Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Heroes for the '90s! #14: May 1992

Shock and Awe








 












Avengers # 347 
writer: Bob Harras     
penciller: Steve Epting
inker: Tom Palmer
colorist: Gina Going-Raney

*

I’ve read tens of thousands of comic books in my lifetime, but there are only a select few for which I can remember the exact time and place I read them. One of those is Avengers #347.

I was sleeping over at my friend Stan’s house. I’d brought some comics over to show him (he was a dabbler) and to read before falling asleep. As I lay there on the floor in my sleeping bag, a single halogen lamp for light, my mind was blown by what I read in Avengers #347, which was the conclusion of a nineteen(!) part storyline called “Operation Galactic Storm.” The previous 18 parts had been underwhelming, with the story sinking under its own weight and having no real coherence. So for the story to end in such an unexpected and thought-provoking way was a real shock.

*

There are two kids of major events in comics. One is the Infinity Gauntlet type of event, where a mini-series tells the main story while the monthly books have tie-in storylines that typically aren’t all that essential. The other is where a story runs across multiple monthly titles with no anchor book. “Operation Galactic Storm” was one of the more expansive and ambitious examples of the latter, taking up three months’ worth of seven different Avengers-related titles (Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Quasar, Wonder Man, Avengers, and Avengers West Coast).

In short, the story concerns rapidly escalating tensions between two alien empires, the Kree and the Shi’ar. The Avengers get involved when Shi’ar agents kidnap Captain America’s (and Captain Marvel’s and the Hulk’s) former sidekick Rick Jones in order to steal his nega bands. This is in addition to the fact that both sides of the conflict are using stargates that threaten to destabilize Earth’s sun. So the Avengers split into three groups, all with the mission of trying to prevent a war.

As I said, the story has an intriguing premise, but ends up feeling padded and meandering. This is largely due to the involvement of six different writers trading off roughly linear chapters between seven different books. But even within that, the story is not particularly well built. It’s not initially clear why these two empires want to fight. There are too many new Kree and Shi’ar characters who don’t get a proper introduction. And the Rick Jones part of the story is completely abandoned halfway through, robbing the narrative of what could have been a strong emotional center.

A reason for the reader to actually care about all of these grand events does come along, but it’s not until the last two issues of the event. 

The penultimate chapter is presented in Wonder Man #9, written by Gerard Jones and drawn by Jeff Johnson. The issue finds Vision and Wonder Man trapped in Kree space with the Shi’ar Negabomb (built using Rick's nega bands). They verbally and physically spar over whether or not to allow the bomb to detonate. Vision argues that – though it will result in many deaths - it will end the conflict, bring peace, and prevent further deaths. Wonder Man argues that it would be genocide, and that Vision doesn’t understand the true value of life because he can’t die. Underlying this all and giving it heft is the fact Wonder Man died once, overcome a crippling fear of death, and that Vision was patterned on Wonder Man’s own brainwaves. In the end, Wonder Man wins the argument, but the bomb becomes unstable and goes off on its own, killing billions of Kree.

Avengers #347 explores the aftermath of that horrific event. As the Avengers come together once again, having all miraculously survived, they discover that a supercomputer called the Kree Supreme Intelligence had masterminded everything. It had sacrificed the majority of its people in the hope that the few survivors would rise up stronger than ever before. This sets off a debate between the Avengers: Do they take the Supreme Intelligence into custody, or do they kill it and prevent further heinous acts?

After a heated discussion, which includes an exploration of whether or not killing an artificial intelligence is morally wrong. Captain America argues vigorously against killing the Intelligence. 

But Iron Man is unmoved.


He then leads those who agree with him on an assassination mission (ironically, this time Wonder Man is in favor of murder). They carry it out, with the Black Knight delivering the killing blow to the brain-like mainframe. When they return to the others, Cap is bitterly disappointed and gives a speech shaming those who chose to participate in the
assassination. And as anyone knows, Cap being disappointed in you is the lowest feeling there is.

