There was nothing in this week’s stack of books that really cried out for the Spotlight, but there is something in the Archives that I’ve wanted to write about for a long time that is newly-relevant, so there are 36-year-old spoilers ahead for…
The Uncanny X-Men and The New Teen Titans
Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: Walter Simonson
Cover: Walter Simonson
“This used to be a skyscraper – ‘til it got trashed by the X-Men. Media describes them as outlaws. I wonder why the Titans have never tangled with ‘em?”
The other day on Twitter I saw some highly-relatable content about looking for a recipe online and ending up on a food blog with the recipe obscured by paragraph after paragraph of a travelogue filled with purple prose detailing the author’s journey of self-discovery in Tuscany.
Me: What’s an easy banana bread recipe?
Every recipe website: While I was technically born in Pennsylvania in 1986, my soul was truly born last summer in rural Tuscany. Ah, the Mediterranean breezes, coupled with the sight of the quaint countryside villas. But I digress…
— zack (@zacklemore92) July 26, 2018
I laughed, of course – like I said, “highly-relatable content” – but then it occurred to me that my Spotlight posts aren’t much different. (Except that the food blog posts generally do have useful information in there somewhere.)
After all, as with last week, every post has at least one nostalgic anecdote about the subject of the Spotlight, comics in general, and the instability of my access to comics in my youth.
This…this is going to be one of those. (And there won’t even be a recipe at the end. Also, I’ve never been to Tuscany.)
Most of my purchases of comics that weren’t in digest form, or weren’t cheap bag o’ mystery comics, happened at grocery stores, and, for a variety of reasons, there were only one or two stores we went to with any regularity.
This was troubling for me, as there were several stores that we didn’t go to regularly that had much larger and more diverse selections of new comics to choose from – and, indeed there were even some newsstand-type places that had an even larger selection that we went to even less frequently – and it was always cool when we would go to one and I could get my hands on books that were otherwise inaccessible.
One of those places we didn’t go to often was something of a general store, filled with a strange assortment of random items. We mostly avoided it because, I think, it was somewhat out of the way for us, and because in terms of groceries, it didn’t have much that we needed and what it did have was more expensive than at the other places.
I liked the place because in addition to just having different comics it had different kinds of comics in terms of the actual format. Mass market paperback editions, or special oversized editions, such as the comic we’re (eventually) going to talk about.
I won’t go into too much more detail about the specifics of the trip to that store that landed me a copy of this comic, though I’m guessing that it marked an occasion on which we were a little more flush – maybe my dad had just gotten paid for a big job? I don’t recall – as I recall that it was on the same night that we, as a family, went to see a movie* which was something we did even less-frequently than shopping at those other stores.
(Relevant to another Archives post, the digest in which I first read the story that Spotlight focuses on was purchased from the same odd little store from which I bought this comic.)
The reason I opted to talk about this particular comic is that it holds a particular significance, to me, personally – I loved the hell out of this comic, as evidenced by the fact that I read and re-read it to the point of destruction – and to the history of comics generally.
It wasn’t the first inter-company crossover between Marvel and DC, but it’s arguably one of the biggest, given the immense popularity of the characters it brought together.
The Uncanny X-Men (UXM) and The New Teen Titans (NTT) were two of the most popular comics for their respective publishers, so this was officially a Big Deal, particularly given that NTT was launched by DC as something of a response to the growing popularity of UXM over at Marvel.
The two teams had very much in common, with sporadic publication histories that stretched back to the early 1960s, relatively young main characters, something of a “family” dynamic that wasn’t as present in other team books, they told stories that tackled some of the social issues of the times, they each had, throughout their history, a changing roster of members, and they were filled with angst. So much angst. You would have to vigorously wash your hands after reading an issue of UXM or NTT because they would be covered with the angst that positively oozed off the pages.
At the time, I was probably more familiar with NTT than UXM, the latter of which I had only recently started reading, and I was always more of a DC person than a Marvel.
I do recall being a bit disappointed that the art on this crossover was not handled by NTT artist and co-creator George Perez – who was my favorite artist – but it’s hard to be too disappointed when you get Walter Simonson.
It’s interesting to look at the credits and see that neither Wolfman nor Perez are listed as contributing. Only the late Len Wein is listed in the credits (as Consulting Editor) from the DC side of things.
The other reason I opted to pull this one out of the Archives is that both teams are in the news these days, with a, oh, let’s say “mixed” reaction to the recently-released trailer for the upcoming live-action Titans series, which appears to draw heavily from the early Wolfman/Perez era of NTT, the release of the animated Teen Titans Go! To the Movies** this past Thursday (also with mixed reactions), and the announcement that Marvel is reviving the Uncanny X-Men title, and that Chris Claremont is going to be writing the X-Men Black series. (I’m out of the X-loop, but most of the X-titles these days seem to be color-coded.)
