Guest article by Fletcher “Syrg” Arnett.
Well looky here, already we’re having a change of plans. After reading Empowered vol. 6 this week the blurb at the end informed me Adam Warren had written an Elseworlds story. Given that I’d rank Empowered as my book of the week (if not for the solid month), pulling this out of the stack took precedence over the first of the Bland Bat-Batallion of stories.
Titans – Scissors, Paper, Stone
Written by: Adam Warren
Art by: Tom Simmons with Adam Warren
Focuses on: Teen Titans
Self-contained/Multiple books: Self-contained
Published in: 1997
Central premise: Far-future teens taking on the role of the Teen Titans to stop an immenent “gigaclysm”
Martian Manhunter Out of Fucking Nowhere? No
I’m going to be entirely honest: I’m terrible with the Teen Titans. I don’t know a fucking thing about them, I’ve only read Terror Titans and a couple of issues of the latest series, and that was all for Static, baby. (Consequently, I’m not reading another issue of the damn thing, because two mistakes were enough, and I don’t like being the jilted lover. Fuck you, DC.) I picked up Tiny Titans for a bit but dropped it when my kid sister stopped reading it as well and I needed to slash the budget.
This is very much not the usual Titans story. (Or maybe it is? I’m willing to bet not though.) Rather than run through some massively-plotted concept and try and cram it into 50-60 pages, Warren just gets us into the thick of things pretty quickly and alternates explanation (mostly origins for our motley crew) and action, with small bursts of character building beyond the hero template each mimics.
Either way, it’s not hard to follow: our Raven-analogue, a “Nietzschean Genemage”, has had a vision of terrible catastrophe to follow. In the week or so preceding the event, she recruits a trio of characters to her side to fill in the roles of the Teen Titans from old-Earth mythology. (Yes, this is one of those “we’re so far into the future the heroes are long-dead legends nobody believes in” tales.) She does so based on two principles, which, admittedly, make sense when you think about it: magic is sympathetic (so having a similar team/skillset will lend them the support of reality in succeeding like the legends did), and “the good guys always win”, so why not mimic heroes and hope the adage holds true?
One of her aces in the hole, as her slightly-clueless-but-well-intentioned (EX!-)boyfriend points out, is that her power works with any sort of ritual. ANYTHING ritual. Even a childhood game can be a tool of her magic, and of course, it’s the story’s title, so it’s going to end up in play by the book’s end.
For Cyborg, young Gabrielle fills in (and still manages to fit in that whole social outcast angle! Superhumanly efficient indeed.) A human brain in a decommissioned cyborg battle-body, she’s kept such things hidden from everyone, partly thanks to her own attempts, and some due to her corporate hotshot mother’s influence (which scored the body after an accident).
Gabrielle is arguably the character who gets the most backstory in this entire book, which is saying precious little. The entire thing very blatantly feels like an origin issue, and I suspect Warren wrote a nice little fluff piece and went “Let’s see if they ever ask me back for more” to flesh the characters out. I can’t gripe, it’s probably a smarter move than dragging down some clever fight scenes and power ideas just to have a teen or two go “Man my dad was a DICK”.
Next comes Hikarimono, or “Being of Light”, his nomadic rescuers called him. He now “has trouble with pronouns” and some verbal aphasia after an energy being from the galaxy’s core embedded itself inside him. He’s our Starfire-in-absentia, and technically a corpse to boot (“most likely killed by entity before possession – can only inhabit dead body”).
Finally, using frowned-upon tech to create a virtual memory suite based off the final Titan she needs, Alec is talked into playing host, and the team gains a dick. Dick. Dick Grayson, that is, and although she didn’t whip up Robin precisely, she got the next best thing, which would be a virtual Bruce Wayne. He’s moody as hell (his first two lines ask “what crisis did you all get yourself into now that you needed me” and “how long will this last, I’m pretty sure I’m too dysfunctional to last in society long”) but gets the job done with the only remotely human form around. Were it not for the exposition from Jamadagni (the mage’s name: barely used in book, or in this writeup!) Alec-Bruce would easily take over as the character with most dialogue, and he only arrives halfway through.
I can see why, though, because holy hell does he get all the best lines. Even when you conjure him out of myth and toss him into an entirely foreign society and body, Batman can still get a leg up on you. Or around you, or whatever, as he mentions later that Alec and Jamadagni experimented with tantric sex magic. (Told you he got the best lines.)
I’m not going to bother pasting most of the combat scenes, I’d have to trim so much down that it wouldn’t be worth it, but it’s a simple “no-holds-barred brawl” against a massive genetic aberration that spits lasers and neurotoxins which drive innocents into a frenzied rage. Nothing special. (Ah, comics, where something like that could be bog-standard in its own way.) Instead I’ll show off the titular attacks by our
Raven Witchy-poo as I add some final notes.
The art has plenty of fantastic touches that you come to expect from Warren. The ever-changing symbol on Jamadagni’s head and the various occult charts and items spread about her room in a few scenes show a fun attention to detail, and the creatures themselves are rather minimalist in design, like you’d expect a military bioweapon to be: conservative and without frills.
Just as well are his interpretations with Bruce. My first impression going through was that he’d run with the “brooding
Dick dick” interpretation of the late 90s, but he shows a rather silly side to the man as well, especially when he begins swinging a rage-addled woman around as a weapon, constantly going “Sorry, ma’am” whenever her legs splay, despite nobody but himself being in their right mind to give a shit about decorum.
Finally, like so many of Warren’s early works, you can see a lot of ideas he’d be returning to, especially with regards to technology and innovation. If you’ve read Livewires, you might recall that the cyborgs there had bodies which were designed to do more than met the eye, like one who had a nano-replicator for a stomach. She could very literally vomit up anything you needed. Here, Gabrielle’s combat form actually contains plastic explosives in her own innards, used to good effect in the weirdest bout of bulimia I’ve seen in comics.
(Side note unrelated to this, but which I learned in double-checking to make sure Livewires came after this book: apparently they’re letting him write Tony Stark again, even if just in a one-shot! So that’s in October and makes me happy as hell. I guess anyone else who didn’t know that like I didn’t should be on the lookout. Back to the DC side of the coin now…)
In what truly feels like a “this is open to go on” touch at the end, though, Alec/Bruce dies saving Jamadagni from the creature’s dying blow. She carefully removes the AI from the body, however, because Cliff Steele can’t di- wait no that’s the other superteam with a fatality rate through the roof. (I’m relatively sure modern Titans die more than modern Doom Patrol. Sobering, that.) It really begs to have been given another go down the line or something, but alas, he was never called back into duty to explore this take on the team again, passed over in favor of giving a second round to such Elseworlds classics as that team-up between Batman and Daredevil. (No, seriously. That really did get two books.) The best part of the ending, though, is that it’s almost like the man was a goddamned prophet, because if you can’t think of a single better line to sum up modern-day DC than “Everything just turns out glum and tragic and still silly, somehow”… well, I envy your optimism.