On top of that, a brief epilogue shows us it was all in vain, as the Supreme Intelligence was able to upload his consciousness elsewhere before his physical mainframe was destroyed. It turns out that fracturing the Avengers was just another layer of his plan.

The issue was done by writer Bob Harras and penciller Steve Epting. As a teen I was no big fan of Steve Epting, nor Tom Palmer’s overwhelming inking style, but looking at their work now I have a great appreciation for its clarity and solidity. And Harras has committed many sins during his time in comics (his overbearing approach as editor of the X-Men titles driving long-term writers away, his role in DCs New 52), but he (along with his co-plotters Mark Gruenwald and Fabian Nicieza) deserves great credit here for delivering an ending to a story that is way better than it deserves to be.

All of it - the debate, decision, the gut-punch ending - was genuinely shocking to me at the time. There was the fact that I was very used to comics where the hero or heroes pull out a last minute triumphant save, and there was the fact that this was a time in superhero comics when gleeful killing of “bad guys” was portrayed without any sense of restraint. The story in Avengers #347 seems almost to be a direct commentary on that (which is rich considering Bob Harras edited some of the very books he seemed to be criticizing). To read something with genuine nuance and a moral dilemma, especially at that particular moment in comics history, was thrilling. It felt real.

Even as a sophomore in high school I recognized there was true life allegory involved in this story. I had by that time studied World War II, and knew about the debate over the use of the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which is echoed in the Wonder Man issue. The conflict in Avengers #347 also had World War II themes (namely the punishment of Nazi war criminals after the war had ended), but was also pertinent to the Gulf War and the “Operation Desert Storm” that the event's title plays on. At that time, President George H.W. Bush did not go so far as to remove Saddam Hussein from power, and some might argue that decision came back to haunt us, while others might call it prudent (to use one of Bush's favorite words).

Just as that decision had long-term real-world consequences, in comics, this fundamental disagreement between Captain America and Iron Man would become a recurring theme. It led to the 2006 Civil War miniseries, which of course then became the basis for one of the best MCU movies, 2016's Captain America: Civil War.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Heroes for the '90s! #13: March 1992

Taking Flight

























Alpha Flight #106
Writer: Scott Lobdell
Penciller: Mark Pacella
Inker: Dan Panosian
Colorist: Bob Sharen


*

Though I'm a cisgender heterosexual male, I’d say I’m pretty far along on the spectrum of embracing the wide array of differences in how people express their sexuality and gender. 

That wasn't always the case though, and it took a sometimes-ugly journey to get here.
 
Begin that I'm a cisgender heterosexual male, the system wasn’t designed for me to be tolerant and accepting of homosexuality or anything else outside of the heterosexual or gender “norm.” In addition to the gender and sexuality coding that everyone gets, I was raised in a conservative church that condemned what were euphemistically called “alternative lifestyles.” And I absorbed that, along with the casual homophobia that permeated the 1980s TV and movies of my youth.
 
At the same time, I knew and liked my dad’s friends, a couple named Ron and Tom, though I was naïve enough that it took being on a tour of their house and hearing, “This is our bedroom” for me to finally understand they were gay. In college, I regularly teased my friend Richard about his stereotypically gay mannerisms (the fact that he eventually came out of the closet doesn’t justify that).
 
Though homophobia has some roots in the idea of being turned off by the idea of sex with someone of the same gender, there’s also a component of insecurity and fear. As a teenager my thinking went something like, ‘If I say I’m not disgusted by the idea of two guys getting it on, someone is going to say I like it myself.” And that was the next layer of homophobia: Desperately wanting to avoid being seen as gay.
 
So even after I developed enough empathy to realize I wasn’t offended by homosexuality, I pretty much stayed quiet about it. And while staying silent out of fear is quite different from actively committing to hateful words and actions, it’s still not admirable in any way.
 
I was probably in that silent period when Alpha Flight #106 came out, and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that it helped me get to the next phase of my journey, away from silent acceptance toward an unafraid embrace.
 
