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Before innocently stumbling upon "New Teen Titans" #3 at the age of 10, I assumed that most comics were about smiles, adventure, some light rough-housing, and Captain Carrot. Sure, there seemed to be a little bit of sex creeping into my comics -- an issue of the original "New Teen Titans" (to be soon called "Tales of the Teen Titans"....it was super-confusing re-naming/rebooting before that sort of stuff was cool) featured the nearly naked duo of Starfire and Wonder Girl lounging by a pool wearing what the latter referred to as "strings with gland conditions."
But one thing I never encounted in my comics -- execept for the occasional "Superman/Batman is a skeleton on the cover because he dies but not really" -- was pure unadulturated gore.
Enter "The New Teen Titans" #3, part of the "Terror of Trigon" saga. Writer Marv Wolfman claims in the introduction to the collected edition that the most controversial part of that story arc was in its first chapter, with Dick Grayson and Koriand'r in bed together -- no nudity, but clearly they were having some sort of sexual relationship. But I beg to differ, as issue three featured such blood-splattered delights as Changeling ripping out Cyborg's heart and eating it.
It's the old story, I guess: which is more shocking, sex or gore? But what made 1984's "The New Teen Titans" significant -- it had no Comics Code seal. A sort of creative freedom that, for a story involving the mind-shatteringly fearsome demon Trigon possessing his daughter Raven and literally raining hell on Earth, was probably best for the story.
But while pages and pages of George Perez's incredibly detailed art depicting crackling brimstone, agonized twisty soul-bodies, and Raven's creepy transformation (to I guess what we'll give the redundant appelation "Dark Raven") was mind-blowing enough -- the events of #3, a story entitled "Souls as white as heaven...as black as hell!" had them all beat. In it, Raven makes each member of the Titans face their own dark sides and greatest fears. This involves (I have it all catalogued):
1. Batman dying in some contraption that both pierces his chest, arms, and legs (with lots of blood flowing) -- as Robin cries at his feet.
2. Wonder Girl literally ripping out her husband's throat and throwing him down to bleed to death.
3. Changeling graphically murdering his former Doom Patrol members, then ripping through Cyborg's chest and eating his heart while smiling.
4. All the Titans stretched out in grotesque angonized versions of themselves, mouths distended, looking like what happened to those people in "The Ring" after the scary girl got them.
Dudes, I was ten.
But here's the rub. While that level of violence was shocking -- and arguably not appropriate for a young child -- it did serve the purposes of the story very well. "Terror of Trigon" was an awesome, epic read that, when finished, felt more like a novel than a series of issues. It was about the ultimate corruption -- and the ultimate redemption -- in a way that I feel rivals the "Dark Phoenix" saga.
But the biggest reason this comic has always stuck crystal-clear in my mind after all these years? Yep, that bloody "nightmare" scene. My childhood heroes were fricking eating each other! Primal stuff, the same way that scary robot-chick in "Superman III" was primally scary, the same way clowns in general are terrifying. And don't even me started on "Howdy Doody."
I'm not sure if "The Terror of Trigon" collected edition is still in print, but you can still find it on the Internet and in stores. In case you're intertested in what these characters are doing now, the first issue of the "New 52" "Phantom Stranger" re-introduced both Raven and Trigon, presumably as a means to create further mayhem.
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