Comics Ate My Brain

October 28, 2004

An Effective Beginning For Rebirth

Filed under: green lantern — Tom Bondurant @ 3:11 am
Walked into the ol’ comics shop this afternoon and asked, “Did you sell out of Green Lantern?”

“Yes.”

“Did you save me one?”

“Yes.”

As it turns out, one customer bought 20 (!) copies, one bought 10, and a few more bought 3-4 each. I thought that would happen around the country; but who knew there were that many Hal Jordan fans in Lexington?

The book itself was pretty good. Its main flaw is the tendency of each major character to speak in detailed paragraphs:

GUY: I don’t miss the Guardians and their stupid rules. I don’t miss always havin’ to prove I’m the best one out there. And I sure as hell don’t miss bein’ forced to live up to some higher code of universal ethics. [His “tattoos” appear.] My Vuldarian powers. Laced in my genetics. They’ve brought me back from the brink of death. Even during that interplanetary war crap. That and my good looks made me stand out on my own. They made me more than just another Green Lantern. I’m Guy Gardner, Warrior. Screw the Corps.

In fairness, that’s probably necessary thanks to all the baggage these characters have accumulated over the years. This issue works in Kyle Rayner, John Stewart, Guy Gardner, Green Arrow (and the “Archer’s Quest” storyline), the Justice League, the Justice Society, Carol Ferris, Coast City, and a coffin with a familiar symbol.

Because this is a Geoff Johns script, I’m going to assume that all the references and homages I picked up were intentional, starting with the Abin Sur-like spaceship crash that begins the issue. Johns has definitely done his homework, mentioning Hal’s love of baseball and the evolution of John’s character. I thought Carol Ferris was still married, however.

The focus is on the Spectre, obviously. Strangers feel the need to confess their sins to him; and he visits some righteous ironic vengeance on old foe Black Hand. In that spirit (sorry), Guy suffers what you might call a “reversal” (again, sorry). There’s also a mysterious appearance in Southern California.

The art, by Ethan Van Sciver, is fantastic. I hadn’t thought I’d like it, but it reminds me of Brian Bolland — especially his Batman.

Look, I would have bought this book anyway. I’m still skeptical that Johns can pull off this particular rejuvenation. Nevertheless, this issue is a good start.

October 24, 2004

Gods’ Gifts To Women: New Teen Titans #s 10-12

Filed under: big titans project, new teen titans, recaps — Tom Bondurant @ 10:44 pm
The plot of New Teen Titans #10 is straightforward, dealing with Deathstroke’s theft of the Promethium plans, but it takes a little bit to get going.

Following an introductory scene with Deathstroke, his assistant Wintergreen, and a visiting scientist (“Dr. Benson Honeywell,” har har), we skip ahead “several days” to the theft of a nuclear weapon from an aircraft carrier. Abruptly (“before you start asking too many questions,” the narration says), it’s page 4 and we’re back with Changeling, on the trail of the Promethium documents. Cyborg’s question about a family portrait leads Gar to recall his origin and early days with the Doom Patrol.

It’s a bit of DC history which, for the most part, John Byrne has just erased. Gar Logan’s parents were biologists, and while exploring Africa, Gar contracted a rare disease called Sakutia. Instead of killing him, it colored him green and gave him the power to turn into any animal (which would also be green — and in the early days, have a shock of green human hair. Perez since lost the green human hair bit, but restored it for the flashbacks in this issue). At age 10, his parents died in an accident. At age 11, the DP’s Niles Caulder found Gar. Ultimately, the DP’s Rita “Elasti-Girl” Farr married Steve “Mento” Dayton, and they adopted Gar.

However, the Brotherhood of Evil took over the small town of Codsville, ME (population 14) and threatened to destroy it unless the DP surrendered themselves. The Brotherhood killed the Doom Patrol (except for Gar and Dayton, who weren’t there), but the town was saved. As it turned out, Cliff “Robotman” Steele did survive, and Steve Dayton’s now out looking for the rest of the Patrol.

Following a message from Cliff — whose brain is in a robot body, but you knew that already — Gar explains to Vic that he hadn’t talked with Cliff in a while because he didn’t want to be reminded about the DP’s death. However, his friendship with Vic inspired him to get back in touch with Cliff. I know I keep mentioning the nuances and subtleties of Cyborg’s character, but here’s another example of the organic ways in which these characters are becoming intertwined. They have gone beyond superficial sniping and smart-aleckry (if that’s a word) and are becoming real friends.

Back to the plot. Over a couple of transitory pages, Sarah Simms is kidnapped and terrorists (including “Boris Battinov,” ho ho) slip silently into America.

Next is an extended fight between Starfire and Deathstroke, which Deathstroke wins. Starfire alludes to not having to hold back against Deathstroke, but when he pulls the old “drop a building on some bystanders” routine, she stays behind to save the innocents and lets him escape. A couple of pages later, during the debriefing at Titans’ Tower, we learn that Deathstroke planted a hidden speaker on Starfire. He reveals that he’s kidnapped Sarah and the Titans can save her by surrendering themselves to him at the Grand Canyon. There he plans to demonstrate the power of Promethium on the Titans.

Cyborg explodes with rage, but Raven calms him. Gar is fired up too, seeing this as just like what happened to the Doom Patrol.

“Eighteen hours” later, the Titans’ T-Jet lands at the Grand Canyon. The hostage exchange is made, and Deathstroke strolls into a cavernous auditorium (which I didn’t know the Grand Canyon had, but I’ve never been there) to conduct the auction. As the assembled nogoodniks watch, a bomber drops the warhead on the unconscious Titans. Deathstroke notes that their deaths will satisfy his contract with The H.I.V.E. Once the smoke clears (literally), Deathstroke opens the bidding, but the H.I.V.E. representatives electrocute everybody else and offer him their accumulated gold so that the H.I.V.E. won’t have to pay anything. Deathstroke shoots the two H.I.V.E.’rs instead.

Just then, the Titans appear. Since Deathstroke asks, Robin explains how they defused the warhead (the stolen nuke from the aircraft carrier) and faked the explosion. Once Robin figured out that the plans were for something which hadn’t yet been perfected, he deduced that Deathstroke’s men stole the nuke from the carrier. Speaking of said men, Deathstroke orders his hired army to attack the Titans.

Perez doesn’t spend much time on the Bond-film-like fight between mercenaries and Titans, focusing instead on Changeling’s lone pursuit of Deathstroke. While the Titans mop up the 500 mercenaries, Deathstroke kills Changeling. To Be Continued….

Issue #11 finds the T-Jet streaking into the Bermuda Triangle, location of Paradise Island. There the female Titans (males can’t set foot on the island without robbing the Amazons of their powers and immortality) will watch as Changeling is healed with the magical Purple Ray. (He won’t set foot on the island, because he’ll be on a hospital bed.) We say farewell to the guys, headed for Africa on the trail of Robotman.

Changeling’s comatose body (he was put in suspended animation) is Purple Ray-ed, but the beam’s solar collectors are mysteriously sapped. Wonder Girl flies off to investigate. She discovers that the Greek Titan Hyperion, re-energizing himself with the sun’s rays, is the cause. Hyperion and his fellow Titans have been imprisoned in Tartarus, underneath Paradise Island, since their children the Greek Gods overthrew them lo, those millennia ago. Wonder Girl tries to stop him, but nothing doing. He causes her to fall in love with him, and I have to say without any salacity that Perez draws orgiastic women pretty effectively. (As we’ll see, Donna’s seduction has deeper consequences.)

Raven (“Donna is in trouble”) and Starfire (“Trouble? It looks to me like they’re in love!”) confront Hyperion and are rebuffed. Hyperion takes Donna into Tartarus, where they defend themselves against (and end up killing) the Old Titans’ guards, three Cyclopes.

On the island, Queen Hippolyta, now in battle armor, rallies the Amazons. Underneath, Hyperion tells Donna the familiar children-kill-their-parents stories of Greek mythology. As the Old Titans took over from their parents, so the OTs’ children, the Greek pantheon, imprisoned them. Thus, once again a couple of familiar themes return for this story: the parent/child conflict (inverted here, with Bad Children), and the Absent Relative. This issue’s absent relative is Hyperion’s wife Thia, seen ultimately in one of the first post-Perez storylines.

