Robot 6

Grumpy Old Fan | Donna Troy brought data to life

The all-mod Wonder Girl, drawn by Nick Cardy

The all-mod Wonder Girl, drawn by Nick Cardy

Thanks to Tom Spurgeon, I read a fascinating article about “using Graph Theory to create a digital model of the whole of Marvel continuity,” from comics to TV and the current crop of movies. It maps out connections among characters — unsurprisingly, the three big groups relate to the X-Men, the Avengers, and Spider-Man — but it also discusses exceptions to characters’ defining traits. For example, Hawkeye is Clint Barton (or not), who is an archer (most of the time) and an Avenger (except when he’s a Thunderbolt). Marvel appears to be using this model to answer basic questions like “who is that?” and “how does s/he relate to this over here?” — with an ultimate goal of getting fans of its movies and TV shows to try the comics.

As you might imagine, this sort of analysis would have been ideal for the pre-New-52 status quo, whose five generations of characters (going from the original Justice Society to Damian Wayne) included many with multiple code names. Chief among these were the original Teen Titans who, following the examples of Dick Grayson and Wally West, graduated from sidekicks to “grownup” superheroes. Initially, logistical concerns facilitated these changeovers (we need a new Robin; we need a new Flash) — but in terms of the intersection of continuity and character development, none of the Titans had quite as much on her résumé as Donna Troy.

* * *

Now, before you click away for fear of catching continuity cooties, rest assured I’m not going to go too deep into Donna’s history. This is why we have Wikipedia and great comprehensive fansites like Titans’ Tower. However, I do want to highlight the quirks of her Silver Age origins. Initially, Wonder Girl wasn’t a separate character, but a manifestation of Wonder Woman as a teenager. Just as there were “Superboy” stories about the teenaged Kal-El, there were “Wonder Girl” stories featuring teenaged Diana. Teen Diana eventually had several team-ups with Baby Diana (aka Wonder Tot) and Wonder Woman, which is probably a shining example of Silver Age Crazy. More to the point, though, it helped establish Wonder Girl as her own person, which is basically what got her into the Teen Titans.

The prototypical Teen Titans story featured Robin, Kid Flash and Aqualad (who weren’t called the Teen Titans at that point), and appeared in The Brave and the Bold #54 (June-July 1964). Bob Haney wrote and Bruno Premani drew both that story and its follow-up, the first proper Titans tale from B&B #60 (June-July 1965). Wonder Girl appeared in the latter, but as Wonder Woman’s sister, not her teenaged self. I always understood this to be a mistake on the part of Haney and/or editor George Kashdan, but clearly it was a happy accident.

While the Titans soon got their own title, Wonder Girl would have to wait until August 1969′s Teen Titans #22 for not just an actual origin, but a real name. For four years her only other appellation had been “Wonder Chick,” so scripter Marv Wolfman (working with editor Dick Giordano) named her Donna Troy. Seems that Wonder Woman had rescued the orphaned Donna from a burning building and taken her to Paradise Island, where she’d gotten super-powers from the magical Purple Healing Ray. Raised as Diana’s little sister, Queen Hippolyte had sent her to Man’s World just in time to join the Titans — but not having any other identity, or anywhere else to go, she’d been sleeping in the Titans’ headquarters. That changed posthaste, as the guys helped Donna find a roommate and move into an apartment. Artists Gil Kane and Nick Cardy further marked her independence by giving her a new costume and hairdo. The look lasted for almost 20 years, and it’s made a comeback as part of the Super Best Friends Forever! animated shorts.

Let’s stop there for a minute. Going back to the aforementioned Hawkeye example, we could say that Donna Troy is Wonder Girl, Wonder Woman’s kid sister, and has all of Wonder Woman’s powers … except when one or more of those things aren’t true. Donna eventually developed a number of “exceptions,” along with various complications added to her basic origin. Essentially, she got complicated because DC let her get complicated, and DC let her get complicated because it wanted to keep her around. By 2003 DC had had enough, so it killed her off; but she returned two years later in a miniseries produced by reverent professionals. Not bad for a character who owed her existence to a misunderstanding of Silver Age Crazy, and who got by for her first four years without her own origin, secret identity, or place to live.

Still, I have to think that those unique circumstances helped endear Donna to fans and pros alike. Wonder Girl was never the sidekick that Robin, Kid Flash, Speedy or Aqualad were, mostly because she developed the most as a Teen Titan. For most of the group’s early years, she was the only female Titan, which put her in the “only girl in the clubhouse” role. It was kind of like New Girl, except Jess had no other friends, no job except hanging out with the guys and fighting crime, and was drawn to doe-eyed perfection by the late Cardy. Wolfman scripted her first origin story, and expanded on it 15 years later in the unforgettable New Teen Titans #38, emphasizing — consciously or not — both that her past made her special, and that her guy friends were helping her deal with it. (In 1969 the Titans helped her get on her feet, and in 1984 Robin’s detective work uncovered her family’s history.) This is perhaps not the most empowering way to view Donna, but it allowed readers to participate more fully in her various journeys of discovery.

