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WHttDCnU? – Teen Titans: It’s Our Right to Fight

WHTTDCU-Titles-043

Brothers and Sisters, welcome back!

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve written an intro for this project, after handing over control to Qeeko and Prof. Badger, I didn’t think I would end up writing another one, but I’m glad that as we hit week five, of wave two, nearly half way through the final part, I can come back to greet you all once again! It’s been a pleasure.

First off I just want to apologise, I feel like I’ve had to do a lot of that recently, the missed Tuesday update was my fault. A lot of the update was already complete, however, due to mismanaged time, it was already late before I realised that I had to have the update complete by that evening. Still, I’m not going to dwell, or feel sorry for myself. Things have been less than ideal, but I’m still alive, and still kicking! That means I still have time keep improving!

Today we find ourselves meeting up with a new version of one of my favourite superhero teams from the DCU. Scratch that, one of my favourite teams of any universe. The Teen Titans! What started off as a group for all the kid sidekicks, ended up being one of the biggest draws of DC comics. A team that through their tenure has been the proving grounds of such unforgettable characters as Robin, Nightwing, Wonder Girl, Aqualad, Beast Boy, Starfire, Raven, Cyborg, Kid Flash, and uh… Skitter? Bunker? and Solstice? Who the hell are these people?

I’ll be honest I was looking forward to the Teen Titans book when long ago, I first laid eyes on the line up for the New 52, but after reading it I wasn’t impressed. Like, at all. I mean, after reading it, I started thinking that Superman 64 was a fun and innovative romp through the DCAU’s Metropolis, with much to offer old and new gamers alike. Thankfully while I was able to drown my sorrows in Red Hood and The Outlaws, other’s weren’t so lucky, but hey that’s my opinion, and you aren’t here to read that! Today Qeeko AKA Trailblazer, and Prof. Badger, AKA The Keeeper are running the show.

Will Teen Titans impress them? Will any of the new characters resonate on a personal level? Will anyone play Superman 64 with me?

Find out all these things and more, NEXT on…

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE DC NEW UNIVERSE?

~Andy Frogman

WHTTDCNU-synopsis

trailblazer-rIt isn’t a day meant for glorious débuts, at least not for self appointed new speedster hero Kid Flash, whom in an epic display of disastrous show boating causes a controlled and contained house fire to erupt into a six alarm inferno by way of a speed induced back-draft. A short distance away from the blaze, Kid Flash passes out where he lands in a field. His failure is reported on at length by the present news crew, and this is just one more incident that Tim Drake AKA Red Robin (and former Boy Wonder #3 under Batman, if you will) adds to his growing list of metahuman teenage outbreaks. His study in a NY Lexcorp penthouse is soon crashed though, by goons from the secret corporation N.O.W.H.E.R.E. seeking out Red Robin for his convenient little database and, if he’s interested, him. RR isn’t a super being by any means though, he just happens to be clever, and uses that cleverness to bomb the penthouse and fly away to freedom. Yes, he flies now. Outed from his cosy nest, Red Robin seeks the next closest metahuman on N.O.W.H.E.R.E.’s watch list, young international archaeological artifact thief Cassie Sandmark, known to the world as Wonder Girl much to her displeasure. See, her thieving apparently scored her a pair of armor growing battle bracelets and a magical lariat, and through these items she can fly and kick copious amounts of ass. RR arrives in time to find Cassie’s best “I swear I’m just a normal delinquent” act isn’t working on a brutish N.O.W.H.E.R.E. headhunter and together they stomp him out and Cassie murders an unmanned guntotting helicopter. N.O.W.H.E.R.E.’s lead hunter Templar considers releasing the Superboy weapon in response.