Honestly, the rest of the issue, and most of issue #12, is a big fight between the Old Titans (led by Cronus) and the Greek pantheon (assisted by the Amazons, Raven, and Starfire). I always dread reading these issues, because it’s a lot of trying to keep up with who’s fighting whom and which god is which. Despite Perez’s distinctive designs and skill with action sequences, it’s still a big jumble. (A quick note: Obviously this story was all undone by Perez’s 1986 renovations to Wonder Woman. However, while he changed the Greek pantheon’s look — to make it clear these weren’t the pre-Crisis gods — he kept the Old Titans’ designs the same.)

This is not to say I didn’t discover something new in the reading. While I knew that Marv Wolfman was an admitted Star Trek fan, I never quite put together that issues #11 and 12 were basically “Who Mourns For Adonais?” until now. In that episode, the Greek god Apollo traps the Enterprise and says he’ll give the crew all kinds of luxurious living if they worship him. He is especially smitten with the beautiful Lieutenant Carolyn Palamas, and magicks up a fancy dress for her. Hyperion does the same things with Donna, right down to the new dress. The goddess Athena even gets a speech right out of the James T. Kirk repertoire:

Yes, there would be peace and tranquility, but mankind’s will would be destroyed. Your new golden age would bring beauty, but at what cost? The answer, Cronus — is man’s freedom! They have a divine right to be free, not to bend to your thinking, Titan. If they want peace, that is their right. If they are foolish enough to demand blood, that too should be theirs to decide.

Starfire also gets in on the oratorical action, encouraging the Titans to “[f]ight to make [Tartarus] the paradise you seek” like it was Ceti Alpha VI. The whole thing ends up with everyone going back to their appropriate stations in life, and the parents acknowledging that their children must supplant them.

Donna is at the center of all this, naturally, and she gets a couple of good moments which help redeem these issues. She refuses to fight Queen Hippolyta, her adopted mother, thereby setting her apart from the other Bad Parent storylines; and when she returns home, she runs to the arms of Terry Long. That last bit helped ground the larger storyline in the book’s character-driven roots. In other words, the past couple of issues weren’t an outgrowth of subplots, but they helped reinforce those subplots. When the book returned to the guys, on the trail of Robotman, the subplots likewise came back in force.

Next: The Brotherhood of Evil!

October 22, 2004

New comics 10/20/04

Filed under: batman, crisis, fantastic four, firestorm, robin, star wars, superman, teen titans, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 12:28 am
There were a couple of accidental themes this week — vampires (because I got Essential Tomb Of Dracula Vol. 3 and Jimmy Olsen Adventures Vol. 2, featuring the “Transilvane” stories) and the future of Tim Drake. To be ornery, I’m saving Tim for last and starting with Star Wars.

Star Wars Empire #25: Written by Ron Marz, art by Joe Corroney. Continued from last issue, Han is in the clutches of a criminal who wants to torture him for information about the Rebels and then turn him over to Darth Vader. No, not that one — this is before Empire. Seems that an old friend, who happens to be both cynical about the Rebels and female, sold him out. The whole thing is rather by-the-numbers and a little too neat — why would they let Chewie just sit around the Falcon waiting for something to happen, instead of detaining him too? — but a couple of things caught my eye. First, the femme fatale’s ship is called Emerald Twilight, and second, nothing bad happens to our heroine. It’s a little surprising, given Marz’s reputation. I suppose my own cynical side would say he can’t stuff someone in a space-refrigerator every month. Corroney does a good job with the likenesses, really pulling off an accurate Harrison Ford. Marz has been a decent writer these past few months, and I’m interested in the period covered, but I don’t know whether this is worth $2.99 a pop.

Fantastic Four #519: Written by Mark Waid, pencilled by Mike Wieringo, inked by Karl Kesel. Also continued from last issue, Reed finds a way out of Zius’ (Dr. Zius! Dr. Zius!) … I hesitate to call it “trap” for Sue. Let’s say “dilemma involving Sue.” Anyway, Reed’s solution is, shall we say, unique. It also has the virtue of rehabilitating the FF’s reputation live on TV. Waid handles the whole thing with an almost farcical air, and the last-page cliffhanger had me laughing out loud.

Adventures of Superman #633: Written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by Matthew Clark, inked by Andy Lanning. It’s two months since Lois was shot, and she’s being mothered to death by Ma Kent and Ma Lane. Meanwhile, Ruin’s lackeys/proteges are kept in check by a spartan diet of hoboes. Superman questions Xlim and figures out that Ruin’s been able to block his powers — using lead to stop X-ray vision, etc. Supes finds Ruin’s hideout, we think, but is he too late…? I liked Clark fine, but I don’t know if Lanning is a good inker for him — maybe a little too fine of a line. Rucka’s dialogue between Lois and Clark is very natural, so much so that I noticed that I wasn’t noticing anything, if you know what I mean. Like his Wonder Woman, this book is starting to pick up steam.

Firestorm #6: Written by Dan Jolley, pencilled by Chris Batista, inked by Dan Green. It’s the final fate of Ronnie Raymond as Jason uses Firestorm to joyride across town and up to the Moon. There Batman and J’Onn J’Onzz tell him Raymond is gone, and warn him they’ll be watching if he abuses what he’s been given. Jason behaves like you’d expect a teenager to, which in a way made Ronnie lucky he had an adult riding shotgun or he’d have gotten in bigger trouble. I haven’t enjoyed a teen-hero book this much since those early Statics.

Robin #131: “War Games” Act 3 Part 4, written by Bill Willingham, pencilled by Thomas Derenick, inked by Robert Campanella. This wasn’t a bad issue, because it had its own plot which just happened to fit the larger “WG” story. It contrasts Tim’s return to duty with Spoiler’s rematch with Black Mask. I would have liked it more if Willingham didn’t lay everything out so clumsily. His Black Mask sounds like that guy from “The X Files” who wanted to give Scully a manicure, and his Tim makes a big deal out of being bright and cheery while using baroque phrases like “truly dire.” The art is up to the task, but it’s nothing special.

Batman: Gotham Knights #58: “War Games” Act 3 Part 5, written by A.J. Lieberman, pencilled by Al Barrionuevo, inked by Francis Portella. Spotlight on Tarantula as the GCPD decides to make her the poster-child for captured vigilantes. Batman gets Spoiler to Leslie’s hospital and Black Mask orders every crook in town to converge on “the north end.” Honestly, I don’t quite know why Batman’s so concerned with Tarantula and her charges. It’s not like she’s done anything to earn his trust. (Huntress got a lot more flack than Tarantula has.) Lieberman didn’t do much to offend me this issue — not like the last few months, at least — and the scenes with Batman and Spoiler are kind of touching. She was Robin, after all.

Batgirl #57: “War Games” Act 3 Part 6, written by Dylan Horrocks, pencilled by Mike Huddleston, inked by Jesse Delperdang. Batgirl saves Onyx from rampaging hoodlums as Black Mask continues his trek across the city. That’s basically it. The last page is the best one. It’s a lot of big panels and clean, soft lines. I don’t know that the Batgirl/Onyx/thug bits deserved their own issue, but at least it’s in Batgirl’s own book — not like having Tim come back in Detective, or anything….

Teen Titans #17: Written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Mike McKone, inked by Marlo Alquiza. Yes, it’s another “the future has gone into the toilet and our once-pure heroes are now fascists” story, but I’ve gotta say it’s one of the better ones. Future-Tim grows up to be Batman, and much is made of how the Adult Titans (not calling themselves “Justice League?”) give him the same deference their former mentors gave Bruce Wayne. Actually, they defer to him more, because they trust him more than the Leaguers trust Batman. Future-Tim is also more … punitive than Batman, crossing in the first few pages a couple of his mentor’s lines-in-the-sand. The art is suitably moody, even with McKone’s tendency to put a sheen on everything; and Johns’ script doesn’t let the plot lag. It’s all setup for the next issue or two (or however long this will take), but it’s good setup, not hindered by continuity or emotional manipulation like the last JSA.

