Monday, August 15, 2016

Tales of the Teen Titans Annual #3 (1984)

Tales of the Teen Titans Annual #3 (1984)
"The Judas Contract, Book Four: Finale"
Co-Creators/Co-Editors - Marv Wolfman & George Perez
Finishers - Mike DeCarlo & Dick Giordano
Letterer - Ben Oda
Colorist- Adrianne Roy
Cover Price: $1.25

Well, we finally made it!  The final act of The Life and Times of Tara Markov.  The end of her story... the end of her life.  And she never (ever) came back again... and any thoughts to the contrary will result in me sticking my fingers in my ears and singing really loud!

I hope anybody who followed along enjoyed this feature as much as I enjoyed revisiting and sharing it.  This is truly one of my favorite eras in comics, and it will always hold a special place in my four-color heart.

If you're interested in hearing me and Reggie discuss this run at... pretty decent length, I'd point you to this week's (Episode 84) Weird Science DC Comics Podcast.  We spend over an hour discussing the lead-up, the story proper, and the fallout.  It's chock-full of Wolfman/Perez quotes, and was an absolute blast to cover.


We open up at H.I.V.E. HQ where the Titans are being held captive... attached to a strange machine called the Enervator, delivered courtesy of one Deathstroke the Terminator.  This machine is tuned to combat or negate the Titans unique superpowers.  

A hooded H.I.V.E.-mate helpfully explains that the machine is actually "feeding" on the Titans... well, all the Titans but Raven, who for whatever reason appears to be un-absorb-able.  Deathstroke, being the jerk he can be, introduces the Titans to his "assistant".  I love that we get the Titans' reactions before the big reveal.  Each member reacts in their own way... it's very well done.  Pay special attention to Cyborg's expression... and words.

Once Terra makes her grand entrance, Gar... naive lovesick fella that he is, insists she must be under some sort of mind-control... and pleads with her to fight it.  This amuses Terra greatly... and, between puffs on her cigarette, she explains both her motivations and her uncontrollable nature.

Outside, Nightwing and Jericho sidle along a cliff as they approach the H.I.V.E. headquarters.  Dick kayos a guard and they scale to higher ground.

Back inside, Slade receives word that despite his claims to the contrary... the contract is not yet closed.  There's a certain bird-boy (and retired kid-speedster) missing from the Titans line-up.  Deathstroke excuses himself to contact his buddy Wintergreen to find out how goes the "Titan Hunt".  Wintergreen advises him there's no new information... and after disconnecting the call, we find that he's being held at gunpoint by Adeline Kane.

This part is pretty great.  Wintergreen asks Kane to lower the gun... after all, they've known each other for many years... and she does.  There's a level of respect here, that I'm sure my words aren't doing proper justice to.  It's subtle, and it makes sense.  It takes so much of the maliciousness out of the "contract"... this is, after all, just business.

Adeline cannot figure out how Wintergreen allows himself to get caught up in all of Slade's schemes.  We now enter flashback mode.  We learned last issue that Slade rescued Wintergreen from the Vietcong... now we come to find that he was just returning the favor, for some time earlier the roles were reversed.  Slade was sent on a suicide mission by a Lt. Colonel Sampson... a real jerk-ass.  Slade only survived because Wintergreen pulled his fat out of the fire.

We then get to see first-hand the time Slade rescued Wintergreen from the Cong.  He is dressed in a more garish makeshift version of the Deathstroke costume we are all familiar with.  He pulls off the rescue with relative ease, and found himself a friend and confidant for life.

Back at the H.I.V.E., Nightwing and Jericho begin their infiltration.  Between the two of them they are able to kayo a pair of guards.  Dick dons one's robe and Jericho inhabits the other fallen's body.  For the first time we hear him speak... using that guard's voice and vocabulary... so if you thought Joey Wilson sounded like a Lord of Flatbush... this is your lucky day.  Jericho does the ASL for the letter "J" to let Dick know it's really him.

In the main H.I.V.E. room stands what looks to be dozens of hooded thugs.  Nightwing and Jericho decide to hide in plain sight, and learn that Operation: Waterworks is the name of the gig.  Jericho feels his host body begin to stir... and Dick realizes it's time to start throwin' down!

The next pages that follow consist of Nightwing and Jericho fighting their way through the crowd of robes.  Dick relies on his fighting acumen while Joey makes "contact".  Nightwing tosses a gas grenade and a light flash, and the pair are able to escape down a hallway... right into a familiar face...

Terra easily takes the boys out with her earthy powers.  Meanwhile, in what appears to be a guest room, Slade is reflecting on his life... on his choices.  This very much feels like a "goodbye"... he's ready to hang it up after this one.  He curses Grayson for not falling like the rest... for keeping this damn contract open... for keeping "Deathstroke" alive.  He is summoned to the "C-Deck".

At the C-Deck where the once-Enervator-now-Wheel of Power is kept, a H.I.V.E. geek tells Deathstroke that his plucky assistant managed to snag the wild Grayson.  It's a fairly uncomfortable scene, in which Terra requests some physical favors from Slade in lieu of payment.

