Review: Teen Titans #2
Both dialogue and overall quality of the new Teen Titans series take a noticeable dip in the second issue, providing a lackluster follow-up to what I thought was a stellar first issue. We’re introduced to a rather ridiculous new member of the team and are once again faced with a baffling status quo about the ‘dangers’ of teenage superheroes. Part of the new DC relaunch was that the average person doesn’t trust superheroes anymore, which is fine, but there’s a stark disconnect between every other title I’ve read and the status quo of Teen Titans.
At least Red Robin is still very cool.
Comic rating: 2/5: Bad.
Issue #2 introduces us to brand new superhero Skitter, who I am going to call Skittles from now on. At least until I get to the paragraph where I discuss what a stupid name ‘Skitter’ is for anybody. Teen Titans is still very much in team-building mode, with the B-story devoted to establishing the villain: the secret organization N.O.W.H.E.R.E. I can’t stress enough what a ridiculous job writer Jeff Lobdell does in trying to give N.O.W.H.E.R.E. some villainous cred. This issue features roll-your-eyes bad dialogue, particularly when it comes to that group.
The issue also features roll-your-eyes bad dialogue between the main characters. Basically the issue is just troublesome to read. Which is really too bad. Spoilers after the jump.
I’m sure I’ve mentioned this on the blog before, but I am a huge Tim Drake fan. So Teen Titans is the No. 1 series I’ve been looking forward to in the new DC relaunch. It’s Tim’s book (and that is quite evident with this issue), and I’m eager to see Tim Drake in the starring role. Teen Titans #2 does a good job with that much, at least. His characterization is dead-on. Tim is a smart, capable and highly-skilled hero with just the right amount of lost little boy. The majority of the book is told through his inner monologue, just like his previous Robin/Red Robin series. I like it.
There’s a lot of disconnect between the bright, colorful world of the Teen Titans compared to all of the very dark Bat-books that are on the stands today, but that’s fine. Tim is doing his own thing, but is still very closely tied to Batman. I’m cool with it. I even hope they get to team up someday soon. This is a good position for Tim. Dick is Nightwing and fighting the good fight, Jason is off doing who knows what and Damian is serving as the Dark Knight’s current squire.
Tim is on his own with his own agenda, having found a purpose to help other teen heroes like himself. Perhaps Lobdell even has a story played to tell us why Tim is so interested in helping other teen heroes. What would make him move away from Batman in order to do this? I hope we find out. Job well done when it comes to Tim.
It’s just everything else that rings false, from Tim’s dialogue with other characters to the motivations of the bad guy and the very existence of N.O.W.H.E.R.E. Frankly, there’s too much superhero crap going on. Lobdell has some nice scenes between just Tim and Cassie where they get to be normal people, normal teenagers for a moment. More of that character-building stuff and I’d be completely on board.
Instead we get this glorious cliche:
That’s how we’re re-introduced to Wonder Girl in this issue. You turn the page (after a brief Kid Flash prologue) and you get that panel. It’s not like her breasts are even that obvious. But she feels the need to tell the reader (and Red Robin) to not stare at her chest. We then get the following brief exchange between Cassie and Tim:
Cassie: “Yo, up here. And before you ask – yes, they’re real.”
Tim: “I wasn’t look at, um…them, Cassie. I was trying to figure out how those war bracelets you’re wearing are invisible.”
Cassie: “Right. No idea. When I pinched them from that temple, I left behind the stone tablet instructions.”
Tim: “If it were anyone else, I’d think you were just being sarcastic. But I’ve seen you in action. You’re very powerful, but you lack discipline.”
Cassie: “Good luck with that particular fantasy.”
I don’t know about you, but all of that just feels really forced to me. Lobdell doesn’t seem to write natural-sounding dialogue between the two teens. First there’s the whole ‘stop staring at my boobs’ line, and then the banter just isn’t very snappy. You can tell he’s trying, but it just isn’t working for me. Some of it’s OK, sort of, but it’s mostly stilted and trying too hard. Still, I like the focus on the two of them trying to become friendly. The scene at the cafe soon switches to Cassie’s house, where Tim is going to crash on the couch for the night. His hotel got blown up real good in the last issue.
