Review: Teen Titans Vol. 3: Seek and Destroy trade paperback (DC Comics)

August 5, 2020

Adam Glass' Teen Titans is as good as this title has been in a decade and I defy anyone to say otherwise. It’s a shame that Teen Titans Vol. 3: Seek and Destroy marks the almost-end of Glass' run, but he sure goes out on a high note. If Robbie Thompson can keep up the kind of excitement that this book offers, I’ll be supporting this book as long as it goes.

As I’ve mentioned before, the high concept of Glass' Titans is “if the Teen Titans broke bad.” Not that there aren’t a couple of love triangles here, but the real drama comes from more serious (superheroic) issues — questions of these teen heroes killing their enemies, and if not that, then imprisoning them without due process or wiping their minds. This is Robin Damian Wayne’s Teen Titans, and for once that doesn’t just mean harping on his teammates to be more serious, but the kind of mayhem one always expected were Damian left to his own devices — heroism, but coupled with the misguided ethics of a severely damaged kid.

In Seek and Destroy, almost everyone is at one point betraying their teammates — unintentionally or intentionally — and one of the revelations is a real showstopper. Add to that we finally learn the identity of “The Other,” the villain that’s plagued these Titans through almost 20 issues, and that too is the kind of magnificent stuck landing that writers have an increasingly hard time pulling off. Bernard Chang’s wide, sketchy art is highly not what I’d have expected DC to choose for Teen Titans, but I’m glad they did; his layouts are exceptional and this book is gorgeous. I’ve had my doubts sometimes about the team of Chang and colorist Marcelo Maiolo, but they’re right on target here, an indication how these creators have grown since their Green Lantern Corps days.

I’m not sure a book gets quite better than this. Yes, I'm serious.

[Review contains spoilers]

Front-and-center in Seek and Destroy’s marketing is the “Year of the Villain”-tied first encounter between Titan Crush and her father, the ubiquitous bounty hunter Lobo. Though in his time (and not even terribly long ago) Lobo has been both anti-hero and hero, Glass writes Lobo as more mean-spirited and violent than I’ve seen him in a while, and it’s very effective. Ordinarily two issues of nonstop punching wouldn’t be my thing, but Glass does it well, showing the real danger of a physical villain the Titans can’t beat (shades, even, of Superman’s battle with Doomsday). The scenes of the team regrouping build great suspense as they wait for Lobo to hunt them down.

No sooner does the team defeat Lobo than they discover a traitor in their midsts, at the tail of a wonderful “locked-in” issue in which Robin questions all the team “suspects.” Chang depicts this all very well, with parallel pages of the teammates staring out at the reader, a style he’s used in this series before. Some of the paneling is particularly sharp, as in the second page of Crush and Djinn’s argument. The final page of that issue is a shocker, with a villainous depiction of innocent, happy-go-lucky teammate Roundhouse Billy Wu having been the one pulling the strings.

So evil does Roundhouse look here that I was sure he was possessed (by a relation of Djinn’s), but kudos to Glass that he pulls no punches and offers no mitigation for Roundhouse. Billy has done everything he’s accused of, and has indeed been working against Robin, at least, from the beginning. Chang takes a style akin to Bill Sienkiewicz in some of the panels of the explanation, as if scratching the page with a blade, that works wonders.

At the very end, wonderfully, the team accepts Roundhouse back, recognizing Robin made mistakes just like Roundhouse did. The kind of damaged “everyone’s a crook so let’s be crooks together” aesthetic reminds of the closest thing this title has to a sister book, Christopher Priest’s Deathstroke, which itself treats betrayal as just a matter of course. This kind of moral ambiguity would be unheard of in previous Teen Titans runs that confused the youth of the heroes for the necessary depth of the material, and it’s awesome to see it here.

And finally, no less, it turns out the Other is Heritic, Damian’s thought-dead clone from two continuities ago. The reader couldn’t necessarily have guessed such, if that matters, but the thematic relevance is fantastic. Damian, having taken a dark turn in Teen Titans, now faces himself gone even darker, just the same as Red Arrow gave in to violence and killed Deathstroke, Roundhouse betrayed the team, and Djinn and Crush have both been used to evil ends by their own family. Hardly do I want to see this team on the straight and narrow now, but Glass has effectively shown them all their dark shadows over the past 20 issues and brought them out on the other side.

Throughout, starting with Rebirth, I’ve been uncertain about this idea of Damian aging up to 13; it seems to me a defining feature of this diminutive Robin is that he’s 10 years old, and that making him any older — and, as Glass has done, giving him a love interest — removes some of the difference between Damian and his Tim Drake predecessor. (Put another way, I’d rather we didn’t find out, as Douglas Adams wrote, whether Damian is “interested in nothing more than tea and the wider issues of life?”) To that end, I’m glad Glass ends Damian and Djinn’s final encounter without even a kiss; I’m not wholly sure their connection seemed logical to me, though seeing Damian care so fully for someone other than himself is a interesting new look for him.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Teen Titans Vol. 3: Seek and Destroy

4.75

Rating

Again, it’s a heady thing to say that comics don’t get much better than Teen Titans Vol. 3: Seek and Destroy, but I struggle to find much of a false note. Characters that we care about, many of whom we only just met and who didn’t even at first glance seem all that viable, act in surprising, shocking, and wholly in-character ways, and I was rapt throughout. Adam Glass has provided a model for Teen Titans comics featuring young heroes that doesn’t at the same time dumb-down the material accordingly; Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s New Teen Titans was among the most boundary-pushing of DC’s titles on the stands in its heyday, and I’m glad someone finally remembered that. Here’s hoping it keeps up.

[Includes original and variant covers]

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