Review: Teen Titans: The Hunt for Raven trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Writer Felicia Henderson's efforts on Teen Titans: The Hunt for Raven have already been pretty widely panned (Titans Tower has a good collection of quotes); perhaps not unrelated, the writer was later scheduled to write a Static Shock series but was later dropped from the title.

I picked up Hunt for Raven because I'm a completist, like many comics fans. With the DC Relaunch in full swing, to skip Hunt and then pick up JT Krul's Teen Titans books to follow would leave me with all the collected volumes of this Titans series except one. Even despite the tepid reviews, I'm not inclined to have such a hole in my collection.

To that end, my goal with this review is not to tear apart Henderson or Hunt for Raven (you can find plenty of that elsewhere), but rather to mention a couple of things I found interesting about the book, as well as to cover a couple of its difficulties. I don't recommend this book, but I imagine there's a population out there who might own it for the same reasons I do, and therefore I think it's worth considering for discussion.

[Contains spoilers]

Henderson inherited a somewhat fractured Teen Titans team from writer Sean McKeever. I think the team became closer-knit or more confrontational depending on the needs of a couple of stories by McKeever, Bryan Q. Miller, and Henderson in the last few Titans books, but in whole the Titans that Henderson ended up with were not the buddies fresh from Young Justice that began this series under Geoff Johns. A large part of Hunt for Raven therefore involves building camaraderie amongst the team. It is heavy-handed in the same way that early episodes of a television series have these same "friend-building" episodes so that any character can share a scene with another later on. This transparency on Henderson's part, however, at least gives a sense of Henderson's intentions for the series, had her run lasted longer than this book.

Of note, for one, is a sequence in the book's third chapter in which the villain Holocaust has imprisoned Wonder Girl, Static, Aquagirl, and Bombshell. Bombshell has been the stereotypical "angry outsider" of the group, but when Wonder Girl and Aquagirl each accidentally collide with her trying to escape from plastic bubble prisons, the whole team shares a good laugh. It's the old "imprison a couple of warring characters and they'll bond as they escape" routine you've likely seen on a Star Trek episode or two, but it works here. Henderson is able to play plot against character in such a way that the characters do emerge changed when the scene is over.

Even after, Henderson preserves the animosity between Bombshell and Aqaugirl, which is somewhat amusing, actually, reminiscent of New Titans Pantha sniping at her teammates for a while. Not surprisingly then, when Henderson splits the Titans off into teams, it's Bombshell and Aquagirl who have to wait together at the bottom of the ocean, and ultimately bond. Such bonding unfortunately comes after the two have to escape the belly of a sea dragon (hard to say if the sea dragon's phallic stomach tentacles came from Henderson's script or José Luís's imagination), but the storyline is still cute in a Saved by the Bell kind of way (the bonding, that is, not the tentacles).

Wonder Girl remains a character that troubles a lot of writers (amazing, after Peter David wrote her so well), but I thought Henderson gave her characterization a good effort. From the beginning, Wonder Girl recognizes she has led the Titans poorly and takes charge in what I thought was a realistic way, to the point of overcompensating. The team of rather strong personalities starts to leave to help Static on a mission; Wonder Girl drags them back to the conference room to talk out the details before they go. In a similar meeting about rescuing the kidnapped Raven, Wonder Girl listens to all the contradictory viewpoints, thanks everyone for them, and then makes her ruling. Henderson's Wonder Girl comes off as shrill as she did under McKeever, but the way she leads seems like the way one would have to lead a group of super-powered teenagers, so I thought Henderson's approach was a little better than what came before.

No doubt readers might object to Henderson's portrayal of Wonder Girl and Superboy's relationship. After years of Wonder Girl moping over the deceased Superboy, and considerable confusion prior to this book as to when and whether Wonder Girl knew of Superboy's resurrection, it's surprising (if not inconceivable) that she would push him away in these pages. Further, Henderson's depiction of Wonder Girl rejecting Superboy early on and then accepting him later lacks finesse, such that the reader is as confused as Superboy, and Wonder Girl comes off the jerk. Henderson is trying here, however, to present the conflicts of a female leader (and one dating Superboy, no less) juggling a relationship with a man and also not wanting to seem "soft" before her team. This, too, is likely a bit of realism not often covered in comics; Henderson's intention is good even if the depiction is not.

Hunt for Raven, unfortunately, comes apart in the finer details. The two stories collected here involve searches for Static and Raven respectively, and it seems on almost every page a character repeats "Where's Static?" or "We have to find Raven!" If Henderson's scenes work as a whole, they have trouble moment to moment -- in the fourth chapter, Superboy and Kid Flash are distraught that Holocaust seems to have killed the other Titans, and then in the next panel they're strangely sanguine; when the Titans are revealed alive, the two have no reaction. Henderson introduces a couple of scientists who call each other pet names ad nauseum; if Henderson means them to be funny, the result is just annoying. Henderson goes back and forth between scenes sometimes only with a page inbetween, far too suddenly, and sometimes multiple scenes are repetitively introduced with the word "Meanwhile."

