Apr 21, 2021
Marvel and DC Present The Uncanny X-Men and The New Teen Titans (part 2 of 2)
When we last left our tale, our titanically uncanny heroes, um, lost. Right. Moving on.
We cut to… the Wall.
Not that wall. This Wall.
Remember what I said last time about Simonson being Kirby’s spiritual successor? Well, here you go. Our not-so-mysterious bad guy… Okay, I have to wonder what the purpose of leaving you-know-who in the shadows is, exactly? Did Walt do the wraparound cover last? Was he told it had to be a wraparound and devoid of ideas and finally said, “Screw it, I’m putting Darkseid’s head here in that big empty spot”? Really, Deathstroke the Terminator would have been a better choice. It’s like watching those movie trailers or posters that pretty much give away the film’s third act.
Setting aside the incomprehensible reason for letting us know who’s in the shadows and then pretending we’re not supposed to know, the Big Bad gives Ravok the double red stink eye and notes that while he recognizes Professor X, he has no clue who the hell the rest of the guys at his feet are. Harsh. It sounds like the Teen Titans need a new publicist. Deathstroke the Terminator pops in as Ravok is trying to sell the boss on these guys really being the X-Men, and our favorite one-eyed killer-for-hire points out his rival blew it. Deathstroke shows off how he’s got the X-Men but also admits that yeah, they were able to blow apart the machine that was collecting psychic emanations. Our villain is a little miffed, but figures they’ve got enough for what he’s got planned. In the meantime, the Big Bad points out to Ravok that hey, since when are para-demons bright green? Deathstroke shock-prods the green para-demon, and Changeling/Gar Logan gets added to the Titans pile. Unfortunately for Ravok, this is one screw up too many; our Big Bad unleashes his Omega Effect and he’s gone.
Later, we find our heroes bound up in a massive device, with the X-Men spread out on two giant metal fans with Xavier between them, and the Titans in tubes along the base. Changeling notes to Robin that he thinks Starfire’s wrong and the X-Men aren’t the bad guys, while Kitty wonders why she can’t phase through her bonds. The (not so) mysterious bad guy points out the bonds are made of “frozen valences”. Valences are… drapes? Oh, those are valances. Valences are… something-something electrons. The point is, she can’t get away. Kitty recognizes the Big Bad as the creepy stalker and he doesn’t deny it, and then he tells his minions to fire up the Psychon Wave.
The X-Men’s brains are assaulted as their memories get tapped again… and Kitty must really think this part sucks, because all she knows about Phoenix is that brief team up in X-Men #131 where she didn’t exchange two words with Jean Grey. But the Psychon Wave combines all their psychic energy with the power from the wall, and something is born anew.
After introductions are made. Dark Phoenix takes Darkseid’s hand, much to Scott’s horror. Changeling decides that hey, if they’re all gonna die, he’d like to know what the hell is going on, which prompts Darkseid to monologue for those who have no idea who he is… which was me at the time. Fun fact; Darkseid would show up later that year as the villain in the epic Legion of Super-Heroes Great Darkness saga. So yeah, 1982 was a pretty big year for the guy.
Darkseid, never one to miss a chance to play to a captive audience, explains that there’s a war between gods, and his forces of Apokolips are contending with those of New Genesis, and his plans are to turn Earth into Apokolips Version 2.0. After that, he shows our heroes how little he thinks they matter by just leaving them behind while he, Dark Phoenix, Deathstroke the Terminator, and his posse of parademons boom tube out of there. The Titans are free and Cyborg thinks that as bad as it was for them, the “muties” got it worst. Whoa, Vic. easy on the hate speech there. Raven is totally freaked out by being so close to pure evil like Darkseid, and Kid Flash points out they’ve got company as the X-Men make their way to the ground. Uh-oh, are we about to get our obligatory hero-vs-hero throwdown? Cyborg vs. Colossus, Cyclops vs Robin, Storm vs Starfire. Man, this is gonna be…
…oh. You mean the heroes… talk? Shake hands? Oh, right, I forgot. This story was written years before deconstruction was cool and superheroes had to be dicks to each other. Here, heroes actually acted, you know, heroic.
The teams size each other up, with Kitty checking out Garfield and Wolverine wondering why he spooks Raven. Wolverine’s miffed he’s got to work with kids, and considering his future where he pretty much becomes the father figure to a host of teenage girls, this just strikes me as funny. He notes that the air is getting thinner and Cyborg confirms this with his built-in gadgetry. It seems Darkseid left the gang behind on his asteroid base to die of suffocation. Cyborg senses there’s something nearby and honestly, I like this version of Vic Stone better than the one we’ve seen in recent years. Simonson and Perez drew him as somebody who had to physically reconfigure parts of his body to perform tasks, whereas now he just looks like a transformer, easily able to alter his form with fluidity.
