Feb 21, 2020
Marvel and DC Present The Uncanny X-Men and The New Teen Titans (part 1 of 2)
You know what we haven’t seen in a long while? A crossover event between DC and Marvel. I’m not saying it was ever a common occurrence, but does anyone remember All Access, or DC vs. Marvel? Or smaller events like Batman teaming up with Captain America, or more cosmic stuff like Darkseid throwing down against Galactus? Ever since the House of the Mouse bought them, I don’t think we’ve seen anything like a crossover between the House of Ideas and anyone else. And if I’m wrong, don’t be afraid to tell me so in the comments.
As much as I liked some inter-company crossovers, I look back at the early ones and they feel like little more than gimmicks. It wasn’t until I stumbled across the X-Men/Teen Titans team-up that it felt, well, epic. It’s epic in the way a team-up between two great comic houses should feel. And the epic nature of this story was handled by a top-tier team: X-Men scribe Chris Claremont handled the words, and the illustrations were masterfully crafted by the utterly amazing Walt Simonson. If there were ever a spiritual successor to Jack Kirby’s cosmic aesthetic, it’s Walt, and judging by this story’s setting there was no better artist to pencil this tale. But could Walt handle illustrating two properties that he wasn’t commonly known for illustrating? Could Claremont do the Titans justice and not make them look like second stringers compared to his X-Men? Let’s find out!
Our story opens… honestly, I have no idea where we are or what we’re seeing, but it’s utterly cosmic, what with exploding suns in the background and Kirby-esque energy flying all over the place. We have two tiny figures dwarfed by massive statues that apparently were the “Promethean Giants” who had tried to breach “the wall” and failed. Okay, I’m guessing they weren’t statues to start off with, and whatever’s on the other side of “the wall” is something bad. On the following page we have two people: the first is the mysterious man in the foreground, although if you look at the back cover of this comic you can guess who it is. Behind him sitting in an epic easy chair is “Metron”. Speaking as somebody who had zero exposure to Jack Kirby’s Fourth World before this, I had no clue who he was, but Claremont provides enough easy-flowing exposition that I really don’t need to.
Metron claims he’s “seen all there is to see” and “learned all there is to learn”. Oh, you mean like Star Trek’s V’ger? Does this mean you’re going to “join” with a hot bald chick, Metron? Oh, wait, Professor Xavier’s bald. This comic ain’t gonna get weird, is it? Fortunately, it’s 1982, so that doesn’t even cross the mind of Chris Claremont, especially since it doesn’t involve teenagers engaging in inappropriate relationships with adults or kinky mind control. Instead, Metron offers up a trade to the mysterious man in order to achieve his goal.
So that’s one “Psychon-Wave” for an “Omega-Phase Helmet”. Based solely on the names, I’d say Metron got the better deal. He powers up his chair and flies at the wall, which turns out to be what looks like pure energy. The trip is short, but the chair is the only thing that makes it back. The Mystery Man claims that now he’ll get dominion over the stars, and laughs maniacally. A fun fact before we move on: the wall, later called the Source Wall, first appeared in this story. Jack Kirby had alluded to something like it, but this is the first time we see the actual physical barrier which has since become an iconic part of DC’s cosmic universe.
We now cut to the more mundane planet Earth, and notably a mansion near Salem Center, NY. It’s the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters, and inside we have our signature mutants training in that most awesome of places, the Danger Room.
Just look at this dynamic panel: this is how you illustrate a superhero comic, people. This is my team of X-Men, the ones I grew up with, and the all-time greatest lineup. Oh sure, people dig on the Byrne/Claremont years, and that’s all well and good, but it was during this period that Wolverine really began to come into his own, and when the Logan/Nightcrawler bromance blossomed and Kitty Pryde was my POV character, being a kid my age on a bona fide superhero team. And Wolverine is wearing his far superior two-tone brown costume, too.
He, Colossus, and Nightcrawler are engaged in a session where Professor Xavier, monitoring from the control room, is doing his level best to kill them. I mean that seriously; this is like sending Marines out on a live-fire exercise complete with artillery and landmines. And sure, Wolverine heals quick and Colossus is pretty much indestructible, but Nightcrawler is, well, squishy. All the same, the trio successfully fight off cannons and missiles and Xavier is impressed, but before he can say so—if he was ever going to say so—Kitty phases through the wall to let him know dinner’s ready. We cut to other parts of the mansion, where Scott Summers shows off his optic blasting skills on a pool table, and Storm is watering her plants with a tiny rain cloud. So… who made dinner? I guess Kitty did? Making a fourteen year old girl cook for seven people is kind of a dick move there, Chuck.
Later, Charles has fallen asleep at his desk as a mysterious blue and gold gloved hand reaches out to touch his skull and draw memories from him. And here’s a nice piece of exposition where the mysterious visitor pays a visit to each of the X-Men, and their stolen memories give us an explanation of who Jean Grey and the Phoenix were, and through Simonson’s art, we see her transformation into Dark Phoenix. In a scant few pages, Claremont and Simonson give us an idea of who the X-Men are and who Phoenix was to them, and it’s wonderful seeing how they can deliver so much information in so little space and make it feel natural. If someone were a Teen Titans fan and never picked up an issue of X-Men, it’s entirely possible these few pages could make one curious enough about the X-Men to get them to pick up the comic.