Identity Crisis #5: Written by Brad Meltzer, pencilled by Rags Morales, inked by Michael Bair. The series is full of momentum (like a runaway freight train, perhaps), and this issue boasts a few big sequences. There is another Justice League/villain fight, some bonding between Captain Boomerang and his son (although why use the sharp boomerangs?), a scene between Ray Palmer and Jean Loring that falls flat thanks to redundant narration, and a genuinely suspenseful climax that finds a hero racing to save a loved one. I didn’t like this issue as much as I did #4, but on balance IC hasn’t been disappointing.

Beware of SPOILERS from here on out.

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Now, about Tim: I don’t know who’s in charge of these kinds of things at the DC offices, but this week gave us three looks at the youngster. Let’s see if they add up to a cohesive whole.

Obviously, Robin finds Tim back in the saddle and feeling good about himself. He gets to share a scene with his dad, who’s calmed down after shoving a gun into Bruce Wayne’s face this past spring. I haven’t read Robin regularly in a long time (since #50, maybe), but it always seemed to me that Jack Drake was an important part of Tim’s independence from Batman. Tim couldn’t move into Wayne Manor like his predecessors, so his superhero career was theoretically something he could keep at arm’s length. This also meant that Tim was stuck being Robin, for all practical purposes, as long as Jack didn’t know about Tim’s double life. Obviously Tim couldn’t hide being Batman from his dad.

I’ve argued before about the nature of the Robin identity. It started as a focus for Dick Grayson’s vengeance and grief. It served a similar function for Jason Todd (both versions). However, Tim saw it as a way to keep Batman sane. I don’t know if he was alluding to Tim’s origin, but Bill Willingham in Robin #131 had Tim acknowledge that Stephanie Brown also helped “lighten up” Batman. I’ve also mentioned that while Tim initially saw Robin solely in relation to Batman, almost from the beginning of his career he’s been the most independent. Jack is a big part of that.

I can’t remember who said it, but the argument has been made (and reinforced by Teen Titans #17) that Tim doesn’t want to be Batman. (I’m not forgetting about the vision of Tim as Batman in the early Grant Morrison JLA story — but I will point out that it was Bruce’s vision, not Tim’s.) Tim wants to be an adventurer until he’s ready for a normal life, and then he wants normality. If Jack doesn’t survive Identity Crisis, one of Tim’s major ties to that normality will be gone, and Tim will have to make a choice between the Batcave and the real world. With Tim moving to Bludhaven by January, the waters are a little muddier — is he moving in with Dick Grayson, is his dad getting away from Gotham, or something else? — but that still suggests he’s no closer to Wayne Manor than he was before.

The alternate future of “Titans Tomorrow” plays into these various theories. Tim asks “What would make me want to be Batman?” Obviously the death of Bruce Wayne might, but Tim would probably then expect Dick Grayson to take over before he would. Again, Jack Drake’s death would remove another “normal” element of his life.

Furthermore, it may seem self-evident, but if Tim becomes Batman, he wouldn’t have a Robin to keep him mellow — and if he saw Batman killed, he might not want to make another impressionable kid his sidekick, in order to spare them such an horrific possibility. We’ll find out in the next couple of months, but it could very well be that a career as Batman would be the worst thing that ever happened to Tim.

October 20, 2004

Previews

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom Bondurant @ 2:55 am
Here’s the thing about Previews: each month I go through the thing and put the lucky issues into a spreadsheet so I can track my purchases. Thus, a new Previews just means “data entry” to me, not “smartmouth blogging.”

Still, when in Rome….

DC Solicitations For January 2005

Batman: That’s a scary cover. Good. Batman needs to beat up on a grinning death’s-head instead of a crazed surgeon or armies of nameless gangbangers. I don’t hate Winick either. Although his Green Lantern and Green Arrow both turned out average (I only read his first arc of GA), his Scarecrow/Penguin arc was decent, and the Bat-books could use a heavy dose of superheroics after all the “gritty reality” of the past few months. Same goes for Detective — good to see Robin and Batman back together. (Although Robin’s moving to Bludhaven? Merde!) I care very little for Hush and Poison Ivy, so once again Gotham Knights falls victim to the soft bigotry of low expectations. I’m torn about the Riddler story in Legends, because I like the Riddler, but I couldn’t stand those weird backups in the past few Detectives. Nightwing I’ll buy because it tells the flashback story of Dick’s last case as Robin (should my Titans essays work up to “The Judas Contract” in time for this, folks?), but I have long been disenchanted with Chuck Dixon. Good thing I’m enchanted with Gotham Central.

Superman: There are reasons for me to get each of the main Superman books — I’m still moderately intrigued about the Azzarello/Lee stuff in Superman; I like Rucka on Adventures; and I like the art in Action. However, the blurb for Superman/Batman #17 —

What happened to Bruce Wayne? And how do Ra’s Ah [sic] Ghul, Sgt. Rock & Easy Company, and The Haunted Tank all fit into this?

— almost makes me think I stumbled into some misbegotten solicit for one of John Byrne’s Generations books.

I’ll wait for the trade of Superman: Strength, purely as an economic decision; just like waiting for the Secret Identity trade.

Regular DC Universe

Adam Strange: How big of a nostalgic fanboy must I be to have sentimental feelings about L.E.G.I.O.N.?

Bizarro World: Oh yeah. The first volume was one of the funniest things I’d ever read (along with World’s Funnest).

Birds Of Prey: Hey, this is out from under the Bat-mantle! How’d that happen? Not sure if I’ll be getting this one by January — it could be another “paperback” situation.

Firestorm: Ooh, Lorraine Reilly (take that, Superman alliteration freaks!) and Killer Frost! Speaking of nostalgia, you dedicated readers have no idea how close you were (and may still be) to an issue-by-issue recap of The Fury Of Firestorm….

Flash: Peter Snejbjerg illustrates the secret origin of Heat Wave as Geoff Johns continues to “grittify” a bunch of guys who were once famous for all having the same tailor. Hooray.

Green Lantern Rebirth: A cover I am not ashamed to love.

GL Archives: By the time they get to #9, I’ll have the entire Silver Age GL run. Then I can read them to my grandchildren, who will beg me instead for manga.

JLA Classified: Grant Morrison blah blah Grodd yadda yadda yadda Ultra-Marines. Oh, the Justice League’s in this too?

JLA: The Crime Syndicate (which really should have a Bill & Ted heavy-metal-type spelling, like “Kryyme Syndikaat”) impersonates the League? It’s a plot worthy of Gardner Fox himself!

JSA: Because I have never worn high heels, I wonder: would these help or hinder one’s crimefighting?

Wonder Woman: Same question.

WildStorm

Majestic: So, let me get this straight. The WildStorm universe is just like ours, except it has slightly different heroes? And Majestic, who’s from the WSU, can cross over to the DCU, and vice versa with Superman? (Kind of like Superman did with Icon and the Milestone heroes?) Didn’t DC say it was out of the parallel-universe business oh, about 20 years ago?

Planetary: Occasionally I think about waiting for the paperbacks on this one, and then I remember that thing about having to read them to my grandchildren.

DC Direct: At least he’s not wearing those stupid elf booties.

Some coming attractions for this humble site: First, sorry I seem to have gotten out of the habit of blogging each week’s comics. Based on past history, an omnibus “War Games” post seems likely at the end of the month. I’m working on another New Teen Titans essay, and there’s definitely one more (the Brotherhood of Evil arc) after that. You won’t get rid of those so easily, as I would like to go all the way through the Wolfman Era, which ends in 1996. I do intend to finish the Supreme Power issues (#5-12 are left), although I won’t be picking up the series anymore. I also want to do more with the ’50s Dynamic Duo in which you-all seemed so interested.

By the way, went to Keeneland on Saturday for my 10-year law school reunion. Two horses in the 5th race caught my attention: #3 “Mr. Spock,” and #10 “Quidditch Player.” I bet on both to win, of course, but Quidditch Player came in third and Mr. Spock didn’t finish in the money. Those were my only novelty bets for the day, and the other educated guesses did about as well as I expected. Yes, gambling on horse racing is evil, but since I neither smoke nor drink, it’s my only contribution to one of the Commonwealth’s signature industries.

