Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Teen Titans! ...oh...

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Growing up, I loved superheroes, and I liked the idea of comics, but I wasn't able to read any of them. I think we might have had one comics shop in my town very briefly when I was very young, but if we did, it closed down before I was really old enough to care about comics. Most of my superhero knowledge and experience came from cartoons--Spider-Man, X-Men, Silver Surfer, Batman: The Animated Series, Superman, Justice League, and of course, just into the new millennium, the early 2000's series Teen Titans.

I'd always been a superhero geek, but Teen Titans was special because it mixed capes with my other favorite thing at the time--anime. Using anime conventions helped differentiate that show from the other DC animated shows that came before it. The show was frenetic, dynamic, colorful. I loved it.

When I finally started collecting comics in college, one series that I wanted to jump into was Teen Titans, but which run to jump into?

I looked at the old Wolfman/Perez comics, and I wasn't really interested in that run--I didn't really like what they did with Raven, she didn't seem like the snarky, dry, Daria-esque character I loved from the show. Plus the art style was too old school for my taste--my tastes have long since changed, but this was me just starting out.

I finally settled on what looked like a promising run--Geoff John's Teen Titans run. The art style was just what I wanted--bold colors, clean lines, slightly stylized figures, and it featured Robin, Beast Boy, Cyborg, Starfire, and Raven. This was as close as I was likely to find to the TV show.

Since I first started collecting them, my tastes have changed, broadened. I learned more about comics, and I've learned how to appreciate and love the cartoon, while understanding its place in the larger canon and history of the team.

What I can say is if you're interested in reading a Teen Titans run, the early volumes of Geoff John's run aren't a bad place to start. The first book does a decent job of setting up the book, its premise, the characters, and characterizing them. Beast Boy, sadly, is like the TV show only so much. He's goofy, he likes to clown around and joke, but he also leers at girls and makes gross lewd jokes that really don't sit well with me, but that does get toned down a lot by the second volume. Volumes 1 - 4 of that run are a great read.

Property of DC Comics
After that, however, things become pretty rocky.

Between volume 4 and volume 5, several other books happen, and those books are of mixed quality.

There's two books that cross over with the Outsiders, a superhero team that are really not my taste. I think the idea behind them is that they're meant to be an adult Titans team but grittier and more "mature." I found the book joyless, overly serious, and boring. Because of this, the volumes were a chore to read, but one volume furthered a plot about Superboy's origins that was already set up in the main Teen Titans book, and the other volume--The Death and Return of Donna Troy--can really be understood by the title.

The latter book is actually a re-released collection of two other trades--Titans/Young Justice: Graduation Day, and The Return of Donna Troy. Both, in my opinion, were terrible. Graduation Day is three issues of mostly pointless fighting culminating in Donna Troy's death--but not before another character is killed off for no reason. The Return of Donna Troy was just confusing. One of Donna's many origins is that she's actually a descendent of the actual Greek Titans of myth, and when she dies she goes to rejoin them. But it's actually more complicated than that, as Donna can remember both her life as a Greek Titan and her life as a Teen Titan and the Greek Titans want her to forget about her former life as a superhero for...reasons? And it ties into an intergalactic war on another planet between the hawk people of Thanagar and it's just...ugh. No.

Besides the crossover volumes with the Outsiders, volume 5 of Teen Titans is a crossover with the events of Infinite Crisis. It doesn't make any sense without having read that event since one Titan actually dies during Infinite Crisis. If you've read the event, the book is actually pretty good and effectively explores how the individuals on the team dealt with the characters death and their feelings of loss. It is, however, weakened in that it doesn't really tell a complete story, instead just providing more context to the main event.

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After Infinite Crisis, DC had all of their comics jump forward 1 year to shake up the status quo, create some interest and mystery, and to serve as a jumping on point for new readers. Volume 6, Titans Around the World, was pretty good, but that 1 year jump forward was a strength and a weakness. It was basically a new series as far as the reader is concerned, and provided a convenient jumping on point for new readers, but they tried to shove in way too many new characters. Where the first volume had a more manageable team size and plenty of time to introduce the team, this one tried to jam a bunch of new characters (and lesser known characters at that) into the narrative too quickly. It's enjoyable, but you can feel the cast size getting away from the writers a little and the plot goes a little too fast.

Things started to fall apart with the latest volume I purchased, Volume 7, Titans East. The first issue is actually good, exploring the origins of Kid Devil, a lesser known hero and new addition to the team. Everything after that is garbage.

The "Titans East" concept was set up a little in the previous volumes, barely, and it ultimately doesn't make any sense anyway. Deathstroke goes through all this trouble to set up an evil Teen Titans--including dragging Cassandra Cain's Batgirl through the mud--but when we learn why he sets up the anti-Titans, it literally makes no sense. I cannot put into words how completely divorced his reasoning for attacking the Titans and his actual plan are from each other. It would be like if I said, "I started trying to snort an entire watermelon up my nose and claimed I only did it because I needed to consume more vitamin D. Not to mention, his reasoning is so trite and forced, I literally groaned and rolled my eyes while reading it.

Property of DC Comics
On top of the stupid resolution, the book was extremely difficult to follow. It was one long, incomprehensible fight scene. Characters from other books popped up out of nowhere. Kid Flash is now suddenly older and has replaced Wally West as the Flash without any explanation. The Titans fought evil clones of Superboy and Bart Allen, and literally none of this has any set up. Plus, the Joker's Daughter and the Riddler's Daughter only show up to tie into Countdown to Final Crisis. The only way I was able to understand what in the blue hell was going on was through Googling and having previously watched some old episodes of Atop the Fourth Wall.

The next volume is Teen Titans Volume 8: Titans of Tomorrow, featuring future dark versions of the Titans. The last time they showed up, it was a pretty interesting look into a potential future and a fun little story about choices and consequences, but I'm not really thrilled with rehashing these characters so soon. They were more interesting as a potential future than specific antagonists to come back and harass the group further.

From what I've read, the book should right itself when Scott McKeever takes over writing duties for Geoff Johns, but right now it feels very phoned in. I'm holding onto hope, though, since soon Blue Beetle and Static Shock will be joining the group. If you're interested in the run, the first 4 volumes are great, but you can probably skip the rest unless you're a completionist. We'll see how the run continues, and I'll keep y'all posted.

Have you read the run? What did you think? Have you read ahead? No spoilers, but does it get better?