Our mysterious mind-stalker ultimately gets around to visiting Kitty Pryde. Only she wakes up to find a creepy man leering over her. And no, it’s not Claremont writing himself into his own comic, because this man has red eyes and perfect teeth, and if Austin Powers taught me anything, British people like Claremont obviously have poor dental hygiene. The X-Men hear Kitty scream, and they find her in a sitting room, having phased through her bedroom floor. Colossus is all armored up and says if anybody’s hurt Kitty he’s going to… well, before he can get all graphic about someone hurting his “Katya”, Wolverine tells the big guy they all feel the same way. Judging by Peter and Kitty’s illicit romance, Logan’s statement really makes me question his later involvement with Kitty. Scott and Storm both note that they recently had similar nightmares, but before they can talk about it more there’s a knock on the door.
Scott finds himself freaking the hell out and screaming Jean’s name.
Cut to New York City and Titans Tower, and the narration talks about how the team has been in existence “a comparatively short time”. Oh, Chris, are we seeing some bias here? The Teen Titans have been around in some way, shape or form since the ’60s. Okay, sure, this incarnation is relatively recent, but man, give the team some props, okay?
We find ourselves in the bedroom of Raven, child of a human mother and demon lord, an empath and healer and the one responsible for the team’s formation. And it seems Scott Summers is not the only one seeing visions, and the X-Men are not the only ones having bad dreams: Raven has a nightmare of her raven-like shadowy soul self being consumed by a bird of fire. She wakes up screaming, and in this case only one teammate answers the call: Princess Koriand’r AKA Starfire. Because unlike the X-Men, most of the Titans have actual regular homes and secret identities. Hmm, now that I think about it, wouldn’t more X-Men want their own apartments and condos just so they could have some place to get away from Professor X’s paramilitary strike force? Then again, how many X-Men actually had real jobs?
Kory gets Raven to the kitchen to brew up something hot when Garfield Logan, aka Changeling (a far better name than the lame Beast Boy, by the way) comes in. When he hears what happened, he tries to duplicate the bird from Raven’s nightmare…
…and finds out that was a mistake. Starfire recognizes it as Phoenix and is suitably freaked out, and she hits the “Titans Red Alert”.
Cut to the New Jersey Turnpike where police are in high speed pursuit of some crooks. The chase ends when somebody swipes the crooks’ car’s engine. It’s Kid Flash, Wally West, decades before Tom King assassinates his character in the pages of Heroes in Crisis. Wally notes that his semester of auto shop came in handy, and I miss the days when that, as well as wood and metal shop, were common classes, as was civics. What do kids learn in school these days, anyway?
On the next page we find Donna Troy flying out of the sky down to Titans Tower in civilian clothes… and that makes me wonder how she ever maintained a secret identity. I mean, she didn’t wear a mask, and her alter ego she didn’t even wear glasses. Was she just lucky all those years and never ran into people who knew both Donna Troy and Wonder Girl? She says Gar had better not be pulling a prank because this broke up her alone time with (hiss!) Terry. Dreaded, hated Terry whatshisname, he of the blonde perm.
Elsewhere, Victor Stone, aka Cyborg, is swinging through New York. He finds a skyscraper that had been trashed by the X-Men (Uncanny X-Men #155, in case you were wondering) and wonders why the Titans never tussled with the X-Men before. Why indeed, Victor Stone? Why, indeed.
Cut to Gotham City’s branch of S.T.A.R. Labs, where Robin (the Dick Grayson version) fights an unknown opponent. Knocking him out, the not-Boy Wonder unmasks his foe to discover he’s an alien. But before he can find out more he’s interrupted by…
…Deathstroke, the Terminator, a guy so bad-ass he gets not one, but two supervillain names. So amazing they stole his moniker for a movie and Marvel created a parody of him. Robin gives it all he’s got, but Deathstroke (the Terminator) was designed by the GM to take on an entire party of adventurers and he lays out Batman’s sidekick PDQ. He leaves Robin laying KO’d in his pixie boots so he can pick up the unconscious alien as well as the science swag they came to steal, which means Robin misses the Titans red alert.
Meanwhile, the X-Men have parked their jet on somebody’s front lawn. I’m sure nobody’s gonna call the cops about that, or the FAA. And I’m sure whoever lives in this house ain’t gonna get any embarrassing questions from their neighbors later on. I wonder if the X-Men are going to pay for the whole lawn they just ruined? It turns out these are the parents of Jean Grey and they had the same sort of nightmares the X-Men had, including the father getting a cry for help from his little girl. The parents are understandably freaked out…
…and that’s when Professor X’s giant bald head appears in the middle of the room. Subtle, Charles. He explains that while using the mental augmenting computer Cerebro, he’s been picking up mysterious incidents worldwide at locations where Phoenix previously used her powers. Chuck figures out he can predict the next incident and the X-Men can be there waiting.
