Teen Titans #31 unveiled a shocking secret that will be crucial to Infinite Crisis. The gateway that separates the living and the dead has been wedged open. Normally, that would be cause for alarm, but for comic book readers, it just explains how favorite characters can keep coming back to life after certain death.
Even the wedge in that door, Kid Eternity, a youth neither alive nor dead, has himself been rescued from the limbo of Vertigo by Geoff Johns. This whole revelation has been another one of those subtle keys to continuity that nobody knew they needed, but Johns keeps pointing out. From redeeming Hal Jordan to perhaps explaining the Red Hood, revival is a Johns specialty.
So how do we explain the strange but eagerly anticipated appearance of Captain Carrot and the Amazing Zoo Crew in the last two issues of Teen Titans? Unlike Kid Eternity and long-lost Titans like Danny Chase (I forgot he died), the funny animals are not rehabilitated in continuity, though technically they do reside on one of the multiple Earths, labeled C for cartoon.
Instead, they appear as comic book characters in the DC Universe. (Sharp readers will also catch a reference to their having an animated series in JSA #81.) But as funny animals, the characters aren't so funny anymore.
Conveniently enough for the overall plotline gripping DC, it has been almost twenty years since Captain Carrot and the Amazing Zoo Crew last hit the stands. Created by Roy Thomas and Scott Shaw, the team began in a direct crossover with DC's flagship.
After destroying a mysterious meteor, Superman found himself transported to Earth-C. Pieces of the meteor traveled with him, causing transformations in six denizens of this funny animal world. Some were related to previous DC funny animal characters (that most young fans did not even know existed) and some were bizarre punny parodies of existing celebrities. A seventh member, Little Cheese, joined later.
It was a whimsical series, again full of bad puns and danger that we could never take very seriously. Certainly, nobody died, let alone got murdered. The Zoo Crew even crossed over with Captain Carrot/artist Rodney Rabbit's own comic book characters, the Justa Lotta Animals. It was a fun, silly, if too brief, series.
Shortly after Crisis on Infinite Earths, in which Earth-C was not even mentioned, the Zoo Crew fought their last battle in another crossover, The Oz-Wonderland War. At the end of that mini-series, fans got a tease with the appearance of more humans, The Inferior Five, but we never saw their subsequent adventure.
But in the comic book within a comic book that Geoff Johns has written, the lighthearted adventures of the team have taken a turn for the worse, just as, some argue, the DC Universe has turned. By some, we have to include the Superman of Earth-2, who has watched the grim and gritty era come and stay for a while, even as some heroes have struggled to stay bright and colorful. The Captain Carrot and the Amazing Zoo Crew that DC Universe kids read apparently parodies (and not in a funny way) the DC Universe itself.
Now Captain Carrot himself has apparently killed in retaliation for the loss of the love of his life. Desolate, Rodney Rabbit has vowed never again to eat the radioactive carrots that transform him into a superhero. Here Johns parallels one of the plot points from Kingdom Come -- Superman in retirement after the death of Lois Lane.
Meanwhile, Little Cheese came clean about his secret identity and was himself murdered. The government demanded that its superheroes register and unmask, an action that in the DC Universe led to the decades long disbanding of the Justice Society of America. In blatant defiance of the government order, Yankee Poodle and Rubberduck still fight crime, now as true vigilambtes.
A new hero has arisen, the American Eagle, with a tragic backstory. As Johns unspools this mini-adventure, it's clear that this is exactly what has disgusted Earth-2's Superman to the point of basically suggesting genocide as a mercy: even children's entertainment in the DC Universe has become hard and cold. There's still hope, but as the revelation of Little Cheese's killer makes clear, it's dim. Heck, this incarnation of the book even has mild swearing in it, something that would never have happened in a lighter time.