Review: Teen Titans Vol. 2: The Culling trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, August 19, 2013

After the collected Culling crossover, Teen Titans Vol. 2: The Culling is another book it would be easy to find fault with. The book is far from startlingly good, but I maintain the quality isn't worse (and maybe a little better) than the later issues of the pre-Flashpoint Teen Titans series -- and trust me, I read them all. And though the storylines may be sometimes trite and the artwork uneven, I continue to like these Teen Titans -- young again, after the previous series aged them nearly to adulthood -- and feel that writer Scott Lobdell has set up some enjoyable characters and an interesting team dynamic.

[Review contains spoilers]

Titans Vol. 2 starts out with two parts of the "Culling" crossover with Superboy and Legion Lost: Part Three of the "Culling" prelude, and then Part Four, skipping both the material from the other series and the Teen Titans annual. This is certainly far from ideal, but it's not quite as disastrous as it sounds. The "Culling" preludes really did treat each team on its own, and this mostly sees the Titans fighting their way out of a virtual reality. Indeed then the book skips all the way to the end of "Culling," but frankly "Culling" was mainly a long fight scene and if you grant the Titans and the Legion met, fought, and teamed-up somewhere between the pages, most of the rest of what's significant about "Culling" happens here in this fourth part.

The book also offers text pages before both of these issues of "Culling." While some readers may still want to flip back and forth between their copies of Superboy, Titans, and Legion Lost, I do believe that the text pages and the overall thinness of "Culling" itself probably make it OK for someone only interested in Titans to go straight from the first to the second volume without reading any other titles, and that they'll still get a relatively complete story.

In fact, where I as a reader had a little more trouble was not as regarded "Culling" (though granted I had read the Culling collection already), but rather in a couple of instances where the Titans book plays off of things that are happening in the Superboy book post-"Culling" (Superboy and Wonder Girl off on their own in a prehistoric land, Superboy getting himself an apartment and a live-in girlfriend).

The prehistoric issue is where Titans Vol. 2 really starts, and it's probably the best of those collected here. Lobdell strands the Titans on a deserted island filled with dinosaurs, and uses it as a character-building issue -- Superboy and Wonder Girl bond, Bunker helps Red Robin with a crisis of leadership, and Solstice and Kid Flash begin a relationship. Artist Brett Booth is in his animated element here, and the tone of the issue is really what Titans is about -- teen heroes cracking wise but also supporting and encouraging one another. Lobdell is a controversial figure, but I maintain he gets the Teen Titans, even in a way some other writers have not.

The book gets a little rougher from there. Fabian Nicieza contributes a Kid Flash one-shot (from DC Universe Presents) that's enjoyable in terms of giving Bart Allen a change to shine, but goes on a little too long and maybe offers one quip too many. There's a manga influence to Jorge Jimenez's art here that's very appealing at times, though too chaotic at others.

The final four issues (of the eight in this trade) involve the origin of Wonder Girl. I'll say up front that this story might have been ten times better if the old boyfriend of Cassie's introduced here wasn't named Diesel (that the characters even comment on the ridiculousness underscores the problem). Booth starts on the art and then Ale Garza finishes, and while Garza does have some history drawing the Titans, his art lacks the detail of Booth's and comes off as hurried (with Cassie sometimes disproportionately, egregiously busty), which lessens the impact of the story as a whole.

What I loved about "Origin of Wonder Girl," however, is that it ultimately becomes a story about Wonder Girl, Red Robin, and Superboy. For a long while Superboy and (Red) Robin were both absent from the previous Titans series, and when they returned, everyone was so established (Tim now Red Robin, Superboy living in Smallville) that there wasn't the camaraderie of their early Teen Titans or Young Justice days. Titans Vol. 2 offers these central characters just starting to be friends, just starting to trust one another (again, from our perspective), and there's something wonderfully nostalgic about it. I also like the idea of Wonder Girl's powers being a danger she has to keep under control, a theme that's been common to Titans before with Raven, Red Devil, and others.

Teen Titans Vol. 2: The Culling is imperfect ("Diesel" and the general angsty-ness of Wonder Girl in the book's conclusion, to name two gripes), but I still appreciate that Scott Lobdell is building the Titans as a family; we've seen other writers depict the Titans as completely unlikable, and that's not the case here. I'd like to see Titans involved in broader conflicts than just which character's powers are acting up this adventure, but all told I've seen nothing here that would put me off getting the third volume that follows.

[Includes original covers, Brett Booth sketchbook]

Next up, keeping with the Titans theme with Superboy Vol. 2: Extraction.
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  1. I don't know much about Scott Lobdell, so can someone explain why he seems to be so hated? I've seen people discuss him as someone that they would never, ever read. That he is the worst, with no redeeming qualities.

    1. It's a good question. I also have no familiarity with Lobdell's work outside what I've read in the New 52. I have other writers whose work I like more, but I think Lobdell's done a good job with Superboy and the Titans. I'll be curious to hear if anyone has an answer, too.

  2. Scott lobdell wrote x-men in the mid to late 90's when bob harras was editor in chief. When he stopped writing x-men he pretty much disappeared from the comic book scene. When writing x-men he showed himself to be a mediocre writer who had some good moments. The hatred I believe is not so much directed towards lobdell but towards harras who since he took over at d.c. Has hired many of his former talent from marvel some of whom have been out of the comic book scene for years. Some would say that these people have not been hired for their talent but because of their relationship with harras. Add to that all of the problems with talent that d.c. Has had, and that not only is lobdell working on the smaller titles but is writing superman and that is where some of the bad feelings are coming from.

  3. I think a lot of the controversy stems from the first issue of Red Hood and the Outlaws where Starfire is definitely objectified and she says she has no memory of her time with Dick or Roy, and sleeps with Roy even though she's been sleeping with Jason. I won't lie. Her portrayal in that first issue is bad, but it gets much better as the book continues.

    Then a lot of Supergirl fans dislike him because she was treated pretty badly in the H'El on Earth cross-over, essentially becoming a villain. Superboy fans aren't too happy with the convoluted, messy origin story for Superboy. Being a fan of both characters, I tend to agree. H'El On Earth did Supergirl no favors. For Superboy, there are elements of his origins I like, and others that just go too far.

    Lobdell's Superman work has been really good though. I think Teen Titans has suffered. This last arc was all over the place and it felt like it was intended to go one way and then went in a completely different direction at the last minute. Also, he's playing the long game with some of his plots, and I wish he would wrap some up soon. Seriously, don't expect to find out what happened to Skitter anytime soon. She's mentioned maybe twice, and then just dropped.

    I liked this volume of Teen Titans, but I'm not sure I'd say it was better than the last few volumes of the pre-52 Titans. I loved Krul's run with Nicola Scott on art. I like the characters with this new run, especially Bunker, but they haven't really gelled as a team yet and Tim comes off as a giant jerk most of the time. Still, I love Wonder Girl's origin and the Silent Armor. I wish she had her own series, or even a mini-series to explore it more.

  4. My only familiarity with Lobdell was his brief, but quite awful run on Alpha Flight (#102-08). But then, most writers had brief, but quite terrible runs on Alpha Flight, so it's hard to hold against him.