WHEN TITANS CRASH, or, "SURRENDER, ROBOTBOY!"
By "John Jones, the Manhunter from Marathon, IL"
There's a story behind this week's article, and since I have no life, I thought I'd take the time to tell it to you.
Sherman, set the Wayback Machine for 1992, or thereabouts.
This week's entry was actually written nearly a decade ago, back around 1992 or 1993, and has been 'published', for lack of a better word, in substantially different form, in two other places previously: an Amateur Press Alliance called LEGENDS, and a small circulation fanzine called COMIC BOOK CROSSROADS, edited by the eminent and estimable Mike Norton, and lamentably, no more.
Since then, it has floated around on the hard drive of my first computer, and one particular floppy disc, until finally, I managed to locate it again, and it occurred to me that it's pretty much exactly the same sort of thing I've been writing under the 'John Jones' pseudonym for months now.
Naturally, it's old, and as such, it concerns itself, specifically, with a particular issue of a comic that few may remember or have access to. Still, it's a passionately if not skillfully written article (in, as always, my opinion) and my experience with it is, even in the limited circulation it has had prior to this, it has made an impression on its audience.
I learned a few things from writing this article:
(a) If you attack something people love even though it's stupid, without taking the time to fully support your criticisms in detail, they'll crucify you for it, specifically screaming that you didn't support your criticism in detail, and therefore, you suck and should be hung from a lamppost, set on fire, and beaten with large bags of jagged rocks,
(b) if you attack something people love and support your criticisms in detail, specifically citing utter and irrefutable stupidities within that something and showing in an undeniable manner that this thing they love is idiotic nonsense and utterly without redeeming value, analyzing everything to a fare thee well and leaving them absolutely no logical or reasonable ground to stand on when it comes to defending this awful thing or their execrable taste in liking and buying it, they'll call you anal and obsessive and shriek at you for 'nitpicking it to death'.
In other words, if you're attacking something people love, even if that something is awful and they're complete morons for loving it, you can't win, you won't persuade them of anything, and really, all you're going to do is make a lot of stupid, emotional dimwits really angry and unhappy.
No, I can't see a downside, either.
End of foreword. On with the blitzkrieg:
* * * * * * * * * *
To be honest, it kind of amazes me.
Actually, a lot of things about my former apa, Legends (of which, I might add, good buddy and truly superior human being Mike Norton remains one of the few bright spots on the roster) amazed me prior to my resignation from that august body lo these many years agone. However, the particular amazing aspect I am currently typing about is the rather outraged reaction I received to a few casual, denigrating lines I wrote about The New Teen Titans back in the sixth issue of my late, great fanzine, Aquamonkey Is Drowning!. Now, in all honesty, it's been my experience, outside the apa, that when one is dealing with adult comix fans, one can generally simply assume that the wretchedness of the Titans books (as well as the X-books, and the Image books...) is a given... well-known, documented, and universally agreed upon, other than during those bizarre, probability-confounding periods when Peter David or Alan Moore is writing one of them, anyway.
Down at the local comic shops here in Syracuse (remember, this article is nearly a decade old, so don't seek me in Syracuse any longer) most of us "grown ups" generally stand around and chuckle indulgently at the teenage and younger fans who purchase these things compulsively shriek about how totally awesome they are. We can do so because we all have clear (if embarrassing...) memories of back when we were young and callow, non-discerning readers all, and couldn't tell a good comic book from a hole in the ground, and indeed, every last man-jack of us purchased the Titans and the X-Men and gibbered, raved, babbled and frothed in a similar fashion about their alleged excellence.
We all understood, though, that as we'd grown and matured, we'd become capable of exercising a more informed and rational judgment, and had become aware that the Titans and X-books were nothing but overemotional, constantly repetitive, formula hack work twaddle of the lowest sort.
Honestly, I just take it for granted. And I foolishly assumed that, since my former apa Legends was a forum of supposedly adult comix fans, it would be equally self-evident to the members that these comix are, in fact, juvenile trash with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Thus, I tossed off a few "vitriolic" lines about Wolfman's Finest in one of my 'zines without bothering to thoroughly, painstakingly support and document my criticisms, never having the slightest trepidation that anyone might actually take exception to my words, leap to their feet, beat their breasts, and holler defiance in the name of the New Teen Titans.
Thus and so - I will now write what I probably should have written in the first place - a detailed, documented, analytical critique of a randomly chosen issue of The New Titans.
Prepare yourselves, O Titans True Believer.
The hammer is coming down.
In going through my reject shelves the other day, I noticed a forgotten copy of NEW TITANS #71, sitting justifiably forlorn and neglected beneath a stack of old WASTELANDs. I purchased NT #71 due to the much touted promise by the DC propaganda division that it heralded a "New Era" in Titans history, which would be inaugurated by Wolfman actually killing several team members (yay!) and significantly overhauling the survivors (by 'significantly overhauling', I had hoped Wolfman meant something like 'sawing the tops of the skulls off and replacing the brains of with sawdust', which would, at the very least, have had to improve their dialogue).
We've since discovered, of course, that what this really meant was that he was going to kill off Golden Eagle (doubtless chosen for the chopping block as the most obscure possible "Teen Titan" they could dig out, dust off, and prop up just long enough to bring the axe down on, although, honestly, how he left the Bumblebee alive I'll never understand or forgive him for), pretend to kill off Aqualad, turn Jericho into a villain, and make Cyborg a bit grimmer, grittier, and difficult though this is to believe, dumber.
Hardly the sweeping changes we were promised, and I'm especially disappointed that more of the New Twerps didn't bite the dust as promised, but I'll mostly confine my remarks to this particular issue of the run, although I will make end runs at particularly stupid plot problems as they arise.
