TIMES, TIME, AND HALF A TIME. A HISTORY OF THE NEW MILLENNIUM.

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.



Showing posts with label Garfield Logan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Garfield Logan. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

You Can't Go Home Again: DC Judas Contract Review


Still from Teen Titans: The Judas Contract (2017) © DC/Warner. Reproduced non-commercially under Fair Use. Image Source: The Good Men Project.

Some of the most popular posts I ever wrote on this blog took me back to the summer before I left home for the first time to go away to school. I was 14. In that period before first independence, I read DC Comics' The Judas Contract. This is a story about a 16-year-old girl, Tara Markov, who tries to kill her boyfriend and friends to please a much older man with whom she is having sex. When she fails, she kills herself.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Art of the Retcon 3: Time and Heroism in the Multiverse


Morrison's 18 Days retells the great Mahabharata in an animated CGI drama on Youtube (you can watch it here). 18 days is the length of the battle in the Mahabharata. Image Source: Broken Frontier.

The wavering fictional reality of DC Comics resembles theories from today's quantum physicists.  A comic book fantasy of multiple Earths and multi-dimensional universes aligns with contemporary scientific ideas of a fractured multiverse and mysterious dark matter.  It makes one wonder: if our physicists are right and the multiverse is real, what sort of creatures are we because of it, and how do we feel its effects?

Multiversity #1 (October 2014). "Every comic you ever read is real." – Grant Morrison. Behind the Panels review: "Morrison directly challenges the reader. 'Whose voice is speaking in your head anyway? Yours?' The same narration urges us to stop reading. That’s when things get beautifully weird."

Are we pawns of a larger order we will never perceive? Scottish writer Grant Morrison would say: yes. He is delivering his long-promised crossover, Multiversity, right now via DC Comics, and a glance at the multiversal map below shows that he is combining years of esoteric interests - mind expansion through drug dreams, a fascination with ancient Indian epics and religions, and a belief (expressed in 2012's Supergods) that modern superheroes are manifestations of ancient gods. More importantly, in Multiversity, the heroes exist along a metafictional continuity with our reality and time. They are part of humankind's long quest to define the line between creation and destruction, from which everything else follows in this world, and other worlds too.

DC's map of the Multiversity (August-September 2014; click to enlarge). Image Source: DC Entertainment.

From 2009 to 2013, Morrison worked with Dynamite Entertainment and Liquid Comics to produce 18 Days, a retelling of the Mahabharata, in which a classic Indian battle sees the age of gods give way to the age of men. Two of the founders of Liquid Comics are author Deepak Chopra and his son, Gotham Chopra. Deepak Chopra famously discussed these ideas with Morrison at several comics conventions; the Chopras also published a book about it, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Superheroes (2011). CBR reported on one such discussion in 2006 in San Diego:
Superheroes, in Chopra's view, are not external beings. "These are archetypal beings that stoke the fire of life and passion in our own souls. These are potentials that exist within us, and by creating these superheroes through our own collective imagination, we are in a way serving our deepest longings, our deepest aspirations, and our deepest desires to escape the world of the mundane and the ordinary and do things that are magical."
Morrison draws from Indian traditions to marry that consciousness to the cosmos of existence. Thoughts become physical substances in other dimensions. The great epic of the multiverse involves the genesis of values in that consciousness through dharma and karma, action and negative action, creation and destruction, good and evil. In our reality, mythical heroes are legendary archetypes. But Morrison insists that these paragons embody physical forms in other times and places.








18 Days concept art by Mukesh Singh. Images Sources: Decode Hindu Mythology, Comic Vine, Concept Art, Dynamite Comics, Planet Damage, Mukesh Singh.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Eduardo Barreto: Titanic Farewells

Raven: post-resurrection emotions of a character. NTT Vol. 2, #39 (Jan. 1988). 

This has been a strange holiday season.  Every week, I have heard about 3-4 deaths, either acquaintances, or public figures. Today, more sad news. Farewell to a fine illustrator from Uruguay, Eduardo Barreto, who died on December 15.  He graced the pages of DC's Titans title from 1985 to 1988.  He followed on this series in the wake of huge fan favourites George Pérez and José Luis García-López.  At the time, the New Teen Titans was still one of the hottest American comic books in the world, pencilled by two of the industry's most famous talents.  Barreto filled the shoes of his predecessors and more.  He made the characters his own.

