6 Ways to Fix Teen Titans

Teen Titans the comic book is rubbish. The team itself is pretty awesome, starring DC Comics’ teen superheroes banding together to be radical and fight bad guys. They’ve been a fan favorite super group since their inception decades ago. The Teen Titans cartoon shows on Cartoon Network are some of the most popular superhero cartoons of all time. Fans and kids love the Teen Titans.

But for reasons that still boggle my mind, DC Comics produced a very crappy Teen Titans comic.

We should have known from Day One

When DC rebooted all of their properties in 2011, they had the chance to remake Teen Titans from scratch. They could have done whatever they wanted with the series. But what they did was give it to writer Scott Lobdell, a man whose work hadn’t been popular since the 90s, and let him turn the team into an ugly, directionless mess, stuffed with weak characterization, agonizingly stiff dialogue and more bad vibes than the Legion of Doom.

It’s no surprise that Lobdell’s Teen Titans has been cancelled, with DC starting over with a new #1 issue in July. Can new writer Will Pfeifer and artist Kenneth Rocafort save this series from the gutter? Or is DC still blind when it comes to producing a quality Teen Titans comic?

According to Janelle Asselin at Comic Book Resources, DC doesn’t seem to have any idea what they’re doing – and I kind of agree with her. But I’m more than willing to put my money where my mouth is; how would I do Teen Titans differently?

Join me after the jump to see my six suggestions for making the new Teen Titans relaunch into a better comic book.


6. Young Adult is hip right now


Or maybe just Jennifer Lawrence is

Asselin makes this point in her article, and I definitely agree: DC Comics seems to think their only audience is men ages 19 to 39. There are other testimonials out there on the web if you want to search for them. It’s an ugly blindness that exists in the comic book world. DC isn’t necessarily wrong, because that’s probably their majority audience. But don’t be surprised when I tell you that girls read comic books too. They’re as much of a viable market as anybody. And what else do girls (and everybody) read? Young Adult fiction!

Look no further than the success of movies like The Hunger Games or Divergent to see that Young Adult fiction is hot right now. Teenagers are reading, and they clearly want to read about super versions of themselves. DC has been sitting on the ultimate Young Adult series since before many of us were born.

Perhaps you’ve heard of them

So why not do some actual market research, find out what it is that teenagers, especially teenage girls, are loving about Young Adult fiction these days, and use that to build the new Teen Titans? God forbid DC produce a comic that’s slightly different in style from every other comic they’re putting out.


5. Has DC not watched their own cartoons?


I know I’m watching!

DC has always been a leader when it comes to cartoon adaptations. But let me ask you: what is the only DC cartoon still producing new episodes? It’s not Green Lantern: The Animated Series. And it’s definitely not Beware the Batman. That series got cancelled before it barely got off the ground. The answer is Teen Titans Go! In fact, the Teen Titans have been the stars of some of DC’s most popular cartoons for nearly a decade now. The first Teen Titans cartoon debuted in 2003 and ran for five seasons! It was so popular that Cartoon Network brought it back last year with a new comedic format as Teen Titans Go! Between the two, there was Young Justice, a serious take on the Teen Titans. These have been immensely popular programs, with millions of more viewers than read the Teen Titans comic book.

So why, when DC was rebooting the Titans in 2011, did they not model the comic book team after the hugely successful cartoons?! This is one of the biggest questions I’ve had about the New 52 reboot. It seems to me that DC went out of their way to make the comic book Titans as vastly different from the cartoon Titans as possible. None of the cartoon Titans were in the comic book Titans roster when the rebooted series debuted. Insanely popular cartoon characters like Cyborg and Starfire were turned into adults and put on entirely different teams. Beast Boy and Raven didn’t appear for several months, and even then they were nearly unrecognizable from their cartoon counterparts.

Beast Boy is red for some arbitrary reason

The only cartoon Titan on the comic book roster was Robin, but they changed his name to Red Robin for no good reason!