October 15, 2004

I’m OK, You’re OK, But That Puppet Wants To Kill Us: New Teen Titans #s 7-9

Filed under: big titans project, new teen titans, recaps — Tom Bondurant @ 1:00 pm
In a late 1988 interview (Amazing Heroes #156, January 1, 1989), George Perez observed that one of his objectives, “still somewhat nebulous, is to establish why the hell the Titans exist. They always seem to be a group of characters sitting around a table waiting for a safe to fall on them.” As we’ve seen, just 6 issues into its history, taking care of Trigon fulfilled the group’s stated purpose. Fortunately, Perez and Marv Wolfman were able to find fertile ideas in their heroes’ own backyard.

Issue #7 offered a very simple tale. The Titans, fresh from Azarath, find that the Fearsome Five has broken into Titans’ Tower to try and re-integrate Psimon. The Tower has a dimensional doohickey which will do the job. Both groups soon learn that the Tower was designed and built by Cyborg (Victor Stone)’s father, Silas Stone, as a gift for his son and his new friends. (The Tower was apparently built in around a month, because the Titans haven’t been together that long — but this is comics….) Dr. Stone has been hiding in the Tower for a while, and the Five take him hostage. Psimon is restored, the Titans beat the Five, and Dr. Stone is rescued. The fight turns out not to be the point of the issue.

In the denouement, Cyborg still resents his father’s attempt to “buy” his affections, but reluctantly listens to Silas’ explanation. Silas regrets trying to force Victor to science and away from athletics, because that just made Victor resent him. The accident that crippled Victor (and led to his cybernetic parts) also killed Victor’s mother. What Victor never knew was that the accident also gave Silas terminal radiation poisoning. This completely changes Victor’s perspective. He and his father reconcile during one last month together.

Clearly, to this point Silas has been a Bad Father, but the revelation about his illness instantly reverses Cyborg’s feelings about him. While the turnaround might be seen as emotional manipulation on the creators’ part, the larger point was the challenge to Cyborg’s expectations. Cyborg’s distrust of Raven is also a theme in this story. After she saves his life with her empathic healing powers, he begins to warm up to her; and when Silas wants to talk, Raven convinces Cyborg to listen.

Because much of the issue is a running battle, there’s not much plot. The creators make up for this with some clever character interplay, between Robin and Changeling, and Cyborg and Wonder Girl. Perez has some fun with Changeling in this issue — he’s happily munching on a hotdog at the beginning, and after he dispatches Shimmer, whistles innocently in the background when the angry Mammoth demands to know who hurt her. Wolfman also institutes a couple of running catchphrases here — “hiring yourself out as a homewrecker,” and “green with envy” (referring to Changeling) — which for him would apparently never grow old.

Issue #8 was entirely devoted to character studies. Donna Troy’s dispute with one of her photography clients ends when Koriand’r arrives and agrees to model for the client. (Kory sports big ’80s hair, hip-hugger bellbottoms, sunglasses, and a crop-top. She looks like a refugee from a Mariah Carey video.) Donna and Kory meet Donna’s boyfriend, the older man Terry Long. (I picture Terry played by Timothy Busfield with a perm.)

At Titans’ Tower, Robin says goodbye to Raven and scoots off for Gotham. (Around this time, in addition to working with Batman, he was part of a circus, perhaps the one which also employed the Flying Todds.) Raven’s soul-self heads off to Manhattan University to see if she wants to take some classes. Once there, the soul-self stops terrorists who have planted bombs in a campus building — but since a caption announces she can’t live without her soul-self for more than 5 minutes, I think we can guess how long it takes for the bombs to be neutralized….

You wouldn’t think a sequence with a big black bird-shadow would be that exciting, but it’s effective. Perez uses Kirby Krackles to show the soul-self enveloping bad guys. He speeds up the action with small panels and quick cuts between Raven’s physical body and her racing ectoplasmic form. (Apparently it can’t teleport.) When her deadline passes, Raven travels through a hell-dimension, giving Perez a chance to play with more layouts. One page contains four vertical panels showing her soul-self’s progress, and a fifth panel in the center with Raven’s physical body; all overlaid with a page-filling white-space profile of Raven. Very Neal Adams. Ultimately she figures out that the hell-dimension is a manifestation of her own fears and the “forces within me that seek to tear me asunder!” She emerges whole in Titans’ Tower and realizes 1) that the Azarites couldn’t have conquered their fears like she did, because they wouldn’t fight for themselves; and 2) she never has to go through that again.

Cyborg and Changeling are up next. The two are in Victor’s shabby apartment, with Victor telling Gar that he’s decided to stay there. Silas’ death helped Vic let go of his resentment about his “borgification,” but he’s not ready to rebuild his life just yet. Gar gets a call from his adopted father’s business manager, Vernon Questor, relating that two Dayton Industries officials have been found dead. Gar leaves for Dayton’s estate, first changing into a rhino to scare off a couple of potential car thieves.

Vic goes to see his old girlfriend, but she ostracizes him because of his cybernetic parts. There’s no it’s-not-you-it’s-me business; she makes it clear it’s not her. (She tries to say it’s her parents too.) Vic responds that this is only her problem (and her parents’), and he’s not going to “destroy [his] life by bein’ bitter.” Walking through the park, Vic encounters a group of kids playing baseball. His metal parts are mostly covered by clothes and a hat (with the art obscuring them further), so when a ball bounces off his head, Vic is worried that the kid who retrieves it will get too good a look and be scared of him too.

To his great surprise, the kid is envious of Vic’s metal hand — his own prosthetic hand isn’t “real neat.” The kids playing ball all have prosthetics, and Vic meets their teacher, Sarah Simms, before going off to play ball with his new friends. Again, a challenge to Cyborg’s expectations adds another facet to his character.

In Blue Valley, Wally West has a heart-to-heart with his parents. It is a deliberately corny scene, with Wally (as the “man of the house”) even carving a turkey at the end. The Wests are nothing but supportive, although they acknowledge that super-heroing is dangerous work. It’s ironic, and a little sad, that although Wally never had Bad Parents in his Titans appearances, first his mom and then his dad would be decidedly negative characters in his Flash series.

The issue ends thematically as it began, with Starfire modeling for Donna’s client. Terry’s there too, and the love which he shows for Donna warms Kory’s heart as well. She returns to the park at sunset, strips off her street clothes, and soars into the air, happy to have found a new home. In this issue (and a little in the last one), Starfire really sounds like her cartoon counterpart, with the same kind of overly-happy, slightly stilted voice. I hadn’t realized how close the cartoon had come until I started re-reading these old stories.

Issue #9 is a goofy story. The Puppeteer, an old Green Lantern villain, has reformed and found his way onto the Dayton Industries “Promethium Council.” Promethium is a perpetually regenerating material, named for Prometheus’ perpetually-regenerating liver. It could regrow body parts, and cars coated with Promethium would be indestructible; but bombs made with it would never run out of energy. In other words, it’s a perpetual-motion machine, which is a scientific impossibility — or at least implausibility — even for comics.

Anyway, with such a valuable and dangerous invention, who better to work on its development than a former super-criminal? “Mr. Dayton has a rather — uhh — liberal policy regarding hiring ex-convicts,” Questor explains. After three Dayton executives are murdered (and Gar Logan is attacked) by killer puppets, Gar calls in Robin to get to the bottom of things. Robin naturally wants to question Jordan Weir, a/k/a Puppeteer, but before he can, he and Gar are attacked by a Westworld-like robot. (Here I thought of a joke I’m surprised didn’t make it into the book. When the robot starts shooting, Robin yells “Gar — duck!” I wanted Gar to reply “Duck? Why not ‘Elephant?'” Yeah, not that great, I know.)

We then learn that The H.I.V.E. is behind the attempts to steal Promethium plans. It went after the Titans so early (in issue #2) because sooner or later, Gar Logan would have gotten his colleagues involved in protecting the plans. That helps close a plothole from #2, although it sounds like circular reasoning.

Meanwhile, at Sarah Simms’ school, Raven and Cyborg are entertaining the kids. Raven explains that her healing powers can’t make their prosthetics obsolete. Sarah kisses Cyborg on the cheek. As they leave, Raven remarks that Cyborg is a lot more refined than he lets on. “Mebbe I gotta look like a blasted robot, but do I gotta talk like one, too?” he responds. Clearly, Wolfman and Perez have invested Cyborg with a fair amount of nuance, which makes him an appealing character. Of course, on the next page, he exclaims “Christmas!” to show his comfort with slang….

