The Teen Titans Project, Part XXVI:
One Year Later (2006)
The Teen Titans of 2006 can be divided into two very distinct sections. In the first third of the year, Teen Titans continued to be heavily impacted by the over-arching story of the DC Universe. In the latter two-thirds of the year, Teen Titans set its own course as part of DC’s line-wide “One Year Later” event. It’s almost like dealing with two different titles, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.
For me, the New Year began in December ’05 with issue #29. Geoff Johns returned as the regular writer after a guest arc and Tony Daniel arrived as the new artist. I hadn’t liked Daniel’s earlier fill-in issue as I felt his attempts to copy Tom Grummett and Mike McKone didn’t mesh with his own style. However, I changed my mind once Daniel was handed the reins to the regular gig. He stopped imitating others and his angular style gave a distinctive look to the Titans of this period. I especially appreciated his adult look for Beast Boy, who was now one of the older Titans on the team.
In terms of story, issue #29 reflected several major plotlines that were part of DC’s “Countdown to Infinite Crisis.” As I mentioned in the previous article, your feelings about Teen Titans at this time will largely depend on your feelings about DC’s company-wide story from Identity Crisis to Infinite Crisis. As I also mentioned, I loved what DC was doing. I enjoyed the scope, the stakes and the clear direction of the Crisis-to-Crisis era and I didn’t mind its intrusion into Titans. It also helped that Titans’ writer Geoff Johns was one of the architects of DC’s big story so he was able to forge connections that made sense for the title. In this issue, Johns picked up on three significant plotlines. First, he incorporated the return of Donna Troy into the regular title (her resurrection had taken place in a separate mini-series). Donna’s return also catapulted the Titans into the Countdown as she recruited Cyborg to help her with the upcoming Crisis. Second, Johns showed Cassie’s reaction to Wonder Woman’s murder of Max Lord. Johns wrote a touching scene about the loss of innocence, while also affirming the big stakes of the current direction. Finally, Johns dedicated most of the issue to the return of Jason Todd and a big battle between Jason and Tim over the mantle of Robin. I particularly liked that Johns emphasized Jason’s connection to the Titans (Jason had served on a replacement squad while Donna was team leader).
Johns and Daniel returned to Titans-centric fare for the next story (#30-31, Jan.-Feb. ’06). The new Brother Blood resurrected dead Titans as his zombie minions forcing the new Titans to fight their forebears in an attempt to close the gateway between the living and the dead. Johns mixed a nice blend of action, nostalgia and fun. He also made effective use of sub-plots, introducing potential future Titans Kid Devil and Kid Eternity while planting the seeds of a romance between Beast Boy and Raven. On top of all that, there was an embedded story that showed Captain Carrot’s Zoo Crew starring in a version of Watchmen. These two issues were chock full of pleasant surprises, including some guest art by former Young Justice penciller Todd Nauck, helping Daniel make his deadline for issue #31.
Over the next three issues, Teen Titans took part in the Infinite Crisis crossover. Issue #32 (Mar. ’06) featured a full-on battle between Superboy and Superboy-Prime. Our Superboy, Conner Kent, activated his Titans’ signal, bringing a host of former Titans and guest-stars into the fight. Beast Boy brought the new Doom Patrol with him as well. Guest artist Todd Nauck masterfully directed the chaos of a mass battle with sharp storytelling and an even sharper sense of humor. However, despite the light-hearted approach, the battle had major ramifications for the Titans as Superboy-Prime injured multiple Titans including Risk.
Teen Titans Annual #1 (2006) focused on the romantic relationship between Superboy and Wonder Girl. Johns’ duties with Infinite Crisis were keeping him busy so Titans legend Marv Wolfman returned as guest plotter. I thought the annual was a great stand-alone story with a love-in-the-ruins feel to it, like classic war romances War & Peace or The English Patient. Conner and Cassie finally consummated their relationship in a tender scene that remains emotionally powerful almost ten years later. The only downside to the annual is that four different artists took turns drawing the story and the disparate styles were occasionally jarring. Well, there was one other downside but we’ll get to that.
Teen Titans #33 (Apr. ’06) featured a team-up between Nightwing and Superboy. Both characters were rumored to become casualties in Infinite Crisis so guest creators Marv Wolfman and Todd Nauck wrote this as a possible good-bye story, spending most of the time on character and relationship. Nightwing survived the Crisis but Superboy would be killed in the crossover, making his reconciliation with Cassie in the annual bittersweet. Cassie also starred in a sub-plot that furthered her connection to the Greek gods. Ares confirmed that Cassie’s father was Zeus and asked her to join him in overthrowing their dad.
Since the Titans were displaced from their own series by the Superboy storyline, they headed over to Robin’s title as guest-star in his two-part Infinite Crisis crossover (Robin #146-147, Mar.-Apr. ’06). It was a fun little tale by Bill Willingham and Scott McDaniel as the Titans first tried to revive Superboy (ahead of his appearance in the annual) and then fought Brainiac’s monstrous experiments. It’s interesting to note that Speedy II played a large role in this story. It seems like she was always more of a Titan in other titles than she was in their own book.
