Saturday, March 08, 2008

Who's Your Daddy? The New Teen Titans Vol. 2 #s 1-6

The first five issues of NTT2 are collected in a paperback called The Terror Of Trigon, but to me they work best as a showcase for George Perez. Appropriate to his last Titans work for four years, he goes out with a bang. He inks himself on issues 1 and 2, and portions of issue 2 are reproduced directly from his pencils. Although Romeo Tanghal returns to ink the last three issues, either his inks have gotten cleaner or the higher-quality paper allows them to be less muddy. Tanghal's inks compare pretty well to Bob McLeod's on the second Perez run ... but we've got a long way to go before that.

The story reminds me of "The Judas Contract," both in the sense that it caps a long-running subplot, its ending goes a bit beyond what you might have predicted, and it can't really be appreciated on its own. Just as the four installments of "TJC" are best seen in the light of almost two years' worth of Terra stories which preceded them, so "Trigon 2" is the culmination of the "Evil Raven" teases which date back to about the same period (if not farther).

Anyway, you want to know what happened, so let's cruise on....

Issue #1 (August 1984) opens with a training sequence in the Titans' Island woods (or, I guess, copse of trees). The object of the game is to capture Jericho, and everything's going well until Raven appears. She doesn't want anything to do with the game, but Joey doesn't know that, and tries to take her over. Raven "dodges" by teleporting away before he can merge into her body, leaving Joey -- who still managed to brush up against her consciousness -- seriously freaked out. The Titans want to help her, of course, so Joey volunteers to talk to Raven. In her pitch-black room, Raven tells Joey her destiny has finally arrived; and a few minutes later, she tells the Titans assembled in the meeting room that she's leaving.

(There's an interlude on Tamaran which shows the royal family sending a starship for Kory, but that's a couple of arcs away, so for now, it just lets Perez show off.)

While Cyborg and Changeling review old photos of Raven which show how Trigon's influence has changed her physically (and explain Perez's development with the character's features), Joey decides to sneak into Raven's room and take her over as she sleeps ... and here Perez really pulls out the stops. Joey/Raven trudges across bridges made of naked bodies and landscapes that would give Ditko's Doctor Strange nightmares. There he finds Arella, Raven's mother, naked herself; and as Arella cries that he's not her daughter, Trigon appears suddenly, blasting Raven's very form off of Joey.

Trigon treats Joey like a Nazi opening the Ark of the Covenant, but after a few moments Raven appears. Trigon shoos Joey back to Titans' Tower, where the Titans discover him, again, understandably Freaked Out. It's a dark, stormy middle of the night as Joey fills in the group, and as he finishes, the Titans hear Trigon's laughter....

Issue #2 (October 1984) opens with Perez on pencils only, following Arella (now fully clothed, so maybe her appearance in #1 was an illusion) and on the lookout for Raven. She's in Azar's dimension, but it's far from the calm star-studded place we've seen before. Now the skies crackle with energy and Trigon's bat-winged minions fly overhead. Arella catches up to Raven, terrified as Raven turns to face her, and Trigon cries out "She is mine!"

Meanwhile, the Titans have found Raven's rings, and wonder why Raven would have left them behind. Lucky for them Lilith shows up at that moment. The Titans apologize for the events of Tales #54 (specifically -- and foreshadowingly -- footnoted, since that issue was still about a year away), and Lilith says she was drawn to Titans' Tower because she could tell all the bad craziness was connected to Raven. As Lilith takes one of the rings, lightning strikes the tower (and Cyborg), a window blows out, and an unnatural wind whips the room into a frenzy. It's over just as quicly, though.

Lilith observes that "[t]hese rings are the nexus to [Raven's] soul. But we need to reach her heart as well." Thus, Dick and Donna take a T-Jet to Blue Valley to retrieve Wally West. The skies are stormy there too. Moreover, Frances Kane doesn't want Wally to leave her ... but he's gotta do what he's gotta do.

Back at the tower, Lilith summons a spectral, faceless Raven through a seance, but Raven doesn't stick around. However, the Azarites summon the Titans through Raven's rings, and the Titans are zapped to Azarath only to find it destroyed.