This is probably the best scene in the comic. It’s human, it’s personal and it has some really pleasant awkwardness. These are two teenagers living lives that normal teenagers do not. But they are still teenagers. It’s still a cute boy sleeping on the couch of a cute girl with no adult supervision in the house. That’s how Teen Titans can and should succeed. Focus on the ‘Teen’, not the ‘Titans’.
There’s actually a lot of little hints and subtle bits towards Tim developing a crush on Cassie. She’s a super powerful, beautiful blonde, what’s not to like? But the crushing bits seem just as forced as the banter. There’s no chemistry between them yet, so Tim’s little comments about liking her fall flat. It’s like a teen romance is expected in a title like this, so Lobdell just going to throw it in there.
I fully expect there to be hormones at play on the team. I just hope it can be done with a little more subtlety.
One potentially subtle moment that I want to point out is Cassie’s attitude. There may be more to that ‘boob’ line than I first thought. Later in the issue she make a comment about Tim recognizing her butt while she was undercover. Now, either she literally has to remind Tim to stop ogling her. Or Lobdell is creating a nice tough girl/scared little girl dynamic. Perhaps in an effort to look tough, Cassie thinks she has to remind the man to stop checking her out, not yet realizing that Tim isn’t that kind of guy. Maybe she thinks she has to act like all men are sleaze-balls to protect herself. That’s a nice touch, if it’s a deliberate move on Lobdell’s part.
Or maybe her comments should be taken completely straight and Tim is ogling Cassie.
So getting back to the story, Tim and Cassie have retreated to her house to get away from the agents of N.O.W.H.E.R.E., who are trying to round up teenage heroes for some nefarious reason. They have succeeded in capturing Kid Flash after his misadventure in the first issue. There was a one-age Kid Flash prologue at the beginning of this book to show us that he’s in a cell. We also get a one-page reminder that Superboy is out there, and he is an agent of N.O.W.H.E.R.E. In fact, Superboy is studying tapes of Wonder Girl so that he can take her on. But none of that will happen for a few more issues.
This is as good a time as any to explain why I don’t like N.O.W.H.E.R.E. First of all, as another Internet comic book reviewer, Linkara, has pointed out, there are TON of super secret super agencies in the DC reboot. A lot of the new series introduced some vaguely mysterious group that has something against the heroes, and so far none of them are connected. They all just operate in secret all on their own. And N.O.W.H.E.R.E. is out to catch teenage superheroes. They are also out to clone Superman, which they did with Superboy. How are the two linked? What purpose do they serve? What is their end goal?
Who knows! Again the book insists that teenage superheroes are some special faction of superheroes. With N.O.W.H.E.R.E. versus Red Robin and the heroes he can recruit. How did Tim get wrapped in this mess? Does nobody else care about helping teenage superheroes? Why are teenage superheroes treated so differently from regular superheroes?
None of it makes any sense yet – other than just having a vague villain who hates the specific Teen Titans.
Then Tim tells us this about N.O.W.H.E.R.E.
“As far as I’ve been able to suss out – they have an international mandate that supersedes the United Nations, NATO, and any other official global organization. Their resources are all but limitless. Laws and borders – even basic human kindness – mean nothing to them.”
To this I say BULLSHIT!
Seriously? This organization has a higher authority than all of those international agencies? Who grants that kind of authority? Who could you possibly create that would have the power to make N.O.W.H.E.R.E. that important? At least in Action Comics, Lex Luthor is working with the U.S. Military to take down Superman. This claim is outlandish. Instead of making the villain sound terrifying, it makes them sound ridiculously overpowered.
Why aren’t they going after the Justice League? Why hasn’t anyone else in the world of superheroes encountered them?
Instead it’s just Tim Drake and his band of meddling kids.
But that’s only one part of the story. After Tim spends the night at Cassie’s house (for which she wants him gone by morning), he starts investigating reports of some sort of bug creature nearby. (Quick note, this issue takes place in Southern California). He watches a news report online in which a teenage girl uses the absolute dumbest word possible to describe what she saw.