The Titans are all fairly freaked out... not only because Dick's been captured, but also because this is the first time they've seen him in this identity.  Slade's all "Pay me." and H.I.V.E.'s all "Nope..."  Ya see, the powers that ultimately killed Slade's son Grant (Ravager) were the payment.  He was paid in advance... so, basically... this really was all for the "honor" of the thing.  That's cool with the Terminator... he's just happy to be done with it.  Then, they wheel out the young man they snagged with Nightwing...

Slade is clearly (and visibly) shaken... which is a true testament to George Perez's incredible art... the only part of Deathstroke not covered by armor is his left eye.  Terra is quick to make the connection... she remembers Joey (sans mutton chops?) from the photo she caught Slade looking at.  She begins taunting and teasing him... and he takes it for a moment, before telling her to shut her mouth.  He approaches Joey... and looks him in the eye... there's a mistake!

Joey takes over the body of the Terminator... first act, backhand Terra into next week.  He fires off some shots into the Enervator Wheel of Power, which frees the Titans!  Now, it's on...

This is such an interesting fight.  Terra recovers, and believes that Deathstroke has turned on her!  She actually appears hurt by that fact, despite her own allegiance woes.  She just goes ape... everybody's gonna die!  Slade keeps telling her that he's not in control of his body, but she ain't hearing it.

The action is fast and furious with each Titan getting a fair amount of screen time.  Cyborg and Wonder Girl actually push the beams of the facility until they give, closing off a whole section of the joint.  Deathstroke and Terra continue their dance, with the latter opening a fissure in the ground that the former falls into.  The only thing that stops him from hitting the flames below is his trusty boomstick.  Joey evacuates his pop, and helps him from the predicament.  Terra really ain't happy about that, and pelts Joey's buttered popcorn shaped head with a torrent of stone.

Nightwing is able to pick Terra off with a Nightwing-a-rang, however before he can get to her Deathstroke knocks him out.  Slade pleads with Terra that they leave... the contract's done... they can split!  Terra still can't let go of Slade's apparent betrayal and starts verbally laying into him.  Nearby, poor Gar overhears some of this and thinks Terra's finally seen the light.  He heads over to "save" her, and she... well, she tells him how it really is.

Wonder Girl is able to snare Tara with her golden lasso, and Cyborg and Starfire double team the Terminator.  This is a pretty important page, I think.  Normally, this would probably be the "rally"... everything's going to be okay page... ya know?  Turn the page, however... and Terra's broken free and has encased both Changeling and Nightwing in mud, while Deathstroke chops off Cyborg's arm.  Donna is barely able to save Dick and Gar, but it's clear that this fight ain't over yet!  

Oh... and here Terra really gives Gar the business... poor guy.

From here, Joey blasts Slade with his own boomstick, and Raven tries to use her empathic powers on Terra... which proves to be a pretty bad move.  This only makes her fight harder... and with complete reckless abandon.  She smashes a rock into Raven's dome... The ground begins to erupt... she's really and truly going in "for the kill".

When all hope appears to be lost, a tiny green insect flies directly into Terra's eye.  Logan's act against her is the final straw... the hatred and anger completely take over... rocks rain down like a blizzard.  In the torrent, we get one last look at Terra... who, actually appears to be breathing deeply.  Her eyes are closed and her mouth is agape... there's no malice here... it's almost as though she welcomes what's to come...

The Titans are quick to begin digging through the wreckage... it isn't long before they make their discovery.  Donna tells the team (who is watching over a bound Slade) they found Tara's body.  This whole endgame... it almost exhausts you reading it.  There's almost a tangible level of emotion here... the faces are tired, sad... sick... it's something I wish I were good enough a writer to explain.

Morning finally comes, and a funeral is held.  The Titans and the Outsiders (along with Batman and Jason Todd) are present.  Terry Long's here too... but, he should be.  The team lets those in attendance believe that Terra's death was heroic, because... it's the right thing to do.  Tara's half-brother Brion (Geo-Force) says a few words... it's not terribly deep, but it gets the point across that they were family.

The faces are all grim... facing the sobering reality of just what they do every day.  To have this happen to a girl, barely sixteen years old... it's really a powerful scene.  Particularly heartbreaking is watching Gar try to hold it together, until the priest finishes his service... then he begins to sob.

In the distance, Joey and Adeline look on.  Joey sheds a single tear... perhaps for Terra... perhaps for his father... perhaps for all of the above.  Adeline tells him he'll "do well" with the Titans.  The issue and the story end with a glimpse of Terra's memorial.


Okay... well, there it is.

It's funny... I've mentioned this a few times on the podcast, and perhaps a few times here as well... every single time I read this, I always become hopeful that somehow this story will have a happy ending.  I suppose, depending on your Terra-mileage, it may have... but speaking personally, I almost with DC had a "What if...?" title like Marvel did so that they could give this an alternate (and non-canonical) ending... just to see what Marv and George could do with it.

