The New Teen Titans (1980) Annual #2 “The Murder Machine”

I’m not going to claim I hate superhero parodies or comedies; I’m the guy who owns almost every appearance of Ambush Bug, the character that was created to poke fun at the DC Comics universe. And I loved the Deadpool movies as well as Guardians of the Galaxy as well as Thor: Ragnarok. And I was this close to seeing The Suicide Squad in the theaters. But… I didn’t. Why was that? I dunno. I guess because when I think of the concept of a team of murderous criminals forced to work for a soulless bureaucrat, well, “comedy” doesn’t exactly come to mind. I’ll get around to seeing the film… eventually.

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Why is this on my mind and why have I opted to return to the world of the New Teen Titans so soon? Because the Peacemaker trailer dropped this week:

Which is fine. If you liked The Suicide Squad and want more of the same (James Gunn produced the series, and directed several episodes), good for you. But what annoyed me was what the movie did to the Vigilante, a character that first appeared in the pages of Teen Titans. Adrian Chase was a no-nonsense DA who didn’t have much use for super heroes that made his life harder…

From Teen Titans (’80) #23. Maybe it takes place on St Patrick’s Day.

…unless he was using them to push his own agenda…

From Teen Titans (‘80) #34.

In a way, Chase was the prototype for the re-imagining of DA Harvey Dent, who we saw in The Long Halloween as a man who attempted to work within the system and grew increasingly frustrated by its limitations, to the point where we could believe he was the Holiday Killer. When it came to Dent, the mob scarred his face and his soul and he turned to crime when he began to believe justice itself was a joke.

In Chase’s case, the Scarpelli crime family tried to blow him and his family up.

The result… was probably not what the mob had intended. Teen Titans Annual #2 opens up with where issue #34 left off, with DA Adrian Chase being rushed to the hospital. Robin, or as the press call him, “Batman’s partner”, is approached by the press. Robin’s response to Scarpelli’s allegations of harassment is to the point:

From that and the earlier anchor’s schilling for “sushi-flavored peanut butter”, I’m under the impression writers Marv Wolfman and George Perez aren’t fans of the Fourth Estate.

Elsewhere, Scarpelli is being sweated by Donna Omicidio for his rash actions.

Donna Omicidio is Italian for “Lady Homicide”, who along with that bitchin’ nom de guerre has had some history with the Titans.

Back with Robin, the lead detective on the firebombing grills Dick Grayson, who admits he trusted Chase because he “follows more than he leads”. Um… isn’t Robin leader of the Teen Titans? The detective doesn’t have any evidence Scarpelli’s behind it and Dick blows a fuse. It’s been an hour, Dick. Chill. Not even Batman compiles evidence that fast. Usually. The other Titans show up and Dick blows off Kory to talk to Donna, which makes me think our resident space princess should just hook up with Changeling; at least he would be forever grateful. And I hear he’s an animal in bed.

It’s then that the doctor shows up and stages a press conference where he says Chase was clinically brain dead for seven minutes, and there’s a piece of shrapnel too close to his heart to operate. Wow. Murdered family, brain dead, shrapnel near heart. It’s like the creative team looked at Peter Parker’s tragic origin and said “Hold my beer”.

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Meanwhile, Scarpelli knows once his boss finds out his files ain’t kosher, it’s going to be war. So he calls… the Monitor.

Oh man, I forgot about this. For a while before Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Monitor was this mystery guy showing up in several issues, and nobody knew who or what he was. Honestly in retrospect, with the way he was being used, I wonder if even Wolfman and Perez knew.

The DA holds a hearing and Robin’s called to the stand and Scarpelli’s lawyer tears him apart, resulting in a restraining order being placed against the Boy Wonder. Scarpelli goes out to dinner to celebrate, but someone shows up to ruin his appetite.

Oh yeah, the guy in the scaly shorts is so intimidating. I said all I’m gonna say about this outfit in the Lonely Place of Dying articles, so let’s move on. Scarpelli’s goon tries to get rid of Robin, and eats a pixie boot for his trouble. But Starfire shows up and almost drags Dick out of the restaurant before he can get in more trouble. She then flies him up to the top of a skyscraper so “he can’t get away”. Pretty sure he has a zip line and a hang glider in his utility belt, but whatever. Kory appeals to Dick’s emotions and then shuts him up with a kiss, all the while a sniper has the Boy Wonder in his sights. But ho! Another sniper has the first sniper in his sights and puts a bullet through his noggin. The body is literally delivered to Scarpelli’s front door, and Tony concludes that with Chase out of town, only Robin could have done this. That’s quite a leap of logic there. I mean, couldn’t Madame Murder have wanted Robin kept in the game to continue messing with you, Scarpelli?

Back at Titans Tower, Robin recruits the others into helping, since there’s a restraining order on him.

See how Gar glances at Terra first before he chimes in? She isn’t even his official girlfriend, and she’s already got him trained. Donna expresses reservations, but goes along with the rest. Robin turns to Kid Flash and asks if he knows where Raven is, but he says he doesn’t care. Liar. And I’m skipping the Raven subplot in this issue because I’ve got a lot of pages to wade through here.

