Review: Teen Titans Vol. 2: The Rise of Aqualad (Rebirth) trade paperback (DC Comics)

Appealingly, Benjamin Percy's Teen Titans Vol. 2: The Rise of Aqualad introduces Aqualad Jackson Hyde to the DC Comics Rebirth universe; this is not the first time we've seen a Jackson Hyde, but here he's visually and tonally closer to his Young Justice origins, and that's a lot of fun. Reading Teen Titans, however, I'm struck by the impression that DC has finally accomplished what it wants -- a mainstream in-universe equivalent to the Teen Titans/Teen Titans Go cartoon -- and that's both a very good and very bad thing. There's an occasional piece of deft character work here, but I remain unsure if this title is quite as strong as it could be.

[Review contains spoilers]

Not unlike Super Sons, Teen Titans exists in this odd space in DC Comic's publishing line, neither an all-ages out of continuity title like some of the animated series tie-in books, but neither written for the adult comics buying audience despite the youthful characters (as Marv Wolfman and George Perez's New Teen Titans was). Perhaps DC has needed and lacked these kinds of younger-skewing titles, but with DC Ink and DC Zoom on the horizon -- and an impressive slate of titles from each -- my hope is that titles like Teen Titans might right themselves and get back to the approaches that inarguably worked the best -- Wolfman and Perez or Geoff Johns's runs, for instance, as opposed to the sillier and more off-the-cuff New 52 run.

But the difficulty might also just be writer Benjamin Percy not hitting his marks. On one hand, Percy's Teen Titans remains as straightforward as they come -- no major subplots to speak of, none of the characters having much internal life besides what directly relates to the plot; the all-ages tone comes, in essence, from this being a basic "banter and fight" title. On the other hand, an opening scene of Beast Boy serving up a "tofu platter" to his teammates and the Titans complaining about it would be straight out of Teen Titans Go if not for Beast Boy telling them to "prepare yourselves for a mouth orgasm!" So it's hard to know which way Percy is trying to skew, with the result that I'm not sure this book would please either audience. (And this isn't impossible -- Peter David's original Young Justice comic combined humor and drama in such a way that everyone could enjoy it.)

Staying on that scene for a moment, Percy writes for Kid Flash, "These chairs are ridiculously uncomfortable, yo," a bit of slang that doesn't feel quite in line with Wally's portrayal in his own title. And faced with the tofu, Raven says, "Wally ... help," a jocularity that certainly doesn't jibe with the historical Raven, which this Raven ... is now? For as long as I've been reading comics, if DC's continuity is confusing me, that's surely problematic.

One of the book's most interesting aspects is when Starfire stages a peaceful coup against self-appointed leader Robin Damian Wayne, subtly taking charge of the team herself, but the sequence begs for context -- are Starfire, Beast Boy, and Raven old teammates banded together on a new team of Titans (and thus Starfire has some seniority) or is this all wholly new for them, too? I suspect this just hasn't been determined yet, and that's also a problem. (Not to mention that in the final pages, the adult Titans' Tempest claims to have been Aqualad before, something that I guess lines up with the New 52 Titans Hunt but that, again, we really know nothing about.)

All of that said, again Jackson Hyde is this book's best part. Not unlike how Teen Titans Vol. 1: Damian Knows Best was more a Robin, Son of Batman story than Titans, this book leans pretty far into Dan Abnett's Aquaman, but with great result. Between Suicide Squad and Aquaman, Black Manta has become one of my favorite villains, and his casual cruelty mixed with sincere honor makes for great interactions (as when he brushes off Jackson's actual chief concern, that his father won't accept him for his sexuality, with a blithe "We're all just meat"). Percy teases out Jackson's origins well, again weaving in and out of Aquaman continuity, and I especially liked the revelation of Jackson's mother's powers. Jackson is not morose, but neither does Percy write him as sillily as Beast Boy or Kid Flash, making him among the book's most tolerable characters.

I continue to find the art on the book a bit light; Khoi Pham draws much of the book, but his work lacks some heft under inker Wade Von Grawbadger that it only gets later in the book from Trevor Scott (and there, Pham nicely resembles a more controlled Ian Churchill). Late in the book, Pop Mhan or breakdown artist Phil Hester gets the idea to try some artsy takes, multiple images of the characters in the same panel and such, which is just so different from what came before as to be more confusing than attractive (the effect is a bit like Stjepan Sejic on Aquaman, but I'm still not sure it comes through).

Lest I'm being too hard on Aqualad, I really do want DC Comics to have a viable, successful Teen Titans book. Geoff Johns's early Teen Titans is among some of my favorite runs, and I even went back and read a few issues to cement in my mind that indeed, Titans can be better than this. It is not entirely, but partially, a legacy thing -- when in Johns's Titans, Starfire gives the younger members a classroom lesson in the history of Raven, it demonstrates that something is significantly lost in the fact that I'm not sure Benjamin Percy's Starfire and Raven have said two words to one another so far, letting alone we just don't know whether they know each other or not.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Teen Titans Vol. 2: The Rise of Aqualad

I'm in for the next volume largely for the Superman/Super Sons crossover and the aftermath, though after that I see a Beast Boy story in which Beast Boy will naively fall for the come-ons of an organization the audience knows already to be villainous -- this seems the kind of thing that might get trite, and that we've seen before, and I'm not optimistic. In Teen Titans Vol. 2: The Rise of Aqualad, DC Comics has here a comic that looks to the outside world faithful to Teen Titans Go -- a Goth Raven alongside Beast Boy, Starfire more buttoned up than she's been. Some of that is good, but I worry that we've traded style for substance, that what's ruling Teen Titans now is how it looks instead of how it reads.

[Includes original and variant covers, character sketches, page layouts]

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Teen Titans Vol. 2: The Rise of Aqualad
Author Rating
3 (scale of 1 to 5)


Post a Comment

To post a comment, you may need to temporarily allow "cross-site tracking" in your browser of choice.

Newer Post Home Older Post