Superboy: Incubation, Lobdell offers an exciting and believable new start for DC's young heroes in Teen Titans: It’s Our Right to Fight. Even for fans of the classic Marv Wolfman/George Perez team or Geoff Johns's popular reboot, the New 52 Titans benefit immensely not from jettisoning the old continuity so much as jettisoning the tired safety that went with it.
[Review contains spoilers]
Of late Teen Titans has worked best as a teaming of the young derivatives of the Justice League. This was the case when Geoff Johns relaunched Teen Titans from Young Justice, and indeed the title struggled when it deviated from Superboy, Wonder Girl, (Red) Robin, and Kid Flash. It was only at the last title's end that it regained its "core four" and also its momentum.
Lobdell's Teen Titans preserves the line-up -- making the team brightly iconic -- and for the most part the personalities of the key players. Most changed is Wonder Girl Cassie Sandsmark, once staunchly responsible and now rebellious -- though Cassie had become such an angst-ridden annoyance by the end of the old Teen Titans, pining over Superboy, that her relaunch is a significant improvement. Lobdell is conscious of his source material, and her constant "Don't call me Wonder Girl!" refrain is a riotous callback to the "old" Superboy at the beginning of his own career.
With the "core four," Lobdell introduces four more new Titans: Bunker, Solstice, Skitter, and Danny the Street (late of various iterations of Doom Patrol). Of these, Bunker is the best -- his powers are unique for once among an often-duplicative DC Universe, and his optimism as written by Lobdell is very engaging. What's more, Bunker serves to bring the characters together in the way both a Titans team and a Teen Titans title needs. When Bunker makes friends with Solstice and Skitter, outside the influence of Red Robin and the rest, it makes the team a family, as with Wolfman/Perez and Johns before. Obviously Lobdell gets what Teen Titans is about, and that should be enough to calm the fears of any fan of the old series. (Aside from an exceptionally strange moment where Lobdell has Red Robin and Kid Flash argue over Flash borrowing Robin's sweatshirt.)
The benefit of relaunching Teen Titans is that the first issue doesn't dwell on whether these heroes can live up to their mentors' examples or do justice to the heroes who died before them -- its simply that the NOWHERE organization is kidnapping teens and the Titans band together to stop them. In this way Lobdell's Titans is closer to Wolfman and Perez's, forging their own path, than Johns's, the perpetual trainees, and Lobdell's Titans feels less weighted-down by the Justice League, who have for the most part no relation to this team. These characters aren't worried about doing a good enough job to impress the Justice League, just about doing their job, and equally should they fail, there's no Justice League to save them; all of this is considerably refreshing.
At the same time, It’s Our Right to Fight takes seven issues to run headfirst into the Culling crossover with Superboy and Legion Lost, and most of those seven issues are spent fighting NOWHERE or its henchmen. It's hard for the reader to envision what Lobdell will do with this title around issue #50 after the NOWHERE threat is long since overused. When Lobdell does try to insert more standard "superheroes versus supervillains" fare, the transition is awkward -- as when Red Robin and Bunker are defeated in the span of a page by the mind-controlling Detritus, or when Wonder Girl and Bunker are attacked out of nowhere by the also-mind-controlling Grymm. Each incident seems like an afterthought on Lobdell's part, and it will be interesting to see how and when he makes supervillains a regular part of this title.
Series artist Brett Booth has a style relatively close to DC superstars Jim Lee and David Finch -- large and bright, with heavily designed and detailed figures. It's clean and really without detractions; if Booth's Wonder Girl is sometimes too buxom, he succeeds in drawing Wonder Girl's body type differently than Solstice or Detective Jocelyn Lure, and his positioning isn't irreverently sexual a la Ed Benes. The characters' open mouths and gritted teeth (plus the occasional excessive belt pouch) may remind some of Rob Liefeld's work, but Booth's is considerably more polished than what Liefeld offered on the recent Hawk and Dove collection.
In the course of the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths/pre-Flashpoint Teen Titans series, there have been some truly poor, downright offensive issues -- overly violent, poorly drawn, sexually gratuitous, or with characters written as so silly or snide that you wouldn't want them over for dinner, let alone have them save your life. Teen Titans: It's Our Right to Fight is not any of that -- it's intriguing, it's fairly faithful to what came before, and Lobdell creates a Titans team worth following. Between Lobdell's Superboy and Titans, so far his work has been a credit to DC Comics's New 52, and his Red Hood and the Outlaws will have to be truly bad to change that estimation.
[Includes original covers, sketchbook with material from Brett Booth, Jim Lee, and Cully Hamner]
Next up, the DC New 52 Flash: Move Forward collection, and the next week we'll continuie in a "Young Justice" frame of mind with the Collected Editions review of Legion Lost: Run from Tomorrow. See you then!