Review: Teen Titans: Earth One Vol. 2 hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, September 05, 2016

When DC Comics's Earth One line of graphic novels debuted in 2010, I felt excited for a "trade first" series of books, essentially, that might mean trade-waiters could join in the discussion without monthly readers digesting all the individual parts first. But a relatively-slow publication schedule has tempered this somewhat, and also since 2010 we've seen a variety of relaunches, rebirths, and live-action debuts, such to make my appetite less for another book about a kind-of-different-but-mostly-the-same Superman or Batman. All the Earth One books so far have been interesting and enjoyable in their own way, but I'm not sure the mission or purpose of the line is as clear as it once was.

Into this arrives Jeff Lemire's Teen Titans: Earth One Vol. 2, as good as his first and in the running collectively as the best series of the Earth One books. Where Lemire wins is that even though the names and some barest of the characterizations are the same, most of this Titans story is wholly different from what we've read before, though still overtly influenced by Marv Wolfman and George Perez's original.

The Superman book still has Lois Lane and the Daily Planet, the Batman book still has the Alfred and the Batcave, the Wonder Woman book still has Paradise Island, but the Titans book is almost wholly re-imagined. Further, Lemire's writing of teenagers sounds totally on point, such to make one wish DC had given Lemire Teen Titans proper during some of the title's rougher times.

[Review contains spoilers]

Titans Vol. 2 begins wisely and wildly un-Titans-like, with Tara "Terra" Markov stealing painkillers from a pharmacy (for, we find out soon thereafter, the suffering Vic "Cyborg" Stone). The Titans as thieves and runaways hiding out in abandoned houses is a far cry from what we've seen before, and it's moody and compelling; at the same time, Lemire makes the characters lovable and more familiar right away in a funny sequence with Tara, Gar "Changeling" Logan, and the aquatic "Aqualad" Tempest. From these early dire straits to the real possibility of Vic's death later on, Lemire offers something that's mature but doesn't take itself too seriously.

"New" Titans introduced this time around are Impulse (Wally West), Wonder Girl (Cassie, not Donna), and Kole. Another joy of Lemire's Teen Titans has been the overall adherence to the Wolfman/Perez model -- Starfire and Raven bring the team together -- but total deviation from there, including Tara's presence and her relationship with Vic. This joy extends to the way Lemire seems to acknowledge Titans past and present in his twists -- a character variably called Aqualad or Tempest, but who looks in appearance like Lagoon Boy, for instance. Here again we have a "Kid Flash" Wally, but who goes by Impulse, and a Wonder Girl to match the rest of the early 1980s Titans, but with the modern "Cassie" as her given name. I admit I'd like to see Lemire keep digging deep -- "Kole" is plenty eclectic, but I'd been rooting for Kole to have been Argent, and I'd have flipped for a Mirage, Dagon, or Kilowat.

This volume ends more conclusively than the first, at least with this gathered Titans group no longer as on the run as they were before. I'd felt a little let down by the first volume's cliffhanger ending, but equally I'm bothered by what might be a passable finale if Lemire doesn't write another one of these. We know, of course, that there's an alien threat coming for Starfire (the Citadel, I hope), and also the Titans have now "gone public"; plus if I'm reading the cave drawing right, there's still another Titan out there, seemingly Nightwing. With all the consequences that will surely entail, hopefully that's fodder enough for Lemire to continue. At the same time, I'm a sucker in this 20-pages-an-issue-or-bust world for a good epilogue, and here Lemire devotes ten pages to the end. The reconfigured Titans couplings are especially fun: Gar and Kole, Vic and Terra, Cassie and Tempest (at least good friends), and especially the hint of Starfire and Raven together; somewhere Dick Grayson's head is exploding.

Brad Anderon's muted palette on Andy MacDonald's sparse figures put me in mind of Lemire's Sweet Tooth, the visual style of Matt Kindt's Mind MGMT, or what have you Image series, which is probably the benchmark the Earth One books need to hit now anyway. MacDonald starts out a little rough -- there's a scene of Slade Wilson swinging toward a window one direction but crashing through it the other -- but there's so much drawn well toward the end, including Blackfire (beautifully creepy with that backpack! And that doll!) and Vic's robot ship. MacDonald's designs of the "new" Titans and his Kole and super-diminutive Cassie equally speak to the "indie" aesthetic.

Though the in-story gap between the first and second of these books rewards reading them separately, taken together Teen Titans: Earth One Vols. 1 and 2 tell a complete, dynamic, and enjoyable Teen Titans story. It's perhaps unusual for the books not to be so obviously a trilogy, but again, this helps some of the flaws of the first book even as it's problematic in its own way, mainly because I'm so eager for the third. Jeff Lemire and Andy MacDonald have a top-notch Earth One book here, and it serves as a model perhaps for what the next new Earth One books should do.
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4 comments:

  1. I wish DC gave Lemire a lot of titles, but I guess that's what Marvel's doing with him now.

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  2. I don't know if Lemire has got any more volumes planned, or whether his current exclusive contract with Marvel would allow him that exception, but I'm glad he got to finish the story he teased at the end of vol. 1, and now all members have assembled. And since I only knew Andy MacDonald's art from Futures End, I was pleasantly surprised to see him alter his style to better fit the template set by Dodson.

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  3. I talked to volume 1 artist Terry Dodson last year at a con and said Lemire had the Earth One Titan books planned at three. I recall him even saying he had them already written out. Dodson had other projects on his plate when books 2 & 3 were announced as to why he wouldn't continue on as artist.

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    1. I figured "planned" was a given considering the threads this book leaves hanging, but I'm glad to hear "written out"; that makes another volume seem much more likely.

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