has its problems.  For instance, at one point, the “kids” on the team play a bit of a “let’s catch you off guard with an ambush” prank and when Donna sees that Rose Wilson was involved, she goes off on them.  Rose responds with “You’re not my mother!”  It suggests that perhaps they were setting up some teen angst sort of storyline or something that would bond the kids on the team while fracturing the adults.

That never happens.  Instead, it provides a springboard for Wolfman, only taking the Titans he wants to take to Tamaran.  Mirage and Terra remain on Earth because it’s revealed that Mirage faked her miscarriage and is actually now in labor.  Supergirl is elsewhere.  Damage gets pissed off and quits, and Impulse literally misses the ride to space.  So we get the core group (with a couple of additions, like Green Lantern) and the final forced resolution of the Raven storyline.

Funny enough, I’d actually come to like some of the characters in this run.  Roy Harper’s crisis of confidence as a leader made him more interesting than he had been in the past.  I cared about Mirage and her very complex problems.  Even the mystery of Terra’s true identity was intriguing, as were character changes in people like Kory, who was becoming more of a warrior and less naive.  But in hindsight, it was time, and the bloom from the renaissance of five years earlier had faded long before.  It’s just sad that such a once-great book went out with a whimper.

Next Up:  The end of my life as a Teen Titan.

D.O.A. (My Life as a Teen Titan, Part Fifty-Six)

Deathstroke 60On some level, I probably should be surprised that Deathstroke lasted as long as it did.

When I arrived home from college in the middle of May 1996, I picked up the books on hold at the comic store and in that stack sat Deathstroke #60, which was a white cover that had the main character’s mask and skull balanced on the hilt of a sword and the letters “D.O.A.”  It was the final issue of what I guess could be considered an experiment of sorts–giving a character who was essentially a villain his own title, something that wasn’t all that common back in 1991 when the first issue premiered (The Joker had his own series in the 1970s but beyond that, villain-led ongoings weren’t very common).

Of course, the fact that Slade Wilson was a mercenary and not inherently evil–in fact, his origin was more like a twisted version of Captain America’s–made him an easy “anti-hero” or adventure character.  As I’ve explored throughout this series of posts, much of his series was exactly like that.  Marv Wolfman took the character and the few supporting characters that had already been established–Adeline Kane and Wintergreen–developed them further and even added to them.  Then, they were almost all completely wiped out because of editorial mandates in the post-Zero Hour Hunted/Crimelord saga.

I’ll get into the editorial changes that allowed Wolfman to leave the Titans and Deathstroke behind with a slightly better taste in his mouth in the next entry, so what I’ll say here is that somewhere around issue #53, the book’s editor changed again, Tom Joyner (co-creator of Damage) came on to do a two-parter where Slade had to stop a terrorist cell from assassinating the president, vice-president, and every other high-ranking Washington official with chemical weapons (specifically, a plague) only to be blown up in an explosion that destroyed the dome of the Capitol Building.  It’s a serviceable story that sets up two things that would take the book through the last six issues of the series:  Slade will get a new costume and Slade will be de-aged and lose his memory. (more…)

The Siege of the Zi Charam (My Life as a Teen Titan, Part Fifty-Five)

New Titans 124You ever see a movie and really like it the first time but then you go and rent it on video and you realize  that it’s actually not as good as you thought it was; in fact, it’s barely watchable?  That’s how I’ve been feeling about some of these New Titans comics, especially the five part storyline, “The Siege of the Zi Charam.”

Published in the summer of 1995, the storyline was sort of a last gasp on the part of the Titans editors to get people interested in buying the flagging book, which would be cancelled about six months after the storyline ended (in fact, the next storyline, “Meltdown,” was the book’s last), “The Siege of the Zi Charam” is a Titans In Space adventure where the team is transported halfway across the universe to aid various alien races in their fight against another group of aliens called the Protogenitors, and instead of taking place over several issues of New Titans, it goes from New Titans #124 to Green Lantern #65, Darkstars #34, Damage #16, before finally wrapping up in the double-sized New Titans #125.

When the book had changed its lineup after Zero Hour, the editors did their best to create a mini universe, tying in the titles of the individual members with the larger Titans book.  Green Lantern was selling well but the other books–Darkstars and Damage–were on the verge of cancellation as well, so crossing them over was probably a good idea to boost sales.  But if you’re going to do that, you have to actually produce a story that people are going to want to buy.

