The Teen Titans Project (2001-02): Faerber & Pelletier & Peyer & Kitson

The Teen Titans Project, Part XXIII: 

Faerber & Pelletier & Peyer & Kitson (2001-2002)

 

            I love Jay Faerber.  Noble Causes was a superhero soap opera with a plot that barreled ahead like a freight train.  Dynamo 5 was a wonderfully dysfunctional superhero team and my favorite title at the time it was published.  His current Copperhead is reminiscent of Joss Whedon’s Firefly without being derivative.  I even enjoyed his run on Marvel’s New Warriors.  But Faerber’s run on The Titans was simply awful.

            I like Tom Peyer.  When he was on his game, he was truly outstanding.  His Legion of Super-Heroes was one of the best titles of the ‘90s and Hourman was one of the better series at the turn of the millennium.  He was responsible for two of the better reconstruction or neo-classic titles of the past decade.  But Peyer’s run on The Titans was mostly dreadful.    

            I love Paul Pelletier.  I would regularly nominate him for best artist awards when he was the regular penciller on Negation.  His art was imaginative, epic, witty and personal.  Marvel must have noticed because they later assigned him to Guardians of the Galaxy.  But Pelletier’s work on The Titans was pretty poor.

            I like Barry Kitson.  He’s bounced around a bit but you know he’ll always give you a good-looking book whether on a limited series like JLA: Year One or his Marvel ongoing The Order.  Well, almost always.  For some reason, his work on The Titans was sub-standard. 

            I don’t know the ins and outs or the whys and wherefores.  If you told me that a comic book series concluded with runs by Faerber & Pelletier and Peyer & Kitson, I would guess that it must have been pretty good.  It wasn’t.  I wouldn’t say that this was the worst Titans run in history.  It’s hard to top- or bottom- the Dark Jaaska period after New Titans #100.  But it was pretty bad. 

            Faerber and Pelletier started their run at the end of 2000 with a two-issue story that focused on the trial of Cheshire (#21 and 22, Nov. and Dec.).  The main story in which multiple assassins try to kill Cheshire before she can go to trial was pretty good.  But the sub-plots were somewhat troubling.  Faerber introduced Jesse Quick’s mom, Liberty Belle, and a brand new superhero named Epsilon into the title.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.      

            2001 started off with a three-part Donna Troy story (#23-25, Jan.-Mar.) called “Who Is Wonder Girl?” “Who Is Donna Troy?” and “Who Is Troia?” John Byrne had re-told Donna’s origin yet again in the pages of Wonder Woman and Faerber gamely tried to reconcile the disparate tales.  He brought back Byrne’s villain, Dark Angel, whose goal was to erase Donna from every timeline.  Donna was distraught when her teammates failed to remember her but the Titans set out on a cross-world adventure to take down Dark Angel.  I was especially pleased to see the Titans’ children from Kingdom Come show up.  I don’t think Faerber successfully resolved the continuity problem.  He tried to have his cake and eat it too by affirming all of the origins at the same time, but “Who Is Troia?” was at least a good adventure story with solid characterization.   

It was also nice to have Phil Jimenez draw a trio of covers.  Pelletier’s characters were a little inconsistent and puffy at this point.  He was stylistically similar to Mark Buckingham, the previous Titans artist, so the transition wasn’t jarring.  But, at this point in this career, he unfortunately paled in comparison. 

            With issue #26 (Apr. ’01), Faerber returned to the sub-plots with Libby Chambers and Epsilon. On the one hand, it was nice to see Jesse get a larger role in the title and some time away from the Titans.  On the other hand, Libby was depicted as demanding and shrewish.  The Titans had long depicted generational conflict- fighting against parental figures like Trigon and Mento- but this particular conflict felt forced and, quite frankly, untrue to Libby’s depiction over the years as a member of the JSA. 

The Jesse-Libby plot took one bad turn after another.  First, Faerber introduced Libby’s new twenty-something fiancée, Philip.  However, Faerber didn’t really establish a romantic foundation.  Philip was never anything more than Libby’s boy toy, making Libby look shallow.  Then, out of nowhere, Jesse and Philip had an affair.   Naturally, her mother took the betrayal badly but it was also a bad story decision.  Faerber would become adept at superhero soap opera but he hadn’t yet learned yet that story twists need to arise out of the characters.  Philip was a one-dimensional prop while Jesse’s actions were inexplicable.  I’m not exaggerating.  Faerber never explained why Jesse would have an affair with someone she didn’t like beyond suggesting we sometimes do things we don’t understand. 

