Thursday, November 12, 2015
NULL-MYTHS: ""TRIGON LIVES" (NEW TEEN TITANS #5-6, 1981)
I can appreciate the fondness with which many fans regard the original Marv Wolfman-George Perez NEW TEEN TITANS. The book was one of the first DC comics-features that rivaled the sales-figures of the then-dominant Marvel titles. In addition, unlike many other books that sought to emulate the success of Marvel's X-MEN title, TITANS did have its own identity. As far as mastering the soap-opera dramatic potentiality exploited so well in X-MEN, Wolfman and Perez reached roughly the same heights as Claremont, Cockrum and Byrne. The TITANS title never quite came up to the same level as X-MEN in the mythopoeic department, though, and the issues featured here, TITANS #5-6, provide a good example of the feature's failings.
The four issues previous established the members of the 1980s incarnation of the Teen Titans-- old characters Robin, Wonder Girl, Kid Flash, and Beast Boy (renamed Changeling), and new characters Cyborg, Starfire, and Raven. The mystical heroine Raven was responsible for drawing together this ad hoc assemblage of heroes, though only with issues 5 and 6 were her reasons for "team-building" revealed.
The explanation is accompanied by an origin for the Raven character: one worthy of all the "Satanic panic" stories of the 1970s. Raven's mother was an Earthwoman, going by the name "Arella" by the time the Titans meet her. Arella in her youth was a discontented rolling stone who rolled her way into a Satanic cult. The cult performed a ritual meant to summon up Satan himself: what they got was a near-omnipotent demon-god from another dimension, Trigon. Trigon assumed a comely human guise in order to seduce Arella and lie with her. Apparently he went through all this trouble just to see the look on her face when he lets her see what he really looks like: a four-eyed monster with red skin and antlers. He deserts her, leaving her pregnant with the half-demon offspring of a demon. Arella can get help from no one on Earth, but for obscure reasons an otherworldly cult of pacifistic magicians goes out of its way to locate Arella and transport her to their own magical domain, Azarath. The mystics of Azarath teach Arella to "expunge all my feelings of hate and greed, and all of the more basic violent emotions." It's not clear from the dialogue whether or not the priests had hoped to do the same for her daughter Raven, though that would be the most likely reason for them to have taken in Arella. In any case, Raven had too much of the Old Devil in her to live in peace and harmony, so she left Azarath, anticipating that some day Trigon would return to Earth. Unable to enlist help from Earth's more established heroes, she assembles a new Teen Titans, and issues #5-6 comprise the story of how the teen heroes manage to forestall Trigon's invasion.
In many respects this story could have been a routine "demonic invasion" plotline, in addition to providing a melodramatically tortured background for Raven. The story does connect all the necessary dots to build up said heroine's backstory. But it's in Wolfman and Perez's portrait of Trigon that the mythopoeic dots fail to connect, thus rendering the storyline inconsummate.
Wolfman and Perez spare no cliches in their attempt to make Trigon the baddest of the bad. He incinerates a little girl with a gesture; he blows up a planet in a moment of pique (rather than for a military advantage, like Tarkin of STAR WARS), and he's apparently bedded dozens upon dozens of wenches over the years. But all of his offspring, it seems, have either failed to survive the rigors of birth, or they have been assassinated by revolutionary zealots. He wants Raven, his only surviving spawn, to reign beside him over the many worlds he controls-- but Wolfman and Perez don't give this avatar of evil a reason for wanting an heir. In his battles with the Titans, Trigon seems to have insuperable powers, and he doesn't seem prey to age or sickness, so he can't want an heir for the reasons that mortal beings want them.
Here we encounter a situation not unlike the one analyzed here: because the TITANS book was meant to circulate on the newsstand-- where juvenile readers might pick it up-- it would have unlikely, though not impossible, to state certain things outright. Certainly when I first read the story, I assumed that the demon-lord's motivation is to have his daughter reign at his side not out of sentiment-- to which Trigon is clearly immune-- but because he intends to make her his queen in all respects.
I note that nowhere in the story does Trigon allude to a formal marriage between himself and his offspring, but of course, why would a demon care about such formalities? It's possible that this idea wasn't consciously on the minds of Wolfman and Perez. But even so, the problem of characterization-- a mythic characterization, rather than one dependent on mundane dramatics-- is still lacking. And this is without even observing that Wolfman and Perez's idea of Satanic evil-- that of being a big, mean dictator who kills a lot of innocent people-- is banal in the extreme.
In keeping with the Greek-derived name adopted by this motley band of superheroes, there may well be some TITANS stories that deserve to be considered mythic. But the Tedium of Trigon is not one of them.