On the whole, the Infinite Crisis tie-ins were a bit of a mixed bag. There were incredible emotional moments like Cassie and Conner’s reunion and Nightwing and Superboy’s conversation in the face of certain death. And there were epic confrontations like the Superboy vs. Superboy-Prime fight and the battle vignettes in the annual. But the title itself became a little disjointed as it jumped in and out of Infinite Crisis. It’s even hard to know what order in which to read the issues as Superboy had multiple disappearances, injuries and returns along the way. I have mostly fond memories of these issues (#33 didn’t work as well for me as the others) but they are admittedly inconsistent.
In May, Teen Titans launched a new direction as the entire line skipped ahead as part of DC’s “One Year Later” directive. Johns and Daniel were dealt a tough hand on Titans: Superboy had died in Infinite Crisis, Robin had spent the year abroad as part of Batman’s story, and Bart had been transformed into an older moody Flash as part of his new title. Instead of lamenting their losses, Johns and Daniel turned lemons into lemonade. They made the disintegration of the Titans part of the story. They used video message flashbacks to establish that it had been a rough year for the Titans. Cassie quit the team since all of her friends were missing and Cyborg spent the year incapacitated. Beast Boy and Raven tried to keep the team going by bringing aboard new caretakers (Marvin and Wendy of SuperFriends fame) and a host of new teammates but the team had been a squabbling, ineffective mess. I thought the video flashbacks were very well done- possibly too well done, as they made me wish I had read the missing year’s worth of stories.
In issue #34 (May ’06), a returned Robin and restored Cyborg set out to rebuild the team with new holdovers Kid Devil and Ravager. They ask Cassie to return too but she initially turns them down, still hurt and bitter about the past year. However, Cassie changes her mind when the team offers to help her track down the reconstructed Brotherhood of Evil (#35, June ’06). Their search leads to a rendez-vous with the new Doom Patrol (#36, July ’06). The two teams then band together to take down the Brotherhood and disrupt the Brain’s plan to clone a new body (#37, Aug. ’06).
I enjoyed the opening “One Year Later” arc when I first read it and it’s grown on me even more over the years. I almost always enjoy a good rebuilding the team story- even if I felt a little cheated out of the deconstruction phase. I also liked Kid Devil and Ravager as new Titans. Rose Wilson had been an uninspired background character for years before Geoff Johns turned her into the new Ravager. She became even more interesting when Johns added her the team. She added a bit of an edge and stirred things up like Hawkeye on the Avengers or Wolverine in his early days with the X-Men. At the same time, Johns introduced themes of betrayal and redemption that made Ravager the most intriguing of the current Titans.
Johns introduced multiple soap opera elements as well. Rose came on to Robin in one issue and then Tim and Cassie kissed in another. Wonder Girl and Ravager resented each other and constantly bickered. Plus, Ravager and Kid Devil felt excluded by the long-term Titans, creating a bond between the two of them and another rivalry with the rest of the team (and one that was much more believable than the earlier outsider clique depicted during Jay Faerber’s run). The shifting emotions were riveting. It’s always a good sign when the Titans’ personal lives are as interesting as their battles against supervillains.
It also helped that Tony Daniel was able to draw all four issues of the arc. Daniel’s artistic excellence and consistent presence helped the story hold together. Even better, Daniel was stylistically inventive, adding new looks for members of the Doom Patrol and the Brotherhood of Evil (although I later learned that his really cool Bumblebee design was borrowed from the Teen Titans cartoon). This was arguably Daniel’s best arc on the Titans.
In the year’s final arc, the Titans continued to rebuild the team by tracking down former Titans including several who had joined during the lost year. The search became even more significant when Raven revealed that a traitor had joined the team in the past year. They met up with Red Star in issue #38 (Sept. ’06), tracked down Zatara in #39 (Nov. ’06), and met Miss Martian and Bombshell in #40 (Dec. ’06). Jericho was resurrected in that same issue by the process Brother Blood had previously used to resurrect Raven. This all led to a major battle against Deathstroke and the now-revealed traitor, Bombshell, in issue #41 (Jan. ’07).
I remember being disappointed in this arc at that time but I’ve since changed my mind. When I first read it, I was intrigued by the hints about the missing year more than the current story and felt a little cheated. I still wish that Johns had written a “Lost Year” mini-series or at least a “Secret Files & Origins” so that we could see the replacement Titans’ adventures in New Azarath. But, with the advantage of hindsight, I can appreciate the craft Johns poured into this story. He told a tale on multiple levels, inventing an interesting past while also propelling a story forward in the present. I also enjoyed the shifting suspicion of the traitor story as Ravager and Miss Martian took turns in the spotlight. Bombshell’s revelation as the traitor was a bit of a letdown after the other possibilities that had been hinted but it still led to a great final battle.
Plus, Miss Martian was another great addition to the Titans. She was charming, innocent, and hiding a big secret. She was a nice foil to Ravager as well. With Kid Devil, Ravager and now Miss Martian, Johns had expanded the Titans’ roster in interesting new ways with engrossing new characters. It was arguably the best streak of new Titans since Cyborg, Raven and Starfire joined the team together in 1980.
The search story was a little disjointed, however. It didn’t help that Tony Daniel ran into deadline problems again, necessitating fill-in artists on the first and last issues. Even so, it was a much better arc than I remembered and it resulted in a fairly cool new line-up mixing classic Titans with interesting new characters- Cyborg, Raven, Robin, Wonder Girl, Kid Devil, Ravager, Miss Martian and Jericho.