Review: Teen Titans: Prime of Life trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Teen Titans: Prime of Life, J. T. Krul's second and final Teen Titans collection, is well-written, readable, and respectable take on the Titans. I won't prejudge the DC New 52 Teen Titans such to say I wish Krul would have stayed on the title, but no question I wish he'd joined some years earlier. Prime of Life is not as good as Krul's first book in the series, Team Building, possibly due to the swift advent of the New 52, but it's enjoyable nonetheless.

[Review contains spoilers]

Prime of Life collects eight issues, Teen Titans #93-100, of which five are dedicated to the Titans fighting Hindu gods with new teammate Solstice, and three toward a concluding battle with Superboy-Prime and his "Legion of Doom." Krul has said himself that with the coming of the DC New 52, the "Prime" story had to be truncated; it is this that edges Team Building in front of Prime, but Krul can hardly be blamed for that. Prime lacks Team Building's sharp humor (generated mainly by Robin Damian Wayne's presence in that volume) and simply feels unbalanced; there's one too many issues focused on the Titans, Solstice, and the demon Rankor -- an enemy incidental to the Titans -- and not enough on Superboy-Prime, who targets the Titans directly.

This is not to overlook, however, that Nicola Scott's art does a dynamic job portraying the deserts, forests, and demons of Hindu myth in the first story. I thought that in Scott's initial issues of Team Building, the Titans looked wooden (see the initial fight with the Feral Boys), standing still rather than "moving on the page" as comics should do. This issue is more than solved in Prime, and at the end of the first chapter and the beginning of the second, to name two highlights, Scott's panels have significant detail and appearance of depth in the scenes.

Amidst a longer J. T. Krul Titans run, the initial Solstice tale wouldn't be a standout story. The Titans join Wonder Girl to help find her mother's colleagues, the light-powered Solstice's parents. Wonder Girl is captured by Rankor, and then Red Robin and most of the rest of the team are too, until Beast Boy and Solstice are able to rescue them. In this way, the story doesn't necessarily distinguish itself -- Rankor could as easily be Brother Blood or the Calculator, in that this is a typical kidnap-and-rescue story where any villain could play the part.

At the same time, neither is the Solstice story anything to fuss about. Krul writes intelligent Titans who may disagree but who work well together and are well-trained superheroes -- a significant accomplishment, if unfortunate, over other Titans writers of late. Krul gives every team member a little spotlight, especially Beast Boy and Kid Flash. Krul's Raven plot is perhaps the most interesting thing to come out of the Solstice storyline, the mysterious reason that Raven has such a negative reaction to Solstice's light powers. The truncated finale doesn't give Krul any room to explore that, but I don't think fans will mind Krul bringing it to a close with a Beast Boy/Raven kiss instead.

Call me a sap, but I was completely taken by the Superboy/Ravager plotline that Krul carries from the Solstice story to the conclusion of the book. A demon impersonating Ravager cozies up to Superboy; he learns of the ruse, but astoundingly, it actually spurs some feelings between the two. Ravager has been nothing but cruel to Superboy's former girlfriend Wonder Girl, and many of us have rooted for Superboy and Wonder Girl since their Young Justice days, so by rights a Superboy/Ravager relationship shouldn't work.

Superboy takes back his secret box of Kryptonite from Wonder Girl (why, we wonder, doesn't he just entrust it to Red Robin?) and later when he entrusts it to Ravager, she thinks it's because he has feelings for her. When Ravager learns instead that Superboy trusts her because she's a "heartless killer" who wouldn't hesitate to use it against him if necessary, Ravager's tears are priceless. I find the trope of "angry team member eventually grows a heart" rather tired (can't an ornery character just stay ornery?), but Krul finds such an unlikely parallel in Superboy and Ravager's villainous parentage -- and then breaks Ravager's heart so expertly -- as to make the scene complete and fulfilling as is, even if the end comes without really "concluding" it.

In his Comic Book Resources interview, Krul talks about the conclusion of Prime as "reaffirming" the Teen Titans, rather than necessarily offering the team a specific ending before the DC New 52. I don't mind that, and the book does have a nice close; however, it might have been good to see some of the original Titans appear, given their absence from the DC New 52, or even to have Krul make some change in the Titans standing with the Justice League a la the Young Justice cartoon, to really change things up given that this was "the end."

