Sunday, November 18, 2007

Making Shitty Comics Good: Teen Titans East Special #1

I think we can all agree there are too many shitty comics out there. That is, essentially, the overarching message of the greater comics blogosphere: "There's too goddamn many shitty comics out there!" A century from now, when the aliens come upon the rubble of our civilization, and download all the information from our still-intact web servers, they'll have to devote an entire hyperbrainship to sifting through the kvetching, commentary, counter-commentary, and just plain homicidal ranting about shitty comics. Entire lobe-sectors will spend countless ana-cycles on Rob Liefeld alone.

One thing they'll find is that the common reply to criticisms of shitty comics from those who enjoy shitty comics is, "Well, why don't you do something better?" And they'll find that the common response is, "Fuck you, I don't need to be a writer to know a shitty story when I see it."

The thing is though, I am a writer. And, in the case of a number of shitty comics out there, I damn well should do better? So why shouldn't I? That thought was the genesis of this semi-recurring feature. Herein, I'll take a shitty comic story, and make it better. I can't do anything about the art, unless you like stick figures, but I know a thing or two about story, and I think I can spin some of this straw from the bottom of the horse's stall into gold. Now, of course, it'd be easy to just junk everything and say "Do something with monkeys instead." But it's far more interesting to keep at least part of the starting point and work forward from there. Because there are no (or at least few) bad ideas, just bad executions. And there's usually a glimmer of potential in even the most rank piece of hackwork to make the exercise worth my while.

So, the Titans East special. Reading this, it's not hard to see why it's shit. The book's divided into three basic parts, all of them crappy. First is a bit where Judd Winick shamelessly masturbates over the Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans in an overlong and embarrassing flashback where Cyborg (although we don't know it's him until it's over) reminisces about an old adventure, and how gosh-darn wonderful everything was back then, and oh god Bronze Age DC ohgodohgodohGOOOOOOOOOOD all over the first half of the book. I'm surprised the pages weren't stuck together. Following this is a pathetic scene where, one by one, the old New Titans turn down Cyborg's embarrassing pleas to get the old band back together. Supposedly, it's to train a group of C-list teen heroes, but you get the feeling the real impetus is that Cyborg is the guy ten years out of college who hasn't made any friends outside of his old role-playing club. Finally, we meet the group (Hawk, Dove, Power Boy, Anima, Little Barda, Lagoon Boy, and Son of Vulcan) in a combination of juvenile sex jokes and a gratuitous training scene. The comic ends when Power Boy gets impaled on a tree branch off-panel, and then everybody's killed by lasers out of nowhere.

Seriously. Lasers out of fucking nowhere. Cyborg gets an Anakin Skywalker special, and we'll see you all in Titans #1. And they expect you to cough up $3.99 for this shit.

So, where do we start? Well, already I have to go back on my promise and junk the root concept. Because the root concept is a schlocktacular bait-and-switch that sets up the old team getting back together to, I guess, rebuild Cyborg and beat up whatever nebulous villain was behind those lasers out of fucking nowhere. If we're lucky, they'll travel to Earth-Prime and kick Winick's ass. And then look up Brad Meltzer for good measure. (And how fucking inept is DC to pre-hype this book by all-but telling us that everyone will die at the end, and it's just a lead in to yet another sad attempt at a Wolfman/Perez redux? It's like a Bizarro Thunderbolts, where a halfway decent premise is switched on the last page for a fucking terrible one, and they spoil the surprise before you've even read it.)

So that sucks. Gotta kill it. Instead, how about we play it straight? Here's how I would have done the Titans East Special:

For starters, fuck the flashback. It and the begging scene make Cyborg look pathetic, and while he is a rather pathetic character, we're supposed to like him. Instead, we start with, as I said, playing it straight. A Teen Titans farm team is not a bad idea; you could have them do a year-long "internship" before graduating to the big leagues. And since Cyborg has never worked as a tech character, or a "protecting the 'hood" hero, or anything else, setting him up as a mentor is as good an idea as anything else. And here's an idea: Let's actually get to know the Titans East, and see them in real action.

I would have spent the entire book on an inaugural mission for the team. Nothing fancy, just start at the Tower with the alarms going off, and they rush out to find an army of unfamiliar aliens running wild through Manhattan. To make things more interesting, the team to start would be just Cyborg, Son of Vulcan, Lagoon Boy, Hawk and Dove. Cyborg's still putting things together, and in the fine tradition of superhero team formation, Power Boy and Anima would just sort of show up. (The whole "Death of the New Gods" thing means Little Barda is toast anyway, so she's best left out entirely, but we can retcon Power Boy as being not really a New God.) There's fighting, camaraderie, a bit of levity, some actual character work, and at the end they beat the aliens, and Cyborg starts thinking maybe this thing'll work out after all…

And then the aliens' bosses show up, and we find out the whole thing was a lure so the real bad guys could kidnap themselves some superheroes. Only Cyborg escapes, and now he's got to call his old friends to help him go into space and get these kids back.

Caveat: Nightwing, Flash, and Arsenal (I'm not fucking calling him "Red Arrow") can stay the hell home. Seriously, enough of this multiple teams bullshit. It doesn't work when Wolverine's on an Avengers squad and every damn team of X-Men, and it's not gonna work here. You get Cyborg, Donna Troy, Raven, Beast Boy, and Starfire and like it. They were always coasting on the others' reputations anyway, so now they can rise or fall on their own merits. And we'll be keeping focus on the kids, too, as we switch back and forth between the search and where they end up. This would take up about a year or so of stories, with both teams coming together at the end to kick some alien butt. And not everybody will come home, either, but we don't say who or why. (Yes, everyone may well get out of this alive.)

So, we actually work with the characters in the special, avoid yet another meaningless "C-listers get killed to show we mean business" scene, and make the special the beginning of a real story, rather than an excuse to start retelling old ones. Net result, people are talking about what's going to happen, instead of what just happened, and there's a chance they might actually like it. Which beats the hell out of the shit they gave us.

1 comment:

Matt Algren said...

Great premise. Somebody get this man a contract.

The only thing I might change is the who gets away from the Real Bad Guys.

How about Cyborg gets taken and one of the new guys makes it out? Maybe Hawk makes it out and doesn't know what to do, and so she tracks down the others from Cyborg's phone bill or something and they all go searching.

Otherwise, yeah I'd totally buy this.