The issue opens with Nightwing, in wig and false-mustached civilian guise, striding the streets with his paramour, the ever-recognizable Starfire. The wig and mustache are semi-intelligent touches, here, but I must inquire as to what the thought processes of the passers-by who see them are - don't they wonder whether or not Starfire's much more well-known boyfriend, Nightwing of the Titans, has a clue that his girl is out hugging and smooching with this nerdy guy with the great bod? And once this line of thought occurs, isn't it likely that at least some of the more intelligent members of the crowd will put two and two together and realize that the chump with the mustache must actually be Nightwing in disguise? Once this fairly easy connection is arrived at, it would seem that supervillains would condense from the very ether to attack the two of them, or, at least, they'd be mobbed by autograph hounds.
Now, I grant you, Dick Grayson won't be recognized as such, so I suppose we must give Wolfman some credit for this, but all in all, the whole thing seems to be pretty much implausible and not well thought out as a ploy. The more obvious approach would be to disguise Kory, but I suppose the male fans in the audience wouldn't like her to alter her appearance substantially, so we have to do this a dumber way. (Most sensible of all would have been for Kory and Dick to simply accept, as many thousands of recognizable celebrities do, that their personas and careers make it impossible for them to wander around casually in public together, and, you know, just deal with it. But then we couldn't start out plots with them walking arm in arm through downtown wherever, which, apparently, we want to do.)
But enough of this nitpicking; on with the "plot" - Kory gives the disguised Robin one final long wet kiss (given that, as a child, I often viewed Robin as my own personal superhero surrogate, I wonder if I would be justified in looking at this sequence as Starfire slobbering over my Dick - no, probably not...) and roars off into the sky rather beamishly.
At this point, a Wildebeest, watching through binoculars, commands someone to spring the trap NOW, through a walkie talkie. Not later, not in a minute, not a few seconds from that very instant, but now, now, by God, NOW. Consequently, as Starfire hurtles through the urban air above like a 42DDD endowed V2 rocket, a mugging is staged directly beneath her. As she is Oh So Nice, she swoops to the rescue, only to be drugged by the "victim" when she turns her back on the poor "old lady".
A Wildebeest promptly shows up ("Hello, my name is Howard, I'll be your Wildebeest tonight") and drags her off, doubtless chortling with glee as he fondles the unconscious alien princess' intimate areas with mad, Beestey-gloved abandon. (Well, shit, if I were a member of a supervillain club and I had Starfire unconscious over one shoulder, I certainly would, anyway.)
The above is such a cliche of superhero fiction (well, you know, leaving aside the Wildebeeste-gauntleted fondling and such) that virtually any veteran comic book fan will simply nod like one of those little toy dogs in the back of a souped-up, glasspack-mufflered '67 Chevy Malibu and pass right on to the next panel without further note. And I'm fully aware that the average Titans fan not only does not habitually think about story sensibility, but becomes defensive, petulant, bitter and enraged upon being asked to do so. But. Regardless of all these fine and dandy facts and sentiments, let me try your patience to the breaking point by spending a few more moments in analytical scrutiny of this extraordinarily fine and classic melodramatic sequence.
In the first place, the fact that this "fake mugging" thingie is something the average superhero fan has seen many, many times by now certainly lends weight to the "vitriolic" assertion I made back in my apa that Marv Wolfman retreads plots and recycles cliches endlessly, rather than invest any mental effort whatsoever in coming up with anything remotely original. But by God, haven't I had enough of these petty, harping, nitpicking attacks? Damn me. Let us just stop whining and sniveling about stupid little things like originality and creativity, and now go on to examine this sequence for intelligence, logic, and plausibility.
Let's see, now - Kory is flying through the sky. We all know that Starfire flies by - somehow - emitting powerful energy blasts from the tips of her hair follicles, or at least, that's what it really looks like to me, but what do I know. One would think this would generate some sort of VRROOOOMing sound, which would preclude her hearing much of anything going on hundreds of feet below her on the ground, even without the wind screaming in her ears. Well, perhaps she habitually scans the ground for trouble as she flies; she is a superheroine, after all, and, in true
Claremont tradition, a warrior born, as well.
(As a momentary aside... the concept of anyone being a "fill-in-the-blank born" is a troublesome one to me in and of itself, bringing up as it does interesting metaphysical speculations as to reincarnation and/or racial memory perhaps best left for the crackling, yellowed pages of such august publications as FATE Magazine. It furthermore worries me somewhat that characters who are "warriors born" seem to be so popular in comix these days, as my own experience teaches me that there is nothing particularly noble, admirable, or socially redeeming about being gestated with an innate tendency towards violence... but that's probably a subject best left to another seething rant.)
Getting back to darling alien twinky-pie Koriand'r, swooping like a mad thing from the very cerulean abyss of the afternoon sky into perilous danger without so much as a single selfish (or, really, any other sort of) thought... It's a lovely image, it really is. The problem with it is, if she's flying low enough to actually see something like a mugging in a dark back alley, she's awful darn likely to run into a building unless she's watching where she's going. If she's flying above the level of the New York rooftops, she isn't going to run into anything, but given that she's probably at least 40 stories above the pavement, she isn't likely to see much of anything in dark back alleys, either. But... damn me! More nitpicking! Quick, someone shoot me. No? Well, then, let's move on.
Somehow, Starfire perceives this mugging - maybe she read the script - and swoops like a beauteous, flamey-haired archangel to the rescue. Now, let's consider the following - even if we grant Wolfman the marvelous convenience of a Wildebeest just happening to be in a rooftop position where he can observe the strolling Starfire and Nightwing, how in the heck does this Wildebeest know where Starfire is flying off to? Or, for that matter, the very vector her flight to this unknown locale will take? Or even that instead of going where he thinks she's going to go, she isn't, instead, spurred by a sudden impulse, going to head in the opposite direction and go sandal shopping?