Because y’know, that’s what N.O.W.H.E.R.E. want, to either capture, corrupt or kill metahuman teenagers. Their recent capture, Bart Allen, the hero hiccup calling himself Kid Flash, has made friends with his next cell neighbour Danny, but has yet to find a way out. Superboy does some homework on Wonder Girl, the latter of whom has invited her new friend Red Robin to crash at her artifact filled thief pad in Los Angeles, in the only scene where Tim ever acts like he wants people to like him better. The next morning brings casual checking of the news for stories of interest, and Tim discovers that right around the corner works a girl whom was interviewed over a spider like creature that ran amok about a month back. Tim finds Claudia, whom discloses that the creature, dubbed Skitter, is actually her twin sister Celine whom randomly cocooned herself to the ceiling one day before busting out and running away forever changed. Tim gets worried the Claudia talking to some “government people” about it already. Sure enough, in the sewers under a nearby LA museum (for some reason? It is never explained how or why Skitter is tracked to this place) RR comes across an agent for N.O.W.H.E.R.E.. This agent is like a bulging militia thug, and he and his two brothers make up the unit called Thrice, and posses the ability to teleport to and through each other. As two brothers fight with Red Robin, the third finds Skitter in a traumatic way, causing the other two to warp to him. RR finds all brothers alive but bound up, and as Skitter turns her angry attention to RR, Cassie flies in and saves his feathers.

Back at the N.O.W.H.E.R.E. compound, Kid Flash finds his opportunity to free himself from his cell. Seriously, guards, you open ANY door to a speedster, and you’ll never catch any “wrong move” they may make… anyways, Bart’s friend Danny doesn’t appear to be home in the neighbouring cell, so he goes for a wander to free some other captives and happens upon a poor girl call Solstice who… looks like she’s been engulfed in a small nebula. Quickly Bart and Solstice escape, only to find themselves out in the snow surrounding the Arctic based N.O.W.H.E.R.E. compound. Bizarrely, they find shelter in a nearby cobblestoned street…

At the same time, a young man from Mexico called Miguel has just boarded a cargo car on a train travelling through the Badlands, excited about his future super heroing adventures to be had in the USA. His car though is already occupied, by an odd cocoon and an old hobo that turns out to be Red Robin, ONLY Miguel’s personal favorite hero! He quickly gets dressed in his costumed best, calling himself Bunker when attired so, and he and RR have a small, inconsequential interruption at a completely random train stop. Getting back on the train, Celine has woken up and exited her pod.

They head back to New York in time for New Years celebrations, hanging out in the OTHER tower Lex Tower that wasn’t blown up, and discuss the future of things. Suddenly their 30th Floor apartment doorbell rings and from a snowy cobblestone street stumbles in Solstice and a frostbitten Kid Flash. Yeah, you’re not crazy, that cobblestone street is important, and it can appear in the sky. The gang bundle up Bart to save him fro, hypothermia, meanwhile in Times Square Cassie is being followed, after having interrogated Thrice and attempted to contact RR. Instead she got set up, with Cassie soon finding Superboy has been stalking her. They come to blows in a big public way, making the news of course and so Celine catches it all on TV, She informs the others, whom all agree this is a fight they should join. Except Celine, $#%& that noise, cocoon time. Introducing the group as the Teen Titans and arriving by Magic Materializing Cobblestone Street, RR begins giving commands, starting with ones Kid Flash ignores. Apparently tactile telekinesis means Superlad can make Bart go faster than even Bart could, and sends him spinning into eternity until freed by a Wonder Girl Kick. Solstice flies off to save him and carves a battleship in half to do so. The rest of the Titans face off impressively against the Superclone, but N.O.W.H.E.R.E.’s weapon takes them all down easily, including Solstice whom although puts up no fight, gives Superboy something to think about the toll it’ll take for him to “earn” his freedom. He heads home for a chat, willingly empty handed.

Battered and bruised, the Titans are confronted by some very angry NY police whom inform them that superteen showdowns costing $3Million in property damage isn’t cool, but they are saved by the sudden appearance of Skitter, whom although webs all of the police is yet to kill anyone, and then snuggles Bunker. No time for cuteness and relief, Kid Flash is dying! But this is New York, and RR happens to know the only genius level teenager in the city who’d be working on New Year’s Eve also happens to have an internship at Star Labs. Enter the office of one Virgil Hawkins, a bright dude that also zips around NYC as Static Shock. RR asks for his help in stabilizing Bart’s molecular structure, seems that one poorly thought out dance with Superbright has messed up his personal frequency. While Virgil and RR work on a way to fix Kid Flash, with Solstice there for emotional support, Wonder Girl, Bunker and Skitter hang out in the hallways having a little heart to heart about their heroics of lack there of. They kill some more time by fighting briefly with a Star Labs super inmate with a squiggly smile. Eventually, Virgil designs a suit for Kid Flash to wear that will keep him stable until a more permanent solution is found, allowing him to run carefree now, and even in his signature colours.

