The Teen Titans Are Back! (Again), Part Three: the New 52A column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: Kyle Garret
This week Kyle Garret wraps up his three-part series on Teen Titans comics with a look at the Titans in the New 52. Read part one (covering the 1960s to 1990s) here and part two (covering the 1990s to 2000s) here.
In defense of Scott Lobdell and Brett Booth, they were asked to recreate the most famous team of sidekicks and legacy characters in history in a world that no longer has sidekicks or legacy characters. More so perhaps than any other New 52 book, Teen Titans had to be drastically different from what came before.
The initial concept is actually pretty good, all things considered. There are teenagers with superpowers running around and no one seems to be in charge of them. That's not an unreasonable situation. Marvel may have done away with the Super Human Registration Act, but you'd think someone would make an issue of minors fighting crime. Of course, there are bad guys sweeping up all the kids with powers, so someone has to rescue them. And that someone is Tim Drake aka Red Robin.
We should probably get this out of the way right now. For all the weird and awful and stupid decisions DC has made with the New 52, the changes made to Tim Drake could be the worst. They are, in fact, the biggest obstacle between me and the current DCU. Tim Drake was Robin. It said so in Batman #1. It said so in Teen Titans #1. It even said so in Teen Titans #8. That was eight months after the relaunch when it was still okay for Tim Drake to have been Robin.
But at some point, someone decided to do something stupid. Someone decided that Tim has always gone by the name Red Robin, and was more of a partner to Batman than a sidekick. Maybe they thought limiting the number of people who have been Robin to three makes it feel less white male-y. It's not that we only pick white guys, it's that we've only had three! Does one more really tip the scale? Or was this change really made because DC felt bad for erasing the only Robin that wasn't a white dude?
When you retcon something that just happened, you must be serious about it.
Anyway, the guy named after a chain of hamburger joints locates Wonder Girl, who has no connection to Wonder Woman. So why is she called Wonder Girl? Because she has powers and breasts? And vaguely Greco Roman origins? This is the New 52, so of course this version of Wonder Girl has attitude -- and don't call her Wonder Girl.
RR and WG are eventually joined by Skitter, the bug monster, named Skitter because cool superhero names are so last reboot. They also meet Bunker, who is from Mexico, which is a country, yet he constantly says it's where he's from, as if the entire country is his home town. It's not unlike referring to Africa as a country.
We meet Kid Flash, who appears to be more or less the same character as he was before the relaunch, just without any connection to the actual Flash (even his name is changed eventually). He joins up with Solstice, who originally appeared at the end of the last series, and the two eventually join up with Red Robin's fledging team. They are brought to RR and company by Danny the Street and, yes, Lobdell using a Grant Morrison creation felt as wrong as you would think.
The bad guys aka N.O.W.H.E.R.E., send their super weapon after the team: a clone named Superboy. He eventually switches sides, of course, but not until everyone gets captured and we meet like a dozen new characters before the main ones are fleshed out at all.
Over the course of the first year, the team faces off against guys named Harvest, Grymm, and Diesel, so if the art didn't tell you this was a title built for the 90s, that probably did.
After Diesel sheds light on Wonder Girls' origin, the team gets pulled into the Bat-book crossover and the series essentially treads water for a few issues, as nothing of any real importance can actually take place away from the main titles in the crossover. While I wouldn't say the series had been great up until that point, any momentum it had was sucked away.
The rest of the second year features the reintroduction of Raven in a worse costume than Red Robin's. We get famous Teen Titans bad guy Trigon. Beast Boy leaves the Ravagers after their title is canceled and joins this team. People come and go. And Kid Flash is pulled into the future to stand trial for crimes he committed when he still went by his actual name, Bart (son of Skele) Tor.
The Titans spend multiple issues in the future where things get convoluted. Superboy is replaced by a different Superboy, the son of Superman in the future (who I guess is the source of the cells used to clone the Superboy who's been running around). But the Titans don't realize he's been replaced and he pretends like he's one of them for a purpose that is taking place in another title, I guess.
In the end, Solstice and Kid Flash stay in the future as prisoners, Superboy stays in the future because he has his own book where these things make sense, and Red Robin, Wonder Girl, and Raven go back to the present...only to discover that their headquarters (a yacht -- no, really, their headquarters is a yacht) is under siege, but being defended by Bunker and Beast Boy. They join the fight and are victorious thanks to some help from the newly returned Skitter, who still has an awful name.
The series concludes with Teen Titans Annual #3, which doesn't so much set up the next series as wipe off the chalk board of this one. All the business with Harvest and N.O.W.H.E.R.E. is swept up, made nice and tidy. The team seems to go their separate ways, but it's not entirely clear if they've split up for good or not.
I could go on and on about how this series doesn't contain anything that made the Teen Titans special, but that's ultimately secondary to the fact that it just wasn't very good. It was a mediocre superhero book that placed its emphasis on plot and surface character traits instead of really digging into the characters and giving us reasons to like them. They're left so empty, in fact, that we're forced to fill them what we already know of the characters, which ends up being at odds with what little we do see on the page.
The New 52 version of Teen Titans doesn't cry out for a second series, but apparently DC thought they should have another shot.
The New Series
With so many series under their belt, it's amazing that each Titans relaunch has managed to feel like a relaunch; every new #1 features a substantially different team, so it feels like a new beginning. Look at the change from the first Teen Titans series to New Teen Titans, or from The Titans back to Teen Titans. Big changes happened since we last saw our favorite characters, and that's reflected in the line-ups.
But not this time.
Teen Titans #1 features more or less the same team that ended the previous volume. Skitter is missing because, well, Skitter. But the team that had its last adventure in Teen Titans Annual #3 is the team having another adventure in Teen Titans #1. They don't even seem to have a new method of operation.
I can't say that with 100% certainty, though, because very little time is spent showing us why this is a first issue of a new series. There's nothing new here. There's an ill-defined terrorist, a runaway bus, and STAR Labs. Even worse, none of this adds up to a reason to come back. Not only am I unclear why the series needed to be relaunched (aside from the sales bump, of course), I'm unclear why the series exists. I have no idea what its purpose is, which is something you'd like to see addressed in a first issue.
That's not to say it's bad, just that's it's unremarkable.
Kenneth Rocafort turns in some great work, although he's clearly on the wrong book. He's probably one of DC's best artists, but, as evidenced by the cover alone, he really can't draw teenagers. He can draw the hell out of some tigers, though.
So, okay, Kyle, you've spent something like 5,000 words going over the sordid history of the teams that carry the "Titans" name and now you've decided such a team doesn't belong in the current DCU. What's your solution to that? What's the fix?
My answer is simple: wait.
We all know there will be a new Robin in the near future. This is comics we're talking about. DC would be stupid not to introduce the version of Aqualad from the Young Justice cartoon sometime soon. If Superboy is off the table (and I can't imagine he will be for long), Supergirl is already in the New 52. Wally West was just introduced and I think he's a teenager. Maybe have Wonder Girl actually develop a relationship with Wonder Woman. There's your core team right there, full of teen sidekicks/legacy characters. Then you just fill out the ranks with Blue Beetle and Static, giving them the attention they deserve.
A Teen Titans book in a universe without teenage sidekicks misses the point.
So let's wait until we get there.