10 October 2011

Weekly Robin Special: The Games Plotters Play

Saturday’s weekly Robin special discussed how Marv Wolfman and George Pérez developed New Teen Titans: Games over more than two decades, and how Wolfman believes (for the purpose of a publicity interview, but no doubt sincerely as well) that that delay benefited the book.

Indeed, at some points in recent years the book could not have been published. Its action involves attacks on New York City buildings, bombs planted in the UN and other landmarks, an attempt to shoot a passenger jet out of the sky, and, at the climax, the tops of skyscrapers crumbling (as shown above).

In late 2001 Pérez responded to a question about whether Games would ever appear by stating, “a major scene in the story took place on the World Trade Center towers. That pretty much ends the speculation for me.” But more years have passed, that scene was changed, and those images, while powerful, are no longer so raw. [Ironically, New Teen Titans, vol. 2, #20, from 1986, shows Donna Troy nearly flying the Titans jet into the World Trade Center. Oops!]

Still, it seems that the long gestation time blurred some details of the Games plan. The way the book was created, Pérez typed up an incomplete plot outline and then went home to draw pages, filling out the action visually for Wolfman to script later. By the time they came back to those pages, Pérez no longer remembered how he expected certain images to fit together. And then the team rewrote their story with a new ending and more character moments.

As a result, some parts of the plot don’t quite fit together. Early on, the Titans spot secret agent King Faraday using all the resources of the federal government to pressure them into helping him on his mission. Yet the book has shown Faraday losing power within the bureaucracy, and the Titans have their own high connections. More important, despite knowing that Faraday is willing to manipulate them, Nightwing and the Titans never question the evidence he shows them.

At one point young Danny Chase is grazed by a bullet; several pages later, he’s shielded from six bullets. Three different times, things blow up in front of him. A character named the Squire suddenly feels his body age or deteriorate, but it’s unclear how that happens, and most of the other secondary villains just explode. And I never got what powers the Squire’s musical instrument is supposed to have.

The villains prove that they can plant bombs and lasers all over New York, unleash giant robots, take over all television broadcasts, and make nasty creatures appear from nothing. Yet the whole nefarious plot requires taking over one building and its power supply. Because without that, the US won’t believe that really bad things can happen. Yeah.

In the end, the plot turns out to involve one crazy person secretly recruiting several more crazy people. (I use the term “crazy” because there’s no realistic depiction of mental illness; the characters’ conditions are excuses for them to behave unreasonably as need be.) Wolfman and Pérez invented villains for this project to reflect various types of video games popular in 1988. By the end of this volume they’re almost all dead, with no great loss to the world—not that that stops comic-book characters from coming back.

The Titans split up to battle those separate foes, then gradually team up to triumph, underscoring this series’ recurring theme of sticking together. Some of those conflicts weren’t compelling for me, but perked up as they intertwined. Pérez and Wolfman make especially good use of Jericho’s power to enter and take over other people’s bodies.

Of course, I never read the New Teen Titans for the villains or the fights. (Remember that fish-god-thing from the museum? I thought not.) I read it for the heroes and their interactions. Games brings back the Titans’ private lives and relationships, even Donna’s relentlessly loving marriage with Terry Long.

I’d have been happy with a few more glimpses of Dick and Kory as a couple, but Pérez made sure to show Nightwing shirtless for the final pages of the fight; some traditions are indispensable. Koriand’r comes through as gorgeous, strong, and passionate, and she also thinks through her opponent’s weaknesses. This is especially welcome in a month when DC introduced a new version of Koriand’r who appears emotionally and mentally vacant, and—hard as this is to believe—even less dressed.

My favorite of the “private” moments on first reading was Dick having to contact all of Joey Wilson’s recent girlfriends on what, way back in 1988, we called “answering machines.” (At another high-tech moment, Donna holds up a CD and calls it “a hard disk.”)

At the end, we see several past Titans joining the current lineup before one of their beloved picnics together. Titans Tower doesn’t look the way it once did, but once again we’ve seen what’s really important: the team stands tall.

COMING UP: Pérez’s panels.


Anonymous said...

I think in the case of Faraday, they know he's manipulative, but they know he's always been shown to be doing it because a job needed doing. They might question his methods, but not usually his aim.

And I, for one, have fond memories of the fish-god-thing story, if only for the casual way Robin recognises the various avatars of Vishnu and knows all their names.

J. L. Bell said...

There’s a certain pre-Crisis naïveté about how Nightwing accepts Faraday’s assurances in Games.