He does this because he’s attacked by a Batman puppet, which fixes a mind-controlling device on him. Zombie Cyborg throws a tree at Raven, but she teleports away. She then sends her soul-self to Blue Valley (flying there takes “minutes”) to get Kid Flash. He races to New York, musing “I still haven’t decided what I want — to be Kid Flash or just plain Wally West.” He’s also concerned about his secret identity here, suggesting that his future decision to abandon it for his Flash career helped “integrate” his heroic and civilian lives. But that’s reading too much into the intentions of two writers and two books 6 years apart, so let’s move on.

Wonder Girl and Starfire get a little scene with Terry Long that doesn’t amount to much plot-wise, but it establishes that Terry’s 29 (i.e., at least 10 years older than Donna) and he likes shirts which expose his chest hair. (It was 1981, remember.)

Kid Flash arrives in New York and is immediately “puppetfied” by Cyborg. Wonder Girl and Starfire show up and are soon zapped as well. As usual, Perez does a good job with the fights, moving the action along through changing perspectives and varying panel layouts. As with #7, the skill invested in these action scenes helps make up for the underlying plot holes.

Raven finds Robin and Changeling at a Dayton Industries board meeting. She’s been followed by the Zombie Titans, who attack. Changeling turns into a snake and wraps around Kid Flash’s neck. The speedster starts spinning faster and faster, trying to throw Gar off, and eventually breaking the mind-control hold. Kid Flash then frees Starfire by spinning her at super-speed. Robin knocks out Cyborg by kneeing him in the groin (where he’s unprotected? Wasn’t he an athlete? Shouldn’t he know to put on a cup before going to face Trigon?). Raven’s soul-self frees Wonder Girl. Kid Flash tracks the vibratory signature to the Puppeteer’s lair, and the Titans destroy a small army (literally) of puppets. In an appropriate nod to an old Flash story, there’s a Flash puppet in the melee. The Puppeteer escapes, but a H.I.V.E. sniper has him in his sights.

Finally, while all this was going on, Deathstroke steals the Promethium plans. To Be Continued….

These three issues presented standalone stories (only last-page cliffhangers linked #8 to #9, and #9 to #10) which effectively brought closure to many Titans’ subplots. Cyborg overcomes his resentment of his father, and by extension his part-mechanical status. Raven faces her fears and begins learning to enjoy life. Starfire accepts her new home on Earth. Kid Flash struggles with his desire for a normal life even as he plays a major role in defeating the Puppeteer. Just 9 issues into the book, and already the characters’ inner motivations are shifting. Wolfman and Perez wanted their stars to be dynamic, not just physically, but in terms of story.

Still, as the old character beats are retired, new ones take their place — romantic possibilities with Sarah Simms and Terry Long, Changeling’s involvement in his adoptive father’s company and the corresponding absence of said father, Changeling and Cyborg’s developing friendship, and Starfire’s concern about losing her warrior’s edge. All of these would figure prominently in the coming months.

Next: More Deathstroke, older Titans, and Paradise Island!

October 13, 2004

The Dynamic Duo, ’50s-Style

Filed under: batman — Tom Bondurant @ 7:55 pm
One of the conceits with the Golden Age (and the old days of Earth-2) was that those adventures took place virtually in real time. If a comic was cover-dated June 1954, the story within was presumed to occur in June 1954. (This informative timeline was derived using just such a methodology.) Under this theory, the 24-year-old Batman first appeared in 1939 and the 12-year-old Robin in 1940.

Most fans know that the Batman stories of the 1950s and early 1960s contained heavy doses of science-fiction and fantasy. This was a bit of self-censorship, reacting to the public’s fears about comics’ evil influences. The trend ended when editor Julius Schwartz took over Batman in 1964; and by and large it has not returned.

If these “atypical” stories are part of the Batman canon at all, they’re part of the character’s Golden Age/Earth-2 incarnation. However, since at least the 1970s, that Batman’s history has been viewed through a more modern filter, in order to make sure that the dark, gothic elements of the character predominate. That’s all well and good, but if we know that Batman and Robin were active into the 1960s, what were their adventures like if not what was published?

I’d love to see a period piece covering the post-war adventures of Batman and Robin, especially focusing on the changing relationship between the two. If Dick was 12 when he became Robin, he would have been 18 in 1946 and 30 in 1958. (Bruce is about 13 years older.) Dick’s “modern” counterpart famously dropped out of college and had a semi-public split with Batman — why didn’t the original version? What happened when Dick reached “playboy” age himself? Did Bruce’s 1948 confrontation with Joe Chill help him let go of the “grim” Batman? If the rest of the Justice Society was driven into retirement, how were the globe-trotting Batman and Robin viewed? Did they evolve from mysterious vigilantes into pillars of the community, as the comics of the period suggest? (I wouldn’t entirely discount the weird sci-fi or time-travel stuff either.)

Some of this ground has been covered by John Byrne’s Generations stories, but Byrne has Bruce marrying earlier and retiring earlier, with Dick taking over as Batman (which he never did on Earth-2). Darwyn Cooke’s New Frontier is closer to what I’m picturing, but his version of Robin started much later than 1940.

The way I see it, here are two orphaned men whose lives were changed forever by very similar tragedies. Each was able to help the other focus his grief into a personal crusade which led to a lifetime of adventure. During a period of over 20 years, while the world changed around them, their relationship progressed from paternal to fraternal, and eventually they saw each other as equals. It’s a story that perhaps could only be told with the Golden Age/Earth-2 backdrop, and I think it’s worth telling.

October 12, 2004

Trigon, Take Me Away! New Teen Titans #s 3-6

Filed under: big titans project, new teen titans, recaps — Tom Bondurant @ 2:54 am
In their first couple of issues the new Teen Titans fought extraterrestrial slavers and super-powered assassins. The stakes were about to get a lot higher, as the Titans finally learned the reason they’d been brought together — and the circumstances behind that revelation almost broke up the team.

Issue #3, “The Fearsome Five!,” opens with a nighttime scene on Donna Troy’s apartment balcony. (The improbably-affordable apartment — another Monica Gellar parallel — was subsidized by Queen Hippolyta.) Starfire relates the origins of her slavery: her father, the ruler of her home planet Tamaran, gave her to the Gordanians in order to prevent the Gordanians’ masters, the Citadel, from invading. The Bad Father strikes again! (So does Wolfman’s long-term plotting. Just as Grant “Ravager” Wilson had an unseen brother, Koriand’r mentions a sister who doesn’t appear in the flashback.) There is another Bad Father moment between Cyborg and his dad about midway through #3.

Meanwhile, let’s meet the titular villains, starting with the brick-wall-like Mammoth and his sister, the “matter transmuter” Shimmer. They speak in Conversational Exposition — “[w]ith a simple pass of my hand, I can transmute the very fabric of this wooden door into easily passable water vapor!” Mammoth also refers to himself in the third person. The siblings sit down with Dr. Light and two other new characters — the diminutive genius Gizmo and the visible-brained psionic Psimon.

(I’m sure I’m not the first to point out that while “Psimon” may look clever on the printed page, it wouldn’t sound that way. We learn later that Psimon’s name was Simon before he got his powers, so he apparently decided to “change” it. Of course, it doesn’t sound different at all, unless he pronounces the “p,” in which case he sounds like those little kids in the old Wile E. Coyote cartoon who talk about “puhsychiatrists” and “puhsychoanalysts.”)

Light’s not yet in his “goofy” post-lobotomy phase, because he wants to kill the Titans to announce the group’s power. The other Fivers aren’t crazy about this plan, because it can only bring the Justice League and every other super-group down on their heads. They just want to get rich. Still, Puhsimon says the clash is inevitable, because the Titans are on their way.

Sure enough, Raven’s alerted the Titans that the Fearsome Five is out to get them, so the Titans launch a pre-emptive strike. The sides seem equal until Shimmer transmutes the walls and floor into ether, knocking out the Titans. (One wonders why she didn’t do this earlier.) The Five split the scene, “nudged” to leave by Psimon’s mental suggestion.

