Review: Teen Titans Vol. 5: The Trial of Kid Flash trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Among my takeaways from the first iteration of the New 52 Teen Titans is that Scott Lobdell really cares about these characters. He's shepherded their adventures through these last few years, surmounting external crossover after crossover, and giving the Titans arguably their clearest mission statement in a while. Always the story comes back to the Titans supporting one another; always the story comes back to each Titan trying their best to do the right thing.

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," plus Scott Snyder's Batman Vol. 6: The Graveyard Shift.
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2 comments:

  1. I am surprised you liked this trade. I started off enjoying Lobdell's Titans but around the Death in the Family cross-over I felt the book started going down hill fast and the Kid Flash trial arc was the epitome of what I felt was everything that was wrong with this book. The backstory behind KF was just too convoluted. I have no problem keeping up with twists and turns but this was just ridiculous and half the time it felt like Lodbell didn't know where he was going with the story. Bart seemed to alternate between being an outright enemy or a misunderstood guy fighting an oppressive regime. Lobdell pretty much ruined Bart by making him a mass murderer and a terrorist.

    Don't event get me started on Solstice murdering that guy in cold blood so she can stay with KF. It was so out of character and just a horrible thing to do to a character that was once a bright and happy person.

    I hated how the Harvest story ended. After he kidnapped, tortured, and murdered untold numbers of teens we're basically told he wasn't evil. Raven says she saw no evil in him at the end. It seems an odd way to eulogize the main villain of the comic.

    I felt this comic started off with such promise but Lobdell squandered it pretty early on. I didn't think I would find a run I disliked more than Felicia Henderson's but here we are. My one hope is that Lobdell stays far away from the Teen Titans from here on out.

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    1. Worse than the sea dragon's phallic stomach tentacles? I wouldn't go that far ...

      To each their own and I can understand if you didn't like it. For me, Lobdell telegraphed from the beginning that Bart was originally not really a nice guy, so this didn't bother me so much. I don't have it right next to me -- was he actually a mass murderer or a terrorist, or a rebel or freedom fighter who tricked the various factions into coming together for war? I'm not saying it's all good, but I think Lobdell meant for Bart to be seen as a rebel leader, not as an actual criminal.

      Ditto I don't think Solstice's actions were out of character; rather they were a culmination of her character, in that she's been so sunny all this time but deeper than that loved Bart, and was willing to betray that part of herself to stay with him. Shocking and controversial, yes, but a complete left turn? I don't personally think so.

      I won't disagree on Harvest. I was pretty exhausted at that point after the rest of the book. Skitter is really her own sister? What? I'm relatively sure what happened to Harvest in Titans Vol. 5 didn't link up with a couple Harvest bits in Superboy Vol. 5, either. Basically I figure it's over now and I'm not going to worry too much about it, the same strategy I've got with the Daemonite storyline.

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