Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

DCU Continuity for Terra: The Rosebud of the Citizen Kane of Comic Books

Gar: "Of course.  But this is -- all wrong?" Blackest Night: Titans #1 (Oct. 2009)

Why write a continuity for such a hated character?  I wrote this continuity and analysis because I’ve always been deeply impressed by the Judas Contract as one of the greatest stories ever told in superhero comics. It is an undisputed classic, the height of what can be achieved in the medium. As a young fan in the 1980s, like many teenaged readers of the New Teen Titans at the time, I bought the issues at a newsstand, and yes, Marv Wolfman and George Perez ruined the summer of 1984 for me with the death of this charismatic and troubled character. Reading a story like that at such an impressionable age was like sitting in a master class on the tremendous power this genre of pulp fiction can have when it’s at its best. The serial format also meant that the full story – including the NTT Doom Patrol arcs – unfolded from about 1981 to 1984. There were no solicitations, no previews, no internet boards to give you a hint of what was coming. The aftermath stories are still unfolding today. It is impossible to convey to younger comics fans, or newer fans of the Cartoon Network version of Terra, what that long time delay did in terms of understanding this story and the character.

The way we read comics has changed, and that has affected our appreciation of characters. At the time, the end of the Judas Contract sent shock waves through its readership. I know people who haven’t picked up a comic book in 25 years – but they remember the Judas Contract. This was the hottest storyline in the hottest title in the whole comic book industry. I read the X-men and New Mutants (along with a load of other titles) in this era too, and this story was bigger than anything Charles Xavier could have imagined. It was arguably bigger than the late 70s’ Dark Phoenix Saga, and that is really saying something. That’s because the readers trusted Terra as much as the Titans trusted her. Wolfman and Perez drew the readers right into the Titans’ team mentality. And they did it right at the point when organized fan communities that regularly debated storylines began to form for the first time. The comics industry was at a transition point. Fans started buying their books at specialty comic shops rather than newsstands. You could hear the latest industry gossip there, buy trade mags, and conventions started to become larger affairs where fans began to gather. Many older fans now declare their undying hatred of Tara Markov, perhaps because Tara’s betrayal sank in and hit them in a way that made them never forgive the character. But I remember what people were saying around the comic shops I went to in the summer of 1984. The shock at her suicide was universal and there was a lot more sympathy for the character than there is now. That sympathy was probably what inspired an editorial mandate to revive a doppelgänger of the character in 1991, Terra 2, whose common identity with the original girl was always in question. Terra 2 still retains that sympathy, although DC killed her off in 2007 and rebooted her in Terra 3, a mostly unrelated character (at least so far) with the same powers.

New fans mainly come to the Judas Contract now via the Cartoon Network cartoon, or through online summaries with a few panel scans, or by way of the trade paperback, which published only the essential story arc of Terra’s betrayal. There is no context, no time delay, and the readers know the outcome before they even pick up the book – there’s no surprise. They have no sympathy for Terra – and why should they?

The twist that Terra really was evil went against all comic narrative conventions, which was why it was so powerful. If you were in your early teens when it all came to a head in that summer (a summer already awash in a paranoia blitz because it was the year in which George Orwell’s futuristic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four was set), it was a lot to digest. Just to be clear: I accepted the outcome of the story. I don’t think Tara should have turned out to be the Titans’ Kitty Pryde after all. This arc demonstrated that there are bad people in the world who will do bad things to you for no reason. At the same time, I don’t accept the current harsh dismissal of Tara Markov as ‘pure evil,’ nor do I think you can understand the first girl without looking at her duplicate and her triplicate versions. To do otherwise is a naive and simplistic way of writing, let alone reading, the themes of generational revenge, grief, trust, friendship, love, sex, insanity, betrayal, guilt, power, responsibility, life, death, good and evil that dominated this story. For all the incontrovertible statements of treachery and evil around her, because of all these themes, Tara Markov is still a mystery.

