Titans Vol. 1: The Return of Wally West, the first Rebirth volume of this series, and while Wally's name is in the title, "Titans" comes first. Unfortunately, the Titans are rather bit players in this book, demonstrated by a variety of factors up to and including that we know almost nothing about almost half of this book's cast by the end of the first volume.
The Titans are back, and believe me I'm following this title both because it's the Titans and, by design, because of this title's ongoing significant ties to the mystery of Rebirth overall. But to some extent I feel the first volume of Titans takes for granted that the presence of these characters alone will cause me to care about them without doing the work of actually rebuilding that emotional connection. Characters like Donna Troy, Garth, Lilith Clay, and even to some extent Arsenal Roy Harper resemble those classic characters in name only, and so far a Titans team that doesn't necessarily make.
[Review contains spoilers]
Titans' third chapter ends with Flash rogue Abra-Kadabra disappearing Wally West's former wife (in another continuity) Linda Park into the ether, with Wally screaming "Linda!" after her. The penultimate chapter is entirely made up of Wally running "faster than ever before" in order to save Linda and his friends. Put Salvador Larroca or Oscar Jimenez on pencils and this could be an issue of Mark Waid's original Flash run. It is wonderfully nostalgic and Abnett has Wally's voice down; equally I like Abnett's etherial, illusionary Speed Force realm much better than the time-lost physical dimension of recent Flash comics. I even thought it was a good compromise that the Titans, rather than Linda, now become Wally's "lightning rod" to find his way back home when he's stuck in the Speed Force. Again, I'd greet a Wally West: Agent of Flash title by Abnett with much enthusiasm.
But while I'm rooting for much of what DC Rebirth is trying to do, from the outset I've found the lofty stature that Rebirth has given Wally somewhat off-putting, and that was as evident in Flash Vol. 1: Lightning Strikes Twice as it is here. Garth literally says to Wally, "Once again, you demonstrate how lost we Titans would be without you." I don't argue Wally's former ubiquity in the DC Universe, once simultaneously serving with both the Justice League and the Titans (and the Justice League Elite), but remember this is also a character who, as something of a stick-in-the-mud, left the Titans not long into their "New Teen" iteration. Insofar as Abnett is purporting to be resurrecting the Titans, he's in some respects grafting into Rebirth an ideal of the Titans that never was, with Wally as their central member (taking a role I rather thing Nightwing Dick Grayson ought occupy).
As is also true in Abnett's Titans Hunt, we get little explanation here as to who Donna Troy or Garth are, especially, and how they can have this past history with the Titans that's wholly contradicted by events in the Wonder Woman and Aquaman titles. Greg Rucka's Wonder Woman is all about a newly-revealed history, and Abnett himself is writing Aquaman now, so obviously these are problems that will be easy to rectify in time. I'm not even so worried about the continuity of it all so much as that I'm meant to care about these characters -- that Arsenal and Donna Troy love one another but can't admit it, for instance -- without knowing much about them. What are the stakes for Donna here? Did she and Roy have a relationship previously? We don't know, and so there's a certain flatness to the story; caring here is an intellectual exercise and not an emotional one.
For those keeping score at home, I believe we're supposed to understand that Abra-Kadabra erased Wally West from time over future hurts (Abnett is disappointingly vague on this point rather than addressing some story with which we might be familiar). To that end, even as Wally has been outside time and discerned the existence of ten years stole from the DCU and a mysterious presence (ostensibly Watchmen's Dr. Manhattan), this Wally West is still a New 52 version of Wally West (having had a relationship with Lilith Clay that the pre-Flashpoint Wally didn't have, for instance), despite that this Wally has knowledge of Crisis on Infinite Earths, for instance. For those reasons I wonder what he and the post-Crisis Superman will have to talk about when he shows up in the next volume. Though each time-lost, it wouldn't seem at the moment that this Wally and this Superman actually originate from the same place.
I recently praised Abnett and artist Brett Booth for their collaboration on Aquaman #50, which saw a controlled Booth offering bright, well-designed, even scary figures. In Titans, however, it feels like Booth is spinning out again. An image of Wally anguished over Linda's kidnapping has Wally's mouth bent out comically, and that kind of thing robs the scenes of their emotion. Also, maybe because he's drawing a Flash again, Booth brings back his jagged paneling from Robert Venditti and Van Jensen's Flash run; its use on almost every page makes it annoying rather than effective.
Again, I've no intention to look that askance on a book that does, at least, put the adult Titans in the same room together, and if the Rebirth Titans should be a Wally West spotlight book, then there are worse things. But what's old here is really new; as Nightwing's rallying cry of "Titans, go!" in Titans Vol. 1: The Return of Wally West suggests, this is a Titans book that purports to embrace history but perhaps delivers a greater dose of what a newer Titans fan would want instead. There's a second rebirth coming that will smooth out DC's now-purposefully jagged timeline, and maybe we'll see something closer to the Titans of old at that point.
[Includes original and variant covers, Brett Booth cover sketches and pencils]