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Sunday Slugfest: Titans #1

Posted: Sunday, April 13, 2008
By: Keith Dallas

Judd Winick
Ian Churchill, Norm Rapmund (i), Edgar Delgado (colors)
DC Comics
"The Fickle Hand, Part Two: Today I Settle All Family Business"

Shawn Hill: 3 Bullets
Bruce Logan: 4 Bullets
Christopher Power: 3 Bullets
Kevin Powers: 4.5 Bullets
Marx Pyle: 3 Bullets




Shawn Hill 3 Bullets

Plot: The more things change, the more they revert cyclically back to the original model, but how soon to go astray again?

Comments: "Part Two?”" In a "First issue"? Am I supposed to know where Part One is?

This issue certainly doesn't seem to continue anything, as all cast members are picked up in recognizable moments from their recently separate continuities. Nightwing has returned to a Gotham safehouse. Starfire is still staying with the Bakers, post her adventures in 52. Raven has somehow got herself back into a teenage body and back in high school. Red Arrow is in Washington, DC as a JLA member. Beast Boy is leading the Doom Patrol. Kyle and Donna (hmmm, is this where Kyle will reside now, back in Winick’s hands?) are in outer space, or some other dimension, or wherever Countdown put them last. Flash is taking a shower.

The leftovers from the last iteration of this title have banded together but accomplish as little as always. The last time I reviewed their version of the concept, a Captain Carrot parody and Infinite Crisis were forcing Geoff Johns way off his game, and I frankly lost interest after that point, perfunctorily purchasing a few special event or "lost" issues, but not even lured back by the nostalgic return of George Perez to a few pages of art for the anniversary number they achieved.

So am I back to stay this time? Winick trots out the only Titans villain who hasn't had a recent airing in years, whose turn I suppose it is, though how they'll work out the development of the hero he's most tied to I have little idea. What stone has been left unturned there at this point?

Winick follows a simple formula for this issue: a gathering of the team that results quite foolishly on the part of the villain. Each member is attacked, but not with enough force to actually silence them, so instead they're only warned. It's simple and effective, but hardly inspired.

When Teen Titans last debuted, Johns had a very strong cast and definite ideas of what to do with them. That lasted about twenty issues, with spicy but relevant distractions from their fascistic future selves and a crossover with a Legion of Super-Heroes (hmmm, can this be where Johns got his taste for his current favorite supporting characters?) which was closing up its time stream to make room for yet another new version. Winick, simultaneously, was starting up a new version of the Outsiders, which after some initial promise served mostly to make Jade feel inadequate before one crossover or another killed her off.

I don't have much hope for this title to attain the classic status of both Wolfman/Perez volumes of the concept. The last time the original team was together was the Grayson/Buckingham version (let's try to forget the Jurgens era, which also ultimately revived the originals, only to maim most of them), and that had about 10 issues worth of good ideas. This one will probably keep it up as long, and then? The question is whether Winick can keep his eyes on the prize, and hopefully without killing anyone. Else. Power Boy's the first casualty of this new attacker, but, then, who didn't see that coming?

Who wants to take a bet that the most innovative story will probably involve Kory's sex life? Churchill takes full advantage of the cheesecake factor in her sequence this issue, but he does give time to beefcake as well. Things seem a bit empty with hardly any established supporting characters making an appearance. This isn't the Junior Justice League anymore. So what is it? That's Winick’s task, but he usually throws up his hands and breaks up the team before we find out.




Bruce Logan: 4 Bullets

Exclamation: "Hey good lookin'!"

Explanation: "Part-2" shows that this new Titans series is going to follow up directly from where the Titans East Special ended. Someone is attacking the Titans, and after the massacre of the East-enders it is now the (original) New Teen Titans and Roy "Junkie Lad" Harper's turn. As expected, the heroes make it out and get together just in time for the last page reveal of their mysterious enemy.

Examination (Story): I've read the New Teen Titans and the first Titans series. However, with both of those series I only got to them after the fact (i.e. well after their stories/issues had been published). As such, my reaction to them wasn't quite the same as it would have been if I read them serially (as they came out). It is also probably one of the reasons that while adequately appreciative of the Wolfman/Perez series, I don't trip over myself in fanboy drooling over it. It is also why I don't have quite the same disdain towards the first Titans series as readers who, (1) read the Titans as a serial, (2) read the New Teen Titans before it. As far as I am concerned, both series had their positive points and their negatives. For example, while Marv Wolfman created Dick Grayson's Nightwing alter-ago, I have never liked his take on the character. It has always seemed to me that instead of writing Nightwing as his own (adult) person, Wolfman writes him as just a slightly older Robin. It was the case when I read his NTT issues, and it was the case when I read his read run on Nightwing.

