Review: Teen Titans Vol. 1: Full Throttle trade paperback (DC Comics)

April 28, 2019

 ·  1 comment

Adam Glass' Teen Titans Vol. 1: Full Throttle is surprisingly enjoyable, which is good because I had extensive concerns about it going in. DC Comics' Teen Titans franchise has been a series of train wrecks for years, which is astounding given how recognition of the team has grown in popular culture. Glass and artist Bernard Chang's take, which at first glance seemed to include an aged-up Robin Damian Wayne and a slate of new characters each more impertinent than the last, seemed headed in the wrong direction, with shades of Glass' too-attitudinal New 52 Suicide Squad launch.

But Glass pulls it off, proposing a Teen Titans paradigm where the team is not (for the most part) bratty, but is violent and unapologetic — a rather adult, "extreme" Teen Titans. Done in a pearl-clutching, "what will our mentors think" kind of manner, this might feel like attitude for attitude's sake, but presented as a natural evolution of many of these characters' experiences, it works. Between Damian, Red Arrow Emiko Queen, and Lobo's daughter Crush, this is kind of a team of teen psychopaths let loose, and that's pretty entertaining. Chang's oft-gritty art is miles from Brett Booth previously on Titans, focused more on story and action than titillation, and that adds intentionality to the book as well.

Finishing Full Throttle, I am more enthusiastic about the direction of DC's new Teen Titans than I thought I'd be.

[Review contains spoilers]

Glass spends almost no time on the origins of the new Teen Titans characters, one of a number of interesting choices in this book; in this way, we're rarely mired in the characters meeting and instead cut straight to them interacting (compare with the slow build of DC's current Young Justice). Echoing perhaps the mix of old and new in Marv Wolfman and George Perez's New Teen Titans, all of the characters can bond (or at least acknowledge one another) over thorny parent issues. Djinn feels most familiar, a sheltered magic user with a dark side, a la Raven, though with a patois like the cartoon Starfire. Roundhouse is the irreverent Changeling of the group, with Kid Flash as his Cyborg straight man. Whereas characters like Robin Dick Grayson and Donna Troy kept the Titans on the straight and narrow, however, these Titans' moral center is Damian, locking villains in their basement.

I have not particularly liked the wholesome Damian Wayne who's been palling around with Superboy Jon Kent, or at least it has seemed like a cessation of Damian's character growth for him to become a traditional Robin always doing good. This Damian, leading a team of other teens and not letting them drag him toward friendship and happiness (as with the initial Rebirth Teen Titans) but rather using them as his covert army to imprison their enemies is much more interesting, and seems much more what Damian would do. And there's a wonderful (for purposes of dramatic fiction) sense of damaged characters enabling one another here — Emiko Queen doesn't blink at Damian's suggestion that they let a foe die for the greater good, and Roundhouse is so star-struck that he goes along with whatever the others suggest.

This must all come crashing down, of course, but hopefully not too soon; I'm happy to see the Teen Titans "break bad" at least a little while longer. Some might quibble with the idea of the Teen Titans as rebels, something that to be sure could be written poorly. But I'd much prefer a team of Titans unified in their mission (even if morally gray) who debate the efficacy of letting their enemies die than Titans whose angst comes from the price of social media fame or which Titan's being obviously manipulated by a bad guy this arc. This is the most serious I've seen Teen Titans in a while, but it's good serious, borne out of actual complications rather than puffing up the title with fluff.

Among sore spots, DC has had trouble from the beginning with their new Kid Flash, an African American young man who's not-so-coincidentally often the site of slang or authority-bucking as the needs of a story warrant. Glass' Wally West, now "Wallace," is no improvement, now also social media obsessed for some reason. To his credit, Glass makes Wallace the de facto moral center of the team, often trying to pull Robin or Red Arrow back, and my hope is that Glass can deepen Wallace past the stereotypes. I'm particularly interested in why Wallace wanted Roundhouse on the team; he says it's because the "guy's got a sick ViewTube channel," which is awfully superficial, and I'm hoping it's at least revealed to be more along the lines of Wallace hoping Roundhouse can raise Kid Flash's own profile because Wallace feels neglected or etc.

Chang's art is, again, notably unsexualized, which is significant because Titans runs have sometimes derailed due to egregious sexualization when the story didn't call for it (not so much in Rebirth, but rather in the New 52 and late pre-Flashpoint era). Chang's cover to the first issue (and this trade) depicts what seems a much older Damian, which initially gave me some pause, and in general Chang's broad, sketchy style sometimes takes me some getting used to. But within the comic, Damian is properly a head shorter than his teammates, and overall Chang does particularly well differentiating the characters with individual specific sizes and body types. Teen Titans has needed an artist like Chang for a while, and I'm glad to see he's staying at least through the next trade.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Teen Titans Vol. 1: Full Throttle

I noted earlier that the Teen Titans franchise's star has grown of late, but the most recent (and seemingly successful) media iteration was plain old "Titans" on the DC streaming service. It's the Titans (sans "Teen") comics title that seems to have fallen victim to that success, having been cancelled and surely to be relaunched (in the wake of Heroes in Crisis, perhaps) with a TV friendly team. That leaves Adam Glass' Teen Titans team in an interesting place, neither representing the classic Titans team nor the duly appointed sidekick team (that honor likely goes to the more prim and proper Young Justice group). To that end, it seems like there's nowhere for Glass' team to go from Teen Titans Vol. 1: Full Throttle but up, charting their own path; this is a new take on the Teen Titans that I can get behind.

[Includes original and variant covers, sketchbook section]

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Teen Titans Vol. 1: Full Throttle
Author Rating
4 (scale of 1 to 5)

Comments ( 1 )

  1. I'd say this is the best the book has been since the all-too-brief Krul/Scott run. The new characters (especially Roundhouse) are all likeable in different ways, the main premise with Damian secretly locking up supervillains is provocative and the storytelling is so clear and zippy that it's hard to believe Glass and Chang had never worked together before.

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