“They are the best there is: the Changeling, shape shifter supreme; Cyborg, half-man/half robot; Kid Flash, super-speedster; Raven, mistress of magic; Robin, the teen wonder; Starfire, alien powerhouse; and Wonder Girl, the amazing Amazon.”
–Introductory text to The New Teen Titans.
I’ve been reading and collecting comics since 1981 and for many years, New Teen Titans was the one “must read” title on my pull list. I especially liked how Marv Wolfman and George Perez (co-creators and writer and artist, respectively) made the Titans (and their supporting cast) come across as relatable, three dimensional people. Many of them just happened to have special abilities.
During its 1980-1996 run, the series had its high and low points (and the occasional title change). One of the highest points was the “The Judas Contract” (Tales of the Teen Titans #s 42-44 & Annual #3), a four-issue storyline from 1984 that concluded the saga of Tara Markov, the newest and youngest Titan, who had the power to control the earth itself and called herself “Terra.”
Terra made her first appearance in New Teen Titans #26 and joined the team in #30, But in New Teen Titans #34, titled “Trouble is spelled Terminator”, the reader learned she wasn’t all she seemed.
She was a spy for the Terminator.
The Titans would learn of Tara’s duplicity— and her insanity— in Tales of the Teen Titans Annual #3. All were shocked at the revelation, but Changeling— who loved her— would be the hardest hit. He refused to acknowledge the truth about her and instead focused on revenging himself on the Terminator. This culminated in a confrontation between the two— one which took an unexpected turn— in an excellent story called “Shades of Gray” in Tales of the Teen Titans #55.
As Marv Wolfman said in the introduction to the trade paperback collection to the “Judas Contract”, “from the very beginning, Tara was conceived as a villainess. It was the first time a member of a super-hero group ever proved to be a spy (not a traitor— she was always working for the Terminator). Playing on the comic readers’ expectations worked. The Tara Markov story threw everyone for a loop.”
Wolfman also said he could have Terra lie, change her stories and do suspicious things, because “comic book convention would demand the readers ignore all the evidence and assume she was a good girl. “After all, the X-Men’s Kitty Pryde was a heroine, so even the lying, cheating, conniving Tara Markov had to have a heart of gold. Right?”
Uncanny X-Men was also a popular book in the 80s, but in an interview in The Titans Companion (page 105), Wolfman downplayed comparisons between the two books. He said he wasn’t reading X-Men at that time. “I thought the Titans was DC’s answer to the Fantastic Four,” he said.
In that same interview, Wolfman said “since George would draw her (Terra) to be as cute as possible, in a very different fashion than we’d seen kids before, everyone would make the assumption that [she would reform].”
He added that he and Perez played on readers’ assumptions with such things as Terra’s stammering when she realizes how good the Titans were.
“But all that was because she was insane,” he said. “The readers would assume that, like Wanda and Pietro and all the other bad guy who become good guys, that’s what would happen to her. And then we’d tighten the screw and make her even crazier than we ever knew.”
Wanda and Pietro (Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch) were two Marvel villains who became heroes.
Wolfman also said (page 106) that he and Perez knew from the start that Terra would be “as evil as they came” and that he never wavered in the storyline’s resolution.
Wolfman also said the Terra storyline is still considered the quintessential Titans story.
“So that says something, and the fact that it worked even in the cartoon show where they had to temper her a bit, and make her question it for a second or two, indicates that there was something very primal about that story. And it worked.”
In re-reading the relevant Titans issues, I noted little things that didn’t make it into the trade paperback collections. Such as the fact that Terra’s name was included in the “they are the best there is” intro in Tales of the Teen Titans #41. Which probably caused some readers to wonder whether she’d turn out to be a loyal Titan after all.
And it’s also interesting to read the letter columns and the readers’ views about Terra.
Terra’s story is told in two trade paperbacks, “Terra Incognito,” which collects New Teen Titans #s 28-34 and Annual #2 (plus key pages of New Teen Titans #26); and “The Judas Contract”, which collects New Teen Titans #s 39 & 40; Tales of the Teen Titans #s 41-44 and Annual #3.
It’s a good read.
Copyright 2014 Patrick Keating