[15 May 2012]
PopMatters Comics Editor
It’s some infinite underneath, some dark and warm somewhere, some ugly place that just goes on forever. “The Colony” is a hell built for teenagers, and the most striking thing about it, at least at first blush for me, is its very clear resemblance to the idea that caused the once-immortal friendship between 19th century psychoanalysts Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung to simply run out.
From the very beginning both the nascent Teen Titans, and Superboy have found themselves embroiled in N.O.W.H.E.R.E., the ultra-secret organization that seems to be able to reach out into recognizable social institutions like law enforcement and the press. In the pages of Teen Titans N.O.W.H.E.R.E. appeared hellbent on rounding up metahuman kids. For what exact sinister purpose, who could say? But it was a sinister purpose to be sure. N.O.W.H.E.R.E.‘s kidnapping of metahuman children was the impelling force that pushed Tim Drake’s Red Robin on a global quest to get to these kids before they could be taken prisoner. And it was this quest that evolved into forming the Teen Titans, which has now come to include Superboy.
In Superboy (a book, as with Teen Titans, also written by Scott Lobdell), an even more sordid sequence of events runs its course. By some plot mechanism prior to the opening of the first issue, Superboy has come to be the subject of analysis for a N.O.W.H.E.R.E. laboratory. This experience led him to have no conception of morality. Thus, when offered a deal to be freed from the lab if he bring in the Titans, Superboy readily accepts. But the very act of dealing with the Titans allows the worm to turn and sees Superboy beginning to develop a sense of personal integrity.
The third in our trio of protagonists is the Legion Lost, a group of Legion of Super-Heroes who undertook a vital mission of deep time travel, coming back 1,000 years to the 21st century, and who now find themselves trapped in their relative past. If anything, these Lost Legionnaires’ experience has been as harrowing as any. Not only did they fail to prevent the outbreak of genetic disease bioengineered by species supremacists in the 31st century, but also they find themselves ever more negotiating their own history as they remember it. The very act of their being here changes the future they came from.
By plot mechanisms expounded in each of their own books (issue #8 for each of Teen Titans, Superboy and Legion Lost), the trio of protagonists find themselves in The Colony. It’s the deep, dark, lava-riddled underground where the metahuman teens kidnapped by N.O.W.H.E.R.E. ultimately find themselves. And for all practical purposes, it’s Hell. The very Hell that you and I both, as sober, rational minds living on the very edge of an equal tomorrow disavow. The Hell of Hieronymus Bosch, of Raphael and of Botticelli. Human souls twisted into shapes we can scarcely stand to look at, human souls crying out for pain, are made all the more vivid by the artwork of Brett Booth.
As the first Annual published under the banner of DC’s New 52, this is a magnificent story coauthored by Scott Lobdell and Tom DeFalco, the mind at the helm of Legion Lost. It’s a beautiful and moving tale about how Superboy comes to band together with the Titans, and about how the Titans and the Legionnaires stand against Harvest, the chief architect of both N.O.W.H.E.R.E. and The Colony. It’s the story about how these three protagonists make a stand on the ground of deeper ideals, and begin to flesh the deeper emotional focus of their individual books. And it’s the story of the horrible event engineered by Harvest, the Culling, where metahuman kids are pitted against each other in a group deathmatch.
It’s this tapping into the current gamification of youth culture that provides a solid clue as to what these individual books are about, and also what the Teen Titans Annual is about. This is a very elegant defense of the values of social media. The idea that each person is of high inner value, and that this value is only compounded when shared amongst peers.
If you’re like me, and you grew up watching Ultraman on TV as a kid. Or X-Files. Or the Lone Ranger or 21 Jump Street. Then maybe you’ll have a hard time understanding blogs. Not specific blogs per se, but the idea of being open and emotionally honest in a public forum. But not so with Millennials who have been born into a world where social networking technology already appears to have been preexistent. The act of blogging is a deep and profound statement about your own inner worth. And how that inner worth connects with the innate worth of others.
And if like me, mass-market TV shows and other products and services guided you to the unspoken assumption that speaking to “more” is better, and if you don’t intuitively grok blogging, then there’s no better explanation than the broader project both Scott Lobdell and Tom DeFalco have undertaken in their books, and in this one. By creating a conceptual enemy and defining a tyrannical regime that exploits modes of self-branding as self-surveillance, Lobdell and DeFalco have begun to educate us about the shift towards social media.
And for the first time we can really agree that “Comics isn’t just for kids!”, as a DC in-house ad campaign once proclaimed. Because the kids already get it. And it’s us who need to be educated.
Now, about this idea of Jung’s. About the “collective unconscious” being visualized as an infinite, bottomless cavern where human feeling just eventually runs out…and about how this idea tore apart a friendship. It’s a good story, and I’m sure somebody’s already blogged about it…