Okay, so, anyway, when I arrived in Tuscany, though I had never before trod upon Italian soil in my life, I was nevertheless struck by an overwhelming sense of having returned home. I –
Oh, right. Comics, not recipes.
Our story opens at the Source Wall, under the stony gaze of the Promethean Giants, those ancient entities who in eons past attempted to breach the Wall, as so many have tried – and failed – to do throughout history and got turned into decorations for their trouble.
Metron of the New Gods means to succeed where they failed, his endless quest to know all there is to know leading him to this final frontier. A shadowy figure, with whom Metron has a less-than convivial relationship, is offering Metron a means of breaching the Wall in exchange for something Metron calls a Psychon-Wave.
Metron, in his Mobius Chair, uses the device given to him by his mysterious interlocutor (Spoiler: It’s Darkseid), heads towards the Wall, and in a flash of light, he’s gone, leaving behind only the Mobius Chair, adrift in space, and the new owner of the Psychon-Wave, who laughs at his incipient triumph, which will give him “dominion over the stars!”
We cut to a training session in the Danger Room back on Earth, with Colossus, Wolverine, and Nightcrawler managing to impress Professor X with their performances. Elsewhere in the mansion/school we see Cyclops and Storm each enjoying some down time, while the youngest of the team (and secret imaginary girlfriend of comic nerds everywhere) Kitty Pryde prepares dinner for the team.
Later, with training complete, and dinner eaten, it’s all “Good night, Danger Room, good night, Cerebro…” and all the X-Men drift off to sleep, sleep that is troubled by dreams of their fallen teammate, Jean Grey, once known as Marvel Girl, then Phoenix, and then, by the time of her demise, Dark Phoenix.
The dreams are more than dreams, however, as a strange figure seems to be causing them – and using some device to draw out the essence of those memories – visiting each sleeping X-Man in turn, until finally reaching Kitty.
After responding to Kitty’s scream, the X-Men realize that it wasn’t some imaginary monster, given that each of them had troubling dreams about Jean, and they all know better than to believe in coincidence.
The discussion is tabled by someone at the door, with that someone turning out to be none other than…Jean Grey?
Meanwhile, in Titans Tower, Raven is having a rare night of untroubled sleep, her soul-self drifting in the vast and quiet cosmos. Alas, for the Daughter of Trigon, peace can only be short-lived, and, like Kitty, she soon wakes screaming after a massive bird of fire assaults her soul-self.
Her teammates, Starfire and Changeling (you youngsters know him by his original code name of Beast Boy), comfort her, but Changeling finds himself on the wrong end of an angry Tamaranean princess once he tries to use his powers to replicate the flaming bird that Raven describes.
Starfire, it seems, is familiar with the Phoenix, and the sight of it sent her into a warrior’s rage. Realizing that Raven’s dream might be more than a dream, she summons the other members of the Titans: Wonder Girl, Kid Flash, Cyborg, and Robin, the latter of which doesn’t show up at the Tower.
The Boy Wonder is busy in Gotham, dealing with a break-in at S.T.A.R. Labs by thugs working for a re-formed (but not “reformed”) Intergang. He gets more than he bargained for when he removes the mask of one of the unconscious felons and discovers an inhuman face. A Parademon, he learns, from none other than Deathstroke the Terminator, for whom the Parademons are working. The Terminator (in those days the “Terminator” part of his name was used more often than “Deathstroke”) quickly knocks Robin out, and we learn that he was rendered unconscious before he could receive the alert Koriand’r sent out.
The X-Men, meanwhile, are at the home of Jean Grey’s parents, having been summoned there after Jean’s father received a visit from his late daughter that was nearly identical to the one Cyclops got. Professor X soon reaches out to them with a telepathic summons, alerting them to the fact that he’s detected strange incidents in various locations, each of which has some connection to the late Phoenix. If the pattern holds, it can lead them to the next likely location to confront the perpetrator of the night’s strange events.
We cut to the Titans finding their leader unconscious in an alleyway, and they soon bring him up to speed on what’s happening. Starfire tells the tale of the destruction of the D’Bari system, and the death of billions of beings, caused by an entity known as Dark Phoenix, which was related to her people, in the time before Starfire was enslaved by her sister and later made her escape to Earth, by Lilandra of the Shi’ar Empire. Lilandra informed them that Dark Phoenix had been destroyed, but Raven’s dream leads her to suspect otherwise.
Robin isn’t so sure that there’s anything they can do – “Kory, cosmic menaces are a little out of the Titans’ league. Perhaps we should notify the Justice League or the Avengers…?” – and believes that dealing with the Terminator should be the priority, but ultimately, when Koriand’r insists that she’ll go it alone if she has to, relents, as Titans stick together.
That commitment to unity pays dividends.
