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Grumpy Old Fan | Raven still has daddy issues

by  in Comic News Comment
Grumpy Old Fan | Raven still has daddy issues

Have you ever gotten the Frozen Smile? The eyes say “I have no idea how to respond” while the mouth still thinks everything’s fine?

I got it the other day while talking to a co-worker about Teen Titans Go!. She loves it as much as her kids do, and my daughter loves it as well. I then mentioned that I haven’t had as much of a chance to see it, but I do have all the DVDs from the 2003-06 Teen Titans series. That brought things to a halt. When I mentioned the earlier show, it was evidently like saying I’d read the scripts in the original Klingon, because her face froze after that and she got out only an “Uh-huh….”

Today I’m going to talk about some of DC’s just-announced 2016 miniseries, and Raven in particular, because once again I suspect a lot of potential readers may be giving DC the ol’ frozen smile.

* * *

The new miniseries include

  • Sugar & Spike by Keith Giffen and Howard Porter, revamping the former child stars as teenaged private detectives serving the superhero market;
  • Swamp Thing by Len Wein and (perhaps) Kelley Jones, who would be reuniting on Swampy after a very good Convergence tie-in;
  • Metamorpho written by Aaron Lopresti;
  • Poison Ivy written by Amy Chu; and
  • Firestorm, Katana, and Raven, each written by their respective co-creators: Gerry Conway, Mike W. Barr, and Marv Wolfman.

The last three are the most interesting to me. Firestorm and Katana have been on Flash and Arrow, and Raven may well be in the upcoming Titans TV series, so it’s not hard to see why DC wants to feature them. Still, even though DC is pairing them with their co-creators, it seems like a forced reunion. It’s like bringing back Thomas Jefferson to write the State of the Union: sure you’re curious, and it’ll probably be pretty good; but a lot has happened. Wein’s last stint on Swampy was a two-partConvergence tie-in, and while Wolfman wrote a New Teen Titans two-parter for Convergence, it didn’t include Raven. Meanwhile, Barr last wrote Katana in a 2010 Return of Bruce Wayne tie-in, and Conway last wrote Firestorm in 1986.

Naturally, the characters themselves go back a ways as well. The Metal Men first appeared in 1962, created by Bob Kanigher and Ross Andru. Sheldon Mayer’s Sugar & Spike ran from 1956 to 1971, coincidentally the year Wein and Berni Wrightson debuted Swamp Thing. Conway and Al Milgrom created Firestorm in 1978, Wolfman and George Pérez created Raven in1980, and Barr and Jim Aparo created Katana in 1983.

While DC claims that these new miniseries are further attempts at a diverse superhero line, overall it seems more like a play for us old-timers. If you’ve been frustrated by the directions in which DC has taken Firestorm, Katana, and/or Raven, you’re in luck: here are their co-creators, ready to set things straight.

By itself, that thinking has a certain appeal. You’d think a character’s co-creator would have a good idea about what made the character popular in the first place — that is, if “the first place” weren’t during the Carter Administration. Never mind “DC You” establishing new status quos, the New 52 has separated them further from their roots.

Moreover, I’m willing to bet that these writers aren’t simply going to restore their creations’ factory settings. Conway will be dealing with a Ronnie who was part of the Firestorm Protocols, and Wolfman’s Raven will have that weird feather-helmet. It’s almost perverse, asking these writers essentially to ratify the current versions of their characters.

What’s this have to do with the Frozen Smile? Simply that original versions can be buried under current takes quicker than you might think. As good as the 2003-06 Teen Titans was, today it serves basically as a longer, slower version of TT Go!. Who’d want that if they’d gotten used to nonstop jokes and sight gags? Has anyone been asking for deeper looks into Daffy Duck’s inner turmoil?

At times it seems like DC is trying very hard to convince its current readers that they need to do such a deep dive. Obviously I don’t think this is necessarily bad — I spent my teenage years plowing through back-issue boxes and spending my lawn-mowing money on Green Lantern, Thriller and Captain Carrot — but it’s less of an obligation than it used to be. Relaunches and reboots are supposed to make characters more accessible, and in some cases they work almost too well. Conway wrote Firestorm for some eight years (in two volumes of his own series, plus backups in Flash and as a member of the Justice League), but each subsequent relaunch — including those under writers John Ostrander (1986-90) and Stuart Moore (2004-07) — added elements which expanded the character’s scope. In fact, Ostrander arguably tried to take Firestorm into a very Swamp Thing-like setting, eventually establishing the character as a Fire Elemental. Speaking of which, it’s even worse for Wein, since Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing quickly set a new standard not just for the character, but for relaunches generally. Most recently, writers Scott Snyder and Charles Soule had well-received runs as part of the New 52.

