Review: Teen Titans Vol. 4: When Titans Fall trade paperback (DC Comics)

January 2, 2022

Teen Titans Vol. 4: When Titans Fall is not egregiously bad. This would otherwise be faint praise, except DC Comics's second Teen Titans series of the New 52 era (and into DC You) was marred by such problems -- including unfinished, if not outright nonsensical, storylines -- that if a collection is at least cogent (if rather boilerplate and dull), that's considered progress. It is astounding that what should be DC's flagship teen team has had such problems -- really for something like 10 years, since Geoff Johns's run ended -- and we could only hope that Ben Percy's Rebirth run would be a comeback.

In large part Titans Fall sees the team fight a handful of random villains without much rhyme, reason, or overarching plot direction. What may explain this, however, is what makes Titans Fall interesting – that in just the final issue, this book ties in a big way into events in a Rebirth title, which this title is not. This marks then perhaps one of the biggest forays of a non-Rebirth, but continuity-connected, title into the Rebirth era, and its interesting to see how this book shoehorns itself into those events. Rather than just cancel at the outset, then, it would seem the stories collected here basically serve as vehicles to buffer Teen Titans up to that tie-in point.

[Review contains spoilers]

What’s most important to know about When Titans Fall is that the final main issue takes place after the events of Detective Comics Vol. 1: Rise of the Batmen, when Tim Drake appears to have been killed. Tony Bedard writes the Titans mourning and remembering Tim, including talking about going to his funeral; Wonder Girl muses that she now understands the reason she and Tim never had a relationship was because he was dating Spoiler Stephanie Brown.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Continuity-wise, Bedard is building some incredible bridges here; on the Detective Comics side, there’s no talk of the Titans at Tim’s funeral and you might not even know the Titans existed, but on this side, Bedard slots them in. Of course, over the span of Titans Tim wasn’t actually dating Spoiler because she didn’t yet exist, but Bedard is able to take what’s a bit of continuity rejiggering on Detective’s part and map it on Titans in turn, which is fairly deft if you like that kind of thing. Bedard also gives a nod to Marv Wolfman’s resulting Raven miniseries.

This makes When Titans Fall a notable curiosity, but there isn’t terribly much more here for which to recommend it. Bedard writes five issues total (plus an annual by Scott Lobdell and the Rebirth special by Ben Percy and Jonboy Meyers), of which two see the Titans against Monsignor Mallah and the Brain, one versus Amanda Waller (but not the Suicide Squad), and one versus the Hive Queen from around Lobdell’s Superman run.

The Brain story, the Hive story, and Lobdell’s annual with “Sister Blood” all involve mind-controlled or transformed civilians, making for what feels like repetitive storytelling. Art by Ian Churchill is fine in the Churchill-ian vein, but the other artists work basically in DC’s house style without much detail in the backgrounds nor nuance in the character’s expressions. Bedard’s Brain and Mallah are played for laughs that just come off silly, not funny, and his Waller here surprisingly ineffectual; in all it’s just very average superhero comics with no suspense or surprises beyond “good” good guys fighting “bad” bad guys.

Scott Lobdell’s annual is significant here because Lobdell essentially created and defined this era of the Titans, and the annual serves to begin to break up the team ahead of Bedard’s finale (though the annual was published earlier than where it’s placed in this book). With Sister Blood, related to Brother Blood, Lobdell at least gets to cap one of his earlier Titans stories. But plenty of things bother here, not the least of which is Lobdell’s hyper-neurotic Tim, a weird appropriation of the Teen Titans Go! Robin, who apparently doesn’t know how to dance (or really dress himself, Bedard establishes later). Tim was not well-served by the New 52 era, something thankfully Detective Comics turned around.

The Rebirth special by Percy and Meyers is specifically the first chapter in a multi-part story, so it’s more set-up than any real taste of what the Rebirth series would be like. What’s remarkable is that, with no fanfare, Percy reinstates at least Beast Boy’s pre-Flashpoint origin, if not also Raven’s, and Starfire’s relationship with Nightwing. I’ve thought for a while that, the next time DC needed to wipe the continuity slate clean, they might do better to “just do it” than to have to explain it away in labored fashion a la Flashpoint. However, the fact that the Beast Boy at the end of this book is partially incongruous with the Beast Boy who’s been in the series to this point is jarring – especially I imagine for a reader uninitiated – and I don’t know now that I feel quite so sanguine about it.

Again, one could as soon jump from wherever you stopped reading Teen Titans straight to the Rebirth series and be none the lesser. Teen Titans Vol. 4: When Titans Fall isn’t much more than a footnote, an answer in a late-night DC Comics Trivial Pursuit game; I couldn’t recommend it as more than that.

[Includes original covers, page layouts, Rebirth special]


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