Beauty and the Beast: A Swamp Thing Love Story

In my last post I wrote about the second volume collecting Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing stories.  One aspect of that collection that I purposely avoided discussing was the creature’s relationship with Abigail Cable, my reasoning being that that relationship was so complex, so touching, that it deserved its own post.

What can I say? I love a good love story.

When Abigail first appeared in the comics, I didn’t even consider her a love interest for Swamp Thing.  Firstly, she was married.  Secondly, Swamp Thing is a plant.  I didn’t really see how there could be any romantic feelings between them.  I just figured Abigail was a friend and confidante who cared about Swamp Thing and helped show the reader his humanity.

For the most part, it was that simple.

At least, until Abigail died.

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Killed by the hands of her uncle Arcane (masquerading as her husband), Abigail’s soul had been banished to hell.  In a strange yet somehow believable scene, her husband restores life to her body, but tells Swamp Thing he is unable to rescue her soul, before slipping into a coma.

This is the part where the creature’s true feelings start to show.

Rather than accept Abigail’s death, Swamp Thing delves into the very pits of hell, desperately seeking Abigail’s soul so that it may be reunited with her body and she may live.  With other writers this may have seemed hokey, but Moore writes the story beautifully, balancing Swamp Thing’s tender emotions with the gruesome realities of Hell.

Retrieving Abigail’s soul proves no simple task, as Swamp Thing soon learns.  He meets a number of vile demons along his travels, as well as a few he’s already familiar with, including Arcane himself.  In this scene, Arcane asks Swamp Thing how many years he’s been in Hell, to which the creature responds:

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I found this scene particularly disturbing, as it so accurately depicted the worst fears we have of Hell.  Not only did this scene serve as closure, letting Swamp Thing and the reader know that Arcane will suffer for all eternity for what he did; it also showed just how deeply Swamp Thing cared for Abigail, willing to venture into such a god-forsaken place in order to rescue this woman’s soul.

Unlike other comics, I wasn’t sure how this one would end.  After all, Swamp Thing is a horror comic.  I haven’t seen anything yet to imply that there always has to be a happy ending here.  Still, the creature perseveres, battling a number of demons and ultimately rescues Abigail’s soul and returns it to her body.

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The reuniting of Abigail and Swamp Thing was not overwrought with sweeping declarations of love or passionate embraces.  Rather, it was a quiet, sweet moment, yet one filled with unspoken emotion.  Swamp Thing is so clearly overjoyed that he’s succeeded in bringing Abigail back from the dead.  I’m glad that Moore didn’t spoil the moment with an unnecessary Hollywood-style ending to that issue.

Had the story been told differently, that could have been the end.  Abigail and Swamp Thing could have remained fiercely devoted friends and nothing more.

Their relationship continues though, evolving organically, until one day when Abigail approaches Swamp Thing and professes her love for him.  Swamp Thing is surprised, but nonetheless returns the affection, telling Abigail in his normal quiet, sweet manner that he loves her as well.  In a moment that should have felt strange and awkward, Swamp Thing and Abigail embrace and share a kiss.

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Luckily, Moore was pragmatic enough to not simply ignore the fact that we’re dealing with a human woman and a plant, which could pose some difficulties in the realm of physical love.  Moore allows the pair the humility to acknowledge the barriers they may face, but manages to overcome them in a rather ingenious way.  Swamp Thing feeds Abigail a fruit growing from his body, allowing her to ingest a part of him and experience the world as he does, feeling the organic connections between all living things in a euphoric trance-like state.  I worried when this scene began that it would feel trippy and psychedelic, but not so.  Instead, this scene was lovingly crafted, encompassing all that makes up the earth and allowing the reader to experience it through Abigail’s eyes.

The trade ends in this peaceful state, with Abigail and Swamp Thing embracing quietly.  It’s the perfect ending to a sweet and lovely romance, one which was most unexpected but entirely welcome.  In a way I’m glad the story ends like this.  Although I know Moore continued the series, I can’t be sure these characters get a happy ending when all is said and done.  I can at least be comforted knowing that in this moment Abigail and Swamp Thing are happy.  Whether that happiness lasts is something I’ll just have to find out for myself.