Why Alpha Flight #106? Well, it’s the issue where Northstar – a former Olympic athlete with superfast reflexes – reveals to the world that he’s gay. It was the first time a mainstream superhero had come out of the closet.

*
 
I’m going to resist the urge to delve into the entire history of gay superheroes, but I will say that DC comics were slightly ahead of the curve here. Until 1989, comics that wanted to be approved by the Comics Code Authority – which would be every single mainstream DC and Marvel book - couldn’t not portray homosexual characters, as it was considered “deviancy.” In 1991 a reformed Flash villain, the Pied Piper, had come out. Around the same time Element Lad of the Legion of Super-Heroes learned that his girlfriend was really a man who had shapeshifted into the form of a woman. He decided to remain in the relationship.
 
Northstar and the rest of Alpha Flight were created in 1979 by Chris Claremont and John Byrne during their run on Uncanny X-Men. The Canadian team graduated to their own series in 1983, with Byrne writing and drawing. There were hints about Northstar’s sexuality sprinkled throughout the series, most notably in issues #8 and #9 when Northstar’s visiting friend Raymonde is strongly implied to be a former lover. 

Later in the series, writer Bill Manto hinted at Northstar having AIDS, but the storyline was never fully developed.
 
When Marvel finally decided to allow Northstar to come out, it was under somewhat strange circumstances. They essentially produced a “very special issue” that stands apart from the rest of the series.
 
As the issue begins, Alpha Flight are in the midst of a battle when Northstar discovers an abandoned infant in an alley. He takes her to the hospital and discovers she was born HIV positive, and has developed AIDS. When this hits the news, it enrages a former hero called Major Mapleleaf (who we learn in a tonally-incongruent intro is essentially a Canadian version of Captain America). Mapleleaf attacks the hospital. Turns out – we find as he and Northstar battle – that Mapleleaf’s son died of AIDS, but was treated as though he deserved it because he was gay. This leads Northstar to finally state outright, “I am gay.” As their battle subsides, Northstar embraces Mapleleaf, and realizes he needs to use his position of fame and power to do more, and he comes out publicly.
 
The story tries to check a lot of boxes, not only building tolerance for homosexuality but dispelling the notion that HIV/AIDS is exclusively a gay problem, and making a case for coming out on your own terms. It also covers a lot of ground emotionally, with the baby eventually succumbing to complications from her AIDS. Besides the the story's jokey beginning, it largely succeeds in what it sets out to do.
 
And that’s pretty amazing considering the factors stacked against it. Writer Scott Lobdell – a frustrated stand-up comedian who was brand new to the business – had just started writing Alpha Flight one issue earlier. Penciller Mark Pacella was not the regular series artist. Neither creator is gay. And Pacella, who had been working in comics since the late 1980s had made the decision to ape Rob Liefeld’s style, which is not exactly suitable for either emotionality or subtly. Liefeld's style was popular, but imitating it was a doomed proposition: When the thing you're imitating so precariously walks the line between good and bad, an imitation of it has almost no chance. So most of Pacella's panels, including the big moment when Northstar comes out, are downright ugly.
 

I can’t help but wonder what this issue would have looked like in the hands of a more experienced and nuanced artist, such as John Byrne, Paul Ryan, or George Perez. I’m guessing it would be regarded as a classic.
 
As it was the issue made a big splash, landing mentions in the likes of Newsweek, CNN, and U.S. News and World Report. Newspapers published articles about how comic shops were dealing with the demand. The issue sold out its first print run and went to a second. Marvel publicist Pam Rutt curiously attempted to downplay  the significance of Northstar’s coming out, saying Marvel was simply doing what it has always done, which is tackle real world concerns within their fantasy world. Somewhat shockingly, there was no huge cry of outrage, but this was before Fox News and social media gave such ready outlets to intolerance and toxicity.
 