It helped that when New Teen Titans came along, Wolfman and artist/eventual co-plotter George Pérez saw Donna as one of the more normal, down-to-earth Titans. This was probably unavoidable: Robin wanted independence, Kid Flash and Cyborg were reluctant superheroes, Changeling was egotistical, Starfire was a free spirit, and Raven struggled against her evil side. Sure, Donna was a 19-year-old partner in a photography studio, her boyfriend was a smarmy community-college professor pushing 30 and already divorced, and she lived in a glamorous apartment financed by Queen Hippolyte — but she was still relatable. Wolfman set up her curiosity about her past up front, in NTT #1 (November 1980) and let the subplot percolate for more than three years. Ultimately, January 1984′s “Who Is Donna Troy?” (NTT #38) told the story of Dorothy Hinckley, who gave up baby Donna for adoption; Fay Stacey, who adopted Donna but couldn’t afford to keep her; and the child-smuggling racket which, but for that building fire, would have ensnared her. A beaten-up little doll with a “Hello My Name Is Donna” sign tied it all together, and Pérez brought it home with a masterful sequence of panels and expressions which took Donna from anticipatory glee to total emotional collapse. Having the doll reappear in the epilogue, fixed up good as new, probably got some tear stains on a fair amount of issues.

Like an ice shelf falling into the sea

Like an ice shelf falling into the sea

A year later, Donna and Terry got married in the extra-sized Tales of the Teen Titans #50. This was the emotional peak of the Wolfman/Pérez run, not least because it featured more great character moments, particularly between Donna and Dick (who walked her down the aisle). It was an issue that acknowledged, and celebrated, the fans’ and creative team’s love for these characters, and it’s still pretty great.

(Yes, even with Terry.)

Since then, various writers and artists have tried to recapture that old Wolfman/Pérez touch. These have included the duo themselves, in a 1988-89 continuity-patch arc called “Who Is Wonder Girl?” (New Titans #s 50-55); fans-turned-pros Devin Grayson and Phil Jimenez reuniting the original Titans in the 1998 JLA/Titans miniseries; and Jimenez writing, José Luis Garcia-Lopéz penciling, and Pérez inking the 2005 Return of Donna Troy miniseries. In the ‘90s she gave up her powers to stop her baby from growing up to be a super-powered dictator, and then she became Kyle Rayner’s girlfriend. John Byrne revised her origin so that every Hypertime version of her would be miserable, and that was resolved when Hippolyta, Diana and Wally West used their memories to “rebuild” her. Some years after Terry divorced her, he and their child died in an off-screen car crash; and Donna’s (apparent) death was at the hands of a rogue Superman robot. It was all well-intentioned, but for the most part it didn’t come across that well, and cumulatively it gave Donna the reputation for impenetrability she enjoys today.

* * *

Of course, today Donna is in limbo, not having made the New 52 cut. DC’s mission with the New 52 was to simplify, simplify, simplify; and clearly Donna wasn’t deemed either necessary or simple. (For whatever it’s worth, I could easily see the New 52 Wonder Woman rescuing infant Donna, etc., although the origin might be viewed a little differently in light of the Amazons’ revised history.) However, as mentioned above, she’s shown up on Super Best Friends Forever! in her Kane/Cardy outfit, so it’s not like she can’t be simplified.

Again, though, I theorize that Donna’s popularity encouraged the various creative teams to try and keep her around, through the assorted plot machinations and soft revamps listed above. James Robinson putting her in Justice League of America (alongside best bud Dick “Batman” Grayson) might have been the last attempt in the comics for a while, because I’m not sure there are enough pros out there who’d want to bring her back. “Who Is Donna Troy?” is 30 years old, and “Who Is Wonder Girl?” turns 25 this winter. There may still be a lot of affection for the Wolfman/Pérez Titans, but with every passing year they turn more into nostalgia fodder.

Even so, could a computer model help give Donna a new lease on life? That’s hard to say — but I suspect the answer has to do with whether DC would use such a road map to lead new readers into the thickets of its old continuity, or give them a quick and easy way out. Both the Marvel movies and DC’s TV shows (live-action and animated) have done a good job of balancing accessibility against comics-based continuity, so there are a few “ways in” already. If today’s readers are looking for someone who’s relatively well-adjusted, who ties into decades of DC history, and whose own story was often pretty compelling, they could do worse than following our pal Donna.

