Comics have a long history of opposite-number villains, from Bizarro and Reverse-Flash to Venom and Abomination, who serve as sinister reflections of superheroes. Although smaller in number, there are also opposite teams, whose goals -- and, often, names -- stand in stark contrast to iconic benevolent groups. Think the Injustice Gang, the Frightful Four and the Legion of Supervillains.
With DC Comics' "Teen Titans" #2, out now, we can add to that list the Demon's Fist.
Teased on the final page of the Rebirth title's first issue, it's perhaps not an "opposite number" in the classic sense, as the group's name isn't a play on the Teen Titans' -- like, say, the Terror Titans -- and its members aren't direct counterparts to the young heroes. However, their connections to Robin, Starfire, Beast Boy, Kid Flash and Raven run deep.
As the name may suggest, the Demon's Fist was created by Ra's al Ghul, aka the Demon's Head, as a junior League of Assassins. Trained under the supervision of Ra's himself, the deadly students must pass one final test before they can join the big leagues -- or, rather, big League: kill a target of their choice. That's where the Teen Titans come in.
In September's "Teen Titans: Rebirth" #1, Damian Wayne tore a page from Deathstroke's old playbook and captured the once-and-future Titans one by one to demonstrate a.) that he could, and b.) with his guidance, they could become a true "super-team." "There are five us," he says in Issue 1. "And five fingers make a fist." However, if that pitch, and perhaps bit of foreshadowing, weren't enough, Damian provides a pretty convincing answer to the question of why the Titans should follow someone like him: "Because if you don't ... we're all dead."
We learn in "Teen Titans" #2, by Benjamin Percy and Diogenes Neves, that Damian's desire to re-form the team under his leadership isn't merely driven by ego but also by a sense of self-preservation. As you may have guessed, the students of the Demon's Fist have chosen Robin, Starfire, Beast Boy, Kid Flash and Raven as their final exam.
Well, "chosen" isn't quite right because, as Damian explains, "They have mined databases and crunched algorithms and conjured prophecies before deciding on ... you. Someone they anticipate as a rival -- the sun to their moon." It's a novel variation on the tried-and-true formula, even if it is more than a little convenient. (A mix of math and mysticism leads them to these five heroes, already linked by team affiliation and/or legacy? Don't dwell too long on that, though.) "They would never admit this," the young Robin continues, "but to them ... you represent everything good and hopeful that's been missing from their lives."
There's Blank, the albino shapeshifter whose sights are set on Beast Boy; Stone, the super-strong earth-mover gunning for Starfire; Plague, whose "diseased touch" reaches for Raven; Mara, the martial artist and tactician who wishes to match wits, and blades, with Robin; and Nightstorm, whose wind-manipulating abilities might be a match for Kid Flash's speed.
The makeup of the lineup is somewhat reminiscent of the Elementals of Doom, the embodiments of air, water, fire and earth summoned by Diablo to battle the Fantastic Four, although in that case each element was intended to counter the powers of each of Marvel's First Family. In this case, it appears to be a mix of opposites and analogs: Blank, Mara and Nightstorm more or less correspond with the abilities of Beast Boy, Robin and Kid Flash, but Plague's decaying touch and Rock's earth-manipulating powers run counter to Raven's more empathic nature and Starfire's flight and energy blasts.
However, Percy adds another twist with the revelation that the Demon's Fist isn't just any team of teenage assassins bent on killing five heroes. Oh, no. They were intended by Ra's al Ghul as a gift, of sorts, for his grandson. Yes, that would be Damian Wayne, who inadvertently leads them to the Titans' location.
"You had a team," Mara taunts as the Demon's Fist closes in on the Teen Titans. "But you thought you were too good for us ... and you still do." When Starfire asks what she's talking about, Mara delights in explaining, "Your 'Robin' is one of us! The Demon's Fist was his team to lead ... as appointed by his grandfather, Ra's al Ghul!"
It's a revelation that cuts Damian deeper than Mara's sword could, as it not only complicates his plans but also demonstrates, again, that he's not nearly as clever as he believes. More damaging, however, it nurtures -- heck, fertilizes -- the seeds of distrust planted by Robin himself when he kidnapped and imprisoned the Titans. And just as they may have been warming up to him. Oh, who are we kidding?
With the Demon's Fist, Percy, Neves and original artist Jonboy Meyers have created opponents with powers that rival, and maybe even surpass, those of the Titans. But perhaps more importantly, there's an intense psychological and emotional connection. Sure, they pose a physical, and mortal, threat, but they also serve as a weighty reminder of Damian's past and that, if not for the influence of Batman, Nightwing and Alfred Pennyworth, he might be leading this team of assassins. Who might the arrogant little 13-year-old have targeted, we wonder.
Obviously Ra's al Ghul and the Demon's Fist will play a significant role in the remainder of the "Damian Knows Best" storyline -- what's better than a near-constant threat of murder to bring a fledgling team together? -- but we can only hope the adolescent assassins will lurk in the shadows once the arc ends. Just as a previous incarnation of the Teen Titans cut its teeth on recurring threats like Deathstroke, H.I.V.E., Brother Blood and the Fearsome Five, this new version needs archenemies of its own.
And, frankly, for the physical and emotional punch they deliver, the five members of the Demon's Fist have the Terror Titans beat all to hell.