Speaking of Nightwing, one thing that had me looking forward to this series was Judd Winick's writing of the Bat-Family. Winick's Batman-Nightwing team-up from Batman #636-637 is my favorite Dynamic Duo story in recent years. And even though the Batman guest appearance in this issue did seem a bit forced (as in Batman was just there for "Big Name Character" sake), Winick's trademark Batman-Nightwing dynamic was still there.

Moving on to the other parts of the issues, as with Nightwing the rest of the Titans too get an introductory scene of their own, although none of them is quite as long. Not even Raven who (given who the villain is) should have been more of the issue's focus than Nightwing. Then again, the Titans – Teen, New or otherwise – have always had Dick Grayson as their de facto leader, and this time around too it is no different.

I am a little confused about the timeline of this story. While Donna is back on Earth, the Teen Titans are shown as still having Blue Beetle and Super Girl with them. While the first one is still to happen (Countdown to Final Crisis still isn't over), the second one is already over (BB and SG were last seen with the Teen Titans in TT #55). Going by that, the Teen Titans are probably coming in from their battle against the Titans of Tomorrow. Personally, I am inclined to go with that time scheme rather than make sense of the black hole that is Countdown.

Even though this issue is listed as the second part of the story that was started with the Titans East Special, it stands alone quite well. As a first issue for both a new arc and a new series, it is mostly set-up with the team getting together towards the end. And for the readers who passed on the Titans East Special, there isn’t much, if anything, that they miss here. There is a quick update on the conditions of the members of what is probably the shortest lived Titans' team.

In the end, Titans #1 accomplishes what it sets out to do: introduce the main characters, setup the threat and, finally, reveal the villain. All in all, a rather good start.

Examination (Art): Ian Churchill's art has a very 90s feel to it, always has, always will. That means a level of flair and flamboyance that totters on the "over-the-top" ledge and once a while even goes over it. While this issue sees Churchill use quite a few money shots and even a few T&A ones (both male and female), it has a very polished feel to it. For this equal credit must be given to inker Norm Rapmund and colorist Edgar Delgado. Even if the colors did get a bit shiny in certain places, those instances were few and far between.

Proclamation: Nice "Summer Blockbuster" style start. I hope it turns out X2 (X-Men United) good, not X3 (Final Stand) horrible.

You can find more reviews by Bruce Logan at www.xcave.net




Christopher Power: 3 Bullets

I was very torn as to whether I should even read this issue. First, I swore off Judd Winick's comics after what he did to clan Arrow. Then, after the mess that the DCU has become in the last year, I left DC until Grant Morrison gets on with fixing it in a few weeks. However, for a guy who was stunned when Robin became Nightwing, was terrified by the Terror of Trigon, and attended Donna Troy's wedding, I just couldn't pass up the chance to see the Titans team I grew up with in the pages of a comic again. So … what is the verdict?

Well, it is pretty. Really pretty. I dig the pencils of Ian Churchill. He does really great character designs, and in particular his Nightwing, Red Arrow, and Robin are amazingly well done. They look different in body armor from the Flash who wears tights, which again looks different from Kyle Rayner (who I wish was in this book as he looks great in the one scene in which he appears, and he was briefly a Titan). The inking and colours make these details pop off the page. In the final scene in the book, Beast Boy is back in his classic costume, and it looks outstanding, as does Gar Logan with sideburns and actually looking like an adult.

Following that trend, Churchill's Teen Titans actually look like teenagers, and different from their adult Titan counterparts, which is nice to see in this type of book because it delineates time in a shared universe.

Finally, his Batman is just amazing. While the cape looked somewhat metallic in the colours and inking used, the movement and the way it hangs just screams Batman from the late 1980s.

The villains in the book are very creative, and immensely creepy, and quickly point the way to the major villain. The death of Power Boy from the Titans East Special is revisited and is really gruesome, making you feel the level of the threat. Cyborg being in pieces in a giant tank makes you think that this is definitely going to be a major storyline with real stakes, which is a nice feeling to have in a universe where death has felt like a cheap thrill as of late.

(As an aside, I’d like to thank whoever decided that Hawk and Dove should survive; this made me very happy.)