And if, as seems likely under rational analysis, this particularly voyeuristic Wildebeest doesn't know where she's going, how does he know where to stage this unlikely and ridiculous ambush so that she will fly over it? Consider how exactly he must plan this - the ambush does indeed take place in a narrow, dark back alley; a character flying above must, to have a chance of seeing it, cross an extremely limited section of the sky.
Unless the Wildebeests have hired thousands of actors to stage a similar number of muggings in the surrounding neighborhoods, thus increasing the odds of Starfire's seeing one of them to acceptable proportions, this is unlikely to the point of absurdity. Of course, the thousands of staged muggings idea is equally ludicrous, so either way you slice it, this is just plain bad, careless, mindlessly formulaic plotting.
But it's a Titans book, so who's going to notice or care? I mean, other than me. But then, I'm clearly the sort of over-analytical reviewer who insists on taking all of the fun out of everything by insisting on absurd levels of internal logic and sensible plotting, so I clearly don't count.
(That, by the way, is very nearly a quote from an outraged Titan fan in my former APA who responded to the original publication of this article in very nearly that manner. It takes all the FUN out of comics, you see, if we subject them to any sort of demand for internal logic, originality, or thoughtfulness in their plotting. Good Lord! Everything ever written by Steve Englehart, Steve Gerber, Tom Peyer, Alan Brennert, or Alan Moore must clearly have no fun in it at all.)
Bah. Hulk tired of silly Wolfman story, so let us hasten onward. We shall skip over Nightwing's rescue of a child who has - somehow - wandered blithely out onto a narrow ledge to escape her angry mother (surely, we've all done THAT at one time or another, right?) and now is too frightened to come back inside by herself, thus giving Nightwing an excuse to sit there like a dork and narrate a ridiculously patronizing version of Starfire's origin to the apparently near-mindless toddler as well as to the apparently near-mindless audience, as a "chilling" counterpoint to Starfire's capture.
It's a truly nauseating and utterly sense-free sequence, unrewarding in any way, especially since Nightwing could have fairly easily snatched the little brat up in half a second's acrobatic effort, but, still, we'll just jog on by it without further ado, as we have far bigger and smellier fish to fry before we get to the merciful end of this horrible thing (the comic, not this article, although as always, your mileage may vary).
Let us move on, then, to the sequence describing the capture of Cyborg.
This sequence opens on page 18, with a bewilderingly unexplained shot of Cyborg on a flaming battlefield, fighting an unclear number of armored opponents who are wielding big nasty ray rifles. One of these witty and articulate fellows intones with alarming conversational facility, "Get him. Wildebeest said to do our best to kill him." Heh. I love it. "Get him." That was their whole plan? "Get him." Clever.
And then that almost lyrical follow up: "Wildebeest said to do our best to kill him." Ah, yes. We must be grateful this fellow so generously articulated that particularly subtle aspect to their devious, Byzantine strategem whereby they were setting a building on fire and shooting at a superhero with focused plasma beams. Had we not just read this brilliantly written bit of expository dialogue, the average new Titans reader might well have assumed that half a dozen armed and armored guys interacting violently with Cyborg in the midst of a burning building were actually members of the local volunteer fire department.
The droll, subtle wit of this trenchant dialogue is matched fully by Cyborg's response (page 19, panel 5), "I don't know what you guys figger you're doin', only it's not gonna work". By God! There are those of us, cursed with a memory of Wolfman's longish stint on FANTASTIC FOUR in the 1970s, who might find this dialogue reminiscent of the sort of dialogue Marv once scripted for that premiere Silver Age super-team's stalwart member, the Thing.
Could that possibly be because Marv Wolfman creates stereotypes instead of three-dimensional characters, and utilizes personality formulas instead of making any attempt at giving his creations uniqueness or depth? No, no... that's probably just another scathing, nitpicking attack - and, in fact, it is exactly the wording I used in my former apa which drew such vehement disapproval from so many of the members there. Here, just let me hit myself in the head with this hammer a few times. Ah, that's much better. Let's move on.
Another idle question that occurs to my fevered, overly analytical, 'suck the fun out of everything' brain, which apparently insists on continuing to function even after a few smacks with a hammer - check out page 19, panel 4. Here we see Cyborg being bombarded by energy rays, all of which are neatly bouncing off his armored carapace, one of which is bouncing off the armored hemisphere of his head. Now why is it that, throughout the history of the New Teen Titans, no enemy marksman has ever had the insight to aim a weapon at the human half of Cyborg's head?
Nope, these big dummies always, somehow, end up bouncing their bullets, bombs, and beams off the armored carapace, despite the fact that Vic's woolly locks would seem a much more inviting, and equally accessible target. But wait, I'm a moron. Of course, the answer is obvious. One of Vic's team mates is a mistress of the Amazon "bullets and bracelets" discipline - or, at least, she used to be, Pre-Crisis; these days, she seems to be more a mistress of tacky dressing - obviously, Wonder Girl has spent long, arduous hours training Vic to twist and turn in combat, thus bouncing incoming projectiles cleanly off his armored pate. Silly me. It's just plain, simple common sense.
Page 20, the caption, narrated by a rather condescending Nightwing, bridging panel one and panel two - "He cares, more than 'most anyone I've ever known. Cares for people who are in trouble... Cares for people who've been hurt... whatever the reason, Vic will do anything he can to help if someone needs him." I'm not pointing this out simply because of its utter insipidness, nor for the bad writing implicit in Wolfman's assumption that such a noble characteristic on Cyborg's part, which is echoed in nine out of ten superhero characters who have ever donned tights and mask, is somehow so singular and definitive of Vic Stone that it deserves... nay, true believer, requires... separate articulation.