If anything, the other sub-plot was even worse.  Epsilon was the most generic hero ever.  He had a generic name and generic powers and a generic costume that had already been used in Justice League Task Force.  It may have been intentional, with the idea that Epsilon was a blank slate.  But it didn’t work.  Epsilon wasn’t mysterious.  He was boring.   Faerber eventually dropped hints that Epsilon would betray the team, such as a picture of Terra in a tattoo parlor.  But Faerber forgot that Terra’s betrayal mattered because she was an interesting character.  (Faerber learned his lesson- Secret Identities’ Crosswind was a much more interesting traitor precisely because he had his own identity.)  I didn’t care if Epsilon betrayed the Titans or not.  I just wanted him gone. 

The Epsilon sub-plot led directly into another awful storyline: the DEO kids.  The DEO kids showed up in the shadows of issue #26 (Apr. ’01) before being prominently featured in issue #28 (June ’01).   I’m not averse to kid characters.  I enjoyed Artie and Leech in X-Factor and Generation X.  But the DEO kids were truly annoying.  I know I sound like a grumpy old man when I say this but they were cocky and rude.  I don’t know anyone who actually liked the DEO kids or their storyline.  Like Epsilon, they were supposed to be mysterious but we didn’t like them enough or know enough about them to care.  To make matters worse, they practically pushed the Titans out of their own title.  Faerber had recently reduced the Titans’ roster from 10 to 6.  I thought the idea was that a smaller cast would allow for more focused characterization.  Instead, Faerber introduced a bunch of new characters with no pedigree and no charisma. 

After all of this, you might be wondering why I kept reading The Titans.  The honest answer is: I didn’t.  I was so turned off by the Epsilon and DEO kids story that I cancelled my pull order.  I was stuck with a couple of issues I’d already pre-ordered and those issues contained the dubious Jesse Quick affair.  That plot twist pretty much confirmed my decision to quit the Titans for the time being.  I buckled down and bought the remaining issues specifically for this project.  It was rough reading, but at least I didn’t pay much for the privilege.  I couldn’t believe that the Epsilon/DEO kids story dragged on for over a year.  It finally wrapped up in issue #38 (Apr. ’02).  The Titans fought a couple of other villains in there, including a new Wildebeest (#35, Jan. ’02) and a Jokerized Cheshire as part of the dreadful Joker’s Last Laugh crossover (#34, Dec. ’01).  But it was mostly Epsilon and the DEO kids.  Even after the kids moved out of Titans tower, they remained a prominent part of the title.  When Epsilon was finally revealed as a traitor, I was relieved that we didn’t have to read about him anymore. 

The Titans’ office made another disastrous decision around that time.  They hired renowned manga artist Kia Asamiya to draw the covers for several issues (#32-33, 35-36, Oct. ’01-Feb. ‘02).  I enjoy the occasional manga artist but I can’t say I’m a fan of Asamiya’s pointy look.  Even worse, the manga covers were matched with issues drawn by guest artists Mike Collins and Peter Grau.  Collins’ style is slightly more naturalistic than Pelletier and clashed horribly with the hyper-stylized Asamiya.  The contrast with Grau was even greater.  The mismatched styles were incredibly jarring.  Like the contracting then expanding cast, it showed that the Titans’ editors didn’t have a clear direction for the title. 

The Asamiya experiment thankfully ended with issue #37 (Mar. ’02) when Barry Kitson came aboard as the new regular penciller.  Kitson was trusted to handle both the covers and the interior art.  As I mentioned above, I had previously enjoyed Kitson’s work, especially when he teamed up with Mark Waid on JLA: Year One or Empire.  But his work on Titans seemed stilted and flat.  It just didn’t have personality.  Honestly, I preferred the Peter Grau guest issues (#34-36).  Grau is best known for his work on Valiant’s X-O Manowar and he had an old-school style that reminded me of Eduardo Barreto, Jose Garcia-Lopez and Romeo Tanghal- the guys who followed George Perez on the seminal New Teen Titans title of the 1980s. 

After winding up the DEO kids story, Faerber and Kitson started a new direction with issue #39 (May ’02).  They reintroduced Dark Nemesis, the main villains from the Dan Jurgens era.  I enjoyed seeing them back in action.  I also appreciated the way that Faerber and Kitson started to build a friendship between Argent and Jesse Quick.  They had a natural chemistry as the two newest Titans.  The recently improved quality continued into issue #40 (June ’02).  The Titans fought off an invasion by Mantis, one of the many denizens of Apokolips.  I always liked Mantis, probably because I had his action figure as a kid.  Plus, it was fun to see the Titans fight someone who wasn’t part of their traditional rogues’ gallery.  Dark Nemesis and Mantis made for a good mix. 