That’s not to say all was peachy. Then Marvel owner Ron Perelman was said to be very upset, and that brought heat to Alpha Flight editor Rob Tokar. To his credit, Tokar defended the decision vociferously to his bosses. But, maybe not surprisingly, the publisher was reluctant to push any further than they’d already gone. There was barely a mention of Northstar’s sexuality for the remainder of the Alpha Flight series (part of this may be that Lobdell was already gone by issue #109, probably due to commitments writing X-Men books), and wouldn’t really until the character’s 2012 marriage to Kyle Jinadu.
 
But, as cliché as it is to say, Northstar did really open the doors. While representation still has a ways to go in superhero comics, there’s now a long list of openly-gay or bisexual characters at both Marvel and DC: Iceman, Apollo, Midnighter, Batwoman, the Question, Living Lightning, Rictor, Shatterstar, Hulkling, Wiccan, Marvel Boy, etc. And queer creators are more prevalent, too: Sina Grace, Luciano Vecchio, Kieron Gillen, Phil Jiminez, James Tynion IV, etc.
 
*
 
Scott Lobdell kept very busy in the 1990s but wasn’t seen much in the business in the 2000s and 2010s. Instead he worked on film and television. He returned to write several titles for DC starting with 2011’s “New 52,” but racist and misogynistic behavior at a convention, and then subsequent accusations of sexual harassment and grooming of female creators have seemingly ended his pro comics career. It’s probably for the best, as he’s responsible for the single stupidest panel I’ve ever seen (if you're not sure why it's stupid, remember that speech bubbles indicate characters are talking out loud).


Mark Pacella went on to fulfill his destiny of working with the artist whose style he ripped off, drawing Liefeld’s plots on issues 9 through 13 of X-Force. He then followed Liefeld to Image, drawing some issues of Team Youngblood and the miniseries Doom’s IV (1994). From there he mostly left comics to work as a storyboard artist in film and animation, though he did return briefly to Image in 1999 for the three-issue Tooth and Claw miniseries, which he created, wrote, and drew.

*

Though its creators’ talents (and, in Lobdell’s case, personality) left something to be desired, Alpha Flight #106 nonetheless deserves its place in history. For me personally it was an important step in overcoming years of programming. That’s one of the greatest powers of fiction, to show us something outside of our experience, and help build empathy. For me, at least, Northstar’s actions in this story were the extremely rare case of a character’s heroism on the page having the same effect in the real world.
 
 
Works Cited
“Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Super-Heroes.” Beek's Books. https://web.archive.org/web/20090403232616/http://rzero.com/books/gaysuperfull.html
 
Howe, Sean. Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. Harper: New York. 2012
 
Gruenewald, Jon. “New allegations against Scott Lobdell surface after RED HOOD departure announcement.” The Beat. June 30, 2020. https://www.comicsbeat.com/scott-lobdell-harassment-allegations/
 
Wilson, Amy. “Out of the Closet.” June 18, 1992. Edmonton Journal.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Heroes for the '90s #12: February 1992

A Perfect Thirty-First Issue
















Quasar #31
Writer: Mark Gruenwald
Penciller: Greg Capullo
Inker: Harry Candelario
Colorist: Paul Becton

*

Reading monthly comics you become conditioned not to expect each individual issue to cover much territory on its own. You accept that you’re buying a part of a larger story. It might be enjoyable, but you don’t expect it to feel like a complete reading experience in and of itself. Of course there are the occasional standalone issues, which can be good, but aren’t inherently better by virtue of being self-contained. The rarest unicorn of all is the single issue that is part of the larger tapestry but still feels complete in-and-of-itself.

Quasar #31 is one of those unicorns. It’s an act of magic that is and does things it shouldn’t be able to be or do. It’s a standalone story that’s part of a larger narrative. It ties off its plot threads but opens up many others. It makes Marvel’s much maligned New Universe seem like an intriguing place. And it deepens your sympathy for, understanding of, and admiration for its main character.

As a teenager I loved Mark Gruenwald’s Quasar, concerning a former Army officer who is assigned to be “Protector of the Universe” by a godlike being called Eon. It was one of the first books that I collected on a regular basis. I jumped on at #17, just one issue before a new-to-the-business penciller named Greg Capullo became the book’s regular artist. The book had been fun up to that point, but Capullo took it to the next level. It’s example #1,998,312 of the difference a good artist can make (Gruenwald’s writing career, for whatever reason, demonstrates this better than most).


