Review: Teen Titans Vol. 1: It's Our Right to Fight trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, November 05, 2012

Though there are no end of corners calling for Scott Lobdell to be burned in effigy, for the second time one wonders what all the fuss is about, based on the work alone. Maybe this will be clearer when Red Hood and the Outlaws comes around. As with 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!
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8 comments:

  1. One very distinctive thing about Lobdell since his X-Men days is that he usually doesn't write arcs that are tailor-made for trades. He tends to write a bunch of stand-alone issues or two-parters while the main plot slowly develops, until it explodes in the form of a big crossover.

    And because he writes "the Marvel way" (he writes a plot first, and only scripts each page after the pencils are done), his stories suffer a lot when he's not in sync with the penciller or when someone else scripts over his plots. Thankfully, that was not the case with this first Teen Titans volume, but the entire "The Culling" crossover was riddled with bad storytelling, and to me the book has yet to recover from it.

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  2. Someone mentioned the same over on the Facebook page -- that Titans starts strong but "Culling" kills it -- and that's a shame because in a "Young Justice" trifecta, I was pretty pleased with Legion Lost too (though now cancelled, I know). "Culling" will get reviewed here next year and I hope you'll chime in.

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  3. Collected Editions, thoughts about Red Robin's new costume? Because I personally thought that was the most offensive thing done in all of the changes to the DCNU...

    It's really interesting how big a deal Lobdell's been in a bad way. I know he likes to make outrageous statements, but I wonder if the hate directed at him has more to do with the characters he's handling having particularly strong fanbases rather than with his actual writing. Looking forward to your review of Red Hood and the Outlaws, that'll be an interesting one.

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  4. No problem with Red Robin's costume from my perspective, but what matters to you in these things may not be what matters to me and vice versa.

    Sure I can understand the argument that Robin doesn't need "wings" per se, and I agree that the whole thing -- wings and cross-chest suspenders -- looks a little "Hawkman," and that some might attribute a certain 1990s vibe to Robin's belt pouches. But between Kid Flash's bright yellows and reds, Wonder Girl's bright reds, Bunker's bright purples, Superboy's electric stripes, and so on, the Titans's costumes as a team are rather stylized, and Red Robin's seems to me to fit in with the rest just fine.

    I thought Brett Booth depicted the costume especially well in the second chapter when Robin went after Skitter; in the third when Robin jumped out of the train (and on the cover); and in the fifth, when Robin faces off against Superboy.

    Curious about Red Hood as well ...

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  5. I did not plan to get the Teen Titans and Superboy papberacks, because I don't know Lobdell and the things I heard and read about the stories were not really great.
    So I was suprised to see your throughout positive reviews here... and of course, now I am rethinking my decision not to buy them.

    Does anyone here have the same point of view regarding Teen Titans and Superboy? Or anyone with a different opinion?

    I'll be getting the Red Hood paperback, mainly because I like Roy & Kory. So if I like that one I may go back to check out TT and SB.

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  6. I don't want to be an asshole, but has anybody noticed how HORRIBLE is DC's new trade design? I know, it shouldn't be an issue, but as a graphic designer I find it uncomfortable.

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  7. What part specifically don't you like?

    (And hey, want to do a little pro bono design work for me?)

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  8. Interesting, I've found Teen Titans Vol. 4 to be the weakest of all incarnations. I feel that it needs:

    1. humor, its what made me love Young Justice as well as all the Teen Titans comics that have come before it.
    2. pick a plot and finish it
    3. develop characters besides Superboy and Wonder Girl
    4. i hate disappearing acts so they need to bring Skitter back (to me, disappearing acts are only okay when the character appears in another comic or when the characters are actively searching or rescuing them).
    5. Fix Tim Drake's origins because #0 is just completely and totally unacceptable and offensive as a Tim Drake fan.

    I've got no problem with the art, but I do have a problem with the writing. I feel like there are too many subplots and not enough development or progression. I agree that this whole NOWHERE bit is getting old fast.

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