Unfortunately, the level of cheesecake, despite that some of it was clearly mandated by the writer, is just silly in this book. I figured that with the evolution of costumes, and the aftermath of 52, that Starfire would have been given a slightly better, more appropriate costume. Before someone brings it up, I am well aware that this comes with the character backstory, as Winick feels it necessary to remind us, in that she comes from a freewheeling liberal planet. I just feel that in a book where we have characters who are now grown up, that one could think that Starfire would figure out fashion, or indeed embrace it, after all these years (credit to BINGO fans out there for that one). However, because of that history, I expected this pattern.

What I did not expect was the continued devolution of Donna's wardrobe. In the last scene of this book she is wearing a black variation of her old Wonder Girl costume with red stars on it. This could look awesome. However, the neckline goes so low, it is stupid. I guess she got really comfortable with the girls hanging out during Countdown or something.

Moving on to the writing, there actually isn't that much I can complain about. Winick seems to have a good handle on most of these characters, and with the exception of the unnecessary naked scenes with Starfire, the threats that are sent to each of our heroes are completely appropriate to the villain and his knowledge of our heroes.

I was also impressed that Winick picked up the ball that was thrown by Mark Waid in The Flash of exploring the adult lives of these characters and what it means to be leaders, parents and adults in the hero world.

Aside from that, not a lot happens. Everyone is attacked, we find out someone is hunting Titans, and it isn’t Dr. Light.

This book very much reminded me of Winick's early Exiles work, where he is comfortable with the ensemble cast. Perhaps he is listening to his audience and moving back to that kind of storytelling. If he could be a little more even-handed with … ummm … the dimensions of his female characters, then this book could be very much what I have been waiting for all these years.

Time will tell. I look forward to the second issue after this pleasant surprise.




Kevin Powers: 4.5 Bullets

A few months ago, the Titans East Special hit the shelves and basically chronicled Cyborg's latest attempt to get the original team of New Teen Titans back together. They all have moved on, becoming major superheroes in their own right and occupied in other arenas. Cyborg attempted to put a new team of Titans together, one with a roster full of brash, amateur and arrogant D-list heroes. During a training exercise, those heroes were brutally attacked, Power Boy was killed and the rest left for dead. It wasn't revealed who attacked the heroes but one thing was certain: the New Teen Titans were getting back together.

I love the 80s team of the New Teen Titans. Being a fan of Dick Grayson, Wally West and Donna Troy, I've always taken a strong liking to the team. Back when Winick put together the Outsiders a few years back with Dick as the leader, I questioned why it couldn't have just been called the Titans. After all, the Marv Wolfman and George Perez run of New Teen Titans was one of the best team books ever written. At one point it was as popular as Marvel's X-Men. With the original Titans back together, they should easily be second only to the Justice Society. I hold this current re-teaming of the Titans in a higher regard than probably any incarnation of the Justice League save for the original. The Titans have been best friends for a long time, they've grown up together, and readers have watched them grow up into the heroes they are today. The Titans is a concept that if done right will certainly result in higher sales numbers because of readers' nostalgia of the 1980s.

Judd Winick takes the reigns of this series, and before reading the issue I was both happy and concerned. Winick's Outsiders was spectacular, his Green Arrow was decent, his Batman was forgettable save for the crappy return of Jason Todd, his Green Arrow/Black Canary was awful, and I still hold his run on Green Lantern to be some of the best Kyle Rayner stuff ever written. So Winick can be considered hit or miss, but one thing is for sure: when he writes the younger, mid-20s characters, he usually strikes gold. With that said, I loved the Titans East Special and given the body of work, I've been really excited and anxiously awaiting Titans.

This issue takes place either simultaneously to the events in Titans East or immediately thereafter. If you didn't pick up Titans East Special, I highly suggest you find it as it perfectly sets up and leads into what is happening here. Anyways, either during or directly after the attack on the Titans East (it really doesn't matter when it happens), the original members of the Titans as well as the current Teen Titans are attacked by what appears to be an extra-normal force. One thing that Winick manages to do extremely well is use the attacks as a perfect opportunity to re-introduce every member of the team, except Cyborg who is indisposed. Winick manages to give each character a distinct and personal voice, a voice that a reader can distinguish, and a voice that any veteran reader of these characters can identify to each member. When comparing Winick's portrayal of Nightwing to Peter Tomasi's in the character’s series, I have to wonder why Winick doesn't write the character regularly. His comedic timing for Dick is on point and the inner narration is also perfect. Again, Winick knows how to write these younger, mid-20s characters and Nightwing is the perfect example of such. While there are moments where the inner narration of certain characters is a bit cheesy, it works, and I really didn't have a problem with it.

