Sunday, February 04, 2007

Hey Little Sister, What Have You Done: Tales of the Teen Titans #s 48-50

These issues are bittersweet for a few reasons. Obviously, the wedding is the apex of Donna-worship. As for Terry ... yeah, he's there too. Tales of the Teen Titans #50 also represents the conclusion of George Pérez’s first, longest, and most successful tenure with these characters. Therefore, it’s our last bit of Pérez for a while. Appropriately enough, then, Tales #48 and #49 feature guest artists Steve Rude and Carmine Infantino, respectively, doing fill-ins while Marv and George are busy with wedding logistics.

Tales of the Teen Titans #48 (November 1984) presents the "RECOMBatants," a thinly-disguised pastiche of the DNAgents, a teen superhero team from the mid ‘80s created by Mark Evanier and Will Meuginot. This was part of an unofficial Titans/DNAgents crossover that mirrored the unofficial JLA/Avengers crossovers of the early ‘70s. Accordingly, to balance things out, the Titans got to be the Squadron Supreme over in the DNAgents’ own book. How’s the story itself? Well, remember how Thunder and Lightning were misunderstood teens who didn’t ask for their powers and were forced to use them in self-defense against a world that hated and feared them? Yeah, pretty much that, plus the fact that the RECOMBatants were only a one-shot deal and therefore got to enjoy a poignant sendoff.

II suspect the main interest in this issue today is the Dude (and inker Al Gordon)’s take on the Titans, because it’s pretty far from Pérez. The lines are thicker, there are more shadows and mood, and everything is generally more fluid. Don't get me wrong -- Pérez's figures can move, and his work is very dynamic, but Rude's characters are incredibly laid-back and look a lot more weightless.

A lot of it seems to be that Rude's figures are more exaggerated than we've been used to seeing. Perez tends to let his layouts do a lot of the work, and his figures then move within their confines. Rude isn't as layout-conscious, so his figures have to make up for it. Rude is also more of a cartoonist.

The main story is only 18 pages, leaving room for a brief set of epilogues drawn (as were the previous few issues) by Pérez and Mike DeCarlo. Gar Logan and Jillian get chewed out by Steve Dayton (who looks a lot like Reed Richards here) for letting Donna use the Dayton mansion for the wedding without his permission. Dayton also happens to know Swamp Thing, although it's not clear how.

Terry then gets a sendoff from a handful of his naughty! female students as again, Marv and George use wedding-related events to show that all of the ancillary characters are obsessed with sex. The issue ends with a short scene between Jericho and Raven, with him sensing something wrong and her warning him away.

Tales #49 (December 1984) features more shenanigans by Terry's groomsmen, the Midlife Crisis Brigade ...

... as well as the dramatic reappearance of Sharon Tracy, Donna's roommate from back in the dizzay. According to, Sharon first appeared in Teen Titans #22 (July-August 1969), the Marv Wolfman-written issue that first related Donna's origin (establishing her as different from a young Wonder Woman) and introduced her red long-pantsed costume. Therefore, it's nice to see her again, hanging out with Lilith Clay (herself appearing for the first time since the Titans West days, I believe) and Diana Prince.

Didn't Gene Siskel once say his test of good characterization was whether he'd want to have lunch with the characters? Well, all the wedding subplots are fairly drama-free, so these framing sequences and epilogues are the equivalent. They're often corny, but they're still enjoyable.

The bulk of #49 concerns Wally West and Frances Kane's guerilla warfare against Doctor Light. Somehow he can turn himself into a ball of light and break into the Central City bank, but after he surrounds himself with darkness he can't stop Frances' magnetically-hurled implements of destruction. In other words, Light is just powerful enough to be a menace for about six pages. Wally spends the fight running too fast to be seen (he still has a secret identity at this point but left his costume at Titans' Tower when he retired), saving bystanders, and getting clocked by Light's invisible forcefield. Anyway, Light is eventually so bumfuzzled by Fran's attacks that he begs the cops to take him away. I used to think that Mark Waid was solely responsible for Fran's descent into psycho-hosebeast territory, but dialogue here lays the foundation for it pretty well. Frances tells Wally she enjoys using her powers, and while Wally's jokes are in the "glad you're on my side!" vein, it's hard not to think of her shrewish future here.

Turns out Wally and Fran's adventure delayed their meeting with the Flash, who's right in the middle of his murder trial at this point. Flash basically tells Wally that puberty has screwed with his powers, so that using his speed is not only harmful, it could be fatal. The issue ends with a couple of quiet scenes -- Donna and Terry relaxing on the night before the wedding, and a virtually static final page where Wally leaves a sweet RSVP on Donna's answering machine. Now, crank up the organ and cue the doves -- it's time for the Wedding of Donna Troy!

First off, Tales #50 (February 1985) is a beautiful comic. Perez says goodbye with a flourish, using his layouts to freeze time for the literally life-changing moments that deserve them. Donna's appearance at the ceremony ...

