The Culling: Rise of the Ravagers is of no lesser quality than the general state of the Teen Titans title prior to DC Comics's New 52 relaunch.
While the art in this crossover is inconsistent, the dialogue often wooden, and mistakes abound (mis-colored characters, mis-attributed dialogue), there remains something entirely endearing about these new Titans, and equally enjoyable about watching them interact with the Legion of Super-Heroes. This is not a book for anyone but ardent fans of superhero mash-ups, but if that's your kind of thing, Culling has its moments in its fits and starts.
[Review contains spoilers]
I examined earlier how DC collects crossovers in the New 52, releasing a trade of all the crossover issues together and then also collecting the issues with their individual books. I picked up Culling as something of an experiment, to see if I just read one of the involved titles prior to Culling, would the crossover make sense, and then so that I could later gauge how each individual title stood on its own without the other parts of the crossover with it. Since Teen Titans Vol. 1: It's Our Right to Fight directs the reader to Culling at the end and even includes a house ad, that's the volume I chose to read and then went straight to Culling afterward.
As it turns out, reading Teen Titans Vol. 1 right before Culling is the right answer, though it takes some studying to come to that conclusion. At the end of Superboy Vol. 1: Incubation, Superboy is captive, and then at the end of Teen Titans Vol. 1 they rescue him, but there's a considerable leap between the end of Titans and the beginning of Culling. When Culling starts, Superboy is fighting Grunge (of Wildstorm's Gen13 fame) and he briefly mentions the Titans fighting someone named Omen, which -- though you might think it happened somewhere in either Titans, Superboy, or Legion Lost -- turns out to be a battle that took place completely off-panel.
In essence, Culling jumps forward at the beginning, such that neither Teen Titans nor Superboy really leads right into it (and Legion Lost is least connected of all). This is confusing for a reader like me who came to the book from Teen Titans actually thinking that book's cliffhanger would be this book's beginning; I guess in a way it's good for the casual reader picking up Culling in that you're starting in the middle of things just the same as a reader of one of these series would be.
Equally surprising is that Culling itself ends on a cliffhanger, directing the reader to the Teen Titans Vol. 2: The Culling collection. That's a bit of a bait-and-switch; presumably a reader picks up Culling because they don't want to read the Titans title and only want the broad strokes crossover collection; in the end, they find out that to get the whole story, they have to go to Teen Titans Vol. 2, which itself contains some of the same issues that Culling does. What seems to be an either/or option is actually "this and that," and in that case the reader might as well just get the second Titans, Superboy, and Legion Lost volumes instead of this one.
Story-wise, Titans/Superboy and Legion Lost writers Scott Lobdell and Tom DeFalco respectively share most of the writing duties, especially after the prelude issues once the crossover proper gets underway, and it's a credit to them that the "Culling" chapters never feel like alternating Legion or Titans issues, but rather both teams are mixed and matched and spotlighted throughout. DeFalco's Legionnaires' personalities are spot-on, especially loose cannon Timber Wolf and self-sacrificing Wildfire; and Lobdell succeeds in making this feel like a Titans event of the kind we've seen before, with the group's teamwork and faith in one another helping to save the day.
The downside to Culling is that the meat of the story is really just one big fight scene. The gathered Legion and Titans fight their captors in the NOWHERE organization, then they fight each other, the captive metahumans known as the Ravagers, and finally NOWHERE's mastermind Harvest. They fight, and fight, and fight, often spouting cliched quips, and that's about the sum of the book. The fun is seeing the Legion and Titans characters together, something that's happened surprisingly few times; and the fact that these are "teen" Titans again (as opposed to the mostly-graduated Titans of the last run) makes this all the more reminiscent of "classic" Titans books like The Future is Now.
There's a number of good artists in this book; RB Silva, Brett Booth, and especially Aaron Kuder all draw attractive, energetic issues; I have some hesitation about Booth on Nightwing or Batman/Superman, but his bombastic style perfectly fits Titans. It's only toward the end that some problem with art or inking robs the panels of detail, especially in far-away group scenes, making the conclusion overall weaker than the beginning. The Legion all get stylized white uniforms here while the Titans have Tron-like glowing armor; though not quite right for "daily use," the artists depict these new costumes well within the confines of the crossover.
At one point "Culling" seemed like it would be a big deal, on par with the "Night of the Owls" crossover happening about the same time; "Night of the Owls" took off, however, while "Culling" lacked the same fanfare. Eagle-eyed readers might note that as of this month, DC seems to have dropped the "families" (Dark, Young Justice, Edge, etc.) from their solicitations; the auspicious inclusion in "Culling" of such Wildstorm properties as the aforementioned Grunge, Caitlin Fairchild, Warblade, and probably others I'm overlooking, perhaps suggested an expansion of the "Young Justice" line even to one day include a revamped Gen13, but that seems less likely now.
Culling: Rise of the Ravagers concludes with four pages of bonus material -- sketches and text from the authors -- that underscores, perhaps, the intended importance of this book, even if that didn't turn out to be the case. Culling will not challenge your intelligence, but it's got some heart and a lot of superheroes together on the same page, and maybe sometimes that's all you need.
[Includes original covers, "making of" pages]
Next week, the second volume of Teen Titans, Team 7, and more. See you then!