Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Dropped Threads: Outfitting Donna Troy

Donna’s scenes in Countdown aren’t exactly setting my world on fire, but I salute the effort and am hopeful that it might ultimately yield something interesting. I’m of course always happy when someone at least tries to repair this beloved character to whom the fates have not been kind.

Despite a good college try by Phil Jiminez and Co. a couple of years back, the doyenne of the New Teen Titans’ heyday has proven almost impossible to rehabilitate. The “Who is…?” heroine’s infamously tortured continuity issues are only part of the problem. While they may have turned her into a punch line to some, continuity tangles alone are not insurmountable in the hands of a committed writer who is prepared to make a virtue of necessity and transform the black hole of Donna’s hopelessly fractured history into a plot point that actually builds the character rather than reducing her to a flat caricature--as Crisis on Infinite Earths and its consequences originally did (yes John Byrne, I’m looking at you, but not only you). All this can still be fixed or (better yet) erased.

The bigger obstacle is Donna’s outfit, which, I’m sorry, just isn’t cool at all. And if there’s one sure way to undermine a character’s chances for rehabilitation, it’s to make them look silly.

It isn’t Phil Jimenez’s fault. Though I am loathe to say it, it’s George Perez’s. It feels blasphemous to say so, considering that Perez defined Donna Troy’s three-dimensionality throughout the 1980s, most memorably in the classic, “Who is Donna Troy?” (NTT v. 1, #38). But it was also Perez who designed Donna’s “cosmic” black threads (borrowed from one of the Titans of Myth) during the reheated epic “Who is Wonder Girl?” (NTT v. 2, #50-55) that attempted to “fix” Donna’s post-Crisis continuity conundrum.

I always hated that outfit. It was fussy, over-designed, and impractical in the way of nineties costumes. And despite Perez’s intention of having the costume change signify Donna’s maturation, the effect was quite the opposite: suddenly, the mature, capable woman looked awkward and self conscious. The outfit seems even to have thrown off Perez’s usually impeccable draftsmanship; on the cover of New Titans #56, Donna appears to be falling rather than leaping through the poster of her former self. Talk about adding insult to injury. The subsequent transformation of Donna into a Darkstar could almost have been an excuse to put her back into some semblance of the simpler, cleaner, more commanding red costume.

Later, when Jiminez redesigned her look, he was clearly trying to synthesize the two Perez versions—but the full body cosmic leotard and the addition of white go-go boots produced risible results. Donna may have switched from red to black, but she hasn’t been blessed with the dazzling costume designs of a certain webslinger who pulled off the same feat with considerably more aplomb.

The good news is that the early teaser image of Countdown puts Donna back in her classic red duds. Indeed, the implication might even be that we are looking at some neo-80s version of the character who, like the Legion of Superheroes that recently appeared in “The Lightening Saga,” may actually be the real McCoy, “preserved” in the amber of the wonderful new Multiverse. (BTW: Where is the Time Trapper these days?) Such, at least, is my hope. I would quite happily forget the last 20 years of character assassination by inches. Moreover, a return to the red costume through the restoration of the actual 80s Donna would circumvent the problem created by Perez’s original costume redesign: how do you restore and earlier, better costume when everything sartorial that’s come after has explicitly signaled development and maturation? How can we have our cake and eat it too? Cool threads turn out to be a problem of Time.


plok said...

It really is about the primacy of design, isn't it Jim? For The New Teen Titans, Donna needed something a bit different from what she'd had in (what I think of as) The Real Teen Titans, and Perez hit on an excellent look that was in synch with both her character, and the times: a glorified gymnast's leotard, in the colours of (what we all thought of as at that time) the Soviet Bloc countries instead of the colours of America. The colours that Wonder Woman still wears to this day.

How clever was this, though? To emphasize Donna's alien cultural nature visually, while she became even more of the Ultimate Good-Girl American Squeeze in her behaviour and dialogue. Whereas before she was dressed in the red-white-and-blue, but constantly CONSTANTLY reminding the reader of her Amazon alienness in thought- and word-balloons.

I don't necessarily think writers plan these sorts of things consciously (though I believe they sometimes do, the clever bastards), however I don't know to what degree a guy like Perez sees design in a way I only dimly sense it. Hey, maybe he doesn't see it, and just senses at a very advanced level. I just don't know.