Cut to Superboy, getting drilled with green lazers out of both punishment and informative dissection, as apparently that talk they had didn’t go down so well. While atop the Brooklyn Bridge to do some training, a cobblestone street appears beneath Kid Flash and Red Robin’s feet. Finally RR lets us all know that this is Danny the Street, another metateen whom had been posing as a N.O.W.H.E.R.E. captive at the same time Bart was incarcerated. It’s been Danny who’s been helping all of this time, and he’s come back to tell RR that Superboy’s masters have turned on him. Red Robin rallies the Titans, and after failing to gain even one vote to help him save Superboy, leaves for N.O.W.H.E.R.E.. Cassie finally follows suit, then so do the rest, but they all end up separated when they travel via Danny, with only Kid Flash, Bunker and Skitter arriving together. They follow the original mission to save Superboy, Cassie has an off screen fight with a N.O.W.H.E.R.E. agent called Ravenger, and then takes on Templar. RR during this time has been downloading data from the N.O.W.H.E.R.E. file backs, only to be happened upon Solstice who rightly demands to why he’s put info before helping captives like herself. RR doesn’t apologize for his inaction, things weren’t that simple. Everyone but Solstice reunite by a Danny Door and elect to wait for her, but then the floor beneath them crumbles, revealing the boss fight, N.O.W.H.E.R.E.’s creator HARVEST!

WHTTDCNU-art

keeper-lTeen Titan’s art would be considered tolerably average; bland and run-of-the-mill with the occasional good quality. Or it would, if it wasn’t so terribly inconsistent.

Make no mistake, there’s good here. Brett Booth’s layout work is fantastic, multiple panels working as windows over a single, overarching image. It creates a focal point for the scene, while giving multiple ‘cuts’ for dialogue to process, and it’s a difficult style to get right. Getting wrong would lose the flow of the scene, forcing the reader to reconstruct the panel structure, and yet Booth pulls it off.

The praise doesn’t end there. The combination of Booth and Norm Rapmund, the inker, creates a sublime feeling of movement to each panel. Kid Flash is a great example; his running not only leaves contrails, but actually blurs the air around him, creating a minor, but visible aura of colour. The use of lines is great, giving hard, purposeful movements a solid direction and force, while lazier movements are still consistent.

Unfortunately, these are really where my praise for the art runs out, and the rest is complaints. Booth’s ability with form is lacking, especially when a hero is in flight and attacking. He simply doesn’t know where the muscles of the legs go, and the result is an eyesore. In addition, every character is built off the same ‘slim but muscled’ model, with the guys all appearing in their very late teens, and the girls all having exactly the same ‘slim, muscled model with large mammaries’ character that a lot of people protest against. There’s simply a lack of body types shown.

Costumes are another weakness. While Bunker’s costume is great, a brick patterned vertical stripe in red and purple that puts me in mind of the designs for Power Rangers SPD, the rest run the gamut from ‘barely unchanged’ (Kid Flash) to solid, if unremarkable (Superboy) to just not very good.

Wonder Girl and Red Robin take the brunt of the redesigns fault, and both for different reasons. Red Robin’s wings are made from hardmetallum (don’t ask me for the comic element) and help him fly, but their design is baffling. Does he actually need to flap them to fly? If he doesn’t, why are they attached to his arms, except to make stupid wrist knife attacks. And what’s the point of them being bulletproof if his head is uncovered, thus making them completely useless at actually protecting him from bullets?

