Review: Teen Titans: Changing of the Guard trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

[Contains spoilers for Teen Titans: Changing of the Guard]

In Teen Titans: Changing of the Guard, writer Sean McKeever improves on many of the difficulties found in his previous Teen Titan volumes, though unfortunately it all still falls way short of Geoff Johns' stories that began this book.

The structure of Changing of the Guard is rather ingenious, matter of fact. McKeever presents two four-chapter stories, "Pawns and Kings" and "The New Deal"; in each, the first two issues could essentially be read as individual stories. If mildly formulaic, it allows McKeever to break the "Teen Titans fight Team X" pattern that dragged down his previous volumes. Wonder Girl and Red Devil are the respective main players in the two stories, but the slow build gives McKeever time to focus on Robin, Bombshell, and a bevy of new new Titans at the same time. McKeever also improves this time around by keeping the Titans (few as they are) together as a team, instead of splitting them to face individual challenges.

Unfortunately, I couldn't help but think this time that McKeever went for both easy stories, and easy solutions. Since Titans East, Teen Titans has dealt with (1) Wonder Girl's transformation to a whiny basket case in the wake of Superboy's death, and (2) Red Devil's deal with the demon Neron to hand over his soul on his eighteenth birthday. McKeever builds these stories relatively well, but then resolves them with almost ridiculous ease -- a follower of Ares seemingly kills Wonder Girl, only to have her emerges to save the day with a new costume and unexplained powers; Red Devil apparently finds out he never signed his contract with Neron (yeah, like Neron's that careless) and *poof* no more soul-selling.

The stories are "explained away" rather than "resolved," and as such didn't leave me overly satisfied. I liked that Red Devil's storyline tied into the Keith Giffen miniseries Reign in Hell, though resolving Red Devil's issues with Neron ever even making an appearance was something of a letdown.

I also noticed that McKeever traded Ravager for Bombshell in this volume -- that is, one stereotypical tough talking, "so over it" character for another. As in Teen Titans: On the Clock, McKeever undercuts a number of supposedly poignant Titans moments with Bombshell's smart aleck remarks, and he does his writing a disservice -- the moments are corny enough that Bombshell's attitude only reinforces what the reader is already thinking, and Bombshell's comments aren't so clever as to make the reader like her. The Titans come off in these moments as kids, and not kids you'd especially want to hang out with; McKeever essentially takes the air out of his own stories.

After much back and forth (and some equally just-not-that-funny scenes with a potential Titan called The Face), the new Titans team resolves itself as Wonder Girl, Aquagirl, Kid Eternity, Red Devil, Static, Bombshell, Miss Martian, and Blue Beetle. It's a non-traditional lineup at Titans teams go (no clear legacies short of Wonder Girl and Aquagirl), but one with potential: Beetle, Devil, and Static could be a great trio if Static weren't acting uncharacteristically holier than thou; I've also enjoyed the Miss Martian character since Johns introduced her. Aquagirl seems the only weak spot, a character without a lot of personality previously established, and I wonder how McKeever intends her to function in the team.

Teen Titans -- like Nightwing, Robin, Birds of Prey, Justice League, and once upon a time, Supergirl -- is one of those DC Comics titles stuck in an awkward place where it can't quite seem to get a steady creative team or momentum under its storylines. Many times, as with the Bat-titles, this cycle ends with the title's cancellation; Supergirl, after a number of rotating creative teams, seems lucky enough to have found its footing with writer Sterling Gates. In a volume or so, McKeever will be replaced on Teen Titans by Felicia Henderson, who'll hopefully "pull a Sterling" on Teen Titans -- I don't think DC will cancel this book, but I don't think it could take another writer and another course correction.

[Contains full covers, "Origins & Omens" pages.]
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11 comments:

  1. Yeah, what I heard of how McKeever wrapped up some of these plots just sounds too neat. Also, maybe a bit too late. At some point, Wonder Girl needed to get over herself and all the bull, but the road to get there made her almost insufferable. At this point, my perception of her as a character is pretty damaged and it'll take a while for me to warm back up to her.

    On the writers thing, I'm not sure what you mean. This title has only had three real writers over the course of it's seventy five issues. Geoff Johns, Sean McKeever and now Felicia Henderson. With three issue fill in's in between. Unlike some other titles, it's done okay as far as keeping creative teams. It just has a nasty habit of going through members like candy, which is highly, intensely annoying.

    I've heard some decent things about Felicia Hendersons first issue. Friends tell me that it's a pretty good start for someone new to comics, though she does have things to iron out. It gives me hope for the title. I just wish I knew if she were on the internet in some capacity; I'd like to give her a word or two of encouragement, since Titans fans can be cruel and I wouldn't want that to be all she sees.

    I think we both might be seeing some compromises in the future in regards to what we look for in Titans. I know you look for some names and such; Superboy is supposed to return to the team sooner rather than later. I've got Beast Boy and Raven returning. So in some ways, it looks like we all may be getting our wish in some capacity in regards to the roster.