So Tim tracks down the young woman at a local mall where she works. She asks him if she can help him with anything, and Tim immediately pounces on her about the news report. Then he says that he’s investigating “the creature that they’re calling ‘Skitter’.” Really? We just heard this girl use the word ‘skitter’ on the news, and people are already calling it ‘Skitter’ as if that were its name?
Actually, as we’ll learn in a moment, this girl has been posting anonymously online for a few weeks now calling the creature ‘Skitter’ in an effort to give it a cute, harmless name. You see, Skittles is her twin sister, who suddenly formed a cocoon at their house and then crawled away to be a monster. This girl has been trying to create some cute press for the creature from behind the scene so that people won’t be afraid. So then why did she let herself get quoted on the news being so afraid of it? And why did she use the word ‘skittered’ on the news? She’s playing into her own press.
Anyway, she also told N.O.W.H.E.R.E. about her sister, and they have sent a team of mercenaries into the sewer to get her. Red Robin promptly kicks their asses.
Turns out the mercs have some weird power where they are brothers and can teleport through each other. But Red Robin holds his own against them while engaging in some nice banter. Lobdell writes a nice Tim Drake. He kicks butt and is confident in his skills. Although I will point out another stupid line about N.O.W.H.E.R.E. that one of the mercs spouts.
“N.O.W.H.E.R.E. is the future. When the war comes – I/we want to be on the winning side.”
What war? What side? N.O.W.H.E.R.E. exists nowhere except in this Teen Titans comic! It’s not the big bad of the DC Universe. It’s a nobody organization, one of half a dozen different shadowy organizations operating in some way against superheroes. They are chumps. So every attempt Lobdell makes at talking them up just fails miserably. They are not in the least bit mysterious or spooky or threatening. They are just the bad guys because that’s how they’re written.
Then the trio of mercs can beaten up by Skittles and we get our first look at her (if we don’t count the cover).
I just don’t care much about Skittles yet. She has a boring origin, where a girl just turns into some kind of monster. She has a name I can’t take seriously. And she looks too freaky and complicated to be a superhero. She just stinks of weirdness and boredom. 20 years from now, are people going to be admiring Skittles the same way they do Starfire, Cyborg, or Raven, three other characters who were once introduced to join the Teen Titans? What I’m saying is, in no way does Skittles feel iconic. She’s created in the moment.
I really hope Lobdell has a lot in store for fleshing out her character. I hope she has a character.
For now, all she does is talk in weird skittering noises and attack Red Robin when he tries to approach her. She spits some sort of acid at him and nearly takes his head off, but Wonder Girl followed him into the sewers!
Wonder Girl knocks out Skittles and tells Red Robin that saving him was payback for his help with the helicopter in issue #1. Now they’re done, no matter what N.O.W.H.E.R.E. is planning. She’s taking off and wants Red Robin to lose her number. He’s dumbfounded and sad that she’s gone, and the Teen Titans is just him holding an unconscious Skittles. There’s definitely a lot more team-building ahead of us.
The issue ends with a return to Kid Flash. He escapes by knocking out his guards with the leg chain they gave him.
N.O.W.H.E.R.E. did not give Kid Flash the steel ball. They did not keep the key on them. The writer did. It was his idea and his idea lone to give Kid Flash a steel ball around his ankle. Why would any high tech organization use a steel ball and only a steel ball to keep a prisoner in line? And why put his logo on the steel ball? I just don’t think it’s fair that he’s picking on those guards for something the writer did.
So he escapes and he runs for freedom…but then stops because of a bright light coming from another cell. The name ‘Solstice’ is on the front of the cell, so he peers into the window and sees a girl who appears to be cracking and breaking apart, her body filled with a bright blue light. And the whole thing seems to be making her body billow out black smoke. She’ll be another new member of the Titans!
And that’s the issue.
We’re meeting new Titans, slowly bringing the team together and getting some friendships in place. It’s a readable issue, but there’s so much bringing it down. The dialogue is forced, Skittles is silly and the villain, N.O.W.H.E.R.E. is ridiculous. The only saving graces are Tim Drake and the art. I’m finding myself a big fan of artist Brett Booth. He’s got a very Ian Churchill sort of style. It’s detailed and action packed. I liked detailed, realistic looking art. So I’m happy with that aspect of the book.
I just hope the writing gets better.