Friday, April 07, 2006

The Comic I'm Talking About For April 5, 2006: Teen Titans 34 (I Love You, I Hate You, I Can't Live Without You)

A couple months ago, I served notice on the CBR boards that if the first three OYL issues of Teen Titans didn’t give me a reason to stick around,

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with this title in the last few years. I followed the principals (Robin, Superboy, Impulse/Kid Flash, and Wonder Girl) over from Young Justice after falling in love with them over there (and would it have killed ya to bring Empress along for the ride, Geoff?). At the start, I didn’t have too many problems with the changes Geoff Johns instituted; I didn’t mind Bart trying to become serious all of a sudden, mostly because he went about it in a typically Bart way, looking for the quick fix that didn’t turn out like he thought it would. As for Superboy suddenly being a combo-clone of Superman and Lex Luthor, his genetic history had been rewritten so many times in his nine years that one more retcon hardly seemed important.

Honestly, the thing that bothered me most was the change in the fun/angst ratio. In Young Justice, both were set at a comfortable 7, but Johns decided to dial the fun down to about a 3 and install new angst dials that went up to 11. In fact, tangent time: I’ve had some thoughts about angst in comics, and here’s as good a place as any to share them. “Angst” as used in America has become a general synonym for “soap opera melodramatics.” I don’t know where they got that; the word comes from the German “angst” (pronounced “ahngst”), which means fear, nervousness, or worry. Etymologically, saying a book is full of angst means the characters are nervous worrywarts who jump at shadows. Now, that’s a decent premise for a book (as Peter Bagge's Hate! would prove), but it’s not really the sort of thing one should associate with superheroes. End of tangent.

So I’ve been feeling the book less and less, as the enjoyment factor of being a Teen Titan has gone down until I honestly don’t know why these kids even bother showing up at the tower anymore. The fact that artist Tony Daniel has proven himself incredibly raw and not ready for prime-time only increased my dissatisfaction. But there were promises that things would be different across the DCU board come OYL, so I was willing to stick around long enough to give them a chance to fulfill those promises. But I wasn’t kidding about the deadline; if I’m not happy by issue 36, I’m gone.

So, how do things look?

One Year Later, the Titans are in pretty sad shape. Cyborg has just awoken from a year-long shutdown, and the only other members on hand are Ravager and Kid Devil. The obligatory fight scene ensues, and ends when Robin arrives and says that, aside from him, there are no other Teen Titans. Speedy is on leave, Kid Flash is "kind of retired," Raven has quit, Beast Boy has rejoined the Doom Patrol, and Superboy, as seen in Infinite Crisis 6, is dead. (We catch snippets on the first few pages, shown through brief moments when Vic's memory banks were recording, of other would-be members, but apparently none of them stuck.) As for Wonder Girl, she's spent the year toughening up, and is now hunting down the Brotherhood of Evil. And she's got no interest in rejoining the Titans.

There's actually a lot to like about this issue. Using Cyborg as a POV character for the reader works; it makes exposition less clunky and eases the transition somewhat. Readers have a character who, like them, has no idea what has happened in the last year of these people's lives. I was also surprised at the addition of Wendy and Marvin, of Super Friends fame, and even more surprised that they were actually kind of cool. (That Marv isn't wearing that stupid cape is helpful.) And Tony Daniel appears to have spent his months off from the book practicing; his panel-to-panel storytelling is leaps and bounds ahead of what it was a year ago. He still needs to move his style beyond the generic Jim Lee-clone level it's at now, but the improvement he's shown says he can do it if he works at it. I also like his rendition of Wonder Girl.

And that's a good enough segue into what I don't like about this issue: the angst dial is still at eleven. Cassie especially goes above and beyond the call of duty in her emo-tastic speech to Robin. I also can't help but wonder where her mother fits into all this; she complains of not having a support system, but what about the woman who raised her? Cassie had a far better relationship with her mom than this in the past; has Johns just forgotten about her because she doesn't fit in his story? These Teen Titans desperately need real lives, especially Robin and Wonder Girl; what I always liked about them was that they were far more grounded than their predecessors. (Yeah, Donna was married and had a kid for a while, but the entire "What the fuck?" nature of her origin story, and then her new origin story, etc., kept her from having any semblance of normality.)

And I can't say I'm thrilled about the development with Robin on the last page, either. If it's what it looks like, it's nothing good, for the character or for the story. I've come up with a few alternate theories, but Geoff Johns has rarely had his teasers turn out to be anything other than what they looked like at first glance.

So, things don't look promising so far. And yet, I want to like these books. I want to have a reason to keep reading about these characters. I want Teen Titans to wow me. Which is why I'm giving it a chance. But my patience only goes so far…


Anonymous said...

Wait - you don't like the angst in one of DC's best books at the moment?

Michael said...

No, Anonymous, I don't. At least, not this brand of "from one shitty situation to another with no let-up, until you wonder why the characters don't just slit their wrists" angst.