Review: Teen Titans #1
After only a few short months, Teen Titans is back with a new #1 issue and a new…not much else. Scott Lobdell’s reign of terror is over. Bring on Will Pfeifer’s reign of terror! I say that with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek, but after reading and digesting Pfeifer’s first issue in this new, relaunched Teen Titans, it doesn’t look like much has changed. I’m willing to go easy on Pfeifer, and artist Kenneth Rocafort, and give them the benefit of the doubt, but the problems with Lobdell’s Teen Titans were very clear and very easy to fix. So why Pfeifer and DC didn’t do a complete 180 and try something totally new is beyond me.
Teen Titans #1 could just as easily have been Teen Titans #31. It picks up exactly where Lobdell left off and brings absolutely nothing new or interesting to the table.
Comic Rating: 5/10 – Alright.
I was ready to forgive and forget, and embrace a new approach to the Teen Titans comic. I stuck with Lobdell’s stink pile for the entire run, watching and wincing as DC let him have 30 whole issues and some annuals. Whereas nearly ever other comic in DC’s New 52 was given a new creative team at some point, or cancelled outright, DC stuck with Lobdell despite the fact that everyone pretty much hated and abandoned the comic. Lobdell’s Teen Titans was a frantic mess, unwilling to sit still for even a second to focus on the characters, the team or anything other than hectic superhero action. I could go on and on about all of the problems with the first run of Teen Titans, but I don’t have the time or energy. We’re here to talk about the new relaunch.
And you better believe I’m disappointed.
Pfeifer’s Teen Titans #1 is wall-to-wall action, starring pretty much the exact same Titans team that Lobdell left off with – only now Beast Boy is green for some reason. No explanation given on that change. It’s Red Robin, Wonder Girl, Raven, Beast Boy and Bunker stopping a group of terrorists on a speeding bus (yep!), while Pfeifer hints at some kind of future plot with S.T.A.R. Labs. There’s plenty of chatter among the team members as they go about their business, but there’s little in the way of actual, meaningful interactions. No effort is made to explain why they’re still a team or why they spend any time together beyond being the selected roster for the book. No background is given, no establishing information is put out; nothing beyond a bunch of superheroes responding to a sudden emergency on the streets of New York.
In that regard, Peifer and Rocafort make a fine comic. The action is well-paced and well-drawn. I suppose it’s as exciting as any generic action scene in a comic might be. There’s a good use of everyone’s powers and abilities. Everybody is generally likable. I don’t necessarily think Rocafort’s hyper-detailed, sketchy style is the right fit for Teen Titans, but it works fine. No real complaints from my end on art. It’s also definitely a colorful comic.
But Teen Titans #1 doesn’t do anything new to warrant the relaunch. It looks like business as usual, even after I got my hopes up that something would be different this time around.
Oh wait, there is one change. After 30+ issues of Bunker’s sexuality not being an issue for anybody, Pfeifer is apparently totally going to make it an awkward, clumsy issue. Great.
Join me after the jump for the full synopsis and more review!
By the way, that cover? It’s totally aping the social media friendly Young Avengers series that Marvel had last year, but without any of the class. And at no point within this actual issue do the Teen Titans have anything to do with social media. Just sayin’.
We open with Cassie Sandsmark strolling through Times Square. She’s on the phone with Red Robin, and drops a quick line of exposition about how she’s no longer in touch with her mother. Considering her mother has played next to no part in her superhero life, I’m not sure why this is important. But it doesn’t matter, because in only the second panel of this comic, we’re already into the action. Cassie’s phone, and every screen in the immediate area, are hijacked by a shadowy, hooded terrorist who informs everybody that she and her henchmen have hijacked a school bus full of kids, and are racing through the streets of New York on their way to crash into S.T.A.R. Labs.
Red Robin is monitoring the situation, while Cassie changes into Wonder Girl and jumps on top of the bus. Robin tells her to hold back when the bad guy launches into her manifesto. She says that S.T.A.R. is growing some kind of artificial intelligence experiment in their basement, so what she and her team are doing is a good thing, even if nobody else will see it that way. While she’s talking, Robin dispatches Beast Boy to help Wonder Girl, and has Bunker head to S.T.A.R. to get ready for incoming.
Speaking of which, we pop in on the suits running S.T.A.R. as they try to figure out what the heck this psycho is mad about. One scientist says their A.I. project isn’t anywhere near coming to fruition. And another man says their building should easily withstand a bus crash, unless the bad guys are packing a ton of explosives, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.
Then one of them shows up with pink hair and a smarmy smirk, so obviously he’s important!
I hate him already.
Back at the bus, the bad guys notice Wonder Girl on the roof, so they grab one of the schoolgirls and threaten to shoot her – so Wonder Girl reaches in, grabs the thug with the gun and throws him out of the bus. Then another thug grabs the girl and throws her out the back door – so Red Robin swoops down and catches the girl before she hits the ground.
Then Beast Boy sneaks onto the bus in hummingbird form. He immediately transforms into a tiger and knocks another henchman off the bus.
The Titans chat a bit more via their comm units, which tiger Beast Boy can use without a problem, and Raven shows up to do her part. She appears on the bus and teleports two of the thugs to the Nightmare Realm for a few seconds, which saps them of their will to go on. Why she doesn’t also do the same thing to the leader is anyone’s guess.
A moment later, the leader activates the bombs that are in her henchmen’s tactical vests. Raven can’t do anything about them, so Wonder Girl grabs the last three thugs and jumps out of the bus with them. Once in the clear, in the empty street, the bombs blow up. They kill the three thugs, but Wonder Girl and any innocents are fine. Everybody seems totally cool with the three deaths. No biggie. Meanwhile, Beast Boy can’t stop the bus. It’s been fixed to just keep driving.
