Review: Titans Vol. 5: The Spark trade paperback (DC Comics)

March 10, 2019


Dan Abnett's Titans will be cancelled after the next volume, so that might arguably mark this experiment as a failure. It bears considering, however, just what exactly "this" is. In the wake of the post-Dark Nights: Metal/No Justice "New Justice" era, Abnett heads a new Titans team in Titans Vol. 5: The Spark.

These are and are not the Titans in strange ways. In some respects Abnett's new paradigm for the team is stronger than many previous iterations, in that the team actually has a mission and reason for being aside from friends wanting to hang out. At the same time, what makes a team "Titans" is that oft-dysfunctional family bond that brings a certain set of characters together and inevitably breaks them apart, superheroic duty notwithstanding. There seems good intentions behind this new Titans and I hope that can be channeled elsewhere, but with Titans making a splash on TV now, it's not surprising this semi-off-brand take needed to be pulled.

[Review contains spoilers]

To fully understand a comics fan's mindset (especially a comics fan well steeped in the multigenerational saga that was the pre-Flashpoint DC Universe) is to understand the importance of determining exactly where this newest team of Titans "fits." We have here Nightwing and Donna Troy -- clearly Titans. Then we have Raven and Beast Boy -- also Titans (in the Marv Wolfman/George Perez sense), but most recently associated with the Teen Titans. And then there's Miss Martian and Steel Natasha Irons -- the former an alt-continuity Teen Titan after her appearances on the Young Justice show, the latter new to the franchise. It's a mix, therefore -- this kind of looks like the Wolfman/Perez Titans, down to the alien and steel-plated members, but in some cases younger and without their defining relationships.

These heroes are together as kind of a special operations arm of the Justice League, tracking down metahuman anomalies caused by Metal's breach of the Source Wall. In this, something begins to take shape -- this team is a Justice League "task force." This mollifies a lot; the constant presence of the League, with the team even being housed in the Hall of Justice, feels very un-Titans-like, but Nightwing leading a strike team, especially with a Martian in his ear, has specific precedent. The attempt here too at a Nightwing-lead, character-driven team book also has strong roots; they might've called this "Outsiders," were that name not already being taken up by an equally vaguely team of Outsiders and not-Outsiders. Titans, this is not, but as a second take on Justice League Task Force -- more purposeful, less angsty -- Abnett might very well have something here.

Spark succeeds in its weirdness, similar to what drove the Wolfman/Perez Titans, who might've been in space one story and then on Olympus in another and battling Deathstroke in a third. The three-part "Spark" is more a sequence of related one-shots, with the Titans trying to talk down a meta (think early Agents of SHIELD), then fighting fantastical creatures, then stumbling through an alternate reality. Abnett can fit these Titans just about anywhere, and so he does; there's also the potential for any number of cameos, starting here with Supergirl's Ben Rubel lending a hand. (Were Titans not ending, and would it not stretch the "Titans" name well past breaking, this might have been a place DC could have stuck the orphaned "New Age of Heroes" characters.)

But unfortunately, it never all comes together to make something particularly "can't miss." I have enjoyed Abnett's Aquaman immensely, but especially when he's pitted Aquaman against some political situation or something he can't punch. A lot of the stories here revolve around throwing the entire team at some large monster; Nightwing, as an individual, feels particularly ill-used. The team's dialogue often feels trite, as with Steel's "I have been dying to test this baby out" and Donna noting she'll need "serious hair product" after a fight. At no point does the team seem particularly endangered, and the choice of the Blood Cult as their antagonists gives them a particularly bland, one-note foe to fight. Many team members have secrets, but none of them felt surprising or pressing (that Miss Martian is once again secretly a White Martian, for instance).

Abnett scores with a couple of pairings, especially teaming Miss Martian and Raven. He writes Beast Boy especially well, no easy feat, and makes the ordinarily free-wheeling Garfield much more interesting now that Gar has to control his strong emotions else he "hulks out." At the same time, Abnett's hard-drinking, fists-first Donna Troy is a travesty, near unrecognizable from the character's origins. Though in line with her New 52 portrayals, Donna drinking tequila for breakfast seems an absurd cliche, and I tired of Donna's boisterous retorts in every situation.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Titans Vol. 5: The Spark

Again, the fact of going in to Titans Vol. 5: The Spark knowing how swiftly this book will end mitigates some of the enthusiasm of, say, starting the similar Justice League of America run by Steve Orlando. Dan Abnett's got Natasha Irons on a major team book and that's saying something; given 50 issues, I'd be eager to see what he does with her, but we know this sub-Titans book is soon to be replaced, probably with a more familiar-looking Titans book. Changing up the Titans is a good idea, but not apparently a lasting one.

[Includes original and variant covers, sketches]

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Titans Vol. 5: The Spark
Author Rating
3 (scale of 1 to 5)

Comments ( 4 )

  1. Im tempted to pick this up just because I know Kyle Rayner joins the team in the next volume. It is a shame it sounds like this book doesn't get off the ground quick enough to fully make it worth picking up.

    Considering the whole purpose of rebirth it still boggles my mind how they utterly screwed up relaunching Titans and Teen Titans. I like Abnett as a writer but he just never seemed to get the characters and what they were about. Like you said above, Donna doesn't feel like Donna, Wally was just wallowing half the time, and the rest of the team never really gelled. It was a lot of talk about being family/friends but it all felt so hollow.

  2. I think Miss Martian deserves uncontested Titans status. She first showed up in TEEN TITANS #37 in 2006, years before appearing in YOUNG JUSTICE in 2010. (Although I do retractively hear Danica McKellar's voice when I read her dialogue.)

  3. As a diehard fan of Wolfman/Perez' New Teen Titans, Wolfman/Grummett New Titans & Geoff Johns Teen Titans I was very much looking forward to a Titans books that would give us a good mix of the original characters w/ some new twists. But Abnett never seemed to really get the character's voices down. His Wally & Donna especially never seemed quite right. I have noticed that the solo writing of Dan Abnett doesn't seem as strong as the previous wirting team of Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, maybe they should reteam.


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