About every ten years or so, a comic book artist of incredible vision and energy zooms through the ranks of talent to super-stardom. Currently, we have Stuart Immonen, whose inexhaustible versatility has made him the leading breadwinner in Marvel’s glowing stable. Before him, Jim Lee shaped readers’ tastes for a solid decade.
And in the early 1980s, when a young Jimbo was still lip-synching to the Thundercats theme song, we had George Perez. Starting with The Avengers in the 1970s, Perez (alongside John Byrne and Jim Starlin) defined Marvel’s cosmic era with daring, technology-dense layouts and increasingly perfect anatomy.
Then, around the time that Ronnie and Nancy started tossing solar panels off the White House roof, DC decided to respond to writer Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men zeitgeist. Perez, with writer Marv Wolfman (Tomb of Dracula), launched The New Teen Titans, which followed a group of sidekick heroes first brought together in the 1960s.
Well, half of them anyway–Robin, Donna Troy and Kid Flash we already knew (plus the green-skinned goober Beast Boy, from the Doom Patrol). But then, with the advent of compact electronics, Star Wars, and the New Age movement, we got the characters Cyborg, Starfire, and Raven. Later came the deaf teen named Jericho, who can possess the body of anyone with whom he makes eye contact.
Let’s skip the digression about heavy, color-fast Baxter paper and multiple relaunches–and get right to how crazy Raven is. And not crazy good, kiddies. Her father, the demonic Trigon, loves nothing more than helping after helping of tasty souls. They energize him, and make lording over the many realms of his interdimensional kingdom a breeze.
In 1984′s The Terror of Trigon, Raven, typically an introverted empath, becomes a vessel for her father’s wrath on Earth. Wolfman and Perez kick themselves into apocalyptic overdrive to completely strip the Teen Titans of their sunny dispositions. First, literal storm clouds appear over the Titans’ island headquarters (a T shaped tower) and nearby New York City. This is because there’s trouble in the netherverse, where Raven dreams of Trigon’s manifestation. He’s chosen her to rule at his side, and has used up the souls of the people living in realm of Azarath to power his trip to Earth.
Regardless of how bonkers this story sounds, it’s exactly the kind of thing Perez was born to draw. Trigon contorts his victims into monstrous stoneworks, within which individual bodies can be seen twitching en masse (the special Baxter paper allowed raw pencils, during the Azarath scenes, to print beautifully). Perez lives for drawing as many figures per panel as possible, and he delivers, with fine-lined fury, an insane amount of detail–so much in fact that the capable Romeo Tanghal had to ink all but the first two issues.
Wolfman, for his part, tortures the Titans in a Claremont-like orgy of purple narration: “She watches the column of writhing, flowing living souls and that which was Raven rejoices. Those who were her teammates are now her pawns… pawns whose minds Trigon has tapped, whose secrets spilled forth, who possessed knowledge of others like themselves with abilities far greater than any ordinary man…”
This refers to the other DC heroes, like Superman and the Justice League, who have indeed been incapacitated. Wolfman succeeds in showing us that the Teen Titans are actually the last people with a hope of saving Earth. At the time, many writers didn’t bother with this kind of super-consistency, and it surely led to Wolfman being assigned the universe-ending ramrod that was Infinite Crisis.
In the end, the Titans defeat evil versions of themselves, then kill demonic Raven on the say-so of Lilith (Lindsey Lohan’s long lost psychic twin, who stumbles through this entire hellish story in heels). But because Raven is a creature tied more to emotional planes than physical, our heroes drag themselves up off the mat knowing a reunion isn’t impossible. When Trigon himself crumbles, the skies clear and the city resets; the merry-go-round welcomes something fresh.