Friday, July 2, 1999

Titans #1-6 : A Review

Titans has probably been the most eagerly anticipated title DC has been planning to put out for a while. This is due to two things: the fact that the phenomenal Devin Grayson is doing the writing and a large swarm of JLA readers whose attention was attracted by the amazing JLA Vs. Titans Mini-series (written by the aforementioned Ms. Grayson). Throw in a crowd of devoted Titans fans eager to see the new team and you have a good number of people who are very anxious to see this book and have very high expectations for it. For the most part, these expectations are met but the book does suffer somewhat in a few areas.

One of Grayson’s greatest strength’s as a writer is the ability to write truthful, serious dialogue for twenty-something characters: something that is increasingly rare in an industry where nearly all the young people end every other sentence with “dude” or “man”. Issue #1 features the five founding members (Dick Grayson, Donna Troy, Wally West, Roy Harper and Garth) sitting in a dinner talking about what they’ve been up to since the last time they met. The scene rings of truth and looks like it may have been plucked from one of the more tender sections of a Kevin Smith movie. And yet, Grayson still manages to get away with characters using old silly nicknames (Roy still calls Garth “gillhead”; something that Lian has picked up) and the occasional one liner. Note the emphasis on occasional.

Unfortunately, Titans suffers somewhat from the same thing that plagues “Young Justice”, although not to quite such an extreme. While not written with the same laugh-a-minute pace, Titans does sometimes over-indulge itself in one-liners and jokes that are a little too cheeseball for the serious tone of the book. For example, a waitress asks the five what they would like and they all respond “World Peace”. Honestly, that line went out with Reganomics. In Issue #2, the first page ends with everyone on the team looking up and saying, “Look! Up in the Sky... it’s a bird... it’s a plane...” just before Superman comes down. If I had a dime for every time I had seen that line done.... There is also a whole page long gag where Arsenal has to talk his way out of a poorly chosen sentence and winds up saying the phrase “getting Jiggy with it” to Superman.

However, it must be noted though that there are more hits than there are misses. These laughs usually come as a result of the characters being themselves than forced slapstick or cheesball humor. I remember laughing for a good three minutes after a scene where Donna asks “Who’s leading the JLA these days?” and everyone at the table (Roy’s daughter, Lian included) give a different answer. Who thought you could laugh that loud just by reading the word “Owacle”? There’s also a scene in Issue #3, where Arsenal starts to call Nightwing something VERY much against the Comics Code and Flash butts in with “Tsk-tsk-tsk. You’re not supposed to say his name”.

The book can also be a little contrived at points. In the first issue, when discussing a JV team, each of the founders discusses a member and outlines their pasts and powers. The whole four-page section reads like exposition and totally breaks up the realistic flow of conversation. beforehand. There has got to be a better way for us to find out that Argent’s ability is to generate plasma then Donna just repeating it to four people who should know what Argent’s powers are.

This leads me to discussing the new team. I think that for the most part, the new team has been selected pretty well and is pretty well balanced. There has been some concern that some of the characters with solo books (Nightwing and The Flash) might cause some continuity problems with their presence here. So far, that hasn’t proved a problem with No Man’s Land and Wally’s recent “death” makes any problems with him a moot point. Troia has too many unresolved stories involving her (her new powers and romance with Green Lantern among them) for her not to be on the team. The same is true of Cyborg, whose physical changes ever since JLA Vs. Titans should prove to provide an interesting subplot. Tempest and Arsenal are both too interesting NOT to have on the team and both are rarely used anywhere else. (Garth only seems to be used when Aquaman needs a punching bag and Roy only seems to get used in Devin Grayson stories) Kory is also interesting, but she never seems to show up anywhere except during crossovers. And it’s about time somebody put Jesse Quick on a team, because aside from being well rounded power-wise (and it turns out, being a great leader) she’s also able show how strong and independent she is without being a total male-basher. My only complaints about the team lie with Damage and Argent. I’ve always felt Damage was sort of an uber-powerful joke character (Oh! Let’s take all the JSA members and give their powers to a teenage boy who can’t control them) and Argent just seems to be a pale rip-off of Green Lantern. Additonally, in terms of character they both seem very flat.

And speaking of flat characters, let’s talk about the villains. After somewhat cheesy humor, the biggest thing Titans has going against it is some incredibly lame villains. I mean, the Titans are made up of the protégées, sons and daughters of some of the most powerful metas on the planet. You’d think they’d be taking on bigger threats than someone calling himself “The Red Panzer” (more appropriately called The Red Pansy). Issues #1 and #2 deal with a new incarnation of H.I.V.E. They were okay, but I’ve never been a fan of world domination group plots.

Issues 3-4 dealt with a villain called Goth, a rock-star/horror movie star who was pretty obviously based on Marilyn Manson. Aside from not finding a villain based on a metal-head poseur very threatening, it was kind of hard to get what was so villainous about Goth, whose basic plan was to take assorted minors to a suburb of hell which causes you to lose you to stop caring about anything. This would be fine if he was a Neron-like soul-stealer, who would become more powerful by getting these kids into his realm but it is never fully explained why he would profit by taking these kids away.

Issue 5 stared a villain called Siren. She was decent, but her only purpose seems to have been to give Garth a solo issue to show how good a character he is. Not that I’m complaining mind you: I love Tempest. But you shouldn’t need to create a mermaid villain with mind-control powers just to give “Fishman” a chance to show off.

Issue 6 stared the aforementioned Red Panzer. Maybe it’s just me, but the character seemed to be a gigantic Red Skull rip-off. Now I’m as much as a DC history buff as the next, but bringing back next generation sons of old Nazi villains from the Golden Age just seems a little unwarranted. Also, aside from commanding a large number of heavily armed followers, Red Panzer was not much of a threat... particularly to a trio of Arsenal, Troia and special guest Green Lantern

I’ll end on a note on the artwork, which as a writer I usually don’t pay much attention to. Issues 1, 2, 5 and 6 were done by Mark Buckingham who generally does a good to excellent job. I did however have a few problems with his artwork. First of all, it appears that all his human female faces are drawn exactly the same. On the pages 2 and 3 of Issue 1 for example, you could not tell Troia, Jesse and Argent apart if you too away the coloring and the costumes. He also has a nasty habit of drawing Damage as if here were just entering Junior High, when he’s probably closer to college age.

Also, I really doubt that a sensible young woman like Jesse Quick is going to run into battle in a thong leotard (page 21, issue 2). But he makes up for it in Issue 5 with his amazing underwater scenes and in Issue 6 with his Green Lantern projections. Trapping a runaway car inside a big “Match Minis” box (a play on Matchbox and Mirco-Machines toy cars) is probably the best ring creation I’ve seen in a while. Issues 3 and 4 were done by Justinano, who while not doing anything noticeably horrible (except that his Jesse Quick looks oddly like Lisa Kudrow) does not do anything great either.

Final Thoughts: Despite some minor quibbles with the artwork, a lack of threatening villains and some cheesy humor, The new Titans launch is overwhelmingly good. The writing is clear and honest (something lacking from some OTHER team books with a little-used letter in the title) and you get the feeling of a close family that has been lacking from the title for so long. The humor when it’s there, tends to be appropriate to the scene involved and very rarely does is a joke bad enough to cause groans.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

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