-Jess

The Saga of The Swamp Thing: Volume Two

It would be an understatement to say I sped through this second installment in the Alan Moore run on Swamp Thing.

I devoured it.  I couldn’t put it down, and I shirked numerous responsibilities in order to finish it.

And now here I am, completely bereft of any continuation to the story, knowing full well that the remaining collections have not yet been added to “the shelf”.

I believe this is usually the point in a comic where the scene pans out to provide a bird’s-eye view of the protagonist while a lengthy “Nooooooooo” is stretched across the sky.

Yes, I am fully likening my lack of closure with this story to the many tragedies that have befallen any number of superheroes.

Also, I may be slightly melodramatic.

I just enjoyed these stories so much.  As I mentioned last time, I went into this series knowing nothing about Swamp Thing, and honestly felt unsure whether I would really enjoy the character.  Well, I can safely say now that I am definitely a fan.

This second volume begins with a similar tone as the first, a slow-moving, introspective storyline focusing on Swamp Thing’s mental state and his attempts at dealing with learning that he is not really human.  In the first issue collected here, he is haunted by the ghost of Alec Holland, the man he once thought he was and whose memories and thoughts he now possesses.  Desperate to bury the past, the creature recalls Alec’s last few moments in an effort to rid himself of this ghost.  After realizing that Alec’s remains are still in the swamp, he locates them and, in a very tender scene, gives them a proper burial.

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Throughout this entire issue Swamp Thing is highly introspective, posing philosophical questions such as, “How deep must one dig to bury the past?”  The storyline itself is well done, but it is the superb narrative that truly holds this story together and gives it a sense of poignancy.

As with Volume One, this collection featured a few random appearances from outside forces, helping to ground the story in a larger reality.  One such figure is the mysterious watcher, orbiting the earth and monitoring all that occurs.

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We do not know who he is at this point, but for now he serves as the omniscient, god-like figure overseeing all of Earth’s activities.  Although his appearance is brief, I’m very curious to learn who he is and what role he may play in any future storylines.

Many other DC characters appear or are alluded to within the pages of this comic.  Deadman shares a scene with Swamp Thing, an inclusion that managed to feel perfectly natural.  Perhaps the most jarring appearance by another character, however, was the brief image of The Joker:

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Had other writers used such a tactic, I might have found it cheesy and unnecessary.  Therein, perhaps, lies the genius of Moore’s writing.  He often includes narrative asides which reference unknown individuals, meant to imply the wideswept mood of the particular issue.  In this instance, he simply included DC characters rather than a handful of “ordinary” people.  The note made in the panel above, that “The Joker’s stopped smiling”, is so simple yet so incredibly powerful.  Even people unfamiliar with the Batman comics likely know Joker’s propensity for smiling, and the fact that he has stopped implies that something must be very, very wrong in the world.

Such is the brilliance of Moore’s writing.  He makes connections to a larger world without detracting from his central story.  In this way he creates a complex background on which his character’s lives take place.  He reminds the reader that these characters are but a small part of a much larger universe, even as we become completely enraptured with their individual stories.

That may be one of my favorite parts of Moore’s writing.  So many superhero stories take place in big cities, featuring villains who are hell-bent on destroying the entire planet.  In Swamp Thing, we see a departure from that.  Yes, there are one or two villains seeking to take over the planet, but many of the stories deal with much more personal struggles.  Whereas Superman or Wonder Woman are often fighting to save the whole world, Swamp Thing is fighting to save his world, be it his backwater swampland in Louisiana or his dear friend Abigail.  His battles hit much closer to home, and indeed are even sometimes within himself.  Swamp Thing is a creature forced to face down his deepest emotions, all for the sake of protecting those few things he holds most dear.

Obviously, I’ve grown attached to this series after only two brief collections.  I desperately want to read more, perhaps moreso than any other comic I’ve read so far.  I want to buy Mistah J all of the remaining books in Alan Moore’s run.  Scratch that: I want to own all of these books.  I am not a comic collector, but these stories are definitely worth owning.  Until such time as I can continue reading these brilliant stories, I’ll just have to be left wondering where they go from here.

