Comics Ate My Brain

February 12, 2006

Buckle Up, Boys And Girls: New Teen Titans #s 23-25 and Annual #1

Filed under: big titans project, new teen titans, recaps — Tom Bondurant @ 8:16 pm
I have been trying to alternate these long retrospectives so I spread the love around, but sorry, Geoff Johns Flash fans — it can’t compete with Wally’s old team.

The Tamaran storyline which closed out New Teen Titans‘ second year offers a chance to survey the Titans landscape. The title hadn’t peaked yet, but in hindsight these issues come at the halfway point of Pérez’s main body of work. This particular storyline also revisited Starfire’s pre-Titans antagonists, the Gordanians (last seen in issue #1) and her own sister (teased in issue #3, finally seen at the end of #22, given a backstory in TotNTT #4).

However, this storyline was more than just another Titan vanquishing the ghosts of his/her past. It was an expansive romp across the fairly unexplored Vegan System, and therefore a DC space odyssey which didn’t involve the more longstanding DC sci-fi characters. Instead, it showcased the Omega Men, who Marv Wolfman and artist Joe Staton had introduced in June 1981 during Marv’s stint on Green Lantern. It’s also noteworthy for getting away, for the most part, from the book’s ongoing subplots. Although the story’s seeds had been planted early, the rest of the book hadn’t been building towards their resolution. As such, this storyline was almost a vacation from the regular subplots.

It was a long vacation, too: no other arc had lasted more than three issues, or featured so many main characters. There really wasn’t room for the book’s usual subplots, since Wolfman and Pérez had a lot of ground to cover with Vegan politics. Add in a special surprise guest-star, a MegaForce ad on the inside cover of #23, and the first-ever Titans Annual, and the heads at ESPN would call this saga an instant classic.

Now then. I complained earlier that Blackfire seemed almost woodenly evil in the Tales miniseries, but Pérez has a bit of fun introducing her to the main book. On the cover of #23 (September 1982), she blasts a helpless Starfire as the other Titans flounder in the vacuum of space. On the first page, Pérez puts the camera in a For Your Eyes Only angle, looking out from between Blackfire’s three-inch heels. She wants nothing more than revenge, both on the sister of whom she is jealous and the monarchy that denied her the Tamaranean throne, and Pérez has her stride through these pages, owning them in a leather, metal, and caped outfit.

As for the Titans, they’re being escorted to the D.A.’s office by the Army after their alleged murder of Brother Blood. Bethany Snow, drawn with a perfect little crazy true-believer glint in her beady eyes, is there too, propagandizing for Blood. As Starfire dodges an anvil with “I’ll never allow myself to be chained up again,” we also meet the aquiline district attorney Adrian Chase. Away from the press, he chews out the group for playing into Blood’s PR campaign. It recalls the hard-nosed King Faraday guest shot from issue #18 – plus he’s a smoker, so you know he’s tough.

But who cares about lawyers? Signaling the end of subplot maintenance, three Gordanian attack ships buzz Manhattan, setting off a psychic whammy in Starfire’s head. Out in the hall, Chase tells Snow that Brother Blood survived and is dropping the charges against the Titans. Unfortunately, Chase’s office explodes from Starfire going nuts. The Titans try to stop her, but the Gordanians get there first, and abscond with the captive princess.

When the Gordanians demand Earth’s surrender, Robin turns the tables, telling the lead alien that Earth’s superheroes will destroy the Gordanian fleet unless they surrender. Before an enraged Gordanian can disintegrate Robin, a couple of Army sharpshooters kill him. This unnerves Kid Flash, and Raven is similarly shocked to learn she’s inadvertently killed a Gordanian with her soul-self. Meanwhile, the main Gordanian ship is making tracks for Vega.

Nobody’s answering at the JLA Satellite, so the Titans must salvage two Gordanian spacecraft. Since one of the ships is at the bottom of the East River, Aqualad gets a chance to feel good about himself, but mopes about not being much use on a space mission. That’s nice — see you later! “Several hours later,” in fact, the two flyers take off, soon catching up to Blackfire’s flagship. As Blackfire tortures Starfire, tractor beams bring the Titans’ flyers aboard, and the Gordanian’s security drones make surprisingly short work of the team. The helpless Starfire watches her friends blown out an airlock….