Barreto had the tough task of making a resurrected, post-apocalyptic Raven have emotions when she had never had them before.  The cover above from 1988 was Raven's first real smile since her introduction in 1980.  After Pérez tore her apart, it took Barreto to show how a character, reborn after death, shot through with evil, would manifest emotions for the first time and bizarrely - yet haltingly and believably - come back to life to experience some joy.
New and old gods. NTT Vol. 2, #9 (June 1985).

Below the jump, some examples of Baretto's work from that period.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Reflections on the Revolving Door of Death 7: DC's Epic Fail with the Titans and their Heroines: Terra, Raven, Donna Troy, Starfire

Raven, drawn by Diego Latorre.  Hat tip: Titans Tower.

This post was originally supposed to be simply an introductory piece for a series of posts on the character Raven, similar to the series I did for Terra (here) - the second in a blog series on the Titans' heroines' continuities. But last week's releases made me expand the introductory post on the Raven continuity series, to make a general comment on DC's treatment of the main Titans women. To see my whole review of Raven's continuity as a study of how a horror character works, please continue reading here.

On 28 September, DC ended the first month of its reboot.  Last week's Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 marked a new low in the company's two-decade devaluation and dismemberment of one of its flagship franchises, the Titans. From one end of comics-related corners of the Internet to the other, fans are debating Starfire's transformation into a low grade, soft porn, amnesiac sex doll for the sexually and cerebrally challenged (for reviews, go here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here; and discussions here and here).  But like I say, this is just the latest in dozens of outrages inflicted on these characters. The bad treatment of the Titans stems from DC's enforcement of hierarchy associated with superhero generations, or legacies, which I've blogged about here

As far as the Titans are concerned, the record over the past decade especially proves it won't get better until the editors at DC change. The classic Titans are a special barometer for this because they are the original legacy characters, the second tier, who against all odds in the 1980s made it and became something different and better than their elders. If anything is going right or wrong in the DC universe, you'll see it in the Titans first, because DC is about legacies even more than it is about Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.  DC is having trouble handling its legacies concept, and it really shows.

Sidekicks were originally introduced to humanize DC's stalwart A-list heroes; Robin debuted as a joke-cracking young doppelgänger of Bruce Wayne, who could lighten Batman up.  Over time, the Titans became the echo-A-listers who could do edgy, even Marvelesque, stories the A-listers couldn't.  That included being flawed, as with Speedy's drug addiction.  But it wasn't always a weakness: Gar Logan was the Doom Patroller who didn't go insane - or whose sanity, at least, was a given - despite his never-ending confrontation with death, typical of all DP characters.  The phenomenal success of the New Teen Titans proved that there was a huge area around the A-listers of potential story-telling that could never be done with the A-listers because the latter were too powerful or too perfect.  But the NTT was successful because it did not follow the Marvel formula all the way.  The Titans always reasserted a DC ethic of pure, true-blue heroism in the eleventh hour.  They made you want to stand up and cheer for them, because they were troubled, but they stood by each other and always found a way through the nightmare.  In a way, that was a greater heroic journey than anything Superman faced when he battled Luthor, or when Batman struggled against the Joker; those threats were externalized.  With the Titans, threats were always external and internal.  They struggled as much with the dark parts of A-list legacies as they did with external villains.

Tossing the classic Titans under the bus is problematic not just for their fans, but in the long run, for DC. I have to quote Dan from It's a Dan's World: "I'd put to the jury the Perez/Wolfman era of that franchise is as key to the compan[y's] success as Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns." He's right. Why? Because that era of the NTT solved the legacy problem, and removed glass ceilings that the powers that be are now so keen to maintain. The NTT established that characters could move laterally in interesting ways that allowed them to flourish beneath their absent mentors' shadows.

In the NTT, these characters could be flawed, over-burdened by impossibly huge legacies, and still triumph in different ways, based on their personalities and their individual characterizations.  It wasn't just 'about family' which has become the cloying cliché that DC's editors (even Wolfman, now) never tire of harping on about.  The Titans did and should demonstrate how DC's legacies could be a viable concept.  During the 90s, the Titans lost a lot of their drive, given that the writer Wolfman, who still had a fine ear for the characters, was exhausted and facing editorial mandates.  He also lost control of Dick Grayson to the Bat editors.  This is a critical problem for the Titans, because the Titans are Dick Grayson's gift to the rest of the DC Universe, separate from anything he ever did with Batman.  He is the first and best Titan.  In return, the Titans made Grayson, the first Robin, their ultimate leader, an individual and a respected hero.