However, these days that may not be the point. I hate to sound all “kids today, with their gadgets,” but Donna’s travails were part and parcel of a serialization style that wasn’t that concerned with being collected. I think New Teen Titans is ideal for e-reading, because there are so many subplots playing out (and paying off), particularly over the four-plus years of Wolfman/Pérez. By the same token, the individual issues are so packed with portent that it’s entirely possible to see the whole run as overwrought, if not self-important. Whether that’s something today’s younger readers could get past, I have no idea. If not, Donna may live on only in those back issues, a perfectly nice character doomed by her own longevity.

The bit lip gets me every time

The bit lip gets me every time

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17 Comments

I was just rereading some New Teen Titans issues. Boy do I miss Donna Troy and Wally West from the new DC.

I love NTT, it’s one of my favorite runs but I honestly believe Terry Long is the worst comic book character in History.

I never got into comics until 2008, but when I did, I started picking up the middle of James Robinson’s Justice League run–namely, the start of the arc when the new League fights the Crime Syndicate. I liked Donna being the team leader on that run (although I didn’t get the Eclipso story arc), and today she’s my fourth-favorite DC hero.

NTT #38 is one of my all-time favorite comics and yes, I do get a little weepy every time I re-read it and get to the big reunion scene.

As for simplifying the character, the majority of that continuity nightmare came Post-Crisis as Donna joined the Legion, Superboy, Power Girl, Hawkman and several other DC stalwarts as characters whose entire backgrounds were wiped out without anyone stopping to think about what to do with the characters afterwards.

In the New 52, she could have easily been “simplified” by returning to the idea of an infant/toddler/young girl being rescued by WW. She could even be something of a point-of-view character into the world of the Amazons and WW as we watch her grow into being Wonder Girl and eventually a Teen Titan. But the ship has sailed on that one and I don’t see DC having any good opportunities coming up to reintroduce her or Wally anytime soon…

I sorta like the original Teen Titans better. (I notice that while the roster on the cartoons mimicks the ones from NTT, the goofy, cartoony spirit is straight from Teen Titans.) And I absolutely love how Bob Haney single-handedly created to most confusing continuity puzzle in all of DC Comics. Just because he wanted Wonder Girl on his Teen Titans roster.

Because, man, I love me my Bob Haney comics.

The New 52 #0 issue of Wonder Woman really harkened back to the 60s Wonder Girl stories from before Donna became an independent character. I really wish DC build upon it at some stage.

What a perfect time to bring her back… I think her original origin can be easily spun into today’s New 52 continuity, and we can the tough ass Donna raised by the violent Amazons, who never really bought into it wholesale and maybe as been running around in man’s world in the shadows… or something… miss Donna, what an awesome character while growing up.

The NewTeen Titans is one of the best comic series EVER created (right next to Claremont and Byrne’s X-Men). The industry hasn’t seen anything close to the quality or innovation since! The new comics being created now are all just retreading and redoing things that these outstanding series did first! Save your self a ton of money and just go buy the complete runs of these series and just keep re-reading them over and over! It sure is more satisfying than reading the newest version of X-Men versus Magneto or Teen Titans populated by half assed realized characters and ripped off storylines that we’re better the first time they were created 30 years ago!

Since Donna was actually Diana as a girl who Hippolyta snatched magically from the time stream her entire history was one of attempting to fit her into whatever continuity was present at the time. (She received her powers through the Purple Ray, and Queen H didn’t think to bolster the entire Amazon Island in the same way?) Each time the origin became more over-complicated. Byrne’s might have been the worst. At that time she was essentially Wally’s ‘dream girl’. (Is it any Wonder that Donna doesn’t exist in Universe that doesn’t yet have a Wally?) My own personal wish had been for Dorothy Hinckley to have been an Amazon descendent of Antiope, who was targeted for going against the non-Themiscyra bloodthirsty types, and who put Donna up for adoption to protect her. But the Fates had Donna reunited with her Aunt and cousin eventually and she took her place as a Princess and Wonder Girl. (Not unlike your proposal for a New 52 Donna!) I assume we’ll see a Donna Troy again. Whether she’ll be recognizable or relatable as the previous one was is anyone’s guess.

It’s the one thing the DC52 can’t take away from their “fans”. Hawkman has a much more complicated origin and it was simplified with Zero Hour so if DC would have done the same thing or what was actually done she’s Wonder Woman’s sister who has the memories of all her counterparts from the multiverse.
Donna Troy and the original Teen Titans have been disrespected way too long (with the exception of Nightwing) they need to be brought back with some dignity.

have to admit the new 52 is not the same including with some of the titans like dick still and cyborg still around with out donnna in it . even though the one mistake dc ever made was makeing her history so screwed up like hawkman that not even her creators could proably finaly give her a true origin or batman could find who indeed is donna troy with out dc starting from ground zero with the character

Ironically, of all Kyle’s girlfriends, she’s the one I liked the best. Be great if she got re-introduced in New Guardians, maybe as a new Star Sapphire?