The Titans try to save as many Azarites from the bat-creatures as they can, but it's too late. Lilith, Arella, and the remaining Azarites gather at Azar's tomb to sacrifice themselves. The bat-creatures obliterate everything in their path ...

... and Raven, now completely transformed into a red-skinned, four-eyed replica of Trigon, appears with him over Titans' Tower.

Issue #3 (November 1984) begins with a full-page, full-face shot of the demonic Raven, inviting the people of New York (watching on TV) to please put their hands together for their new lord and master. Raven does in fact announce that "resistance is futile," about five years before the cool kids started saying it.

Meanwhile, the Titans and Arella wake up in what's left of Azarath, now basically an infinte white nothingness peppered by rocky outcroppings. Lilith informs the group that the Azarites have joined with Azar in the great beyond; that Raven has been taken over completely by Trigon; that Azar's rings protected the Titans from Trigon's destructive forces; and that Trigon is now on Earth. Azar's rings take the group back to New York, only to find it transformed into a literal concrete jungle similarly populated by souls writhing in torment. It's not long before the Titans run across Trigon (sleeping, lucky for them) and Raven (awake and upset). Raven downs everyone except Joey and Gar, and when Joey tries again to take her over, she repels him again -- this time with extreme prejudice.

As for the remaining six Titans, Raven sends them each into their own personal hells, where they must face black-and-white-and-red-eyed evil versions of themselves. Yes, like in the cartoon. However, the gore factor is significantly higher here, because each must also face his or her worst fear. Dick confronts a Jason Todd who couldn't save Batman from a grisly death. Vic's friends prefer his completely-human evil double. Gar's literally devours his loved ones; and Donna's kills Terry (but I'm sure is otherwise evil). Kory's invites her to submit again to slavery; and Wally's is a Trigon-eyed Kid Flash who taunts him for his wimpiness. These visions are all in the Titans' minds, naturally -- their bodies are trapped in a stone column, same as everyone else on Earth.

Issue #4 (January 1985) picks up there, and shows the Titans being run through familiar sets of angst. Each in turn gives in to his or her dark side, however, and as each kills an evil counterpart, his or her eyes turn glowy red. When the last Titan succumbs, their bodies are freed, but now they too have been transformed into black-and-red "negatives." Raven boasts that "Trigon has won," but Lilith says no -- thanks to the rings, she controls the Titans.

The transformed Titans attack Raven, chanting "Destroy her!" and absorbing her counterattacks. Trigon remains motionless atop Titans' Tower. Finally, the evil Starfire pumps a few lethal starbolts into Raven's "spiritless body," killing her.

This returns the Titans to normal, but of course they're horrified at what they've done. Lilith basically says don't sweat it -- "only in your evil forms would you have killed her," and "Trigon could not be defeated unless his daughter died." Speaking of Trigon, his voice now booms out over the landscape, vowing "vengeance" for Raven's death. He's awake, and he's about 300 feet tall.

Accordingly, issue #5 (February 1985) is the big Titans vs. Trigon blowout. Wally, despite his weak heart and the ongoing problems with his super-speed, is first out of the gate, but Trigon takes him out pretty quickly. The rest of the group (except Nightwing) then charges, only to have Trigon drop Titans' Tower on them. As Trigon strides through the wasteland that was New York, Nightwing lobs a grenade at him, but Trigon smites him with his staff. Trigon exposits about how Earth is the center of all his troubles -- the Azarites, who imprisoned him, came from here, as did Arella; and Earth has constantly resisted his power, "longer than any other." Thus, Earth must be destroyed.

However, Lilith still senses that the Titans are alive, and guess what -- Starfire has been protecting them with an energy shield. She shrugs off the rubble of Titans' Tower, the group plucks a still-breathing Nightwing out of his own pile of wreckage, and Lilith starts to outline their plan. Wally, unfortunately for his fans, is ready to give up in the face of Trigon's overwhelming power, but nobody else is.

