Teen Titans #1
Writer: Scott Lobdell
Pencils: Brett Booth
Inks: Norm Rapmund
Colors: Andrew Dalhouse
Letters: Carlos M. Mangual
Cover artists: Booth & Rapmund
Editor: Bobbie Chase
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US
This first issue was one of a few in the New 52 lineup that was much maligned online in advance of its release, mainly because the iconic teen characters were altered not only visually but conceptually, according to early promotional material. It seems DC has opted to eradicate a lot of Titans history to allow for Lobdell’s vision of a team of young heroes defending itself and the world against a mysterious and malevolent government or corporate agency. I was put off by early indications as well, but after reading Lobdell’s story in Superboy #1, I decided I needed to be more open-minded about his Titans effort. Well, there’s definitely something interesting about his premise, but it’s just not one that works in the larger scheme of the DC Universe. Adding to the off-putting quality instilled by those continuity challenges is Brett Booth’s exaggerated artwork, which distracts the reader rather than dazzles with his bizarre distortions of human anatomy.
Coming on the heels of the arrival of superhuman champions in recent years is a relatively new phenomenon: teen super-heroes, whose perceived inexperience and impulsiveness have caused the public concern about the damage of which they’re capable, even when they’re trying to save lives. Of course, the young heroes have caught the attention of more than the media and the public. Tim Drake, who once served as the Batman’s teen sidekick Robin, has discovered a secretive and corrupt organization is targeting such teenage superhumans for capture… and no doubt for eventual use. He’s undertaken a mission to warn and protect other teen heroes, but that’s only if he can slip through his enemy’s grasp.
Artist Brett Booth, judging from his credits, appears to have been something of a discovery of Jim Lee’s, given that many of his earlier credits stem from work on Lee’s WildStorm titles (before he sold to DC). I’m surprised, as Booth’s style here is much more in keeping with that of Rob Liefeld, which is unfortunately apparent in this latest endeavor. Awkward, elongated torsos and angular chins keep turning up in the art, and the Red Robin design looks like something Liefeld would’ve come up with. Oh, there’s a Lee influence apparent in his work as well, but it’s the elongated, distorted, Liefeld-esque figures that dominate the visual component of this book. Another irksome visual is the appearance of a cop later in the issue, whose clothes apparently are skin tight. Booth seems to have trouble rendering real-world clothing as opposed to the sleek spandex sported by super-heroes.
To give credit where credit is due, there are visual elements in the comic that I enjoyed. I actually kind of like the Wonder Girl redesign; it was the focus of a good deal of griping online before this issue’s release, but I like that it seems to blend the previous Wonder Girl color scheme and the starfield that distinguished former Wonder Girl Donna Troy’s most recent uniform. I also loved that one can see Kid Flash’s costume is a crude, homemade thing, and it’s definitely better than the overdone redesign displayed on the cover. Speaking of the cover, wow, is that logo ugly. It says nothing and exhibits no kind of energy. It’s bulky and boring, and what’s worse is it’s intrusive. It takes up about a third of the field on the cover, limiting options for future cover illustrations.
This series and Superboy seem to be telling the same story, just from different perspectives. So that begs the question: why two titles? I think this is another case of DC launching a title before it was ready or necessary. It should’ve explored Superboy’s story and brought the Titans angle in later, or vice versa. Lobdell, who writes both titles, has linked them so closely, I can’t help but think he and his editors intend readers to buy both books to follow one story.
DC has made no bigger mess of its continuity than in the corner occupied by its Teen Titan characters. The premise of this book seems to put forth the notion no previous incarnation of the Titans has ever existed. There’s never been a Kid Flash before, we’re told, and this one has no connection to the Flash, for example. But we’ve seen other former Titans refer to their time with the team in other books (Arsenal and Starfire from Red Hood and the Outlaws come to mind immediately). These continuity missteps are going to serve as an obstacle for established comics readers, but it’s also going to get in the way of new readers’ appreciation of the story. The Titans have penetrated the mass pop-culture awareness, so a Wonder Girl who has nothing to do with Wonder Woman and a Kid Flash who’s unconnected to the Flash just aren’t going to make sense.
I get where Lobdell’s story is coming from. In a post-Columbine, post-Menendez brothers world, teenagers scare people. And as we’ve seen in the political realm in the past decade or so, there are those out there who seize on fear and use it as an opportunity to achieve their own ends. I appreciated how he explores the culture of fear-mongering among the cable news networks, for example. I think the core premise of this series is actually something worth exploring — just not in this context. The history and traditions of DC’s iconic super-heroes — including some of these teen heroes — just weighs too heavily on this book. Fear of teen heroes trumping terror over the homicidal actions of super-powered villains doesn’t really make sense, and neither does the silence of the adult, archetypal heroes whose influence is felt here thanks to their historical connections with the title characters. Teen Titans #1 is an example of how ignoring continuity in a story set in a shared super-hero storyscape can hobble a series even before it can take its first couple of steps. 4/10
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