If the primary goal is to sell comics, who in their right mind just completely ignores a cartoon audience in the millions? I know there isn’t a direct correlation between people watching the cartoon and then buying the comic, but surely there is some crossover!? Surely even a fraction of those viewers might have checked out the New 52 hoping to find their familiar and favorite characters smiling back at them from a Teen Titans comic? Was it really so damn important to put Cyborg on the Justice League? Or Starfire in Red Hood and the Outlaws? Did those creative decisions really outweigh the marketing potential of putting Teen Titans characters into the Teen Titans comic?

I’m not saying DC should have done a direct transfer from cartoon to comic. The New 52 Teen Titans shouldn’t have been just the on-paper adventures of the cartoon Titans. But surely DC could have used the cartoon as a guide in building the rebooted team and establishing the roster. It’s called synergy. Look it up.


4. New art


Him art good

I’m no art critic. I just know what I like. But Asselin was dead on in her critique of Kenneth Rocafort’s cover of the new Teen Titans #1. He’s also going to be the interior artist, so I would expect the comic to look a lot like that cover. And that’s terrible.

Don’t get me wrong, Rocafort is a fine comic book artist. He’s done some great work. But a book like Teen Titans needs to look different from the rest of the company. In the same way that the original Teen Titans cartoon looked different from the popular Justice League cartoon at the time, the Teen Titans comic needs its  own unique style. That’s what being a teenager is all about.

One of the biggest differences right now between DC and Marvel is that Marvel is getting really creative and experimental with their art. Through their Marvel NOW! initiative, Marvel is delivering some fantastic looking comics, built around the creators’ visions. Mike and Laura Allred are delivering a truly alien-looking Silver Surfer. Tradd Moore’s All-New Ghost Rider is mixing cartoon wackiness with high octane action. And they both look very different from the grounded, human, but still off-kilter art of Adrian Alphona on Ms. Marvel.

Pictured: A teenager

DC, on the other hand, is sticking to what I like to call their ‘House Style’. Look at any DC comic in the New 52, and the art is pretty much the same across the board: it’s all highly detailed, kind of gritty, fairly standard comic book art. There are no overly creative, unique art styles in the New 52. Everything kind of looks the same. Some comics may be more colorful than others, but the overall art fits the ‘House Style’. It’s not a bad thing, per se, but it’s not nearly as creative as what Marvel is doing.

And I think a book like Teen Titans could really stand out with its own, unique art style. Maybe an artist who will actually draw them as teenagers instead of boob machines.


3. Include Batman and the Justice League


Perhaps you’ve heard of them

Anyone who has been reading Geoff Johns’ Justice League comic knows that he has put a lot of emphasis on the world’s reaction to the superhero team. People write books about them, love and hate them, and the government agency A.R.G.U.S. went ahead and created their own Justice League of America to combat them, both physically and in public perception.

So why does nobody care that the Teen Titans exist?

One missed opportunity in Teen Titans has been the lack of any tie-in or acknowledgement of the larger DC Universe. A.R.G.U.S. never seemed to care about them. The Justice League never seemed to care. Nobody noticed that a bunch of teen superheroes were suddenly hanging out and forming their own super team, to say nothing of nobody noticing or caring that teen superheroes were being kidnapped by Harvest and were being forced to fight to the death – but the less said about Lobdell’s crappy storylines the better.

Considering the way Johns built the Justice League and A.R.G.U.S., I think the Teen Titans could benefit from greater ties to the DCU as a whole. What does the Justice League think about their formation? For that matter, what does everybody think about the fact that one of Batman’s proteges is the one who put the Teen Titans together? What does Batman think?

“Needs more batarangs…”

I once toyed with the idea of suggesting that the Teen Titans were Batman’s idea to begin with, and he sent Red Robin off to put them together. That would be quite the twist, but it’s unnecessary. Red Robin and Batman are still close, they’re still partners, essentially. So what better way to tie into the larger DCU than use Batman? I’m pretty sure he’s a popular character. A cameo appearance definitely couldn’t hurt.

Not to mention the fact that you could get some real drama for Tim Drake. When Dick Grayson left Batman’s side, he started his own superhero career as Nightwing. When Tim Drake did it, he dedicated himself to helping teen superheroes and put together the Teen Titans. The series could explore a little of what happens to Robins when they grow up.