We then check in with the villains of the piece, where we learn that – unsurprisingly – the Terminator is connected to the whole Phoenix thing, as he’s working for the big boss behind it all. (Again, it’s Darkseid. The attempts at obscuring that fact are rather silly, in that even his silhouette is recognizable, we already know that the Fourth World – and in particular, Parademons – plays a part in this, and his picture is on the back cover.)
There is some unfriendly rivalry between the human Terminator and the Apokoliptan flunky – Ravok the Ravager – who is also working for the “mysterious” leader, but each is sent off on a different mission. Th Terminator is sent to collect some last, pivotal bit of energy, while Ravok and his troops are sent to capture the X-Men.
Things don’t quite work out that way, as an impetuous Starfire bursts into the X-mansion and assaults Professor X, who manages to knock her out with a psi-bolt. But Charles is soon taken down by the other Titans. Robin isn’t exactly thrilled about how things went down, what with the breaking and entering and possibly attempted murder, but they don’t have time to debate, as they are soon attacked and captured by Ravok and company, who mistake the Titans for the X-Men. In the confusion, Changeling avoided capture, and uses his shapeshifting abilities to take on the form of a Parademon, following the rest of the troops through the Boom Tube in the hopes of rescuing his friends.
In New Mexico, the X-Men tussle with the Terminator, and though they ultimately end up captured as well, they do at least manage to destroy the device that was being used to siphon the residual psychic energy left behind by Phoenix during an adventure with the X-Men.
Back at the Wall, Ravok feels like he’s really gotten an edge over that filthy human, and proudly presents the “X-Men.” The boss isn’t thrilled – Charles is the only useful person in that pile of unconscious bodies, but he needs the rest of the X-Men – and Terminator booms back in, just in time to rub Ravok’s nose in his own success at capturing the X-Men.
Having succeeded where Ravok failed makes up for the loss of the especially potent energy the boss (Darkseid) was hoping to acquire.
Ravok’s troubles only get worse from there as the boss notices that one of the Parademons is unusually green. Terminator realizes it’s Changeling, and quickly takes him out.
That’s the last strike for Ravok, however, and the boss (IT. IS. DARKSEID.) disintegrates him.
The X-Men and the Titans (mostly for the hell of it) wake to find that they are hooked up to some big doohickey, and Kitty, who finds that she can’t phase her way out of it, sees a familiar, horrible face:
“You’re the thing from my nightmare! You’re real!”
“I am indeed! Adults deny me, but children know me for what I am. That makes them dangerous, and worthy to be cherished. For in their innocence lies the universe’s salvation, and in the loss of that innocence, my ultimate victory!”
The device is designed to draw out the remaining residual psychic energy of Dark Phoenix to bring her – or at least a decent facsimile thereof – to life. And it works.
Cyclops tries to reason with Jean, and appeal to her love for him, but, game recognizes game, and so she chooses Darkseid.
Like any villain worth his salt, Darkseid explains his plan in a monologue. He’s going to use Phoenix’s powers to transform the Earth into another Apokolips, and then use it as a base to engage in the conquest of New Genesis and then, ultimately, everything.
Darkseid and Dark Phoenix and their entourage Boom Tube out, leaving the heroes behind with no means of escape from the hunk of rock floating in space.
Once he leaves, with no reason to keep them restrained, the device sets the team free, and we get the first official meeting of the two teams.
Kitty and Changeling hit it off pretty quickly, but the teams have a more pressing issue than how well they get along, in that they need to save the Earth, but first they need to find a way off the asteroid, as its atmosphere is rapidly depleting.
Cyborg, with his assorted devices, and Charles, with his psychic abilities, detect some sort of object floating nearby, and soon, powered by Cyclops’s optic blasts and Starfire’s starbolts, they manage to move the asteroid within reach of the object, which turns out to be Metron’s Mobius Chair.
Of course, to them, it’s just a chair, but soon Kitty and Changeling inadvertently discover that it’s much more than that and is capable of bringing them back to Earth.
The question is how they’ll all fit, but Kitty and Changeling soon solve that problem. Changeling turns into a dragon. Charles will drive the chair, Changeling will ride it, and everyone else will ride on him.
This solution provides a moment of requisite angst, along with a bit of humor.
Once on Earth, they soon find their way to the secret base from which Darkseid plans to create Hell on Earth, and though they’re too late to prevent Dark Phoenix from sending a psi-bolt to the Earth’s core to kick off the whole process, there’s lots of fighting – including the requisite bit with each being impressed by the other as Wolverine and Deathstroke face off – which is ultimately resolved by…love, of course.
Working together, Charles and Raven zap Dark Phoenix with the love that her team members felt for her, and remind her of the loving, kind, and good woman she had once been. The psychic toll proves too much for her and her body begins to discorporate.
