Titans/Young Justice: Graduation Day #1
June 13, 2016
"Graduation" is apparently another word for "Give the middle finger."
(Linkara sits with his head resting on his hand, listless)
Linkara: Hello, and welcome to Atop the Fourth Wall, where bad comics burn. This should have been reviewed a long time ago.
Linkara (v/o): Three years and 170 episodes ago, I did a four-part retrospective on the Teen Titans, up to my favorite series of the book: the late '90s/early 2000s version that began with my favorite comic of all time, "JLA/Titans: The Technis Imperative". This was a glorious time to be a DC fan, aside from the fact that DC creatively had gotten their acts together and put out some fantastic revivals of books that have been having so many problems, but also DC, for actually two years, had a larger market share than Marvel. If you want more details there, look at SF Debris' "Rise and Fall of the Comics Empire" videos. However, the sad truth about comics, especially in the last twenty years, is that books will start strong, but will lose interest over time as the readership stabilizes. It almost always a downward spiral, like water slowly leaking out of a glass with a teeny tiny hole in it. It'll take a while, but it'll empty eventually. The Titans ended in 2003 with about 22,000 readers, still within the top 100 books – that numbered 98 – but also pretty low when it comes to justifying keeping books around.
Linkara: Remember that "Threshold" book from the Blue Beetle retrospective? Yeah, that dropped below that point after its first issue. The fact that they let it limp along for another few issues is amazing to me.
(Now cut to a montage of shots of another series: "Young Justice")
Linkara (v/o): Doing slightly better, by only a thousand readers, was a little book called "Young Justice". The Titans at this point were mostly adults.
Linkara: Although, in retrospect, (makes "finger quotes") "The New Teen Titans" of the '80s were mostly made up of people who were 18 or 19 years old, but I suppose "The New Young Adult Titans" doesn't have quite the same ring to it.
Linkara (v/o): While "Young Justice" filled in the next generation of teen superheroes, including the Tim Drake Robin, Superboy, the Cassandra Sandsmark Wonder Girl, Impulse, and more. With both series having fairly low sales, it was time for a shakeup, and much I prefer the Adult Titans book, I do see the need to revitalize the franchise, especially since the book itself wasn't doing as great as it used to be creatively. Titans Tower was in shambles, the team at each other's throats at some points, and a mediocre alien invasion story was concluding things. To make matters worse, the Titans book always felt disconnected from the rest of the DC Universe. They would acknowledge events going on in other books, but I'd be damned if I could name five titles that ever referenced them during their run. I have not read "Young Justice", but those who have have told me that things over there were going just fine. The problem was just that nobody was reading it. The consistent quality was helped by the fact that Peter David of "Bill Jemas made a bet with me that 'Marville' would do better than my book" fame was the longtime writer of it, aside from a couple of issue. Having a single writer for the entire book's run means that you can actually develop the characters and plan things for the long term.
Linkara: So, yeah, while the books were not horrible, it was probably time for a new status quo to attract readers. A big relaunch, especially since the Teen Titans animated series was coming that year. Unfortunately, in order to get there, (scowls) we got this craptastic miniseries!
(Shots of the relaunch are now shown)
Linkara (v/o): The fact that the relaunched "Teen Titans" was so successful after this garbage dump of a miniseries is nothing short of a miracle. "Graduation Day", at best, is just kind of lame, but at its worst, it's infuriating. This may not be as bad as "Cry for Justice" was, but it feels like it's in the same vein as "middle finger to the audience" that that was; a spiritual prequel, if you will, a story that not only hates these characters, but hates you for liking them. You know, assuming they even have enough enthusiasm to hate them. "Graduation Day" is a textbook example of a little thing that Mystery Science Theater 3000 described as...
(Cut to a clip of an episode of that show...)
Tom Servo: They just didn't care.
Linkara: So let's dig into (holds up today's comic) "Titans/Young Justice: Graduation Day #1" and see how you destroy two teams with a shrug and a disinterested sigh.
(AT4W title sequence plays, and title card has the opening theme to the Teen Titans series playing in the background. Cut to a closeup of the comic's cover)
Linkara (v/o): Normally, I wouldn't look at the covers, and I won't be for the other two issues, but this cover? This is special. First of all, it's a complete lie! The Titans and Young Justice do not fight each other in this book. I have no idea where the hell this cover came from. It wasn't any of the individual issues' covers. This had to have been specifically created for the trade, meaning nobody actually read the damn thing when they put this together! I have further evidence of that, which I'll get to later. Even the book's logo pisses me off. Why is the "Day" in "Graduation Day" falling off and slanting like that? You couldn't fit your logo on one line? Obviously, you know how to shrink stuff, since you put "Titans" and "Young Justice" above it without any problems! Oh, but then there's the title itself: "Graduation Day". The writer, Judd Winick, said in the lead-up to this that "this is the end, the death knell for both teams," and that "a lot of people are going to get hurt."
