Monday, October 24, 2016

Dawn, Go Away - Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes 226

Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #226 (April 1977)(Cover by Mike Grell)
"The Dazzling Debut of Dawnstar!"
Paul Levitz-James Sherman/Jack Abel

Doug: Isn't that a typical DC cover in terms of the happenings? We often joke about DC's stable of characters as being pretty white bread. You know what they also were? "Mean girls". All of 'em. If you were to hit up one of the cover-heavy sites, like Cover Browser, and tour some Silver and Bronze Age DC comic books I think you'd find scenes like the one above were pretty common. Rude, rude, rude. Or, in other cases, playing some stupid "gotcha!" game or gag.

Karen: This does seem like a recurring theme, and not just with the Legion. We all know Superman can be a ...uhm, jerk.

Doug: So we're back with another look at the Bronze Age Legion of Super-Heroes. Two weeks ago we checked in on a tussle with the Fatal Five as drawn by Mike Grell. Karen remarked at the time that Superboy #219 was somewhat of an oddball issue in that it contained a feature-length story. This book, then, would be more along the lines of "status quo" at DC in the 1970s. Whereas Marvel had for the most part eschewed the split books or back-ups, DC remained committed to the concept. We'll only be reviewing the cover story (@11 pages), as the back-up (@6 pages) is actually the first part of a story that continues into the next issue. Of note, however, is that that back-up (starring Brainiac-5) was penciled by another successor to Mike Grell in Mike Nasser. Both James Sherman and Nasser were capable artists, and today we'll inspect Sherman's work.

Karen: I liked both Sherman and Nasser, and I feel like they are unfortunately under-rated, and somewhat forgotten.

Doug: I concur. I personally think of Cockrum and Grell first, and I know many of our friends who are a few yeats younger think of Keith Giffen.

Doug: "Lay that 100-Word Review on us, Doug!" As you wish...

100-Word Review:

The “Raiders”, interstellar thieves, break out of a Legion containment cell. Although soon corralled by Sun Boy and Star Boy, the young heroes lament that Lightning Lad has not been able to track the course the Raiders had been on. In walks Wildfire, brusque as always. He tells that he has someone who can track anything in space – Dawnstar! The Legionnaires are skeptical, and moreso when she apparently leads them to nothing. But Saturn Girl detects a convoy, and the Raiders soon attack it. The Legion battles, but loses contact with the bad guys. But Dawnstar tracks them again… to Earth!

Doug: I've said before, and will repeat -- it cannot be easy writing a self-contained story to be told over only 10 pages. Even though I said this tale was 11 pages, it was DC's modus operandi in the Bronze Age to make the splash page like a second cover and never the launching point for the plot. My misgivings about the story length are, I'm sure, skewed by my general favoritism toward Marvel's style of rolling plotlines. Anyway, we should be thinking about some analysis of this yarn.

The Good:

Doug: I liked that the line-up was a manageable size of six Legionnaires plus Dawnstar. But for those fans who like the team big, we also got glimpses of Timber Wolf, Colossal Boy, Chameleon Boy, Ultra Boy, and Mon-el. That's a dozen heroes in an 11-page story -- definitely bang for your Bronze Age buck (or a quarter + a nickel, as the case may be). I was never a big booster of either Sun Boy or Star Boy, but I thought the creators did a nice job of making them relevant right away in their securing of the would-be prison breakers. They didn't factor into the big battle at the end, so I'm left wondering if Paul Levitz (and others) made a conscious decision to cycle our young heroes through the roll calls.

Karen: It's a minor thing, but I like the little "roll call" box on the splash page. It let you know who would be the focus of the issue. "Sun Boy" and "Star Boy" - they're both named after the same thing! But very different powers. And Star Boy started out as another version of Superboy before he lost all his powers except the ability to increase gravity on people and objects. In the review of issue 219 we briefly discussed how some Legionnaires are 'A-list' and others are below that. I'd say these two are B-listers. I did like the fact that you might get Sun Boy and Star Boy one issue, then Chameleon Boy and Phantom Girl the next.

