I'm in the vocal minority, I know, when I say there's a lot of Judd Winick's work that I've really liked. And I firmly believe Judd Winick can write the Titans; after all, he did it for almost five years on what I'd suggest was essentially a Titans title that I liked quite a bit: Outsiders. But there's no question that the first book of Winick's Titans-proper relaunch, Titans: Old Friends, has some problems. So, if Winick can do it, and we've seen him do it before, where does this volume not work?
Earlier this week, I took issue with Andrew Kreisberg's writing on Green Arrow/Black Canary, following a run by Winick himself; in that case, Kreisberg's plot didn't move me, but I had no problem with Mike Norton's realistic art. Titans: Old Friends suffers from the opposite: I'd venture the writing in the first five of Winick's seven chapters of Old Friends might stand a lot better if not for the ridiculously sexualized art of Ian Churchill and Joe Benitez.
Maybe, one could argue, Winick called in his script for nearly every Titan to be nude in the first chapter, but Winick's Outsiders was sexual too, without seeming childish. Churchill draws in a perhaps-excusable overly-muscled style a la Rob Liefield, but Benitez positions the characters like models in a photo shoot even when they're just standing around talking. In addition, Benitez's figures are so stylized as to look gruesome (consider Nightwing's scrawny chicken legs while having sex with Starfire) such that they come off neither attractive nor pornographic -- just kind of juvenile.
I'm sure Benitez's art has its place somewhere, but frankly I'm surprised at this choice by long-time DC Comics editor Eddie Berganza; it seemed to me entirely the wrong foot for Titans to start on. Winick is not totally without fault; his Kevin Smith/Edward Norton/Aaron Sorkin-inspired dialogue choices here -- lots of short sentences, lots of characters repeating one another -- very quickly becomes annoying, but again, I have to turn to Churchill and Benitez; the choppy dialogue is much more obvious with only two fairly-static panels a page, and less so toward the end of the book when artist Julian Lopez takes over.
Now, some might take issue with my laying the silliness and choppiness of Titans' first few issues at the feet of the artists, but consider that the rather lovely final two issues, drawn by Lopez, still have Winick as their writer. Here, after the Titans fight off the first wave of an attack related to Raven's past, Winick puts quiet focus on the burgeoning relationship between Raven and Beast Boy, and the long history between Nightwing and Starfire. In a couple of pages, Winick offers a mature, cogent take on the latter two characters and their recent on-again-off-again relationship; it demonstrated to me that Winick is a writer wise enough to take love and sex more seriously than the initial art on this book would suggest.
As well, I'm quite convinced that Winick gets the voices of these characters as handed down from New Teen Titans writer Marv Wolfman and beyond. Winick's Beast Boy Gar Logan has a joke a minute on every page, but it's with the understanding that Beast Boy's jokes hide his insecurity over his depth of feeling (the scene where Red Arrow, cracking wise, notes he's taking over the funny-but-cares role from Beast Boy is a self-referential classic). At the same time, in perhaps the fruition of Wolfman's original vision for Beast Boy, Logan is in essence the leading man in the story, as his Titans cartoon-inspired love for Raven is the most interesting and moving part of the story. Winick gets Logan and Cyborg's friendship, too -- frankly, if Tom Grummett had drawn this book in total, I think it might've received a far different reaction.
Old Friends believably takes the Titans from their disparate lives to rejoining as a team mostly, as one Titan notes, to spend more time with their "family." It's a ridiculous, but at the same time perfectly fitting, reason for these characters to come together -- if the Titans just hang out together, then inevitably because of who they are, they'll find crime to fight. This is something with which other comics team writers have struggled -- just as difficult as the "proactive team" seems to write, the "team that is not a formal team" is right up there. If any group of characters could fit that bill, it's these Titans, and by the end, I think Winick's taking the title in the right direction. I'll be curious to see if that keeps up in the next volume, before a different creative team ultimately takes over.
(See some contrary opinions, which I respect, from FanBoy Wonder and IGN.)
[Contains full and variant covers]