Teen Titans

Meltdown (My Life as a Teen Titan, Part Forty)

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 Thirty-Nine)

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 Thirty-Eight)

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 Thirty-Seven)

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 Thirty-Six)

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…)

Deathstroke: The Hunted (My Life as a Teen Titan, Part Thirty-Five)

Deathstroke 0The 1990s take a lot of crap from comics fans and in all honesty a lot of that crap isn’t fair.  But there are times when the effects of the era’s attitude are clearly seen and seen for the worst, which is when an established character undergoes some sort of transformation to make him or her “edgier” or “extreme” or “more exciting.”  Post-Zero Hour, this happened to The New Titans, which had a new lineup and a whole slew of storyline and character changes that were mainly the result of interference from a new editor (though the title’s writer, Marv Wolfman, obviously shares some of the responsibility for how the book eventually crashed and burned) and this bled over into the other Titans-related comic of the time, Deathstroke: The Terminator.

Prior to the 1994 crossover event, Deathstroke had been chugging along and probably faced a fair amount of declining sales (I haven’t been able to find the actual sales figures) since its debut, or at least through most of the latter part of 1993 and into 1994, even though the title had been a pretty consistent read throughout its run.  But with Zero Hour came a new editor, Pat Garrahy, and therefore came a new direction because Garrahy, much to the chagrin of Wolfman and quite a number of fans (especially in hindsight) was obsessed with the idea of “shaking things up” to the point where he didn’t seem to care about getting anyone upset or completely contradicting that which had come before (read: the Terra origin).  In fact, I remember hearing a story about how he was once at a signing or convention and pointed out to a fan all of the characters he had killed … and seemed pretty proud of it.  Granted, this story was something I heard on a message board back in the early 2000s and is more than likely not true, but it is indicative of the attitude of many an editor and many a company in the early 1990s:  do something shocking or crazy so that your readers are sure to pick up the book.

Like I said, for The New Titans it was a lineup change; for Deathstroke: The Terminator, it was a new art team, a new direction, and a title change to Deathstroke: The Hunted.

Starting with issue 0, Sergio Cariello took over on pencils and stayed with the book for the better part of a year and a half as he and his brother Octavio took Slade to Hell and back and dismantled much of the book’s supporting cast in a drawn-out storyline that involved two mystery villains and several major deaths.  Garrahy had Wolfman writing in higher octane mode than he already had (read: now EVERYONE WAS YELLING ALL THE TIME BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT COMICS DIALOGUE WAS IN THE 1990s!  EVERYONE!  HAS! TO!  YELL!) and the Cariellos drew with a very fast-paced style that sometimes lent itself well to the storyline but other times seemed rushed, much like the issues that came out.

Deathstroke 45“The Hunted” is a Slade-on-the-run storyline that starts in the Zero Month issue with Deathstroke being chased by the United States government because he is wanted for the murder of a Senator, even though he knows that the person he killed was actually a terrorist disguised as the Senator who was going to blow himself up at a public appearance and the real Senator had been murdered by agents of the Crimelord, who is now in charge of the nation of Zandia, the former home of Brother Blood.  The Crimelord is a villain shrouded in mystery.  He talks to his operatives via video chat using avatars and sits in shadows smoking a cigar and petting an owl (because when you’re an international criminal supervillain you need to be petting some sort of animal), so we don’t know his identity and that is something that will be some sort of huge reveal at one point or another.

It takes a while to get to that point because the six issues that make up “The Hunted” are the “Deathstroke on the run” and “We’re going to destroy everything” part of all of this that is quite formulaic.  The Zero Month issue establishes the story and it’s kind of jarring because there’s very little connection between issue #0 and issue #40, which was a run-of-the-mill action yarn.

So, Slade is on the run from the government.  He gets captured.  He gets rescued.  The Crimelord acts behind the scenes and manipulates a lot of things.  There’s also a mystery villain who will come to be known as The Ravager (the third Deathstroke-related character with that name) and Slade’s ex-wife Adeline is completely insane and obsessed with killing her husband.

