Review: Teen Titans: Life and Death trade paperback (DC Comics)

After reading Teen Titans: Life and Death, I'm torn between feeling on one hand that Superboy's death in Infinite Crisis was a waste of a perfectly wonderful character, and on the other hand, a fitting end to this character's storyline. This Infinite Crisis tie-in trade paperback demonstrates just how well author Geoff Johns wrote Superboy, even as it sends the character off both fittingly and tragically. As the team slowly splits apart — Cyborg heading to space, Superboy dying, Kid Flash disappearing into the Speed Force — this trade bids a sad farewell to Geoff Johns' first team of Titans.

In the aftermath of Superboy's rampage in Teen Titans/Outsiders: The Insiders, Donna Troy arrives on Earth to recruit Cyborg, as the Titans learn of Wonder Woman's murder of Maxwell Lord, and the Red Hood comes to battle Tim Drake. The Spectre's rampage in Day of Vengeance resurrects Brother Blood with the spirits of dead Titans, who the remaining Titans defeat with the help of Kid Eternity. Superboy is attacked by Superboy-Prime and rescued by a combined team of the Titans, the JSA, and the Doom Patrol; Kid Flash disappears into the Speed Force. The remaining team must steal a serum from Lex Luthor to help heal Superboy's injuries; they succeed just as Bludhaven is destroyed. Most of the team goes to Bludhaven while Wonder Girl and Superboy remain behind, ultimately ending up in Smallville; Superboy rejoins the Infinite Crisis fight, following Nightwing to Alexander Luthor's base in the Antarctic, where Superboy dies fighting Superboy-Prime.

In the middle of this trade, as Superboy-Prime attacks Superboy and draws him back into the action, the story really becomes Superboy's alone. We see both his faults, in his intial reluctance to help the other heroes, and also his ties to Robin and Wonder Girl, which I feel really brought the character to life. There is, of course, the love scene between he and Wonder Girl toward the end of the trade, which, rather than controversial, upholds a long-standing Titans tradition. In the 1980s, New Titans writer Marv Wolfman added a dose of reality to his series by showing Nightwing and Starfire in bed together, and here too Johns offers a realistic portrayal of Superboy and Wonder Girl's lives.

I've followed the Superboy character since his first appearance in Adventures of Superman, and more than many others, Superboy is a character who's been written to both grow and change — more so than the newest Robin, Tim Drake, who's remained essentially the same, and more so than Bart Allen, who's changes seem to come title-by-title and not through storyline progression. In this way, it's both sad to see Superboy's story end, and at the same time appropriate. Born from the death of Superman (which Superboy-Prime blames for the darkening of our Earth), Superboy fought in the beginning against being called "Superboy," and as he dies (in the over-generous inclusion of quite a number of pages from Infinite Crisis #6) finally accepts the Superboy name for the last time. If anything, I can acknowledge Superboy's death as a fitting end to his arc.

There's a great countdown feel to this trade (not that kind of Countdown) as the team slowly shrinks down until only Superboy is left. Even as Johns has discussed plans — had he remained on Titans — to re-address the "Titans Tomorrow" seen in Teen Titans: The Future is now, he does a good job wrapping up that storyline as Superboy recognizes that the time that the future Titans predicted — the time when the Teen Titans would break apart — may have now arrived. Nightwing, of course, offers a hopeful alternative, but it's still hard not to be a little mournful — to me, the core new-era Titans are Robin, Wonder Girl, Superboy, and Kid Flash, and upstarts like Kid Devil and Miss Martian just don't appeal to me — it's kind of like the JLA without the Big Seven (which I know we have right now, too, but that's a different story). Come One Year Later, Johns is going to have to work very hard to make me like the new guys; we'll see how it goes.

[Contains one of the funniest biography pages ever, cover thumbnails, excerpts from Infinite Crisis #5 and #6.]

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