As I mentioned, “The Siege of the Zi Charam” is a we’re-caught-in-the-middle-of-a-war storyline and it begins with the Titans being sent by the government to investigate some sort of anomaly in space.  The anomaly winds up being some sort of interdimensional portal and the group (well, minus Impulse because he forgot to actually get on the spaceship) is warped halfway across the universe to the Zi Charam, a region that is currently under attack from The Protogenitors, who are a race of golden-skinned aliens with red hair.  They all look very much alike and it seems that their M.O. is to go around various planets and systems and wipe everyone out. (more…)

Fear the Future (My Life as a Teen Titan, Part Fifty-Four)

Deathstroke 51If there is any one good thing that came out of Deathstroke having his own series in the 1990s, it’s that he had unknowingly fathered a daughter, Rose, who would eventually go on to become The Ravager during Geoff Johns’s run on Teen Titans.  But in 1995, Rose was still in her early teens and under the care of the latest version of the New Titans.  She’d just survived an ordeal where The Ravager (the Wade DeFarge version) killed her mother.  The climax of that storyline was earth-shattering, as most of Deathstroke’s supporting cast was dead and Adeline was revealed to not only have gone completely nuts but had also inherited some of Slade’s immortality.

So where do you go from there?  Well, apparently, you go into the future.

Deathstroke #51 and 52 are a two-part story where after she gets knocked out in a training exercise by Damage, Rose has a dream.  But it’s not a dream, it’s a vision of the future and one where her father’s immortality has  helped him achieve some sort of world domination, or at least be a Doctor Doom type of villain.  His main enemy is Hawkman, or the latest version of Hawkman, and Hawkman fights with Deathstroke in some sort of virtual reality world.  There’s  a hint that maybe somehow Steve Dayton as The Crimelord had somehow possessed Deathstroke but Rose wakes up from her vision before we can really see who he is in the future.

And then in the next issue, Deathstroke and Hawkman team up to stop a villain named Ebrax, even though the two of them spend most of their team-up time griping at one another.  There’s some implication that the possibility of Slade becoming some sort of huge villain and fighting with Hawkman will come to pass and perhaps they will become enemies as the series goes on.  But with only eight more issues to go in the series, Hawkman is never seen again and this doesn’t really go anywhere.  In fact, the only thing that does sort of go anywhere is Rose’s burgeoning precognitive powers, which are still around when she is The Ravager, although she’s not so much predicting the future in that role and simply has good anticipatory reflexes.

This two-parter, to me, has not only come to represent the beginning of the end of this series but its lowest point.  Two stories that feature Hawkman and set up one confusing, dangling plot thread were also two stories that I barely cared about in 1995 and kind of suffered through when I was rereading for this blog.  Looking at what’s ahead, there are a couple of issues that I barely remember reading, one issue that I didn’t actually own until years after the series had been cancelled, and while things slightly improve in the last few issues of the series, you can tell that unless Deathstroke is going to go back to its roots and become a series about a mercenary who is also an action hero, it’s going to wind up being cancelled.  The science fiction aspects are clunky, especially anything with “virtual reality,” which clearly dates these issues.

Next Up:  The Titans go into outer space and get involved in an intergalactic civil war.

Connections and Revelations (My Life as a Teen Titan, Part Fifty-Three)

1994 and 1995 were odd years for comics.  In hindsight, they were the death throes of what we often refer to as “The Nineties” because it was the middle of the market collapse (which explains why my comics shop has so many old IMage books in the quarter bins), but while I could point to crap like Brigade and Bloodstrike as everything that was wrong with comics in the 1990s, the books I was reading weren’t completely innocent.  As I mentioned the last time around, DC decided to beef up flagging titles like New Titans and Deathstroke by giving them new lineups, new attitudes, and even new titles.

The first half of the change in Deathstroke was “The Hunted” but once Slade is captured and no longer on the run, what do we do?  Well, we drop “The Hunted” and change the title of the book to Deathstroke, which would be the name of the book from issue #46 until it was cancelled with issue #60.

But a title change wasn’t just it.  In the issues that follow, we complete the change of Deathstroke’s statu quo, which goes along with the change in the Titans’ status quo.  By the end of Deathstroke Annual #4, our hero will have a new boss, Rose will have a new home, Adeline will have a new psychpathy, and the identities of both The Crimelord and The Ravager–who had been around since issue #0–would be revealed.

Marv Wolfman divides Deathstroke #46-50 into 35 “chapters” that focus on different characters and are indended to finish forever changing our main character.  In the first two, Slade is in a government holding cell and is eventually convinced to work for Sarge Steel and the government in the way the Titans are under their employ while the three villains of the story are reestablished.  There’s The Crimelord, of course; Adeline Wilson, who is now completely obsessed with destroying her ex-husband; and The Ravager, who survived the confrontation with Rose and Sweet Lili but whom we still don’t actually know, even though we see him unmasked.

He won’t be much of a player for a little while anyway because The Crimelord puts his plans into motion, revealing to our heroes that he has placed nuclear bombs throughout the world and they have twenty-four hours to find and disarm them.  If The Syndicate doesn’t get in the way first, that is. (more…)