Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Some thoughts on Terror Titans

Having recently read a couple of collections of Sean McKeever’s run on Teen Titans, I figured I might as well read the trade collection of his spin-off miniseries Terror Titans as well, and thus finish off all of the trades produced during McKeever’s Titans.

The book follows Rose “Ravager” Wilson, who had just quit the Teen Titans team, infiltrating the ranks of new Clock King’s team of teenage legacy villains, the so-called Terror Titans.

Clock King uses them to help him capture and sell teenage super-people to The Dark Side Club, a place where bad guys organize and bet on gladiatorial death matches between superheroes.

It’s not a very good work, but I didn’t find myself necessarily incensed about its poor quality in such a way that I felt motivated to give it a formal review either.

So instead, here are some random thoughts on it.

—Aside from a few weak points, including an unclear beginning (borne of this book being a spin-off, no doubt) and a somewhat nonsensical climax (more on that later), the series is plotted very well. Almost every issue opens with an eight-panel, silent sequence featuring the life story of one of the Terror Titans, which does a fair job of showing up that they’re all life-long psychopaths in a quick, efficient manner, and writer Sean McKeever manages to demonstrate The Clock King manipulating each of the four title characters somewhat subtly. By the book’s climax, it’s made clear that the various conflicts between the main characters have all been engineered by the Clock King for a purpose.

Additionally, McKeever does a good job of sketching out the characters of the Terror Titans, although the series’ hero and its villain remain ciphers.

—The violent content that was so off-putting in a book featuring Robin, Wonder Girl and Marvin and Wendy works much better here in a more standalone title than it did in Teen Titans. Like Secret Six, this is a book consisting mostly of bad guys and worse guys (and a bunch of mind-controlled victims, I guess), so depravity of any kind is a lot more at home here.

I personally don’t like DC’s often juvenile, trying-to-have-it-both-ways approach to mature content, in which they neither commit to actual mature readers content, but don’t produce all-ages material either. Terror Titans, like the Teen Titans series about the time this spun out of it (and plenty of other DC Comics of the last few years), reads a bit like an R-rated movie in which the studio kept making one tiny edit after another until they had snipped away enough content that the MPAA granted them a coveted PG-13 rating.

—While his motivations are never made clear and his plans don’t make a whole lot of sense, McKeever’s Clock King is certainly built up as a formidable, scary villain. The fact that McKeever manages to do so without any of the usual cheap tricks—like, say, having Clock King defeat The Joker or Prometheus off-panel to prove what a bad-ass he is—but instead by spending time revealing his brutal nature slowly, action by action, line by line, the old-fashioned way, makes him doubly so.

—I’m of two minds about the art, which is penciled by Joe Bennett and inked by Jack Jadson. I don’t think it looks very good, personally, but I’m unsure of whether or not it’s good.

Like Eddy Barrows, who was occasionally drawing Teen Titans during the time this spun out of it, they draw muscled human bodies in tortured, agonized poses pretty well, so a great deal of the book is appropriately ugly and painful looking. I could feel stress emanating from the pages, and that’s a good thing, given the content.

It’s not unreadable, and, sadly, “not unreadable” actually qualifies as a positive when talking about current Big Two super-comic art, although it could certainly be more clear. Particularly during the fight scenes, of which there are many, it is difficult to tell who is doing what to whom, and who actually wins and loses the fights (Of course, these end with boxes declaring the winner, which helps in cases where the poses and rendering simply show two identical super girls in similar, painful-looking, eyes-squinting, mouth-open poses).

They draw awful clothes though. There’s a scene where Ravager and the Terror Titans are all wearing street clothes, and…and there was a blazer over a t-shirt tucked into jeans…and- and an off-the-shoulder peasant blouse belly shirt…and a micro tank top and tiny shorts with white piping and…

Well, let’s just say if there were a DC superhero named Fashion Police Woman who caught the villains in the lair, she would have been more than justified in using lethal force on the team.

—That said, I do like the character design of The Clock King. And… No actually, that’s the only nice character design in this book.

—I can’t think of a better illustration of how out of control DC’s legacy-itis has gotten than this book. The very first scene of the book features our villainous protagonists Disruptor II, Copperhead II, Persuader III* and Dreadbolt (son of Bolt) attacking a group of teen heroes consisting of Aquagirl II, Terra III**, Star-Spangled Kid III, Zatara II, Offspring (son of Plastic Man) and Molecule, the only non-legacy character of the bunch.

—I had to eventually throw my hands up and give up on trying to figure out how this fit in with Final Crisis. The Dark Side Club is, at the series’ opening, run by characters with names familiar from Jack Kirby’s Fourth World mythology—Desaad, Steppenwolf, Bernadeth and so on. They are all in mundane human forms though, similar to the way Grant Morrison imagined them in Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle and the early parts of Final Crisis.

