Saturday, March 01, 2008

Extreme Makeover: Tales of the Teen Titans #s 56-58

It's never felt quite right to me that this Cyborg/Fearsome Five arc should take up three whole issues. The Fearsome Five subplot feels rather perfunctory; and the Cyborg one has no real consequences. Still, for a story that purports to give Vic Stone the skin-deep "humanity" he has ostensibly craved ever since the series began, three issues isn't bad. Any fewer and the subject isn't taken seriously; too many more and it's just toying with the reader.

Of course, any drama would be sucked out of Vic's storyline if a reader remembered seeing ads for the direct-market-only NTT Vol. 2, or even Crisis On Infinite Earths, which showed him apparently unchanged. I suppose someone in the reverse situation -- a direct-market reader who still kept up with Tales -- might wonder a little more about Vic's flirtation with skin-colored parts.

While Vic is the Ben Grimm of the Titans, Ben actually did lose his orange hide every so often. By contrast, Vic has been stuck with his cybernetic parts constantly, and so has had time to get used to them. Moreover, his work with Sarah Simms' kids has helped him become a new kind of role model. In short, Vic should be above this kind of "I realize now that it's what's on the inside" story, but hey -- there's three issues to kill, and it makes an appropriate bookend to the monster-from-Vic's-origin which appeared in DC Comics Presents #26.

So, then, on to the issues themselves. Your penciller for this arc is Chuck Patton, inked by the familiar Mike DeCarlo in Tales #56 (August 1985). The issue begins at STAR Labs' hospital facility, where Raven breaks up an attempt by armored stormtroopers to hijack a mysterious iron-lunged patient being overseen by DC stalwart Dr. Jenet Klyburn. Raven's none too happy that the troopers are indirectly endangering the life of a little girl who's also a patient, so she metes out Trigon-flavored punishment on the troopers while using her own (much expanded) healing abilities to cure just about everyone in the ward. As it happens, though, the raid succeeds.

Meanwhile, Joey and his mom return from Europe. They're greeted by Gar, who apologizes profusely for his flagrantly emo storyline. (Also, I forgot to mention last time -- in #53, Cheshire reveals that one of the Titans is her baby daddy. Now, no fair spoiling it for the rest of us!)

After a brief interlude with Vic and Sarah Simms, which addresses some concerns about the propriety of his subplot, the Fearsome Five (minus Dr. Light) raid Tri-State Prison looking for their own mystery person. Nightwing, Wonder Girl, and Starfire try unsuccessfully to stop them.

In between all of that, Vic goes under Dr. Klyburn's knife. Seems that although he's happy with his super-heroic state, he sees the procedure as a chance to correct the original accident and live an ordinary life. It's an offer he can't really refuse.

The issue ends not on a Vic-related cliffhanger, however, but with Donna and Kory in a deathtrap situation. Regardless, Tales #57 (September 1985) picks up with Vic de-plated, having come through the surgery okay. In fact, Kory and Donna's escape from said deathtrap is never really explained, so there you go. Must not have been too bad.

This issue slows down in order to examine each of its parallel tracks: Vic meets his new physical therapist, the femulleted Dr. Sarah Charles; the Titans hit the training field to prepare better for their next fight; and the Fearsome Five (knowingly abbreviated "FF" by the Titans) get to know their new teammate, Jinx. Everything converges when the FF -- who were behind the raid on STAR that opened #56 -- can't figure out how to revive their other mystery member, and decide to kidnap Dr. Klyburn. They also take her "assistant" Vic, who they don't recognize without the parts. The Titans investigate, but don't get anywhere beyond learning about Vic's surgery.

Mystery Date turns out to be Neutron, a Wildfire-like Superman villain, and Vic helps Dr. K. sabotage Neutron's iron lung so it'll explode when opened. Unfortunately, while Vic and the Doc escape, the strain's too much for Vic's new parts. Accordingly, Tales #58 (October 1985) shows Vic getting his cyborg parts back while the other Titans duke it out with the Fearsome Six. I should point out that during this fight, Psimon is beamed up to the Monitor's satellite where he'll stay for three months (!) while Crisis On Infinite Earths pre-heats. Furthermore, Jericho is put to good use, body-jumping from one Fearsome Fiver to another and generally giving the Titans a decisive advantage. I've never really liked the Fearsome Five, even when Wolfman and Perez were making them deliberately over-the-top. Here they're just annoying, and the fight is rather bland.

A word about the art: Chuck Patton is a competent storyteller, but not really an innovative one. His characters are on-model, he can draw action and expressions equally well, and his figures have some flashes of personality. He's inked in #56 by Mike DeCarlo and in the other two issues by Romeo Tanghal, two strong inkers who tend to impose their own styles on pencils. Ultimately, though, if he were getting steady work from DC today, he'd be pencilling Countdown. His stuff gets the job done, and that's about it.

At the end of the issue, when everyone's gathered around Vic's bedside, he backpedals a bit ("I thought I got used to the way I looked, but I really didn't") and actually says "it's what's goin' on inside [that counts]." So ... yeah. In the other epilogue, the Titans present Jericho with his own life-size wall poster to hang alongside the others in Titans' Tower's wood-paneled meeting room.

And so we bid adieu to The New/Tales of the Teen Titans Vol. 1. In the end, this arc is probably best remembered for the introduction of Jinx, a character who'll go on to bigger and better things as part of the "Teen Titans" cartoon. It also closes out a period lasting over a year where, except for issue #50, the core group of Titans never appeared together. From the end of "The Judas Contract" through this issue, at least one Titan (mostly Gar and/or Vic, but sometimes Donna and/or Joey) was absent from the group. I'm not even counting Raven, whose storyline is about to heat up in a big way, and who'll thereafter be absent from the group for a good two years.

We'll pick up next time with the first arc from New Teen Titans Vol. 2. It's the last bit of George Perez's first run on the title, and it also works as a bookend to Vol. 1's first extended storyline.

Next: Wait 'til your father gets home...

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