Moving on... this entire run played with several themes, however, I feel it was the theme of "trust" that is the most important.  Trust, trusting, trustworthiness... so much of this is tied up in that.  Terra's struggle to become trusted... the Titans willingness to trust.  The Titans naivete, both in deciding to trust... and their unwillingness to distrust, even when all evidence points contrary to what they believe.  The trust Slade placed in Terra, and her's in him.  Dick trusting Jericho and Adeline, Slade trusting Wintergreen and H.I.V.E... I guess what I'm trying to say is... the idea/theme of trust is what sticks out most for me.

Now, H.I.V.E. and the Enervator bit are quite silly... I'd hate to assume, but I think that's an agreeable point.  They're silly, yes... but they're just wallpaper here.  They get us from where we were to where we need to be, and not a whole lot more.  I suppose it's stories like this that I'm sorta happy there are relatively disposable threats like H.I.V.E.  They fill their role, and have absolutely no hope of overshadowing the stuff we're supposed to be paying attention to.

I love that the Titans... even with all that evidence... Terra, trying to kill them... smoking cigarettes (!!!)... still don't want to give up on her.  I mentioned the difference between Dick and Batman a couple posts back... the Titans, I feel most follow Dick's train of thought.  They aren't embarrassed they were fooled, they truly want to believe in Terra... to believe in their friend.  The only member who gets it... is Vic... which I really like.  His expression during the big reveal was awesome.  He understands they've been set up... but his eyes just give away his true feelings of betrayal.  It's not anger... it's not shock... it's pure sadness.

I mentioned during Part 3 that I would be talking about the Wintergreen-Slade Wilson relationship.  Reggie and I chatted about this on and off the air, and weren't quite sure what to make of it.  Are these... very pointed remarks, an indication of a romantic relationship between the two?  Or is this just a result of having read this in 2016?  I gotta say, I never really read much into it... however, upon my latest reread, it did stand out to me.  Not that it matters in the grand scheme of things either way, just interested to see what Marv and George meant for us glean from those statements.  It would make sense, either way quite frankly... if there were some sort of romantic relationship, or if this is just an indication of their unbreakable "brothers in all but blood" bond.  They've been through so much together, I suppose it could go either way.  Sadly... hindsight can tell us how their friendship ultimately ends.

So, with the entire story behind us... I'll ask again.  Did Terra cross that line into being irredeemable?  Now, I'm a huge booster of "evil" Terra, and hold steadfast against any and all retcons to the contrary... thanks a bunch Last Will and Testament... but, I still don't think, had she survived, that she couldn't have been rehabilitated.  Please don't get it twisted, I wouldn't want her rehabbed... but, I don't think it would have been terribly difficult to do so.

Ya see, what we know of Terra is still pretty limited (at this point).  There's plenty that could have been done to flesh out her backstory... perhaps adding some tragedy... to, not so much "excuse" her behavior here... but maybe serve as kind of an antecedent to it.  We see here, when Terra believes that Slade had turned on her... she reacts in a very strange way.  She says, "I-I thought he cared 'bout me, thought he loved me."  That's really not something I'd expect this kind of a sociopath to say.  It makes me feel that there is a whole lot more to her story... a whole lot more to her character.

It's heartbreaking that after the one person she allowed herself to trust appeared to have turned on her, she first lashes out... then buries herself under a ton of rock.  The way her death scene is illustrated... it appears as though she's resigned to her fate... she welcomes death, rather than living on.  It's a powerful scene... it's a terrible scene... it's a beautiful scene.  There isn't a single member of the cast, regardless of their moral alignment that is not affected by this.  This is one of the very few times in comics where there is a feeling of true loss with the passing of a character.

Maybe that's why it's so special.  We really did lose something here.  I spent several paragraphs talking about "potential"... Terra's potential as a surviving hero or villain... That potential... those possibilities... were taken from us... Taken from the Titans... Taken from Terra.  That's why this is so special.  This wasn't a character being killed to boost sales... it wasn't written with an interest in undoing it several months later for another sales boost.  This was a character... who even the creators struggled not to fall in love with... who was always meant to die.  The fact that she did so, when there were so many more stories and adventures she could have, really speaks to the significance of this era of the New Teen Titans.

This wonderful piece of work is available in collected edition as well as via DC Digital.  Digital is definitely the more affordable (and instantaneous) route, and even though I don't "do" digital, I still highly recommend snagging these if you are so inclined.  I know I spent over a week spoiling/ruining this arc for anyone following... but I'd still urge folks to pick these up.

That's all for the Titans... for now.  But there's no rest for the wicked... this coming Wednesday will (barring alien abduction or being struck by lightning) be my two-hundredth daily post.  Be sure to WATCH out for that!


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  1. Don't see a Termy/Wintergreen romantic relationship, even on re-reading. I really don't believe the intention was there. Your 'brothers in arms' theory seems to work well, though.

    1. Hello Captain, thanks for stopping by!

      Yeah, I'm feeling more the "brothers" theory the more I think about it... I guess it's just the 2016ness of current comics that threw me off here. Not used to writers adding subtlety to their writing. If those lines were spoke today, it would be a *notice this* red flag, but 30 years back by a talent as strong as Wolfman... not so much.


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