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Sunday Slugfest - Teen Titans #20

Posted: Sunday, January 23, 2005
By: Keith Dallas

ďHidingĒ

Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Tom Grummett (p), Nelson (i)

Publisher: DC Comics





Average Rating: 7.5/10

Keith Dallas:
Michael Deeley:
Shawn Hill:
James Redington:
Olivia Woodward:






Keith Dallas

Plenty of matters were left unresolved at the conclusion of the Identity Crisis mini-series. Teen Titans #20 addresses two of them: Lex Luthorís misplaced battle armor and the manner in which Tim Drake (Robin) deals with the death of his father. The former matter is frivolous (although this issueís first epilogue seems to indicate otherwise). The other matter, however, is important, and Geoff Johns addresses it in a mature, believable and complex manner.

In Teen Titans #20, Tim Drake returns to Titans Tower, determined to submerge his grief. By engaging in super-heroic camaraderie, Tim feels he can forget his tragedy and move past it. With the exception of Superboy, none of the other Titans are aware his father has been killed by Captain Boomerang. As Conner asks Tim to discuss his feelings rather than bury them, The Teen Titans are requested by the Justice League to go to Opal City and retrieve Lex Luthorís battle armor, which is now in the hands of two young punks. Once they arrive, the Titans not only have to deal with a potent weapon with seemingly automated defense responses, but they also have to deal with Warp and The Electrocutioner, who have been separately hired to obtain the armor for a mystery client. In the course of the battle, The Electrocutioner unknowingly presses Robinís buttons and incurs the boy wonderís wrath.

Because a Geoff Johnsís comic book is almost always a compressed one, there are other notable interactions and events occuring in this issue: Starfireís decision to leave the team, a very humorous exchange between Conner and Bart, Ravenís continued adaptation to a 21st century teen-aged lifestyle, Timís assessment of Garfield, et al. The Teen Titans are a quarrelsome yet supportive family, and this issue demonstrates that more than any other in Johnsís run. The attraction of this series is reading how these young characters interact with each other. For me, the super-heroic conflicts complement (and are less compelling than) the character interactions.

Unfortunately, the cover does a poor job of selling the comic book. Itís a busy, disproportionate and disorganized image. What is happening to Cyborg? Has the Luthor armor punched him? If so, why isnít one of the armorís arms moving? Is Robin kicking at the armor or avoiding it? Why is Cassieís face maniacal? Why do the armorís fingers look like ball bearings rather than actual digits. More importantly, Teen Titans #20 is truly an issue about Tim Drake, not Lex Luthorís battle armor. Therefore, it would have been better if the cover just showcased Robin.

Nelson does a great job inking over Tom Grummettís pencils. He provides an effective sheen and shading to the figures. I also like how the foreground characters get emphasized from the background elements rather than blended into them as Iíve seen other inkers of Grummett do.

All in all, Teen Titans #20 is a prime example of how DC will use Identity Crisis to redirect and recharge its super-hero universe (see this weekís Adventures of Superman #636 as well).




Michael Deeley

Robin returns to Titans Tower after the murder of his father. He tries to hide it from the team, but Superboy already knows. The Titans are asked to recover Lex Luthorís battle armor, (seen in Identity Crisis #1). So is the villain Electrocutioner. The battle for the suit gets complicated when a petty thug wearing the armor loses control of it.

This is a good ďjumping onĒ issue for new readers. The cast is introduced through Robinís eyes, and he assesses their personalities. Robin shows how heís different from Batman, and we see how the Titans are more than a team. The two epilogues set up two more ongoing plots: Luthor has designs on Superboy, who shares his DNA. And Dr. Light is back and badder.

Overall, itís a good comic. It didnít blow me away, but it didnít suck either. I got a sense of what the Titans are about; who they are, what they do, and why theyíre together. Tom Grummett and Nelson do a great art job. Iíve heard Grummett has signed with Marvel. Itís a shame he canít stay on the book.

Iíve only one question: What is Luthorís status in the DCU? In Superman/Batman #6, he went crazy and was impeached as President. Next thing I know, heís building a new skyscraper in The Question, and bailing out criminals in Identity Crisis. I thought Luthor went into hiding. Has he returned to his old billionaire/crimelord double life? Presenting a friendly face to the public while scheming in secret? Since heís clearly a major player in the DCU, Iíd like this cleared up before I see him in anymore stories.




Shawn Hill

Plot: More fallout from Identity Crisis, as this time the teamís darkest member (since Johns has been giving us Teen Raven anyway) faces a difficult, and subtle choice. How refreshing that Johns opts for the one that fits his book rather than contradicts it.

Whatís interesting: More of the synergy that links this book and Outsiders, as Koriandír leaves for that team (where sheís already shown up), and we see why she goes. Then a look in on the revitalized DC villain community (perhaps the best, if not the only, positive legacy of IC), directly picking up on plot points from that series. I rather like how the villains are having as much of an organization and an ethos as the heroes these days.

Raven and Gar are both being written as super-young these days, while Robin is mature beyond his years. The Luthor suit that was being stolen at the beginning of IC by Bolt is the macguffin that keeps this issue going (as evinced even by the horrid cover by Duncan Rouleau; somebody send this guy to the Kubert school, ASAP; Wonder Girl looks especially hideous and misshapen). It allows for some impressive team work, but thatís not the primary point of this issue. Or, it is, but in a very particular way.

Most interesting: Robin has a choice this issue, which he spends alternating between mourning and predictable rage. And he makes the right one, reinforcing both the point of this team and the reason the adults (for the most part) encourage it. The final page before the two epilogues is very powerful, with Grummett fully supporting Johnsís characterizations with subtle emotion.