No, I'm mostly concerned with the fact that Wolfman has had Richard "Nightwing" Grayson say "He cares more than 'most anyone". Suddenly, Richard Grayson's thought processes have been possessed by Shirley Temple, or perhaps, a very young Huckleberry Finn.
That Dick Grayson would indulge in such sloppy speech patterns, even in his private thoughts, is simply ridiculous. Absurd. Unacceptable. This is Batman Jr., one of the most obsessed, driven characters in fiction. Comprehensively and intensively educated, fanatically disciplined, and, above all else, clear-sighted, rational, analytical, and precise; Grayson would no more emit a cutesy "'most anyone" thought balloon than Brainiac 5 would floss with one of Supergirl's pubic hairs.
Er. Well, given that Supergirl no longer exists and therefore has never met Brianiac 5, I mean, otherwise, it's something he'd probably do often, and in front of the rest of the Legion. I mean, wouldn't you? Well, never mind all that, I only bring up the 'most anyone' thing to underscore my 'vitriolic' assertion, which, again, drew much outraged response, that Marv writes really lousy dialogue and utilizes cliches rather than three-dimensional characterization.
But the Vic thing. Let's get back to that. After fairly easily disposing of the armored goons - honestly, Wildebeests really seem to be DC's version of HYDRA agents, although, actually, so do The HIVE, so perhaps it's just something to do with the general quality of Titans villains themselves... anyway, after he jumps up and down on the Wildebeests thoroughly and at length, Our Hero Vic hears shouts from somewhere up above, and realizes that there are children trapped in this burning building on an upper floor. He valorously races to their rescue, only to have the stairs collapse beneath him, giving him a chance to demonstrate his extendible cybernetic limbs as he uses them to pull himself up to the next landing.
In response to repeated imploring screams, Vic replies "I'm comin'... keep yer fingers in yer noses-- I'm almost there." Yes, such dialogue is almost enough reason by itself to toss this comic aside with a heartfelt grunt of appalled disgust, but let us, however masochistic the process may increasingly seem to be, continue our analysis.
Vic rushes into the room the screams are coming from. Flames are all around him, now; even the room itself is burning as Vic enters (page 21, panel 4). Vic discovers, much to his chagrin, that there are no children here at all - what there is instead is a tape recorder playing the screams Vic has been charging towards, and an obvious bomb. Vic goes "What the hell?" - and, in panel 5 of page 21, every window in the brick building blows out in a massive flaming explosion effect.
According to panel 4, preceding the explosion by roughly a quarter of a second, Vic is about ten feet from the bomb when this occurs.
Page 22, panel 1 - Vic is lying in flaming rubble. His skin is unblemished, his hair is utterly intact, his chromium armor still shines brightly, completely unscratched, unmarred, or even undimmed by the merest smear of ash. Vic's left arm, evidently, is utterly trashed - a nice bit of visual business by Tom Grummett, by the way, since in panel 4, page 21, this was the arm that was extended towards the bomb; obviously, Vic tried to grab the bomb with that arm and had it blown off.
Nonetheless, given the obvious power of the explosive, it's simply ridiculous that Vic is still in one piece, much less unburned,unscratched, and unsmeared. Evidently, in fact, the only effect this has had on Vic, other than knocking his arm off (the Black Knight is invincible!) is that he's been overcome by an irresistible compulsion to lie down on his back in the rubble and phonetically spell out the word TRAP.
At this point, predictably, a Wildebeest shows up, gloatingly remarks that "We knew you would buy it all", and, presumably, makes off with Vic. (Wolfman does not show us Wildebeest shouldering Cyborg and carrying him off, as he has previously done with Starfire, probably because it's ridiculous - Wildebeest, even in armor, isn't strong enough to lift Cyborg. This particular Wildebeest, canny fellow that he is, probably had the SHIELD helicarrier hovering just off panel, with a hydraulic crane, ready to transport the helpless Vic. )
Again, the above sequence is pretty much a cliche in superhero comic books, and most fans are going to nod on past it, carried on by the superficial excitement of the events, without giving it much thought. But let's give it a little thought. I know, I know... it's uncomfortable and annoying and boring and tedious and everybody just hates it, but still... just a little bit of thought.
The above sequence, rationally analyzed, indicates the following -
(NOOOOOO!!! They scream at this point. NOT RATIONAL ANALYSIS! ANYTHING BUT THAT!!!!)
Quiet, you. Rationally analyzed, we have the following:
The Wildebeest Society sent six guys in armor, with big ray blasters, to the school run by Cyborg's girl friend, to attack Cyborg there. Evidently, they did this when school would be in session, since Vic expected to find Sarah there, and was not surprised that there were kids supposedly trapped on an upper floor. (We can also explain this in other fashions, like, Cyborg wandered by the school for no good reason in the middle of the night and was too stupid to realize there shouldn't be any children in a school that had been closed since 3 in the afternoon, but, you know, let's try to stick for a moment with presumptions that actually make sense, although, this being a Wolfman plot in a TITANS issue, it's hard to actually support that decision with any coherent reasoning.)