Linkara: (holding up comic) Yeah, because when I think of (makes "finger quotes") "graduation", the first things that spring to mind are "death and pain"! (shrugs in confusion)
Linkara (v/o): Actual serial sexual harasser Eddie Braganza, editor of the book, said, "Teens have to grow up."
Linkara: Except, of course, they're staying the same age and still will act like teenagers and will just be on a different team. And of course, the Titans aren't teenagers anymore, which was the entire point of their book. (points to comic) So this comic's name is an outright lie, too!
Linkara (v/o): As for the cover itself, which, even if it was a fight between the two teams, is still pretty lackluster, being just for shots of heroes grappling with one another. The background is another shade of lazy, since it's just a vague sky with a gradient coloring. The matchups make sense, with Jesse Quick and Impulse being the two speedsters facing off; Donna Troy and Wonder Girl, who for some reason has really sharp nails and a demonic smile on her face. What the hell book were they thinking of when they made this thing? Nightwing and Robin, but the one thing that makes no sense is at the bottom, with Superboy and Cyborg. What the hell do they have to do with each other? It's just their heads, too. You didn't need to include them at all.
(Cut to a shot of the original cover of the first issue)
Linkara (v/o): In the actual cover for the first issue, they didn't, either; just Robin, Wonder Girl and Impulse running, with their shadows forming stylized versions of their Titans counterparts. Simple, effective, and makes sense.
(Cut to back to the trade cover)
Linkara (v/o): The layers of bullcrap on this cover keep going, because we also have this inexplicable red stripe along the left side. Maybe this was a thing for trades at the time, but I don't remember this at all, not helped by the fact that the creative team's credits are in there, but a lot of them go over the edge of the stripe!! Why not just make the stripe half an inch longer and move everyone over?! It's not like we're so desperate to see Nightwing's other fist! Hell, just shrink the credits so they fit inside it! This trade cover is maddeningly stupid!!
Linkara: Although, calling it a trade is being a bit generous. Even for a three-issue miniseries, (shakes comic to show how thin it is) this feels thin and flimsy, and I have never encountered a trade paperback collection (holds up the back of the cover) with ads for completely unrelated products on the back cover!
(A shot of the back cover, showing said unrelated products, is shown: a Superman book with stickers that glow in the dark, apparently)
Linkara (v/o): Oh, and another thing that "graduation" apparently means: glow-in-the-dark stickers.
(The comic opens to the first page)
Linkara (v/o): We open during some kind of battle.
Narrator: Donna Troy. Wonder Girl. Troia.
Linkara: Oh, I'm sorry. Clearly, we're not reading a comic book, just Donna's business cards.
Narrator: Child of humanity and goddess. Offspring of the mortal realm and the beings of infinity.
Linkara: (narrator voice) You have to buy a lot of Christmas gifts this year.
Narrator: Come to us, godling. Take your place in the war. We have need of you.
Linkara (v/o): And your battle bikini made out of a few pieces of string. (sarcastically) Thank God she has those protective napkins covering her nipples. The underside of her boobs really turned the tide in this fight. And thus, we have the title page and– GOOD LORD!! WOW! This is Ultimate Escher Girl's posing right there! Not only the classic "boobs and butt visible at the same time", but her legs are spread so far apart that apparently she's a battle ballerina. A "battle-rina", if you will. And of course, since she's twisting her spine to such a degree, she's screaming in pain through gritted teeth. Hell, the very idea of screaming that loudly in the word balloon, yet having her teeth clenched, just seems silly as all hell. Oh, wait, maybe because she's screaming because she's gripping her sword's blade instead of the handle, unless that sword's handle is just really that long for no good reason. Also, I think her sword is broken, so that's another reason to be screaming. Take a look at these demonic beings all around her that she's fighting. Yeah, they have nothing to do with what's actually going on. The eventual explanation for this makes no sense with these things, except to some kind of weird dream reinterpretation of things, but that doesn't explain the outfit that'd make Red Sonja roll her eyes at how impractical it is. Anyway, Donna wakes up.
Narrator: One month ago.
Linkara: One month before that nightmare, she was still waking up from nightmares? Man, Donna's got issues.