Wonder Girl, on the other hand, suffers from missed potential. At first glance, her head covering looks like a scarf, looped around the shoulders and head. But subsequent art leaves it as a simple hood, leaving her arms and upper chest bare. This, in turn, leads to more inconsistencies. Where are the pauldrons she has connected? Straight into her arms? Why even have a hood? Why does her Wonder Woman-style brassiere armour disappear and reappear randomly?  It’s a shame, since the actual design looks very cool. If they had stuck with a headscarf style covering, I would have no problem lauding it as one of her best costumes. As it is, I’m disappointed.

trailblazer-rI don’t know how much of the book’s visuals can be blamed for the failings of this title. It could have been great, it’s miles ahead of so many books in the new DCU, BUT the work of Brett Booth is filled with inconsistencies and mind boggling decisions of detail. Quite often, it felt as though there were some communication problems from script to artist, but then there were just panels where the art choices made no sense. WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU LOOKING AT MIGUEL? THERE’S NO ONE ON THAT KITCHEN CEILING! Why do the characters have so much trouble making eye contact? What’s happening to Red Robin’s face! Why do all the men have the SAME smile? I’d complain that most of the women seem to be sharing the same face, but credit where credit is due, Booth does seem to at least be aware of different physical markers in different races of people. I’m seriously not sure if Kid Flash’s rescue sequence of red arrows and numbers showing his order of actions was brilliant, or very lazy. It does show the full map of where he goes, but I’m torn all the same.

But most of the comic through, there are just so many DISTRACTIONS that otherwise good art just becomes really un-enjoyable when riddled with disappearing and reappearing articles and constantly changing character height. Still, it wasn’t terrible. I don’t think that’s at all fair here, and by issue #7 honestly much of the art pulled together (especially Bunker Booth clearly enjoyed putting full effort into him) and the way Danny was placed into most panels was always interesting. I just wish the same care had been given all of the time.

WHTTDCNU-writing

keeper-lStretching out the first two episodes of Young Justice over six months seems like it might be a bad idea. But that’s what they decided to do. Still, it’s not too bad, for an attempt to adapt a good animated cartoon episode to a static comic volume. The story flows well enough to at least be average, albeit unoriginal.

That being said, it’s also annoying. N.O.W.H.E.R.E is yet another secret society doing something to powerd individuals, putting them squarely in the bracket of contention with Blackhawks, Stormwatch and the Court of Owls. Of course, they have a Superboy at their command, a bunch of holding cells in the Arctic, and… some random chumps and the ability to find and capture super kids? There really isn’t a whole lot of reason for their actions.

Nowhere’s role in the plot reminds me of the worst kind of JRPG, where the visible antagonist you’ve been working against for the whole game is just a smokescreen, and the real villain is the giant, world-eating thing that was vaguely hinted at and only turns up at the very end. In this case, that’s Harvest.

Then again, not even Nowhere did a whole lot. Their entire purpose is to have control of Superboy, and thus they simply tell him to capture the titans, and then capturing Superboy when things go wrong.. Every other part of the plot is Red Robin getting the band together.

So we have three plots: Superboy’s character arc, Red Robin getting the Titans to trust him, and NOWHERE. Three plots, and the story still feels empty. They even had a filler issue where Kid Flash’s power go haywire.

If this is Scott Lobdell aping a better plot, I shudder to think what he’ll do on his own.

There are moments. Moments which are funny, others which are cute, and rare ones that shave another layer of dull off of the characters. However for all of the story, it’s filled with stupid decisions, but on the parts of both the writers and the characters, but there are moments when the characters get to say or do something and it endears me all over again. And then they lose me.

trailblazer-rLet’s be clear about this, there is nothing complicated about the plot of Teen Titans vol. 1. The motivations of the shady organization don’t matter at all, N.O.W.H.E.R.E. is merely a means to an end, an adversary for the Titans to face off against because N.O.W.H.E.R.E. just happened to be interested in meta teens. It’s a fine enough reason to form a group, you’re stronger as a team, so what a story like this needs is to be filled with motivations of the characters, something which I could go into the characters section, but in a group story you need the characters to BE the plot in a story like this, their personal journeys justify coming together against a common enemy. And really, there isn’t enough of that. Scenes transition poorly, the actions and desires of the characters don’t really carry through, there is no REASON given for a whole variety of things, like how RR tracked Skitter to where she was hiding or why a monster called Detritus stopped the train RR and Bunker were on and then let them go, what the heck Solstice is all about is never explored or why the heck does a team forming exercise seem like a good idea to a clear loner like red Robin? With Bunker being the only one that had an actual intention to stick with Red Robin, everyone else really could have just said “See ya” especially since a “right thing to do” is just sort of assumed rather than actually developed.