The Titans, who overcame their derivative origins and became heroes that made it were broken down during the 1990s.  They had finally torturously been reset by Devin Grayson into something recognizable by 1998-1999 in the Technis Imperative.  Under the recent editorial régime of Dan Didio at DC, that picture changed.  Didio's entrance coincided with Geoff Johns's handling of the Titans in the 2003, which is considered a good run.  But in retrospect, Johns planted the seeds for the current mess. 

I don't know where and when Johns lost his grasp of the Titans, but I think we have to go back to this period to find it.  He supplanted the original Titans with weakened, watered-down, nth-level legacy characters (Young Justice).  Johns's vision dove-tailed well with Winick's kill off of the Titans' strongest members in Graduation Day (2003); these were characters who caused greatest static with the A-listers (Donna Troy) or who gave the Titans their claim to being a separate original and independent franchise in the DCU (Lilith) .  The Titans then showcased some really ugly concepts (Terror Titans, 2008). They became totally disposable (see: the long list of Titans' deaths from the 2000s).  They could commit murder and do Fountain-of-Youth drugs derived from the remains dead children (Roy Harper).  They could lose all dignity and previous characterizations that once showed why their superficial natures were never their internal realities (Gar Logan and Starfire).  They could lose their identities completely in their legacies (Dick Grayson).  Or they could be wordlessly and relentlessly sidelined until there was nothing left of them (Wally West).  This treatment of the classic Titans, but also the Young Justice characters (who are incredibly, getting preferential treatment from DC, although looking at them, you'd never know it) reveals that DC's top editors do not understand legacies or how they should function in this fictional universe.  Nowhere is this more obvious than in the idiotic DCnU attempt to de-age the A-listers and force Titans' tropes onto them, but without the promise of final victory rooted in characterization, heart and camaraderie.  DC is trying to wipe the Titans off the map, and turn the A-listers into Titans. DCnU is the Titansverse writ large, but without the soul that made Titans stories work.  Ironic?

Speaking of loss of soul, Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 continued DC's treatment of heroes as non-heroes.  It's a post 9/11, ramped up Marvel feet-of-clay idea.  As far as I can tell from Co-Publisher Dan Didio's work on the Outsiders, this is his ideal approach: lots of action and sex - low on words and minimal characterization - with heroes so flawed that they're practically villains.  The moral vacuum is the new seat of virtue.  None of this works well with DC characters, who, once upon a time, offset their godlike status with complex characterization, stories - and yes, complicated legacies.  Once upon a time, DC was not the house of simplistic, wordless, internalized failure.  The degradation of Starfire took DC one step closer to that end.

This is mass entertainment that clearly states what kind of audience it thinks is out there: the lowest common denominator.  The book and its editors are insulting the readership with this expectation.  They are especially insulting fans who like the book.  Even the bait and switch typical of Didio-era story-telling is unlikely for DCnU's 52.  This is not a set-up for a better story.  Don't believe the lie: it's not going to be all right after all.  As Shirley MacLaine said: "Sometimes deep down, there is no deep down."

Todd explains that Kory can't remember her history with the Titans and can't distinguish between men she has sex with. Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 (Nov. 2011).

The problem with Red Hood and the Outlaws is that it is the title associated with any reassembly of the classic Titans in the DCnU.  And there is plenty wrong here - obviously deliberately introduced to build expectations about this new universe: the issue completely destroyed Starfire's character.  It also subtly transplanted Dick Grayson's dark, crazy doppelgänger, Jason Todd, as the new leader of Grayson's Titanic legacy.  I have some sympathy for Todd, but he's being used here as an instrument to turn the tables - to turn Nightwing's separate, non-Bat adventures upside down - to finally and completely undermine Grayson's accomplishment with a separate legacy franchise that at its best was stronger and better than the Justice League of America.  Before we even get to Kory's new airhead interest in mechanical anonymous sex, the first issue featured three former Titans cavalierly murdering people.  They are 'outlaws,' with standards to match.

Kory and her nU personality.  Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 (Nov. 2011).

It's ironic that Red Hood and the Outlaws came out last week.  On the same day, New Teen Titans: Games finally hit shops.  The worst thing about the uproar over Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 is that it has drowned out appreciation of Games, a graphic novel from the creators (Wolfman and Perez) who made the Titans world-famous; Games was over twenty years in the making, of the highest quality, and worth the wait.  This is typical of the malaise at DC.  The quality product goes to the bottom of the pile, while the intentionally worst reimagining possible of the same characters gets pushed to the fore by viral Internet marketing, propelled by bottom-of-the-barrel scandal-hype and cheap sensationalism. Maybe this is supposed to be the nU reality dystopia that would have existed in a world where Jason Todd stepped into Dick Grayson's shoes.  DC has also stated that the DCnU is an opportunity to do stories they could never normally have done had regular continuity stayed intact.

