Review: Titans Hunt trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, February 27, 2017

At the end of Dan Abnett's Titans Hunt, one does get the warm fuzzy feelings of seeing the Titans all together again, and so in that way this book accomplishes at least one of its goals. I have enjoyed these characters over the years and I am happy to see this team re-form, but I feel a great many hesitations in embracing Titans Hunt fully.

Though billed as a "Road to Rebirth" title, the ties in this to "Rebirth" proper are light until the end, and I suspect that this book was originally meant just to bring a classic version of the Titans to the New 52, and that the final in-story nod to the pre-Flashpoint continuity was decided late in the game (notwithstanding the Titans: Rebirth special also collected here). In this regard, Abnett brings back the Titans, but whether these particular characters suffice as those Titans remains to be seen. Additionally, though packed with plenty fun moments, Titans Hunt lags at times, either by its own volition or due to its potential course corrections.

[Review contains spoilers]

Titans Hunt's biggest difficulties are its Aqualad/Tempest Garth and Donna Troy. Over in Cullen Bunn's Aquaman, before Abnett himself took over, Garth arrived almost from nowhere, and he still has no origin even through Abnett's Rebirth Aquaman Vol. 1. Donna Troy began as a villain in Meredith Finch's Wonder Woman and has only been mildly redeemed since. Once one of the most unassuming of Titans, Garth here is intolerant and belligerent, and former peacemaker Donna is an equally warlike Amazon. Though each of these characters match their established New 52 characterizations, ill-defined as those might be, neither comes off very nuanced on the page, and their presence doesn't make this feel like the classic Titans in anything but name.

It ought then be a significant moment at the beginning of the fourth chapter when Abnett presents our first elongated flashback to these once-Teen Titans in action. But there's a lot that feels off, and more than just Robin's anachronistically modern costume. Dick Grayson is arguing with his team from the start -- "Dammit! I said we stay together!" -- and Speedy Roy Harper (in his current Arsenal trucker-hat getup) retorts, "Our team sucks, dude. We're falling to pieces." Donna and Aqualad bicker, and then the irrationally furious Donna falls into Roy's arms.

This is hardly the (perhaps idealized) Teen Titans of old; rather in some respects Abnett's Teen Titans feels reflective of the worst aspects of the New 52, all angst and anger. Incongruously, Abnett's dialogue for Roy against the first full-team splash page is "Everything's worse than before," which seems frankly true, though I can't figure why Abnett would want that to be the case. (This can't, I don't think, be explained away by Wally West's absence, and further Titans Hunt on its own never suggests we're supposed to understand a subtext to this scene.)

In the genre of nostalgic stories of this type (among which I count Green Arrow: Quiver, the original Green Lantern: Rebirth and Flash: Rebirth, Legion of Three Worlds, and even JLA/Titans: The Technis Imperative), Titans Hunt is cute, from Roy catching a falling object and Gnarrk noting, "You're speedy," on through. But the book drags a bunch in the middle, from the Titans fighting one another to Donna fighting Mammoth in a series of few-panel pages. I appreciate Abnett repurposing classic Titans villains like Ding-Dong Daddy and Honeybun, but the characters don't come off very interesting (with even a '90s "extreme" vibe), and the whole Diablo storyline seems a tangent that I'm not sure this miniseries needed.

I did finally get that feeling of going home, however, and that was at the immediate start of the final issue, when Paul Pelletier comes on art chores. The book's other artists are satisfactory as it goes though I think the book tends a tad dark, but Pelletier brings with him a familiarity having drawn the Titans before, and also gives them, in flashback, some needed youthfulness; this extends to Abnett and Pelletier's Justice League #51 issue, too. Abnett's script is strongest in this last chapter as the Titans shout-out to their past and future selves, and the final scene in the cafe does feel authentically Titans ("Owacle"). There's a large part of this book where I don't think Abnett achieved the tone he should, but he and Pelletier get there in the end.