One thing I HATED was the info boxes EVERY issue, sometimes every few pages. I can’t even say this is the fault of Scott Lobdell that editor “Bob” couldn’t trust that readers know what the hell is happening, that if they are reading, say, #4 of Teen Titans, that they probably read issues #1-3 already so you don’t have to pepper the pages with post-its everywhere. As such the book appears to rely on supplement material from a sister brother series, Superboy. Clearly DC want a title like Superboy to be read alongside Teen Titans as the two plots intersect. Maybe this seems obvious, maybe it only makes sense that to read about the Titans, a group including Superboy, (it has hinted this as a future outcome) that maybe you should be reading about this other member over here. However the book eventually downright ties into the Superboy title, with those blasted little boxes popping up again to tell you THIS WHOLE FIGHT THEY’RE TALKING ABOUT? TO SEE IT YOU GAVE TO READ THIS OTHER BOOK! And this just pissed me off. I hate it when two series align so that they are taking place at the same time, and with the upcoming event of the Culling, it all felt very annoying and unnecessary.

WHTTDCNU-characterisation

keeper-l‘Bunker, you’re the best part of this comic.’

That’s me, for all of the comic. Bunker is cool, interesting, uses his powers well, and is the breakout star. The fact that he’s a gay character is treated with respect and not made light of, something that DC has been very good at in the past few years.

The other new characters, however, are nowhere near as interesting. Solstice is an enigma, who spouts something about the Culling and then is simply… there. Meanwhile, Skitter is an extended puberty metaphor, and has no other characterisation. Unless, in a worse sense, she’s an extended menstruation metaphor with no other characterisation.

So where does that leave our rebooted members? Kid Flash, Superboy, Wonder Girl and Red Robin were characters in their own right before the reboot. Are they unchanged from the characters we expect, or is this an attempt to take them into a brand new direction?

Whatever it is, it’s bad. The ‘third’ generation of heroes, Red Robin, Superboy and Kid Flash take a lot more from the’ first’ generation of Superman and Batman than their predecessors.  While Nightwing and Wally West were  emphasising their differences and growing into their own heroes, this generation has a much greater emphasis on their similarities to those who came before, and ultimately their role in the legacies that they have inherited.

So when a reboot comes along, what do you do? Do you do away with this backstory and attempt to tell your own story, one which will annoy fans of the character? Or do you cleave as close to the backstory as possible, and risk people complaining about rehashing old ground?

Caught between a rock and a hard place, Scott Lobdell did… nothing. Every character is treated as if they had gone on a vacation and just come back with their memory wiped. Superboy is a clone of Superman, like he’s always been. But he’s only a few months old, and has no similarities to pre-52 Superboy, whose history is gone. Bart Allen is Kid Flash, and has amnesia. But he’s also from the 31st century, because he was pre-52. Scott is attempting to show us ‘Look, they’re the same characters you’re used to, nothing has changed.’ But all the while writing them as new characters.

And not good characters either. Kid Flash is a hothead who spends more time showboating than actually being a hero. Pre-52 Bart was impulsive and dim, but he meant well. The worst victim of this is Tim Drake, who pre-52 walked a path eerily close to Batman’s, and yet never took his friends for granted or treated them anything like Batman at his worst. This Tim is a jerk who collects these people and claims to have a purpose or leadership ability, and yet simply expects everyone to fall in line. He never attempts to earn their trust, he doesn’t treat them with respect, and as a result, comes off as mean-spirited.

trailblazer-rIt was hard for me to even imagine the idea of reading a Teen Titans story where I didn’t like Tim Drake, but here it is, and that’s bitterly disappointing. I don’t even mean the constant reminder that Red Robin isn’t been cold or harsh unduly in many of the uncomfortable moments in the story, I totally get the prioritized attitude. What I didn’t like, was his tendency for stupid decisions and a lack of actual humanizing of the character in general, he was just so boring. He just got TOO business like, outside of a single outburst over a sweater, reminding us he can be a touchy teenager if only for a moment. But see, that was a big problem with the book in general. Barely any of them acted like teenagers.