And this is aside from a number of technical errors, including Wonder Girl once referring to her group as the "Team Titans," and a couple of pages in the fifth chapter where Wonder Girl is colored as Miss Martian and vice versa.

Teen Titans: The Hunt for Raven ends with a viable concept -- the evil Wyld creature turns out to have been accidentally created by Raven and fashions itself as her son; Raven actually tries to defend the Wyld when the other Titans defeat it. The implications of such get swept under the rug when Felicia Henderson must quickly pare down the team for the purposes of J. T. Krul's run beginning in the next book. It's little sparks like these that bring me to say I didn't dislike Henderson's Titans run as much as I was lead to believe I would -- this is no great comfort, but I believe I disliked Sean McKeever's main Teen Titans work more. This is still, however, not where this book should be, and I'm hopeful Krul can turn things around before the series ends with the DC Relaunch.

[Contains original covers]

Next week ... all week ... Collected Editions reviews Flashpoint! Look for not one, but two Flashpoint-related reviews, plus DC solicitation news and more. Don't miss it!
Collected Editions 2014 Comic Book Gift Guide
Get the Collected Editions scoop before anyone else -- on Facebook!

4 comments:

  1. Your optimism is heartbreaking :D

    Isn't it a good policy not to buy something? If it's that bad, that widely criticized, shouldn't you just not buy it so there is a change in the creative team and things get to improve, maybe even by sheer luck?

    Maybe a book dropping from 20k to 0 from one month to the next will get the editor fired, and maybe someone who actually knows his job, may get assigned to the book.

    I strongly recommend you not to pick up the new Titans book. And you don't have the "completism" as an excuse for your compulsion, since is a whole new series (and a very bad one).

    ReplyDelete
  2. Trust me, if CE could stomach this book up until Henderson's run, it can only go uphill from there. Not that Krul's run was very good, but it was definitely better than what came right before.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I actually liked Henderson's run until the last two issues. I was a bit taken aback when I looked around the Internet to see what the consensus was and I realized that I was possibly the only person on Earth who didn't hate her run.

    I thought her stories weren't bad, and her take on the characters and their interactions was actually very good and made sense for where the book was at that time. You could see the team slowly start to come together and work as a team, even if Cassie had to rule with a bit of a heavy hand to get them there. Which was helped by the fact that Henderson had a stable line-up, something poor McKeever never did.

    I didn't like the abruptness with which she dealt with Wonder Girl and Superboy's relationship (and yes, Wonder Girl knew he was back as soon as he came back, since Conner and Bart showed up in front of the Titans at the end of Legion of Three Worlds), but I could see what she was trying to do, and it wasn't a bad idea, so I let it go. Krul ended up doing the same thing, but handled it much better.

    Then the last two issues hit, and suddenly the dialogue was so bad that I could barely force myself to read it, and the story was wrapped up too easily and ended up falling flat. I was shocked by the disparity. It had gone from a run that I was really enjoying to simply terrible comics. I've been wondering how I'd like Henderson's first 10 issues if I went back and read them now, but I'm honestly afraid that I'll retrospectively hate them.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I'm all in favor of voting with your wallet, Esteban; I have no plans to pick up Penguin: Pride and Prejudice nor the new Ray series when they come out in trade, because they just don't interest me. That's a situation where even if I'd heard great things about the series (I haven't, necessarily), I'd still probably skip them or wait a while to buy them -- they just don't appeal to me personally, though they may just as easily appeal to others.

    Henderson's book did interest me -- if not because of Henderson herself, then because of the characters. I wanted to see Superboy and Kid Flash rejoin the Titans, and I wanted to see Static return to Dakota, even if I could guess that both would turn out to be a disappointment, and they were.

    Perhaps I ought avoid a book if a sufficient number of people tell me it's no good, but then I'm letting others decide what I read instead of making decisions based on my own interests, and that's no good either. Just as many people would say Final Crisis was a hot mess as that they loved it -- if I took the detractors word for it I'd never have read the book, and I adored it. Everyone's got to build their own canon -- yours might have Penguin in it, and mine might have Hunt for Raven -- and that can't be a bad thing; there's too many subjective factors affecting the decision to pick one book out of hundreds of choices

    Whether it's even possible for a trade-waiter to vote with their wallet, or if those creative team decisions will already have been made (as in Henderson's case), I'm not sure. Most of the time I buy "off the rack," but if a book's very important to me, I pre-order it; if it's not, I wait and buy it later. Is that voting with my wallet? Again, I don't know.

    Keep coming back, Esteben; I love the contrary opinions that get me thinking. I'll tell you now, though, that I'm getting the new Lobdell/Booth Teen Titans -- I like the characters, I don't hate the previews I've read so far, and case in point -- it's interesting to me, even if not to others.

    ReplyDelete