Raven confronts Trigon (the demon from last issue) about the Five, accusing him of “controlling” them. The group then assembles at their new headquarters, the T-shaped Titans’ Tower on an island in New York’s East River. Nobody knows who built it or who invited them there. (In fact, we will get glimpses of the mysterious builder over the next few issues.) Raven basically says hanging around is pointless, because she’s got a bigger threat for them to handle. Specifically, while meditating, she saw a vision of Trigon conquering the Earth. In her vision, even the Justice League was defeated by Trigon’s lackey Goronn. The vision also told her the Five wanted the Titans to defeat the JLA; and because the League will “unleash” Goronn on the world, Raven agrees.

Similarly, Psimon reveals his origin to the Fearsome Five (after zapping Light with a mental bolt). Seems that “yesterday” (!) he was zapped himself by Trigon, who gave him his powers and a mission involving the Titans. (I can’t get over “yesterday!” Good thing he got zapped in plenty of time to make it to that meeting!) Psimon sends a giant-floating-head-gram to Titans’ Tower and challenges the Titans to a rumble, which the Titans accept. Everybody except Raven and Kid Flash races off to battle, and Raven laments that they should all be “trying to convince” the JLA — never mind that two pages earlier, she wanted the Titans to fight and defeat the League. Semantics, I suppose.

The Five defeat the Titans. Raven relates this to Kid Flash, who speeds off and is likewise dispatched. The issue ends with Raven heading off to call in the Justice League.

For a very long time issue #4 was possibly my favorite single issue of any comic. It has a lot to recommend — the JLA, the origin of Trigon, the beautiful temple of Azarath, and a real cliffhanger ending. It opens with the League (Atom, Batman, Green Lantern, Hawkman, and Wonder Woman) following Zatanna to a demon-dimension — lots of narrow rock ledges, roiling orange skies, and lightning — where a group of sorcerers are apparently up to no good. The sorcerers seem more powerful than the League, but Raven still shows up to convince the heroes to leave the sorcerers alone. No such luck, so the sorcerers blast the JLA.

Raven teleports to Azarath, a peaceful place filled with gleaming architecture — sort of Paradise Island crossed with Asgard and filtered through a bird theme. Raven tries to convince her mother, Arella, that the people of Azarath must help stop Trigon from conquering Earth. Arella says for all they know, the conquest of Earth was preordained, and Azarath is pacifistic and wouldn’t intervene anyway. (This is the first time we see Raven without her hood. While she looks 99% human, she has a red jewel in her forehead and “earrings” which are apparently little free-floating bursts of light. Anyway, no hood makes Raven appear more vulnerable, which is appropriate considering the mood.) Arella teleports Raven back to Titans’ Tower.

There she runs into the Titans, who show no signs of ever having met the Fearsome Five. (Their memories have been erased, though, because we see from the Five’s perspective that they planted a bug in Cyborg’s arm.) Raven tells the Titans she brought them together to defeat Trigon, a nigh-omnipotent demon who at the age of 30 ruled his entire dimension. Somehow, the JLA has made it possible for Trigon to come to our dimension. The Titans respond to this by heading off to attack the Justice League. Raven figures out that the Fearsome Five have hyp-mo-tized the Titans into going after the JLA.

The Titans board the JLA Satellite and prove pretty effective against the Leaguers. Batman deduces from fighting Robin that he’s being mind-controlled, but the League still can’t stop the Titans. Raven teleports aboard and stops the fight by presenting the Titans with an illusion of the Leaguers, crumbled into dust. (This is the payoff for the illusion Raven visited on Grant Wilson at the end of #2.) This breaks the mind-control, so Raven takes the Titans to the demon-dimension, where the sorcerers are still working on their project. The Justice League isn’t far behind, and Zatanna traps the Titans while the rest of the League goes after the sorcerers. (The League wants to stop them because their spells were disrupting Earth’s ozone layer.) The sorcerers free the Titans, and the two groups go at it again, but Trigon blasts everyone and announces that his flunky Goronn is coming to Earth.

The Titans and JLA pick up and dust off. Batman wants answers. Robin tells the League they “blew it” — the Titans were trying to help the sorcerers stop Trigon from getting into our dimension. Zatanna says Raven told the League the same story weeks before, but it didn’t wash with them. Zatanna detected an incredible evil within Raven, and tells Kid Flash that Raven manipulated his mind to make him love her (after he first turned her down). Raven says these things are all true, but so is her story — Trigon is coming, and she needs help to fight him off. On a powerful last page, Perez shows each group abandoning Raven, her anguished pleas, and the disembodied, flaming eyes of Trigon watching everything.

Let’s pause here a minute to review: Raven knows Trigon wants to attack Earth, so she goes to the JLA. When they refuse to help her, she assembles the Titans as Plan B. Meanwhile, Trigon creates Psimon so he’ll have a way to control the Fearsome Five. Dr. Light wants to kill the Titans, but it’s not clear whether this is his idea or Psimon’s. Raven has the Titans attack the Five before the Five can attack them. The Titans lose, but the Five have plans for them. Psimon goads the Titans into a second fight, and again the Titans lose, but this allows them to be hypnotized into attacking the JLA. Thus, both Raven and Psimon want the Titans to take out the JLA. This is either redundant overplotting or masterful manipulation, but the bottom line leaves only the Titans in Trigon’s way.

Issue #4 showed the book continuing to improve. It featured two fights between the Titans and Justice League, some spectacular (if briefly-seen) designs for Azarath, and a suitably apocalyptic demon-dimension. Trigon was finally seen full-on — a massive, red-skinned, four-eyed demon with pointed ears, stringy brown hair, and antlers. There were even a couple of Bad Parents in Batman and Arella (who were also proxies for the JLA and Azarath). Most significantly, having the JLA artist draw the League in this book really cemented the Titans’ status as one of DC’s A-list teams. Perez drew both teams as equals, such that it almost seemed like an issue of JLA. Nowhere is this more evident than in the last panel on page 23: Robin stands up to Batman and dresses him down, with each man representing their respective teams. This amazing show of strength and unity made the next couple of pages’ revelations that much more shocking.

So many words, and we’re still only halfway through the story! Issue #5 featured guest pencils by Curt Swan, who did an admirable job introducing both Goronn and Trigon, but whose figures couldn’t help but be less dynamic than Perez’s. (This is doubly ironic considering Perez’s admiration for Swan.)

The issue begins with Raven apparently teleporting the Titans back to Earth. (I say “apparently” because it’s not quite clear; but it’s not a big deal.) The other Titans abandon her and (apparently) truck back to Titans’ Tower. Trigon then has Goronn attack Raven. Raven sends her soul-self (basically an ectoplasmic bird-shaped shadow which operates in principle like the Doom Patrol’s Negative Being) to warn the Titans, who’ve made it back to Titans’ Tower somehow. It’s never explained how the Titans got back to Earth, or how Goronn made it to Earth.

Logistics aside, suffice it to say that Raven’s in one spot and the Titans are in another. The Titans have enough time for each member to work through their emotions about Raven’s lies before her soul-self arrives. Raven (speaking through her soul-self) convinces the Titans that she’s in trouble. After a brief struggle, the Titans subdue Goronn. Robin remarks that this battle was the first they fought as a team. They also believe they’ve defeated Trigon. Raven corrects them just before Trigon’s flaming eyes zap the Titans.

Trigon strides down out of the clouds. He looks about 10 feet tall. Turns out Raven is Trigon’s daughter (his only surviving child) and she inherited from him the evil Zatanna sensed. Ladies and gentlemen, the ultimate Bad Father!

Psimon flies in, amazed that Trigon breached the dimensional walls. Trigon “dissipates [his] atoms” as punishment for trying to double-cross him (presumably by sending the Titans to help the sorcerers). Trigon’s two extra eyes then fry Goronn as punishment for getting beat by the Titans.

Speaking of which, Trigon’s blast sent the Titans back to their headquarters. There, Raven says she’ll explain everything. There’s an odd moment here — while Wonder Girl muses about the “critical moment” which will decide the future of the team “forever,” and oh by the way there’s a 10-foot-tall demon ready to destroy New York, she gets a drink? The next panel even shows WG taking a big swig! (Was it Gatorade, for her deep-down body thirst? We may never know.)

