Friday, June 09, 2006

Crappy New Year: New Teen Titans #s 28-31

Lots of plot in these four issues, most of it directed towards upending the team by introducing new players and turning around the personalities of the old ones. With these issues, the book really got into a soap-operatic groove. Who will be the newest Titan? Why is the Brotherhood of Evil after Brother Blood? Is Robin wound too tight/stretched too thin? Will Wally quit? Has Raven turned evil? What of Donna’s love for Terry? And will Speedy get to enjoy his lunch?

After opening with 3 1/2 pages of Changeling failing to capture Terra, New Teen Titans #28 (February 1983) begins the plot in earnest with a trip to Zandia, where the Church of Brother Blood is headquartered. The Brotherhood of Evil attacks Blood Central, because (as discussed a couple of issues later, but not until then) it wants Zandia for itself, and Blood runs the place.

Phobia softening up the control-room techies takes about a half a page longer than it should. Perez goes for "creeping horror" when "quick strikes" might have worked better. The sequence does introduce us to Sister Sade, which I don't think is pronounced "Smooth Operator." There's also Sister Soul and Brother Fear, and really, Marv and George, these names make "Darth Maul" sound like it’s derived from Tolkien’s Elvish.

(Someday I will do a post on the logistics of the Church of Blood, or at least its application for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status.)

4 1/2 pages of hallucinations, bad accents ("Ach! I hate vhat I haf become, but I use vhat I now am for der good of der Brotherhood!") and Bloodite death later, we're back in NYC with Donna and Kory. The latter is worried because her man's been all grumpy and tense, and sure enough, when the Teen Wonder appears in Donna's doorway, he looks kind of slacker-stalker creepy. Honestly, he almost looks like he'll take a swing at either of them if given half a chance. However, Wally is drawn with the same kind of blank, bland, squinty stare a couple of pages later, and he's just supposed to be bored, so maybe this is Perez' and/or Tanghal's "tired" expression. Donna leaves and Dick and Kory decide to stay in.

Indeed, after two pages of Changeling finally defeating Terra, it's nighttime and Dick and Kory have apparently had The Sex.
(I don't think this is their first time together, but it is the first the book's acknowledged it.) He apologizes for his attitude and they head off to meet Adrian Chase about Brother Blood.

Over at Titans' Tower, Wally (in the aforementioned squinty scene) wants to talk to Raven about how hard it is to juggle college and superheroics. This echoes, consciously or not, Donna's earlier observation about Dick a) going to college (but didn't he drop out before issue #1?), b) leading the Titans, and c) working with Batman -- but the difference here, and the reason Wally comes off all whiny, is that Dick doesn't have superspeed. Wally, I hate to say it, but next to your speed-reading, attention-deficient cousin, you sound like an idiot. Focus, man! It’s not like you’re going to win the lottery! If you don’t watch out, you’ll end up fixing cars for the rest of your life!

Then again, Wally does explain his costume ring to Raven (after disclosing "I never really wanted to be Kid Flash" -- somewhere, Mark Waid grabs his chest), so maybe he took a bad blow to the head. The two join Gar and Terra in the conference room, but Terra wants no part of Raven, and Raven gets bad vibes from Terra. After a brief escape attempt, and in a somewhat touching scene, Terra tearfully unmasks, explaining how she's being coerced into evil by terrorists holding her parents hostage.
Meanwhile, Donna meets Marcia Long, Terry’s ex-wife. Marcia’s got razor-sharp cheekbones and an "is this your little chippie?" icy stare. Remember Mark Greene's ex-wife from "ER?" Kind of like that, but if Mark were sleeping with Lucy Knight. Awk-ward!

Although the Titans easily catch Terra's captors, she goes nuts when one of them reveals her parents are already dead. As the issue ends, Gar comforts Terra while Cyborg and Raven worry.

New Teen Titans #29 (March 1983) finds Brother Blood in his Massachusetts church, preparing for the Brotherhood's attack. They've just finished destroying all his churches in Europe, and now they're headed across the big water in a stolen Blood jet, planning to abduct Raven. Unfortunately, they let some blond Bloodite (who looks like a Brother Chip) pilot the plane.

How’d that work, exactly? They storm aboard, threaten to fricasee Chip if he doesn’t fly them to New York, and then ... adjourn to the passenger cabin? For hijackers, they sure have a lot of trust in the hijacked. As you’d expect, Chip, revealed as a robot when Plasmus finally starts some more threatening, points the plane straight into the ocean. Don’t worry, the Brotherhood's OK.

