Heartbreak in Convergence: New Teen Titans. Or “The Rise and Fall of Dick Nightwing and the Spiders from Tamaran”
Our latest Graphic Policy Radio podcast guest (and award winning non-comics reporter) Spencer Ackerman and I are both fans of the classic New Teen Titans series by Marv Wolfman and George Perez. Upon reading the first issue of this two part book he pointed out to me that in Convergence: New Teen Titans, Cyborg and Beast Boy can EASILY be read as a couple. “In the first scene Donna Troy is writing to Terry [her husband] about how now that they’re trapped under the Dome, all the Titans except her are — her words — “paired up”? Those pairs are shown to be: Kole and Jericho; Nightwing and Starfire; and Cyborg and Beast Boy. Never once does Wolfman explicitly write Gar and Vic as lovers. But that seems to me to be the clearest acknowledgement yet that they’re a couple.”
Of issue 2 Spencer wrote “Beast Boy is on the cover in non-animal form, lifting up Cyborg, who easily weighs 300 lbs. It’s obviously the power of their love that puts the strength in Gar’s arms, back and legs. There’s also a scene where Gar is shedding literally a single tear talking about how he can’t lose Vic, who’s “more than a friend.” They chicken out and have Gar add “he’s my brother,” but I don’t think I’m straining to see the queer subtext. It’s 2015, DiDio! We know Gar and Vic are lovers! We embrace it! Stop insulting us!”
I wonder if keeping queer relationships in subtext as opposed to just saying the darn words is a force of habit for Bronze Age writers. Ultimately though, I put the question to the fans: how does this relationship read to you? In this case I put this particular question to queer guys who grew up during the time of the original series. I argue that their relationship is real to the extent that you guys identify with it. “Authorial intent for serialized stories is nonsense. Shatterstar isn’t straight because Rob Liefeld tweets that he is…” quoth Spencer.
Marv Wolfman’s New Teen Titans are gloriously soapy and always have been. They’re the DC Comics version of Claremont’s New Mutants and having them back again is quite a gift. Especially with Dick Grayson’s historical retro-before-its-time Glam Rock Super Hero Jump Suit and Kole’s Studio 54-worthy lurex shimmery accordion pleats (I’d wear it). Joey’s mutton-chop sideburns are flawless.
Issue 1 of this mini series was a wonder. Nicola Scott is the perfect artist for this book — she draws elegant, expressive faces with realistic and compelling facial expressions. Unlike in most comics, no two characters’ faces are alike! Other artists, please take note. The colors by Jeromy Cox are almost flat enough for this to feel like a real bronze age book.
I feel bad poking holes in the generous gift that is the Rise and Fall of Dick Nightwing & the Spiders from Tamaran but after a promising issue 1 I had to re-read issue 2 in disbelief a few times and was left shaking my head in confusion over the plot, parts of the dialog and the total lack of a conclusion.
The scenes between Kole and Joey in issue 2 are either confusing or disturbing. In issue 1 she asks Donna if Joey might be gay, Donna gives her classic big sister style advice in the most adorable way before single-tearing over her absent husband (I love you Donna, never change). But then in issue 2 Kole kisses Joey while he’s semi-conscious and Joey immediately pushes her away. Joey makes his lack of consent very clear. Then the next time they are together she turns his oil painting into a mixed media piece and they hug. What is going on?!? Kole acts as if some personal conversation had occurred in between her molesting Joey and messing with his painting and hugging him. Maybe I’m just bad at reading his body language but I have no idea what he communicated with her in that painting scene. Did she ask for forgiveness for touching him non-consensually? Did he come out to her? Did he signal “no I don’t date people who kiss me when I’m unconscious but let’s hug and pretend things are normal?” Because either way, it must have been off panel. I ask both a rhetorical question and as a regular question: what the hell is going on?!
Oh, the things we’ll do to read a comic with glam rock costume Dick Grayson. He’ll beat the bad guys and then play a smoking hot solo. The comic comes to an abrupt end, even with the sound of a record skip. It’s end is bizarre and un-fulfilling even for a wacky cross-over event. I just don’t buy what passes for a relationship resolution between Kory and Dick in issue 2. Dick doesn’t trust her and he is patronizing. I suspect they’ll be making like David and Angie Bowie and splitting off camera. Maybe he’ll move to Berlin and hang out with Brian Eno and other feathered jumpsuit enthusiasts.
Spencer tapped his superior knowledge of the original series to construct the following supporting argument for a Garth and Victor relationship that precedes this continuity: “When Cyborg first gets seriously injured, Gar is shown keeping a bedside vigil and crying. Gar is constantly and loudly proclaiming his sexual desire for women in a really closet-y way, but when (during Geoff Johns’ run) Raven decides she’s into Gar, Gar finds all manner of awkward excuses to keep her away. Meanwhile, all of Vic’s attempts at relationships with women fail, often the result of him loathing himself — seemingly because he hates his quadriplegia… but, y’know, maybe he hasn’t come to terms with another aspect of himself as well. The only times either Cyborg and Beast Boy* are shown to be happy are when they’re with one another.”
Teenage Superheroes in Love. Unless you’re Kole. What the fuck Kole, what the fuck.