Therefore, obviously the Wildebeests - or their goons - have previously arrived at the school and removed Sarah and the beaming, happy, gamboling little tots, clearing the way for the battle with Cyborg. This is made even more obvious by the fact that the Wildebeests have a tape recording of these kids screaming for help, which assumed they've had control of these kids for some time prior to this ambush. It also presumes they've been torturing the kids to get them to scream on tape, and, say hey and by the way, I don't believe the Titans ever actually rescued these kids, or Sarah, or that either kids or Sarah were ever mentioned again in this storyline... no, no, never mind that, let's just STICK WITH THE VIC THING FOR NOW:
Cyborg arrives. The goons attack. Their instructions are to kill him if they can. This is fine, except that we know the Wildebeest Society specifically wants to capture all the Titans alive, so they can tie them to ICBMS and launch them into parabolic orbits (I'm really not making that up, either). Obviously, the Wildebeests have utter confidence that Cyborg can trash these goons. Obviously, then, the goons are mere sacrificial goats, meant to... to... to what? They aren't meant to kill Cyborg, we've already established that. Meant to distract him? From what? Cyborg is supposed to run into the trap on the upper floor, remember? Meant to weaken him, and make him angry, and cause him to lose his judgement?
Er... welllllll...suuuuuuure, he said, in tones rich with doubt and derision, if you say so, buddy, but isn't this kind of... what's that word... stupid? Suppose one of these idiot goons gets in a lucky shot and kills Vic DEAD? As a general rule, sending thugs around with guns who are under orders to kill someone is a fine and logical thing to do if, you know, you want that person DEAD, but it kind of strains credibility to assume that this is the sort of strategem one would employ if one actually merely wants that person to be rendered helpless so they can be captured alive.
Also, isn't it a bit of an expensive waste of resources, since you can assume that, if they don't kill Cyborg (as, by this Byzantine reasoning, the Wildebeest Society actually doesn't want them to, even thought they told them to) they won't be good for much when Cyborg is through with them?
Now, I suppose this could be the Wildebeest Society's version of punishment detail:
WILDEBEESTE: You screw-ups all failed inspection, so you get to fight - Cyborg! BWA HA HA!
GOONS: No! Dear God, not that! We'll have to listen to his dialogue! Just shoot us now!
All of this, just to get Cyborg all hot and bothered enough to run into a room with a bomb in it, that he thinks contains kids who are trapped in a burning building? Well, heck, wouldn't Cyborg do this anyway, even if he hadn't already been attacked by six idiots in armor? I mean, you'd certainly think so, given the way Nightwing's been waxing rhapsodic about how Cyborg is this wonderful guy who will, just like darn near any other superhero, do anything to help others who are in trouble, wouldn't you?
Okay, let's recap: The Wildebeest Society is trying to capture the various members of the New Teen Titans alive. (So they can tie them to ICBMS and fire them into parabolic orbit... Nooooo... Mustn't... Think...). So they have set about doing this, in the case of Cyborg, by sending a bunch of armored goons with blasters around to his girlfriend's school to kidnap his girlfriend and a bunch of little kids, then set the school on fire and plant a bomb in an upper floor classroom, along with a tape recording of the little kids screaming for help, at which point, they are then under orders to attack Cyborg with deadly force, doing their level best to kill his ass deader than Julius Caesar.
Excuse me for just a moment, as I stare in slack-jawed bafflement at my own CRT and wait for those words to rearrange themselves into something approaching coherent sense.
Well, apparently that isn't going to happen, so... well... I know, I know, this is just more of that insistence on absurd levels of internal logic that takes all the fun out of comic books, and, yes, absolutely, you can't spell 'analytical' without A-N-A-L, yes, you're right, I'm being ridiculous and this is indeed yet another tedious example of my scathing, vitriolic style of nitpicking a perfectly good story to death.... But... still... he said, timidly, in a very quiet voice... Wouldn't it have been easier, assuming that the Wildebeests have indeed already captured Sarah and her kids, to just wait until Vic shows up, point rifles at his lady friend and the sweet innocent little rug rats, and say "Surrender, Robotboy"?
I mean, really. Wouldn't it?
Well, sure, of course, but then we wouldn't have gotten four pages of Mind-numbing action the way the Mighty Comics reader wants, nay, demands it, would we?
(I must, at this point, pause and give Credit Where Credit Is Due, something I try to do whenever possible because, you know, I'm just that kind of guy: the above snappy, clever line regarding pages of mind-numbing action the way the Mighty Comics reader wants, nay, demands it is not original to me. It is, in fact, drawn from a lengthy letter I once received partially written by an old college acquaintance named Adam Phillips, who was hilariously, and unfortunately, accurately, critiquing a frankly terrible script I'd sent to him and his then-roommate featuring an awful character of my own creation named Dynamo. In it, Adam had actually counted the number of action pages in the 32 page script, and reported back to me that there were 26 of them. 26 out of 32 pages were, as he put it, 'mind-numbing action the way the Mighty Comics reader wants, nay, demands it'. Heh. I've always remembered that line, even if, in retrospect, I am now convinced that my Dynamo script was NOT, in fact, awful, horrible, derivative trash written to appeal to hyperactive 12-year-olds who could barely read simple text even when they hadn't just ingested four or five pounds of sugar, as Adam and his then-roommate insisted, but was, in actuality, a brilliant, almost prescient forerunner to the entire Image phenomenon.)
(Okay, well, it was both.)
Plus, the sequence gave Cyborg a chance to demonstrate his powers, among which are the wonderful abilities of Walking Like A Great Big Gumby Into A Burning Building Full Of Armed Goons, as well as Not Being Completely Blown Up After A Huge Bomb Explodes Ten Feet Away, and last but not least, Lying On The Ground Spelling The Word T-R-A-P. I understand. This isn't idiotic plotting, it's thrilling, exciting, action adventure scripting in a milieu where the reader is normally expected to suspend their disbelief and not be so gosh darned fussy they actually expect... uh... intelligence.
And, you know, logic.