Who’s to say that little baby that’s being toted around currently in Wonder Woman won’t grow to be the new Wonder Girl (isn’t it a girl?)? Maybe we’ll see a glimpse of that possibility in the “5 years later” plan for next year? Now, how she’d get the name Donna Troy, I have no idea. Just a thought.

When Donna died wasn’t she shown alive at the end?

I wonder if the popularity of Cassie has anything with Donna being overlooked. For my kids she is Wonder Girl.

Brian from Canada

November 10, 2013 at 2:36 am

@KomicKev:

The baby in Wonder Woman is a boy. He’s been named Zeke.

Brian from Canada

November 10, 2013 at 2:47 am

What makes Donna Troy so loved? Optimism. She’s a character that, like many of the original Titans, doesn’t come from a dour, soul-wrenching source and — as a result — is likeable because she isn’t angsting about her past every three panels or so.

THAT is why all the killings/rebirths/tooling around with her past makes fans upset. Accident or not, being Wonder Woman’s little sister is enough of an origin that works. She has a different world view than Wonder Woman. She has different friends and different goals. It’s what makes her unique. We don’t need to have her suddenly be a clone ruined by Circe.

Not to mention she was played well by Deborah Winger on TV.

As for Cassie’s popularity vs Donna’s… generationally, that may be a factor but I think the real factor was age. Donna, like all the classic Titans, are viewed now as young adults somewhere between the newest generation and the original generation. Dick, as Nightwing, is the ultimate example of this.

When creating Teen Titans for New 52, Cassie is the contemporary of Red Robin, Superboy and Kid Flash — not Donna. Donna’s the contemporary of Dick, Roy, Kori, Garth and Wally. (Beast Boy’s in Teen Titans because of a lesser maturity.) Donna had no place to be.

CAN Donna be introduced easily? Absolutely. The answer has already been provided: Exoristos. It’s never stated that she returned to the island after Demon Knights. If Exoristos’ time founded a sect of Amazons that exists as a real cult today, then a quest of Hera’s may put Diana there, at which point she faces Artemis and Donna. Donna is discovered to be another child of Hipolyta’s – by a different father, which lessens the power set – who went missing somehow (jealous mother who lost a son?) and they are reunited. Donna has a different relationship with man’s world and is a bit uncomfortable with her occasionally smothering older sister.

The stories can write themselves.

Brian,

Your answers provide an example of the problem… You’re confusing TV and comics. Not the same thing.

Deborah Winger’s character was NOT the same Wonder Girl in comics. Different name, different power source. If you can’t see the problem there, it’s been illustrated.

People get things confused all the time in the comics. It’s half of why the retcons happened, it’s half of why some stories are better left forgotten!
That’s why Wonder Girl (II) exists in the first place if you understood the article correctly.

No, the reason why there won’t be a revival of the 1980s Titans, let alone Wally West or Donna Troy, is that they don’t fit into the master plan of 52.
We live in very cynical times right now and the Powers-That-Be at DC want that reflected in the comics even if they have to shove it down people’s throats. I don’t care for comics AND creators like that so I’m not buying anything from Marvel or DC.
I liked it when the comics reflected their realities more brightly and weren’t so dark and dismal. Obviously, I’m in a minority right now since comics are selling well (still) to justify being in print despite what I think are horrible prices for such short rags.

No, I don’t think the brighter times and versions of characters that people loved are coming back any time soon, unfortunately.
It’s beginning to happen even in the animation side. Next DC animated film will be the first I skip… I have no intention of even unthinkingly supporting this 52-abomination.
I don’t think 52 will end until enough films bomb and we have more people object to crap like Man of Steel and Green Lantern. There are still too many of us satisfied by this junk or who think it’s all hunky-dorky. They don’t see an issue here. I, and many others, frankly don’t think those fans let alone most DC creators and editors actually understand the characters… and there are also far too many people willing to work with the DC overlords now on the characters as they are despite knowing the fact that a significant portion of fans do NOT like the direction DC’s going in now. These guys, unfortunately, are who are in power at DC and WB/live-action/animation right now.
There just hasn’t been enough big failures of projects (live-action or animation) for it to sink in to the WB overlords that there are still plenty of us who don’t care for the direction DC is taking and will stick to our guns and spend our money elsewhere… Publishing really is peanuts, now, and has taken a backseat to the movies and TV projects. The whole ball of wax will be hurting so obviously in the near-future that even the myopic writers on these websites and boards will find it hard to ignore and argue that everything’s going “real groovy” now!

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