Raven does explain the group’s founding purpose, noting especially that Robin, despite his lack of powers, has the leadership skills necessary to pull the group together. Changeling does a quick recon and spots Trigon headed for Manhattan. The Titans race off to confront Trigon, except for Raven, who’s off to Azarath again. Kid Flash has had enough, vowing to quit the team once this crisis has passed. Each of the other Titans also gets at least a paragraph’s worth of narration about their emotions as they head off to battle. In particular, Cyborg confesses to Changeling that he’s the only one in the group not used to cosmic menaces. It’s a nice bit which doesn’t come off like a typical “reluctant hero” trope.

Needless to say, the Titans are virtually powerless against Trigon. In Azarath, Raven again fails to convince her people to help. Trigon appears in Azarath, and Raven summons the Titans there too. While the Azarites watch, the Titans once again are defeated. Despite Robin’s James Kirk-like speech about peace and freedom, Azarath still won’t help. Ultimately, Raven offers herself to Trigon if he’ll spare the Earth. (Starfire begs Raven to reconsider, citing her own slavery.) The issue ends with Trigon taking Raven back to his dimension.

Obviously the character of Trigon owes a lot both to Galactus and Darkseid. There are strong Galactus/Watcher/Silver Surfer parallels with Trigon, Arella/Azarath, and Raven. I hesitate to compare the Trigon/Raven relationship with Darkseid and Orion’s, because Orion never got down on his knees and begged Darkseid to spare the Earth. Still, Orion wasn’t full of the same kind of pathos with which Wolfman and Perez have invested Raven.

Issue #6 opens with Trigon and Raven touring the futuristic-medieval-style dwellings of his subjects. (Perez is back, this time inked by Pablo Marcos.) When a little girl says she’s frightened of Trigon, he makes an example of her with his “death stare.” Raven uses her empathic healing powers to restore the girl’s health, but Trigon checkmates this by disintegrating the girl. Trigon then displays more evil qualities by disintegrating a disobedient planet and turning his attention to Earth. Raven realizes she’s been tricked but can’t teleport away.

Back in Azarath, the Titans learn Arella’s origin. Basically she was seduced into a devil-worshiping cult and tricked into marrying the “handsome” version of Trigon. She escaped the cult, but was homeless, helpless, and suicidal. At that point she was whisked away to Azarath, where Raven was raised in peace and taught to control the evil within her. Arella volunteers to lead the Titans to Trigon’s dimension (and “capitol planet”), thereby giving up her life in Azarath (once you leave, you can’t come back).

The Titans encounter Trigon almost immediately upon arriving. This time the “fight” lasts one small panel. Meanwhile, Arella has rescued Raven. Trigon sends dragons out into the skies to look for Raven, and they surrender before more “thousands” of innocent lives are lost. Arella fights off Trigon while Raven makes her way to the Titans’ dungeon. Fortunately, Trigon hasn’t thought to remove Robin’s utility belt, so Raven frees the Titans with a Bat-lockpick.

Trigon gets up on a raised platform and opens a doorway to Earth’s dimension. The Titans concoct a plan to stop him based on Kid Flash’s super-speed vibrations, Cyborg and Starfire’s power blasts, and the sapping of Trigon’s will through Wonder Girl’s magic lasso and Raven’s and Arella’s magic. Kid Flash opens another dimensional door, and while Trigon is distracted, Cyborg and Starfire knock Trigon through it. However, Arella follows Trigon through the gateway as it closes, saying she has to prevent Trigon from coming back. The End.

The “Trigon Saga” told a densely-plotted, cosmos-spanning story at breakneck speed. It boasted an omnipotent villain, a new supervillain team, a Justice League appearance, a Titan’s origin, and the near-dissolution of the group itself. It also shows the group finally coming together as a team, not only in combat but also in terms of interpersonal relationships. Cyborg and Changeling have a moment of bonding (over the “cosmic thoughts”), Kid Flash confronts his true feelings for Raven, and the group as a whole comes to terms with any lingering distrust it might have for its mysterious organizer. Although the plot is a little thick, there isn’t much waste — even something like Starfire’s origin, which might seem unrelated at first, is necessary for understanding Raven’s sacrifice at the end of #5. Likewise, Arella’s sacrifice at the end of #6 is another example of how peace eluded her throughout her troubled life. Finally, the appearance of the Justice League is hardly gratuitous, inasmuch as it answers the fanboy question of where the JLA would be during Trigon’s invasion. Yes, Raven’s first thought was to enlist the League’s help, but when that backfired, she got the next best thing. Her selection of former Teen Titans isn’t just a thin disguise for marketing, but it makes sense in terms of the story. Instead of Batman, the Flash, and Wonder Woman, Raven got their teenaged proteges; and instead of Green Lantern, Zatanna, or Firestorm, she found Cyborg and Starfire. Conversely, I could see the plan which defeated Trigon being carried out by the Titans’ JLA counterparts.

These four issues were a benchmark for the series in many ways. Future epic storylines would also feature villains with familial connections to the Titans, special guest stars, and “secret origins.” The series still hadn’t reached its high-water mark. Nevertheless, with the defeat of Trigon, the purpose behind the group’s founding was ostensibly fulfilled, and its creators were almost compelled to draw on the members’ backstories for new menaces.

Next: Shorter stories replace the epics, but there’s still room for the Fearsome Five and Deathstroke!

October 11, 2004

Christopher Reeve, 1952-2004

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom Bondurant @ 1:25 pm
I suspect many of us woke up a little sadder this morning upon hearing of Christopher Reeve’s death. For a lot of people, he was not only a fine actor, but also a symbol of faith, hope, and perseverence.

Others can speak more eloquently about Mr. Reeve’s quest to walk again, so I’ll stick to the role which defined his career. Reeve inhabited Superman and his disguise of Clark Kent in a way that no other actor has. His Superman was iconic and charming, not overbroad; and his Clark was sweet, funny, and sympathetic. Reeve’s acting ability was perhaps best displayed in about thirty seconds’ worth of the first Superman, in a famous scene where Clark toys with the idea of revealing his secret to Lois Lane. With Clark’s glasses as his only prop, Reeve shows the audience the transformation. His posture straightens, his voice deepens, and his unburdened eyes gleam with power — and then, realizing the time isn’t quite right, he collapses back into Clark’s milder manner. That scene did more to advance the movie’s watchword of “verismilitude” than its visual effects ever could.

Mr. Reeve couldn’t help but realize the profound effect he had on a 40-year-old comic-book character. His nice-guy performance heavily influenced Superman’s 1986 revamp. (Unfortunately, that revamp marked the official end of the “mild-mannered” Clark Kent, with which Mr. Reeve had had so much fun.) Reeve’s Superman could say things like “I’m here to fight for truth, and justice, and the American way,” with a straight face, without sounding self-righteous or dense. It is probably not an exaggeration to suppose that Superman’s past generation of writers, artists, and editors have, in one way or another, aspired to such an effective portrayal.

Christopher Reeve demonstrated tremendous skill as an actor, and even after his accident demonstrated tremendous resolve. He made us cheer both as a superhero and a man. Rest in peace.

October 9, 2004

Pre-"Friends" Friends: New Teen Titans #s 1-2

Filed under: big titans project, new teen titans, recaps — Tom Bondurant @ 3:23 am
Here’s the first in what will hopefully become periodic essays on The New Teen Titans. (I am conflicted about this, because it means just one more obstacle to finishing up those Supreme Power posts. Someday, I promise.) Today, let’s return to late 1980 and examine the Titans preview and first two issues.

Before Marv Wolfman and George Perez (and editor Len Wein) got ahold of them, the Teen Titans were one of DC’s most desperate attempts to be hip. DC never really gave much thought to them as “realistic” teens, but it wasn’t really interested in them growing up either. They existed as DC’s idea of what teen super-heroes should be like — speaking in outdated slang, struggling with adult authority, headquartered in a disco — and DC kept them in a sort of perpetual underage state for a couple of decades.

The previous Teen Titans series hadn’t been cancelled long when Wally (Kid Flash) West decided to give up the superhero biz (in the 1978 Flash Spectacular). Dick (Robin) Grayson, already in college, was a frequent guest in Batman and Detective. Less familiar sidekicks like Speedy, Wonder Girl, and Aqualad were reduced to occasional appearances in their mentors’ books. The old group was effectively gone.

