Monday, January 16, 2006

Cult Classic: The New Teen Titans #s 21-22

As The New Teen Titans #21 (July 1982) opens, Raven and Starfire race to stop a bomb from exploding at a baseball game. (Hard to say which team -- the players wear Yankee pinstripes with Met-colored caps, and have players named "Mack" and "Stern" who must have been MLBers on Earth-1 only.) That takes five pages, during which I noticed that Romeo Tanghal's inks have gotten tighter. Anyway, the terrorists are only there to test the Titans, so that takes care of the immediate suspense. However, their mysterious employer isn't Brother Blood, as one might have expected, but some guy in a satellite. I'm sure Marv forgot about him.

The actual plot begins outside Buzzard's Bay (our fair city) MA, with former Vic Stone girlfriend Marcy Reynolds running for her life from a red-and-black robed Gun-Totin' Nun. I have to say, this page looks cool, but makes no sense, and both Wolfman and Perez are to blame. Basically, GTN wings Marcy with a laserbeam, and it looks like Marcy's stuck on the railroad tracks, but really GTN is the one on the tracks, completely oblivious to the train as it runs her down. Neither Marv nor George thought GTN would notice, what with the bright headlights and the CHUGCHUGCHUGs? Crikey.

Anyway, as Cyborg is finally unburdening himself to Sarah Simms (she just wants to be friends), Marcy calls to tell him she's on the run from "Brother Blood" and (SKRA-BLAM) AGGHHH! Vic leaps across town to the rescue, but too late. Perez makes up for the train scene with the next page's sequence of Vic mourning.

Back in Massachusetts, Sister Karyn gets fed to the Ranc-- that is, to the giant mutated spider, for failing to vet "Sister Marcy" fully with regard to her former boyfriends. At this point we get the big reveal of Brother Blood, a caped-and-masked supervillain type flanked by a blonde henchwoman with Farrah hair (another example of '70s turtlenecked horror, I think). Blood wears what I always think looks like a giant ant skull on his head, and below that a full-head mask that only exposes his ears, mouth, and chin. Even for a cult leader, he looks creepy. Even for a cult leader in the spandex-filled DC universe, he looks creepy. As we will learn, however, he covets mainstream legitimacy, and I'm sorry -- maybe I just don't get how acceptable the creepy supervillain suit is supposed to be. (Like black clothes and Nikes, maybe?) If I had to pledge my life to Jim Jones, David Koresh, or this guy, I'd take bad hair and weird glasses over ant skulls. Did I mention he sits in an animal-skull-shaped throne?

Vic asks the Titans to investigate Blood. Starfire wonders angrily, "Is this the way things are on your world? You fall in love and your lover has to die?" With the help of Marcy's dad, the Titans get some background info on Blood, and the infiltration is afoot. Robin, Raven, Wonder Girl, and Kid Flash (i.e., the Titans without exotic features) get trucked into Blood's castle, which has the same kind of neogothiclassical architecture as Azarath, except colored darker. The Titans soon learn that Blood's been alive for over 700 years and his home base was the Baltic island of Zandia. Small world.

Blood's scanners blow the Titans' cover, picking up "biological anomalies" in everybody but Robin. Meanwhile, Wally laments that "[s]omething twisted like this thrives while real religions are in trouble." Over in the girls' dorm, Raven finds her first experience wearing pants uncomfortable, but not as much as the fight-the-power portrait of Blood.

At the deliberately unpleasant prayer meeting, Blood dishes out punishments for the repentant and the unbelievers. After Blood roasts a mouthy convert with an energy blast from his forearm, Raven feels her pain, and is exposed. Blood commands the congregation to attack the Titans. In the melee that follows, each Titan falls one-by-one to Blood. However, Raven's soul-self escapes.