The Gruenwald/Capullo team lasted nearly two years, and of their run, this (mostly) standalone issue fascinated me the most. I read it over and over again.

The story finds Quasar hopping dimensions in search of seven counterparts of a villain named the Living Laser. In the midst of this mission he runs into a version of his enemy Maelstrom, who seemingly blasts Quasar out of existence. In reality, he’s been sent outside of the dimensional multiverse, into the world of the New Universe. That’s right, Marvel’s 1986-1989 alternative line of comics that to this point had not been connected in any way to the mainstream Marvel universe. There, Quasar runs into the members of D.P.7, which just so happens to be the team that Gruenwald wrote about for its entire 32 issue New Universe run.

I should be clear that I hadn’t read any New Universe comics at the time I first read Quasar #31, and I wouldn’t read them until much much later. But that lack of familiarity didn’t hamper my enjoyment at all; actually the fact that these characters were so odd and foreign to me increased the story’s effectiveness.

Now that I have read it, though, I’m fascinated by some of the choices Gruenwald made in regards to D.P.7. We only see the team for a few pages, but they’re not in the same place they were at the end of their series. In D.P. 7 #32, Jenny Swenson – Chrome – had seemingly decided to give up her powers. But here she clearly still has them. Jeff Walters – Blur – had left the team, but is back with them here. And they have a new member named Chris (he’s young, and has a “flying hubcap," and is apparently a comic book fan) who I would love to know more about. 

Gruenwald was well-known as a master of (and a slave to) continuity, so these were clearly intentional choices. The letters page of D.P.7 #32 mentions that a “graphic album” featuring the team was forthcoming, but that never materialized. Perhaps these changes would have occurred there.

Was it self-indulgent for Gruenwald to bring the team he co-created (with artist Paul Ryan) into the Marvel Universe? Maybe, but damn if it doesn’t work. This is mostly because the issue isn’t just a nostalgia trip. Gruenwald uses the New Universe to deepen the character of Quasar, and to seed plot points with both short and long-term repercussions. 

The former first. After meeting with D.P.7, Quasar quickly determines that he needs to seek out the Star Brand, a sort of tattoo that grants its wearer god-like powers. In New Universe continuity, the Brand had been wielded by a man named Kevin Connell, but through a series of increasingly odd events that I won’t detail here, it ended up with a fighter pilot called Jim Hanrahan. Quasar goes to Jim’s house and tries to convince him to help. Jim refuses to use the power, claiming “If I never use the thing, I can never misuse it.”

Quasar, realizing what a burden this is for Jim, offers to take the Star Brand from him. But Jim, understandably, isn’t at all sure he wants to give it up to a random stranger. So Quasar proposes they talk until Jim feels convinced. 

I always loved this sequence, for just how much it covers in the space of a few panels, and for how Capullo executes it so perfectly with his use of expression and rendering. It’s a microcosm of the issue as a whole, showing just how unlimited the potential of comics storytelling really is.

Quasar taking on the Star Brand would not only serve as a way to get him home, but as a long-term plot in Quasar, leading all the way to the 1994 "Starblast" event. The surprise "stinger" in the book's last panel (which finds one of Antibody's mini-mes having stowed away with Quasar) provided the impetus for events in issues 45 and 46, in which the little guy gets big and angry. 

Gruenwald was also ahead of his time here. In 2013 writer Jonathan Hickman introduced New Universe concepts, including the Star Brand, into his run on Avengers. Current Avengers writer Jason Aaron has taken that baton and run with it. James Robinson’s 2016 take on Squadron Supreme included former D.P.7 member Blur on the team.

Speaking of Squadron Supreme, nothing in Gruenwald’s writing career can match his work on that series (which I wrote about on this very blog), but Quasar #31 comes damn close.