A couple of years later, DC Comics Presents #26 introduced the new group in a 16-page preview insert. I’m still amazed that Wolfman and Perez crammed so much information into those 16 pages. Basically, it involves a solo Robin trying to stop terrorists at a S.T.A.R. Labs facility while being plagued by realistic hallucinations of an adventure with a new group of Teen Titans.

The main attraction for me was the art. Perez was just about everywhere in 1980 — drawing Avengers and Justice League of America, and doing covers for books like Green Lantern and Legion of Super-Heroes. To have him on a perennial B-list feature like the Titans was unusual. While he wasn’t quite into the densely-packed layouts yet, he was clearly at home with these characters and could make them move like no one else. Dick Giordano inked Perez for the special, using a thicker line than usual and thereby making the artwork that much darker and moodier. (The series’ regular inker was Romeo Tanghal, who was fine except for obscuring a lot of trademark Perez detail.)

Other than Wonder Girl, who was just kind of there as Robin’s guide to the hallucinations, Wolfman offered quick character sketches and diagrammed relationships: Robin’s troubles with Batman; Kid Flash’s love for Raven; Changeling (Gar Logan, the former Beast Boy)’s irreverence; Starfire’s free spirit and attraction to Robin; and Cyborg’s personal connection to the menace du jour. The only Titans who appeared in the “real” story were Robin and Raven, so it’s fitting that issue #1 soon caught up with them.

Issue #1 actually opens with Princess Koriand’r (Starfire) escaping from slavery in the Gordanian Empire. Her rescue forms the backbone of #1’s plot, but as with any debut issue, there’s a lot of space spent introducing the players. These move quickly: Raven confirms to Robin that his dream has a basis in reality, and directs him to Wonder Girl, who’s musing about her own mysterious origins. Changeling appears next, then Kid Flash, and the group (plus Raven) goes to find Victor “Cyborg” Stone. Raven then directs the assembled group to where Starfire is recuperating, and the rest of the issue involves fighting aliens. Dialogue is expository without slowing the pace, and it’s helped by a good bit of humor.

Wolfman sets up the major character arcs right off, and will spend a decent amount of time on each. Robin’s feud with Batman takes about 4 years to resolve. Wonder Girl’s search for her past finally pays off over 3 years later. Cyborg’s Ben Grimm-like frustration with his metal body is addressed before the first year ends. Raven’s reasons for bringing the group together are explained in the next few issues. However, one theme emerges clearly even in these early stories: the Bad Father. Robin is struggling against Batman’s control; Cyborg is angry with his scientist father for making him a freak; and Raven’s father is literally a demon. (The other Titans will soon explore their own parental issues.)

The Bad Father really drives the plot of issue #2, which introduces Deathstroke the Terminator. (I’m guessing problems with both “Deathstroke” and “Terminator” led Cartoon Network to call this character by his real first name, Slade.) The book returns to supporting characters Carol Sladky and Grant Wilson, who found Koriand’r in issue #1. They’re now arguing because Grant’s been hanging around with thugs. (She doesn’t want him to end up like his father and brother.) Grant also resents the Titans for wrecking his apartment in last issue’s fight with the Gordanians. He soon finds his way to The H.I.V.E. (Hierarchy for International Vengeance and Eliminations), a mysterious group of criminal scientists. They endow Grant with Deathstroke’s skills and heightened physical abilities and send him after the Titans. (Deathstroke had previously refused to accept the contract on the team.)

While Robin, Wonder Girl, Starfire, Changeling, and Kid Flash relax poolside at Gar Logan’s palatial estate, Grant (now called “Ravager”) attacks Cyborg. Cyborg just about gets the best of Ravager, who starts experiencing side effects from the procedure; but Deathstroke stuns Cyborg and the two assassins get away.

(The scenes at Gar’s house — actually the house of his absent adoptive father, Steve “Mento” Dayton — are quite well-executed. When Kid Flash arrives, Perez slows time to a crawl, showing him hopping the fence, stripping off his costume, and diving into the pool, practically between eyeblinks. The teammates, all out of costume, discuss the utility of secret identities. Starfire’s status as sex object is cemented when she asks why she has to wear a swimsuit, and Wonder Girl remarks “these aren’t swimsuits — they’re strings with gland conditions!” Such “off-duty” interactions would become an early staple of the title, and the focus of issue #8.)

While Cyborg alerts the Titans, Deathstroke confronts the Ravager about the self-destructive nature of his new powers. If Grant overexerts himself, he’ll die. Grant won’t hear this, essentially calling Deathstroke a coward and saying “my father was wrong about you.” The Ravager tracks the Titans to the Dayton estate (Changeling doesn’t have a secret identity) and confronts them there. Deathstroke shows up soon after, but during the ensuing fight, Ravager pushes himself too hard trying to elude Starfire’s energy bolts. The fight stops and Deathstroke attends to the dying Ravager. Before his death, Raven (who’s been off in a demon-dimension) shows Ravager an illusion of the defeated Titans, I guess to ease his pain.

Deathstroke blames the Titans for Ravager’s death. He picks up the body and leaves, and the Titans let him go out of (in Raven’s words) “compassion.” (This, plus Raven’s illusion, was an unconventional way to end the fight. Narrative captions underscore that Grant was consumed by hate, so in a sense Raven was giving him what he wanted. The same could be said for letting Deathstroke leave. Still, it’s a quasi-creepy, Spectre/Phantom Stranger-esque moment, which does little more than highlight Raven’s odd sensibilities.) In an epilogue, we learn that the whole thing was engineered by H.I.V.E. — Grant Wilson was Deathstroke’s son, and when the boy died, they knew Slade Wilson would take over the contract to kill the Titans he’d initially refused. Thus, Deathstroke is now the Titans’ sworn enemy.

Obviously there was a lot of plot even in these two issues. Almost immediately, NTT sought a balance between superhero action and character interplay, and issue #2 achieved it. The next four issues comprised an epic that tested the limits of that balance.

Before we get into that, a few words about Wolfman’s approach to the characters. They were all teenagers in the sense they were all under 20, but they all sounded a little older than that. Dick and Wally were both in college, and Vic would have been if not for the accident which made him a cyborg. Donna was a successful photographer (although she got a stipend from Queen Hippolyta, so she didn’t really need to work), Gar was the youngest, and Raven and Starfire were somewhere in between. Each character was either an established hero or someone with a naturally “mature” approach. (Changeling was deliberately immature.)

Therefore, it would have been easy for Wolfman and Perez either to adopt the pseudo-hip stylings of their predecessors, or to do a straightforward, “serious” superhero book, but they chose a middle ground. For the reasons stated above, the Titans probably couldn’t sound too immature, but casting them as perfect teenaged role models wouldn’t have worked either. Instead, they came off as natural as they probably could. Combined with Perez’s pictures, the Titans’ comfortable, familiar dialogue gave the book an across-the-board appeal.

Finally, I’m sure it’s just a coincidence, but I have to get this out of my system. Looking back on these first few stories, it strikes me that the Titans’ personalities can be mapped to the cast of “Friends,” another group of ubiquitous young people who brought in stacks of money for their corporate patrons. There’s the “good girl” (Wonder Girl/Monica), the “sexpot” (Starfire/Rachel — one fled slavery and the other marriage), the “weird girl” (Raven/Phoebe), the “wisecracker” (Changeling/Chandler), and the “serious guy” (Robin/Ross). It’s not perfect, but I think there’s something to those archetypes which helped both groups achieve early success.

Altogether, these three stories were very solid, and laid a firm foundation for what lay ahead. As good as they were, the book hadn’t peaked yet.

Next up: the Fearsome Five, the Justice League, and Trigon the Terrible!

October 8, 2004

Stop reading comics and get out of the house, why don’tcha?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom Bondurant @ 1:46 pm
Today is the first day of the fall meet at Keeneland, one of my favorite places. If you’re anywhere near central Kentucky (and a substantial portion of the U.S. population is within a day’s drive), you could do worse than spending a nice fall day watching thoroughbred horses race. The track is out in the country, near the county line, surrounded by rolling hills. The airport’s right across the street, but even that is barely a distraction. The meet runs until October 30, and there’s no racing on Mondays or Tuesdays. See you there!

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