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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
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
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?
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
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
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.
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.
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!