*

Gruenwald passed away much too early, succumbing to a heart attack in 1996. Besides Squadron Supreme, D.P.7 and Quasar, his signature achievement is an as-yet-unbeaten 10-year run as writer of Captain America. Quasar was a launching point to stardom for Capullo, who went on to pencil X-Force, Spawn, and, more recently, Batman and the Dark Nights miniseries.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Heroes for the '90s! #11: January 1992

The Thrill of the Hunt
















New Titans #82
writer: Marv Wolfman
penciller: Tom Grummett
inker: Al Vey
colorist: Adrienne Roy

*

The Teen Titans began in the mid-1960s as a group of sidekicks who occasionally hung out and had adventures. As many DC characters did, the team went in some shaggy and weird directions in the 1970s. But in 1980, Marv Wolfman and George Perez revamped the team completely, adding new members (Cyborg, Changeling a.k.a. Beast Boy, Raven, Starfire) and glowing up originals Robin, Kid Flash, and Wonder Girl. The New Teen Titans was a massive hit, and at its height rivaled the popularity of The Uncanny X-Men. In fact, that’s the book it was most compared to, as both concerned a diverse group of characters who operated as a makeshift family.

 George Perez left Titans in the mid-1980s, and was replaced by Eduardo Barreto. Perez returned in 1988 and the book was rebranded as The New Titans (the characters by this time all having reached their early 20s. Perez stuck around for a couple of years, but then moved on again. This coincided roughly with the series getting a new editor, Jonathan Peterson, who was given a mandate to shake things up and goose dwindling sales. General feeling among DC management was that book had become too safe and predictable. Even things that were once revolutionary can become commonplace. Wolfman admitted he’d fallen into tedium with his stories. He remarked to Comics Scene, “Occasionally  I like my characters so much that I never want them to go through major problems.”

 So when Peterson came in with a bunch of new ideas, Wolfman and series artists Tom Grummett and Al Vey found his enthusiasm infectious. Together they brainstormed a massive shake-up for the New Titans. The result was “Titans Hunt,” an epic storyline that completely rewrote the Titans’ status quo. Not only did it consume over year of the title, its repercussions played out over two more years beyond that.

*

Stan Lee coined the term “the illusion of change” in superhero comics, which basically means that writers can only enact temporary changes in status quo. In most cases this tenet held fast, but sometimes actual change did happen, which is what made things like the All-New, All-Different X-Men, Spider-Man’s wedding, and the New Mutants’ transformation into X-Force that much more thrilling.

DC in the 1980s and 1990s didn’t trade much in the illusion of change, but instead proffered the real thing. Post-Crisis in Infinite Earths they seemed to view their characters as living, breathing people whose lives evolve and move forward. The New Teen Titans title was a big part of that, with Robin becoming Nightwing, and Wonder Girl growing old enough that the name didn’t suit her anymore.

This is all to say that when I first encountered New Titans #82 it was genuinely shocking. I didn’t have much idea what was going on or who the characters were, but I could tell the stakes were high and the consequences were real. I quickly sought out the previous 11 issues and consumed them greedily. What I found was a story unlike anything I’d read in comics to that point, full of clever revelations and twists – layers of betrayals and identity revelations and surprising character moments.

In broad strokes, “Titans Hunt” concerns the members of the Titans – both present and past – being systematically hunted down and captured (or in the case of Aqualad and Golden Eagle, brutally attacked). A combination of Nightwing, Arella (Raven’s mother), Steve Dayton (Beast Boy’s father), Deathstroke (the team’s sworn enemy), Phantasm, and Pantha (two new characters) team up to try to unravel exactly what happened, and to rescue the Titans. By the end of the story, the New Titans team had been remade, and not a single member of the cast was left unaffected.