Operation Squeeze Scarpelli goes into full swing: Terra and Cyborg crash a warehouse full of art forgeries being used to smuggle drugs, while Wonder Girl and Changeling find illegal arms set for overseas shipping in an abandoned factory. And out at sea, Starfire and Kid Flash raid a ship full of rigged gambling equipment. The good news is crime gets a black eye. The bad news is, they found no links to Scarpelli.

I can almost imagine the guy on the other line saying, “And then they took off my rubber mask and their big great dane started snickering at me!” Hey, I could see Scarpelli running a real estate scam, scaring off tourists from a ski lodge or something with a monster called the Snowboarding Specter.

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Later that night, Donna confronts Dick about his tactics, but Dick assures her all he needs is time. Meanwhile, the Monitor starts to assemble his team of bodyguard/assassins for Scarpelli, and at least this time the gang looks a little less cartoonishly clichèd than the last batch Perez was involved in creating.

The Titans, sans Robin, arrives at a warehouse, but it’s a bust; there’s no incriminating evidence here. But there are assassins: A knife pierces Garfield’s spider monkey tail, and then a fight is on in earnest.

Hmmm, the black guy’s still throwing spears. At least he’s not wearing a loincloth this time. The heroes are on the ropes, with Terra literally going to ground to avoid the flames. Kid Flash notes he barely evaded the spear thrown at him, and thinks he’s getting slower. Racist Bazooka Guy stalks Cyborg and Donna goes in for the save, but—

Man, that’s Chris Claremont levels of expository dialogue there. Meanwhile up above, Starfire decides the best thing she can do is put out the fire. As she exposits a ton of doubt concerning her and Dick, she makes a run for a conveniently placed water tower. Only she’s literally kicked out of the air by…

Fun fact: this is Chesire’s first appearance. And am I the only one who would have loved to have seen a Starfire/Chesire romance instead of our Asian assassin hooking up with Speedy? Our resident Tamarian running to the arms of this spicy assassin because Dick just doesn’t appreciate her sounds a lot more (ahem) interesting…

Meanwhile in the warehouse, another assassin named Slasher closes in on Gar and proves she’s the best at what she does.

But before she can finish Changeling off, someone puts a bullet into the back of her head.

Elsewhere, Cyborg takes down the racist rocketeer by plugging up the bazooka tube with his own hand. Donna’s able to summon her inner reserves to take out the mini-tank and Kid Flash wipes out the spear-wielding assassin. Cut to the flame-wielding Scorcher getting ready to fry Wally, but…

Those nunchuks are either made of adamantium, or that helmet’s made of fiber glass.

Outside, Starfire’s getting her butt handed to her by Chesire, but Kid Flash runs in for the save, only to be scratched by her poison-tipped fingernails. Unlike the others, she’s able to avoid getting shot by the team’s mysterious savior and she bails, leaving Kid Flash quivering from the venom. But before Wally dies, Raven makes a miraculous appearance, and at the risk of further allowing her father Trigon to be freed, she saves Wally’s life.

Later, Robin’s on the hot seat with the other Titans, and only Kory (of course) supports him. After the gang’s had their say, he plays a tape recorded message from Chase, presumably made before he was attacked. Only… the fact that he knew about the hitmen means it was made after. Hmm. Chase tells Robin that Scarpelli’s going to kill his boss before she kills him. Robin asks the others if they’re still in, and Donna agrees they’ll see it through.

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Later out in the desert, Donna Omicidio and her people wait for Scarpelli. They spot his car approach and through binoculars see him exit… and he looks too damn smug by half. It’s then that Raven appears, warning the First Lady of Larcency that it’s a trap! Scarpelli spots Raven and alerts his army of flying assassins. They rain death and destruction down on Omicidio’s peple, freaking Raven out, but the Teen Titans are on the case.

Man, I would so love to see Glenn Close play this woman. Unfortunately, in all the confusion, Scarpelli’s scarpered away. Back at his home, he opens up his safe where he unloads his incriminating evidence, hoping he can use it as leverage against his former boss when she comes for him. Only, someone else is here, and it’s someone who’s taken out Scarpelli’s henchmen, leaving the two of them alone.

The man chases a terrified Scarpelli through his mansion until he’s cornered. And then he makes the big reveal:

Eh, it’s no Long Halloween, so the reveal is not that surprising, but honestly, was it supposed to be? Robin’s on hand and explains that (duh!) he’s a detective and figured out the tape Chase sent him was made after the bombing, because Scarpelli’s bosses hadn’t wanted him dead before the explosion. Robin tells Chase if he kills Scarpelli then he’s no better than him, which gives the mobster a chance to go for a gun. Chase throws Robin aside but the Boy Wonder’s skull is grazed with a shot, and Chase proceeds to gun the mobster down.

Later, as he’s released from the hospital, mysteries remain as to who shot the mobster, and who called the ambulance to save Robin’s life, and who mailed the incriminating documents to city hall, all mysteries Dick’s not eager to help the press solve.

All in all, this was a great setup for DC’s Vigilante series, which although it had too many Punisher overtones, was very much its own thing. Chase was taken seriously as a man of conflicted principles, which is why I find the new take on him in The Suicide Squad so, well, disappointing. Comedy has its place in the super heroic landscape. I just don’t think the Vigilante is suitable fodder. Thanks for reading, and I hope you join me next week for, well, something else.

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