See, another thing here is that, as I re-read this comic, it occurs to me that it bears more than a little bit of resemblance to the opening sequences of "The Eyes of Tara Markov", where Deathstroke the Terminator is running around capturing the various Titans, and Dick Grayson is the only one to escape his sinister clutches, oh, the irony, the irony. In fact, the more I think of it, the more it seems that this is a virtually identical set up, and, in point of actual fact, plot. But... Good Lord, Batman! That would mean that Wolfman endlessly recycles cliches instead of coming up with original plots, just like I've been saying all along. And that, of course, is nothing but a vitriolic, scathing, nitpicking attack, the sort which demands an absurd level of internal logic that takes all the fun out of superhero comics. So never mind all that.
Let's, once more, move on.
And on, and on... until we get to the sequence concerning Raven's capture. It's too late, shooting me at this point won't do any good, at least, not any good to me, because I've already read this thing, and will be haunted to the grave and even beyond by its stupidity. Yes, yes, although you'd have thought Wolfman, or really, any comics writer besides perhaps the legendary Chris Claremont, to be utterly incapable of outdoing the sheer idiotic senselessness of the Starfire staged mugging ambush, or the 'we capture Cyborg by blowing him the hell up after sending people with ray guns to kill him' bushwhacking... Marv manages to surprise us. Outdoing previously established pinnacles of utterly moronic plotting is, it would seem, a TITANS specialty.
And so, with firmly plugged nostrils and snugly secured hip waders on, let us examine:
Raven's capture by the Wildebeeste Society.
We open on a somewhat darkened, cluttered apartment. A hooded maniac is stalking a pretty young blonde girl through a living room creatively decorated with sheet-wrapped corpses. Now, we know this fellow is a maniac regardless of all the dead bodies lying around, because he dresses like one (THEY dressed me up like this), which is to say, he has big bulky visible stitches on his Ku Klux Klan-like hood, which indicates that either he's a dangerously unbalanced loon or maybe just a clumsy tailor.
However, in addition to the big bulky stitching on his KKK hood, and, you know, those drifts of corpses all over the place, he's also going on and on about how the taste of human flesh is just like chicken, which was this startlingly original, shocking, ghoulish, never before seen bit of dialogue that by the point this particular script was written had only been previously used in every movie and television show that had been produced within the last four years.
In the midst of this consummately skillful demonstration of the fact that Marv, like everyone else living in America, England, or Tibet at that time, actually HAD seen THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, Raven's soul self bursts into the room to save the girl. Now, any normal man would immediately fall before the unstoppable psychic onslaught of perhaps the most egregiously poorly conceived and wildly undefined New Teen Titan's powers, or, at the very least, back away and go "Wha'fuck?" when he saw this big psychic manta ray thing come oozing through his wall. But the Nut In The Hood is undaunted, and easily shrugs off Raven's strange and incomprehensible powers. He is, evidently, so bone-chillingly, soul-searingly evil that Raven's attempts to re-awaken his innate decency, or, barring that, to give him a really good telepathic noogie, fail utterly.
Raven realizes she must teleport herself into the room, and does so, to face him physically. Thus bolstered by physical proximity, her psychic powers are now equal to the task of rendering this drooling wacko unconscious, but the hideous, soulless wickedness she has been forced into intimate mental contact with causes her to lose consciousness as well. (This is a wonderful super power to have. Any time our heroine has to confront true evil, she faints. Hey, coach, I want her on my team.)
As Raven swoons into a hapless coma, a Wildebeest shows up and lugs her insensate carcass off, declaiming "Calculations said complete madness was needed to overwhelm your senses - so you were pitted against Emil Sorda, the most insane man on Earth", and going on to explain that evidently, this was all a trap designed, set and sprung by the Wildebeest Society specifically to capture Raven.
No, I'm serious. He really said that.
See, here's my thing on this. You have to wonder what kind of math books the Wildebeest Society is getting their calculations out of, because, to my mind, any mathematical process that leads one to the conclusion that one should go bust into an asylum, grab a murderous loon, and set him loose in a major metropolitan area, all because this will, hopefully, eventually, attract a particular member of the New Teen Titans to close enough proximity to 'overwhelm' her 'senses'... well, these are numbers that someone should check carefully, because it seems to me that said rather elaborate process of calculation should, at some point, have embraced perhaps more sensible tactics and strategems for capturing Raven, like, oh, I don't know, luring her to a certain spot with an anonymous phone tip and then shooting her with a tranquilizer dart.
But... good Lord, Jim! Instead, we're supposed to accept here that, in order to capture Raven, the Wildebeest Society went to all the trouble of obtaining this Emil Sorda guy (probably breaking him out of an asylum somewhere; most likely from the cell right next to Hannibal Lecter - and the only reason the Wildebeests didn't take Lecter instead is because Marv Wolfman couldn't possibly write his dialogue well enough... or, alternatively, they did kidnap Lecter first, and he picked the lock on his handcuffs and ate four or five Wildebeests and then escaped, so then they went back for this Sorda guy).
After they managed to secure the 'most insane man on Earth', the Wildebeests then let him run amok in New York City for, at the very least, weeks, judging from the body count in his apartment (of course, the sheet-shrouded bodies could just be tarp-wrapped mannequins the Wildebeests gave Sorda, to make him feel more at home). Then, somehow, exactly at the point they judged most appropriate, they arranged a confrontation between Raven and Sorda, solely for the purpose of rendering Raven helpless so they could capture her and stuff her inside a giant test tube, prior to strapping her to an ICBM and firing her into orbit.
Maybe I'm just too fussy, but this seems kind of... you know... STUPID, to me.