-Jess

The Saga of The Swamp Thing: Volume One

I’ve posed this question before but I’ll pose it again: Why am I always the last one to a party for everything??

Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing is, according to Mistah J, apparently a pretty big deal.  So obviously, being me, I knew absolutely nothing about it.  I had never read a single Swamp Thing story and I wasn’t overly familiar with Moore’s work.

I had at least heard of him before.  Does that earn me some cool points?  Half a cool point?  Anything??

At least I’m working on remedying my comic ignorance.

Anyway, back to the comic at hand.  I went into this trade with literally no knowledge of the character, the backstory, or anything related to the series.  All I knew was that there were two trades sitting on Mistah J’s shelf that I would be reading eventually.

Yes, only two. Apparently there are actually seven trades which collect the Alan Moore run.  I think Mistah J is slowly and methodically trying to drive me insane.  I need completion, darn it!  I suppose such is the life of a comic reader.  You can never have the complete story, hard as you try.  There’s just too much.

He’ll just have to learn to love the eye twitch I’m slowly developing.

Jumping into a story blindly like this, I worried everything would be over my head and utterly confusing.  Luckily, thanks to some well-placed exposition (and a handy dandy introduction by Moore himself) the general backstory was revealed quickly enough that I felt comfortable with the story from page one.

Always a plus in my book.

What struck me with the beginning of this trade was the pace of the issues.  Particularly in the beginning, the story progresses rather slowly, with Swamp Thing (formerly scientist Alec Holland) apparently dead while his corpse is studied by one Doctor Jason Woodrue, also known as the Floronic Man.  Woodrue has a plant-like body similar to Swamp Thing, but still (at least to start) has his complete mental capacity.

Without divulging the entire plot panel for panel, the story continues with Woodrue making the discovery that the creature is not actually dead, nor is it truly Alec Holland.  Holland died years prior, and due to a bizarre scientific quirk, the local plantlife absorbed his memories and intelligence, leading it to believe that it was actually Holland.  The story gains momentum as, after being fired by his employer, Woodrue unleashes Swamp Thing, knowing it will likely be driven mad by this revelation about its lack of humanity.

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This all happens within the first issue of the trade.  Obviously, the story is much more elaborate than your average superhero tale.  While such pacing in another comic may have bored me, I was completely riveted, glad to watch the story slowly unfold as new details are revealed.  Even at this early point in my reading, I could tell that this comic was different.

The next issue or so focuses on the aftermath of Swamp Thing realizing that it is not, and never was, human.  The internal struggle the creature feels is revealed through a series of existential dreams, each masterfully crafted to truly feel like a dream, and not just a cheesy way for the writer to convey events to the reader.

When Swamp Thing finally snaps out of his self-imposed trance, he does so hesitantly, and doesn’t shy away from addressing how confused he is about his being:

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This poor creature, organically a plant but cursed with the memories and feelings of a man, is so tragic.  Reading his story, seeing the various emotions he must face as he learns to accept what he truly is, is heart-wrenching to say the least.  Moore writes in such a way that the reader cannot help but pity this creature, making for a truly compelling story.

As with all good comics, Swamp Thing is not alone in his world.  He has a dear friend, Abigail, whose connection to the creature is not overtly described in the body of the comic but who nonetheless clearly cares for him deeply.  On the other hand, he also faces off against enemies.  In this trade the main protagonist is Floronic Man, that same character who helped reveal Swamp Thing’s true identity.

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Whereas Swamp Thing is shown as a strong but ultimately passive and gentle creature, Floronic Man is a crazy, maniacal being, hell-bent on destroying humanity for the damage they have caused in the plant world.  Although his story eventually ends, his departure feels natural, and not like a coy setup for a future return, as is so often seen in superhero comics.

Speaking of superhero comics, I can’t write about this trade without bringing up the rather odd brief appearance the JLA makes in one issue.  When Floronic Man announces his plans to destroy the world, the comic gives us a brief aside, showing the JLA in their spacial clubhouse orbiting the Earth.