Unless of course, you counted Bart Allen’s Impulsive actions and his single other layer of “but I don’t even know who I am!” Cassie just didn’t make sense. I’m helping! Now I’m not interested! Oh I’ll help again! I don’t know WHY I’m helping! Let’s work together! Unless that, I don’t want to do that. Oh hell, okay I’ll help! Solstice had a shred more motivation than this, actually wanting to take out N.O.W.H.E.R.E. considering they presumedly did things to her, but otherwise she’s just cloudy sparkly zen. Skitter struck me as one part sassy girl with a ruined life and one part bug pet. The end.

Okay, now, I loved Bunker. There was never a step wrong with him in this entire misadventure, including but not limited to his grand plans of wild heroics, to gallivanting with RR to his outward disappointment that Tim was less inspiring and more blunt. But Miguel rmained this beautiful character that clearly has layers and all of them happy, he WANTS to be there, he’s clearly young passionate and silly, and still sports a great pout of “not even for a cookie.” His powers are an interesting take on the energy objects idea, and yeah, dude’s right. Totally rocks that purple. He made every page of this book worth it.

Actually, Danny the Street was there in practically EVERY issue and we don’t learn anything about him until nearly right at the end, and that’s just fricken unfair. I want Danny to be recognized as a Teen Titan. Why does he lose the ability to talk, why does everyone just happy accept the help of his random appearances but Tim waits so long to explain “Yes, this is a person, he’s cool guys, and so far the most useful one of us all!” No Bunker you’re useful too, I’m sorry, you and Danny are both awesome.

Oh, and there was Superboy. He was bland, read his book if you care about him. (Psst! There’s a review for that HERE!)

WHTTDCNU-conclusion

keeper-lOn an intellectual level, this is the best comic I’ve reviewed so far, barring Justice League International. But that’s damning with faint praise. This comic is mediocre. mostly tolerable with a few good points. If you can look past the art inconsistency, the unoriginality of the story, or the lack of characterisation, then this isn’t a terrible superhero comic. But it’s not a good one, there are better out there.

From an enjoyment perspective, I preferred Firestorm. Yes, the plot is worse, the art is weird and the characterisation is awkward and mean-spirited. But the underlying goals of Firestorm, what it was attempting, was more interesting. It wasn’t a great execution, but there was glimmers, an having read the second volume, it works better. Teen Titans had a clean slate for canon, with very little holding it back, and with all of that potential, Scott Lobdell played it safe, stuck to established superhero stories, and created something less than the sum of its parts.

I considered using photoshop to demonstrate one of my personal complaints, but instead i’ll just tell you. If you put a large beard and moustache on every character, even the girls, not only would this improve the comic on silliness alone, it would do nothing to the comic’s dynamic. This is a comic about superheroes doing superhero things, not teens trying to find their own place to be themselves and explore what it means to be a hero. You could replace each hero with a different  character, and the results would be the same. If Teen Titans was supposed to be the vanguard for DC’s Young Justice comic line, a line specifically for young Adults/teenagers, why does it look, sound  and feel like every other DC comic out there?

trailblazer-rSomeone has to draw a line in the sand, and it might as well be us.

Look, for all of my griping over this entire volume, Teen Titans isn’t a bad book, but it really was nothing special either. I’d rather have not put so many eggs in one basket of hope over this returning title for the DCnU, but then, I have had a love/hate relationship with most Teen Titan books of the past. As far as variety goes, I like this new team, they are interesting on the face of it, but they had a really dull plot and as Keeper put it above, a lot of missed opportunities to be teenagers flumbling through the hero business. Stuff got high stakes way too quickly for a plot that still failed to excite me, and I feel more energy should have been spent establishing the members and their relationships. Bunker was barely enough to keep me reading.

I dunno, it’s hard because there are two characters I want to see through to their goals, but the rest? I just don’t care, they’ve got nowhere to go with me.

WHTTDCNU-comic

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