It shouldn’t really have worked. For over a year Wolfman sidelined about 90% of his main cast and made a villain one of the lead characters. But in short order this had the effect of making Deathstroke into an appealingly a sympathetic anti-hero (which dovetailed nicely with DC launching him in his own book). Wolfman also pulled a similar trick with a character fans hated, Danny Chase (I won’t give away what happens there, but it’s my favorite twist in the whole story). A plot sprawling over nearly 20 issues worth of comics is very difficult to justify, but damned if every chapter doesn’t feel important. And on top of all that, “Titan’s Hunt” was also interrupted by two crossover events – Armageddon 2001 and War of the Gods – which Wolfman somehow managed to work fairly seamlessly into the story.

And the art! Tom Grummett didn’t have a long resume in comics at that time. In fact, his work on New Titans was his first work for DC. Unlike many artists whose first professional work shows signs of growing pains, Grummett seemed to spring forth fully formed, with impeccable storytelling, solid fundamentals in anatomy and facial expressions, and a style simpatico with Perez’s but unique unto itself.

*

“Titans Hunt” was an exceedingly well-crafted story, and it demonstrated for me just how tight and well-plotted and exciting month-to-month comics storytelling could be. In fact, I’d say it spoiled me. Remember I was still mired in Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld comics that looked amazing but were often a slog to actually read.

In fact, it’s difficult not to relate this to the New Mutants and their transformation into X-Force, but besides the general concept of dramatically overhauling a teen team, there aren’t a lot of commonalities between the two. Whereas the dismantling of the New Mutants felt abrupt, the rehauling of the Titans felt natural. Because Wolfman had been writing the book for so long he was able to pick up on subplots he’d left dangling to make this epic story seem like it was planned, even though it wasn’t – at least not consciously. And though turning a family of teen friends into a militaristic strike force – as happened with New Mutants – had an adolescent thrill at the time, the story of the Titans becoming closer through tragedy is deeper and rings truer.

That said, there are clear places were Wolfman and DC were – in their own quaint way – trying to chase the success of X-Force.

See “Titans Hunt” had set up another epic, “Total Chaos,” in which a team of Titans from the future arrive in present day to try to prevent their dystopian timeline from existing. The team – called the Team Titans - was a strike-force and had some morally ambiguous characters. There was even a drill sergeant type who toted a big gun, AND the book launched with five different covers (granted, they also had five different opening stories). Wolfman has admitted these Team Titans had been created as a one-shot idea, but were retrofitted to echo X-Force (he even flirted briefly with creating a Titans team with Liefeld himself, but the deal fell through; Shaft from Youngblood was Liefeld’s redesign for Titan Roy Harper).

 “Total Chaos” was as awful as “Titans Hunt” was great. In a 2005 interview, Wolfman would astutely comment of “Total Chaos” that “the title kind of describes it.” The story ran through three months of the three Titans titles, though the Deathstroke chapters concern themselves with an utterly unconnected plotline, and both Titans teams spend most of the story gathered in various living rooms whilst bickering with one another. Worse, the main thrust of the story had no internal or external logic.

In that same 2005 interview, Wolfman expressed little fondness for his work on Titans in the 1990s. He’d claim that – like so many other established writers during this era – he essentially fell into a position of simply writing what he was told to write by editorial.

So it’s no surprise that “Total Chaos” represented not a fluke but a new sort of status quo. The Titans book became a disjointed mess. Following several issues of on-again-off again work on the book, Grummett left to work on the Superman books (watch a future essay for more on that). The 1994 Zero Hour event prompted another overhaul of the team, leaving only a couple of original members along with a mismatched group of characters established elsewhere (Supergirl, Green Lantern, Damage). This era was further hampered by a lack of a consistently good artist, and thus failed to connect with fans.

Wolfman left the Titans for good in 1996. He’d written the team for an astonishing 16 years. Fittingly, this feat equaled Chris Claremont’s run on Uncanny X-Men.


Works Cited:
Cadigan, Glen. Titans Companion. TwoMorrows. Raleigh, NC. 2005. 

Johnson, Kim Howard. "Of Titans and Terminators." Comics Scene 24 (February 1991).

Russell, Jesse. "RetChronicles: Revisiting Titans Hunt."  September 13, 2019. http://www.theshareduniverse.com/retchronicles-revisiting-titans-hunt/