I so foresee another Donna Troy post from you it isn't funny. I don't believe you've penetrated to the heart of your Donna Troy appreciation/obsession even yet. Don't you find the televisual contaminants in New Teen Titans interesting? I don't know if that means Marv was very smart, or very crude, but don't you think kids today get what we got from Wolfman/Claremontisms from their innumerable prime-time youth-oriented soaps, that in our day couldn't even be conceived of as being on the air?

(So poorly, though: MTV Idiot Beach 2020 viewers won't ever be capable of experiencing the wild genre-crossing frisson of a Carl Hutchins moment, will they? Or the emergent, genre-forbidden sophistication of a Mason...Mason...damn it, why can I never remember his last name!...anyway of Mason talking about how he wished he lived in a tree, now can they? This is just what Veronica Mars provided to its devoted viewers, I think...that evolutionarily-advanced Santa Barbara thing...)

But, don't you think you could do a complete two-month-long assault on your beloved Teen Titans?

"Assault On Teen Titans: Frisson Incorporated"


By the way, congratulations beyond congratulations on the impending fatherhood! I have no advice or wise words to give, except two things I know you and I already know, and one thing I've learned myself though close observation of expectant fathers:

One: take the kid to the country, and he/she'll want to come back to it when he/she's older...and then one day when you're VERY old and VERY grey, he/she'll point you out to his/her kids in every ripple of moonlight on the water, flap of fish, sigh of pine, knot of rope...I think you and I probably agree that there's no better memorial than knowing your descendants will be intimately acquainted, in their own way of course, with the things you loved...

Two: we don't often think of how effortful most of our personal relationships are; we're always presenting ourselves somehow, always working at being the "us" we want other people to see, the "us" we've chosen to show ourselves as, or chosen to believe ourselves as...but with the little children there is only (and can only be) the absolute honesty of Here I Am, This Is Me! And that's not effortful at all. In fact it's extremely freeing, I believe. At least, it is p until the teenage years...

Three: I believe women know pregnancy is real right away, because they feel it physically; jokingly I suggest here that it never really hits men in the face like an iceball from a passing bike until you see the ultrasound. After all, up 'til then it's still remotely possible she's just putting on weight, right? Right? I believe I said "jokingly"...and yet this visual evidence is very powerful: I've seen more than one friend of mine LOSE IT, and enact seven months of nesting urge in one day, throw out all the furniture, steam-blast every surface, stay up for three days and nights in a manic burst of HOLY CRAP, BABY'S COMING! energy, forget to eat, forget to go to the bathroom...lift ridiculously heavy's like JOY PANIC TUNNEL VISION, it's like there was some sort of CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS going on...and, well, naturally I assume you're past that point already, but I have heard of people who've decided to "put childish things away" at supersonic speed too, and not leave any mental room for their own relaxation...

But hey! Suddenly it occurs to me that you're doing the opposite of that, because you've been posting, and even started a new (incredibly hilarious) blog! GOOD. Put as many feet on the ground as you can, I say. Meet as many friends, shake as many hamds, play as much poker, shoot as much pool, write as much about your fetishistic fascinations. Express, express, express, as time permits! I suspect this is a wise strategy of yours, or at least some very wise tactics...

Finally, sorry I didn't pass this along through private email channels, but it seemed to naturally flow out of the Teen Titans comment...congratulations again, Jim. It's gonna work out wonderfully. Congratulations. You're a lucky man.

More later.

Jim Roeg said...

plok - you are a prince, sir! Thanks for the congratulations and for passing on those thoughts about fatherhood. I really appreciate them. (And don't worry, I'm incapable of putting away childish things!)

About this: I so foresee another Donna Troy post from you it isn't funny. I don't believe you've penetrated to the heart of your Donna Troy appreciation/obsession even yet.

Tragically, you're more right than you know. Not only is my pathetic Donna Troy infatuation just getting started, I had actually intended a completely different Donna post when I sat down to write this one. That's still to come. Probably sooner than later!

Really perceptive that thing you say about her costume and the Soviet Bloc countries. I've never thought about the shift from the earlier star-spangled costume because I never read the original Teen Titans. My first issue of NTT was #3. So much more to obsess about there...

P.S. Mason Capwell!

Greg said...

Plok, am I totally misunderstanding something, or are you trying to say that you think Perez designed the red & gold stars outfit? That's a Gil Kane design, from the middle of the original Titans run.

plok said...


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