… only to be gathered up by Raven’s soul-self, and pulled aboard the JLA Satellite in a tractor beam manned by none other than Superman! Robin’s ecstatic, thinking now that the mission will be over in a few more pages, but the Man of Steel has had a severe drop in power level and can’t help them. However, as issue #24 (October 1982) opens, we learn he’s been hosting the Omega Men, who also hail from the Vega system and would love to punish the Gordanians and their Citadel masters. The Omegas are Primus, his wife Kalista, the feline Tigorr, the blockish Broot, the mist-powered Nimbus, the winged Harpis, and a few others we’ll meet later.

Back aboard Komand’r’s starship, Koriand’r breaks free of another Pérez-designed torture rack, but Komand’r wins their brief battle. The ship arrives at the Citadel homeworld, which is ringed by a series of asteroid fortresses that used to be the planet’s moon. That’s some hard-core “when life gives you lemons” stuff right there. As Blackfire takes the unconscious Starfire to the snowy Citadel castle, the captions fill us in on the victorious campaigns of Lord Damyn, the Citadel leader, who among other feats, personally exiled Vega’s “living goddess,” X’Hal. He is one bad dude, and Komand’r wants to unseat him.

On the Omega Men’s starship, the Titans are learning the finer points of hoisting the space-mainsail and battening down the space-hatches, and also enduring the contemptuous mutterings of Demonia, the serpentine Omegan. Raven senses evil, and Robin wonders if the Titans are in the way, but Nimbus and Broot tell him to ignore her. Besides, to paraphrase Sideshow Bob’s parole board, “no one named Demonia could be evil….”

Meanwhile, Komand’r uses Starfire as an opportunity to see Lord Damyn, and here things might get a little confusing. See, the Gordanians are green frog-guys with big tails and gold armor. The Citadel types have kind of purple-black skin with no tails, but they’re also fairly bulky and have gold armor. Are they related? I don’t know. What’s more, their guards (the Branx) have grey fur and four arms and wear parkas. Anyway, Damyn talks like a slightly denser Ralph Wiggum with a sociopathic streak, and after another brief Starfire outburst, Blackfire joins Damyn for the royal dinner. Here we learn from an expatriate Psion (the Citadel’s mortal enemies — more green reptile-guys, dressed like old-school Brainiac 5) that the Citadel plans to kidnap X’Hal.

As it happens, Primus has been telling the Titans about how slow-witted Damyn is in everything except warfare. They’re on their way to Okaara, the warrior planet, to get reinforcements, and joining them on the shuttle down is Auron, an energy-being. Turns out Auron is X’Hal’s son, and X’Hal is dead, but she’s now an energy-being too. The two have some parent-child issues, which should give Auron a lot to talk about with the Titans. The Gordanians interrupt their reunion, and despite Auron’s whining about how he’s forced to kill, he starts tearing up Gordanian starships. While the other Titans and Omegas fight to defend X’Hal from the Citadel, Changeling turns into a Gordanian (both green, after all) and tries to sneak Robin and Cyborg into the stronghold.

New Teen Titans #25 (November 1982) amps up both plot and action. The Omega Men plus Raven, Wonder Girl, and Kid Flash fight the Citadel on Okaara. In the midst of the fighting, Raven (who freaked out about killing the Gordanian accidentally on Earth, remember) is trying to heal all the wounded on both sides, but it’s all too overwhelming — and the evil spirit of Trigon starts breaking through Raven’s defenses. The almost-forgotten romance between Raven and Kid Flash resurfaces briefly, to allow Wally to comfort her as she collapses exhausted after fighting off Trigon’s influence. The battle turns into a stalemate, so X’Hal gives herself up to the Citadel.

The main plot, though, is with Robin, Cyborg, and Changeling catching up with Komand’r and Koriand’r. There are some nice sequences with each hero individually taking out some alien baddies, and it too comes to a head when Robin sees the bloodied, near-death Starfire lying at her sister’s feet. Tears in his eyes and screaming with rage, he jumps out of the shadows to attack Komand’r’s party. Perez only devotes a couple of panels to this, but as with the other action bits, they’re so efficient and dynamic he doesn’t need many more.

