(This review may contain spoilers for the story content.)
Introduction: In juxtaposition to my previous blog post about a multipart story, this post focuses on a singular issue: New Teen Titans Vol 1 #18, published in 1982 by DC Comics. This issue, written by Marv Wolfman and drawn by George Pérez, features the New Teen Titans and a special guest-star, the teenage Russian hero Starfire (Leonid Kovar). Leonid is the first to bear the “Starfire” mantle that the alien princess Koriand’r has made a (largely) household name, and as it would happen, they are both Titans. Leonid first met the Teen Titans during the original Teen Titans title, also issue #18, back when the group was comprised of only founding members. While Leonid and Kid Flash (Wally West) butted heads, everyone ended up being friends and allies in the end. Ultimately, down the road (many years after this issue), Leonid changes his name to Red Star, and he joins the Titans as Red Star. Here, though, Leonid is still going by the Starfire moniker, and thus the two Starfires meet in this issue.
This issue, the story of which being titled “A Pretty Girl is Like a—Maladi!,” is a special one. I enjoyed reading the issue because I knew Red Star was a Titan and because I knew that this appearance was only his second appearance and because I read his debut appearance in the original TT run and have been looking forward to his return. And then I bought the new edition of the New Teen Titans Omnibus Vol. 1. In the foreword, Marv Wolfman gave a description of this issue and what it meant to him (Spoiler Alert: It is one of his favorite issues). Wolfman writes:
“After several multiple-part issues, I wanted to write a few done-in-one stories. I like them all, but my absolute favorite favorite is issue 18’s ‘A Pretty Girl Is Like a—Malady.’ This issue still affects me to this day. I wrote it and yet the ending still makes my eyes well up with tears. If you’ve never read this before, I really hope you feel the same.”
Once I learned how much Marv Wolfman loved the issue, my own appreciation for the issue multiplied tenfold. And now, here is the review.
Plot Summary: After losing the last remaining member of his family due to an incident caused by an American, a mid-tier government official abuses his power to send his secretary to the United States for a fake assignment after infecting her with a deadly plague agent. The woman, Maladi Malanova, is unknowingly infecting those she touches with the radiation-based, cellular deterioration disease.
The New Teen Titans are informed by the American government about the plague threat, although the information only says that there is a carrier for the plague; no more specific details are known. The heroes are also told that Starfire (Leonid; I’ll just say Leonid from now on for simplicity’s sake) is supposedly coming to the United States, and he is somehow involved. Suspicious but cautious, the NTT track Leonid until he openly brandishes his powers in pursuit of Maladi. Leonid has been ordered to covertly enter the U.S. and stop Maladi from killing others through her touch—by killing her himself. Loyal to his country, Leonid tries to carry out his mission, largely to protect more innocent lives. The two parties’ different views as to how to carry out the greater good put them at odds, and Leonid has to fight almost all of the Titans (and he does a great job, for the most part).
Eventually, though, Leonid concedes to letting Maladi rest in the hospital until her death a week later. It is only after Maladi’s passing that Leonid reveals that he volunteered for this mission because Maladi was his fiancée and because he loved her, and he wanted to be with her in her final moments and bring her suffering to an end (like she was begging for). He then says, “And today…today was the day we were to be married,” before walking away from the stunned Titans.
Plot Analysis: I can understand where Wolfman was coming from when decided to write some single-issue stories. Sometimes, they can be very powerful. They can carry a lot of weight. This issue is certainly one of those instances. The issue engages with a few themes and ideas, including politics, means-to-an-end, and love. Predominantly, this issue showcases different viewpoints regarding these topics. Conservative vs Liberal, Soviet vs American—these differences are put at odds, but ultimately, they are shelved by the ideas that are commonly held on all accounts, like empathy and love. This story does not have a happy ending, but it has a powerful ending that leaves a lot of food for thought. I would also like to note that I like that the woman’s name was “Maladi,” which is a clear reference to the word “malady,” which means “any disorder or disease of the body.” Given that Maladi is spreading a malady through this plague, I found that sort of thing clever and fun. And a little fun was needed for a story that is otherwise filled with darker tones.