Doug: The Legion seemed to have a roster flow that the Avengers (for example) didn't enjoy. That being said, writing done-in-ones was a major plus factor to the Legion scribes as compared to their Avengers-writing brethren. Concerning pictures, the art team in today's story did a nice job. James Sherman was often able to incorporate some very cool lighting effects. We saw that in our review of Superboy #233 in some of the images featuring the Infinite Man. Here Dawnstar has some nice lighting while in space flight. And I'm just a sucker anyway for winged characters. She truly was the focal point of the story, to the point that she was at the center of every panel in which she appeared! One of the issues with characters who have a distinctive feature, such as large wings, is keeping the size and span consistent from panel to panel. Sherman and Jack Abel do just that, so there's a really nice flow with no distractions along that line.

Karen: I think James Sherman was a dynamic artist, but Abel was not a good match for him, with his thin lines. The figures have no weight. Looking at issue 233 where Bob Wiacek inked him, the art is much more appealing. Still, I appreciate his layouts and storytelling, but wish we'd gotten a more compatible inker.

Doug: Levitz was efficient in introducing us to Dawnstar. We got a full-figure look at her when she entered the story, followed by an image of her in flight right away. We know she's being brought to the team as a "tracker", and then Levitz has Wildfire say that not only can she track in space, but "fast enough that she'll outdistance this bucket of bolts--!" in reference to the Legion cruiser. After only five panels, I felt like I had enough information to make a judgment of her potential.

Karen: None of the Legionnaires had much depth at this point I'm afraid. The Grell-designed costume was pretty standard for him. It screamed a cross of 'hippie/Native American'  which I suppose was still popular in 1977. I also notice that the Legion cruiser looks bigger here, drawn by Sherman, than it did when Grell drew it in our review of issue #219.

Doug: One aspect of Legion stories that I like is that there isn't always a need for a formal top-flight bad guy. With a futuristic interplanetary setting, the sky was the limit for the sorts of menaces they could face. This particular story was merely a vehicle for Dawnstar's introduction, but it worked. The meatier plot actually rested in the second story in this book.

Karen: The Raiders were always sort of goofy. I thought they looked a bit like ants, at least their heads did. Their leader -the big disembodied brain and eyes in a tank -is a great sci-fi pulp trope and I got a kick out him. I also noticed that some of the spaceships looked like submarines, which was also a laugh.

The Bad:

Doug: I mentioned above that I didn't really care for DC's trope of having its heroes treat each other so poorly, often as a plot contrivance. Regarding the Legion, you can trace this all the way back to Adventure Comics #247. Anyway, Dawnstar did exactly what Wildfire brought her aboard to do, and that was to track the Raiders and their pals for the purpose of putting them out of business. Yet when the Legion arrived and ended up in a surprise battle, Lightning Lad severely rebuked Dawnstar for doing her job! His take on it was that she left too soon and the team did not have the opportunity to formulate a battle plan. Well... I'd argue that it was more Wildfire's responsibility, and he does get some blame. But there wasn't a conversation of "What if this or that?" on the cruiser as the flew through space? Shame on them, if that was the case.

Karen: It did seem like the Legionnaires tended to snipe at each other a lot, but then this is a quality of a lot of Marvel titles too. But I'd agree that Dawnstar really did nothing to deserve a tongue-lashing. It seemed like a ginned up conflict.

Karen: One thing that I find cringe-inducing now is Dawnstar's powers. She's Native American, so of course, she can track people. Because, you know, that's what Native Americans are good at, even mutant ones with wings who can fly through outer space. I know, it was 1977, there wasn't the sort of cultural consciousness then that we have now. But it's still hard to take. But probably not as hard as Tyroc.

Doug: Stereotypes are too easy for writers. I could also suggest doing characters justice by writing them out of the easy mold. If I missed it, pardon me -- I don't think I did. Was there no mention of the Legion's transuits for space walking? The team had bubbles on their heads, but nowhere could I ascertain that anyone was wearing a transuit. I do wish it had been explained how Dawnstar could survive space with no equipment whatsoever. That was a stretch. I have a hard enough time with Superboy in that regard. Can't be a yellow sun everywhere.

