Comics Ate My Brain

September 6, 2005

Fireside Chats: Tales of the New Teen Titans #s 1-4

Filed under: big titans project, new teen titans, recaps — Tom Bondurant @ 6:25 pm
Not to be confused with the core title’s eventual name change, this Tales miniseries was published from June-September 1982, concurrent with NTT #s 20-23. Using a Grand Canyon camping trip as a framing sequence, each issue told the origin of a different Titan (excluding, of course, the ones who already had their own Mego figures). Wolfman and Perez collaborated on each issue, but regular inker Romeo Tanghal got a break in favor of (respectively) Brett Breeding, Pablo Marcos, Gene Day, and Ernie Colon.

What struck me most about this miniseries is its efficiency. I couldn’t help but think that in today’s marketing climate, each origin might well have filled four issues. Instead, each issue is self-contained, with each hero facing (and for the most part defeating) his or her first antagonist. Again, today these would probably be “zero issues,” taking each protagonist up to the events of NTT #1.

The Cyborg origin in issue #1 (June 1982) is probably the most densely plotted. Although I’ve compared Victor Stone to Ben Grimm a few times in the course of these essays, here he really becomes his own person. Blessed with a 170 I.Q. and raised by scientist parents who inundate him with knowledge almost from birth, Vic naturally rebels. Having been home-schooled to this point, he has no real peer group, and falls in with a street gang headed by the slightly older Ron Evers. Ron ends up saving Victor’s life twice. Vic’s parents think he’s wasting his potential, but this only deepens the divide.

Despite his father’s reluctance, Vic enrolls in public school, gets into sports, and falls in love (with Marcy Reynolds, last seen in NTT #8). Vic continues to hang out with Ron, and eventually gets wounded in a rumble. Vic’s dad disowns him, but what really hurts is his mom’s disapproval. She agrees that Vic has squandered all his opportunities, and in hindsight Vic-the-narrator seems to agree. When Ron wants to blow up the Statue of Liberty, as a message that the white establishment can’t keep African-Americans down, Victor refuses to help him.

Not long thereafter, Vic loses half his body to an otherdimensional monster which kills his mother — and leaves him in the care of his father, who he has grown to hate. After five months of rehab to get used to his new body, Vic moves into Hell’s Kitchen, where “one more godforsaken loser wouldn’t be noticed.” Ron catches up with him there, wanting help to blow up the United Nations building. Vic again rejects Ron, observing that where Vic has had to take care of himself, Ron has always blamed his problems on someone else. Ultimately, despite his history with Ron, Vic chooses to save the U.N., and Ron dies as a result. Narrator Vic acknowledges that the Titans were his first real friends, and they helped him rediscover the love he has for his father (who you’ll remember died in issue #7).

The issue really succeeds at keeping the reader off-balance, even as it lays the foundation for Vic’s present attitudes and ultimate relationship with his father. Vic’s high I.Q. and early childhood are only the first surprises. The story develops in such a way that it’s not about Vic’s relationships either with his father or with Ron, but instead about the evolution of his self-sufficiency. It still amazes me to see the thought and complexity which Wolfman and Perez put into Vic Stone. (However, unless I missed it, Vic has stopped being concerned about his relationship with Sarah Simms. This was a little surprising, given that they’re back where he last saw her. He doesn’t even mention her by name until halfway through Gar’s story.)

With so much time devoted to Raven’s origins in the initial Trigon arc, issue #2 (July 1982) focuses on her early years in Azarath. I did get a Touch Of Satan “horror, turtleneck style” vibe off the couple of pages devoted to Arella’s seduction by Trigon, but that blips by quickly. When Trigon dumps Arella on Earth to keep her safe from his enemies, she’s adopted by the Azarites so they can raise Raven right. Otherwise, as spiritual leader Azar intones, Trigon will destroy the Earth, and from there the rest of the universe. It turns out that when the Azarites banished all evil from themselves and Azarath, it was re-formed into Paralla– uh, Trigon. Thus, they have a special responsibility to protect the universe from him. Still, there are ill portents, not the least of which are the unending, black, lightning-filled clouds which appear at Raven’s birth and never go away.

Although food-production honcho Juris wants to cast the infant Raven into the nether-dimension, Trigon flash-fries him when he tries. Azar then trains Raven in various mystic arts, including the suppression of her emotions. When Azar dies, she gives Raven her rings, containing the essence of Azarath and perhaps even a little of Azar herself. However, Trigon reaches out to the adolescent Raven. Soon she’s allowed to visit him in the nether-dimension. When she sees him threaten Arella, she gets angry and unleashes her soul-self for the first time. This was a big no-no from the Azarites’ point of view. Trigon has been waiting for this, and “baptizes” it with … a ray of pure evil, I guess. Trigon chuckles that Raven has shown her corruptibility, and vows to return when she becomes a woman. Not long after, when Raven turns 18, she leaves Azarath looking for help against Trigon, which is where we first meet her.