Linkara (v/o): But yeah, the battle was a dream, of course. I can't imagine anyone consciously choosing to wear that outfit. I don't even know why this felt the need to say "one month ago". It's not like there's some massive framing device about a story being told in the future. It's just that a month ago, she was having weird dreams, where her torso swiveled around 180 degrees. She's been having these dreams, which makes the "one month ago" timestamp make even less sense.
Narrator: They are always the same, but with some variations. She is always fighting. She is always outnumbered.
Linkara: (narrator voice) She does have more fun when the variation is a swarm of kittens just rubbing up against her, though.
Narrator: She is always in pain.
Linkara: (sarcastically) Gee, I can't imagine why that would be. (the panel showing Donna's body twisting around is shown again in the corner)
Narrator: But they are becoming more and more real. Donna can feel the heat. Smell the sickeningly sweet odor of carnage.
Linkara: (narrator voice) Then she remembers that she just put in a carnage-scented air freshener in her apartment.
Narrator: She tastes blood.
Linkara: (holds up fist) DAMN YOU, GINGIVITIS!
Linkara (v/o): However, Donna is frightened by how she feels like she's welcoming the dream more, which, yeah, would be cause for concern... except she just woke up screaming in horror at it... so how she's "welcoming it" is not entirely clear. We then cut to "last night" in Austin, Texas. Specifically, 3:28 AM. We desperately needed to know what time it was. A blue-skinned, pink-haired robot suddenly emerges out of a pink energy portal. Huh, I wonder why she looks so badly damaged.
(Cut to a clip of an episode of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers)
Zordon: Too much pink energy is dangerous!
(Cut back to the comic)
Linkara (v/o): Her internal narration indicates that she's trying to reboot into maintenance mode and that she's traveled through time, but also that she now needs to seek out cybernetic organism. Aaand cut away.
(Cut to a clip of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 gang watching The Starfighters)
Mike: That was a great scene.
(Back to the comic again)
Linkara (v/o): It's 21 hours later, 11:06 PM, Pacific Standard Time, in San Francisco.
Linkara: It's like this comic is actively poking me to prevent me from yelling, "WHAT TIME IS IT?!" And instead, I'm just yelling, "WHY DO I NEED TO KNOW THIS?!"
Linkara (v/o): We're at the offices of Optitron, an international conglomerate that works to help improve the world – while also controlling a good chunk of the world's media. The CEO of Optitron, Jean Walters, is giving a pitch to the Titans. And look, they're showing off how they've helped Anthony Perkins, Abe Vigoda, and Betty White. Anyway, they're making a sales pitch to fund the Titans, which for some reason includes Cyborg.
(Cut to a shot of Linkara's retrospective on the Titans)
Linkara (v/o): If you'll recall the Titans retrospective, Cyborg left around issue 20 because he could finally resume a humanoid appearance. Long story short, that story got undone in the pages of "Flash" and he was back to his classic look.
(Cut back to the "Titans/Young Justice" comic)
Linkara (v/o): That being said, he wasn't a member at this time! What the hell is he doing here? The same goes for Tempest. In fact, Tempest's presence is even more baffling.
(Cut to a Tempest comic)
Linkara (v/o): He was forced to quit the team by his wife because of life-threatening injuries he had sustained. It's why Optitron is even making the offer to fund the team. Tempest was the one who funded them originally, but he left and therefore was unable to bankroll them.
(Cut back to the Titans/Young Justice comic)
Linkara (v/o): But if he's here, why are they even at this meeting?!
(Cut to a clip of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 gang watching Attack of the Eye Creatures)
Crow: They just didn't care.
(Cut back to the comic)
Linkara (v/o): Before Jean Walters actually says that, though, we have Nightwing being rude to them in the middle of the presentation, since they were all flown out here for a reason, which makes me wonder what he thought they were doing there otherwise. Then again, maybe he's just pissy because they're having this meeting at 11:00 at night! Was that the reason they told us what time it was? To indicate that it's past Nightwing's bedtime? But yeah, Optitron wants to supply the Titans with new tech, a base, and the funding to focus on doing their superhero stuff. Nightwing naturally wants to know what they get out of it. Walters tries to spin that it's for the good of the world, but Omen, being psychic, reveals they want the biggest tax writeoff in American history.
Linkara: Leading, of course, to the inevitable crossover between the Titans and Captain Tax Time.
Linkara (v/o): Walters doesn't deny it, and really, when there's a telepath in the room, why would you even try? But he also says that the tax savings will be passed onto consumers of their products and their employees, something that Omen confirms he means.
Omen: He's telling the truth. Their hearts are in their wallets, but they do want to help.