Karen: I noticed that too. I guess Dawnstar can exist in space, which must mean she has some limited invulnerability, right? But they were inconsistent -Saturn Girl doesn't appear to have a bubble around her head, although she certainly should be wearing a helmet and a transuit.

Doug: Wildfire's personality. I really don't like jerky characters. I understand that's the point -- to create conflict. Trouble is, they usually create that conflict with me. How's that for being invested?

Karen: I'll admit he seems like a doofus here, but as time went on, Wildfire became one of my favorites. He was given more depth than most of the Legionnaires. He was probably more Marvel-like in many ways - a tragic character, given his energy form, and pining for Dawnstar later on.

The Ugly:

Karen: I don't think I'd call anything especially ugly, but the art was not as strong as it could have been, and I do find the racial stereotyping of Dawnstar unfortunate at best.

Doug: Agreed on both counts, although I may actually suggest that I thought the overall execution of the art in this issue was more to my liking than what we'd seen from Mike Grell in our review of a couple of weeks ago.

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Open Forum: Remembering AM Radio...

Redartz:  The years since the "Bronze Age" have seen quite a few changes in popular culture. Some of the most common features of daily life back then are all but forgotten today. Think rotary telephones, handwritten letters, and black/white televisions. Other elements of today's life were unknown in the 70's, such as smartphones and the internet. You may have noticed that manyof the changes revolved around science and technology. Although it still exists today, AM radio was a victim of technology as well, beginning with the rise of FM broadcasting. By the time digital music became common, AM had been largely relegated to talk radio and sports. And like most, I gravitated away from AM listening as FM offered cleaner music ("no static at all", as Steely Dan put it). That said,  AM radio offered quite a lot of listening pleasure during the 70's, and today we will recall a bit of that.

My first exposure to AM was the local Anderson, Indiana radio station: WHUT. During the early 70's the station played top 40 hits, and was the station of choice on our school bus. Riding home after classes we would strain to hear Three Dog Night, Elton John and Grand Funk over the usual cacophony of yelling schoolkids. During the summer months, at the public swimming pool, I remember Paul McCartney's "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" would echo across the water, courtesy of the dj at WHUT. 

It wasn't long before my burgeoning love for pop music found greater fulfillment , via Casey Kasem and American Top 40. The same middle school friend who introduced me to comics also opened my ears to "AT40".
Every weekend through the rest of the decade and well into the 80's, I'd tune in to hear Casey count 'em down. Starting on Muncie, IN station WLBC, and later on several Indianapolis stations, the Billboard chart came alive every week, along with Casey's trivia and long-distance dedications. And the music was the big draw, even though there was somewhat greater static from the more distant Muncie broadcaster. Yet that fuzziness was part of the charm, and didn't seem troublesome at all.

By 1975 I'd gotten heavily addicted to comics, just in time to catch another treat on AM radio: the Fantastic Four Radio Show. Again courtesy of our local Anderson station, each week Stan Lee himself brought the FF to my ears through those little speakers on my clock radio. It only ran for 13 episodes, but somehow it seemed longer. The show featured a young Bill Murray as the Human Torch, and adapted some of the classic Lee/Kirby epics. I never missed it. 

At about the same time period that I was tuning in to the FF, another radio show grabbed my attention and kept me glued each evening: the CBS Radio Mystery Theater. 

This show  premiered in 1974 and ran until 1982, totaling 1399 episodes. Being a tv kid, I had no prior experience with radio drama. This was a whole new reason to stay up late after bedtime, on school nights when I should have been studying or asleep. It was perfect: lying alone in the dark, late ( I think the show ran locally about 11:00 pm), listening to the creeeaaaky door intro and creepy music, followed by narrator E.G. Marshall's introduction. Quite a variety of themes were presented- mysteries, horror, science fiction, and some classics. Somehow everything seemed more convincing in those darkened late-nights, even the commercials. And when the news came on after, it sounded like the Chimes of Doom...

