Review: Teen Titans Vol. 3: Death of the Family trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, December 30, 2013

There's some things I like and some I don't about how DC Comics collects crossovers in the New 52. I don't mind, for instance, that the relevant issues of Teen Titans Vol. 3: Death of the Family are also collected in the Joker book; I read Teen Titans regularly, but if I didn't and I was interested in "Death of the Family," I'd be glad that the Joker book was there.

The flip side of this is that Teen Titans Vol. 3 collects six issues, one of which can be found in Batman Vol. 3 (and a bunch of other places) and two of which can be found in Red Hood and the Outlaws Vol. 3, leaving only three "original" issues for this book (Red Hood, in contrast, offers four original issues not found elsewhere). Even as DC's new collection schema helps casual fans, it sometimes punishes those who read a large part of the line, in my opinion, with repetition and smaller trades.

What writer Scott Lobdell and artists including Brett Booth offer here is enjoyable; in some ways this volume marks the start of the Titans that I've wanted to read since this book started. It's only a shame there's not more to this collection overall.

[Review contains spoilers]

Lobdell's Red Hood/Red Robin team-up at the heart of this book, issue #16, is well-done, and an especially good last issue by Booth. I remarked on that issue, however, and my enjoyment of the brotherly relationship Lodbell has created between Jason Todd and Tim Drake (to the exclusion, to an extent, of Dick Grayson) in my review of the Red Hood collection.

Second best here, and the issue that does the most for the book aside from #16, is Lobdell's Zero Month issue, presenting the new origin of Tim Drake. Lonely Place of Dying is perhaps one of my favorite Batman stories, so it takes a lot for me to accept a new origin for Tim, especially one condensed to an issue instead of a Batman/New Titans crossover. Whereas we lose a little of what I liked about Tim -- that he was not athletic in the Dick Grayson sense, but rather mainly had going for him just his detective and computer skills -- I think the gain gets to the heart of who Tim Drake is.

Lobdell said in an interview that he thought the original Tim Drake lost a step at the point in which his parents were killed, and I see the logic in that. Previously, Tim was the first Robin to take the job because he wanted it, not due to family trauma or as a virtue of being Bruce Wayne's ward, and the death of Tim's parents (while maybe academic at that point) made Tim slightly more generic -- just another Robin instead of a different Robin. Frankly, I think the drama is greater when Tim lived with his parents and had to sneak out every night to be Robin, or when school officials wondered what Tim was up to hanging out with older bachelor Bruce Wayne all the time, but the simply fact that Lobdell restores Tim's parents to life has possibilities, in my opinion.

I also get the sense that Lobdell's new iteration of Tim Drake hews a bit closer to his animated personas; maybe this shouldn't be a large consideration but I can't argue with the fact that it is. The animated Teen Titans and Go! Robin may not be Tim, but this Tim Drake is more like him now -- a perfectionist, domineering, type-A leader. The Robin nee Nightwing from Young Justice wasn't so far off from this, too. That Lodbell's Tim Drake doesn't have an overt "softer side," and that we've seen Red Robin mainly in superhero situations and not, for instance, hanging with Ives at school is a change that works for me; I'd prefer that over a New 52 with the same old characters.

Again, Lobdell's "Death of the Family" tie-in is tonally appropriate for Teen Titans and Red Hood; the Joker story is not as scary as Gail Simone's in Batgirl nor as gruesome as Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason's in Batman and Robin, but rather more superheroic, even a little funny in the antics of the Titans and Outlaws. I continue to like seeing the two groups together (a Titans reunion, as it were). The first part, Titans #15, does feel padded with banter, as if the title needed to bide some time before the issue #16 crossover with Red Hood; while the experience overall is good, this contributed to my sense that this trade's contents are thin taken as a whole.

The final chapter, issue #17, both pleased and concerned me. The Titans, now officially "the Teen Titans," gain a boat for a headquarters, with Red Robin promising technology that will take the Titans "to the next level." To me, this sounds a lot like the Titans finally becoming an actual superhero team (instead of just a bunch of kids running from NOWHERE). Maybe the days of a villain rampaging through the city and a hero flying in to stop him are passe, "so pre-New 52," but I miss them a bit, and wouldn't mind seeing the Titans back in a more re-active mode, instead of focusing solely on threats that involve their own group.

My dismay, however, is in seeing artist Eddy Barrows back on this title. I actually just got done praising Barrows's work on Nightwing, where I thought his darker tones were a perfect fit; honestly I just don't understand switching Barrows to Titans and putting Booth on Nightwing. Though there's a nostalgia factor here in that Barrows drew a run of pre-New 52 Titans, I generally think his depiction of young heroes looks wooden -- see the rictus grin on Red Robin as they tour the boat and on Solstice in the surveillance room. Red Robin, with his flat hair, resembles a Silver Age Dick Grayson, and it makes it hard to believe he seduces two of his teammates, demon-possessed or not.

At the same time, I recall the era of Titans that Barrows drew to be one where the team didn't get along at all and mostly fought throughout, and so it's refreshing that Lobdell's team is quite the opposite, almost to the extreme -- characters like Kid Flash, Solstice, and Bunker are almost perpetually upbeat, perpetually supporting one another. I'm not sure how realistic this is either, but it's a nice change.

All of this makes me still eager to pick up the fourth volume of Titans; Teen Titans Vol. 3: Death of the Family may be short and repetitive -- blame it on the crossover -- but it remains enjoyable and continues to move toward a set-up more like a traditional Titans title. That's enough for me to come back for more.

[Includes original covers, sketchbook section]

Later this week ... Batman, Inc. Vol. 2, the end of the Grant Morrison Batman saga, with all the controversies it entails.
Collected Editions 2016 Comic Book Gift Guide
Get the Collected Editions scoop before anyone else -- on Facebook!

1 comment:

  1. I wasn't a fan of the artist switch either, but judging by some of Booth's interviews and online comments at that time, it seems he was feeling burnt out and really wanted to draw Nightwing. What's even more disappointing is that he ended up leaving that series after just 3 issues in order to pinch-hit on Justice League of America, and now he's on Batman/Superman.

    As for Barrows, he's talented but clearly can't handle a monthly schedule. As you'll see in the next volume, he needed a co-penciller every other issue, and it got to a point where he was just drawing layouts for Jesus Merino to finish.

    ReplyDelete