A few pages in Titans’ Tower set up the issue’s emotional beats: Dick's still pushing himself, Donna's frustrated because she doesn't know her real parents, and Wally's in love with Raven – but Raven tells him to forget it, because if she loses control, Trigon gets out. Donna flies off to be with Terry.

Leading into the big fight at the end of the issue is a genially funny sequence where the main cast parades through the kitchen past Speedy, who’s fixed himself a sandwich and some soup. He interacts with each in one way or another, but he just keeps eating.

First, for flirting with Starfire, he gets rebuked by Robin: "Stay away from Kory. She's not yours." Robin and Kory (obviously descended from the House of Enabl’r) leave for another Adrian Chase meeting. Changeling and Terra then recap their own subplots, reminding us that her story doesn't quite add up. Gar tries to play the team-spirit card, but Terra says she's not joining. When Frances Kane (!) lands on Titans Island, everyone heads outside. Frances doesn’t want her magnetic powers, and Wally thinks this could be his way out of the group. Speedy, naturally, flirts with Fran, but to no effect. Cyborg, unfazed (as usual) by the angst around him, bounds off over the river.

As Speedy finally finishes his soup, the Brotherhood of Evil teleports in. Phobia puts the whammy on Raven, making her think Trigon's killed Wally. This tricks Raven into attacking Wally, plunging him into worlds of hurt. Frances and Speedy subdue the Brotherhood, and Raven backs off, but too late -- Wally's felt Trigon's evil in Raven. He says Raven knew she would have killed him, and what's more, she enjoyed it. Issue #30 (April 1983) picks up right there, with the Brotherhood coming to and taking out Speedy, Wally, and Fran.

Over at the apartment where Terra was held hostage, she shows Changeling her new costume, which she’d only wear when she was free. Although earlier in the day she was telling Gar she wasn’t joining, once she gets the new duds on, she asks “Am I Titans material or what?”

Robin, Starfire, and Chase meet with a suddenly-cooperative Bethany Snow, who’s actually setting them up but who doesn't fool Robin or Chase. Snow explains the Blood/Brotherhood feud, and further that Blood wants to fix three special elections to insure Congress arms Zandia to fight the Brotherhood. Robin saves Snow from a sniper, but the sniper gets away. Snow, "spooked," swears to be good, and says the Brotherhood’s after Raven. Hearing this, Robin and Starfire streak away.

At Sarah Simms' apartment, Cyborg finds nice-guy Mark Wright, her fiancĂ©. She’s not there, and Vic leaves frustrated and angry with himself.

When he gets back to Titans’ Tower, it marks the first time this arc that most of the Titans (except Wonder Girl and Raven) are in the same room. Gar introduces Terra as the newest member, Robin OKs it perfunctorily, and they strategize about protecting Raven.

Meanwhile, Donna’s on a fancy dinner date with Terry, and Raven’s at St. Peter’s Cathedral looking for guidance. The Brotherhood finds her there, and she’s ready to throw down, but Phobia says they shouldn’t fight in church. Raven teleports out, the Brotherhood follows, and the priest is left contemplating the bizarre display. A good little scene all around.

It’s New Year’s in NYC, and Dick Clark’s (really!) counting down, when Raven’s soul-self flies out of the clock. The Brotherhood teleports into Times Square as well, with the Titans close behind. Plasmus shatters Raven’s soul-self, knocking her out with big psychic feedback. Kid Flash tries to speed her away, but they run into one of Warp’s portals. Fran traps Phobia in some water pipes, but Phobia turns the crowd against the Titans. Warp reappears, dumping off a dazed Kid Flash, whose thoughts reveal that he still loves Raven. While the Brotherhood escapes, Terry proposes to Donna.

As issue #31 (May 1983) opens, the team picks itself up and heads back to Titans’ Tower, with Robin and Kid Flash both thinking about quitting. Somewhat surprising considering his attitude in previous issues, Dick doesn’t want the team to break up, recognizes he’s got “too much on [his] mind,” and thinks maybe Donna should take over. In fact, Donna’s waiting for them, in costume, eager to spill her big news. Dick and Roy are supportive, but Wally wants to get back to business. A T-Jet full of grim Titans speeds for Zandia….

… where the Brotherhood tries, one by one, to pry Brother Blood’s secrets from her. They think he left something behind (eww) when he stepped through her soul-self in issue #22. Ultimately, Phobia exploits Raven's fear of not being able to handle everyone else’s emotions and needs. (Phobia can’t play the Trigon card again, because she can only exploit each fear once.) This sends Raven on a weird trip through an orange-tinted hell which, even rendered on decades-old newsprint in slightly faded colors, is still pretty spooky.

