Review: Titans Vol. 1: The Return of Wally West (Rebirth) trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Dan Abnett writes a Flash Wally West story that reminds of Mark Waid's work before, which would be quite fine if Abnett were writing a Flash title. But this is 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]
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8 comments:

  1. I guess I enjoyed this more than you did because I was so hungry for a good Flash story. Really, this arc made me feel like when I was a teenager reading Waid's "Terminal Velocity" for the first time, and that scene where Wally had a few seconds to save all of his teammates was breathtaking. Also, as one of the few fans of Grayson's Titans run, I loved the sparks between Donna and Roy.

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    1. Yes, definite shades of "Terminal Velocity" here. That's where Abnett had it right. And I liked Devin Grayson's Titans, too -- I think Arsenal mentoring Damage was probably Arsenal at his best -- but Abnett resurrecting the Donna/Roy relationship is exactly what bugs me here. No less than six issues in and they're already on "Did you say you love me?" when we have just absolutely no idea who this Donna Troy is (and Arsenal probably shouldn't, either). It's the sentiment without the emotion to back it up, and that's where I'm having trouble here so far.

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    2. I kind of liked that moment. It was a bit dysfunctional and silly, just like how that relationship should be.

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  2. On a scale from 1-10 (or whatever scale you wish, really - maybe a comparison to Superman: Path of Doom or the first volume of 'Tec), how important do you think this story is in the grand scheme of Rebirth and the mysteries therein?

    I'm not that much a fan of the Titans, but I loved every little tie-in to Countdown (to Infinite Crisis) and trying to piece everything together

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    1. The first big Watchmen tease doesn't happen until the next volume, but this is an important story if you're interested in seeing how Wally gets back into the swing of things after his return in the DCU: Rebirth special. No Mr. Oz, though.

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    2. Call it a 7, maybe? It would be included in a "Prelude to Rebirth" special kind of thing. There's definitely a moment that calls out to Watchmen here, but maybe minor in comparison to the end of 'Tec Vol. 1. If anything the big draw here is Wally, and how he is or isn't what he seems to be at the end of DC Universe: Rebirth.

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  3. I only just got the book and I really liked it.

    I myself liked that this was a Wally centered issue, I actually think it was a good thing. We really needed the Wally West situation explained and it's a good thing they spent a whole story line on it.

    It's good they cleared up what happened to Wally and it was completely different to what I expected. We learn that Wally isn't pre-Flashpoint Wally like I thought he was, but Wally from the current timeline pushed into the timestream by Abra Kadabra from the future. Wally only seems to have survived that because his connection to the Speedforce (and because of that he was able to see all other timelines enfold at the same time), that explains the misconception I had at first when I read DC Universe: Rebirth.

    It's also interesting to know that Abra Kadabra being from the future seems to be aware of who stole the time in the universe. In issue 2 he says "He must have... He must have broken history already." He does this while looking at the watch we later in the issue learn to be another link to the Watchmen.

    I prefer the Dick Grayson displayed here to the one in Nightwing and the Night of the Monstermen crossover. I wont tell why, because I don't know if you've read those yet. But atm it seems he's more himself when he's with the Titans than he is when he is with the Bat family.

    As for Garth saying: "Once again, you demonstrate how lost we Titans would be without you.", I don't think it's abnormal to have a bit of extra sentiment to a long lost friend. And let's not forget, that Wally has the same feeling towards his team mates: "God bless Dick Grayson. Just hearing him gives me hope for a moment.". It just points that all the Titans know that everyone of them is important and that even a small piece missing hurts.

    I didn't know Superman was going to turn up in the next volume of Titans, but Wally has seen the pre-Flashpoint timeline when he was stuck in the timestream. He's probably the only link Superman has (besides his family) to it. I haven't read any of the Superman titles and they're not high on the priority list atm, so I could be wrong.

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  4. I'm a big Titans fan & an even bigger Wally West fan, that being said I wanted this book to be amazing, unfortunately it is just mediocre. Abnett is doing some ok writing but seems more concerned w/ pushing the Rebirth/Watchmen mystery then telling who these characters are & why people should like & care about them. Brett Booth is not my favorite artist, he can tell a decent story but is going too far into his cartoony exaggerated style & making everyone look ridiculous.

    I would ♥ for DC to not push Abnett too hard into the Rebirth story & let him give the characters room to breathe & get a better artist!

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