And speaking of the commercials, that was another unique part of AM radio. The preponderance of local ads and low radio budgets made for some amusing (and sometimes pretty cheesy) commercials. I can still clearly recall an ad from the mid-70's that ran very frequently on Anderson and Muncie stations. It was for a local drive-in theater that showed, shall we say, more adult-oriented fare. But the commercial opened with the Surfari's "Wipeout" intro, and surf guitar line. This was followed by an invitation to visit the "Blackford County Drive-In; 9 miles north of Muncie on highway 3. Our inner car heaters make winter feel like summer". I'll be hearing that commercial in my head until my dying day, and maybe after. 

One more little feature I'll mention about AM radio: a personal eccentricity, perhaps. During the evenings, when many local stations went off the air, the AM band became a place to pick up vague bits of broadcast from exotic locations all over, such as Des Moines, New York and Windsor, Ontario. WABC, CKLW, WLS and countless others. Again, the action of listening in the dark to these ghostly voices made them all the more evocative. Hearing those speakers, commercials, tunes, local newscasts- all fading in and out among the distant static was almost haunting, and very fun. I always heard you could pick up Mexican radio ( as per Wall of Voodoo), but never could myself...
Incidentally, you had to have an old analog tuning dial to do this best. Digital push-button tuning skips over too much, and you miss the fun of sweeping back and forth up and down the dial. Plus, you get the cool blue-green light illuminating the dial!

Hmmm, maybe I'll go upstairs late this evening and drag out that old transistor. Bet I can pick up WLW...

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Who's the Best... Horror Movie Remake?

Karen: Tis the season -for things creepy and scary. I was turning the dial on Sunday (well, clicking the remote, but you get my meaning) and I saw remakes of Frankenstein, and The Thing (actually that strange prequel to John Carpenter's remake...that's confusing), so I thought it might be time to toss out the question - Who's the Best remake? Or are you of the opinion that remakes stink?  And of course, are they really remakes, or just different versions from the same subject matter?

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Guest Review - "The Judas Contract", part two

Doug: We hope you enjoyed Mike Wilson's introduction to his reviews of the books that made up "The Judas Contract" storyline. He's back today with the body of that tale, one of the best of the latter Bronze Age.

"The Judas Contract" by M.S. Wilson

Tales of the Teen Titans #42 (May 1984)
"The Eyes of Tara Markov"
Marv Wolfman-George Perez/Dick Giordano

This is part 1 of the Judas Contract, where things really start getting wild. I love the title of this issue, which I'm assuming was inspired by "The Eyes of Laura Mars", though I haven't seen that movie. This one starts with Tara still taking photos with her contact lens camera. Only this time, she's taking photos of the Titans in their civilian identities, starting at Donna Troy's photo studio, where Donna is taking some bikini shots of Starfire. They all go to Donna's apartment where we see Terry Long, Donna's fiance and the world's most hated supporting character. They're planning the wedding, and feeling a bit overwhelmed, so Gar says they can hold the wedding at his (well, Steve Dayton's) mansion. Donna asks Dick to give her away, and asks Starfire and Tara to be bridesmaids (apparently Raven has already declined). Tara seems touched by Donna including her; will this change her mind about spying on the Titans? Don't count on it.

They drop by Dick's apartment next, and Tara is still taking pictures. As they leave, Tara speaks for readers everywhere and asks Gar why he acts like such an idiot all the time. Gar says he feels inadequate around the other Titans, since all of them would be successful without their powers, but he's got nothing else going for him. Tara tries to give him some advice, but he doesn't want to listen. They drop by a park and watch Vic (Cyborg) Stone attempting to ice skate ... and failing miserably. Of course, Gar makes fun of him, with a nod to Bambi. They go by Vic's place, which is in a run-down neighbourhood. Vic finds a letter saying his grandparents are coming home and freaks out, though he won't explain why. Later, Gar and Tara get all smocchy-smoochy down at the docks, even as we're reminded that Tara's still spying. At Titan Tower, Tara tries to get Raven to open up, but Raven's empathic abilities mean she can detect some bad vibes coming from Tara. She's not sure if it's Tara herself, or just some residue of Trigon's evil, but she's pretty snotty to Tara. That makes Tara mad and she vows that she'll take care of Raven herself when the time comes.