I should point out that in this issue, Wally West’s love for Raven is made quite clear, despite their lack of any other indications their relationship has progressed beyond the “just friends” stage, and also despite the budding relationship Wally apparently still has with Frances Kane. This may just be a way to heighten the issue’s last emotional sting, where Wally verbalizes that he could have destroyed the world if Raven had acted on her emotions.

The mood lightens considerably in issue #3 (August 1982), which focuses on Changeling’s career between the Doom Patrol and the Titans. (Note to the Wizard World Atlanta promotions department: Starfire wears a “Heroes Aren’t Hard To Find NC” t-shirt throughout the issue.) The running gag is that Gar gets so into his story he keeps burning his hot dogs (not a euphemism). Anyway, the quick recap of Gar’s origin (which was just retold in issue #14) points out that he had a legal guardian, Galtry, between the deaths of his parents and his adoption by Steve Dayton and Rita Farr. The action picks up in earnest with Gar’s brief post-DP TV career, opposite a Shatner doppelganger on “Space Trek 2022.” There he’s attacked by an old battlesuited DP villain, The Arsenal. The story basically connects Galtry with Arsenal, gives Gar a chance to vent some frustrations lingering since the DP’s deaths, and explains why he dropped “Beast Boy” as a codename. It also introduces Jillian No-Last-Name, Gar’s semi-serious girlfriend from his California days.

Wolfman gives Gar an entertaining narrative voice and throws in a few “Space Trek” bits (and even a Looney Tunes homage) which make the thin plot more appealing, but this is still the weakest of the four issues. Gar doesn’t want to live like a down-and-out actor, but he’s still the adopted son of the world’s fifth-richest man, and the contradiction is never really explained. Also, Gar’s big escape from an impervious cage seems a bit silly even under the story’s internal logic. Finally, the emotional climax feels lifted from the end of that big Doom Patrol epic.

Issue #4 (September 1982)‘s Starfire story also had a rather thin plot, but it benefits from association with the upcoming return-to-Tamaran arc. From birth, Koriand’r is favored over her older sister Komand’r, and Komand’r responds by becoming more and more evil. See, unlike other Tamaraneans, Komand’r is bitter because she can’t fly. This apparently makes Komand’r a “sickly” child, judged unfit to rule. She also has a huge, almost “Family Circus”-like melon head and dramatically slanted evil eyebrows, but those may be common Tamaranean traits.

During the girls’ childhoods, the once-happy planet begins preparing for intergalactic war, and sends Kory and Komand’r off for training by the Warlords of Okaara. (Future Omega Men Primus and Kalista have cameos in one panel.) Trying to kill Kory gets Komand’r expelled, and she runs away from home to sell out her planet. Not long afterwards, the Gordanian fleet defeats Tamaran and makes King Myand’r a deal — give them Kory and they’ll leave the planet alone. Myand’r agrees, and Kory becomes Komand’r’s slave.

Several years of torture and degradation end when Komand’r’s ship is captured by the Psions, lizard-men who care only for science. They strap the sisters into solar-energy machines to test how much their solar-battery cells can process, but (naturally) it ends up giving them energy-blasting powers. Kory uses hers to escape, and after a few months finds her way to Earth. Thus, the miniseries comes full circle, since that’s basically the opening of NTT #1.

However, the issue is hampered by the bright-line division between Koriand’r and Komand’r. I almost got the feeling that Kory was telling a version of her childhood sanitized for the Titans’ benefit. The story walks a thin line between “intense” and “exploitative” once it starts showing the adolescent Kory being cruelly tormented. Admittedly, it can’t spend too much time on the roots of Komand’r’s evil, but it seems too quick to assume that’s the way she’s always been. The miniseries’ other antagonists had motivations which made more sense, and here the creators seem content to make Komand’r a “bad seed” and leave it at that.

The miniseries does succeed at making each origin just different enough. Not every issue is a story about overcoming bad parents, learning self-reliance, or enduring betrayal, but when there are commonalities they reinforce the Titans’ bonds of friendship. One theme which does emerge paints the proto-Titans as objects and/or curiosities. The Stones love young Victor, but often treat him like a delicate experiment. The Azarites regard Raven as a burden to be controlled and shaped to positive ends. Once the Doom Patrol dies, Gar Logan is first exploited by a TV show and then blackmailed by his former guardian. Finally, Koriand’r’s father is forced to use her as a political pawn. I suppose (never having been an English major) that this sort of alienation isn’t an uncommon teenage motif, and besides each of these characters is faced with some pretty unusual circumstances.

In the larger scheme of things, this miniseries helped anticipate a couple of major storylines, filled in some plot gaps, and generally cemented the Titans’ hold on DC’s readership. The book’s second year was winding down, but it would go out with a bang.

Next: Brother Blood!

1 Comment »

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