Trigon, standing atop the Twin Towers, opens a gateway into his home dimension so that he can project Earth's energy into it. Azar, speaking through Lilith, tells Arella to put Raven's rings back on Raven's hands -- turns out she's not dead, "[s]he has only been emptied ... for no soul-filled life could survive what comes next." Replacing the rings distracts Trigon, and gives the Titans an opening. They attack, but they know they're not doing much harm. The real action is back with Arella, Lilith, and Raven, who's starting to sparkle and glow. Here, then, is the big finish:

In a nutshell, Raven's soul-self -- which, you'll remember, had been corrupted by Trigon when she was still a girl in Azarath -- had been replaced completely with Trigon's energies. Now that she's been "emptied," Azar had space to insert Azarath's energies in its place. They now destroy Trigon, ghostly faces swarming over him like locusts, picking the flesh from his bones until nothing remains. Raven herself fades away, a beatific expression on her once-again-human face. With the explosion of light that marks her passing, the world returns to normal...

... except for Titans' Tower, which is just a stump of girders.

Issue #6 (March 1985) -- again, not included in the paperback -- is an epilogue pencilled by "Daniel" Jurgens wherein the Titans and New York recover from Trigon's takeover. A lot of it is devoted to characters giving speeches -- not like the past five issues didn't have their share of speechifying, but here the words get more attention than the pictures do. Besides, the speeches start out as news reports celebrating the Titans' victory before segueing into subplot maintenance. Wally and Frances Kane restate their commitments to not using their powers. Azrael (or Emo-Angel-Guy, since he still doesn't have a name) sees Lilith on the teevee and waxes poetic about her. (An old feller, seeing him and apparently not hearing his pronouncements, calls him the "Angel of Death." Oh, Marv.) Arella announces she's going to search for Raven.

Ultimately, Terry Long suggests that the group (minus Joey, who's recovering in the hospital) take another camping trip to the Grand Canyon and reconnect there. Each of the Titans recaps their Trigon-nightmares and explains how they continue to feel weighed down by them. (Well, Starfire is upbeat, but that's to be expected.) Terry then instructs them to turn those frowns upside down, because the fact that they're worried about these things means that they've got control of their fears.

I'm including issue #6 in the Trigon arc because it does provide some closure, but it would have worked better with Perez art. That's not the fairest comparison, and Jurgens tries hard, but his figures just lack the subtleties that Perez would have brought to this kind of issue. Let's put it this way: without Perez, I get the feeling that Wolfman wanted to write that much more dialogue to drive the various points home. Well, mission accomplished, Marv.

* * *

This arc has some very spooky moments, an horrific, gory second act, and a climax of almost Biblical proportions. However, it's also very "inside baseball" in parts, asking longtime readers to remember virtually back to the beginning of the series. The humor also seems somewhat forced, like Marv is trying to "write funny" It then connects those various storylines and subplots in a way that might actually be more friendly to new readers, but then the departure of George Perez leaves the book on a different footing than it started. Overall, though, it's very satisfying, especially if you believe that this puts the Titans' various Trigon-aggravated hangups to rest once and for all. (I don't know that it does; that's part of the reason I'm reading these again.)

The arc also works well as a commentary on the final "newsprint" storylines. Wally gets one last adventure with the Titans, after refusing to go after the HIVE undersea base. Lilith has both some tension with the group and a reason to be attuned to their needs. Vic's all-human evil twin probably helps him overcome any lingering doubts about his recent surgery. Gar has had a chance to work through his feelings about Terra, Joey, and Deathstroke. Having since married Terry, Donna has more of a need to affirm her commitment to him.

I also have to note that, once again, Wally West comes across as both craven and ineffectual. I presume that Marv and George considered this an outgrowth of his "retirement." It might also have been a way to provide an audience-identification character whose "game over, man!" pronouncements could have further heightened the tension. Wally does have some heroic moments in Azarath, and he's first to challenge Trigon, but his particular character arc doesn't end well. Maybe, even as close in time to Crisis On Infinite Earths as this arc comes, Wally was still meant to be retired permanently, so to have him struggle with his powers, and continue to pine for a superheroic life, might have been too much of a tease. Regardless, he'll get turned around before too long, so I can't complain too much.

Finally, this arc brings the stories of Raven and Trigon to a pretty definite end. Anytime you can say that about a superhero serial, it's a good thing. That ending might not have held up over the long haul, but that's (literally) a story for another day.

Next: The Children of the Sun!

No comments: