Review: Titans United trade paperback (DC Comics)

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Given a Titans book that seemed mainly intended to profit off the (well-deserved, but perhaps small) fandom of the HBO Max Titans TV show, but that is not so brave as to be actually set in the TV Titans timeline (so, of uncertain continuity providence, which is often disastrous), and written by an author with few-to-no DC writing credits, I had justifiably low expectations for Titans United.

So I was pleased to find that it was fine, really. There will be no awards for plumbing heretofore undiscovered depths of the Marv Wolfman/George Perez characters, but at the same time, Titans United is refreshing in its simplicity. We neither need to know or care “who is Donna Troy,” nor does Nightwing have to check out in the second issue due to events over in the Bat-books.

It’s Titans action, and Titans bickering humor, and a chance to see Nightwing and Starfire and Donna Troy and Beast Boy and (some version of) Raven all on the same page together, plus Superboy Conner Kent and Red Hood Jason Todd. Jose Luis' art is great, and Cavan Scott’s voices for the characters ring mostly true — this is not in continuity, but no reason why it couldn’t be, more or less. It’s an indication that in an attempt at realism, DC has pulled the Titans concept too far from its roots; maybe all you need is a shiny T-shaped tower and a couple former sidekicks and friends.

[Review contains spoilers for Titans United and the Titans TV show]

DC’s current Titans incarnation, Teen Titans Academy, is about to be over almost as quickly as it began. That’s surprising, and I very much wonder what they intend to replace it with — surely something — and whether that will resemble at all Scott’s United, which itself has already been successful enough to gain a sequel.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

As mentioned, Titans United occupies a curious place that is not quite the Titans TV show — since Red Hood was never a member — and not quite today’s Titans either. I continue to feel sympathetic for the casual reader trying to parse out why the Titans in this book aren’t the same as the Titans in the other book; such confusion is present among DC Comics message boards.

But I found the set up here intriguing. We again have stalwarts Nighting, Starfire, and Donna Troy, serving as mentors to Superboy Conner Kent, with an aged-down Beast Boy and Raven (though they still seem rather experienced as Titans) and Red Hood. One can entirely imagine Dick Grayson getting (some of) the band back together for the purpose of supporting a rudderless Conner; it reminds me of one of my personal favorite Titans eras, post-Zero Hour with Arsenal in charge, as Roy and Donna ran the Titans in part to give Terra and Damage somewhere to be.

Beginning as this does in medias res and without the time or inclination for significant subplots, United suggests the Titans are “just” a super-team that works out of Titans Tower. Here there seems no need for an academy as the team’s reason for being, nor the presence of Source-mutated metahumans, nor a multiversal threat nor lost memories or histories. That it feels so breezy — I didn’t miss any of these explanations, nor did the book suffer for the lack of them — makes me wonder if writers are trying too hard to find reasons to bring the Titans together; perhaps having an available T-tower in San Francisco is reason enough.

In overt ways, clearly United tries to hew to the streaming TV series. Blackfire is here, and Lady Vic; given even the book’s “ride off on a motorcycle” conclusion, in all it seems a companion to Titans season two (though without that season’s big bad, Deathstroke), though the miniseries started after the conclusion of Titans season three. That makes for some strangeness given the show’s third season — we’re supposed to see Red Hood in this situation as the incorrigble scamp of the group and not as the guy who caused Dawn to blow up Hank. I’m not opposed to mapping the show on to the comics — for gosh sakes let’s get some of the Legends of Tomorrow characters together in a book — but it’s clearly not an exact fit.

Being as I am a fan of Karl Kesel and Tom Grummett’s Superboy series, I was originally pleased to see the mind-controlled Superboy take on the Black Zero persona and costume. But the more I thought on it, the weirder it seemed, that at the point Scott needed to have a representation of a rogue Superboy, he had Luis draw a costume from 20 years ago (or however that worked). I am far less down on nostalgia than some have been discussing understandably here lately, but this seemed an odd callback without much resonance (I’d still give my eyeteeth for someone to work in a mention of Tana Moon).

I have seen lots of bad portrayals of the Titans, portrayals that have faux cool slang or portrayals that are oversexed or portrayals where the Titans argue well past the point of humor. Scott’s Titans are none of those things, thankfully, and what small errors he makes in dialogue are almost wonderfully quaint — Red Hood using words like “jeers” and “treacle,” and the Tamaranean Blackfire referring to Hawk and Dove as “dickey birds.” Scott should know better, but it’s hard to be too upset with the Titans spouting British slang.



Again, for all Titans United ostensibly has going against it, it’s a fine one-off (soon to be two-off) Titans story, a universal presentation of the characters, what one might have hoped the Walmart Giants stories might have been. I’m eager for the new season of the streaming Titans, but I’m eager for Titans United: Bloodpact, too — only sorry Jose Luis doesn’t also seem to be along for the ride.

[Includes original and variant covers, character designs]

Comments ( 1 )

  1. > I very much wonder what they intend to replace [Teen Titans Academy] with

    Immediately, it's the legacy-centric Dark Crisis, although the TTA kids fare slightly better than most Titans-adjacent kids in crossovers - which is to say, none of them has an arm ripped off or dies in a wideshot splash page.


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