The next day, the Titans are testing themselves at their HQ. Cyborg lifts a magnetized five ton weight (Pfffft, Spider-Man can lift twice that!) to prove that he can still push himself beyond his limits, like he did when he was fully human. Wonder Girl and Starfire do their best Robin Hood vs. Little John impersonation, fighting each other with quarterstaves. But instead of fighting on a log over a river, they seem to be on an air matress in the swimming pool; either way, the loser gets wet. Starfire wins, extending her unbeaten streak, but they hug it out afterwards. Next up are Changeling and Terra, who mix it up outside. Of course, Changeling is an obnoxious ass and Terra lets her psycho side show when she freaks out and tries to kill him. She apologizes profusely and says it's a delayed reaction from when she was held by the terrorists. Strangely, they all seem to believe her (with the possible exception of Raven, but she isn't really the type to share her feelings anyway). Anyway, this one doesn't end with a hug.

Back at Casa Terminator, Slade Wilson tells Tara she almost blew it by letting her true emotions show. She isn't worried, but Slade says the Titans shouldn't be underestimated. They prepare to attack the Titans, using the knowledge of their civilian identities gleaned by Tara. It seems Slade is completing the contract his son Grant (aka Ravager from issue #2) had with HIVE to kill the Titans. Since Grant died, Slade figured it was his obligation to finish what his son started. They leave to carry out the assignment and we see that Slade is a spyee as well as a spyer; a woman (plus someone with blond hair and a really funky perm) is watching Slade and Terra ... and she seems to know Slade from way back. Who is she? We'll have to wait until next issue to see.

Tales of the Teen Titans #43 (June 1984)
Marv Wolfman-George Perez/Dick Giordano/Mike DeCarlo

This one gets crazy right away. We see Dick Grayson working at his desk (on a typewriter... man, I feel old) and Terminator comes busting in the window. I'm assuming this is Dick's apartment, where Gar and Tara saw him last issue, but why does his desk have a name plate on it? Do people use name plates in their own homes? Maybe he's at some kind of office? I have no idea. Anyway, Dick and Terminator fight, and it's obvious Terminator knows his secret identity. He mentions the HIVE contract and says he doesn't want to kill him, since the terms are "dead or alive". Dick starts analyzing the situation (that's what a decade hanging out with Batman will get you) and he gets Terminator to knock him out the window so he can go look for the others. Termy goes after him, but Dick gets away. We see the woman from the end of last issue and the blond dude, whose name is Joseph; he not only has that wild perm, but some pretty crazy mutton-chops too. They're still following Terminator, who's kinda shook up about losing Dick Grayson, and is worried about Terra double-crossing him. He actually sounds pretty paranoid.

When his emergency signal goes unanswered, Dick starts checking on the other Titans. He finds Kory and Donna's place blown up and we get a flashback of Kory opening a "present" supposedly sent by Dick himself. It explodes and knocks her out. Dick checks Donna's studio and realizes she was taken too. We get another flashback of her mixing photo chemicals and the mixture giving off a gas that knocks her out. Dick deduces that Terminator must've switched chemicals so Donna would accidentally create ether. It's obvious Terminator had knowledge of their civilian identities, so Dick takes Donna's car and goes to look for the others. He doesn't seem to notice the woman and Joseph (who we learn is her son) following. He checks Cyborg's place and sees he was taken too, this time with the old "electrically-charged metal bands in the kitchen chair" trick. I'm not sure how Terminator got the bands, the mechanism, and the power source inside that chair... it looks pretty spindly to me. Anyway, Dick heads for Titan Tower next, hoping to find Terra or Raven.

