Review: Teen Titans: Child's Play trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, October 04, 2010

It takes four writers to complete Teen Titans: Child's Play. Of their stories, by far the best is J. T. Krul's Blackest Night two-part crossover that includes no regular Titans, only Deathstroke and Ravager -- but it more serves to continue to entice me to want to read Eric Wallace's "Villains for Hire" Deathstroke story in Titans (and also to miss the late, lamented Deathstroke, the Terminator series) than to want to continue following Teen Titans.

[Contains spoilers]

I have said before that instances where I think the Blackest Night crossover works best is when the focus is not on the Black Lantern zombies, but on the emotions that the zombies make the heroes face. J. T. Krul's two-part story is a fantastic ripping open of Deathstroke Slade Wilson's family's emotional wounds; Wilson's daughter Ravager arrives to kill her father just as all of Slade's dead loved ones show up to take revenge, dredging up all the guilt Slade carries over all the bad things he's done in his life.

What follows are both a number of great mercenary-versus-zombie action sequences, but also an emotional story where, as Ravager and Deathstroke fight side-by-side, Krul makes clear how much Ravager's feelings of hate stem from actually wanting her father's love. I don't necessarily buy Geoff Johns's explanation, forwarded here by Krul, that Slade fights the Titans solely to cause the Titans to protect his children from the threats that surround Slade, but I did like Krul's more even-toned Slade. This is not the cackling madman Deathstroke that we saw in Judd Winick's Green Arrow and elsewhere, but one with a more classic "does what he has to" moral code. If that's the Slade in Eric Wallace's Titans, I'm in.

Bryan Q. Miller contributes a three-part story prior to Krul's where, rather unfortunately, a Titan dies. Now, there's actual some precedent the death of Titans functioning effectively in major stories, whether it's Terra in Judas Contract, Aquaqirl in Crisis on Infinite Earths, or Golden Eagle, Jericho (for a time), and more in "Titans Hunt." But, given that writer Sean McKeever bumped off Titan Marvin Harris rather gruesomely a handful of issues ago, and this follows closely on the resurrected Jericho having his eyes gouged out by Vigilante in Teen Titans: Deathtrap, there's an extent to which Teen Titans deaths begin to seem like a gimmick -- especially when the victims are essentially (fictional) children.

I thought Miller's Batgirl Rising was both creative and funny, and indeed Miller's sequence of Blue Beetle's serial spit-takes is worth a laugh. But even as the now de-powered Red Devil had become the Teen Titans' third wheel (and indeed he had), blowing up the kid, even in a heroic bit of self-sacrifice, seems rather harsh. I don't fault guest-writer Miller for this -- his Titans story must necessarily be heavily editorially influences -- but I regret at times it seems that DC has lost the concept of limbo; that characters must necessarily die these days to leave a title, rather than, you know, just moving away or joining another team or something.

Miller, Sean McKeever, and Felicia Henderson's stories in this book all suffer from the same problem, in that above all these Teen Titans just don't seem to like one another, or be all that likable. Wonder Girl is shrill, mopey, and full of self-doubt, a far cry from Young Justice's de facto leader so many years ago. McKeever gives Bombshell a nice scene where -- at the end of Ravager's sword -- she admits her affection for the Titans, but Miller and Henderson's stories have Bombshell and Aquagirl bickering and teasing new member Beast Boy, and the effect is more annoying than entertaining. Marv Wolfman and Geoff Johns's Titans fought, but they all liked each other, especially Johns's; I'm eager to see a Titans where the conflict is exterior, and not necessarily between the teammates.

As well -- though to some extent I don't want to harp on the difficulties with Henderson's Titans, given how the negative fan reaction to Henderson's now-ended run has been well-covered elsewhere -- I must at least mention that I just didn't get what was going on. I like that Henderson pits Raven up against a villain who isn't Trigon, but in a quick panel Raven shows her soul self and the demon Wylde either steals it or runs away from it, I'm not certain, and then that's the end; I know it's "to be continued," but the storytelling felt rather flimsy.

Also, while Beast Boy/Raven 'shippers will like their interplay here, it's also unclear why Beast Boy joins the Teen Titans in the first place -- did Cyborg send him? Why is Cyborg telling Red Arrow as if Arrow is the Titans' leader? What does Cyborg think will come of this slight of hand with Beast Boy? Maybe I'm misunderstanding, but I wondered if this vagueness was an indication of Henderson still getting a grasp of the Titans characters.

Still, for us long-time Deathstroke, the Terminator fans, Teen Titans: Child's Play has a zombie Wintergreen -- yes, the only DC Universe butler cooler than Alfred, now a zombie, alongside zombie Ravagers Wade DeFarge and Grant Wilson, plus Adeline Kane, all a treat to see. It's a great Blackest Night crossover by J. T. Krul, but not such a great Teen Titans book in a string of such, and I regret that that's the case.

[Contains full and variant cover. Printed on glossy paper.]

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4 comments:

  1. Well, at the very least, the JT Krul work gives hope for his coming run; after Henderson just about anything is probably going to be better.

    As for Beast BoyxRaven shippers... well, pretty much all of us are willing to forget the Henderson run ever happened. That should tell you how bad things got after this point. Please do me a favor and don't read "Hunt for Raven" when it hits trade. I doubt you'll ever regret skipping it.

    Seriously, it gets pretty bad to the point where I'm concerned for the upcoming Static series she's going to be writing.

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  2. Oh, also, I forgot to note that for me, this was around when I was starting to get really annoyed with the lineup of the title. I wasn't pleased with it before this point, but over the course of McKeevers run what good there was in the post OYL lineup had been sucked from the title and this was the nadir for me. Rose was gone - McKeever himself having taken her off the team halfway through his run so she could run solo elsewhere - this volume took out Red Devil, Kid Eternity went missing (wonderful how no one really thinks to look for him, but I digress), Miss Martian tended to be away from the team more than she was ever actually on it.

    That leaves Blue Beetle, whom I'm a fan of, and Static, who I had a mild interest in, and... everyone else. Seriously, Aquagirl? Hell, I never bought the whole thing with Bombshell. I hate Wonder Girl. Not a great lineup; in fact, that's got to be among the worst lineups in Titans history. The only thing Henderson really did positive for this title was get some interesting members back, as Beast Boy, Raven, Superboy and Kid Flash returned. I just hope JT Krul runs with them.

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  3. This must be a very strange, disjointed collection. Issue #71 would have been better placed as an epilogue in the Deathtrap TPB, rounding out Mckeever's run, and the two issues by Krul would have been a great addition to one of the ancillary Blackest Night hardcovers.

    Miller's arc, on the other hand, has all of the hallmarks of a bad idea generated by editors, complete with the unnecessary death of a good character just to make it an "important" story instead of plain filler. But for a writer who came from a TV background, he's got a pretty good grasp of comic book storytelling, which is more than I can say about Henderson. Boy, is her writing clunky.

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  4. @shagamu: Now that you mention it, I wonder who really pushed for Red Devil to bite it. It sounds like something you'd think editorial would come up with, but at the same time, McKeever foreshadowed it in the Origins and Omens issue long before he knew he was leaving the Titans and even seemed to be setting Eddie up for it with the loss of his powers. Most of the other Omens never happened, but Miller got tasked with that one, kind of an echo of how McKeevers first story was a plot Geoff Johns had intended to do.

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