... and the happy couple's first married kiss ...

...are exquisitely framed to capture both their sweep and intimacy.

The issue builds a certain amount of tension, too, through sequences on Paradise Island meant to suggest some problem for Donna and/or Diana to solve; and through corresponding sequences at Dayton Estates suggesting someone creeping around. However, there are no supervillains interrupting this remarkably mundane occasion, just Queen Hippolyte getting special dispensation from the gods to leave Paradise Island and give Donna her blessing in person. Indeed, Donna's wedding is a fairy-tale affair after all.

The only Titan not present at the wedding is Raven, hiding in Azarath's dimension and literally afraid to show her face as she becomes more consumed by Trigon. In fact, Raven is the only costumed character in the issue, if you don't count Cyborg's armor under his tuxedo. Still, everyone else is there, clearly identified and placed in context, including most of Titans West. Some of the "civilians" don't fare as well -- Donna's family from "Who Is Donna Troy?" are all around, of course, but there's not much to help the casual reader with them. There are also a number of "insider" cameos, including Marv and George themselves and colorist Adrienne Roy. "Phoenicia," designer of the bridal party's gowns, was a friend of Perez's, and apparently a number of fans even got to see themselves drawn into the issue. I think they're ogling Bruce and Dick.

The regular cast has a lot to do, naturally. Gar shows some unexpected maturity as wedding coordinator, sublimating his continued angst over Terra's death pretty well. Vic throws a little fit when he finds out Steve Dayton's been using the Mento helmet to conceal Vic's cybernetic implants, but he and Gar make up. Joey shows his mom (in her first appearance since "The Judas Contract," so that's a little jarring) his portrait of the happy couple and, honestly, it looks like it should be on the side of a van.

Kory probably has the least to do, story-wise, but she has to share bridesmaid duties with Sharon and Diana. Dick gets to confess his platonic love for Donna, and he also caps the subplot of being "estranged" from Bruce with a warm scene that, yes, informs a similar scene in last summer's Justice League of America #0.

Those Dick/Donna and Dick/Bruce scenes are still pretty effective. Dick/Babs is the "meant-to-be" relationship now, and there was never really any hint that Dick and Donna were more than friends. Thus, it doesn't seem like much of a stretch to transfer Dick's feelings for Donna over to Babs, especially when both become unattached.

As for Dick/Bruce, talk of Natalia "Nocturna" Knight adopting Jason Todd, plus the last panel where each toasts the other and his team, places this scene squarely in the transitory mid-1980s. I never quite believed Bruce's paternal feelings towards Jason (or Tim, for that matter), mostly because pre-Crisis Jason seems to spend more time with Dick. For that matter, it made more sense to me that Bruce would feel like Dick's big brother, not his dad, so their relationship as guardian and ward were more appropriate. However, this scene defined the Bruce/Dick relationship for a whole lot of people for many years to come, and who am I to argue?

The wedding itself does have a few cringeworthy moments. Both Michael Jackson and Sting* make cameos, and depending on how you feel about the late John Denver, "Annie's Song" as the First Dance may be a dealbreaker. Also, while Dick, Joey, and Mal "Hornblower" Duncan are all shown rocking out while the regular band takes five, apparently Roy Harper no longer wishes to relive his Great Frog days.

Maybe the best thing about this issue is that it makes the wedding and reception look fun. It's the kind of shindig you wish you could put on, and if you've ever had to plan a wedding, it's the kind of party you hope you threw. The buildup to #50, and especially #49's last couple of pages, convey pretty well the crest of tension that any newlywed-to-be feels the night before. By the day of, there's nothing you can do about it: either it works or it doesn't, so just let it happen. Thankfully, Marv and George (and inker Dick Giordano, with an assist by DeCarlo again) made sure it all worked. I have to say, when I started going to my own friends' weddings a few years after this issue came out, it was always in the back of my mind. It was there too when the Best Fiancee Ever and I started thinking about our own nuptials. I didn't lobby for "Annie's Song," but I wouldn't have kicked it off the playlist.

Like I said with regard to "Who Is Donna Troy," this issue works almost despite the fact that there's not much more to Donna beyond being pretty and nice. However, the peculiar alchemy Wolfman and Perez were able to use on her has turned that around into a kind of unequivocal goodwill -- that because she's so nice, we don't want anything bad to happen to her, and we even actively wish her well. Indeed, we probably feel sorry for her that much more when she gets stuck with thankless expository 52 backups.

But that's getting too far ahead of ourselves. For now, I'm happy to let Donna and Terry enjoy their honeymoon.

Next: Rich Buckler comes aboard, Cheshire returns, and Gar gets closure with the Terminator!

*Actually, it might have been John Constantine having some fun, even if his first appearance was still a while away. He did know Steve Dayton, after all.

No comments: