New Titans #74 (1991)

New Titans #74 (March, 1991)
“When Pantha Strikes”
Writer – Marv Wolfman
Pencils – Tom Grummett
Inks – Al Vey
Letters – John Costanza
Colors – Adrienne Roy
Editor – Jonathan Peterson
Cover Price: $1.75

Holy smokes… two installments of Titans Hunt in as many days?!  We might just get through this one yet!  Not bad for a long-form discussion I wanted to have done almost three years ago!

We pick up with Slade, Arella and Steve Dayton atop Titans Tower.  They catch us up with everything that’s gone down… at least insofar as everything they’ve lost.  The women of Jackson Hole, Danny Chase, Golden Eagle… maybe Aqualad… not to mention all of the missing Titans.  This conversation is being watched from afar by… Phantasm.  He just floats there looking mysterious… because, that’s kinda what he does at this point.

We shift scenes over to the… oh boy… Wildebeest Headquarters.  I warn you, this is about to become pretty difficult to follow.  We arrive just as Eight and Fourteen stomp on into the conference room.  The ‘beest holding council starts lambasting them for their methods… they were only to capture the Titans… and instead left a whole lotta dead bodies in their wake.

Eight turns on Fourteen, claiming it’s all his fault.  Fourteen responds by accusing Eight of having lost his fool mind.  The Council-head-beest then blasts Eight with a shot of pink energy that causes him to run away.  So… the Beests are now going to hunt down Number Eight.  Still with me?

The rest of the Beests (Number Fourteen included) decide to track Number Fourteen down within the compound.  Oh, also… the girl we’ll soon know as Pantha is skulking around.  Hey, if they can spoil it on the cover, I can spoil it here!

During the Wildebeest hunt, Number Fourteen catches upto and knocks down Number Eight.  Other Beests are watching this go down on a monitor… one is pleasantly surprised at how well Fourteen handled himself.  The other, is more concerned… and suggests they “keep an eye on” him.

The other Beests give the command for Fourteen to kill Eight… but he hesitates, giving Eight enough time to blast him with a bolt, and flee once again down yet another corridor.  He runs into Number Nine… and kills him!  He then takes Nine’s uniform… so he can hide in plain sight.  Oh, by the way… Pantha (being referred to here as X-24… must be another Wolverine clone) has been spotted by the Beests.

The rest of the Beests arrive, and ask “Nine” for a status report.  He claims he was forced to kill Fourteen… and apologizes, as he knows the others really wanted the pleasure.  Elsewhere, Pantha is inside… and fighting.  She doesn’t stick around all that long… fleeing into the night before being overwhelmed.

Back inside, word of Number Fourteen’s death is passed along to the Leader of the Beests.  “Nine” tattles to the boss that Eight refused to kill Fourteen… and he had to do it himself.  These numbers gettin’ to ya yet?  Feels like we need a flow-chart!  Anyhoo… “Nine” finds this whole thing suspicious… because Eight (that is, he) was supposed to check out Dick Grayson’s apartment… and Fourteen showed up there as well.  Any guesses as to where we’re headed?

Meanwhile, Fourteen wanders into a mad scientist’s laboratory… where a human/Wildebeest hybrid is being experimented on.  This doesn’t go so well.  It looks like the Society is looking for a way to save on costume expenses by actually making folks into horrible Wildebeests!

We rejoin Pantha as she runs across some rooftops.  During her trip she happens across a woman being mugged.  At first she ignores it… ain’t her prob.  Then, the woman says something familiar that causes her to change her mind.  It’s made pretty clear here that Pantha was one of that Mad Scientist’s experiments.  Though, with a descriptor like “X-24”, we shouldn’t really be surprised.

Pantha whoops the hell out of the muggers… but as she finishes up, she’s confronted by… the Middle-Aged Titans, Slade and Arella!  They want answers… and sorta get ’em.  Pantha wants to kill the Wildebeests… which, ya know, kinda puts them on the same side.  Unfortunately, she’s not all that much of a team player.  They do-si-do for a bit, before she flees to yet another rooftop.

Slade and Arella hop into a Dayton helicopter to pursue the feral woman.  As they track her into the night, they talk about how odd it is to have run into two strangers… Pantha, and that cloaked one that showed up juuuuust as Danny Chase died!

Back at the Beests, “Nine” is kvetching about Fourteen to anyone who will listen.  He recounts what a lousy “partner” Fourteen has been… and how it seems as though he’s been more busy getting in his way than actually taking care of business.  This is either really subtle storytelling… or I’m just too dense to take note of certain things.

We shift over to Fourteen as he enters the Data Retrieval Office.  He relieves the folks on-duty and gets to work snoopin’.  He is stopped by his fellow Beests before he can get all that deep.

A fight is on… also a chase.  Number Fourteen does his damnedest not to hurt anybody as he attempts to flee the scene.  He’s finally surrounded… and unmasked, revealing… well, you know.

One panel later, Nightwing is out of his Beest gear completely.  Worth noting, the Wildebeest Society knows that Nightwing and Dick Grayson are one in the same.  They ask what he did with the real Number Fourteen… but aren’t all that worried, because Dick’s too much of a wimp to actually kill anybody.

Upon hearing that several of his teammates are dead, Dick loses his cool and lashes out.  He is soundly beaten with the quickness.  At that very moment, Pantha returns to the scene… and happens across a shred of Nightwing’s costume… which she picks up.  This leads to a misunderstanding when Deathstroke follows and sees her holding it… and so, we get another do-si-do.

Finally, Arella grabs Pantha from behind and reads her mind.  She asks Pantha to help them save the Titans her daughter.  Pantha does the whole “I work alone” thing, and bolts… again.

She doesn’t get far though… because atop this latest building, she runs smack dab into… Phantasm!

Okay, you know me… anytime I come across an issue that doesn’t seem all that “clear”, I usually blame it on my own density rather than even suggesting that the writer put together a difficult-to-follow story.  Here though?  I’m not so sure.  I mean, referring to identical characters just by their numbers?  Having full-blown “dogpile” fights… with those same identical characters?  Having one of those identical characters trade costumes with another (though, in fairness… that other mask had a scar… and thank goodness it did!).  This was a toughie.

Not only was it difficult to follow… the Wildebeest scenes really kind of overstayed their welcome.  I don’t think we needed that many pages to tell this one.

Also, the Dick Grayson is Number Fourteen reveal… I don’t wanna say it came out of nowhere, because it didn’t… but, since the build-up was so subtle (too subtle), there was very little “oomph” (for me) when he was unmasked.  I mean, I knew it was coming… and was still trying to connect-the-dots in my head.  I’m not reading this with a forensic comb or anything… though, again… maybe I’m just too dense.

I’d forgotten that Pantha was referred to by the descriptor “X-24”.  This is funny considering Wolverine’s clone, Laura Kinney would be referred to as X-23 in her earlier appearances.  Gotta assume that’s just a coincidence.  I doubt the writers of the X-Men Evolution cartoon were trying to pay homage to Pantha.  Though, I’ve been wrong once or twice before.

Overall… a pretty down (though I suppose, necessary) chapter.  Art was still quite solid… though, I find Grummett does draw an especially “jowly” Dick Grayson here… which is a bit off-putting.  If you’re following Titans Hunt, you’re going to want to check this one out… just make sure to have a pad and pencil at the ready to track these Beests!

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