Unfortunately, the era of good feelings only lasted for an issue and a half.  In the latter half of #40, Faerber introduced a motivational speaker with a dark secret before returning to the DEO kids yet again.  Issue #41 (July ’02) was a DEO kids coda.  They weren’t quite as annoying as they used to be (that might have been Kitson’s influence) but I can’t say that I was happy to see them again so quickly.  Faerber also tried to tie them in with the new motivational speaker, Apex, by connecting them through a refugee from an alternate timeline.  The connection felt like it was shoehorned in after the fact.  Once again, it was too easy to see Faerber’s hand as a writer. 

The DEO kids coda was also Faerber’s last.  Tom Peyer entered the picture with issue #42 (Aug. ’02) as the alternate timeline story kicked into gear.  It’s convoluted but Apex was supposedly a freedom fighter from another timeline brainwashing people to enter his old timeline to fight some kind of tyrant.  Brainwashing people from an alternate dimension and kidnapping them doesn’t exactly scream “freedom fighter” to me.  The whole story was a bit of a mess.  It took an entire issue just to cross dimensions, with Tempest being left behind, injured and drained of magic. 

Peyer also repeated some of the mistakes of the Faerber run with forced and uncharacteristic conflict.  The old Titans started acting more and more like a clique, leaving Jesse Quick and Argent on the outside.  The Jesse-Toni friendship had been interesting at first, but the insider-outside dispute made it tiresome.  At one point, Nightwing told Argent that she belonged on the sidelines for her own good.  Finally, Peyer, resolved the situation by having Donna confront Jesse over her behavior going back to the affair.  Donna astutely pointed out that Jesse was getting angry with everybody else when she was really mad at herself.  It didn’t entirely explain why the rest of the Titans were being jerks but it at least put a merciful end to that particular plotline.

Back on the home front, Peyer introduced some domestic tension between Dolphin and Tempest as well.  There had already been an element of that during Faerber’s run.  Dolphin had been resentful that Tempest had time to help out the DEO kids while ignoring his wife and son.  With Faerber, the conflict was understandable and believable.  However, Peyer turned the tension up to twelve, until Dolphin finally left in issue #47 (Jan. ’03).  Tempest and Dolphin’s separation could have been a plausible storyline but it felt erratic and abrupt.  The characterization was weak across the board.  There was one exception.  I appreciated the way that Peyer and Kitson flashed back to the Titans as teenagers to reinforce their friendship as adults.  It even helped with a story point when Donna playfully insulted Arsenal as a way of keeping him from falling unconscious while injured.  The Titans would have been a lot better if Peyer had focused on those friendships without establishing the old and new cliques. 

  Barry Kitson took over as the writer for a two-issue story visiting Damage on the Navajo Indian reservation (#45-46, Nov.-Dec. ’02; Peyer stayed around as scripter).  Kitson played with the insider-outsider conflict again, this time between Navajo who welcomed Damage and the rest of the Titans and those who resented them.  It was nice to see some larger themes emerge but it was pretty heavy-handed once again.

This volume of The Titans ended with yet another heavy-handed story.  Starfire returned from outer space to save the Titans from a mind control device called “The Consensus.”  The Titans have a long history of telling politically and socially conscious stories, going back to the Relevance era of the early ‘70s and the runaway/anti-drug stories of the early ‘80s.  Plus, I can see how it would have been very topical in early 2003 when anyone critical of the Bush administration and the Iraq War was branded as unpatriotic. But, while I understand that this story fits, I can’t defend it as being particularly good.  It was repetitive.  It lacked nuance.  It tried hard to be funny, but failed.  It was clunky.  And it was a pretty poor way for the Titans to end their run, considering that most of the team was acting out of character due to mind control. 

After more than two years of sub-par stories, this version of The Titans was finally put out of its misery with issue #50 (Apr. ’03).  I’m glad I didn’t try sticking it out to the end.  Bad stories aren’t quite as painful when you get them cheap, don’t have to wait for monthly installments, and are distanced from them by the passage of time.  But, yeah, they’re still bad.  Jay Faerber, Paul Pelletier, Tom Peyer and Barry Kitson are responsible for some of my favorite comics from Dynamo 5 to Negation to Hourman to Empire.  Yet somehow, none of them clicked right with The Titans.