It’s OK though, Bunker is waiting, and when he uses his powers to make a bunch of little tiny bricks, the mass is much softer than creating his usual brick wall.
The bus is stopped, the kids are safe, and somehow, in the mess, the leader managed to escape. There were at least two Titans on that bus, but somehow the bad guy got away. Robin and Wonder Girl note her disappearance as everyone stands around surveying the scene.
And that’s when things get weird.
Say what you will about Scott Lobdell (and I have said a whole heck of a lot), but he never made Bunker’s sexuality an issue. It rarely came up, and in no way was Bunker defined by it. I’m pretty sure that was the entire point of the character. He was a new, young, gay superhero who was a full, well-rounded character (to the extent that anybody was a full, well-rounded character in Lobdell’s Teen Titans).
So what does Pfeifer do in his very first issue? Brings up Bunker’s sexuality in the clumsiest, most forced way possible.
First of all, this character has not existed before now. None of the innocent people on the bus were anything more than background filler, other than the little girl. So it’s not like we’ve been following this guy’s reactions all issue long. Second of all, the entire team saved the bus. Wonder Girl, Raven and Beast Boy were on the bus, while Bunker was outside. So he wasn’t saved by just two superheroes. Third of all, I realize Bunker is wearing purple, but there’s nothing more flamboyant about him or Beast Boy than any of the other Titans.
Fourth of all, we don’t even know what that guy was going to say. Why would Bunker just assume it was some kind of gay slur? The guy could have been saying they looked like a couple of dorks!
But nope, Bunker assumes the worst and smashes the guy’s face into a wall. And on the next page, he even threatens the guy.
The normally bright and friendly Bunker is suddenly delivering threats? Great.
Beast Boy tells Bunker to back off because everybody around them is filming it on their cell phones. So this is bound to be a thing. And I don’t like it.
That was a very ham-fisted, awkward way to turn Bunker’s sexuality into an issue. Why it has to be an issue, I have no idea. But Pfeifer’s handling of that scene does not make me think he’s going to be able to handle anything to do with Bunker. The character is not defined by his sexuality. Nor has he ever been defined by sudden rushes of anger, filled with threats. Had Pfeifer intended on actually having that guy use the slur, only for DC to nix the naughty word? That would have made more sense, but the scene still would have been horribly misplaced and forced.
News Flash, Pfeifer: gay characters can exist without their sexuality being called into question at every opportunity.
At any rate, the issue ends with a brief scene that shows the terrorist leader killing a guard at the new S.T.A.R. Labs facility on Governors Island. She says that it’s not over, not yet.
Sorry, bad guy, but I don’t particularly care.
The issue is over. What do I think? Let’s start with the bad guy: who is she? Kudos for making her a woman and not drawing her like a sex object. But what’s the point of her? She looks pretty bland and has a squad of generic henchmen. She’s annoyed at S.T.A.R. Labs for some reason, but why should we care? She’s obviously not just a generic villain served up to fill the first issue with action, so why not make her more interesting? Why not give her a little more motivation or reason for existing? S.T.A.R. Labs is involved in bad guy science every day of the week. That’s nothing new. And why hijack a bus and try to crash it into the lab? I hope Pfeifer has some explanation for that, and that it makes sense in the long run, otherwise this issue will be more disappointing than I already realize.
What about the Titans themselves? I don’t think we get a very good look at them. They fill the issue, sure, but what do they do? They save the day, but that’s expected of them. How does this bus rescue stand out as the first action scene in the relaunched Teen Titans? How does it really show off the characters or make them worth reading? They’ve all got cool powers and abilities, and like I said, the issue is a fine showcase for those things, but the writing doesn’t really tell us much about who they are personally. They all seem to get along, and they’re capable of carrying on civil conversations with one another, but there’s nothing more than that. There’s no flirtation, no romance, no animosity, no bitterness, no humor; there’s no emotion between the team members. They all just competently react to the situation in front of them.
That’s not to say it’s a bad issue. Or that the characters are handled poorly. They’re handled fine. They’re written well. Their individual personalities come across nicely. These are, for the most part, the same characters we knew before. But Pfeifer doesn’t really do anything special with them. He doesn’t find any new connections or special interactions. And with a new #1 issue and a new writer, I was hoping he would.
I guess I was hoping for too much with this relaunch. It’s a shame, really, that this relaunch was probably put into motion sooner than Batgirl’s upcoming change. With the new Batgirl, which had the Internet buzzing non-stop last week, DC is showing a willingness to try new approaches to characters. And I think the Teen Titans are ripe for that kind of shakeup. The Teen Titans are comics’ most famous teenage team. They’re perfect for the quirky, fun, personable, female-centric storytelling that seems to be taking over comics these days. But DC seems far more interested in forcing the Titans to be just another boring superhero team.
In his first issue, Will Pfeiffer doesn’t seem to have any idea how to make the Teen Titans new or interesting. Kenneth Rocafort is a fine artist, but he still closely resembles DC’s house style of hyper-detailed, action-packed superheroes. Rocafort has a distinctive look that’s all his own, and I definitely like it. But I personally don’t think he’s right for Teen Titans – or at least how I envision the team. He’s too sharp. His angles and lines are too pointy and angry for a team about teenagers. He draws a mean mercenary, but he’s a little too mean for this book. Unless, of course, Pfeifer keeps Teen Titans as an action book. Then they’ll probably go together nicely.
Perhaps I’m asking too much. Maybe DC is hellbent on this vision of the Teen Titans no matter what. They’ve got a roster set in stone and they demand that these heroes just go do superhero stuff without a hint of anything else. If that’s the case, then apologies to Scott Lobdell and Will Pfeifer. But if not, then damn, make better comics!