When the dust settles, Komand’r is threatening X’Hal, but Cyborg has his white-noise blaster at Lord Damyn’s head. Standoff, right, just like the cover says? Not quite — obviously the Titans don’t know that Komand’r wants Damyn’s job herself, and vaporizes him. Komand’r proclaims herself leader of the Citadel, and Robin tries to convince her to let the Titans take Kory back with them. Komand’r says no — she’s been taught to destroy her enemies, and she only wants Kory to live long enough to see Tamaran destroyed. As the issue closes, Starfire has recovered, and assumes a fightin’ pose.

This brings us to the grand finale, New Teen Titans Annual #1 (1982). Taken up largely with the big battle between Starfire and her sister (hereinafter just “The Fight”), it also includes the origin of X’Hal (who wore armor very similar to Hippolyte’s) and the Omega Men’s big assault on the Citadel’s fortress. The Fight is actually organized by the Psion, who offers Koriand’r the chance to spare Tamaran and Komand’r the legitimacy a systemwide-broadcast victory over Koriand’r would bestow.

The Fight is quite patently To The Death, because we know both characters hate each other just that much. Indeed, in a way this issue is the culmination of all those “why must I hold myself back?” statements Kory has uttered in the past couple of years. The Fight takes 8 1/2 pages, including 6 pages nonstop, and at the end apparently Komand’r is dead. However, the Psion has rigged the outcome so that either woman’s death would trigger a series of explosives throughout the system, destroying the Citadel bases and allowing the Psions to pick up the pieces. In a bit of deus ex machination, though, X’Hal uses her energy powers to disarm all the devices, saving the Vegan worlds but sacrificing herself.

In the epilogue, Kory learns that her parents and brother are still alive (Komand’r had said that Ryand’r, their brother, had gone mad and killed their parents), but she can’t stay on Tamaran because their pact with the Citadel which exiled her in the first place is still operative. That’s okay, Robin says, the Titans are your family too, and you can come home with us. The End.

I’ve talked a lot about this storyline’s independence from the book’s regular subplots, and it’s tempting to look at this arc as a backdoor pilot for the Omega Men’s regular series, which launched in April 1983. However, as mentioned above, it was a chance to address the issue of Starfire cutting loose, and it would provide the final spark for the Robin/Starfire romance which had been percolating almost subliminally since issue #2. Still, Tamaran was going on the back burner for the next two years, and the Titans wouldn’t return for another three.

Again, though, this arc requires so much for its own maintenance that there’s little room for the regular subplots. Still, with so much of the arc concerned with fighting, killing, torture, and violence in general, I wonder how much of an ironic coincidence it is that #22 begins with the Titans under guard for the alleged murder of Brother Blood. With the exception of Raven, raised by pacifists, the other Titans seem to accept that they’ve been drafted into the Omega Men’s army, and therefore they’ll have to kill some extraterrestrials. Indeed, even something relatively benign like Kid Flash’s super-speed piloting leads directly to the Omegas’ assault on Citadel headquarters. Wolfman and Pérez don’t really gloss over the issue, but neither do they dwell on it.

Going along with this theme is the recurring image (from #22 through #25) of Koriand’r shackled, bloodied, and abused. On one level it’s a necessary component of this kind of revenge story, degrading the hero so her final victory over her enemy will be that much sweeter. Moreover, it’s not particularly surprising, given Komand’r’s actions in the Tales miniseries; and at least Kory is of age here, so we’re not seeing these horrors visited on a child. However, it skirts very close to being gratuitous, and as with the larger issue of the Titans’ killing during wartime, Wolfman and Pérez don’t really comment on it.

Probably the more charitable view is that these comics were meant to be read month-to-month, and the cumulative effect of all this violence would be abated by the intervening weeks. Starfire needed to be in the background but still in jeopardy until the closing pages of #25, and her fight with Komand’r in the Annual would make up for all the mistreatment. I’m not saying it’s right, just trying to imagine a rationale.

Anyway, moral implications aside, this arc still gets big ups from me for its scope. It was the book’s biggest storyline to date, and it was some of the creators’ best work. Every Titan got a little moment to shine, with Changeling even single-handedly short-circuiting Demonia’s attempted betrayal. Year Three was off to a fast start, with one of the book’s most memorable characters waiting for the group’s return to Earth.

Next: runaway teens, super-powered and not.

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