Sunday, January 14, 2007

Waterlogged: Tales of the Teen Titans #s 45-47

Remember the recap of NTT #s 10-12, when I said it was always a chore for me to get through those issues? Well, the same applies to Tales #s 45-47, the "end of the HIVE" story. Put simply, the Titans attack and destroy the HIVE's underwater headquarters. This takes three issues. The subplots, involving Gar & Vic and Wally West & Frances Kane, are more interesting than the main action, but they get lost in all the big sequences.

Starting this issue, there's also a lot less George Perez, since he's busy over in the new New Teen Titans Vol. 2 supplying full pencils and inks (at least for the first couple of issues). This, plus gearing up for Crisis on Infinite Earths, meant that he could only provide loose pencils for Tales, with inker Mike DeCarlo finishing everything. DeCarlo had been working on the book already, inking the last chapters of "The Judas Contract" with Dick Giordano, but these issues are more DeCarlo than Perez, so everybody gets the same wide-eyed face and a lot of Perez's detail work is lost. Back then, the direct-market-only NTTv.2 might not have had the circulation of the newsstand-distributed Tales, but considering both titles today, Tales definitely feels like the little brother.

Still, these three issues had ambition. The whole thing starts well enough in Tales of the Teen Titans #45 (August 1984), with a near-death Aqua-couple dropping cold just short of the inviting Titans' Tower pool. Wait, I can hear you interrupting, pool?!? isn't Titans' Tower on an island? Ah, therein lies the tale: the HIVE has been poisoning the seawater around its base, and Aqualad and Aquagirl got caught in the toxic zone. The group of Titans decides it's had enough of the HIVE, and is still nursing the emotional wounds from Terra's death, so Nightwing, Starfire, Wonder Girl, and Jericho head out with Aqualad and Aquagirl to do some damage.

However, that's at the end of an issue front-loaded with subplots. The most prominent is Gar's turn for the dark and gritty, as he works out his Terra issues through the mauling of evildoers. Cyborg tries to counsel him, but he admits he's been busy, and this really sets Gar off: "I understand you had better things to do. So did Donna and Kory and Dick and everyone else, too." As Gar stalks off, Vic muses that the Titans really were naive to trust Terra, which makes me feel better about my own armchair analysis.

Meanwhile, Vic's wacky grandparents -- ex-Vaudevillians who know how to pick locks, among other things -- show up at his apartment. More with them later.

The wackiness continues at Terry Long's bachelor party, attended by teetotaler Dick Grayson ("Somebody's got to drive the school bus home") and Terry's goofball Midlife Crisis Brigade. Yes, there is a stripper. Yes, only the Midlife Crisis Brigade cares. Dick and Terry are, of course, above such low pursuits, and they share a moment about how they have found their lobsters, and of course no stripper will distract them.

Over on Paradise Island, Donna is getting an Amazonian bachelorette party, and if you can imagine the bizarre sexual shenanigans of the Marston/Peter Wonder Woman, you'll have only the faintest idea of the deprav ... okay, it's not like that at all, drat the luck. Diana gives Donna a new set of Amazon bracelets, reflecting her dual Amazon/human heritage, and it's all very sweet ... but really, don't we all at least imagine the other?

Finally, we catch up with Raven and Jericho, the latter picking up the former as she gives her well-meaning geeky classmate the old it's-not-you-it's-my-demonic-father brushoff. In Joey's car, Raven monologues about how Joey's so trustworthy and calming, but then she abruptly teleports to Titans' Tower, because hey -- weren't some Atlanteans dying?

Lucky for Aqualad and Aquagirl (Garth and Tula, since I keep forgetting to mention their real names), Wally and Fran had returned to the Tower looking for some closure from Terra's death, when they found the ex-Titans about to die. With Dick busy trying to save their lives, though, Wally's free to vent about having to learn of Terra's death through the mainstream media. To me this is a valid issue, maybe not raised at the best time, but still underscoring Wally's subtle rejection by the group. When Dick starts making preparations to attack the HIVE base, he invites Wally to join them, but Yoko/Fran vetoes that, and Wally sheepishly agrees. Fran apparently thinks Wally's still in lurve with Raven, and Wally's tapdancing around telling the Titans (and us) how sick he's gotten.

But that's a subplot for another day, because now we're into #46 (September 1984) and the attack proper. A few pages in the middle of the book check in on Vic with his grandparents, and the aftermath of Gar's mauling another skel, but other than that it's all combat. I'm not going to go into much detail, except to give a few highlights.