Linkara: I also keep my kidney in my messenger bag.
Linkara (v/o): Also, I just noticed this, but did they name Jean Walters after Jennifer Walters, AKA She-Hulk? I'm sure it's just a coincidence, like they unintentionally made up the name, especially since this guy never shows up again after this issue, but if it was a deliberate reference, why? Anyway, yeah, people who legitimately want to help, even if they do get some benefits out of it, and Omen confirms that they have no nefarious secondary intentions or anything like that. And really, the Titans have gotten funding from both private industries and the government before, so this seems like it would be a good deal. Or, Nightwing can flat-out refuse, storm off in a huff, forcing Arsenal to chase after him and ask, "What the hell?"
Nightwing: It begins with them just funding. Then they've got us fighting their own little wars. I'm sure there's some land rights issues in Asia that they'd love for us to tackle.
Linkara: Yes, and you couldn't possibly negotiate with them or contact Bruce or Clark or the various other either super-rich or skilled investigators to look into potential problems, and come back with a counteroffer if you see anything shady. No, no, no, best to just be a dumbass!
Linkara (v/o): I don't want to give the impression that I'm all gung-ho for this idea. Nightwing's concerns are legitimate. But it really bugs me how high and mighty he's acting when he just got confirmation that they weren't looking to do horrible things to them. And when you get right down to it, considering how often superhero vehicles and headquarters and equipment gets trashed and needs replacement, this is a bigger, more expensive risk for Optitron. Hell, the Titans have a track record of this crap bigger than their tower. You know, the one that recently got blown up and you need a replacement for?
Linkara: Oh, and spoilers for one of the books that came after this: yeah, they're on the up-and-up. Optiron is actually a subsidiary of Wayne Enterprises. Bruce set the whole thing up to help him out without Dick feeling resentful over getting help from him. So Dick's temper tantrum here is even dumber in hindsight!
Linkara (v/o): It's even more hilarious when you remember that the reason Dick is even with the Titans right now is out of fear that he was becoming too much like Batman, when Batman is showing concern for other people's feelings and can see the bigger picture and potential for good. Dick is just being a broody, self-righteous moron. Oh, but Arsenal doesn't point that out. Here's his response.
Arsenal: Listen! Aren't you sick of being second-string?
Linkara: (as Arsenal) Aren't you sick of us repeatedly saving the world, fighting off brutal enemies, and battling in intergalactic wars? We're such Z-listers!
Linkara (v/o): This is an especially baffling statement to make when the end of their freaking book was about them stopping an alien invasion on their own!! Had Judd Winick never read any Teen Titans material beyond the Silver Age or something?!
(Cut to another clip of the MST3K gang watching a movie)
Joel: Folks, they just didn't care.
(Back to the comic again)
Linkara (v/o): Nightwing doesn't trust Optitron because they also have brought in Young Justice, seemingly making the same offer to them.
Nightwing: They want to create the fast food chain equivalent of superteams. "Over three billion served."
Linkara: A super size is when they call in all the other former Teen Titans for a big brawl. A number-seven is when one of them turns traitor.
Linkara (v/o): We cut to Tucson, Arizona, apparently in the middle of the day, despite it just being 11:00 at night a minute ago.
Linkara: Then again, they are out in the Southwestern U.S. desert. This could just be Night Vale's fault.
Linkara (v/o): We go inside the Franklin Military Installation, where a bunch of robotic DC characters called the Metal Men are doing some work for the government. The robot from earlier teleports in and attacks, attempting to interface with the Metal Men, but they lack the necessary technology she needs, so she starts scanning for more. Back over to our heroes, they're continuing to argue about this, with everyone except Nightwing saying they should hear them out and talk about this. Cyborg suggests that they take a break, but then...
Cyborg: Hey, did it just get a whole lot warmer?
Linkara: (disgusted) Ewww! Who peed in the pool?!
Linkara (v/o): The android teleports in and immediately latches onto Cyborg, interfacing with him. The teleportation apparently created a massive energy blast that sent everyone back. When they recover, Argent and Jesse Quick leap into action... aaaaand are blasted back and pretty much out of the story. Yeah, not only is the characterization poor in this book, there isn't very much of it, focused pretty much on Nightwing and Arsenal. For a team-up book, everyone is just kind of there. Also, Tempest can fly, apparently. News to me. Impulse and Empress of Young Justice leap into the fray, with Impulse vibrating through the android to try to shake her loose while Empress goes to pull Cyborg free of her. All while this has been going on, and Nightwing has been ineffectually shouting out orders that most everyone is pretty much ignoring.