Whatever the rationale, the problems started long before the DCnU reboot.  DC's treatment of the Titans heroines has been one red flag after another on has gone wrong and why.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The World of Two Moons and Ur-Memory


How do we remember the times that are so far in the distant past that they are not only beyond history, but beyond memory? The ocean of time that earlier humanoid species and humans crossed before they even reached the outer boundaries of history is enormous: the Stone Age lasted 2.5 million years.  Archaeological and geological research is almost our only means of telling what transpired in that period.  Occasionally, these disciplines draw from astronomical findings, as with the report just out that the Earth may once have had two moons.

Myths and epics of deities and kings are the other remnants of that vast period of lost human experience, particularly of the last 20,000 years of the Stone Age (see my post on that period here).  How interesting it must be, then, for the creators and fans of Elfquest to hear news that this fantasy possibly overlaps with ancient prehistory.  Nature reported on the researchers' twin moon theory:
A new hypothesis claims the Earth may once have had two moons, which eventually crashed together forming our current celestial partner. This new idea, reported in the journal Nature, could explain a long standing puzzle about the differences between the near and far sides of the lunar surface. The near side is relatively low and flat with many large dark basalt mare, while the far side is high and mountainous, with thicker crust. The work, based on computer simulations undertaken by planetary scientists Erik Asphaug and Martin Jutzi from the University of California, Santa Cruz, claims the lunar far side highlands, are the solid remains of a collision with a smaller companion moon. 
While legends, ancient religious writings and folklore cannot be taken literally, they may contain weird, displaced grains of truth. For example, it is strange how old wives' tales preserve centuries' worth of domestic wisdom and tried-and-true practices: superstitions about cats bringing ill omens around nurseries turned out to have some credibility, as research into cat-borne diseases later showed.  In this case, the imaginary world of Elfquest features a fictional world with two moons.  Do myths, old or new, preserve bits of the distant past beyond memory? Can fragments of these tales catch a glimpse of lost reality?  No.  It would be foolish to assume that the Pinis, who created Elfquest in the late 1970s, somehow accurately imagined our planet's real prehistory.

But the 'two moons' here are a curious coincidence, which raises some questions.  What fundamental elements of human existence persist in oral tradition across aeons?  What is the basic common denominator of Ur-memory - what cultural material survives?  And how are these surviving fragments dressed up in ways that make them comprehensible now, for each new generation?  Pioneering work was done in this field by the Brothers Grimm in tracing fairy tales in Central Europe, even as they tracked the philological evolution of the German language.  Other attempts to categorize and thereby follow the spread of fairy tales and folktales include the Aarne Thompson classification system and Krohn's historic-geographic method.  But these systems deal with the core elements of stories across centuries or even millennia at most (through references to Greek texts).  They don't cover many thousands, or even millions, of years.

If myths mirror any literal truths that scientists later confirm, it's equally worth considering that researchers' interpretations of scientific results are sometimes coloured by contemporary expectations. Fantasy and science are on opposite sides of the looking-glass. In this case, Millennial dualism likely reflects in the latest theory that Earth once had two moons.  It's not that the science doesn't stand on its own: it can and often does.  But the flavour or tone of scientific interpretation - its metascientific subtext - is influenced by the Zeitgeist.

Dualism is fashionable right now but it's as old as the hills: dualistic legends focus on metaphors for the human struggle away from savagery. Fantasy's classic parables involve the struggle between good and evil in the human heart. In Elfquest, a Stone Age Earth with two moons is visited by aliens - the Elves - who get stranded on our planet. Using their highly evolved abilities, they interact with the earthly environment, and the result is a lot of strange, hybrid beings who are feared and worshipped by Stone Age humans as evil spirits and nature gods (see my posts on Elfquest here and here).  Primitive and advanced, familiar and alien, Elfquest's two moons may symbolize duality of consciousness.  Duality is a persistent motif in human stories across millennia. Modern legends, from popular fantasy novels to pulp fiction comic books, merely perpetuate the material once transmitted by oral tradition.

