Monday, May 1, 2017

'Death and Return of Donna Troy' is a mixed blessing

Nearly every superhero has met his or her maker. But we've come to understand that death in comic books is temporary. There's always the hope of a resurrection.

There are the exceptions. Writer Marv Wolfman says in his foreword to the must-read NEW TEEN TITANS: THE JUDAS CONTRACT trade paperback that he and George Perez created Tara Markov (aka Terra) so they could disassociate their series from being a version of the X-Men, but more importantly to kill her off! That's right; from the get-go, the bratty mutant was created for the sole purpose of dying.

(Interesting side note/trivia: Terra is referred to as a "mutant" multiple times at the end of the "Judas Contract" storyline. That was in 1984, so it seems DC's "Distinguished Competition" didn't have exclusive rights to use that word until much, much later. I'm guessing that DC didn't start referring to its version of Marvel Comics' mutants as "metahumans" until at least the early 2000s. My Spidey-sense tells me it even may have become legally necessary, but I've never read anything to support my theory.)

Back on topic: When a character is killed off, there's a creative writer out there — or even a team of them! — who has discovered a way to bring him or her back from the dead.

I didn't know much about Donna Troy/Wonder Girl aside from what I've read in some of the original TEEN TITANS series. What I could piece together about her connection to and being Wonder Woman's sister I gathered from the Marv Wolfman and George Perez stories and a few JUSTICE LEAGUE issues.

Wonder Girl (Donna Troy) by George Perez
So when I saw the trade TEEN TITANS/OUTSIDERS: THE DEATH AND RETURN OF DONNA TROY was written by Phil Jimenez and Judd Winick, I knew I had a great chance to read a good story. And it included pencils by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, who was inked by Perez — what a duo! I had to figure that even if the story didn't live up to what I expected, the characters would look good. And they look especially great in the latter half.

The first half of the trade (Winick's) is a solid story; the ending is especially strong. Garcia-Lopez and Perez, in the second part, make a bit of a hot mess look sweet.

There is a cast of 14 characters in the Teen Titans and Outsiders. That's a cumbersome number of team members; just read some JUSTICE LEAGUE and X-MEN stories from the early to mid-1990s and you'll know that anything beyond seven or eight members makes for awkward and cumbersome writing and reading.

And while I was familiar with most of these young heroes in the Teen Titans and Outsiders, the biography recap page is extremely helpful for figuring out what happened to them as of 2003 and 2005.

Donna Troy unleashes her fury on an out-of-control
Superman robot. But it comes at a price.
The two teams get it handed to them when they face off against an android, Omen, seeking a cybernetic organism. She hospitalizes several heroes — with Cyborg taking the worst of it — until S.T.A.R. Labs shuts down the android.

As those team members are recovering in the hospital, a rogue Superman robot shows up and kills Omen. Donna Troy unleashes on the Superman robot and is the one Titan or Outsider who is able to stop it. But doing so comes with a price — she is killed when she takes heat vision in her chest at point-blank range. Those six pages by penciller AlĂ© Garza are poignant — a highlight of the storyline.

Winick perfectly captures writing Nightwing, Arsenal and the latest Wonder Girl, Cassie Sandsmark, as they mourn Donna's murder. It's roughest on Wonder Girl since she earlier had a heart-to-heart conversation with Donna and expressed the futility of heroics.

"Who is Donna Troy?" is a story in which Wonder Girl, a few of the Teen Titans, Superman and Wonder Woman reflect on her life and mourn her passing. Although Jimenez's short story is sentimental, it also provides insight into Donna's history, which is perfect for fans like me.

The third and final story in the trade paperback picks up with Donna having faint memories of who she is. Or was. She now is married to one of the Titans of Myth, an oppressive group of god-like beings who claim they are trying to "bring rode to a universe in chaos." But it's really their rationalization to wage war with inhabitants of planets whom they consider to be their inferiors.

Donna attempts come to grips with the tension of knowing or comprehending whether she's a Teen Titan or a titan goddess. Or somehow both.

The Teen Titans intervene, bringing all this to a head. It's confusing as to who is fighting whom and why. (That's the case with most cosmic struggles in DC and Marvel; honestly, they usually are one big, confusing cluster-you-know-what. Yup, there's a reason I avoid reading "DC/Marvel heroes in space" stories. …)

Regardless, the characters and battles are well drawn and given Perez's inks, the art resembles his more than Garcia-Lopez's. My assumption is Perez was as much as a "finisher" as he was Garcia-Lopez's inker, but it takes a better eagle eye than I have to tell the difference between the two artists' styles.

By the conclusion, I learned more about who Donna Troy is and what makes her tick. But don't ask me to recite her bio; it's still awfully confusing. … And of course the Teen Titans are victorious.

After a brief reunion with Wonder Woman, Donna is put in charge of the History of the Universe Orb — which leads to another reason for DC writers to mess with its multi-verse concept. Again. **Sighs**

Grade: B-

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