That's right. Comic book fandom. It's May 2006. Anyway, for a few more minutes it is. Come midnight it's gonna be June. A whole 'nother feeling. A new issue of Robin. The future. Yeah, ol' DC Comics fixin' to put out one more comic and everybody hopin' this one be a little more giddy, a little more gay because Cassandra Cain gonna make her post-"One Year Later" debut. Yep, all over town champagne corks is a-poppin'. Over at DC's offices the big shots is dancin' to the strains of Gwen Stefani and Pussycat Dolls. Down at the comic shops, the little folks is a-watchin' and waitin' for that new comic magazine to drop. They all tryin' to catch hold of one superhero story. To be able to say, "Right now! This is it! I got it! Cass is back!" 'Course, by then it'll be past. But they all happy, everybody havin' a good time. Well, almost everybody.
They's a few lost souls floatin' around out there. Now, if ya'll ain't from comics fandom, we have something here called "the Cass fan." Got a way of bein' chewed up by editorial and creative decisions so that they don't want no celebrating, they don't want no cheerin' up, and they don't care nothing 'bout no Tim Drake. Out of hope, out of rope. Out of time.
This here is Joel Bryan from Cass-O-Rama. That comic book he's steppin' out of is the home of one of those Cass stories. It's Robin's home. How'd he get so high? And why is he feelin' so low? Is he really gonna do it? Is this Cass fan really gonna jelly up the sidewalk? Well, the future, that's something you can't never tell about. But the past, that's another story...
One thing I did after I graduated from Muncie College of Business Administration was come up with an out-of-continuity version of the Teen Titans. You know, for kids. I loosely on the old school 1960s version of the team, but updated with 2000s style concerns and a warm and optimistic vibe rather than dark and cold. I drew a lot of character design sketches and even plotted the first six or so issues. Lots of goofy hijinks but plenty serious elements, too. Life isn't all fun and games, and I didn't want to deny that. Bullying, sexism, racism, drug abuse, homophobia, the search for identity and loneliness are all very real. I wanted to address these social issues, but show some smart, can-do, community-involved teens handling them as best they could. Not that tired cliche of "trying to find [their] place in this world," (generally used as an excuse for a lot of would-be tragic self-destructive behavior and acting out) but the other one about "trying to make this world a better place." And we put a little sand inside to make the experience more pleasant.
I guess my dream Teen Titans are kids who act as a super-powered Volunteer Committee, one committed to improving their world rather than the stereotypical sullen, confused, angry, selfish, rebellious type teens who end up fighting their adult mentors and all that. Kind of an antidote to the confused, angsty Supergirl and villainous Cass then current in DC continuity.
But it needed a set-up. My idea was having ultra-smart, ultra-capable but sometimes in-over-her-head Supergirl learning about the silent Batgirl of Gotham City and trying to befriend her, despite being warned off by Batman and even Superman. For her part, Batgirl is just confused about the whole concept of friendship. You can't beat anyone with it, so what good is it? She's also not sure she deserves friends-- this Cass is still wracked with guilt at having murdered, afraid Batman will find out about it and fighting that infamous death wish. All of this just makes Supergirl that much more determined to become her friend. She can't leave well enough alone.
This part of the story is probably derivative, but I wanted to plunge both characters into an almost impossible situation. Darkseid, sick of Superman and wanting to crush the Man of Steel's spirit by hitting him where he's most vulnerable (his human, caring heart) and expand his own power base, sends some of his soldiers to kidnap Supergirl. They find her during one of her attempts to communicate with Batgirl. A fight, and Supergirl is overcome via some sort of device that saps her of her self-confidence and self-worth, leaving her somewhat de-powered. They overmatch Batgirl and toss her aside but fail to reckon with her unstoppable will to fight on no matter what. Just as the minions of Apokolips leave in a Boom Tube, Batgirl leaps in.
Once in Darkseid's presence, Batgirl confounds the tyrant but can't elude his soldiers. She's tossed to the Female Furies for whatever use they see fit-- a training dummy or pet. Meanwhile, Darkseid and Desaad place the weakened Supergirl in a machine meant to bombard her with despair long enough to break her will. Then they plan to rebuild her psyche in the corrupt image of an Apokolipsian warrior and use her against Superman.
Batgirl spars with the Female Furies and comes off worst, but finds herself fascinated by their warrior ethos. She comes to admire them and desperately wants to join their ranks. She won't take no for an answer even if it means death.
Supergirl, suffering inside the machine where she's experiencing the death of Argo City over and over-- Darkseid wants to teach her the meaninglessness of hope-- suddenly comes to a calm place where she meets none other than Christopher Columbus, who claims he's there as a hero guide. Supergirl is aghast. Why couldn't it be Superman, Wonder Woman, Rosa Parks, Marie Curie, Indira Gandhi, Amelia Earhart, Patti Smith or anyone but Christopher Columbus. She calls him out for being the bringer of disease and misery for so many Native Americans. This Columbus protests he's not the Columbus of history but rather the idealized one from out-dated school books and outdated history lessons. The heroic one divorced from reality that millions of American schookids used to look up to. He's not even speaking Italian, for corn's sake.
Supergirl is less than convinced and still none too happy to have even the Platonic ideal of Columbus as her spirit guide, but it can't be helped. Their confrontation rekindles hope inside her and she realizes as long as she has even one little spark, one little ember of positive thinking left, she can stoke up the fire in her heart. Regaining her strength and mustering an amazing amount of willpower and innate self-confidence-- anything is possible-- she bursts from the machine and destroys it in the process.
Darkseid knows he's failed and his only recourse is the kill Supergirl. Pursued by his armies, Supergirl takes flight. She fully believes she has no chance of survival, but she's going to give it all she's got and create a legend among the battered spirits of Apokolips in hopes of inspiring them one day to revolt against Darkseid and throw off his chains of oppression.
Superman, having discussed with Batman the situation between the two girls, has gone looking for Supergirl and traced the Boom Tube particles back to Apokolips. He shows up in time to find a Batgirl joyfully waging her own futile combat against the Female Furies. Batgirl has found her own place of hope, which, ironically, is one of strife and warfare she is bound to lose in the end. Superman helps her rout the Furies, who grudgingly give ground and declare their respect for Batgirl as a having "potential" for greatness. With Batgirl safe, Superman is able to quiz her-- after a fashion-- about what's happened. He leaves her in the care of the Furies while he flies off to rescue Supergirl.
Supergirl is fighting her last stand. She's defeated dozens of Darkseid's best and now Darkseid himself is about to unleash a final, annihilating force against her when Superman appears. Together, the heroes defeat Darkseid, with Superman telling his young cousin how proud he is of her. Darkseid leaves to plot again. A quick rendezvous with Batgirl and the three head back to earth.
Batgirl and Supergirl forge their friendship, which will lead to the formation of a new Teen Titans team. Then they go their separate ways. For now.
And that's the story of how Joel Bryan climbed waaay up to the one hundred and forty-ninth issue of the Robin comic, and then fell all the way down but didn't quite squish hisself. You know, they say there was a man who jumped from the one hundred FIFTIETH issue? But that's another story.