The Teen Titans Project, Part XXXI:
The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful (2011)
Two years ago, I started re-reading all of my Teen Titans comics in chronological order and I decided to blog about it. I didn’t realize at the time that it would take me two years to get to the end. Then again, I didn’t realize I would have so much to say that I would slow down to chronicling one year at a time or that I would have to occasionally set aside the reading until I’d caught up with the writing (it’s quicker to read than to write, in my experience). Yet, here we are, at the end of a massive two-year, thirty plus article project. I didn’t follow the Titans into the New 52, though I may borrow the trades from the local library and return for an epilogue or two.
At the beginning of 2011, there were two separate Titans titles. The main Teen Titans title featured a line-up close to the one initially established by Geoff Johns and Mike McKone (Beast Boy, Kid Flash, Ravager, Raven, Superboy and Wonder Girl). The secondary Titans title focused on a team of mercenaries led by Deathstroke who had coopted the name of Titans for his villains-for-hire.
When Deathstroke debuted his team of mercs in the summer of 2010, I was willing to give them a chance. It was an intriguing idea for the team, especially since half of the regular Titans had been promoted to James Robinson and Mark Bagley’s Justice League. But the execution wasn’t there and I was quickly disillusioned. Titans didn’t improve in 2011. If anything, it got worse.
The first arc was actually pretty decent (Titans #28-30, Dec. ’10-Feb. ’11). Deathstroke’s team infiltrated Arkham Asylum, though again Slade never bothered to tell his team if they were there to rescue someone or kill them. Dick Grayson, as Batman, naturally arrived to stop them. Deathstroke set all of the inmates free to create a distraction, overwhelming both Batman and the Titans with a riot. The story was wonderfully chaotic with shifting allegiances and priorities. I also enjoyed the confrontation between old friends as Roy tried to explain his reasons for joining Deathstroke to Dick. I was still annoyed with Fabizio Fiorentino’s erratic art but I thought that Eric Wallace’s writing might have picked up a notch.
However, the Arkham story was only a momentary improvement. In its wake, Wallace broke the team into smaller fragments. Ink quit in disgust over Deathstroke’s broken promises and went off to mope in a directionless subplot. Osiris abandoned the team to follow his own agenda which involving killing people in an insane attempt to bring his sister Isis back to from the dead. It was ugly and unrelated to anything else going on in the title. Wallace also introduced a third subplot in which one Atom (Ray Palmer) investigated murder of another (Ryan Choi). Again, it wasn’t clear what this subplot had to do with the rest of the book, making Titans feel disjointed.
Meanwhile, in the main story, Arsenal and Cheshire finally made their move against Deathstroke, betraying him to another villain named Drago. Drago blinded Deathstroke (because Vigilante hadn’t done that to Jericho only two years earlier) and forced him to fight in an arena as a gladiator (because that hadn’t been done a million times before). I’d ask you to excuse my sarcasm except that I’m not sorry. The entire arc was distasteful, unoriginal, overlong and tiresome. I slogged my way through it for the sake of this project but I definitely would have quit the title if I’d been reading it in real time. I can respect the attempt to replicate the old story structure of a main story with three sub-plots but it just didn’t work. It’s as if Wallace even confused himself because it seemed completely random as to which issue was labeled part one or part four. For six months (#31-36, Mar.-Aug. ’11), Titans was a complete and ugly mess.
Wallace tried to bring everything back together for his final arc. The big climax started with a confrontation between the Titans and the JLA (Titans Annual #1, 2011). Ray Palmer had discovered that Deathstroke was responsible for Ryan Choi’s death and led the League against the mercenaries. It should have been a lop-sided affair as the League was pretty large at this point in time but improbably Wallace had the Titans escape. Deathstroke then proceeded to implement his plan- using the various gadgets they’d picked up over the past year to resurrect his son, Jericho, and promising to do the same for the other Titans’ loved ones. Some of the Titans were torn but Arsenal led the attack against Deathstroke recognizing that the promise was a hollow one. I appreciate that Wallace tried to bring his loose strands together but it was unconvincing. The final arc was marginally better than the half-year that preceded it but you could skip the entire Titans-as-villains era without missing anything important.