On to NTT #22 (August 1982), where Blood has his Mother Superior, "Mother Mayhem," throw the three powered Titans in the spider pit. Blood then gets a videophone call from a Senator who's having trouble drumming up the palm-greasing cash necessary to have Congress recognize Zandia as a nation and the Church of Blood as a religion. (The Senator mentions ABSCAM; insert Jack Abramoff joke here.) Blood says that after the recent coup in Zandia, the new president will be more democracy-friendly, but he'll work on some good PR anyway.

Meanwhile, Robin's in with "The Confessor," who I like to think was named after the Joe Walsh song.. Robin's manacled to a wall, costume in tatters, with only his mask, gloves, boots, and chainmail Speedos intact. It's awfully fan-fic-y, especially considering the caption about "the electronic lash whip[ping] across his naked chest...." (Insert Devin Grayson joke here.)

At Titans' Tower, Cyborg is lashing out at the exercise equipment, eager to go after Blood. Starfire's also ready for action, but Changeling tries to hold them both back. Although Raven's soul-self appears at that point, Cyborg is still keyed-up, and the scene closes oddly, with Vic's hand around Gar's throat.

The Confessor still can't get Robin to crack, so Blood decides to throw him in the pit with the others. They're all unconscious, so Robin has to fend off the giant spider by himself. He keeps his cool, evades the spider, and tries to use Wonder Girl's lasso to lift his teammates to safety.

As the T-Jet streaks towards Massachusetts, Blood has arranged for his personal journalist, Bethany Snow, to put a happy face on the Church of Blood. "My name should no more frighten people than my traditional ceremonial garb," Blood muses, and ... yeah. Blood says that people fear his church for "no reason," and even now the church fears a superhero attack. On cue, Starfire, Cyborg, and Changeling start tearing the place apart.

Let's pause here and note that Bethany Snow may be one of George Perez's most underappreciated characters. She has a certain just-past-her-prime look, with a well-coiffed hairdo and slightly matronly clothes. Her face is filling out and she has a bit of a double chin, which comes out in these scenes when she's caught terrified in the middle of a super-fight. You know she's playing a part, but she's drawn so well you still sincerely loathe her. Ah, Bethany -- as we will see, you were truly ahead of your time.

While Cyborg confronts Blood, Robin has secured Wonder Girl high above the spider. Unable to save the unconscious Raven from the looming spider, he voices a last lament to Bruce Wayne before Raven's soul-self zaps the beast and reunites with her body. As she teleports out, she delivers the unfortunate line, "Try to arouse Wallace while I open the pit door." Just wait a few years, Raven, and Wallace will be plenty aroused. Bada bing!

Somehow Blood's gotten away from Cyborg, and somehow Raven knows where, because she teleports right to him. However, Blood steps right through her soul-self. Cyborg bursts through the wall, only to be downed by Blood. Raven, still reeling from psychic feedback, opens up the Rancor pit, allowing Kid Flash, Robin, and Wonder Girl to come up. Starfire zaps Blood, and Kid Flash and Wonder Girl punch him, but he still manages to get away.

Cyborg catches up to Blood as he takes off in a futuristic plane. Cyborg leaps onto the plane and pulls off one of its tail fins. The plane crashes, apparently killing Blood, but Raven says Blood was never aboard. Indeed, Blood watches Bethany on TV intone "You've seen the facts -- you decide what is the truth." I'm not making this stuff up, folks.

There's a lot of goofiness in the first Brother Blood story, but in many ways it's the start of a great run by Wolfman and Perez. This story laid the groundwork for many others, both in the immediate future and years down the road. The Blood/Zandia connection was played up, as was Blood's ability to ignore Raven's soul-self. Bethany Snow also returned to bedevil the Titans. In short, this essay will get a workout as we go further into the series.

As if all that weren't enough, the last two pages of #22 led directly into the long-promised Blackfire story, which in turn ushered in the Titans' third -- and perhaps most consistently compelling -- year.

Next: return to Tamaran!

1 comment:

David N. Scott said...

Hahaha... Insert Devin Grayson joke here. Classic.