Review: Titans: Fractured trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, September 08, 2011

The latest incarnation of the Titans title had a difficult path. At times relatively good and insightful stories (I stand by Lockdown) were overshadowed by gratuitous violence, over-sexualized artwork, and crossovers that upset the book's natural flow. Titans: Fractured marked the end of what we might call "act one" for that title, before the creative team and nearly the book's entire cast changed toward the Villains for Hire era, and ultimately cancellation (if not out-and-out removal from continuity) with the DC Comics relaunch. Overall I liked Fractured better than I expected, but it is itself a mixed bag representative of what this title's troubles were.

[Contains spoilers]

Every couple of years the "writers' room" at DC Comics turns over; it wasn't so long ago that Geoff Johns and Greg Rucka were unknowns at DC, and now Johns is management and Rucka has moved on. Among DC's new writers are Final Crisis Aftermath: Ink's Eric Wallace, who continues as Titans' s regular writer; Chris Yost, late of Red Robin; Bryan Miller, who brought the laughs on Batgirl; and J. T. Krul, the once and future Green Arrow writer. With a few others, each takes a chapter of this book focusing on an individual Titan, and it's an interesting showcase of DC's "new blood" alongside the story itself.

For me, the most convincing of Fractured's one-shots were the first two: Cyborg by Wallace and Starfire by Yost. Though one would like to think that after almost thirty years as a character, Cyborg might see past his own half-machine status, it's true the character had been dealt a couple setbacks at the time of this story, not the least of which is the death of his own group of Titans (though I imagine his new status as a Justice League founder might brighten anyone's day).  I liked how Wallace tied the story into the recent Cyborg miniseries, and also this creative idea Wallace introduces of a "meta-dating" service. There's not much new in the Cyborg story, but it seemed to me cohesive with Cyborg stories of late.

Yost's Starfire story was the quietest but perhaps the most moving. Throughout the story, Starfire beats herself up for what she considers to have been a terrible sin, refusing to join the Justice League when asked. It's a decision ultimately so innocuous, but Starfire feels so badly about it -- about not supporting her friends and rather taking time for herself -- that the reader can't help to feel bad for her. Yost does well in using Darkseid's mind control during Final Crisis as an impetus for Starfire to have traumatic flashbacks to her childhood slavery, and her reluctance to disappoint the Titans family that took her in -- even if the disappointment is only in her own mind -- makes a lot of sense.

I was less impressed by Mike Johnson's Donna Troy issue (though I've enjoyed Johnson on Superman/Batman). There's a silly bit in Pat McCallum's Beast Boy issue where Donna's thong underwear sticks out ridiculously from her jeans; Beast Boy notices and Donna pitches a fit about wanting to feel young or not be the mother of the group or some such. This follows to Johnson's issue, where Donna dresses in an equally overly-sexualized red dress rendered by Sergio Arino and proceeds to have a miserable time taking pictures at a posh event except for flirting with a waiter.

This is a rendition of Donna Troy that I don't quite believe. Sure, maybe it's unfair of me to accept that Cyborg might be reconsidering his life choices and Donna Troy wouldn't be; I grant this is all rather subjective. But even despite Terry Long's mutton chops, I don't believe some writers' suggestion that Donna married Terry hastily, or that Donna's characterization as nurturing is something she might later rebel against. I believe Donna was intended as mature for her age and overly caring, and the idea that Donna wishes she might have partied more -- or that the sister to Wonder Woman, let's remember, cares about that kind of thing -- rang hollow for me.  It makes me all the less unhappy that Donna might not survive into the new post-Flashpoint DC Universe, given that a majority of the time writers just don't seem to know what to do with her.

Similarly, in as much as I'm a fan of Beast Boy and Raven's relationship, McCallum and Miller's issues make me glad Teen Titans writer Krul had something definitive planned for the pair. In the Beast Boy story, Raven is out-and-out cruel to Beast Boy, in a way that makes the reader wonder why he likes her, and why we should like her either. The two reconcile in the Raven issue, but the end is so uncertain -- Raven, standing in a doorway, wondering what she's going to do with her life -- as to feel unsatisfying. I'm glad to see in previews that Krul gave their relationship more nuance; very much the last thing these two characters needed was more bickering.

Krul's two-part conclusion to Fractured is a study in contrasts. On one hand, as Starfire and Cyborg face their fears at the hands of the villain Phobia, we find Cyborg regaining his confidence as a leader and Starfire accepting it might be OK not to belong to a team. On the other hand, Cyborg makes it his business to try to end the Titans team here, pushing Starfire toward the Justice League, and Starfire -- rather than go off on her own -- allows herself to be pulled back into the Titans stratosphere by taking care of Donna (after the events of Justice League: Cry for Justice).

The inconsistency here is, I imagine, unintentional -- Krul is mostly putting these characters in a place where they can be used by James Robinson in his Justice League run -- but fascinating nonetheless. In a way, none of these Titans win nor lose; they gain some insight, but ultimately repeat the same patterns that gave them difficulty before, and I find that fascinating. Either by their own characterizations or through writerly fiat, the Titans characters represent the ultimate "failure to launch"; destructively co-dependent, they'll never escape one another and grow up no matter what insights they achieve, because truthfully they're most interesting only when they're together.

It's a failure of our own suspension of disbelief, in figuring these old friends can't possibly still want to hang out with one another, that keeps this team breaking up and then re-forming. The Outsiders, for instance, have an easier time in that they're already adults -- have had their own adulthoods not shown "on screen" -- and so their joining together to fight a common cause makes sense to the reader; for the adult Titans, not so much.

What I take from Titans: Fractured are a group of nice, emotion-based character stories, reminiscent (and I mean this complimentarily) of Chuck Austen's JLA: Pain of the Gods. And yet, what I think Fractured shows to an extent is how the Titans characters-as-Titans don't work. I'm disappointed that the Marv Wolfman/George Perez New Teen Titans is apparently out of continuity as of the DC relaunch, but I'm not sorry to see the adult Titans relegated to limbo for a while, or at least separated from one another. Much as we'd like to see them together, the result never seems to live up to what we want.

[Contains original covers]

This review goes out to Taha Husain, who requested it. If you'd like to see a certain book reviewed on Collected Editions, just drop me a line! Up next, another special request -- Wonder Woman: Contagion. See you then!
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3 comments:

  1. So, no Tempest's story in this collection. It was pretty good. Too bad he was killed off in the next appearance (Blackest Night).

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  2. Just my personal take, I read and did not like Titans #15, the Blackest Night lead-in issue that featured Tempest (though thanks for chiming in nonetheless). The bit with Batman Dick Grayson was good, but overall I found it dull, not indicative of what J. T. Krul is capable of (but then, the jury's still out on that one). Even so, it's a shame this wasn't included in the Titans: Fractured trade, since it was billed as a Blackest Night tie-in and completists will justifiably want to read it.

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