Review: Teen Titans Vol. 4: Light and Dark trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, March 02, 2015

Scott Lobdell takes on his most ambitious challenge with the New 52 Titans in Teen Titans Vol. 4: Light and Dark. It was some thirty-plus years ago when Marv Wolfman and George Perez introduced the most lasting iteration of the Titans, brought together by Raven against her father, the demon Trigon. Almost two years into the New 52, Lobdell has the unenviable task of re-telling a story considered one of DC Comics's all-time classics.

I was prepared to be disappointed. Lobdell's Teen Titans Vol. 3: Death of the Family read a little slow, and in the closing chapter I neither liked some of Lobdell's plot choices nor what seemed too-dark art by Eddy Barrows. Light and Dark was more of a "should read" than a "must read" for me, tying as Titans will to Superboy and Forever Evil in its next volume. But, I was pleasantly surprised. Despite some character excesses, Lobdell has a likable team here, and the inclusion of some "new" (but familiar) characters gives the book a nostalgic tone.

Light and Dark was never going to capture Wolfman and Perez's lightning in a bottle, but it acquits Lobdell's series well, for the most part, in this next-to-last volume before the series relaunch.

[Review contains spoilers]

Lobdell's story is fairly straightforward: Trigon arrives with conquering on his mind, and the Titans have to punch their way through him. There is not much more to it than that, and even the subplot involving Trigon's sons ends up with the Titans fighting them for a while and then turning back to Trigon himself. Among other things, what's endears Lobdell's story to me is that he writes the Titans as inexperienced but fairly capable and mature, and there's a number of sequences where they execute this or that attack pattern or where two Titans team up against a foe (often Wonder Girl and Bunker, Solstice and Kid Flash, and Superboy and Robin). The characters are, again, likable -- neither annoying, as they have been under other writers, nor does Lobdell's depiction of teenagers feel forced; rather it's largely a Titans team to root for.

Raven and Beast Boy join the group, and despite that this Raven has feathers and this Beast Boy is red, there's still something that pulls at a Titans fan's heartstrings when Raven conjures her soul self or Beast Boy turns, variously, into an octopus, a monkey, and a dinosaur. Ditto some of these crowd shots, where you've got Beast Boy, Raven, (Red) Robin, and Kid Flash all standing together. I equally have a soft spot for the Geoff Johns-era Titans -- Robin, Superboy, Wonder Girl Cassie Sandsmark, and Kid Flash Bart Allen -- and there's some enjoyment too in seeing the New 52 iteration of those characters conflated with the origin sequence of the Wolfman Titans. (Not to mention the New 52 introduction of Titans villain Psimon.)

The book finishes with a nicely quieter epilogue issue that focuses again on the characters and also sets up the forthcoming "Trial of Kid Flash" storyline. I thought the book ended well (and hopefully the Titans who depart here won't stay away too long), though I would not say that Lobdell wraps it all up to my satisfaction. Red Robin makes a number of questionable choices in the book that are later attributed to Trigon's influence, though that doesn't wholly make sense. The introductory chapter has Red Robin sending the Titans to break into Amanda Waller's Belle Reve prison under false pretenses; supposedly this is Trigon's work, though it's never clear what Trigon gains from having Red Robin infiltrate a prison, threaten Amanda Waller, and then escape again. Lobdell takes the opportunity to pit the Titans against the Suicide Squad (including an equally-nostalgic Superboy/King Shark fight), but it seems like the "Trigon excuse" might've been just a handy way to get Harley Quinn in here.

As well, at the end of Death of the Family Lobdell had Red Robin make out with Solstice and then sleep with Wonder Girl. This, too, is chalked up to Trigon's influence, for the purpose of sowing discord among the Titans. We learn, however, that while Red Robin was under Trigon's influence,  Solstice and Wonder Girl were not (it was not, as I previously thought, some mass emotional manipulation). Given that Solstice has been presented so far as a kind, good-spirited character, it's strange that Lobdell has her offer no explanation to boyfriend Kid Flash for the transgression; they simply seem to reconcile, kiss, and that's it. And Wonder Girl is nonplussed about Red Robin's two-timing, and in the next breath becomes intimately involved with Superboy.

Without unpacking the whole "Starfire sleeps with Arsenal" thing, the implications one might draw from all of this are a little suspect. First, that Lobdell gives Red Robin an "out" for why he was intimate with two friends and betrayed another, but Solstice and Wonder Girl were, I guess, simply lustful beyond all reason (Wonder Girl explains that it was because Red Robin is "hot," though neither story nor artwork has ever suggested the same). Second, the story seems to confuse "the right to define one's own sexuality" with "good common sense"; that Wonder Girl fools around with Red Robin one night and his best friend Superboy the next doesn't make her powerful, but rather kind of mean, which is not what I think Lobdell actually intended to convey. (That said, I will grant that the moon-lit conversation between Wonder Girl and Superboy at the end of this book is adorable, and Lobdell makes as good an argument for how these characters can work as a couple as any I've seen before.)

Inexact sexual politics aside, however, Scott Lobdell offers an epic, fairly self-contained Titans story in Teen Titans Vol. 4: Light and Dark; if I had to read a single book that encapsulated this era, it might be this one. Certainly Lobdell does no injustice to Marv Wolfman and George Perez before him. I still find Eddy Barrows's art too heavily inked, but the darker tones surely work for the battles with Trigon; guest artist Patrick Zircher does a nice job with sketchier depictions of Trigon's underworld lair, and Robson Rocha emulates Barrows well in the final chapter. I don't know that we've necessarily ever seen Superboy vs. Trigon before, but now we have; scratch that one off the list.

[Includes original covers, two-page "WTF" cover, Eddy Barrows sketches]
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