The Teen Titans don’t exist in a vacuum. I’ve always thought that DC should put together a solid hierarchy of superheroes and teams in the New 52 to better blend them together. Why pass up that opportunity when you’ve already got such a rich foundation? Comic books rarely get more popular than Batman and Robin.


2. Female leader


Don’t be so surprised, boys

As much as I love Tim Drake, and Robin being on the Titans is kind of a must, I think he should step back and let Wonder Girl take over as team leader. Female protagonists are a big deal these days, and while DC Comics usually does a great job with female-centric books, why not go a step further and let a woman take the reigns of one of their most popular team books? It would make sense in story. Maybe Red Robin is a little angry at himself for how the Teen Titans kind of fell apart there, so he steps back and lets Cassie Sandsmark take charge. Tim is going to always have a showcase in the various Bat-books, like Batman Eternal, but Wonder Girl only has Teen Titans.

This also ties into my Young Adult suggestion. Movies like Hunger Games and Divergent are proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that movies with female leads can make just as much money and be just as popular as movies with male leads. Comics can be the same way. There’s a veritable revolution going on right now behind Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel. DC needs to use Wonder Girl. They’ve got her, she’s popular, so put her to good use!


1. Drama from within


Still a better love story than Teen Titans

Everything that happened in the New 52 Teen Titans was down to an outside force acting upon our heroes. The stories were always about bad guys like Harvest or Trigon impacting the team. There was nothing coming out of the team itself. There were no great friendships between the characters. No will they/won’t they love stories. There were no rivalries, no anger, no real emotion between any of the members. Nearly three years worth of comics and the Teen Titans are still just a bunch of random characters barely reacting to stuff that happens to them.

That’s no way to tell a story.

Real drama needs to come from within a group. That’s how you build your team into a legitimately interesting bunch of characters. And there are examples everywhere in fiction. How much mileage has DC gotten over the years from the idea that Batman created secret plans to put down the other members of the Justice League? There was a ton of crazy stuff happening on the island in Lost, but what really made the show popular were the endearing storylines between the various castaways, like the love triangle or the head-to-heads between Jack and Locke. The crew of Serenity was all about interpersonal conflict, from everybody fearing River to Jayne’s potential betrayals to Mal and Inara butting heads over her profession.

Swoon

But Teen Titans didn’t even come close to any of that. Lobdell was only concerned about where the next outside threat would come from. He was constantly cutting away to one-page teases of future villains, many of which never amounted to anything now that the series is being cancelled. The Titans never bonded in any way other than ‘characters in the same comic book’. Lobdell’s attempts at romance never blossomed into anything more than the characters telling each other they were in love. We never saw it develop on the page. We never felt invested.

They both end up as murderers, serving hard time 1,000 years into the future on the other side of the galaxy

Even when Lobdell tried to spice up some drama, like the issue where Tim Drake suddenly kissed both Wonder Girl and Solstice on the same night, that was eventually put down to Tim being under the evil sway of Trigon. And even then, it never amounted to anything. Everybody got over it almost immediately and moved on with their lives.

The best piece of advice I can give to incoming writer Will Pfeifer, the most important storytelling element that needs to go into the new volume of Teen Titans, is that the drama, the stories and the character growth should come from within the group. There will always be super-villains and dangerous threats, but we readers will care about those a hell of a lot more if we actually care about the characters first.

Please don’t screw this up.

———————

Those are my suggestions, what are some of yours? I know a lot of Teen Titans readers also read my blog, so what do you guys and gals think? What would you like to see in this new volume? Any characters you hope make their spectacular return to the roster? Please share in the comments!

——————–

About Sean Ian Mills

Hello, this is Sean, the Henchman-4-Hire! By day I am a mild-mannered newspaper reporter in Central New York, and by the rest of the day I'm a pretty big geek when it comes to video games, comic books, movies, cartoons and more.