First, Tula/Aquagirl gets a couple pages to herself, fighting random HIVE goons. I don't know her history, but I'd bet Topo the octopus got more face time in the Aquaman books than she did. Therefore, putting her in the spotlight here was nice -- kind of a last hurrah, considering her fate in Crisis On Infinite Earths. She gets zapped by flamethrowers, causing Raven to teleport in and throw some Trigon dark-side mojo onto the unsuspecting HIVErs.

The HIVE mistress herself is introduced this issue too. She's like the Borg Queen, I suppose, put through a Junior League filter. Perez designed her to look like Bernadette Peters as a platinum blonde, but she really reminds me of Julia Duffy's airhead heiress-turned-maid on "Newhart."

Also, Jericho takes over an unconscious HIVE flunky, so there's that. More with him later. Anyway, the Titans (minus Raven, who's stayed behind to guard the still-recovering Aquagirl) fight HIVErs until they get herded into a big empty room. All the doors slam and the chamber is ejected out into the ocean, where it's destroyed.

That's where #47 (October 1984) picks up, and if you supposed that Raven could have saved the group by gathering them into her soul-self, you probably remembered NTT #23, when she did pretty much the same thing. The group blasts its way back into the base, but Raven's tapped out from the expenditure of power and teleports away. By this time, though, Flunky #32 (the guy controlled by Joey) has awakened, and he's ready to tell the Titans about all the base's secret snares, because, y'know, Bernadette was ready to kill him too. So, for starters, he tells the Titans the HIVE is going after Atlantis itself.

And on that note, we zap back to Titans Tower (where Raven is apparently nowhere to be found ... hmm ...) to see Gar still upset over Terra. Vic shows up, wanting to talk, but Gar only wants to kill Deathstroke. However, his bloodlust is sated somewhat by the sudden appearance of his old girlfriend, Jillian No-Last-Name, from Tales of the New Teen Titans #3. (No, it's not explained how she got past security, although Vic isn't surprised to see her, so maybe that's a clue.) Gar still wants Deathstroke dead, though.

Back at HIVE base, Perez treats us to a two-page spread that kicks off a sequence of (mostly) all-woman action, with Wonder Girl, Aquagirl, and Starfire busting heads while Nightwing, Aqualad, and Jericho act more indirectly. Starfire gets knocked out, but Jericho takes control and, in her body, fights through flames and an electrified net to destroy the base's innards. Sensing that all is lost, the HIVE mistress flips the suicide switch that kills herself and her inner circle. In a somewhat anticlimactic touch, Aqualad rips the guts out of a missile launched at Atlantis, but by then the HIVErs are dead and the base is set to self-destruct. It's all very perfunctory at the end, which is weird considering all the buildup.

Speaking of which, the HIVE mistress' posthumous message to the Titans reveals that a) they were going to poison the world's oceans and blackmail its governments into obedience; and b) they wanted to make a name for themselves, and went after the Titans because they'd be easier to kill than the Justice League. In a final panel showing a certain golden satellite, Lyla tells the Monitor that the HIVE has been defeated.

And that's the end. Not a bad little arc, if you like action, and it did address some of the lingering issues from Terra's death, but it still feels unnecessary. If the HIVE's main base had been destroyed by Terra's death throes in Annual #3, that would have been one thing, and the book could have moved on. However, Donna's wedding is coming up in #50, and there's even a couple of fill-in issues before then, so maybe Wolfman and Perez decided they needed to stretch things out a little beforehand. They couldn't go right into Raven's continuing Trigon problems, because that was the subject of the parallel arc in NTTv2, and in between I guess they didn't have as much plot as they thought.

With that in mind, these subplots still felt a bit reheated. The overall structure -- one group destroys a base while a member lashes out -- is reminiscent of NTT #13, and as noted above, the means of the Titans' escape in #47 was identical to Raven's actions in #23.

Female characters are prominent in this arc. Bride-to-be Wonder Girl is contrasted (perhaps unintentionally) with the HIVE mistress, a widow who keeps musing that her late husband would have handled the Titans better. Aquagirl does her share of butt-kicking, as does Raven. The ghost of Terra continues to haunt Gar (until he's brought back to earth by Jillian), and Frances Kane likewise continues to influence Wally. Finally, Vic's grandmother gives him a dressing-down after he reminds them they (too) haven't cared enough to check in on him since his dad died. I don't think there is any grand design behind all these characters, but it's worth noting.

In the end, this arc was probably intended to be cathartic for the Titans after the Grand Guignol of "The Judas Contract." Regardless, in hindsight it's hard not to see Marv and George checking another ongoing subplot off their list before Perez leaves the book. Having the arc end with a nod to Crisis may be more revealing than they originally intended.

Next up: The Dude, Doctor Light, and Donna's wedding!

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