Also interesting: Itís nice to see Grummett taking on the improved and deepened Superboy. Conner clearly is on the verge of manhood. And both of those epilogues, while not moving the plot forward very much, remind us of the ongoing subplots of this title, with a nice change-up on the trademark Johns-style cliffhanger.




James Redington

The fallout of Identity Crisis continues in another Geoff Johns book. Teen Titans #20 presents the emotions of the boy wonder over the death of his father Ė something that hasnít been presented even in his own title.

There are nice moments between all the Titans interacting with each other. Johns has definitely started to make the team feel like a family (like the Titans of old). While the other Titans are interesting, the pairing of Superboy and Robin is what really makes this book work for me. Both heroes have a lot to live up to and have a hell of a lot of potential.

Marvelís gain is DCís loss; Tom Grummett (who signed an exclusive contract with Marvel earlier this week) is on top of his form as ever and is still one of the most solid and underrated artists in the comic biz. His pencils are brilliant and the guy deserves the best of luck at Marvel. His run on the Adventures of Superman will always stand out as one of the best looking runs I have ever seen.

Geoff Johnsís writing is, as usual, solid; he presents distinct characters that all have their place in the family he has been building. I want more Superboy and Robin. How about it DC, a Superboy/Robin series? Their story is far more interesting that the rest of the comic which can sometimes be a problem though if you are reading for the team.

This is solid comic from start to finish. It has no faults to see, but the best bits come from Robin and Superboy and the last two epilogues: Lex Luthor and Dr. Light are coming!




Olivia Woodward

Synopsis: After the tragic events of Identity Crisis, Robin finds himself alienated from his friends. Anguish isolates him. So he turns to his work as a Titan to escape. Like his mentor, Batman, he hopes to make his pain remote when he dons the mask. But is this how a Titan deals with grief?

When the team finds itself in fierce combat with the Electrocutioner and a remotely operated set of power armor, Robinís faÁade starts to fracture. Is he cut out for the moody loner role? Or is he part of a family, a team player? ďHidingĒ is a stand alone story that explores Tim Drakeís identity crisis; can he hide from misery by wearing Robinís mask?

Critique:

ďHiding. It's a habit of mine. It's one I'll never kick.Ē

Johns delivers on an engaging, self-contained story in this issue. However, it manages to be both accessible to new readers and situated in the recent happenings of the DCU. Itís a balancing act, but solid plot management and astute pacing pull it through. Structurally, itís a simple tale with complexities smoothly embedded in the narrative voice.

The plot structure revolves around a classic three act story, with two brief epilogues. Act One has two scenes, with the first establishing the narrative voice and the thematic premise of ďhidingĒ from grief and the second scene introducing the storyís overt conflict. Act Two also has two scenes. In the first scene, the team is introduced, while the second reprises the premise and engages in the storyís inner conflict. The Third Act brings it all to an action-filled conclusion. Finally, the two epilogues foreshadow future threats, both long term and immediate.

This structure manages the plot with simplicity and classical elegance. Yet, it avoids becoming predictable and clichť by keeping the story distinct through the narrative voice. Much of this story is conveyed through Robin's narrative. His sorrow tinges his observations yet imbues the story with sincere earnestness. This mood creates a rapport between the reader and the narrative; we are near when Robin narrates and distant when he doesnít.

Finally, the pacing is superb. Much of the credit goes to the fantastic art team. Grummettís compositions are sensitive to the narrative flow, especially in panel arrangement. For instance, a high panel count per page conveys either frenetic activity or allows for greater prose density, whereas low panel count slows the action and imbues the scenes with greater dramatic significance. This issue averages five panels per page, but it ranges from one to eight.

Moreover, the fluid use of panel shape establishes tempo. Long horizontal panels signify a greater progression of time. There are two good examples of this technique in this issue. The first occurs when Robin stands alone in his room at Titans Tower. This image is forlorn and quiet; there is a sense that he has been standing at his window lost in sorrowful contemplation for a long time. The second example occurs during the concluding scene when a missile is launched wildly into the sky with Wonder Girl looking over her shoulder at it. This panel expresses the motion and speed of the missile and draws out the moment, as Wonder Girl and the reader realize that itís heading towards unwary innocents in the nearby buildings. In contrast to this type of panel are the tall vertical ones, which give the scene a sharp staccato feel, be it in combat or in conversation.

One technique that Grummett occasionally uses to excellent effect is the continuous background. This technique is a wonderful way to establish greater detail of setting while maintaining a high octane level of action. During the confrontation between Robin and the Electrocutioner, the hectic activity and banter between the combatants is enhanced by this technique. Itís great visual storytelling.

Appraisal:

"Bet your dad is as cold as ice."

This is a satisfying story that directly expresses the core premise of the title. The Titans are a team, first and foremost. They arenít a gathering of grandstanding individuals or a loose assemblage of prima donnas who have a common goal. Their bonds are tighter, like a family. When a Titan experiences pain in their private life, they can rely on their teammates to offer friendship and moral support.

But there is a deeper ethical statement underlying this. Heroism isnít escapism. Robin and Tim Drake are one and the same. Wearing the mask does not alter his identity. Yes, heroes risk great loss and anguish, but they canít dodge the pain by denying their true selves. Like the common people that they defend, a hero must cope responsibly and honestly with their grief. To attempt to hide from it is merely a route towards self-deception and future woe.

This is a fun and touching story with an intelligent thematic point. Itís an excellent jump-on point for new readers. I recommend it.



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