Teen Titans: The Future is Now contains the kind of whiz-bang stories we've come to expect from this series, both past Titans and present, and it's possible that it might just be the best volume of the current series so far. And if you're currently reading Infinite Crisis (like I am!) and hadn't read Teen Titans: The Future is Now (like I hadn't!), go read it--it'll leave you even more confused and titillated than you already are.
This trade picks up from both Teen Titans: Beast Boys and Girls and Legion: Foundations, with Superboy trapped in the future. He arrives to recruit the Titans to help the Legion in battling the Fatal Five-Hundred, a battle they win even as they lose the war; the Legion's timeline is obliterated, and the Titans are returned ten years in their future. There, they join the conflict between the Titans East and the Titans West, meeting dark dopplegangers of themselves. Once the Titans return to the present, their trip to the future makes one Titan, Starfire, reconsider her place with the team, while Robin--reeling from the death of his father in Identity Crisis--re-envisions the possibility of his one day becoming Batman. A new member, Speedy, joins the team, just as the newly-awakened Dr. Light kidnaps Green Arrow and declares war on all Titans.
There's a strong focus on mentors this time around. The future Titans keep a somewhat grotesque hall of mentors, each in tribute to one of the darker influences on their lives (we might wonder, parenthetically, why Kid Flash has Max Mercury instead of Jay Garrick). This astounds the present Titans, but they learn later, while fighting Dr. Light, that the JLA may not be as spotless as they thought. This reinforces a familiar Titans theme, that in the end, the only ones the Titans can really count on are each other. It also strengthens Cyborg's role as one of the best--and my personal favorite--Teen Titans leaders so far; even as Nightwing at one point leads the team during this trade, it is Cyborg that almost single-handedly brings down Dr. Light, and then almost immediately turns around and helps to welcome Speedy on to the team despite difficult circumstances. With Starfire gone, Teen Titans changes from a team of old-and-new Titans, to a true teen group under the mentorship of Cyborg. It'll be interesting to see how the team dynamics change from here.
The Identity Crisis tie-in in The Future is Now comprises the one-shot "Hiding" and the three-part "Lights Out." "Hiding" follows Tim Drake after Identity Crisis, and his reactions to his father's death are pretty much as expected; what this story adds instead is first, a thread tied between Identity Crisis, Villains United, and Infinite Crisis, and second, a perfect explanation of the somewhat mysterious Identity Crisis scene between Nightwing and Starfire. Starfire's sudden rush to Nightwing in Identity Crisis seemed somewhat forced given the characters' strained relationship; here, Johns offers an explanation both fluid and in-character. This could be the best Identity Crisis tie-in addition, second only to the post-Deathstroke-fight scene over in Geoff Johns' Flash: The Secret of Barry Allen.
"Lights Out" is also good, exciting from beginning to end, but its overall significance seems more relevant to ongoing events in Green Arrow than in Teen Titans. In an interesting bit of comic book cameo-ing, the titles of "Lights Out" are all written in the Green Arrow logo font, further cementing the unofficial Green Arrow-crossover feel here. That Johns still makes this feel like a complete Teen Titans story at the same time (and not, as with JSA, an Identity-Crisis-dependant story) remains a credit to his Teen Titans writing. If there was one only thing I disagreed with, though, it was seeing the two small-time crooks who shot Bolt in Identity Crisis behaving like, well, small-time crooks. The decision of one of these boys to save Bolt was one of my favorite scenes in Identity Crisis (as I discussed) and watching them fool around with Lex Luthor's war suit challenged this somewhat.
As for Infinite Crisis, we learn--or receive hints about--quite a bit here. There's the suggestion not only that Bart Allen will team with Donna Troy (strange, since he's not together with her group of heroes), but that Bart is soon to become the next Flash (I don't buy it, but that's just me). The future Batman--Tim Drake--talks about having to "rebuild the future" (due to the universe's collapse, perhaps?) and how so many heroes died during "the Crisis" (fighting an army of villains led by Alexander Luthor?). The future Deathstroke says that Roy Harper becomes Green Arrow; Bette Kane--as Batwoman--says that she died and was resurrected with help from Tim Drake and Ra's al Ghul (currently deceased); and Starfire and Nightwing apparently live happily ever after. And that's all without considering which Earth's Lex Luthor appears in these pages, and whether or not his shadowy "partner" is Superboy-Prime. Let the speculation continue, folks; I'll be interested to see how much of this makes sense after Infinite Crisis is over.
I was most impressed by Geoff Johns' sense of continuity here. We're travelling on somewhat-tred ground already--members of the Titans teaming with the Legion, a grand Titans reunion--but Johns uses this familiarity very much to his advantage. As Kid Flash, nee Impulse, re-teams with the Legion, Brainiac 5 picks right up with the "Koko" jokes from where they left off. It's nothing that would distract those not-in-the-know, but amusing to long-time fans. We're also reminded of the Impulse/Rose Wilson relationship during the end of the Marv Wolfman run; Similarly, Johns spares a panel for a reference to the short-lived Superboy/Batgirl relationship--again, nothing that required great attention, but a nice little touch. Past Titans, including perennial favorites like Pantha, Baby Wildebeest, and Red Star in his old, recently-seen-in-the-Teen-Titans-cartoon costume, appear--all-in-all, as with JSA, Johns continues to offer long-time DC fans plenty of good times here, without confusing newer readers.
High recommendation then for this trade. Teen Titans: The Future is Now includes full covers for all issues, and sketch section at the end of the future Titans' costumes (no introduction, and two "blank" logo pages to make the two-page splash pages work). Off now to follow the Legion into Legion of Super-Heroes: Teenage Revolution and the Outsiders into Outsiders: Wanted. I'll get to the Countdown to Infinite Crisis trades one of these days ... join us, won't you?