    I kind of hope Damian Wayne joins the team as Robin though. I get the impression that would be fun to watch.

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  2. Damian Wayne on Titans is an excellent idea, especially given the discussion at our review of Robin: Search for a Hero about how much Tim Drake has changed from his original likable incarnation.

    Teen Titans had Adam Beechen, too. I think it's the quick change from Johns' departure to Beechen to McKeever to Henderson that sparked the comment. From a trade perspective, it seems like I'm hearing about a new writer just about every other time a Titans collection comes out.

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  3. I get the feeling that Damian on Teen Titans has a lot of possibilities. Whereas we've slowly seen Tim become more of a brooding angst puppy, it would be interesting if we saw standoffish, somewhat egotistical Damian Wayne slowly become less of a hardass. Not to mention make friends. Could make for an interesting reversal in regards to the way Tim had become later in the Titans.

    Yeah, I remember Adam Beecham was supposed to take over the title. He was only there for three issues. From what I understand he got the opportunity to do "Countdown to Adventure" and decided to go for that in the end, giving up the reigns to Teen Titans to Sean McKeever. So I simply look at it as fill-in work; he was intended to be the ongoing writer but before he even really got started he changed his mind.

    McKeever did stick around for a while though. I think he did something like twenty issues, or about four trades worth, not counting spin-offs and such.

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  4. Much like McDuffie on Justice League of America, I think McKeever had a tough time keeping some semblance of a direction for the team while events in other books kept interfering with his plans and taking characters away from him.

    Flawed as it is, this collection is the last bright spot of his Teen Titans run, which unfortunately ended with the terrible, clearly editorially mandated (or even rewritten, judging by the "original story" credit he got on some issues) Deathtrap crossover. And the fill-in 3-parter between his last issue and Felicia Henderson's debut was even worse.

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  5. Just placed an order at my LCS that included Deathtrap. Indeed from what I hear it wasn't very good, but I know there's both Titans and Teen Titans I want to read after it, so I might as well push on through. The downside to enjoying a serial medium, I guess.

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  6. I don't think Deathtrap was really editorially mandated. I think it came down largely to Sean needing to clean up Judd Winicks mess. It's no secret that when the first arc of Titans bombed in public opinion, editorial scrambled to figure out what went wrong and Judd lost all enthusiasm when the editors started getting involved and basically left it, more or less. Judd was originally going to be involved in the crossover, which was supposed to wrap up his plot points so he could leave, but he was taken off - or left - before it got underway, which left Sean holding the bag.

    After which, we have editorial making a concentrated effort to try and get the franchise back on track.

    The funny thing? The two issues where editorial influence on Titans was heavy - #5 and #6 respectively - were the best issues of the series. I'd long held a theory that Judd does his best work when he has an editor breathing down his neck; those two issues just clinched it for me.

    Other than that, I think most of Seans run was indeed his. With the exception of Titans of Tomorrow Today. Not much editorial influence; in fact, I often wondered what the hell Eddie Berganza was doing the past couple of years, because Teen Titans only seemed to improve when Dan DiDio took over editing the book directly.

    I don't know. It's a tough call, really. Judd wrecked havoc on the franchise in general without meaning to, I'm sure. It looks like things are going to finally be getting back on track, so hopefully before long these rough times will be just a mere memory.

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  7. I ask out of honest interest, do you have interviews or such you can cite for what happened with Titans? You note "it's no secret [after the first Titans arc] ... editorial scrambled ... and Judd lost all enthusiasm." If there's an interview with Winick to that effect, I'd be curious to read it. I've enjoyed his work, but I know it's often controversial.

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  8. I honestly wish I could give you the sources, because I don't like being asked for them and being unable to provide. However, that's the situation I'm in. Everything I just said came from people in the know, people who tried to get interviews and other folks. Not articles. So there aren't really sources to give.

    For instance, the artist for the original issue #5 was the one who stated outright that his issue had been scrapped and rewrote. Despite the art being done. That's how desperate DC was to try and fix things; they had a isue that was written with art done scrapped, a two month delay put in and a heavy rewrite done.

    I'm sorry I can't give any sources.

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  9. I started reading Teen Titans when Sean McKeever and Barrows took over. I hadn't read Teen Titans with any regularity before. I liked everything they did and am always baffled by negative comments about the series.

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  10. No problem on the sources, dl -- just curious about the goings on behind the scenes.

    Capricorn, you're absolutely entitled to your opinion and thanks for speaking up -- every comic, as they say, is someone's favorite. Since we had different opinions, tell me more about what you specifically liked about this run -- maybe your insight will help me see a different side of it.

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  11. I liked the review, although, I think that Robin leaving the team was not a good idea. First because he is the leader, what kind of leader leaves a team behind because he has problems? That really annoyed me.

    About Damian being in the TeenTitans I'm not sure I would like it, I already hate that brat (especially because how he behaves on BATMAN: BATTLE FOR THE COWL)

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