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Titans Dream Cast


It's weird when the publishers of a fictional universe erase a whole era.  This is what DC is doing with the whole Titans comics continuity. Ironically, the New Teen Titans graphic novel Games is coming out this fall.  Originally conceived by Marv Wolfman and George Perez and set in late 1980s' continuity, Games has been delayed for over twenty years. Yet it arrives just as these stories and characters are about to be completely retconned. 

The Games graphic novel finally revisits the heyday of Titans in the 1980s, right at the point when you would expect its revival. Instead, we are seeing an erasure.  For a giant sleeping Gen X fanbase, these comic book superheroes were DC's answer to Marvel's X-men, and Games should awake teen memories. It may get old fans interested in the characters again, even though the classic Titans are being rammed through and obliterated in the DCnU reboots.  DC has shown little interest in rediscovering what made this title great, reviving its superteen soap opera formula that merged so well with sci-fi, space epics, and magical themes.  DC also doesn't seem interested in returning to complex story-telling and characterization that made the Titans title famous.  As one fan on the DC boards remarked:
Funny, I was just reading Jim Shooter's blog (E[ditor] I[n] C[hief] at Marvel from 1978 - late 80's (I think)). Someone had posted something in the comments that reminded me of the current DC way of thinking:

"Steve Englehart has said on his website that around 1990 or so, Marvel editorial decreed that character development should basically stop, since the characters had evolved "too far from their roots."

And I think Marvel went bankrupt in the mid 90's.

Let's see if DC can do better with their version of this idea.
Now that Games will soon be published, the live action Titans movie that Warner is not making is next up.  If they ever do turn to the project, would they consider the Judas Contract for the screenplay?  Or the Terror of Trigon?  Other big storylines are the team's first trip to Tamaran, Titans Hunt, or a Brother Blood film. Below the jump, a post that shows the Titans a little love.  This is my favourite possible cast for a Titans film.  There are other suggestions out there (here, here, here, here, here and here), some of which I've drawn from for this post.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Reflections on the Revolving Door of Death 6: Saluting the Dearly Departed Doom Patrol

This is what Millennial comics should do: DP fighting a sentient black hole in front of the Large Hadron Collider. Doom Patrol vol. 5 #2 (November 2009).

We who are about to die salute you!  That's the gladitorial rallying cry of DC's ill-fated superteam known as the Doom Patrol.  On Valentine's Day, DC Comics announced the cancellation of several titles.  Among these was the fifth incarnation of Doom Patrol, written by Keith Giffen and drawn by Matthew Clark.  This cancellation to 'free up' creative talent for production of the summer comics blockbuster Flashpoint has prompted outcry from the DP's fans (there is a petition asking DC to save the title here).  This series had poor sales but great reviews; it was considered by many to be the publisher's most sophisticated title.  Today, the last issue of the series hits comic shops.

Why?  What makes any comic, belonging to a genre known for its clichéed action and romance, its cheesy borrowings from the epics, mythology, pulps, mystery, horror, romance and science fiction even come close to having pretensions? 

Comics are sometimes one of the areas of pop culture where certain ideas are tested before they become mainstream.  This series of blog posts on the 'Revolving Door of Death' is about the use of death in comics as a means to finding new values of heroism - a new moral compass - in times that are rapidly changing.  That change involves pushing the boundaries of superheroism past the point of no return.  In that regard, the Doom Patrol fits right in - and the title is still unique. 

First, the Revolving Door of Death. Comic book creators, especially mainstream publishers Marvel and DC, have earned a lot of criticism over the past twenty-five years for cheapening death and rebirth when they used them repeatedly as sensational devices for making money. More surprisingly, post 9/11, the editors at DC Comics have killed off hundreds of heroes.  Then, in a bid to make comic book killings 'more serious,' they recently announced that their characters will no longer be reborn.  But the deaths of superheroes continue.  This trend suggests a high degree of confusion and ambivalence.  DC has continually worn down the moral stature of its heroes.  The company has made them ever more flawed and weak - while building up its villains.  DC is letting evil win.

Why?  Does this reflect a crisis in American culture? Last week, DC had Superman renounce his American citizenship in Action Comics #900, a move which won the editors a lot of criticism in comics forums and the mainstream media.  Does this chime with the intense, politicized commentary against American campaigns abroad?  Marvel Comics, echoing the 1960s' voice of social criticism, can jump on that train without any problems.  But DC, the classic American comics company, is in a strange, ambiguous place right now.  Like her exhausted troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, America's heroes in the DC Universe are being pushed to the breaking point.  The question is where DC will go with this existential crisis and soul searching.  Comic books thrive on taking their characters to the greatest extremes possible, within the current bounds of taste and story-telling.  The catharsis comes when the heroes triumph against all odds.  DC has yet to pull off that gigantic catharsis.  Its creators are still in the midst of dragging its characters down deeper and deeper.