With Dark Phoenix weakened, Robin comes up with an idea, telling her that she might be able to keep herself together if she takes back the energy she just sent into the core. Darkseid objects, but everyone else lays into him, with Starfire scoring the definitive blow by blasting him directly in the eyes as he’s about to unleash the Omega Effect.
Dark Phoenix pulls back the energy she unleashed, but it’s not enough, because she’s missing the corporeal host she once had, and Darkseid tells her there’s a chance that she can sustain herself if she finds a host.
In death, as in life, she settles for Cyclops, but she’s not strong enough to overcome his love for her, and she realizes that this illusion of life isn’t good enough. She angrily departs Cyclops and heads for the cause of her misery: Darkseid.
She scoops him up and disappears. Though the X-Titans have no idea where they went, they know the danger has passed.
In fact, she’s taking him to the Wall, in the hopes that the Source can restore her, though she knows it’s too late for that.
We end with the teams triumphant and enjoying each other’s company, though there is the lingering question of where those ghostly images of Jean that visited Cyclops and Mr. Grey came from.
In the epilogue, as we see the Mobius Chair return to the Wall, and Metron’s butt return to the Mobius Chair, we learn that he sent those images in order to ensure that Darkseid would be stopped, and that the balance of things could be restored.
We also learn that things didn’t work out so well for Darkseid.
Obviously, this comic holds a special place in my memory, for multiple reasons – on of which is that, as you can see in the footnote, I have reason to associate it with a young Diane Lane…rawr! – but beyond that, it has a more general significance. There had been – and would be more – other Marvel/DC crossovers before this, but this was a big one. There weren’t many (any?) comics more beloved than UXM and NTT at the time, or any two books that were more ideally-suited for a crossover, given their similarities.
Beyond that, for all the angst, and melodrama, and overwrought dialogue, it was a good story, and it was drawn by Walter freakin’ Simonson, so…well, ‘nuff said.
It would be more than two decades before the other two major teams in their respective universes had a crossover, and it was a long, tumultuous path to publication.
While there have been other intercompany crossovers, there have been additional Marvel/DC crossovers since JLA/Avengers, and there likely won’t be, which means we won’t see a sequel to Wonder Woman/Conan now that the rights to Conan are back at Marvel.
The tricky part of crossovers is finding the right balance, and in this case – and I attribute this to Jim Shooter – the balance was a bit off, if, like me, you were a slightly bigger fan of NTT than UXM. The Titans are treated pretty well, but we get much more of a focus on the inner lives of the X-Men than we do the Titans.
It is interesting, though, that so many people involved in the comic – or at least the individual comics that were being brought together for this special event – had done a lot of “crossing over” between the companies themselves.
Shooter started out at DC before landing at Marvel, Wolfman and Perez had both done work for Marvel before launching NTT at DC (which is, in part, why they were tapped to create a book that could compete with UXM), Simonson had worked for both companies, and so had Len Wein.
Thanks to the cartoons, the perception of the Teen Titans by the general public and to comics fans who are younger than I am is very different from what would be found here. I’m not going to say that this other perception of the Titans is wrong (though it is), but it is very different.
Still, given my fondness for the Titans, I’m glad to see that there at least is a perception of them at all within the general public, but I find it unfortunate that the upcoming live-action series that’s drawing inspiration from this period appears to be doing so very poorly. (Based solely, and perhaps unfairly, on the trailer, I would say that Young Justice is a much better spiritual successor to this era of Titans history than the Titans live-action series will be.)
Oh, and the other great thing about this crossover is that it’s the second time that year that Darkseid got his ass beat by a bunch of teenagers.
That does it for this week’s Spotlight. Next week, no matter what, I’ll pick something new to write about, I swear.
In the meantime, one evening in Tuscany, after a day filled with food and wine and self-discovery, I found myself amongst newfound friends – though I felt like we’d known each other all of our lives – on the patio at a quaint, rustic home nestled in the countryside, enjoying the cool, evening breeze, and the delightful desserts that had been laid out for us on an uneven table crafted from rough-hewn timber that tilted precariously to one side with each tray placed upon it by the lively and passionate septuagenarian woman at whose home I was a guest. “Guest” seems too cold a word for it; in that moment I was familigia. I called her “Nonna Grace,” as did everyone, whether she was their grandmother or not, and though I should have, perhaps, felt a tinge of shame or anger, I couldn’t help but be delighted every time she laughed at my clumsy attempts at speaking in Italian. “Idiota!” she would exclaim, hitting me on the head with a wooden spoon, before unleashing peals of infectious laughter.
And that was when I learned how to bake chocolate chip cookies, though I didn’t so much learn the recipe as I lived it…
*I’m reasonably certain the movie in question was Six Pack, starring Kenny Rogers. **I haven’t seen it myself, and probably won’t until it’s available for home viewing. After all, given that I have to work at a full-time job *COUGH* *COUGH* I don’t have the freedom to just go to the movies whenever I feel like doing so.