Wash, rinse, repeat. (more…)

Pop Culture Affidavit Episode 17 — Return to the Valley of the Geeks

Episode 17 CoverIt’s the one year anniversary of the Pop Culture Affidavit podcast and I’m celebrating in fine style with coverage from the 2013 Baltimore Comic-Con!  I attended on Saturday, September 7 and you’ll get to hear me talk about the con as well as talk to some comics creators I met, including Art Baltazar and Franco, Michael Golden, Rob Kelly, and George Perez!

You can listen here:

iTunes:  Pop Culture Affidavit

Direct Download 

Pop Culture Affidavit podcast page

Pictures are located after the jump, but I did want to share some links to things mentioned on the podcast …

The Baltimore Comic-Con:  I obviously want to provide a link to the official page of the con and offer my thanks once again to the organizers for giving me a press pass.

Hey Kids, Comics!:  Rob Kelly recently wrote a book and I had the privilege of speaking to him about it at the con.  Look for an extended interview with him on the next episode!

Healed:  A comic from Homeless Comics that I didn’t buy at the con but checked out online and it, or at least issue #1 is really good.


Forever Evil (My Life as a Teen Titan, Part Thirty-Four)

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:

  • 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? (more…)

New Team, Old Foes (My Life as a Teen Titan, Part Thirty-Three)

New Titans 115I have to admit that I was a little hesitant about getting back to writing these posts about the Titans.  Part of this had to do with my being a little burned out on Titans and Titans-related comics as I’ve been working my way through all of the Dick Grayson-related stuff over at Taking Flight, and that’s why I took a bit of a break from all of them for a little while.  Part of it, however, had to do with whether or not I wanted to reread comics that are notorious for being representative of the nadir of the 1990s.  But I have soldiered on and am going to take a look at the first two story arcs over the course of the next few weeks as a way to get this back on track to its eventual conclusion.

The New Titans limped into Zero Hour having gone through a few disastrous storylines that were most known for their rather disastrous artwork and with a new editor at the helm (and a refreshing change in the art style) went through a lineup overhaul.  Gone were the characters introduced in the Titans Hunt era and now we had a new team:  Arsenal, Damage, Changeling, Terra, Mirage, Donna Troy (now a Darkstar), and Impulse, a team that seemed more or less “given to” writer Marv Wolfman instead of having naturally come together (and he has confirmed as much in interviews about this time) and that never really seemed to gel.

I am trying pretty hard to remember what I was into around this time.  I know that Harris and I were still writing the occasional letter to the book, even if we had given up our crusade to kill Donna Troy, but I also know that I was interested in other titles, plus I had a lot going on outside of comics being that the first post-Zero Hour issues hit the stands at the beginning of my senior year of high school.  But putting my personal life at the time aside, I can see that Titans was sort of lower on the priority list at the time.  A glance at Mike’s Amazing World shows that I was reading the following in October 1994:  Batman/Detective Comics (Prodigal had started), Damage (a series I intend to re-collect, re-read and do either an episode or a post about), Deathstroke: The Hunted (which I’ll cover soon), Flash (Waid and Weiringo doing amazing work), Legion of Super-Heroes/Legionnaires (at the beginning of the reboot, which I enjoyed), R.E.B.E.L.S. ’94 (Don’t ask), Robin (natch), Spawn (collected this until about #60, don’t remember much about anything in it), and Star Wars: Tales of the Jedi (soon after, I’d lose track of the EU).  I’m sure Batman was high on this list, as was Flash (I also had an on-again, off-again relationship with the Kyle Rayner Green Lantern book and the Superman titles), and looking at some of the other stuff being offered at the time I was missing out on some stuff (Starman, for one) but really not much.  1994-1995 were kind of nightmare years in the comics industry and I know that between being a senior and starting college, I really would be kind of going through the motions with a lot of my comics collecting until around the time Kingdom Come came out and I started to get back into things.   (more…)

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

New Titans 63So sometimes there are storylines that are so huge that the issues that come after it are a bit lackluster. It’s kind of like 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. (more…)