Review: Teen Titans Academy: X Marks the Spot hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)


Teen Titans Academy is one of these “all the characters in one bucket” concepts, not unlike Scott Snyder’s recently completed Justice League, that really feels like it should work, and I’m stymied this title was cancelled not long after its first year. In Teen Titans Academy Vol. 1: X Marks the Spot, I do not think we get the fullest realization of the premise, but certainly there was the opportunity to get there.

What struggles Tim Sheridan’s book faces are not surprising for a book of this type, I don’t think — a cast too large to really dig in on every character (just yet), the push-and-pull of including characters that also appear in their own or other titles, that “Titans” is best known at the moment simultaneously as both a hard-talking, live action streaming series and a gleeful, irreverent cartoon. That anything cogent can be made from this at all might be a minor miracle.

But Academy is eminently readable, well-drawn by Rafa Sandoval and Steve Lieber, and in many ways not unlike a similar “Academy” book, Gotham Academy, if not also reminiscent of the big cast of Gotham Central. Pity it’s not lasting longer, and DC’s going to have a lot to prove with the Titans series that inevitably comes after this one.

[Review contains spoilers]

It’s been a windy path getting to the iteration of Titans found in Academy. The New 52 of 2011 all but eliminated the history of Marv Wolfman and George Perez' New Teen Titans, and even 2016’s Rebirth didn’t fully bring them back to form, with a lineup more based on the Teen Titans of the Silver Age and New Teen Titans like Starfire, Raven, Cyborg, and Beast Boy scattered to the wind. Only finally 10 years later with Infinite Frontier do we finally see that lineup restored in Academy, and seemingly with all their histories remembered (Cyborg’s offhand reference to training Superboy Conner Kent is startling in its nonchalance, given all that preceded it).

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Moreover, Sheridan offers some subtle, creative blending of histories, setting beside one another the most recent Rebirth-era Teen Titans (Crush, Roundhouse, etc.), Bunker (out of the New 52), Miguel “Dial H for HERO” Montez (ostensibly a Wonder Comics/Young Justice property), and Jakeem Thunder (of the JSA, formerly, and who knows how he fits into continuity now), not to mention background shots of Geoff Johns' pre-Flashpoint Titans. That’s great, an “everyone who was ever a Titan is still a Titan” approach I can get behind, though I’d have loved to see Sheridan take it even further — Joto or Mirage or Terra or Argent or Killowat, a real mad, mad, mad, mad Titans Academy.

Then again, Sheridan’s clearly got his hands full appeasing one too many masters. A variety of characters are ducking in and out toward their own spin-off series. There’s the requisite scene of Nightwing hooking up with Starfire, which Sheridan must then inelegantly sweep under the rug since Dick Grayson’s getting serious with Barbara Gordon over in Tom Taylor’s Nightwing series; the result is a pretty bad look for both Nightwing and Starfire.

At the same time, despite more adult-ish overtones, what’s driving all of this is a popular storyline from the Teen Titans cartoon, that of Red X, and it very nearly seems Sheridan has grafted the first season Teen Titans episode “Masks” on to mainstream DC continuity. Yet, as well, the “academy” concept is very much in line with the HBO Max Titans series, and some of Sheridan’s depictions of the characters (particularly Donna Troy, who’s not well-defined in the modern DCU anyway) seem to follow the HBO show’s template.

Sheridan seems to negotiate this at least in part by, starting with the third issue, mostly leaving the elder Titans behind in favor of the Academy’s new recruits. As mentioned, the large cast in part prevents Sheridan from going too deep, and so we barely know much about Summer, for instance, or Gorilla Gregg, not to mention a variety of seemingly purposefully mysterious characters like Matt Price, Brick, and Dane. (The included Teen Titans Academy 2021 Yearbook helps some, but only at the very end.)

That’s especially apparent once we get into Academy’s final two regular issues, likely the book’s best, which star the Titans' “Bat Pack” as depicted by Steve Lieber’s clever offbeat art. The issues are more atmospheric (noir by way of teenage angst), more focused, and present Bratgirl, Chupacabra, and Megabat’s origins, all such to leave us feeling these are the book’s characters we know best, and rightly so. Kudos to Sheridan for creating a series-within-a-series that could itself be a series, but at the same time, the rest of Academy then pales in comparison.

And then, bizarrely enough, just five issues in, Nightwing announces the end of the “first term” and the start of summer break. Obviously the title goes on (until it doesn’t), no big deal, but I couldn’t quite figure the timing of this, in which the students seem to have done just about nothing but now the “term” is over. And I interpret “term” as a semester (as opposed to a school year), but then at least by Titans-set New York academic vernacular, the school year should have started in the fall and then the first vacation would be winter break? I’m splitting hairs, I know, in a fictional universe where people can fly, but at the same time, one might reasonably expect Sheridan’s fictional academy to abide by fictional academy rules.

I have no aspirations to figuring out the identity of Sheridan’s mysterious Red X before it’s revealed, though I am assiduously trying to avoid spoilers online. A good mystery requires mentioning the suspect ahead of the reveal and so far no one’s name-checked Danny Chase in this book, so otherwise I’m out of guesses. (Jericho? A Multiversal Dick Grayson?) Red X’s strong feelings about vigilantes misusing kids does speak to Jason Todd or Damian Wayne, though I’d presume they’re both too busy in their own titles to meddle over here.



Still, as I felt about Tim Sheridan’s Future State: Teen Titans (collected in Future State: Suicide Squad), the underlying whodunit mystery, the variety of Titans old and new and their banter, and Rafa Sandoval’s ebullient art all make Teen Titans Academy Vol. 1: X Marks the Spot go down easy. It is a less fraught Titans book than we’ve seen in a while, less caught up in what it can and can’t do and with the clearest mission for the elder Titans in a while. Again, for DC to cancel this, they should have something really impressive in its place.

[Includes original and variant covers, cover sketches, character studies]

Comments ( 3 )

  1. Shocked to see any sort of praise for this title. I just couldn’t handle and found it largely unreadable.

    1. AnonymousJuly 06, 2022

      Yeah, my only exposure to Sheridan's run were the crossovers with Robbie Thompson's SUICIDE SQUAD -- and I wasn't especially impressed with what I saw.

      I also just haven't been that interested in the Titans since the Geoff Johns era. I like the Titans, but I'm not especially attached to them. I also think part of it's being an older reader now.

      The only runs I've really been interested in since the mid-2000s were Percy and Abnett's (and that was because of my enthusiasm for the DC Rebirth initiative). There WERE things I liked, don't get me wrong.

      But Percy's run never really took off (especially in comparison to his GREEN ARROW) and Abnett should've exited after DARK NIGHTS: METAL instead of limping on for another year and half (and getting kneecapped by events beyond his control, i.e. losing Dick, Wally, and Roy).

    2. Agreed. Could not read it in single issues. Maybe it's a bit easier to stomach as a collected edition.


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