I mean, gosh. Isn't it spiffy that Raven didn't detect Sorda's evil weeks earlier, and lead the entire team of Titans to capture him? Heck, isn't it convenient that the entire law enforcement community, who must be ransacking the nation looking for the now at liberty "most insane man on Earth" didn't happen to wonder about all the bodies that were disappearing from his new neighborhood? Isn't it a darn good thing that Batman, or the Terminator, or the Suicide Squad never decided to track Sorda down and ruin the Wildebeests' plot? Batman would have put him back in the bin, Deathstroke would have shot him, and the Suicide Squad would have recruited him, but whichever, he wouldn't have been around to help incapacitate Raven.
But wait! Perhaps I'm being too picky. Perhaps, with just a tiny suspension of disbelief, we can make this work. Let's hypothesize that the Wildebeest Society has enough influence to get this guy released from the nuthouse without causing any fuss - Arkham Asylum, for example, certainly seems to take rather a revolving door approach to the incarceration of Batman villains, so, fine; the Wildebeests could get this guy out without too much trouble.
And let's further stretch credibility by assuming that the unbelievably powerful and influential Wildebeest Society can somehow harbor a working serial killer who is bringing his victims back to the same apartment and keeping their bodies there for, apparently, weeks (unless he's been working around the clock, I mean) from the scrutiny of the media and the law enforcement community. Hell, maybe they've been kidnapping coeds from West Coast campuses and busing them to Sorda's apartment for him to rave at about the taste of human flesh and then slaughter like sheep. Orphaned coeds, completely lacking in social skills, who have no friends or lovers or relatives to report them missing. Okay. Let's postulate all of this... er... unlikeliness, to be kind... just for the sake of argument.
So how, after they've gone to all this trouble, does the Wildebeest Society manage to arrange things so that Raven, and Raven alone, becomes aware of Sorda's evil, at such a time and in such a place that she responds by herself? How? Did they pick up the phone and give her an anonymous tip that a vicious serial murderer would be killing another victim that night at 10 PM in Apt E-17 of the Fenwick Towers?
Well, they could have, since she is a Titan and the Titans have a public phone number... but the call would be recorded, and certainly, she'd tell her teammates, and that didn't happen, and anyway, Marv didn't say anything about an anonymous phone call, so we'll rule that out. Perhaps the Wildebeest Society carefully kept psychic dampers up around Emil Sorda for the last several weeks so Raven would remain unaware of him, and only relaxed them tonight, forcing her to respond?
Okay, sure, that makes sense, in the bizarre approximations of reality inhabited by those forced to dwell within the parameters of Wolfman and Claremont plots, anyway, but... if so, why doesn't Marv mention these convenient psychic dampers, when he does explicitly mention the psychic dampening headband the Wildebeest sticks on Raven's unconscious brow to keep her helpless during transport, presumably while he fondles her intimately?
For that matter, if they have these damned psychic dampers anyway, then we're back to my original alternative scenario, involving ambushes with tranquilizer darts from hidden psychically dampened hunting blinds. Or would all that be too easy?
I mean.. come on now, fellas. We reach a point where it's just no longer sensible to blame the messenger, where one can no longer, at least, with a straight face, hide behind phrases like 'willing suspension of disbelief' and 'nitpicking' and 'insisting on absurd levels of internal logic' and 'taking all the fun out of superhero comics'. I, personally, think we reach that point right around the opening caption on the opening splash page, however, I'm willing to accept an honest difference of opinion and healthy debate on the subject. But when we get beyond the 'fake mugging' ambush and into the 'kill him but not really' scenario and then on beyond that into this whole 'calculations indicated total madness was needed to overwhelm your senses' horseshit... I mean, fucking please.
And then, when you combine all of this with the knowledge, as revealed later, that this whole moronic mess has been contrived by a renegade Titan, simply because he's eeeee-eeeevil, that all he wants is to destroy the Titans, and he's decided to do so through the entirely rational and completely sensible method of "strap 'em to missiles and fire 'em into space" that I keep repeating (mostly, I admit, out of the same sense of appalled bewilderment that would cause any sane sentient being to repeat such an absurd assertion, much as if someone were to walk up to you and tell you, for example, that the moon really is made of green cheese and they know it is because they live there...) -- which he does, at a point where Nightwing and his new team are about to successfully rescue the captured Titans -- well.
It's time, and past time, and well past time.
Time, as the Vegas croupiers are wont to say, to throw down. Not dice. Not chips. Not your hole card, your spurs, or your shootin' iron, pard. No, what it's time to throw down is these lousy, stupid, brainless, drooling, shambling, unintended and not even particularly funny parodies of superhero comic books, The Teen Titans, or The New Titans, or whatever the hell they're calling themselves these days. And it's time to throw them down hard, from a great height, into huge steaming vats of industrial strength concentrated sulfuric acid, so you can watch gleefully as they blacken and char and break down into remote particles of fibrous matter which, even in that form, are still, by any sane, rational standard, more valuable and desirable and aesthetically pleasing than the original comics themselves.
Than the original art to the comics themselves, for that matter.
Of course, this particular comic was published long, long ago, so the time to throw down was then. Except, of course, that the plot I've described above is hardly different, except in one or two minor respects, from the plots Wolfman has been running in this book since issue #1. The time to throw down, ladies and gentlemen, was back when the first Titans preview came out in a Jim Starlin DC Presents featuring Superman and Green Lantern.
Now. I sit here, hunched in my corner, shields at maximum strength, snarling my defiance as I await the vituperative, outraged responses this column will doubtless receive.
Bring 'em on.
I live and learn.
Well, occasionally, anyway.
In rereading this particular article, and doing some minor tinkering with its structure (originally, most of the parenthetical asides were done as footnotes, but that's a technique that only really works in hard copy, where a reader can simply glance down to the bottom of the page, so they got converted as you see here) I've come to a couple of realizations.