The Nascar accident which almost kills Cliff Steele. Doom Patrol vol. 5 #21 (June 2011).

In this context, the Doom Patrol is unusual, because they are already ahead of all of DC's other heroes as far as being pushed past the limits goes.  They were always a team 'out there,' beyond the pale.  DP stories demonstrate how changes and challenges to our concepts of life and death are transforming our society, our consciousness and our moral attitudes.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Generation X Goes Back to the Future 6: Thirty Years of DC's New Titans - A Tribute

NTT #1 (Nov. 1980)

Thirty years ago this month, the preview for a great new comics title, The New Teen Titans, came out in DC Comics Presents #26.  For fans like me, who picked up that issue at a plain old newsstand (I can still smell the cigarette smoke, chocolate and bubblegum in the store, which has long since closed), that preview and the issues that followed immediately stood out as something special.

I grew into adolescence reading this title as the 80s unfolded.  I read a lot of titles I'm sure my contemporaries would recognize: Atari Force, Alpha Flight, Amethyst, Legion of Superheroes, The Uncanny X-Men, The New Mutants, and later Elfquest, Love and Rockets, Swamp Thing, Hellblazer and Sandman, as well as several others - including mini-series like Sword of the Atom, Cloak and Dagger and Hawk and Dove, and ground-breaking graphic novels and limited series like The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: The Killing Joke, V for Vendetta, Crisis on Infinite Earths and The Watchmen.  But among all these great books, at its best, The New Teen Titans stood out, head and shoulders above the rest.  Maybe it's because the NTT captured the early-to-mid 1980s as seen from a youthful point of view so perfectly (the title had well passed its peak by the time the character Danny Chase was introduced in 1987).  The lineup of core NTT members is here.

Along with Claremont's revamped X-men from this period, the New Teen Titans are Generation X's superheroes.  There was something in the NTT title of a latchkey generation that felt (and still feels) forgotten, overlooked, misunderstood or dismissed by their elders.  At first Gen Xers, like their parents, were seduced by the glamour of 80s' high life.  But they were also the first witnesses of the private cost of that life within families.  Xers were compelled to survive in Brave New social settings and develop new values to cope in Postmodern and Post-Postmodern circumstances, while riding the economic booms and busts generated by their predecessors.  That's what The New Teen Titans was all about - and it was especially about building a family in a world where families had broken down.  Later Titans titles have picked up the same themes.  The Titans are a pop culture mirror held up to reveal the trials of a generation that has repeatedly absorbed the often unseen costs of Boomer-driven social change.  And for skeptics out there who don't read comic books and think they're just for kids - that's why this title is relevant. 

Every character fit a superficial Gen X stereotyped label endowed upon the cohort by the Boomers - but every character showed hidden depths that belied those labels. This is a big part of the Gen X experience - Xers were constantly being defined by Boomers, yet always knew in their hearts that they were something else. And so - Dick Grayson (the sell-out), Wally West (the Alex P. Keaton conservative), Donna Troy (the perfectionist), Gar Logan (the slacker), Victor Stone (the tech guy), Raven (the New Age wicca girl), Koriand'r (the anti-feminist sex bomb).

Beneath these Xer stereotypes, every superhero on this team was an anthropomorphized version of a specific archetype - an incarnation of a particular heroic value.  For years, Boomers have accused Xers of being cynical, ungrateful and nihilistic.  A close reading of this pulp fictional corner of pop culture can tell you at a glance how profoundly wrong they are.  Generation X's values are, however, very difficult for Boomers to perceive, let alone understand.  The bonds between the Titans represented how their heroic values played out as Xers struggled for years with a prolonged, misunderstood, cohort-wide introspection on behalf of their entire society. They also had to take on the legacies of their predecessors without compromising their own identities and convictions.