Back with the Titans, when Robin didn’t answer the call the gang figured he was in trouble and came looking for him, and they find him in an alley and discover (Deathstroke) the Terminator worked him over. Raven plays team cleric and heals him as Starfire lands and says there’s no sign of the “Evil One”. Could you be more vague, Kory? “The Evil One” in Gotham City could be anyone from the Joker to Crazy Quilt. Then again, if I were any of those guys I’d lay low if I saw Starfire; most of ‘em are crazy, not stupid. Kory lays down some exposition on the gang, both for the benefit of the team and the reader who missed the Dark Phoenix Saga.
It’s a nice way to tie in the Shi’ar Empire and Tamaran, where Empress Lilandra had sent out a general call to everybody that some bad mojo was afoot. Phoenix ate a sun and killed billions. Kory’s passion freaks Raven out, who’s super sensitive to strong emotion, and Robin is thinking that maybe the Justice League or the Avengers should handle this. Changeling wants to go after Deathstroke (The Terminator), who had almost killed him previously. Kory says she’ll go on her own if she has to, and Robin figures it’s best to go with her to watch her back.
Kory’s most appreciative. Truth be told, I really miss this relationship, even though it didn’t always work from a logical standpoint (how can secret identity Robin be openly involved with public identity Starfire?). Dick figures the best place to start is with the X-Men, who used to have a team member named Phoenix. It’s a slim lead, but you know, I like it. And I also think so far Claremont has done a pretty fair job respecting the characterization of the Titans. As the gang runs off, a TV in a shop window reports explosions at a Frost Industries research facility. Frost industries, as in Emma Frost, the White Queen.
We now find ourselves in an unknown location where Deathstroke (The Terminator) is chillin’ with a glass of bubbly while aliens work hard at building some massive widget, but some moron with more whip than sense snaps the stem of Deathstroke’s glass and trash talks our one-eyed mercenary/assassin. Deathstroke disarms the fool and is about to show him the business end of his sword when our mystery man pops in and breaks things up. He’s got a job for them both: Deathstroke needs to head to the last extraction point, while “Ravok” needs to go to the X-Mansion and collect the X-Men. Why that didn’t happen earlier, I dunno. Maybe our mystery man decided after the fact that leaving a team of superheroes around unattended with a personal stake in his plans was a bad idea? Ravok says to leave it to him, because the X-Men are as good as had.
Back at the X-Mansion, Chuck’s passed out from exhaustion. But his beauty sleep is interrupted when Starfire comes bursting through the wall. Chuck lays her out with a psychic blast, but the other Titans are on hand.
Robin comes in and points out they just committed a load of felonies when they probably could have just rung the doorbell. Robin reads Starfire the riot act, pointing out that like Caveman Lawyer (anyone other than me remember Caveman Lawyer? Anyone?) their ways might seem strange to her, she’s gotta abide by them. Raven says that a scan of Charlie’s mind reveals there’s no evil, just a deep sadness. Kory begins to argue and that’s when Ravok’s alien commandos attack! The aliens mistake the Teen Titans for the X-Men, and one thinks Cyborg is Colossus, and hey, if I was told in a briefing there would be a big metal strong guy, I’d make the same mistake. Vic’s downed by a mega-bazooka while Kid Flash is wiped out by a guy with souped-up armor. The others are quickly taken out as well, and they along with Chuck are scooped up. One of the soldiers creates a “boom tube” and prepares to make off with the “X-Men”, only they missed one.
Garfield, maybe having visited the toilet, missed out on the fighting. He’s got a choice: fight and get his ass handed to him, or hang back and maybe call the Avengers or the Justice League. He opts for option “C” to disguise himself as one of the aliens. The pain of the transformation is hideous, but Gar mans… er, persons up and jumps through the boom tube.
Elsewhere, on top of a butte or mesa, we find the bad guys have set up a giant machine. Deathstroke, Yadda Yadda, notes the boss is collecting a lot of power, but he doesn’t care as long as he gets paid. Somebody comes up behind him and asks for a light, and our favorite one-eyed merc spins to take ’em out, only to discover that the somebody in question ain’t Robin.
It’s the X-Men and they’re here to take names and kick asses. Scott exposits that they were too late to stop ’em at the Frost facility, but they’re here now. Colossus wrecks the big machine while Kitty distracts dudes for Nightcrawler to blindside, and Storm whips up winds to disorient the alien troops. Deathstroke is impressed and points out that Wolverine’s big mistake was to not make sure he was unconscious. The team pays for it with Storm getting hit with a “fear ray” and her claustrophobia hits with full force. The aliens rally, and one by one the X-Men are downed, with only Colossus left.
Aaand that’s that. Deathstroke scoops up the X-Men and figures they have to rebuild the “psy-phon”, but considering what he’s bringing home to the boss he figures his employer won’t mind. So here we are: Two super teams captured, and the villains triumphant. Will our heroes bounce back? Check back next week to find out!