Posted on April 16, 2014, in Comics, DC, Lists of Six!, Robin. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. More Bunker!!! I want DC to do good by a gay male super hero. I want Bunker treated as equally as his team mates, romantic relationships and all. So far, allan scott and bunker dont even appear half the time in their own books. Allan scott is made sexually safe for readers because he’ll be apparently in mourning forever for his dead boyfriend. Bunker was given a boyfriend in a coma that had nothing to do with the story. And dc’s version of apollo and midnighter are totally pathetic. I kept reading the new52titans for as long as i did just because i liked bunker so much but then they wrote him out. I wont do that again. This new writer has only one chance to impress me, if #1 isnt good, im gone

    • Completely reasonable expectation on that #1 issue. Pfeifer really needs to sell the book. I’m glad to see that Bunker is sticking around. Lobdell didn’t do too bad a job introducing his character, but you’re absolutely right that he had nothing to do. That’s part of my No. 1 suggestion there: the characters never did anything. Yeah, Bunker was friendly and stuff, but Lobdell never did anything with him.

      And you’re absolutely right about that little handicap for the two prominent gay male characters. I’d never even considered that. God forbid Bunker meet a hunky superhero to have a relationship with, gotta tie him down to a character off-panel.

      Keeping Bunker around is a damn good idea, and hopefully Pfeifer will follow through.

  2. I agree with this list! I’m hoping strongly that this series will end up resembling that one that I loved in the years before the New 52. Maybe Pfeifer can do to Teen Titans what Charles Soule did with Red Lanterns. They should put Static on the team; what’s he been up to? Anyways, I am pretty ok with the art – I agree that it doesn’t branch away too much from the “house style,” but Bret Booth’s hyperbolic art sooo did not work for Teen Titans.

    • I was OK with Brett Booth’s style at first, until the badness in the Titans’ writing really started to grow on me. Then I realized that Booth’s hyper-kinetic style was absolutely perfect for Lobdell’s inability to sit still. They complimented one another…but made for a bad comic.

      And Static would be a great idea! He made one brief cameo appearance, and without a comic of his own, he’s an obvious choice. But clearly ‘obvious choices’ are not DC’s forte these days.

  3. As a teenager myself I have always looked up to the teen titans since their cartoon started. For people my age it’s not easy to relate to a millionaire who stalks the night grieving from the loss of his parents or to a indestructible alien who grew up on a farm, we can relate to young people who make mistakes however, that’s why Spiderman is so popular.

    I want to see different relationships on the team, maybe one member has an unrequited crush on another member, maybe one member hate another member for no reason.
    Teenagers are hormonal and we need to see more of that in a book about teens, not just cardboard cutouts of teens.

    Also, as much as i like Rocafort’s art, I think it fits better with a more gritty adult book and I would personally like to see more of a anime/manga art style kinda like in the original cartoon as it is better for portraying younger people and has become very popular with young people in western culture recently and could bring in more readers.

    Great list btw. Completely agree.

    • Thanks for reading! I definitely agree that some manga influence would fit nicely with Teen Titans. Rocafort is definitely more of a gritty artist, which is why he fit on Red Hood and the Outlaws.

  4. I think you have a point with the storyline. I would tend to be more interested if I cared about the characters more than just what they do for each encounter. As far as the artwork, DC’s house look is what makes them DC. Marvel bounces all over the place with it’s art. Marvel fans expect that now as well. DC has never done that and i don’t think they have to in order to be successful. That recognizable look is what we have come to expect out of DC. If they abandon that, they are giving up on the only thing that they do consistently with success. When you went to the movies and watched Iron Man 3 or Captain America 2, you didn’t want to see new designs on character outfits. You just wanted a great storyline or great action. The same was true with Man of Steel. No one left that movie saying, wow, the design and look was awful. They cared about the storyline and character development and compared it to recent Marvel movies. I say, “Don’t fix it if it’s not broke.” I hope that Teen Titans comes out with better story lines. If wonder Woman takes a leadership role, love angle for Beast Boy, torn between ethics and love for Star fire or Cyborg, etc. That’s what it would take to bring me back to purchase a comic book. Otherwise, I’ll just stick to the movies and wait for feedback from the dirt sheets before investing into Teen Titans again.

  5. hey u r right about the teen titans comics n to me my biggest disappointment was the team construction I loved the team titans from the cartoons they were different each in there own way , I still don’t know what idiot made star fire so overly sexual n put cyborg in the justice league but am not feeling it , any way would really love to c a team titans based on the cartoon n less over the to senareous like come on there teens n the plot is to complex if it was me let the do what u said n teen titans comics will be assume

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