First, millions of little souls swarm all over her, stripping her bare and leaving her isolated atop a rocky outcropping, with only their baleful, glowing eyes keeping her company.

When this gets unbearable, she tumbles away, only to see that Trigon and the Brotherhood have brutally murdered the Titans. Now Wally, the only one left alive, refuses to let her heal him, saying he’d rather die first. And die he does, crumbling into dust not unlike Perez would depict his uncle’s fate. The Brotherhood sees none of this, only the unconscious Raven. Maybe she don’t know nothin’? No, the Brain says, she knows, but she doesn’t know she knows. (An “unknown known,” in Rumsfeld-speak.)

On the T-Jet, Gar and Vic talk about Sarah’s fiancĂ©, and Dick and Kory do whatever making-up they need to. In Zandia, the Brain plays good cop, and Raven starts remembering a cave. After Mother Mayhem tells the local cops to let the Titans off the T-Jet, both groups find their way to Blood’s cave. They fight. Interesting note: during the battle, Terra muses, “How long can [the Titans] keep treating me like I’m a fifth wheel?” Jeez, Terra, it's been what -- two days?

Raven watches the combat passively, until “one … by one … by one … the Titans fall … DEFEATED!” This is too much -- Raven has seen her nightmare come true, and all bets are off. Her soul-self now has a glowing red four-eyed Trigon face, and demonic Kirby Krackles.

The Brotherhood wets itself. Raven’s soul-self descends over them. Fortunately for them, Donna shows up to snap Raven out of her trance. She says “you’ll murder all your friends,” which is probably true, even though at that moment it’s only the Brotherhood in trouble.

Raven screams, her soul-self withdraws, and Wally asks “she tried to kill us … didn’t she?”

“No,” Donna replies, “… she tried to kill herself!


* * *

For anyone familiar with the history of the book, these four issues set up some fairly important arcs. Raven’s subplot is particularly compelling, because she has always been a pawn of one faction or another, from Trigon’s daughter to Azarath’s champion, and now as some kind of secret weapon. The fact that the Brotherhood wants her in its war on Blood must be doubly damning, suggesting that she can only be used for evil. Raven herself just wants to be left alone so she can solidify control over her emotions. The triumph over her soul-self in issue #8 might well have been her happiest point in the series, and that was almost two years ago.

Interrupting her constantly, at least in these issues, is Wally West, himself trying to figure out what to do with his life. I know later Flash writers filled in a lot of Wally’s rather bland backstory, giving his parents names and personalities and whatnot, and establishing him as the Flash’s biggest fan. Although that doesn’t jibe with his treatment here, it can still be reconciled by shifting young-adult emotions. That may only go so far, though, considering that Wally decided to retire Kid Flash after his high-school graduation and had to be “coerced” by Raven’s emotional nudging to join the new Teen Titans. Now that he’s free of her influence, he apparently does love her, but his declarations come off lukewarm. His connection with Frances Kane is far more tangible. It’s almost as if Wally’s going through the motions with Raven and his Titans membership to convince himself and the readers that he gave them one last, valid shot. I will say that these issues also lay the groundwork for Fran to join the Titans, with Wally as her gateway/guide, so Wally’s leaving isn’t entirely predetermined.

As for the actual new Titan, Terra’s lightning-quick reversal from #29's "I'm not joining" to #30's "get me in" might also be chalked up (charitably, that is) to hormones, if it weren’t for Gar -- Gar, remember, not Dick the detective -- pointing out holes in her story, and Cyborg and Raven’s separate concerns. Next to the trouble with Raven, though, questions about Terra look less pressing. Besides, she seems charming enough, what with her wholesome looks and her love-hate relationship with Changeling.

On a more meta note, you’ll notice that this is the first time I’ve actually posted scans of the artwork with one of these recaps. Perez and Tanghal didn’t have entirely complementary styles at first, but one or the other, or both, were drawing a lot tighter, and it really shows in these pages. Dick and Wally look appropriately muscular, but wiry, especially in street clothes. Kory is being drawn a lot taller than everyone else, but she, Donna, and Raven all have the bodies of late-teen/young-adult women. Terra, now the youngest cast member, gets the most typically-teenage body, similar to Lizzie, the runaway from last time. It’s now easier to believe these characters are the ages they’re supposed to be, thanks to the evolving art.

Again, overall these four issues present some pretty meaty melodrama, but I also get the feeling that Marv and George realized just how popular the book had become, and were emboldened by said popularity to take some real chances and pull out some stops. For the most part, these worked, but occasionally a hint of overconfidence would shine through.

Next: Two single-issue sagas, the return of Deathstroke, and New York’s newest masked man!

No comments: