Titans: A Kids' Game
week, I did a review of a Marvel book about a team of
teenage superheroes, so in an effort to be fair and balanced,
I’m reviewing a DC book about a team of teenage superheroes.
I’m such an evenhanded reviewer.
Titans has had a long history of running and then stopping
and I believe this is the fourth incarnation of the series
(fourth team, sixth series -- Derek) that began
as sidekicks of the major heroes teaming up, to a bona fide
hit when Marv Wolfman and George Perez started The New
Teen Titans, the title that introduced the most famous
Titans cast that included Nightwing, Starfire, Cyborg, Raven,
Changeling, etc. It ran for sixteen years and made Teen
Titans a title that became a steadfastly supported
recent incarnation, written by Geoff Johns with Mike McKone
on art duties, comes from the recent crossover event Graduation
Day that included the former Titans and Young Justice
coming together and fighting…robots or something.
All I know is that a Superman robot killed Donna Troy (Troia,
the original Wonder Girl, former Darkstar, take your pick).
It was written by Judd Winick and was mostly a set-up to
launch both this title and Winick’s Outsiders,
which also includes some Titan alum in the form of Nightwing
and Arsenal (a.k.a. Speedy). I’ve never followed Young
Justice or Teen Titans, and I skipped the
crossover, so I went into this rather blind.
I found is a very good teenage superhero book. Basically,
after the events of Graduation Day, Young Justice
has disbanded and the kids are not alright. Superboy (clone
of Superman) is living in Smallville, trying to get through
the humdrum existence that is high school while living with
Ma and Pa Kent (think really old people, and not Annette
O’Toole and John Schneider). Cassie “Wonder
Girl” Sandsmark can’t find a school that will
take her since her identity as a superhero became public
knowledge, thanks to supervillain attacks and pesky insurance
costs. Impulse, super speedster from the future and heir
to the Flash legacy, is just plain bored. And Robin the
Boy Wonder seems fine, but his pointy-eared mentor thinks
he needs some friendly social interaction once in a while.
of them get the invite to sunny California, to Titans Tower,
at the behest of Vic “Cyborg” Stone. The kids
are invited to spend weekends in the company of their similarly
aged superhero peers, along with Starfire and Changeling,
basically to be free from the responsibility of keeping
secret identities and train themselves to someday take the
reins of world-saving from their adult counterparts. And
lucky for them, their first “weekend retreat”
features a run in with Deathstroke the Terminator.
seems like I’ve been DCU name-dropping, you’re
not wrong. The book is steeped with continuity, not only
from books like Titans and Young Justice, but also
from the Superman titles, Batman titles, Flash, Wonder Woman
and even a touch of JLA.
type of continuity-laden book can be a blessing and a curse.
On the plus side, the fact that so many comic book mythos
are involved can get readers of those other mythos to pick
up the book, following characters they like to this title.
The negative side is that it makes the book incredibly hard
for a novice, with no background in the DC Universe, to
pick up and enjoy. I have terabytes of innocuous comic book
trivia stored away in the recesses of my cranium, but even
I had a little trouble following some of the finer plot
Johns takes massive leaps toward making the title as accessible
as he can. The first chapter reintroduces the kids from
Young Justice, giving their origins without using the tried
and true (and boring) method of caption boxes. Johns actually
manages to work the information into conversation, which
he has a knack for, making the required data flow naturally
to the reader instead of forcing it down his or her respective
throats. He also manages to convey Titan history to the
reader, while introducing the kids to the team. Johns recognizes
the many pitfalls continuity can create, and deftly steers
the reader around as many literary hazards as possible.
characterization is good: Johns manages to keep the personalities
that have been established over the years for most of these
characters, while still making them his own. Starfire is
a volatile mix of the temperamental warrior and (faintly)
naïve alien outsider that she always was, but is now
possessed of a certain level of maturity. Vic Stone has
transformed from the angry, brooding man he once was into
a teacher and older-brother-type figure to the Titans, but
still maintains a bit of the real world cynicism that has
always been a part of his character. Changeling is still
the loveable, childish, annoyance he always was, but with
a hint of Fool’s Wisdom; a been-there-done-that kind
of mentality that shows through best when he’s talking
with Vic or Starfire.
“kids” also get a good dose of characterization,
and it’s refreshing to see that Johns understands
that these characters, while young, are not children. Robin,
Superboy, Wonder Girl, and Impulse have all been around
the superhero block, and probably helped to save the world
on more than one occasion. They aren’t “kids”
in the general sense; they’re not unsure of their
abilities, for the most part, and are confident in their
ability to be heroes, because they’ve been doing it
for years. This isn’t a coming-of-age story, but rather
a story that deals with youth when it has volunteered to
bear the weight of responsibility and the continuing process
that entails. You can call it splitting hairs, but there
is a difference between the two.
also a level of comedy to this piece. Johns knows how to
pull a laugh out of most situations, and he sprinkles them
throughout the usually straightforward and serious book.
When the Superboy, Wonder Girl, and Robin are ordered by
Sunfire to stay in Titan Tower, Robin agrees and the three
wait until she departs, to leave themselves. When Wonder
Girl points out “…wait a second…you just
lied to Starfire?!” Robin replies, “I lie to
Batman.” Small instances like this help to keep the
book from seeming too adult, making sure that the “Teen”
aspect is never lost in favor of “Titan.”
artwork is fantastic. I’ve loved Mike McKone’s
work since I saw him on Exiles and his leaving
was the first of many signs that the book was declining.
His work here is just as good: his character designs for
the various Titans ring true to their various personalities.
Some of the costumes have not changed much (Robin, Starfire,
Cyborg) but the changes McKone has made to Superboy are
a vast improvement, simplifying his costume to nothing more
than a t-shirt with the Superman emblem. Wonder Girl also
looks more comfortable than in her Young Justice days, and
Impulse changes his costume to match his predecessor’s
when The Flash was a Titan. All good moves on McKone’s
also has great facial expression techniques. I’ve
never seen someone draw “veiled hostility” and
“sarcastic wit” in the same panel, but McKone
makes it work. He has excellent pacing and draws good action,
and uses panel placement to his advantage, often pushing
the boundaries out to the end of the page. It’s all-around
good work and McKone is an artist in the respect Alan Davis
is: throw something in front of him and he draw it, and
draw it well. Marlo Alquiza and Nelson do a good job of
defining McKone with their inks, and uber-colorist Jeremy
Cox just makes it better.
a great comic, and you get a lot of comic for the measly
price of $9.95: a cover by Michael Turner, introduction
by Johns himself that outlines the Titans’ publishing
history, a sketch and cover gallery by McKone, a Secret
Files rundown of all the characters in Titans, not to mention
issues 1-7 of the series. Normally, the heavy continuity
elements would make me disinclined to recommend it, but
John does enough work to inform the reader of the comic’s
history, plus the addition of the Secret Files section can
get the reader up to speed. Not to mention, it’s just
so damn cheap.