Starfire and Cyclops team up to push the asteroid along with starbolts and optic blasts respectively, to allow Cyborg to get close enough to a mysterious object to reel it in. It turns out… it’s a chair. Which should be a familiar chair to those who read part one of this review. While most of the gang scopes it out, Kitty makes time with Changeling, while Kid Flash asks Storm about Colossus. And there’s a nice bit of continuity here in that Kid Flash is written as being a bit more conservative than the other Titans, but unlike today where he might be portrayed as a MAGA-hat wearing caricature, here he’s written pretty decently as someone with a view a bit more right of center than his friends. Storm points out she’s African, so what’s Wally’s point? Well, Storm, the point is the Soviet Union at the time were the Big Bads… and also, to Claremont: Africa is a continent, not a country. It’s like Ororo had been around for six years and they still didn’t want to pin down where she was from.
While the grown-ups try to figure out how the chair works, Gar and Kitty are left to lounge on it. Kitty wishes they were home… and then the two of them and the chair disappear. Moments later, the chair returns with the kids clinging to one another in terror. Xavier figures out the chair works telepathically, but how are they all going to fit on it? Well, one idea is to have Xavier ferry people one at a time off the asteroid, but Kitty has a much cooler idea:
To those who don’t know, that’s what Lockheed the Dragon looks like, from X-Men #153, “Kitty’s Fairy Tale”. Now that was a fun story. Colossus is starting to get jealous, what with Kitty and Garfield hitting it off so well, and he murmurs in Russian that he knows he’s being a fool. At the sound of a new language, Starfire eagerly says this is a new language she can learn and locks lips with the big Russkie, while Nightcrawler looks on and murmurs, “Fraulein, sprechen sei Deutsch?” Am I the only one who kind of wishes at this point Storm said something in Swahili?
Robin explains that Starfire learns languages via kissing. Is this still canon? As silly as it is, I hope it’s still a part of Kory’s character. And no, not just because I want to see her randomly kiss dudes. It’s just, I dunno, charming? And also a nice piece of Silver Age kitsch. Anyway, now it’s Kitty’s turn to be jealous. Xavier slips into the big comfy chair while X-Men and the Titans get on board dragon-Changeling. Soon they’re flying over New York City.
Man, that Walt Simonson sure does love illustrating splash pages. I wonder if someday it might get a little out of hand…
Xavier says that since Darkseid and Phoenix think the heroes are dead, they aren’t bothering to hide and he can follow the former’s psychic trail. Starfire wonders why Wolverine is smiling, and he explains that he loves a good fight and this will be one of the best; in fact, he doesn’t care if he dies as long as he gets a shot at Darkseid. Raven senses Darkseid’s soul-void below, but points out there are a half a million people in the park listening to a concert. Xavier says that with world annihilation in the balance, they have to risk it. He uses the chair again and the gang finds themselves deep underground. Storm freaks out from her claustrophobia for a second time in this issue, but she says that despite her terror she’s gonna power through, because that’s what heroes do. Robin comes up with a plan: they’re not strong enough to take on the Darkseid/Dark Phoenix tag team, but if they wreck their plan, it’ll buy them enough time to alert every superhero on Earth. I like this plan; it makes perfect sense. And the fact that they told us the plan means it’ll probably go to hell five seconds after they try implementing it.
Meanwhile, Logan-Garfield wolfs up and tries to make small talk with Wolverine, who pretty much says, “Get away kid, ya bother me!” But then Deathstroke ambushes Wolverine and knocks him flat and the para-demons strike. It’s a knockdown, drag-out battle and co-leaders Robin and Cyclops know they can’t stay here. Xavier teleports out and Cyke has Cyborg clear the way with his white sound generator. Vic calls Scott “One Eye” and Summers retorts that they have names and the man should use them. Oops; maybe Cyclops heard Vic call them “muties” earlier? Hmm. As much as I like the fact the gang teamed up with nary a hitch, I’m digging some of these interpersonal clashes. Storm tears down the roof and Deathstroke the Yadda Yadda bets not one para-demon was killed in the avalanche. Um, I’m finding that hard to believe even for a comic with cyborgs and mutants, but okay. Meanwhile, the gang finds Darkseid’s lair.
I see the man took the time to have his face carved into the wall. You know, it’s the little touches like that that turn a house into a home. Phoenix notes their arrival and Darkseid is almost kind of sort of maybe a smidgen impressed with the fact the teams made it across a universe just to show up here and die. Deathstroke pops up and finds out he’s a little late to the party, and then gets tasked with keeping both teams busy. Wolverine goes after Deathstroke while Starfire shows she has more guts than brains as she takes on Phoenix, who it turns out eats stellar bolts for breakfast. Nightcrawler tries to appeal to Phoenix’s better self and finds she has none, and then Raven intervenes, which almost destroys her. Darkseid tells Phoenix to stop playing with her toys, and she promptly shoots a massive blast into a hole and says, “The Hellpit is born!” Kid Flash and Wonder Girl look up and Donna thinks they’re screwed, and Darkseid, gregarious chap that he is, confirms it. He monologues once more, and hey, he’s even nice enough to provide helpful slides in his presentation.