Characterization: While each character had a moment in the spotlight, I would say that the characters who received the most attention were Leonid (our future Red Star) and Kid Flash (Wally West).
- These two characters have the most polarizing political views, and their differences cause them to butt heads harder than any other Titan does with Leonid. Wally is a Midwest-Conservative and an American patriot, and he finds fault with many of the Soviet Union’s policies at the time (1982) and projects his frustrations onto Leonid. In the end, when Kid Flash learns that Maladi was Leonid’s fiancée, he is flabbergasted with a slightly ashamed facial expression (more on that in the Art section).
- Wally’s tongue was preemptively sharp many times throughout this issue when it came to Leonid. He was aggressive with Leonid and quick to think the worst about his intentions. Donna calls Wally out for his aggressiveness, saying that she has never heard him speak in that way before (seriously guys, despite his behavior in this issue, Wally is usually a very nice guy). I appreciate what was done here. Having a character express the thoughts that Wally voiced does give another perspective to the group, another personality, another set of values. Wally’s attitude also seems to be meant to be juxtaposed by Leonid’s. Ironically, despite their “differences,” Wally and Leonid are similar in that they are both very loyal to their respective countries. The reason they butt heads is primarily because they each represent general perspectives that some members from each country had for each other at the time. I do not love Wally’s “mean streak” for this issue, but I respect why he had that attitude. I mean, at the very least, Wally’s opposition toward Leonid is a callback to their first encounter, when they similarly fought.
- Because this issue is the second time we have seen Leonid period (and since the first time was during the somewhat more silly Silver Age), this appearance of his contrasted with the previous, given the darker severity of the situation. In the face of this ordeal, we learn a lot about Leonid’s character that we did not know before. Wolfman really highlights Leonid’s resolve—both in his loyalty to his country and in what he believes is the most merciful thing he can do for the woman he loves. While many may agree that killing, even for the sake of mercy, is wrong, I am sure many of us can at least understand how he believed what he was doing to be the right course of action, and I can respect that, I believe. Wolfman gave depth to Leonid’s character, and I think this issue is why Leonid was able to come back later and become Red Star and join the Titans (and gain a lot of fans for his tenure on the team).
Art: Pérez knocks yet another issue out of the ballpark with this one. I love how expressive he can make these characters. Leonid’s pain looked sincere. Wally’s shock and shame at the end was powerful. Pérez also drew the cover shown above as the featured image, and the tension later illustrated in the story is foreshadowed by this intense cover. In addition, the battle sequences were very organic and the detail to the environment affected by these battles was something I appreciated. I give kudos to inker Romeo Tanghal and colorist Adrienne Roy for their valuable contributions.
Final Remarks: Alright, alright, I am sure many of you are wondering the same thing: What about Starfire meeting Starfire? Well, I would not like to be accused of misleading you guys, so I shall describe their meeting. I just felt that the other elements and context were quite important. It is in this issue that Kory learns that someone else bore the same heroic moniker, and Robin explains how and why that happened. As far as any one-on-one interactions go, when they meet, they are fighting. They later fight again, and the two exchange quips as well as blows as they seem equally matched for the most part.
Unfortunately, their personal exchanges did not amount to much more than that, but the exchanges we had were exciting. Of course, there was more purpose to this story than just having the two Starfires meet, as aforementioned. All-in-all, I agree with Marv Wolfman in that this issue is a powerful one. Anyone who likes a nice one-and-done story, especially one with exciting action and/or tragic romance, may enjoy this comic. It is a nice read, and I hope some of you get the chance to read it someday if you have not already.
Closing: I know I have said a lot about this story, and I hope you have enjoyed what you have read. If you have any thoughts on the comic or on my review, feel free to comment below. Thank you for reading, and I hope you have an amazing day.