Linkara: Then again, considering Nightwing's dialogue in this book has been pretty crappy, I don't blame people for not listening to him.
Nightwing: Both of you, get out of there-- NOW! She's too unpredictable!
Linkara: How do you know that? She only appeared less than a minute ago!
Linkara (v/o): But indeed, the android deploys countermeasures to Impulse, creating another pink explosion. Wow, this episode could really get some mileage out of the "Too much pink energy" clip. Cyborg is freed, but is also missing his legs, so that's a bummer on top of everything else. The robot starts pulling a Linda Blair by floating in the air on her back for some reason, exclaiming that she's entering into defense mode. At that maneuver, Superboy has switched into attack mode, but sadly, the robot cannot be destroyed as a result of battle and their turn ends. The robot tosses Superboy aside and freezes him in pink energy. Donna goes in and punches her from behind... and looking absolutely ridiculous as she does so.
Linkara: (as Donna, imitating her pose) I've got to get in my yoga stretches during this battle!
Linkara (v/o): Why are her eyes closed? And again... TEMPEST... CANNOT... FLY!! Oh, and then he gets knocked out of the air by another energy blast. But hey, why would magic, super-speed, tactile telekinesis or anything else stop her, when Arsenal can just shoot her with a gun, blasting her arm off?
(Cut to another clip of the MST3K gang)
Servo: You see, they just didn't care!
(Cut back to the comic)
Arsenal: Not so tough now, are we Lefty?
Linkara: (as Arsenal) Thank God I have both of my arms. As long as I got both of my arms, it's a China Cat-free life for Arsenal!
Linkara (v/o): Roy, I know you're just posing to be overly dramatic and crap, but could you stand somewhere else? You're right on top of Superboy's crotch. And that is apparently enough for the robot, who decides she's not powerful enough for this fight and teleports away... with this bizarre, close-up shot of her eye for some reason. Seriously, just zooms in on her eye and then teleport. What the hell? And now enjoy this montage of everybody injured or unconscious.
(Cut to a clip of an episode of Red Dwarf)
The Cat (Danny John-Jules): All in all, a 100% successful trip!
(Back to the comic again)
Linkara (v/o): And so, the first issue ends with Cyborg exclaiming that this was all a mistake; the robot didn't intend to hurt anyone, which Nightwing snarkily responds with...
Nightwing: You could have fooled me...
Linkara: That's because it was very poorly written, Nightwing. You should be used to that by now.
Linkara (v/o): Hey, you see that "TO BE CONTINUED" in the corner? Normally, that is a sign that the scans I'm working with are from the individual issues and not from the trade collection. That's because trades removed those since, well, there's no point in having a "to be continued" when you're reading everything together in one book. Sure, they might throw in the issue's cover to indicate there's a break in the story, but otherwise, text like that is taken out.
Linkara: Except for in this (makes a "finger quote") "trade paperback" where that text is left in for both issues 1 and 2! As I said at the beginning, clear evidence that nobody actually read this thing before putting it together!
(Cut once more to the MST3K gang)
Crow: FOLKS, THEY JUST DID NOT CARE!!
Linkara: (holds up comic) This comic sucks! And it's only going to get worse.
Linkara (v/o): At best, it's pedestrian and average, supported on the idea that you're already familiar with these characters and thus don't have to work on developing their characterization in any significant way degree. In some cases, that's okay, but it might have been helpful if we were given stronger characterization of members, since, gotta be honest, I don't know very much about Young Justice. This was still during a time when I was only really following the Titans. That changed, obviously, but this book is supposed to bring about the end of two teams and start two new ones. And its first issue doesn't show off anything unique or interesting, just Nightwing complaining during most of it. The fight scene was atrocious. Aside from the robot just being overpowered and being able to counter everything thrown at her, everyone seemed impulsive and inexperienced, despite, you know, having more than one issues between the two teams, not even counting the full history of the Titans. Everybody was running at the robot no more than two at a time. And it's not like Arsenal defeated the robot by being clever or something; he just shot it! This is pitiful!
Linkara: Next time, we continue with "Graduation Day"... and the first of two huge missteps that made this book so infamous.
TO BE CONTINUED
(End credits roll)
Nothing like getting the guy who would not be writing most of these characters to be the one to write the miniseries that altered most of their lives!
The Titans: that group of second stringers that defeated a demonic invasion of earth and were awarded with a massive parade for their effort, right?
(Stinger: A panel showing the female android is shown again)
Linkara (v/o): Oh, yeah, I've seen this face on a blue robot before. This is what happened when I accidentally installed Windows 10 on Pollo.