That Justice League #51 is a fun issue, being when Robin Dick Grayson first met the Justice League. Abnett delves smartly into what the League might think of Batman having a junior partner -- a mixture of derision and respect -- and what Robin thinks of the League. There's especially good interplay between Dick and Cyborg Vic Stone, which is a nice relationship to reestablish given how their roles and experience levels have changed in the New 52. The only sticking point here is that Abnett never clarifies whether the book's mystery villain is supposed to be Titans Hunt's Mr. Twister or not, as Mammoth's additional inclusion suggests; I wondered if this issue might've made more sense printed at the beginning of this book than at the end.

Again, Titans Hunt ends up being only Abnett's opening salvo, because insofar as the Titans are back, New 52-wise, they're not back-back given Rebirth's return of Wally West. Abnett's Rebirth special is a pastiche of scenes of Wally with the other Titans, of the heartwarming type Titans Hunt needed -- Wally and Dick boosting the Batmobile, Wally teaching Donna about practical joking -- but it suggests all the "revelations" in Titans Hunt were only half-baked and there's an odd rewriting over the rewriting still to be done. (At the same time, there's a clever extra in this book that draws Wally into some of the crowd scenes.) Abnett even suggests, for instance, that Wally and Lilith Clay had a relationship not previously seen in the comics, further indicating that "reality" is some combination of present, continuities past, and new material (something the Rebirth Wonder Woman Vol. 1: The Lies upholds as well).

The former Teen Titans drinking coffee in a cafe is a great thing, and that Dan Abnett ends Titans Hunt there goes a long way toward inspiring my confidence in his Rebirth Titans book for the future. That Abnett's doing such a great job on Aquaman helps too. But adult Titans books have been historically troubled at DC, often switching creative teams and even, you'll recall, becoming a villain-team book for a while, and the bickering Titans we see early in this book give me some concern. Titans Hunt didn't leave me quite as optimistic as I'd hoped, but surely I'm wishing Abnett and company the best.

[Includes original and variant covers, Wally West pencil pages]
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5 comments:

  1. My main problem is that what they forgot took place 4 years ago. Donna Troy didn't even exist 4 years ago in the timeline. 4 years ago, Dick certainly wasn't Robin and Roy is also questionable.

    It just can't fit and they didn't even try to give it a decent explanation. I really want to enjoy the story, but every time I see Dick as Robin here my brain goes: this isn't possible. Even if you put everything that has happened in less than 4 years, then you make the possibility of Donna being there even more impossible.

    It was either put Dick in there as Nightwing if you want Donna to be there or let him be Robin, make years seem really stretched and drop Donna from list.

    For me the impossibility of this in this story takes away from the character history in stead of adding something.

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    1. Superboy punching the walls of reality :P

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    2. I get what you're saying, Peter. For me, I guess I don't find Dick as Robin and Nightwing quite so troublesome in four years, or at least no less troublesome than when it used to have happened in just ten years; "comic book time" has always seemed a little suspect to me. It's more, as you said, that neither Titans Hunt nor the first volume of the Rebirth Titans even tries to address that Donna's presence makes no sense in terms of what's been established, nor Garth's for that matter. I don't mind if it doesn't fit or even if Abnett takes some time explaining it; I do mind that the story just glosses right over even acknowledging the discrepancy.

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    3. Tbh, maybe I shouldn't have been to negative. Because as you said it's mostly that they don't even try to address it.

      What I liked most was the Justice League issue. As a Dick Grayson fan it was refreshing, nothing overcomplicated and all the other characters seemed spot on as well. I couldn't help smiling a few times reading certain parts.

      The Titans Hunt story was good because it allowed for a return of Titans stories and I'm excited to get my hands on the first Rebirth volume soon, but the not addressing of the obvious discrepancy probably made me enjoy this story less. (I'm still hoping it will get addressed.)

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    4. I liked that Justice League issue, too; I thought Abnett handled Wonder Woman and Robin especially well.

      It's equally possible Abnett can't address the Donna Troy discrepancy yet, at least, because he has to wait for things to shake out in the Rucka series. I'd still appreciate a tacit acknowledgment, but I imagine things will be explained some time, if at least by the time of DC Universe: Rebirth #2 (at some point this understated relayering of the old DCU on the new has to become overt, and then most of these continuity snarls ought be ironed out).

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