But neither of them are there, though there are signs of a fight, including some of Terra's "earthworks". Dick is worried that Terminator has taken Terra and Raven, but the woman who was following him made it to the Tower ahead of him and tells him Terra was working with Terminator all along and she's the one who pounded Raven. Dick doesn't want to believe Terra betrayed them, so he calls Gar Logan's place. The maid (who's dressed like someone from a 1920s burlesque show) goes to find him. Gar hasn't been jumped... yet. In fact, he's autographing photos of himself and sticking them in envelopes; it seems someone sent him a bunch of photos (and return envelopes) out of the blue begging him to sign and return them... nothing suspicious about that, nosirree. Naturally, the envelope glue is poisoned (maybe that's where Seinfeld got the idea?) and Gar keels over, as Terminator calls him a "vainglorious dolt"; hey, when he's right, he's right.

When Gar can't be found, Dick realizes everyone but him has been taken and it must've been an inside job. He starts to believe the woman (whose name is Adeline), but wonders how she knows so much about Terminator. She then reveals the shocking truth: "He was... my boyfriend!" No wait, that was "Young Frankenstein"; what Adeline actually says is that Slade Wilson used to be her husband. We then see Terminator delivering the Titans to a HIVE base in the Rocky Mountains. And on that dramatic note, the issue ends. I like how Dick was acting kinda like Batman in this issue, putting clues together and going about everything methodically instead of rushing off half-cocked. I guess there's a reason he's the leader.

Tales of the Teen Titans #44 (July 1984)
"There Shall Come a Titan"
Marv Wolfman-George Perez/Dick Giordano/Mike DeCarlo

We begin this issue where we left off, with Dick trying to come to grips with the fact his entire team has been captured, and trying to figure out whether to trust Adeline or not. He gets belligerent with Joseph, who hasn't said a word, then learns he's mute. The caption says Dick feels "awe" when he looks at Joseph; I'm not sure why. I get the feeling Jericho (as Joseph will soon be called) is one of Wolfman's favourite characters... or maybe Perez's favourite, since the intro to the trade paperback says Perez came up with the idea to make him mute. Personally, I never saw Jericho's appeal... I always found him annoying rather than awe-inspiring, but he'll be around for a looooong time, so better get used to him.

Adeline starts telling Dick (and us) Terminator's life story. Slade Wilson lied about his age and fought in the Korean War (I think Marv was trying to do things in somewhat "real time" at this point) and he and Adeline met in the early 60s. She was some kind of highly-trained combat expert, and Slade volunteered for an elite military force. This was just before the Vietnam War really got going. I'm not sure if these are meant to be early Green Berets, or something even more "elite". Adeline trained them and Slade impressed her with his skill. Apparently, she impressed him by showing him up on the combat range. Instead of getting pissy about it, he asked her to teach him everything she could. So, they fought together, fell in love, got married, and he was sent to Vietnam. She was pregnant (with Grant, aka Ravager), so she stayed behind.

Dick doesn't believe her story, because Terminator is almost superhuman. Adeline explains that he volunteered for some experiment (to resist truth serum) and it heightened all his abilities, but it screwed him up a bit too, making him manic at times, then almost comatose at other times. He was discharged from the Army and became depressed, although not too depressed to knock up his wife again. She gave birth to Joseph and they moved to Africa where Slade became a Great White Hunter. Later he became something of a bon vivant, hosting lavish parties and rubbing elbows with the fancy people. He taught his kids to fight; Grant took to weapons readily, but Joseph was more sensitive, learning to play piano and sing beautifully. (See where this is going?)

But their cozy world was shattered one night when some guys showed up to kidnap Joseph. Adeline wasted a couple, but they gassed her and took the kid. That's when she found out her husband was actually Deathstroke the Terminator. They go to get Joseph back from a terrorist called the Jackal; I'm not sure if he's supposed to represent a real person or not. He doesn't look much like the real-world Carlos the Jackal and he looks nothing like Edward Fox, so maybe he's not meant to parallel anyone from real life. Jackal wants the name of whoever hired Terminator to kill a friend of his, but Terminator refuses to tell him, saying he gave his word and his word is his bond. Terminator takes out Jackal and all his men, but one of them started to cut Joseph's throat. He survives, but his vocal cords were severed, rendering him mute. Apparently, Slade never came to the hospital to see Joseph, which pissed Adeline off so much she tried to kill him. His superhuman reflexes saved him, but he lost his right eye. Adeline then filed for divorce. (If you can't kill 'em, divorce 'em)