Over in Teen Titans, the situation was dramatically different. I mentioned in the last article that I was a little apprehensive heading into the new year based on the line-up changes. Personal favorites Blue Beetle and Static had left the team while characters that had grown in my estimation, Aquagirl and Bombshell, departed as well. The Titans were left with a core that closely resembled the Johns-McKone line-up at the outset of this volume. For me, it felt backward looking though I’d guess that DC was going for more of a throwback feel. It took a couple of issues but I soon realized that DC had made the right move. Felicia Henderson had reset the line-up for incoming writer J.T. Krul, allowing him to put his own stamp on the team. Although I mostly enjoyed Henderson’s run, I had absolutely loved Krul’s work on the two Titans “Blackest Night” stories and I noticed that Teen Titans improved markedly in his care.
Nicola Scott also took over as the main artist for Joe Bennett. Bennett was a competent journeyman but he didn’t have a particularly memorable or exceptional style. Nicola Scott had already wowed the comic book world with her work on Birds of Prey and Secret Six. Scott employs a striking style that conveys realism without becoming cluttered in detail. She quickly became the best artist on Teen Titans since Mike McKone.
Krul and Scott’s first issue (#88, Dec. ’10) was a fairly simple story, setting up the new status quo. Ravager was back on the team and flirting with Superboy. Superboy and Wonder Girl had resumed their romantic relationship but were having second thoughts about it. And Beast Boy was evolving nicely into his new role as team mentor without stepping on Wonder Girl’s toes as team leader.
Of course, a team that’s happy and working together well doesn’t usually make for entertaining reading so Krul introduced a wild card with the next issue. Dick Grayson as Batman decided that his new partner needed the kind of seasoning that would come from working with a team so he placed the new Robin, Damian Wayne, with the Titans (#89-91, Jan-Mar. ’11). It was a great move from a story-telling angle. Dick and Tim Drake both had long tenures with the Titans as Robin, and even Jason Todd had briefly been a member of the team. Damian naturally assumed he should in charge and clashed with the current Titans. He played the Danny Chase role better than Danny ever did. And it was fun to see Ravager flipped from her outsider stance to one of the insiders resenting the new kid on the block. The Damian Wayne story was a blast to read, the most fun I’d had with a Titans story in years.
At the same time, the Titans were involved in a couple of intriguing one-shots. In Teen Titans: Cold Case #1 (Feb. ’11), the Titans fought the Flash’s Rogues in a tale set back in the day when Kid Devil was still a member of the team. It was a fun little romp and I enjoyed Sean Murphy’s angular art on the Titans. Cassie Sandsmark had a solo adventure as well in the Wonder Girl one-shot (Mar. ’11). In this story, Cassie traveled to England to catch up with her mom at an archaeology convention. Cassie and her mom continued to bicker, while Cassie made friends with another disaffected child of archaeologists named Kiran. Of course, nothing can go smoothly when a Titan is around and angry ancient gods attacked the museum. Cassie and Kiran, who had sun powers as the superhero Solstice, saved the day leading to a new friendship and reconciliation with Cassie’s mom. It was a nice little story, deepening one character while introducing a new one.
The Teen Titans next took part in a crossover with former teammate and new Red Robin Tim Drake (Red Robin #20 & Teen Titans #92, Apr. ’11). This was another nice short story, highlighting the differences between Tim and Damian. Tim had the opportunity to play mentor/big-brother to the new Robin and the Titans had the chance to connect with an old friend. It was a solid and welcome character story. Plus, Catman made for a great antagonist. Georges Jeanty did a good job as the guest artist on the Titans issue. However, his Wonder Girl looked so much like his Buffy Summers that I did a double take. Some artists rely on a set body type while others are better are developing a distinct physique for every character. George Perez is the all-time master but Nicola Scott is as good as it gets today.