Again, however, Krul's conclusion is fine, and it's especially fun at the end of the DC Universe to see Superboy confronted with some of his "alternate selves" and old costumes; Jeff Lemire does a nice job closing out Superboy's story in Smallville Attacks, but this is good, too. I wouldn't have minded, perhaps, seeing Superboy, Kid Flash, Red Robin, and Wonder Girl all fight some of their earlier selves -- but Krul's use of some esoteric, "new classic" Titans villains like Zookeeper and Indigo is satisfying for the end, too.

In all, the Teen Titans title has had a rough time of it -- it started out at the top of the charts, but the series never quite regained its footing after Geoff Johns left, and it was only here at the end, when J. T. Krul took over, that we started to see a path back to the title's former greatness. The DC New 52 arrived before the title could get all the way there, but with Teen Titans: Prime of Life, at least the team goes out on a high note. Hail and farewell, Teen Titans (wow -- that didn't quite hit me, really, until I typed it), and viva la DC New 52.

[Includes full and variant covers, including Phil Jimenez's Teen Titans #100 cover, and pin-up pages from Titans #100 as well]

One book left to really "finish" the old DC Universe's Titans -- a review of the latest Batman crossover Gotham Will Be Judged, including some Red Robin issues, is coming up next.
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7 comments:

  1. I've kept up on what's going on since the New 52 started and honestly, what's happened to the Teen Titans is probably the one thing that genuinely bothers and saddens me. Volume three in its entirety - good and bad - seems to be out and hell, there's no telling if there even was a Teen Titans prior to these guys, so Wolfman and the Fab Five eras may be as well.

    Worse than that, though is... Jesus, every cover, every interior page I see is like a shot of pure 90's right into my eye. Have you seen the covers with Wonder Girls armor, CE? It's almost painful. Plus, I've realized... how much do we actually care about some of these guys without their prior history? Superboys connections to Superman are tenous at best. Young Justice - which basically made these characters who fans loved best - is gone. Hell, without all the history behind the team... how much do the Teen Titans even matter anymore?

    All troubling, because I'm not sure how I feel about the Teen Titans anymore. I haven't been against most of the selective rebooting DC has done - and it's possible Teen Titans needed a shakeup, as I don't know the sales for the Krul run, even if I really liked it - but I think this might the one property that lost the most in a misguided reboot. Even the characters that are left... they're mostly born of legacies and what is left when that history disappears?

    Troubling.

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  2. A well thought, well written and well drawn end to this series, which was even able to get back a bit of Geoff Johns' magic from the start of the run.

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  3. I don't dispute anything you're saying about the appearance of the new Teen Titans, dh, nor about the "old Titans" falling from continuity (though, having not read the DC New 53 Teen Titans, I reserve some judgment) -- however, I mildly disagree with you on the Superboy point.

    The Young Justice cartoon has done a nice job with Superboy as a laboratory clone shunted straight to the superhero life -- and much to the surprise of Superman -- and I'm actually curious to see how the DC New 52 follows along a similar path.

    That's only a minor deviation from what you were saying -- of course, I miss that the Young Justice comic is now out of continuity, too.

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  4. I'm actually out of touch as far as the Young Justice cartoon goes. I haven't watched it. I kind of sighed when I realized that the Teen Titans animated series got the Young Justice comics comedic tone and Young Justice got the seriousness and drama - unbelievable how the point of both was missed - and just decided to pass. So I'll have to take your word on it.

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  5. I had my doubts about the Young Justice cartoon, as I wasn't a fan of the Teen Titans cartoon. However, I loved Justice League, and was glad to see that this was done in much the same vein. Interesting seeing Dick Grayson as Robin and Wally West as Kid Flash, and both characters are fun, although different characterizations from their previous comics counterparts (although Wally's isn't that far off from his Flash character in the animated Justice League show).

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  6. That's funny, I personally much preferred the Teen Titans series, at least once that got into actual storylines. Young Justice has been hit and miss for me mostly due to the dialogue and characterization, though the animation is simply lovely, and the huge cast is great. New 52 Teen Titans hasn't really interested me, unfortunately. What on Earth is Tim Drake wearing now? "Pure 90's right into my eye" indeed...

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  7. You've got to check out Young Justice, dl. Granted they made Teen Titans into a sitcom, which was weird but it worked, and granted Young Justice is a serious serial drama a la Ben 10 (as is Thundercats, which is even weirder) but it is just. so. good. Unfortunately it may be tough to get just how good it is if you start in the second season -- there are elements introduced at the very beginning of the first season only just playing out now, and brilliantly. This most recent episode by Peter David was excellent -- I can think of a way it's paying homage to both the New Teen Titans and Young Justice cartoons at the same time.

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