Once the Phoenix bolt hits the planet’s core, the Hellpit will eat NYC and then others will pop up all over the planet. But hey, if the gang joins Darkseid, he promises to treat them well. And Darkseid doesn’t discriminate; he hates every living being. While Gar-Logan turns into a rat and wreaks havoc inside Darkseid’s machine, Kitty phases through it to disrupt the electricity. Meanwhile, Xavier pops back in since he knows Plan A went to hell and he’s got a Plan B. The problem is, it requires Raven and she’s about as traumatized as a person can be after exposure to Phoenix levels of evil. Darkseid drags Kitty and Changeling out of his machine and his interior monologue is basically, Hey, good job, kids! But since you decided to fight with the grown-ups you get to die like them! But before the junior members of the teams get wiped out, Phoenix is attacked.
And what is Phoenix assaulted with? The power of love. Cue Huey Lewis! Seriously, Raven and Xavier allow their powers to combine and the former sucks out the hate and replaces it with the love the X-Men feel for Jean Grey. Darkseid senses something’s wrong, which allows Robin to save Gar and Kitty. Meanwhile, Wolverine and Cyclops tag team Death the Stroke, and Phoenix feels herself coming apart. That’s when Robin comes up with an idea, saying there’s plenty of power for her to replenish herself in the Hellpit. Darkseid tries to intervene, but the Titans and X-Men both pile on him, and before he can unleash his Omega Effect, Starfire puts her hands over his eyes which causes him to blasts himself. Phoenix sucks in the power and the Hellpit is closed, but it’s not enough, and she’s still coming apart. That’s when Darkseid suggests she possess someone. And he chooses… Cyclops.
Wait a minute. The Phoenix Force possessing Cyclops? Like in Avengers vs. X-Men, decades later? Man, it’s true when they say there are no original ideas. Dark Phoenix freaks out as Cyclops points out she was born out of love, and if you’re wondering what he’s talking about, Jean Grey sacrificed herself to save her team mates way back in X-Men #101. Phoenix is enraged because she can’t accept that good goes hand in hand with the bad and she knows she can’t go on. She turns her anger towards the person responsible: Darkseid. Phoenix erupts from Scott’s body and grabs Darkseid and takes off into the sky, giving the concertgoers a helluva light show. The pair are catapulted through space as the Phoenix Force follows the energy trail back to the Wall.
But it’s not enough. The Faux Phoenix is no more. Back on Earth, the two teams celebrate their victory. Nightcrawler speculates that Dark Phoenix realized that she could never be what the real Phoenix had been before, ie, a fully realized person, but all Wolverine wants to do is go for beer. But before the gang can head off to celebrate, Storm raises an interesting point: if Dark Phoenix didn’t exist before Darkseid created her, then who tried to warn the X-Men?
In the epilogue, Metron returns from his travels, and climbs back into his way cool Mobius Chair. He gives thanks to someone for giving him another answer to the mystery of the Source. And who is he speaking to?
He might as well be speaking to a wall…
Chris Claremont did a credible job capturing the voice of the Teen Titans; from the few Titans comics I own from this era, it seems he had a pretty good handle on the characters. I also think he did a great job in regards to Deathstroke, a bad guy who’s able to take on Wolverine and potentially win, who with the right resources could pose a threat to a whole team of heroes. And Darkseid was wonderfully evil and intimidating. So in terms of writing, Claremont proved to me here that if given a different property, he could easily take that ball and run with it, and maybe his one failing in regards to his career is that he stayed on the X-Men comic too long and didn’t stretch himself. After X-Men, I recall him working on a DC comic called Sovereign Seven, a few issues of WildC.A.T.s, a couple of science fiction novels, and after that virtually nothing for years. But it’s hard to criticize a person who plays it safe while drawing a steady paycheck and being comfortable in his job.
As to the story overall, well… let’s be honest here; the Teen Titans feel like guest stars, and Darkseid is truly evil but the guy got taken down pretty easily by the heroes. This is someone who’s supposed to be able to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Superman. I believe part of the problem is at this time the Titans didn’t have a A-List antagonist like the X-Men did. By this point, they had faced off against Deathstroke, Doctor Light and the Fatal Five, and yes, they had met Trigon. But Trigon had been handled in one issue, and didn’t seem like the top-tier threat the team needed for a crossover like this. It wasn’t until later in 1982 that the Titans faced off against Brother Blood, and years later would we see Deathstroke’s true villainy in the Judas Contract, and Trigon’s attempt to conquer Earth. In early ’82, the team had wins under their belt but no real rogues gallery to speak of, so there was no equivalent to Dark Phoenix. Could the story have been different, with the likes of HIVE teaming up with the Hellfire Club? Sure, but then that would have made the story so much less epic in scope, and a team-up like this demanded only the gravest of threats to be faced by two of the world’s greatest super-groups.
The point is, I appreciate the difficulties facing Chris Claremont here, and there was no good solution to the problem. The X-Men’s greatest villain had to be used, and Darkseid had to be called in to carry DC’s load. In the end, it makes this story a flawed masterpiece, but one that’s mitigated by Walt Simonson’s utterly amazing illustrations. I’m not saying I’m a fan of all of Walt’s work, but he really delivered here, giving us a cosmic adventure with well-crafted action sequences that rendered both teams well. If the Teen Titans fans feel short-changed here, I understand. Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly recommend this story to anyone and everyone.