Monday, June 05, 2006

Teen Titans 36: In The End, It Doesn't Even Matter

Well, I've put this off long enough. I made the final decision last week, but kept stalling on just how to express the reasons why. But, as my grandpa would say, eventually you have to shit or get off the pot. Or both, but it's not an applicable metaphor, and I'd rather not think about it right now.

Anyway, Teen Titans is off my pull list for the foreseeable future. And here's why:

It's best to start with the general, and move to the specific. In general, the book as it is now doesn’t do either of the two things that makes art worth my time: entertain or enlighten.

We'll discuss enlightenment first. It's the more noble of the two goals, and consequently the more difficult to pull off. I don't really fault Teen Titans for not being a particularly enlightening comic (it's not supposed to be), but it's worth noting that any attempt it might be making in that area falls flat. What have these last three issues of Teen Titans tried to teach me, if anything? As far as I can tell, that teenagers are emotionally vulnerable people whose best days are those where nothing calamitous happens, and that a number of adults are maladjusted, needy, and easily preyed upon by emotional predators. The Titans continue to get on each other's nerves as well as mine in this issue, with Robin being a bit of a judgmental ass (although I find it hard to blame him too much, given that the Chief pretty much deserves it), Wonder Girl taking up the "these aren’t the real Titans" cheer, and the Doom Patrol comes off as co-dependent mental deficients allowing themselves to be used by a sociopath.

Well, I knew that already, or at least knew that it could be broadly true of certain subsets of the population. It's certainly nothing I have to be told, and given that I find it to be a flawed, cynical view of reality, I don't particularly want to hear it either.

And that's a nice enough segue into why Teen Titans doesn't entertain me anymore(and I have to wonder, in retrospect, if this volume ever did): It's too damn cynical, and not any fun. I laid this criticism out in my review of issue 34 as well, but it bears repeating, because it's such a sledgehammer of a theme in this book: Being a Teen Titan sucks. Your friends get killed, your teammates are either untrustworthy or bitchy, and you spend all your free time having your face shoved into the most depraved evil man can spew out. About the only person who'd make this team halfway bearable Kid Devil, and Geoff Johns apparently disagrees, as Eddie's portrayed as an incompetent loser with no real friends. Apparently, having an upbeat worldview is the opposite of a survival trait in the DC Universe.

Does anyone else remember when Teen Titans was fun? (Granted, the last time it was, it was called Young Justice, but that's another entry.) I've flipped through the TT Showcase, so I know it happened. Heck, even the Wolfman/Perez group, which Johns seems to be trying so desperately to ape the feel of, smiled regularly, and seemed to enjoy one another's company. Not here, though; what few elements that might make being a Teen Titan seem desirable to the average reader (Superboy adopting Krypto, Wonder Girl attending the Elias School, Wendy & Marvin) are introduced, half-heartedly referenced twice or thrice, and then dropped. They need to get out of the way so we can have a clearer look at the crushing amounts of pain that make up our stars' so-called lives.

I'm being hard on Johns, but he deserves it, because this is him at his worst: cynical and self-indulgent, desperately trying to impress the worst elements of Generation X(the generation, not the mutant team) while at the same time catering to the worst elements of fandom. Only in this iteration of Teen Titans could a knuckle-biter of a fight with the Brotherhood of Evil take place off-panel, while the story focuses on talking-head angst and throwaway references to Grant Morrison's psychidelic Doom Patrol run that completely miss the point of said run.

Which brings me to what I think is the root of the fun problem. Writers try to write stories that are fun to them, in hopes that said fun will rub off on the reader. It's a smart tactic, but where it falls short here is that Johns has fun writing Titans by indulging his inner DC fanboy. The fun for him is in referencing the comics he read and loved twenty years ago, and throwing in C-list characters that only a continuity indexer could love. (This was also his method of making Infinite Crisis fun). Well, I suppose it works for him, but I haven't read those comics, and I'm not familiar with those characters, so it's about as fun for me as watching someone else's vacation slides from twenty years ago. It's also not a very good selling tactic, if the most enjoyable thing in your comic is a reference to another comic. Anyone who's seen Overdrawn at the Memory Bank will understand where I'm coming from here.

The sad irony is, I don't think Johns is a bad writer. At his best to date, he's quite good, and I think he has it in him to be great. But he won't as long as he writes at this level. This comic can only be enjoyable to sadomasochists and longbox obsessives. I'm neither. I'm over that point in my life, and I'm tired of waiting for the Titans to catch up with me.

There are good comics featuring teen heroes. Invincible, Runaways, Young Avengers, Sentinels. The heroes' lives aren't Pollyanna fantasies, but neither are they as relentlessly, heart-wrenchingly depressing as Teen Titans. They use a storytelling device far more important to the success of a superhero comic than allusion, or angst, or tragedy: hope.


Jeff Brady said...

Amen, brother. TT hasn't really been fun at all. The 60s run was cool, and like you said, some of the 80s run was bearable. After that, being a Titan was putting a giant target on your back, front, forehead, fingertips, the divet under your nose, and any other part of your body. A teen hero in the DCU? Man, are you fucked.

I can't wait for your article on Young Justice. THAT was a good book.

Woody! said...

Actually, that seems to be a problem in a lot of comics I dropped recently. Mostly the DC ones. I've noticed it on TV, too. Yes, I know tragedy is important in storytelling. But if that's all you got, I ain't reading your depressing crap.

Michael said...

"I can't wait for your article on Young Justice. THAT was a good book."

I wasn't actually planning on doing one, but hey, since I have the whole run just sitting around my apartment...

JLG said...

I think you really hit the nail on the head - this is really the creeping, depressing feeling I've had about Titans since the whole Infinite Crisis mess. I mean, I loved the series before IC, I was really excited to see where it was going. I loved the Beast Boy and Raven romance, and the maturation of their characters.

But from IC #4 and on... it's just been miserable reading. The Titans get utterly brutalized, and then just forgotten. It's Week 5 in 52, and no word on them yet. I still carry a (admittingly the petty, whiny, fanboy kind) grudge against Johns for the incredibally lame, ignoble, and campy death of Pantha. The Titans tie-ins to IC were really disposable, not really adding much (not even any set-up for those killed, considering most of them came to save someone they didn't know). Considering the death rate of teen heroes in DCU (Jesus, they even killed Baby Wildebeest, who was 3!), you'd wonder why they'd throw kid heroes into these sorts of situations.

And now Johns is continuing the dark, depressing streak into Titans, were Tim is playing Mad Scientist, Cassie is a pissed off jerk, Cyborg's a jerk, Rose is a walking cliche, Bumblebee and Herald/Vox are mutated and a not quite a good fit in the Doom Patrol, Red Star looks to be angsting and causing the Titan break up over his Woman in a Refrigerator, Pantha, and Raven had her realtionship with Beast Boy dropped immeadiately after it started, and is off in exile somewhere. The worst thing is what happened to Beast Boy, who was a fun, happy, persevering guy despite his past, and looks absolutely lousy now. And, from the look of things, he's going to go through hell in 52. Really, the only thing that's keeping me still interested in Titan is what happened to Beast Boy and Raven, and what Johns is going to do with Red Star and Pantha (if Johns remembers who he killed off). I'm just taking a wait-n-see approach, but I don't know if I'm going to be buying any more issues in the future.

Ack, sorry to clog up the page with my crazy rant...

Joe said...

DO a Young Justice article!

One of my favorite books! I still can't believe they scrapped it for this steaming pile of angst.