She tells Dick she's been tracking Terminator, but couldn't get too close while Terra was around, otherwise she might've gotten buried under a ton of rock. She says she knows where the Titans are being held, and Dick gives her hell for wasting time with the A&E Biography of Slade Wilson. But she reminds him he's only one man, and he isn't even Robin anymore, so what can he do? Dick goes upstairs and puts on a new costume while reflecting on his life. He comes back down and says his new name is Nightwing. Adeline announces that her son is a mutant (man, they're everywhere!), has powers (and got a costume from somewhere, apparently), and is now called Jericho. She says Joseph's powers were kept secret from Slade. Dick is hesitant to work with him, but Adeline tells Joseph to demonstrate his powers. He does some kind of "eye contact" thing and disappears into Nightwing, taking over his body, although Dick is still aware of what's going on and can still talk. Jericho then demonstrates the control he has over Dick by doing the classic "stop hitting yourself" move. He pops back out of Nightwing and Adeline points out that Jericho could've just taken Dick over and forced him to do what they wanted. 

So Dick decides to trust them and he and Jericho jet off to find the Titans. I'm not sure why Adeline stays behind, if she's such a hotshot combat expert. As they're flying away, Nightwing says the team already has aliens, witches, shape-changers, and cyborgs, so why not a mutant? He adds, " 'sides, I hear you guys aren't half bad." which I'm sure is meant as an X-Men reference, since NTT was being endlessly compared to the X-Men. Some people thought they were a rip-off of the Marvel mutants, but to me, the styles are quite different. I'd say X-Men has much more in common with the Legion than with the NTT. Anyway, next issue is a biggie (figuratively and literally).

Tales of the Teen Titans Annual #3 (1984)
Marv Wolfman-George Perez/Dick Giordano/Mike DeCarlo

This one opens in the HIVE complex where we see the Titans held powerless in the enervator, a gigantic Kirbyesque machine that drains (or dampens) their powers. Terminator gloats (and kinda makes a skeevy pass at Starfire) while the HIVE minions gather. Terminator tells them about finishing Ravager's contract and introduces his helper, Terra. They can't believe she betrayed them, especially Changeling, who assumes she's been brainwashed and urges her to fight it. Outside, Nightwing and Jericho find the base and start sneaking in.

Terminator tells the HIVE leader that he's fulfilled his son's contract, but the HIVE dude reminds him they don't have Kid Flash or Robin. Termy says Kid Flash quit and says his associate, Wintergreen, is tracking down Robin as they speak. But when he contacts Wintergreen, he says he hasn't found Robin yet, but he's getting close. We see Adeline holding a gun on Wintergreen--I guess that's why she stayed behind. We then get some more backstory, about how Wintergreen saved Slade Wilson's life in Korea and Slade returned the favour in Vietnam. Wintergren says he's been worried all along about Slade taking the HIVE contract, and worried about Terra's instability.

At the HIVE base, Nightwing and Jericho conk out a couple of guards and disguise themselves; well, Nightwing disguises himself, but Jericho takes over the guard's unconscious body. We learn that if the person he takes over is unconscious, Jericho can animate their body and even speak, although only in the other person's voice. They infiltrate the main chamber where the Titans are being held, but the guy Jericho took over starts regaining consciousness, which means he'll be able to use his own voice and warn the other HIVE members. So Nightwing and Jericho come out punching. Jericho hops from person to person, adding to the confusion. Nightwing tosses some gas grenades and they beat the hell out of some more HIVE goons. But they run into Terra and she buries them ... literally.

In his quarters, Terminator seems to be having some sort of mid-life crisis. He's called to the main chamber and learns Terra captured Nightwing (or Robin as they all keep calling him). Terra says he can thank her later "if you got the stamina"; yeah, they were definitely getting it on. Jericho is brought in and strapped to the enervator with the Titans. Terminator recognizes him right away and demands he be released, but HIVE says that since he was helping the Titans, he'll die with them. Terra recognizes Jericho from the photos Terminator was looking at and announces that Jericho is his son. HIVE realizes how valuable Jericho is and tries to make a deal with Terminator. As he goes to look at his son, they make eye contact and Jericho takes him over.