Winick doesn't spend a lot of time with each character either because frankly, it's unnecessary. He introduces each character in the span of one or two pages where they are attacked, and then he moves on. The transitions are flawless, and the way each character is portrayed is simply on point. I am very curious what Kyle Rayner's role will be. If there's any place for him outside of the Green Lantern Corps, the Titans is most certainly the right place. He's very close to Dick, Wally and Donna and would make a feasible, logical and powerful addition to the team. Not to mention, it seems like it's only a matter of time before Kyle and Donna get back together so that could add an interesting dynamic. Either way, I'm all for adding Kyle to the Titans.

What I also find interesting is the way that Batman is the catalyst for the team getting back together. He shows up to help Dick fend off the attack and brings the news of what happened to the Titans East. Apparently, the other Titans tried to get a hold of Dick, couldn't, and it's his father that shows up and tells him to go find his friends. While one may look at this and consider it to be demeaning to Dick, it's actually a nice touch as Batman seemingly reminds Dick that he'll always be a Titan, whether or not the group is together. When the Titans finally come together in the end, the source of the attacks is revealed and it perfectly plays into the nostalgia hook this series needs to hit before moving on. The villain is a major character from the Titans' past, and Winick hits all the right notes putting this squad back together.

I'm always been a fan of Ian Churchill's artwork. One of his major criticisms has always been that his characters look too similar or there is no distinction between certain characters. I can understand where this comes from, but over the course of the past year, I have noticed that Churchill's style has become more refined, and he has brought distinction to his character's faces. Sure, Churchill's style is very booberific, and his males are professional-wrestler-muscular, but I don't really mind too much because the men are superheroes and the women, namely Starfire and Donna Troy, are supposed to be hot. While I don't necessarily like the "sexy goth" look that Raven sports at school, I can deal with it. I think it's true that you either admire or despise Churchill's art and I just happen to be one of those readers who likes it.

Overall, this is a great start for the Titans. I really hope this doesn't lose steam or spend most of its time re-hashing old plot lines but putting the original New Teen Titans back together is definitely something that could breed success. I'm a fan of these characters, and I hope they remain at the heart of this series and Winick explores these former sidekicks taking on bigger, real world problems. Frankly, I'm sick of DC's Crisis nonsense and I want this series to steer clear of that, much like Green Lantern does at the moment, remaining whole-heartedly focused on what's happening with these characters and the problems they face.




Marx Pyle: 3 Bullets

Wow, I have some really mixed feelings about this book. I could almost take a lesson from Two-Face and flip a coin.

I've enjoyed most of Winick's past writing, especially his work on Batman, Exiles and The Outsiders. Unlike some, I like Churchill's art style, although I think he needs to tone down the 90's anatomy exaggerating, especially with the female characters. I loved (who didn't) the classic '80s Marv Wolfman/George Perez cast from New Teen Titans.

So I should love this book, right?

Well, sorta. We get a by the numbers bringing together the team story with each Titan member being attacked, then meeting up and deciding it must be a certain demonic enemy from the past. This isn't exactly complex stuff here.

I was disappointed that we didn't see a resolution to any of the attacks, except for Nightwing. I was also confused with how this book fits in time wise with other books, especially with Countdown to Final Crisis. Speaking of time, it was a little confusing on when these attacks took place. I thought they were simultaneous, but apparently not.

Are all of the Titans being attacked? If so, why didn't the two other previous Teen Titans get attacked when Beast Boy was attacked? They all live at the Doom Patrol HQ.

Also, where is Jericho? He is back to life now, so why not include him? It seems like such a waste that he was brought back to life in Teen Titans and then quickly carted off to S.T.A.R. labs to not be seen for months.

I'm curious to see what happens with the return of Trigon, but then it seems like all we get from Titan books anymore are old enemies returning or different versions of Titans to fight (Future, Evil, Terror, etc.). Hopefully after this storyline is over we can see some new threats.

I'm glad to see that the body count wasn't too high after the events of Titans East. It would have been a waste of some good characters. Poor Cyborg, he is always falling apart. But it is odd that there was such a large publishing gap between that book (which is Part 1 of the story) and this book.

I like the superhero team roster, and I like the creative team, but I'm not sure if this is the best time to publish this book. It feels... forced. But it is still early, and this issue is pretty much just set-up. I'm willing to give it a few more issues. I know this book has the talent to pull it off; we'll just have to see where things go from here.

Final Word: Are you a fan of the Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans line-up? Then you will probably kick yourself for not trying this book out. Otherwise you may want to wait and see where things go from here.



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