By Andrew A. Smith
Tribune Content Agency
Oct. 1, 2020 — If you’ve read the Young Adult graphic novel Teen Titans: Raven, then you have some idea how good Teen Titans: Beast Boy, by the same writer-artist team, can be. If you haven’t read Raven, now’s a good time to get both books.
Beast Boy (DC Comics, $16.99), currently on sale, is by writer Kami Garcia and artist Gabriel Picolo, just like Raven. Only last time the team tackled Garcia’s favorite Teen Titan, while this go-round it was Picolo’s turn to enjoy his favorite Titan.
And it was my turn to ask Garcia some questions via email. I didn’t need to ask her a lot about her approach — the foreword to Raven answered every question I had.
“I can honestly say I’ve been a DC Comics fan for a long time,” she wrote in the foreword. “The idea that anyone could be a hero regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation (or, in the case of some of the Teen Titans, species) has always resonated with me. I’m the kind of person who roots for the underdog and who believes in magic, miracles and the impossible.”
She also didn’t feel limited to what the comics canon said was Raven’s backstory.
“I had the honor of meeting Marv Wolfman, the co-creator of Raven, Cyborg and Starfire from the Teen Titans,” she wrote. “I wasn’t sure how a legend like Marv would feel about me creating a new story for Raven, one of his most beloved characters. I asked for advice. … Marv’s advice was to do what I wanted and make the character my own.”
And she did. Set in New Orleans, Raven created a mostly new history for the character. Garcia added a step-mom (actually two) and a super-powered half-sister, plus a high school love interest. But it was still the Raven we know from the comics — a teenage girl dealt a bad hand, who must keep her emotions in check, who is pursued by both her father, the demon Trigon, and the man we know to be Deathstroke, Slade Wilson.
A bit of old, a bit of new. And all of it works.
That’s also the case with Beast Boy. Here’s a Garfield Logan before he turns green, before he discovers his transmutation powers. But one who starts out, just like his comics counterpart in the early ‘60s, too brash, too impulsive and a little too shallow. Learning to overcome those faults are essentially his narrative arc.
He is assisted, more or less, by his parents — who are wildly different from their comics counterparts. Who are dead. I asked Garcia about that in the email interview.
“DC wanted a series that focused on the teen side of the characters in a grounded way so I wanted the characters to be relatable.” Garcia said. “Lots of teens face tensions at home, so I wanted to explore that in the graphic novel. We will hear more about them at some point.”
Which is good to know. Because these two may have saved Gar’s life from the tropical disease Sakutia like in the comics, they aren’t exactly what they say they are. In fact, they’ve been lying to him all his life. What are they hiding? Are they really his parents?
Those questions still linger as Garcia & Picolo head into their third Titans project: Teen Titans: Beast Boy Loves Raven.
That’s right! There’s a third book in this series coming in 2021. A preview at the end of Beast Boy shows the two future Teen Titans meeting cute.
OK, they don’t meet cute. Not even sorta cute. Actually, Gar kinda messes it up. As he does.
More of which you can see on display in Beast Boy. Honestly, it’s kind of refreshing to see a teenager act so much like a teenager that it hurts. We all remember that awkward time when we didn’t really know who we were, tried hard to be part of the “in crowd,” and didn’t treasure the genuine friends we already had.
And that is Gar all over. And, honestly, he has some of the most true-blue friends you’ll ever see — nerdy Stella and stoic Tank. They are both entirely Garcia’s creations.
“I grew up in an area and a neighborhood where loyalty was not only the norm, but required of best friends,” she said. “I still have friends from junior high who went above and beyond for me, and vice versa. Every friendship isn’t like that, but these are Gar’s closest friends. Stella gets annoyed and frustrated with Gar, but when push comes to shove she is still there when he needs her.”
But Gar doesn’t appreciate them as much as he should, blowing them off to hang with the popular kids. When he’s called on it, he knows he’d doing wrong. But:
“You don’t understand how it feels to be on the outside looking in,” he tells Stella. “I know the popularity thing doesn’t last. I just wanted to see how it felt to be the guy who did more than crack jokes.”
So he does, in fact, crack the rarified air of the popular kids. Which is complicated by his sudden ability to change into animals. It doesn’t happen all at once, and it’s a complete surprise to the poor kid. Especially since when he changes back, he’s as naked as a jaybird. Or a tiger. Or a bear. Were it me, I’d have a lot of explaining to do to my parents.
But we’ve already covered that Mr. and Mrs. Logan aren’t candidates for Parents of the Year. They knew about Gar’s “condition” all along, and were controlling it with drugs — without, of course, telling Gar. Which worked until it didn’t.
All of which makes for a great story, and one set somewhere this Southern boy appreciates: Georgia. And Raven was set in New Orleans. Teen Titans: Beast Boy Loves Raven appears to be set in Nashville. Say, a pattern is emerging!
“I grew up in a house with my grandmother and my great-grandma, [who] were both from a small town in the South, and my mom moved there when I was in college.” Garcia said. “My first novel series ‘Beautiful Creatures’ was also set in the South, so it’s something I’m known for. The South is a special place where it feels like magic could happen.”
And it certainly does with these YA graphic novels. As a veteran of the original takes on these characters — yes, I am ancient, thank you — I may like these origins better.
Gar’s lying parents make more sense than his original domestic situation, in which his dead parents had left him an enormous trust fund he’d inherit at 18, which was being embezzled by his Dickensian guardian Nicholas Galtry. So he wears a purple mask (to disguise his green skin) and hangs with the Doom Patrol, as you do.
Raven’s domestic sitch wasn’t much better, with a demon father and a mother crazy enough to join a cult and, uh, conceive a child with a six-eyed, antlered, red-skinned demon. Garcia’s take is less complicated, and gives Raven a more stable, and relatable, family life. Even if her stepmother is a voodoo priestess and her step-sister can summon dead people. I mean, come on, it’s comics.
These are YA books, and I am not the target market. That I enjoyed them anyway is indicative of how well they are crafted. Whether you’re a veteran Titans fan or a newbie, these books should be on your radar.
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