Terminator is aware of what's happening, but can't stop himself from decking Terra and freeing the Titans, who quickly take advantage and attack HIVE. Not knowing that Terminator is being controlled, Terra thinks he turned on her and really loses it. She goes nuts and tries to kill him. Even after everything, some of the Titans (notably Starfire and Changeling) still can't accept Terra as an enemy. The Titans cut a swath through the HIVE goons and start destroying the complex. Terra is still trying to kill Terminator and drops him into a chasm. Nightwing realizes how crazy she is and bops her with a stun disc. Before he can reach her, Terminator sucker punches him and tries to reason with Terra. But she's too far gone and is ready to kill him.

Changeling takes that as a sign that she's still on their side, but she quickly gives him the facts: she never cared about the Titans, has always been filled with hate, and all her friendliness (including the smooching with Gar) was fake. She admits the Statue of Liberty terrorists were working for Terminator and the whole attack was just a way of getting them to trust her. She covers Changeling and Nightwing in mud, almost smothering them. Raven tries to use her empathic abilities to reason with her, while Cyborg pins Terminator and tries to get him to call Terra off, but Termy says she's too crazy ... then he cuts Vic's hands off. He threatens to cut Vic's head off next, but Jericho zaps him before he can. Terra freaks out and decks Raven, then goes nuts and pulls lava from underground to destroy the complex. Changeling flies into her eye and she goes completely off the deep end, bringing half the complex down on top of herself, though none of the Titans are hurt.

Gar and Wonder Girl search through the rubble, and Gar is still convinced (or trying to convince himself) that Terminator somehow turned Terra evil. Jericho and Terminator (who's tied up) are both upset at the circumstances of their "reunion" and both end up crying. Speaking of which, Gar finds Terra's body and is devastated. Later we see Terra's funeral, with all the Titans and the Outsiders, including Batman. Terra's brother, Geo-Force, gives a speech about nobility and sacrifice and all that. Watching from nearby, Adeline and Joseph realize the Titans didn't tell Terra's brother (or anyone else) that she was a raving, hate-filled lunatic. Adeline says the Titans are very noble and Joseph will fit in well with them, but his mind is elsewhere.

And that's the Judas Contract. In the intro to the trade paperback, Wolfman and Perez admit that they created Terra with this story in mind; they always knew she was a spy working for Terminator, and they always knew she was going to die. Talk about playing the long game. So I guess all the little moments where it looked like Terra might be having second thoughts were just red herrings. In fact, during the final fight, just before her death, Wolfman's captions say that Terra was too full of hate, too far off the deep end to ever be rehabilitated. Maybe that was his way of silencing all the fans who were going to say "Did she have to die? Wasn't there some way she could've been saved?", questions the Titans will be asking themselves too. Apparently she couldn't be saved. But I think that makes the story better, because it makes the wound deeper, and it affects the way the Titans look at the world. It could make them less open, more suspicious, but overall i don't think it does.

The art is spectacular, of course, and Wolfman's writing is great too. He shows subtlety, humour, and a real grasp of the characters. I know a lot of people find Changeling annoying (and he is!), but I can't help feeling bad for him here. Terra's betrayal hurt him more than anyone, and he keeps blaming Terminator for it. I think this arc is where Gar grows up a bit, and even though he doesn't lose his sense of humour (such as it is), Wofman writes him as more mature from here on out. If I remember right, when the Titans break up, it's Gar and Victor that rally to get them back together. And there's the follow-up to this story, where Gar gets the chance to exact revenge on Terminator for Terra's death, but chooses not to. It's also great to see Dick finally getting out of Batman's long shadow and becoming his own man. At this point, Jason Todd is already acting as Robin, so there's no need for two of them. But we also see Batman's continuing influence when Dick uses his deductive ability to figure out what's going on. That becomes something of a trademark (like when he investigates Donna's past).
So, I'd say the Judas Contract deserves its "classic storyline" appellation. NTT was definitely on a roll back then!

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