Review: Teen Titans Vol. 2: Rogue Targets trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, January 16, 2017

Will Pfeifer's mid-New 52 Teen Titans relaunch had trouble from the start, eschewing any sort of a premise for an in medias res beginning that came off wobbly and confusing. There was a moment early in Teen Titans Vol. 2: Rogue Targets where I actually thought this book was picking up, but most every chapter is so slapdash and strange that I wouldn't say it's worth reading at all, really. Pfeifer might be praised for ignoring the small details and just telling a good story if that story were good, but instead the little things that don't make sense combined with a story pulling in all sorts of different directions ultimately makes for a book that doesn't feel like it's had a lot of care put into it.

[Review contains spoilers]

In the aftermath of Convergence and the lead-in to DC Comics's "DC You" titles, DC released 11-page "Divergence" digital "sneak peek" stories, the Teen Titans's of which is collected here. Written by Pfeifer with art by Kenneth Rocafort, the story is mainly a conversation between Red Robin and Wonder Girl, now estranged over Robin's decision to harbor the fugitive Superboy.

Not only is the calm-but-fraught, 11-page conversation between friends-turned-enemies itself riveting, but it's set against the ticking clock of STAR Labs's rapidly shrinking dragnet on Robin and his companions. It also introduces Wonder Girl's intriguing "Elite" team, including Kid Flash (whom we thought was lost in the future); the new Guardian (from Superboy Vol. 5: Paradox); and Klarion ("bum, bum, bum"), the Witch Boy, and also teases the Martian Manhunter's involvement. Rocafort's art is sharp and angular as always, and Dan Brown's colors are strong. Based on just the "sneak peek" alone, I'd have had high hopes for Titans, and indeed where it's collected here after the first chapter, it makes it seem as if Rogue Targets is off to an auspicious start.

But there's a variety of stories that Pfeifer and company are trying to tell here, and they never quite coalesce into a whole. The "sneak peek" follows the Teen Titans annual, which sees Superboy accused of killing civilians (many, though the book doesn't make a point of it, apparently Muslims), though they're revealed to be Durlan aliens, and Martian Manhunter shows up to find out why. Reading the issue as the second chapter in this book, I gave some leeway to the fact that the annual doesn't at all explain how J'onn knew about the Durlans, how he knows the surviving Durlan Ra'ut "Chimera" L'lwer, what caused Superboy to attack the Durlans with no memory of doing so, etc. But those answers are nowhere in the book, and as a matter of fact J'onn disappears from the story soon after. What might be excused as a set-up for a future pay-off later becomes poor work when that pay-off never arrives; that the annual never pays off also makes the so-so art within sting more.

Indeed, Red Robin is directed by series villain Manchester Black to seek answers in a supermax prison where telepathic alien despot Despero is being held, as if Despero had perhaps mind-controlled Superboy. But in a particularly confusing sequence, Black is confronted with Despero, whom he seems to sincerely believe is in the prison, only to have it revealed in dialogue that Despero is an illusion of Dr. Psycho (even as, in the art, it seems it's Chimera disguised as Despero). It's now wholly, wholly unclear who's pulling the strings, Black or Despero or Psycho, letting alone the utter nonsense that Black chooses that moment to reveal to the Titans his grand evil scheme, which was apparently to drug them such that they mutated for reasons also unclear. And that's after the equally absurd, whiplash-sudden chapter with guest-writer Scott Lobdell that sees Superboy whisked away to the future by Harvest, Lobdell's baddie from the first New 52 Titans, such to prematurely remove Superboy and the questions about his actions from the story altogether.

The fact that all of these big storylines -- Martian Manhunter, Superboy, and Manchester Black -- are essentially short-circuited by the end only makes more obvious how many of the book's little details get glossed over. How Manchester Black apparently knows Red Robin is Tim Drake is the biggest one, given that in the New 52 Tim's identity is supposed to be a life-or-death secret protected by Batman-level security (setting aside why Black, a STAR Labs bigwig, walks around with his chest bare, displaying his full-torso British flag tattoo, and no one finds this unusual).

Kid Flash has apparently been "yanked" back to the present from the future by means unrevealed, and he lambasts Robin for abandoning him there even though Kid Flash asked to be left behind, a discrepancy the story raises and then immediately cuts away from. Elite member Trinity is apparently an Indigo Lantern, the presence of which on Earth is monstrously inconsistent with what's been established in the Green Lantern books. The Titans hide out in Beast Boy's father's penthouse, except I'm relatively sure this iteration of Beast Boy was not only never Steve Dayton's ward but also doesn't even know his own identity, let alone who his parents are. There's also the extreme coincidence of Ra'ut L'lwer possessing a woman named Ruth Lauer seemingly at random, and also that Durlans don't possess people and Chimera never has need to possess anyone else in the rest of the story.

It's too bad because in those first issues with Rocafort, Pfeifer starts to seem like he's on to something. There's an undercurrent throughout the book of how social media and instant fame affect the previously-unknown Titans. As labored as pseudo-social media can sometimes be in fiction (here, "Chirper"), in the first issue Pfeifer presents well how the internet contributes to the instantaneous rise in the Titans' profile, and how that carries over realistically to hosting gigs on a Saturday Night Live analogue, reality shows, and the like. Smartphones here are ever-present and they also contribute to the Titans' downfall, divulging their whereabouts to Black and revealing to the public their partnership with Superboy. Not only does Pfeifer present the connected world better than most, but also it's a smart idea to pair with the Teen Titans concept, and it makes it all the more unfortunate that the rest of the book doesn't come together.

I'm on Teen Titans now mainly in the lead-up to Robin War, and that'll keep me reading into the next volume. And fortunately, after Teen Titans Vol. 2: Rogue Targets, new creative teams come in, including writer Greg Pak, whose work I've very much enjoyed elsewhere. To that end, I'm still hopeful that the quality of the "DC You" Teen Titans will pick up ahead of Rebirth, but this volume is another dark spot in the overall troubled recent history of this series.

[Includes original and variant covers]
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5 comments:

  1. I've only read the first Volume of Teen Titans, and that was just a bad story + forced in DCYou stuff that you also saw in other titles. The idea to focus certain series more on appealing to a limited group of people and sacrificing good writing/art for it just didn't sit well with me. But the first book didn't even show glimpses of good writing when you ignored the stuff that was clearly forced in.

    I was waiting for you to review it to see if I would give it a second chance, hoping that the writing would improve and that like in some other series the forced DCYou stuff would disappear after a certain amount of issues. But it doesn't seem like I'll pick this up any time soon.

    I needed that rant off my chest.

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    1. I'm not sure what was "forced" necessarily -- I tend to be generally in favor of the impetus behind DC You -- but some of the same stuff as here put me off the first volume: characters falling for very obvious villainous plots, juvenile bickering, etc.

      No improvement yet, but let's see how the next volume of Teen Titans goes, with a new creative team.

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    2. It was the whole point of DCYou to make a comic for every fan by making certain comics more relatable to their view of certain fan groups. And in my opinion it detracted from the story/art in some of the series.

      I'll probably still buy this because it seems this series will be the last I'll see from Bunker, sadly he doesn't seem part of Rebirth and I'm hoping Solstice will come back for at least a few issues.

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  2. I feel like a good Teen Titan book hasn't been around for years. What are some good runs of it?

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    1. Back to the early Johns era. Wolfman/Perez, of course. JT Krul's oft-overlooked handful of Teen Titans volumes right before the advent of the New 52. And of course Peter David's Young Justice still remains probably the best "Teen Titans" run of the post-Wolfman generation. (Also I enjoyed Jeff Lemire's Teen Titans: Earth One books.)

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