I couldn’t tell if this series was set before or after Final Crisis though, as the characters refer to “Boss Dark Side” and Granny Goodness having died, and the prophecy concerning the dark gods arriving on Earth having failed to come to pass.

Oh, and Clock King kills two of the New Gods, too.

—There’s a strange bit of dialogue during a meeting between Clock King and the evil New Gods about the direction of the Club which I’m not sure I understood, but it seems like McKeever either used the wrong word or someone in editorial should have spiked that word.

“I realize you feel your Caesar act is in some way, engaging, Vundabarr,” Clock King says to Vundabarr, “But you and your co-chair have to accept that you aren’t packing in the sodomites like you used to.”

The next few sentences, if that helps provide context: “The crowds you’ve managed to keep, they don’t spend. They don’t bet. They don’t get terribly excited anymore.”

So, um, what was that about sodomites, and what on earth does that have to do with anything here?

—A couple of super-nerdy nitpicks: How does Dreadbolt punch out Offspring in the opening scene, if the latter is made out of living plastic? And how is Miss Martian able to retain her shape-changed disguise when Fever defeats her by bathing her in fire?

—That said, hoo boy is this a pretty gory comic. In addition to all the blood-spitting face punches and broken necks and bones, there’s a panel of two people having their heads bisected by Clock King’s little Phantasm balls (one vertically, one horizontally), there’s a sequence of the character Hardrock (What if the Thing were a teenager, with a dumb name?) tearing Young Frankenstein (Get it? Like the movie) into three pieces, a character having her flesh melted off while being blown apart with her entrails flailing about, and, in the scene that surprised me the most, a character with explosive fingertips having all ten of her fingers chopped off…by our hero Rose Wilson…the only character fighting in the tournament who’s not being mind-controlled into fighting.

It is, or course, not marked mature readers, because no one says “the F-word” and all of the nipples remain covered by spandex or clingy cotton.

—There are an awful lot of characters killed for such a short span of issues. Not counting civilians, New Gods in human forms and characters created specifically for this series (Pristine and TNTeena, I think). These include Molecule, a “missing year” Teen Titan only seen in 52 (and Tiny Titans!), who gets chopped in half; Bolt, a late-eighties Blue Devil villain, who gets teleported into a stone chimney; and Fever, a new hero created for John Arcudi and Tan Eng Huat’s short-lived 2001 Doom Patrol series , who gets shot with a shotgun after our heroine Rose Wilson knocks her unconscious in a tournament bout.

—Clock King’s big plan doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense. As the series draws to a close, we learn that the scheming villain hasn’t just been brainwashing the captured teen heroes to fight one another in the arena, but he’s been programming to serve as his own personal army in some undefined, goal-less terror campaign (Other than mentioning unleashing chaos a few times, he doesn’t seem to have any concrete political or personal goals for his plot).

He calls them “The Martyr Militia,” and he sets them loose in LA to tear up the street, attacking empty vehicles and buildings for a few pages…? There’s nothing to it other than random, victimless violence, and since there doesn’t even seem to be any casualties, it doesn’t even seem like terrorism.

In our world, it would probably be kind of scary, but in the DCU, unleashing a dozen Y-List teenage heroes to tear up a city block seems kind of small potatoes, doesn’t it? Something Superman or The Flash or Green Lantern could take care of between the panels of their own, regularly scheduled adventures?

—Who on Earth thought the ideal way to introduce Milestone’s Static into the DCU was to have him show up in the second half of a violent Teen Titans spin-off in which Ravager is the biggest name character?

*Well, I’m going to go ahead and call her Perusader III, because she’s the third character with that name and schtick in DC’s comics, but chronologically along the DCU timeline, she’s Perusader II. The original Persuader is a Legion villain, so he exists a thousand years in the future, making the second and third Perusaders more “pre-gacy” than “legacy” characters. Ah, comics!

**Or Terra II, depending on whether or not the Team Titans Terra was Terra II or Terra I who temporarily thought she was Terra I…I lost track of that plot point


Jacob T. Levy said...

Oh, and Clock King kills two of the New Gods too.

He does what now?


Given the Death of the New Gods/ Coundown/ Final Crisis FUBAR, worrying about how any of the pre-FC 4th world stories fit with any others is probably not worth the effort.

eli. said...

sodomite is sometimes used as a synonym of sinner, as referring to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodom_and_Gomorrah

Matthew said...

Sodomite is technically the long form of the British slang 'sod', which can be used to mean someone obnoxious or contemptible but also someone for whom you feel sympathy (as in 'poor sod').

It sounds like the original phrase was 'not packing in the sods like you used to' and someone changed it to the long form.