Each weekday, Tim will take a look at what we know about each of the upcoming 52 new comics from the September DC relaunch, one series at a time. Today: TEEN TITANS!
The Concept and Characters: Originally appearing in a 1964 issue of The Brave and the Bold, this team of kid sidekicks has been a staple of the DC Universe for as long as most of us have been alive. First written by Bob Haney, whose disregard for any kind of logical continuity was matched by his hilariously out-of-sync attempts at youth slang, the early Teen Titans stories in Brave and the Bold and in their own, self-titled, series were wacky romps with nods to fads and social trends of the day. Weirdly, the comic about a group of sidekicks seemed targeted at a slightly older audience than the Justice League series of the time, even if Haney’s dialogue missed its mark with every shot.
That series still has plenty of charms all its own, but it wasn’t until Marv Wolfman and George Perez resurrected the franchise as The New Teen Titans in 1980 that the team gained prominence as one of the premier superhero groups in all of comicdom.
Wolfman and Perez crafted what was, at the time, the most popular comic book at DC, and their work brought together veteran Titans with new members, many of which became prominent characters who still pop up in DC cartoons and toy shelves to this day, like Starfire and Raven and Cyborg. Wolfman’s work eventually sagged on the series, after Perez left (and didn’t gain any new life even when Perez later returned), and after multiple attempts at relaunching the series, it wasn’t until Geoff Johns and Mike McKone brought the Wolfman/Perez approach to a new audience in the early 2000’s that the team regained any kind of status as a must-buy comic.
Johns and McKone took the kids who had been around DC for a while, like Starfire and Raven and Cyborg, and turned them into the veterans, with a new crop of young heroes (Superboy, Impulse who became Kid Flash, the new Robin, and the new Wonder Girl) as the tyros. The formula worked, particularly when Johns was around to write the series, and the new incarnation of the Teen Titans lasted up to issue #100, which just hit the stands this summer.
The relaunched Teen Titans will use that Wolfman/Perez/Johns/McKone set-up as its template, with Superboy, Red Robin, a “new” Kid Flash, and a “new” Wonder Girl as the core characters, with a diverse bunch of newbies making their debut on the team. The series will walk a strange line amidst all the reboots this fall, since it features characters, like Wonder Girl and Superboy, who may be distinctly different from what came before, and yet Red Robin (the former Tim Drake Robin from the Geoff Johns Teen Titans) is coming straight from the not-rebooted Batman line of comics.
Though now he has retractable wings, which should help him with those pesky, hard-to-reach supercriminals.
I don’t know what else to say about Lobdell other than (a) people did seem to like his work on Generation X, back in the 1990s, and he cites that as an example of the type of approach he plans to take with this series, even though it’s mostly famous for the artwork of a young Chris Bachalo, and (b) Lobdell has repeatedly talked about how he doesn’t plan to structure his stories as arcs, and wants to write the series in a old-fashioned improvisational style, where he’ll write himself into a corner and then figure out how to get the characters out of it. Which is interesting in these days of editorially-plotted or writer’s-flowchart-driven storytelling.
Artist Brett Booth is coming off a strange, but kind of wonderfully trashy, Justice League of America story with James Robinson. Booth has been around the industry for a couple of decades, working with Jim Lee on early WildC.A.T.S and Stormwatch spin-off books, and spending the last five years drawing some of the most abysmal comics ever in the various Anita Blake series for the Dabel Brothers studio. Booth’s style is a throwback to an era of comics when Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee and Marc Silvestri reigned supreme, though Booth draws thinner, more elastic characters than all of them.
And he seems to value speed over artistic accuracy, which is just what DC is looking for in its artists, so the monthly comics can come out on schedule.
Recommendation: Skip it. This one’s really just for the hardcore fans who buy anything that has the words “Teen” or “Titans” on the cover. It has the potential to be late-night cable television movie fun, with Booth’s vigorous linework and Lobdell’s making-it-all-up-on-the-fly storytelling, but, even so, it doesn’t have the weird allure of Lobdell’s own Red Hood and the Outlaws or even the artistic heft and central mystery of his Superboy. It’s just a mid-to-bottom tier series amidst a company-wide relaunch, and it will have to be consistently surprising to rise above its competition. It may be exactly that, but based on what I’ve read from this creative team in the past, I doubt it.
Tim Callahan writes about comics for Tor.com, Comic Book Resources, Back Issue magazine, and his own Geniusboy Firemelon blog.