Teen Titans Vol. 5: The Trial of Kid Flash is not perfect; it's a big story, which is good, but it sometimes means the finer details get lost along the way. Also, not Lobdell's fault, but the book is not at all reader-friendly, a growing problem among DC trades. But as with the last volume, Lobdell writes a story that zips along through various twists and turns, and with a plucky cast that Lobdell imbues with real emotion, demonstrating his faithfulness to the characters. If not ground-breaking, I think this is the end of a run that DC can be proud of.
[Review contains spoilers]
Titans Vol. 5 collects seven regular issues, #24-30, plus the Annuals #2 and #3. Nine issues isn't unprecedented among DC trades, though I guess with the annuals it's more like eleven issues. Irrespective, the book is printed on exceptionally light paper, which feels thin to the touch and also curled immediately when exposed to humidity. Most certainly there's a cost benefit at play here, and it would have been tough for DC to split this story into two books, but the volume feels cheaply made in the reading experience.
Lobdell has hinted at Kid Flash Bart Allen's time-tossed origins since this book's inception, so it's fitting he finally reveals all in the end. The Titans end up in Bart's original, future time-period, where the governing Functionary can unlock his memories. Said origin is surprisingly complex, involving Bart pretending to work for the Functionary while actually fomenting a rebellion, and then, captured, turning state's evidence and entering witness protection by being shunted to the past without his memories. Back in the future, it turns out Bart is still working for the rebellion, and was using his forthcoming trial as an opportunity to eliminate all the ruling members of the Functionary at once.
It's a rare mainstream comic that will trust the reader to follow the story through that many reversals, and Lobdell should be commended for it. I also appreciated that Lobdell goes all-in with the future Bar Torr; there's no redemptive moment in which Bar realizes the error of his ways due to his time as Bart, but rather he's got to fight his war even despite his love for his friends. And even more wonderfully shocking is Solstice Kiran Singh committing cold-blooded murder such to be ultimately imprisoned with Bart; it's an overwrought, senseless act, perfectly in-character for a teen hero. Lobdell continues to demonstrate the difference between these characters and their adult counterparts in that Red Robin does not judge either character for their actions, but rather wishes them well and wonders if he'd do the same thing in their positions. (All of it, action and emotion, is well-drawn by Tyler Kirkham, working apparently off layouts by Scott McDaniel.)
The lead-in to the main story involves Red Robin and a few others encountering a future group of Titans lead by Beast Boy, now Beast Man. Geoff Johns wrote a couple of "future Titans" stories in his pre-Flashpoint run, including appearances by Beast Man, and so this story is nicely reminiscent. Lobdell also shows a future relationship between Beast Man and Deathstroke's daughter, the Ravager Rose Wilson, which has its origins in the old DC Universe. I liked that even as Lobdell has to exit Superboy Kon-El from the story for Lobdell's own "Krypton Returns" crossover in the Super-books, he replaces him with a stand-in evil Superboy so that the book isn't without its "Super" for the finale.
At the same time, there's a sense of the book often flitting from one idea to the other, sometimes without ever finishing the thought. I can't say yet for sure whether this is because other parts of the story are being told in the Superboy Vol. 5 collection, or if Lobdell simply jumps around here; it's an editorial failing that the reader is neither directed to Forever Evil, which does coincide, nor to Superboy or anywhere else. How a casual reader unfamiliar with the vagaries of the larger DC Universe is supposed to make sense of it all, I don't know.
Among these, there's a big build-up to Raven using her soul-self to bring together the time-lost Titans which, after an issue break, has simply happened. Kid Flash and Solstice encounter an early Bar Torr in the timestream, whose actions seem incongruous with Bart's later origin. Kid Flash is shown, hands bloodied, in a villain-ified Flash costume that also never intersects with his origin. And the end of another issue shows the evil Superboy choking Wonder Girl, something that's never referenced again even as the characters appear in the story. Though overall I've liked Lobdell's portrayal of Wonder Girl as the reluctant superhero who turns out to be the heart of the team, it's equally confusing that he has her professing her affection for Red Robin in this volume, just one book after she seemingly dumped Red Robin for Superboy.
In the end, the strength of Teen Titans Vol. 5: The Trial of Kid Flash is Lobdell's great group of characters -- see Red Robin's tear-jerking good-bye to Kid Flash and Solstice, or Bunker just waving off Raven's evil inclinations. If their adventures have been more shine than substance, they're still a group of kids you'd want to hang out with, and worthy of the name Titans. I'm eager to see how the next team builds on what Lobdell has set up.
[Includes original and variant covers]
Superboy [edit: and Supergirl next week as we get into "Krypton Returns,"