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Who was the editor on this book? It seems to me that when books with good creative teams go so far off the rails, some of the blame (if not much of the blame) has to be laid at the feet of editorial. 

It's also good to see some bad old books being looked at with a critical eye, especially those before the latest crisis du jour. A string of duds like this are part of the reason reboots happen. Who on earth would want to keep Jessie Quick sleeping with her mom's boyfriend in continuity?

You know, I didn't actually look at the editor's name while re-reading these.  Plus, I'm more focused on discussing a book's strengths and weaknesses than on assigning blame.  But, yeah, the editor definitely shares a large percentage of the blame here.  A book that lurches from one direction to another, a mismatch between cover art and interior art- those are missteps that an editor is supposed to prevent.  I don't know if it was Faerber's idea or the editor's suggestion to introduce the DEO kids but that story should have been cut short once it was obvious it wasn't working. 

A string of duds like this are part of the reason reboots happen.

Exactly.  After the Faerber mess and three straight clunkers by Peyer, the Titans were ripe for a reboot.  As for the Jesse Quick situation, that's a classic Mopee.  Everyone has pretty much agreed to pretend it never happened.  At least, I haven't seen it referenced since then.

According to the Mike's Amazing World website, Eddie Berganza edited Titans 1-25, and Andrew Helfer edited #26-50.

Helfer! Wow, I expect better from him. But that assessment is based mostly on his writing, since I loved his & Kyle Baker's Shadow so much. 

I was figuring it was a newcomer, to be honest, someone who might have gotten better over time.

But generally, I think acknowledging the editor can reveal a lot in cases like these. It didn't occur to me until a couple of years ago, when I was thinking about the sharp left turn Flash made around issue 270 (Iris was killed in 275). It was the same writer, and for a couple of issues, the same artist. But the editorship had shifted from Julius Schwartz to Ross Andru, and that made a huge difference. I'm rereading the original run on Omega Men now, and have just reached the point of a creative team shift in the mid-20s...but that's accompanied by a shift in editorial, too, as an overworked Marv Wolfman handed things off to Alan Gold. From what I recall, it really refocused a title that had been adrift for about a year.

When Dolphin left, I literally thought "who cares?" Although, given how minor Garth and Dolphin were, you'd think they could be left alone so that there'd be at least one happy marriage somewhere in the DCU. They could have served that purpose, at least, but no, more pointless melodrama instead.

When Dolphin left, I literally thought "who cares?"

Yeah.  They had Dolphin and Cerdian move into the Titans' headquarters and then didn't do anything with either of them.  They were part of the scenery.  Dolphin's one good bit was to point out that they didn't know anything about the DEO kids and maybe shouldn't let them move in- but, of course, that was chalked up to jealousy rather than common sense.  It's another example of the negative impact of the DEO kids.  Some of their screen time could have gone to showing the relationship between Tempest, Dolphin and Cerdian- just as earlier writers made a point of showing that, for all of his flaws, Arsenal was at least a good father to Lian.

I've read Donna is one of very few characters (another was Psycho Pirate) who remembers the Pre-Crisis DC Universe. Is that because of the "Who Is..." storyline?

Not sure, but IIRC much of John Byrne's tenure on Wonder Woman was dedicated to making Donna something of a temporal anomaly, to the point that her memories are literally an approximation derived from Wally's recollection.

At one point there was talk that Harbinger, she of Crisis and Millenium, was in some sense "also" Donna - a divergent timeline or something.  Supposedly that ties into having pre-Crisis memories, supposedly very hazy ones.

Like Shazam said he remembered the Marvel Family but said he couldn't possibly remember them since they never existed and decided to try to forget those memories so he wouldn't go mad.

I just covered that in the 2005 article.  I don't remember if it was hinted at previously but "The Return of Donna Troy" mini-series firmly established that Harbinger was Donna Troy from another dimension.  Personally, I thought it was a bad idea.  Donna's history was complicated enough without throwing Harbinger into the mix.

Luis Olavo de Moura Dantas said:

At one point there was talk that Harbinger, she of Crisis and Millenium, was in some sense "also" Donna - a divergent timeline or something.  Supposedly that ties into having pre-Crisis memories, supposedly very hazy ones.

The Harbinger business really was a retcon too far, which is saying something for a character like Donna, who is unique in having been constructed entirely of retcons.

It would have been less confusing if they'd said she just jumped out of Queen Hippolyta's home movie. After all Diana was a statue she made, so there was precedent that inanimate objects on Paradise Island might come to life.

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