For a story that declared itself so completely finished, something about the Judas Contract always struck me as incomplete. I think it was the closing couple of pages, where the all-knowing narrator shuts the door on the character forever:
“Don’t look for reasons which do not exist – plainly, Tara Markov is what she is.”
A lot of fans took that at face value and were shocked, but satisfied. But Terra was one of my favourite characters, so that sentence was like the word “Rosebud” in a comic book version of Citizen Kane.  It was a key to and beginning of a mystery, not an unambiguous answer that successfully explained a character’s life. Writing (let alone reading) this continuity may resemble the journalists in Citizen Kane who try to find out what “Rosebud” meant. You can sift through all the wreckage, but does that get you any closer to an answer? In some cases, yes. In some cases, you may stare at the answer right in the face and not recognize it. At any rate, I followed titles like Batman and the Outsiders, to keep track of Terra’s brother. I was fascinated by the Markovs’ fictional homeland of Markovia. What a place! What a back story! The mystery got deeper. Terra’s back story has never been fully or clearly presented, especially in Titans titles. But in the Outsiders titles, it’s become clear over the past 25 years that Markovia is the kind of country where being the “national embarrassment” (as Tara called herself) could only make her more interesting.

What woke me up to the character again was 2009’s mini, Titans: Blackest Night. This continuity for Terra runs up to and includes Blackest Night. I dug through back issues and put it together to give Tara back her context. Either that context’s been lost over time, or many readers never knew it in the first place. I also wanted to get at the mystery around her, to understand why an evil character could be sympathetic and win trust in the first place – then win such undying hatred from many fans. I wondered why, for example, there is so little sympathy for Tara Markov, and so much for Deathstroke? Then there are the Gar-Tara and Gar-Raven shippers. Whatever you think you know about these romances and these characters, almost all of the soapy melodrama goes back to this story, one way or another. Above all, I wanted to understand how this story worked as a combined piece of writing and art – and how and why it didn’t work. Classically, DC is all about superheroic values and legacies. In trying to understand Tara Markov, I learned a lot about both, especially how one big story (out of so many) in the DCU can shed light on the hidden connected histories of the Titans, the Outsiders, the Doom Patrol and the JLA and what the separate traditions of each team mean.

WARNING: SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! FOLLOW IN THIS CONTINUITY.  This continuity for Terra lists issues and plots, along with relevant continuities for Brion Markov, the Outsiders, Gar Logan, the Titans, and Markovia. There are three multi-parts to this continuity: Terra in the 1980s; Terra in the 1990s; and Terra in the 2000s. This continuity is not a complete reading list of every single issue that had Terra, Geo-Force, their teams, Markovia, or Dr. Jace in it. This continuity focuses on issues where important stories related to Terra moved forward. I have tried to locate and summarize all different versions and retcons of big events, like Terra 1’s death.

My interpretations beyond describing those different versions are just that – one perspective on these stories. I’m aware that Tara Markov is a widely disliked character, so I hope people won’t mind if she gets a retread here. Please don’t quote my comments and interpretations in this blog piece without writing to me for permission. All the characters, images, and stories are copyrighted by DC and are DC’s property. They are discussed and images are posted here solely for the purposes of analysis and review. Sources for this continuity come from digging through my comic book collection. I also checked reading lists and images at Titans Tower; The Unofficial Guide to the DC Universe; Cosmic Teams; Comic Vine; the Grand Comics Database; DC Comics Database; The Source; Scans Daily (links here and here); the Continuity Blog; and Ferret Press Panel Blog, as well as other blogs.




All DC Comics stories, characters and the distinctive likenesses thereof are Trademarks & Copyright © DC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.


  1. Thank you for writing this entry about Terra - If you remember at the end of NTT Vol 1 #27 issue, it mentioned the next issue (it said something like:

    "Terra - Another name for Terror!"

    I always find her fascinating character -- people felt that she was evil, nutcase or whatever it is to justify her actions - even we never knew why she is like that.

    The bottom line is: Evil or not, she is Terra! You gotta love her like that!


  2. Thanks for your comment. Terra is a notoriously difficult character. Although the character worked within the story as Wolfman and Perez presented her, her back story was left wide open. This leaves us guessing. So it's a story that was made to work and not work at the same time. That shows you how accomplished Terra's creators are.

    That said, many characters have done worse - such as Hawk, Raven, Deathstroke, Jade, Jericho, Ravager - and yet somehow they have 'get out of jail free' cards. I wrote this continuity to understand how the story worked (and still works), how it doesn't, and to see why there is this double standard.