Teen Titans embarked on their big story of the year just in time for summer (#93-97, May-Sept. ’11). After Solstice first appeared in the Wonder Girl one-shot, it was time for the rest of the team to meet the new hero. The Teen Titans set off for the India-Pakistan border where archaeologists had unintentionally unleashed avatars of Hindu demons. Kiran told the Titans the story of how these demons had been defeated a long time ago by a god of light and his monkey sidekick. Beast Boy took the story to heart and turned into a giant, green ape while Kiran reluctantly took the lead in defeating the villain. This was a great epic. It had big world-threatening villains and successfully integrated a new character onto the team.
That last part is a lot harder than it looks. A writer can do everything right and still have the fans reject a new character or dismiss her as a “Mary Sue.” I thought that JT Krul and company handled it exactly right. They first introduced Kiran in a small story. Then they brought her back for a bigger epic. Kiran didn’t push herself forward or take over the team. She defeated the big bad, but the rest of the Titans urged her to do so because of her unique powers. She also brought variety to the team in terms of ethnicity, powers and personality. Unfortunately, even though Krul did everything right, it didn’t matter because the timing was wrong. The current title was on its last legs and soon to be replaced by the New 52. It’s too bad but Solstice has been relegated to the dustbin of history.
For his final story (#98-100, Oct.-Dec. ’11), JT Krul brought back one of the Titans’ prime villains, Superboy-Prime. The villain who killed Conner Kent in Infinite Crisis was upset that his adversary had returned and decided to target the Titans as revenge. He even put together a Titans Revenge squad with villains like Indigo, Inertia and Persuader. It was a hard-hitting fight story, forcing the current Titans to face their most dangerous foes. Yet, even in the midst of the battle, Krul managed some nice character bits such as Raven resenting Solstice’s light powers and sunny personality. The best bit though was the moment in issue #100 when every former Titan answered the summons and showed up to take down Superboy-Prime. It was a great moment for the story and the fans.
This final year of Teen Titans was truly outstanding. JT Krul balanced short tales with longer epics, characterization with huge threats, and humor with action. And Nicola Scott was outstanding, devising distinct body types, subtle facial emotions and powerful action scenes. But the reality of the market is that it was too late. Comic book fans aren’t going to jump onto the bandwagon for a title already in its 90s. I know I didn’t. I only wish, in retrospect, that DC had realized what a good thing they had on their hands and asked Krul and Scott to lead the Titans into the New 52. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
That wasn’t the end for the Titans, of course. And I don’t mean the New 52 title or the Rebirth series that should be coming out in a month or two. DC gave us one last treat in 2011: the long-rumored, long-awaited Titans original graphic novel by Marv Wolfman and George Perez. The New Teen Titans: Games was an absolutely brilliant detective story. It was great to see the classic line-up together again (even if it meant putting up with Danny Chase one more time). And it was a delight to see Perez render the Titans as well as numerous New York City landmarks. The story wasn’t quite Wolfman’s best yet he did a good job playing with comic book conventions, splitting up the team up before bringing them back together, and including a couple of twists. The new villains weren’t all up to snuff either- it’s hard to introduce eight great new villains all at once- but that’s a minor detail for such an enjoyable story. Games compares favorably to some of the great Titans stories of the past, which is pretty impressive considering that it came out 25 years after the heyday of Wolfman and Perez.
Well, that’s about it folks. For 2011, there was one good title, one bad one, and one long-awaited masterpiece. That’s not a bad summary of 47 years of Titans history: sometimes good, sometimes band and sometimes masterful.
Congratulations, Chris, on accomplishing such a huge project!
I should definitely track down those last issues of Teen Titans. Nicola Scott is phenomenal, and I'm glad to hear that the stories lived up to her work.
I liked Games a lot, too -- though I was stunned at the death of a long-time Titans supporting character from the era. She hadn't been seen in years, but it still made me sad.
The Krul/Scott run was really good. I was pleasantly surprised, especially considering that it came so late in the volume. Scott was the regular artist for 9 of 13 issues (88-91, 93-95, 97 & 100) with fill-in issues by Georges Jeanty (92), Jose Luis (96, 99) and Eduardo Pansica (98). The run is also collected in two trades Team Building (88-92 plus Red Robin 20 and the Wonder Girl one-shot) and Prime of Life (93-100). It's definitely worth checking out.
Oh, nice! Thanks for making it easy!