New Teen Titans: Games original hardcover graphic novel
Writers: Marv Wolfman & George Perez
Pencils/Cover artist: George Perez
Inks: Mike Perkins, Al Vey & Perez
Letters: Travis Lanham
Editor: Brian Cunningham
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $24.99 US/$27.99 CAN
Despite being more than 20 years in the making, New Teen Titans: Games was pretty much overlooked when it was released in September. In just about any other given month before that moment in comics publishing, I think, a fair bit of hullabaloo and commentary would have followed its publication, given it reunited a classic creative team to craft a story a long time in the making featuring characters they co-created and/or popularized. But in September, DC also launched its New 52 line of titles, revamping and revitalizing its monthly periodical output. But Games should have merited some attention as well, as the resonance of Wolfman and Perez’s work with the Teen Titans goes far beyond the comics industry; interpretations of their work penetrated the mass pop-culture psyche with the anime-style Teen Titans cartoon from a few years back. And today, Cyborg has graduated from the ranks of teen heroes to a full-fledged Justice Leaguer, and “Nightwing” is a name with which a couple of generations of comics readers (and cartoon watchers) have grown up. Given that legacy, it’s all the more disappointing to discover not only a generic super-hero yarn that fails to capture the original strengths of the work upon which it was founded, but a poorly executed one.
Super-spy King Faraday has been challenged to a deadly game by an unseen terrorist known only as the Gamesmaster, and his malevolent opponent has opted to involved the Teen Titans by targeting not only their stomping grounds of New York City but the young heroes’ loved ones as well. As the “game” plays out, the Titans are forced to split up to track down bombs located all over the city, and at each locale, they also encounter superhuman agents chosen to be the ideal opponents for individual Titans. It proves to be one of the biggest challenges the team has ever faced, and some of its members don’t escape it unscathed.
The one aspect of the graphic novel that doesn’t disappoint is Perez’s artwork. It was such a pleasure to see his voluptuous yet soft-featured Starfire again (especially her portrayal in the new Red Hood and the Outlaws series). Perez’s detailed linework is always attractive, and in an age when decompressed storytelling and artists rely too much on splash pages, it’s great to see a storyteller who’s able to use so many panels to include so much plot and character on a single page without making it look busy or cramped. Despite the participation of two inkers (in addition to Perez himself) isn’t apparent in the art; there’s a consistent look throughout the book. Mind you, the designs for the new villains were disappointing, but the generic, forgettable look for the Gamesmaster’s underlings reflects the formulaic, disposable concepts Wolfman and Perez developed for the story.
The biggest problem with this project was the poor job the creators did of scene transitions. I had to reread key segments to realize the story was unfolding achronogically. The way Wolfman and Perez present the key conflicts later in the book makes it seem as though the characters are in two places at once. Stronger cues in the art could have distinguished between the setup scenes and the fights between the Titans and the villains, but the script was lacking in cues as well. Adding to the confusion is the creators’ abdication of any effort to include readers who might be unfamiliar with their earlier work (or those who might have remember it quite so clearly). While I’m a fan of Wolfman and Perez’s collaborations on past Titans comics, I’m not well versed in the era represented here. Specifically, I know little about Danny Chase. While the script fills the reader in on Danny’s history and powers, it fails to mention why he left a life as a spy kid behind to become a Titan. Furthermore, without the broader context of their relationship, the hate-filled barbs Chase and Changeling hurl at one another come off as particularly harsh and distasteful.
Another frustrating aspect of the story is how formulaic it is. Wolfman has crafted a bunch of characters meant to be opposites or kindred spirits to the heroes, and pitted them against one another. Honestly, there’s really little more than that to be found here. The original plot for the book shows its age, as it’s basically a terrorism-in-New York story, which makes little sense in the 21st century without any sort of acknowledge of 9-11. Wolfman and Perez specifically set out to incorporate a number of supporting characters that appeared over the course of the original series, but those scenes contribute little to the plot (save for one to give Cyborg the lacking-in-tension subplot of being driven to the edge).
What made New Teen Titans such a compelling comic book for young and old in the 1980s wasn’t the action, the revival of Silver Age characters, or introduction of new heroes and villains, but the interaction among the title characters and the supporting cast. There was such an emotional core to the series, and it was riveting to see how these characters learned and grew as people over the course of the series. Sometimes, the growth was the result of incredible conflict, and at others, it was the result of a grounded storyline practically devoid of super-hero genre elements. The interpersonal dynamics that were such an integral part of the original Wolfman/Perez run are reduced to far-too-brief moments here devoid of the depth and nuance I was looking for when revisiting with these old friends. If anything, the loss of the character-driven plotlines demonstrate New Teen Titans works better as an ongoing serial than the foundation for a self-contained graphic novel. 4/10
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