This is a tribute to the Titans as pop fiction icons that shows different ways that these superheroes reflected the Gen X experience.  That's before we even look to the obvious accomplishments of DC's creators: Marv Wolfman, George Perez, Romeo Tanghal, John Costanza, Adrienne Roy, Len Wein and their immediate successors - including Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, Eduardo Barreto and Phil Jiminez.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Unforgiven: DCU Continuity for Terra

Tales of the Teen Titans, Vol. 1 Annual (1984) The Judas Contract, Part 4: "Finale"

I’m putting together a continuity for Terra to place the famous Judas Contract story in the larger context related to Geo-Force, Markovia, Titans and Outsiders, because recently it seems that many readers look at the four issues of the JC story, and only that, to get their whole take on this character.

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.

DCU Continuity for Terra: Part 1.1 - The Material Girl: Terra in the 1980s


Tara has a postcoital debriefing with Slade Wilson. NTT #39 (Feb. 1984)

The 1980s

In the 1980s, the New Teen Titans plugged into the mood of the decade. The title especially reflected the feel in New York at the time: the city was a background character in the book. In this ‘greed is good’ decade of conspicuous consumption, Wall Street  glitz had a 9 1/2 Weeks and Bonfire of the Vanities dark underside. With Raven’s back story, the title picked up on the events from the receding 1970s like Jonestown, and added early 1980s’ economic stresses that turned into a financial boom, inner city crime waves, vigilantes, terrorist scares, the Iran hostage crisis, the Cold War, and presidential anti-drug campaigns. But from the start, the NTT team members also had 80s-styled dynamism and optimism – and money, accomplishment, power, celebrity, or privilege – that let them float above darker problems. Brought together by Raven, they immediately clicked through old and new interlocking friendships. It looked like they could have it all. Their mutual confidence was shaken by a succession of villains, as well as self-doubt and tragedy, but was not fractured until Terra betrayed them in 1984’s Judas Contract.

DCU Continuity for Terra: Part 1.2 - The Material Girl: Terra in the 1980s

Terra's first appearance on the Statue of Liberty. NTT #26 (Dec. 1982)

1980s Continuity continued

Terra: First Appearance
-New Teen Titans vol. 1 #26 (December 1982): "Runaways"
Changeling encounters Terra at the top of the Statue of Liberty but she escapes. The Statue of Liberty is an important symbol in relation to her character; the second Terra makes her first appearance there as well.

DCU Continuity for Terra: Part 1.3 - The Material Girl: Terra in the 1980s


Tara's grave. ToTT Annual #3 (1984)

1980s Continuity continued

Aftermath issues in Titans and Outsiders.
A self-imposed silence descends upon the Titans after Tara’s death. Unlike the Outsiders, the Titans never once (ever!) come together as a team to discuss Terra or her betrayal. There’s no group hug moment here. The Titans publicly state that she died a hero fighting the Terminator. Privately, they later affirm Tara’s betrayal, to Batman and to incoming Titans members. It’s not confirmed whether Tara’s betrayal becomes widely-known knowledge among heroes and villains. In the 2008 Terra mini and the 2009-2010 run of Power Girl, the JSA obviously knows about it.  The Titans’ personal grief over her, like the character herself, becomes a cryptic unknown quantity that comes out in different ways. Aside from Gar, Dick Grayson is the main Titan who is shown thinking of her over time. In issues from the 2000s, he brings her up repeatedly. In the 1990s, he recalls her treachery and death as a moment of personal failure as the team leader. Vic, Donna and Kory sometimes mention her. Three themes appear around Brion and Gar in response to Tara’s death. One is rage at the Terminator. The second is guilt: each blames himself for not loving her enough and not helping her. The third is love: both Brion and Gar indicate that they still love her and always will, no matter what she did. This last theme has been repeated so often over the past 26 years that it has gained a life of its own. Where Brion may not have been especially close to Tara (he says this at her funeral) and Gar had a teenaged crush on her, over time their love for Tara has evolved to near-epic proportions. By 2010, Tara sits at the heart of Brion’s corrosive grief over his decimated family; for Gar, she is his first love, a dead, corrupted soulmate he’ll forever mourn.