* * *

And then there’s Raven, whose history almost parallels that of her team. As originally presented ‘way back in the summer of 1980, after being rebuffed by the Justice League, she recruited a group of Teen Titans to fight her demonic father Trigon. He was defeated but not destroyed, so Raven then spent the next four years slowly succumbing to his influence. The final battle, or so it seemed, came in the first arc of 1984’s NTT vol. 2 issue 5, wherein she vanished right after destroying her father. Of course she returned (although it took a while); and the book puttered along nicely for a few years. Nevertheless, when New Titans was overhauled in 1990-91, Raven was back to being evil. Only in 1995, at the end of New Titans itself, did Raven turn back to the good side.

While that was also the end of Wolfman’s fifteen-year Titans tenure, it wasn’t the end of Raven. She hung around the edges of the team until Geoff Johns and Mike McKone brought her back full-time in the relaunched Teen Titans. There she was de-aged, went to high school, fell in love with Beast Boy, yadda yadda yadda, and then the New 52 came along. Wolfman returned to the character in 2009 for a five-issue miniseries (drawn by Damion Scott) which filled in a continuity gap, but since then he doesn’t appear to have done anything with Raven. I haven’t read much of the current Teen Titans, so I don’t know how close the current Raven is to anything that’s been done previously. Wikipedia says her origins are basically the same, although I’m sure some details have been changed.

Now, brace yourself for fan entitlement: I grew up with Wolfman/Pérez New Teen Titans. I read that series in all its forms, starting with the preview in DC Comics Presents #26. I dropped it briefly when it got too mired in ‘90s excess, and then I had a change of heart and scrounged around for all the back issues. I was enthusiastic both times DC tried to do a reunion series, even though the latter was written by Judd Winick; I was happy to see Wolfman write Nightwing; and I was thrilled that Games finally came out.

However, I think it’s possible to worship too much at the altar of Wolfman/Pérez. One of the great things about their original run was that it set up and resolved a clear emotional arc for each character. Dick Grayson graduated from sidekick status; Donna Troy found her real family (and started a new one); Wally West figured out he was happier not being a superhero; Gar Logan made peace with the deaths of the Doom Patrol; Vic Stone came to terms with his cybernetic parts; Koriand’r got to go home again; and Raven got rid of her evil side. Wolfman’s first couple of post-Pérez years went even farther, effectively retiring major villains like Deathstroke, Komand’r, and Brother Blood.

All that gives subsequent Titans creative teams an excuse to craft their own distinctive takes on the team. The alternate-continuity Jeff Lemire and Terry Dodson’s Teen Titans: Earth One drew heavily from Wolfman/Pérez but went in some very different directions, and of course the previous Teen Titans cartoon reworked a lot of Wolfman/Pérez elements for its own purposes. Still, it makes me worry just a little bit whenever I hear a new Titans creative person proclaim his or her love for Marv & George, because as good as they are, they’re not going to duplicate that kind of magic.

Therefore, you’d think I’d be more excited about Wolfman returning to Raven; but the character just seems to be in a different place. If this were 2010 and Wolfman was rolling up his sleeves to make something compelling out of the best parts out of her convoluted history, I’d be first in line. As it stands, though, this just isn’t Wolfman’s version of Raven, and I’m afraid he’ll be more of a hired gun than anything else.

Let’s be clear: It’s especially difficult for me to argue that a character isn’t always served best by its co-creator. Not too long ago Conway was fairly vocal about how Warner Brothers had adapted a couple of his Firestorm characters for television without compensating him appropriately. Now he’s getting to write Firestorm again, and potentially getting another crack at Felicity Smoak and/or Killer Frost. I’m glad he’s getting the work, but I see who has all the leverage.

Thus, unless Conway, Wein, Wolfman, and Barr are free to do what they want with their creations, I’m not inclined to be much more grateful than that. It’s more than just “you can’t go home again,” it’s going home after two subsequent owners have lived there and not being sure about what can stay and what needs to go.

When the new Raven miniseries appears next year, it will join ongoings for Cyborg and Starfire. The New 52 was fairly good to Cyborg, making him a founding Justice Leaguer and giving him a central role in that book’s Forever Evil tie-ins. By contrast, Starfire’s reboot did more for the male gaze than for her character. Thankfully, the new Starfire series, by Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Emanuela Lupacchino, has been an entertaining mix of the classic comics and the first Titans animated series.

While I’ve been enjoying Starfire’s blend of older elements, I have high hopes for Cyborg because it can move the character forward. I don’t know what the Raven miniseries needs to do to be successful — and I hope it is, because I like the character — but as far as I am concerned, Marv Wolfman did all he needed to do with her in his original Titans run. If he’s got another good Raven story in him, that’s great. Otherwise, I’m happy just having the Raven of the ‘80s, who found peace and love among her teammates.

 

I see you giving me the frozen smile now. It’s OK.

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