First, the entire thing, as originally written, was a colossal waste of time. I was nearly a decade younger when I wrote the first draft of this, and published it in my 'zine. I was still naive enough to think that people actually meant what they said, which in this case was that they were only rejecting my obviously intelligent and inarguably correct opinions of THE NEW TITANS because I had tossed said opinions off casually, in an offhanded manner, without carefully supporting them with actual facts, figures, and citations from pertinent documentation.
Therefore, I set out to demonstrate, in irrefutable and persuasive detail, with cogent, well-written arguments and descriptions of stylish clarity, that my opinions were not, in fact, unsupported, thoughtless, and purely emotional, but were, in fact, the product of cold, hard, crystal-clear analysis on the part of a very intelligent person who could see through the pulse-pounding surface excitement with an intellect and perceptual acumen sharper than any razor, and lay bare for all to see the utterly absurd lack of anything like qualitative substance underlying such silly drivel.
Well, Lesson The First: You Can't Prove You're Right. The simple fact of the matter, as is eloquently demonstrated by my historical experiences with this article, which has, to date, drawn more response than anything else I have ever written, and where not one word of said voluminous response has even remotely implied agreement with its statements, is that, quite simply, you can't convince anyone of anything they don't want to be convinced of. Facts, figures, quotations, dissertations, elaborate analyses... none of it matters in the face of those who have formed an emotional bond with something and absolutely will not believe that that something could in any way be flawed.
I admit, it seems to me to be peculiar when things take on this aura of Utter Inviolability. Comic books are one of the few areas I know anything about, so I can really only quote examples from that field, but there are, apparently, quite a few there. Certain works in comics one is simply, apparently, not allowed to criticize... or, rather, one can certainly criticize, but if one does, one has to understand and accept that one is, by doing so, Tampering With One's Heartbeat and Unleashing All The Hounds Of Hell.
The New Teen Titans, strangely enough, seem to be one of these sacrosanct things, or were, as long as Marv Wolfman was writing them. Similarly, the X-Men, under Chris Claremont, was a franchise one could not attack in print without bringing down the howling hordes of Hades upon one's huddled head, although, as soon as Claremont
left, everyone started taking shots at them with apparent impunity.
Moore and Gibbons' WATCHMEN cannot be even mildly criticized without drawing the critical equivalent of bazooka fire in response, nor can Frank Miller's THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. More recently, Kurt Busiek's work on both AVENGERS, which is quite solidly entertaining, in general, and his far more derivative work on ASTRO CITY and MARVELS, have attained similar status as 'untouchables'; woe betide the columnist or pundit who dares so much as venture the mildest opinion that anything about any of these titles might be in any way less than utterly perfect.
The shrieking harpies of unleashed fandom will pluck that poor fellow's textual flesh from his literary bones.
Perhaps, then, the lesson is not that You Can't Prove Yourself Right, but merely that, You Can't Prove Yourself Right When You Go After A Sacred Cow.
I don't know. While I have learned the lesson, I haven't really acted on it. This doesn't bother me, as acting on it would mean giving in to despair and ceasing the good fight, by which I mean, my ongoing effort to spread a little bit of sense and sanity and reason, through the continuing disbursement of my own sensible, sane, and inarguably correct opinions.
And, honestly, I haven't learned much at all, in terms of You Can't Prove You're Right, because, really, when I write one of these things and post it, I still am actually naive enough to expect those who eventually read them to actually think about what they say and perhaps even find them persuasive of a viewpoint that their readers do not already share. And every time I get some really stupid, belligerent, and almost invariably, sub-literate, piece of email in response to something I've taken a great deal of time to set out with enormous clarity and precision and inarguable logic... it surprises me, and irritates me, and darkens, to at least a small extent, my day.
And while much of this is no doubt from the childish belief that I am, in fact, Right, and therefore, once I've explained my viewpoint carefully, everyone should agree, at least some of it is from the fact that, as I say, nearly invariably, the only people who bother to respond to my work are those who not only disagree with it, but disagree with it stupidly, and irrationally, and without the apparent capacity to formulate a coherent thought, much less a literate sentence.
The second thing I have realized from my re-visitation of this whole experience is that perhaps I shouldn't really be so surprised that this one piece of work has drawn more responses than anything else I've ever written and put out in front of any sort of audience. After all, I'm not just squaring off on WATCHMEN, here, or the works of Charles Dickens, or, really, anything else that one might actually expect to have some reasonable, intelligent fans.
This article is an attempt to prove, once and for all, through irrefutable logic and crystalline, straightforward, Juggernaut-like reason, with actual quotations and citations from the source material, that Marv Wolfman's New Teen Titans was, at the time this was written, and at every time in their existence prior to this article's creation, and probably, at all times since then, awful. Execrable. Unreadable. Tripe, and twaddle, and trash.
To any intelligent comics reader, that's simply going to be obvious, so why should I expect a response saying so?
On the other hand, to any Titans fan, it's going to be outrageous sacrilegious blasphemy that I should be hunted down and killed for, and given that anyone who actually enjoys Wolfman's work on the New Teen Titans clearly falls far short of even the most charitable definition of sentient being anyway... why should I be surprised when the only responses I get are, well, stupid?
You throw a great big Porterhouse steak into a pack of starving dogs; it's not like you should expect anyone to praise your cooking, right?
Although it would be nice if someone were to appreciate the delicate flavor of the meat itself. I did, after all, go to a lot of trouble to cut it off your favorite Sacred Cow.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
John Jones, the Manhunter from Marathon, IL, no longer dwells in Marathon, IL. And that's all he has to say about that. He will admit, the New Teen Titans actually have become quite a good comic book recently, under Geoff Johns, and hey, it only took twenty five goddam years, too.