DCU Continuity for Terra: Part 2.1 - The Elemental: Terra in the 1990s

Terra 2 confronts Changeling for the first time. NT #88 (July 1992)

The 1990s

In the 1980s, the Judas Contract took the Titans to the top of the industry. They were DC’s flagship counterpart to Marvel’s X-Men, but done steadfastly in DC’s style, which heavily references eternal moral values. By the 1990s, DC had passed the Titans’ high water mark. New editor Jonathan Peterson revived the Titans recipe by adding Marvel flavour to it. Peterson’s run is a prime example of what top DC characters look like when they are all Marvelled up

DCU Continuity for Terra: Part 2.2 - The Elemental: Terra in the 1990s

Dick Grayson remembers parallel karmic figures, Tara Markov and Joseph Wilson. NT #113 (Aug. 1994)

1990s Continuity continued

Titans Hunt Aftermath. Karma Karma Karma.
In the Titans Hunt aftermath, Tara Markov I and Joseph Wilson are confirmed as karmically-related characters – for Deathstroke, Dick, Gar and Raven. The post-Titans Hunt arcs repeat the theme that Joe’s death is Deathstroke’s payback for what happened to Tara. The fallout from the Judas Contract and Titans Hunt tie Tara Markov I and Joseph Wilson to Deathstroke’s relationship with Dick and Gar. Raven quickly becomes part of that chessboard of characters as well.

DCU Continuity for Terra: Part 2.3 - The Elemental: Terra in the 1990s

Terra on a Darkstars mission in space. NT #124 (August 1995)

1990s Continuity continued

-New Titans #114 (September 1994): "24 Hours"
Raven attacks Gar and with the help of Nightwing’s dark double, Deathwing, implants ten Trigon seeds in him. Gar, already half crazy before Raven got to him, rapidly descends into full insanity.

DCU Continuity for Terra: Part 3.1 - A Remade Reboot of the Original: Terra in the 2000s

Gar meets Black Lantern Terra. Blackest Night: Titans #1 (Oct. 2009)

The 2000s

By 1997-1998, the comics industry had slumped to one of its lowest points ever, although it was revived in the crisis atmosphere after 9/11. The Titans came out of the 1990s reeling, but the team had a hopeful string of reboots. Initial optimism from the turn of the millennium is evident in issues from 1999-2000. This was quickly replaced after 9/11 with hard, grim themes, and even more characters’ deaths in sweeping successive crossover events.

DCU Continuity for Terra: Part 3.2 - A Remade Reboot of the Original: Terra in the 2000s

Black Adam kills Terra 2. 52: World War III #3 (June 2007)

2000s Continuity continued

Graduation Day.
In the 2003 Titans/Young Justice Graduation Day arc, DC killed off Donna Troy. In fact, they had just sent her on an inter-dimensional exploration of her identity. While reassuring fans that Donna was alive in other dimensions, the impact on the Titans was huge. DC used the opportunity to do a complete overhaul of the Titans franchise, reflecting deep crises in leadership. DC mashed up one half of the NTT with Young Justice and the other half of the NTT with the Outsiders.

DCU Continuity for Terra: Part 3.3 - A Remade Reboot of the Original: Terra in the 2000s

Working for Deathstroke? Ravager accused by Bombshell of being a Titans traitor. TT #39 (Nov. 2006)

2000s Continuity continued

One Year Later: Interlude.
During the period between Terra 2's death (2007) and Terra 3's Miniseries (2009), the legacy of Terra 1's betrayal runs through several storylines. Terra 1 is a foil for Raven and Jericho, and her lingering influence still hangs over Deathstroke, Gar Logan and Brion Markov.

DCU Continuity for Terra: Part 3.4 - A Remade Reboot of the Original: Terra in the 2000s

 
Terra 3 is a perfect genetic match with Terra 2, who was a perfect genetic match with Terra 1.  Terra #1 (Jan. 2009)

2000s Continuity concluded.

Geo-Force: Walking a mile in his sister’s shoes? 2001-2010.
The seductive injustice of scapegoating goes a long way to explaining why Brion Markov’s unwavering loyalty to his sister is justified. If Brion is still in Tara’s corner after all this, even if it means his destruction as a hero, then we may have to ask again who Tara really was. We may have to look beneath the cardboard-cut-out ‘traitor-who-deserved-to-die’ label that’s been slapped on her, and question the double standard that condemned her, while forgiving others who have done the same or worse. DC is currently making Geo-Force, a clearly heroic character, relive his sister’s hellish descent. We have to go back to Markovia and ask: who are the Markovs and what is their legacy?

Through this period, Brion shows growing signs of mental instability followed by a frightening decline into madness. He has blackouts and acquires Terra’s powers. His wife Denise has already died under unknown circumstances. He begins wearing the same uniform that both siblings wore when they first appeared, signifying his growing identification with Terra 1. The same themes begin to surround him: insanity, drugs, Deathstroke, mental manipulation, brainwashing, memory wipes, and a loss of moral direction combined with a massive increase in his geo-powers.