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This brief two-page aside was a bit jarring to the overall story, but overall I can see its purpose.  Before this part of the trade,  I questioned how Swamp Thing tied into the whole DC multiverse.  He hardly fit the superhero trope seen in all of the other comics I’d read, and it felt more like a standalone series than anything else.  The JLA appearance, however brief and tangential to the overall story, tied Swamp Thing into the same universe, grounding his story in the bigger picture without diverting attention away from his character.

(Also, yes, I chose the particular panel above because it references Raven.  I just finished reading four New Teen Titan trades.  This random reference to a character i just read about made me stupidly happy.)

Prior to reading this trade I had been warned that parts of it were a bit scary.  Halfway through the comic, I felt like I must be missing something.  I knew this was classified as a horror comic, and I could see why; it had that particular grim overcast that just felt like horror at its core.

Scary though? Not so much.

And then the Monkey King happened.

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So…yeah.  I take back what I said about it not being scary.

Very, very scary.  Seriously, warn a girl next time.

The “horror” element of the comic really picked up in the second half of this collection, and while I never really thought too much about horror comics before this, I must say I actually think I’d enjoy them.

The horror element (in this case, the appearance of demons) juxtaposes very well with the raw humanity of Swamp Thing.  As readers, we know he’s not human.  Moore actually made it a  point at the beginning of his run to make it clear that Swamp Thing is not Alan Holland, never was and never will be.  Still, the creature is infused with such heart that the reader can’t help but care about him.  At times the character feels reminiscent of the monster in “Frankenstein”, misunderstood but ultimately a gentle being who’s searching for his place in the world.  It’s a trope that, if used correctly (as it is here) can completely immerse the reader in the character’s psyche and allow one to empathize with his plight.

This first volume in the collection was short ( a mere 173 pages) yet powerful.  Coming in with no knowledge of the character, he now feels like an old friend, one whom I desperately want to continue reading about.  I approach the next trade hesitantly, knowing that it’s the last of Moore’s Swamp Thing run on the shelf.

Side question: If I buy Mistah J the remaining Swamp Thing trades for Christmas primarily because I want to read them, does that still count as a Christmas gift or does that get filed under “bad girlfriend ettiquette”?  I need a ruling on that one.

After just a few issues, I can already see why Moore’s run on this comic was so groundbreaking.  His storytelling is better than any I’ve read so far on the shelf, and his characters are compelling, flawed, and fully developed, so much more so than many that I’ve read.  This collection certainly makes me want to delve deeper into his works, to completely immerse myself in his world and lose myself in the characters, the conflicts, and the stories he’s created.

Like I said before, I’m always the last to know.

-Jess

The New Teen Titans: Terra Incognito

I’ve reached the last New Teen Titans trade in this particular batch of comics, and I began it with the same eager anticipation as the others.  I thoroughly enjoyed each trade that preceded this one, and had no reason to believe this collection would be any different.

I still can’t quite put my finger on it, but for some reason this collection felt just a little off, and the overall quality of the comic seemed to dip as a result.

The angst-ridden teenagers angle was certainly used in previous issues, but it permeated nearly every panel here, with each and every Titan dealing with their own personal issues.  I get it, they’re teenagers, they all have problems to face, but when they all have such serious concerns at the same time, it gets to be a little too heavy to wade through all the drama.  Certain portions of these comics started to feel more like an episode of “Dawson’s Creek”.  That would be fine if that was the tone of these comics from the beginning, but this is supposed to be a superhero comic.  The constant drama just started to bog down the story.

That being said, certain parts of this dramatic tension were actually done well.  Raven’s concerns in particular were more poignant that others.  While her fellow titans were questioning whether they should be a member of the team, or dealing with broken hearts, Raven was facing a true crisis, figuring out how to control her soul self, that part of her which is her father Trigon and, if left unchecked, could spell utter doom for the entire universe.

Knowing the potential power within her, Raven is kidnapped by an enemy faction and forced to face  her greatest fears.  As they begin, we learn that one such fear is the inability to help those who need it:

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I found these panels very moving and extremely well-drawn.  The story’s significance was enhanced when Raven’s next fear was depicted: the worry that she would be unable to contain her power and would end up causing her friends’ deaths.

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Raven’s fears are entirely founded given her recent loss of control, and this depiction brings the extent of her power to the forefront of the reader’s mind.  She is not merely a hero; she is a time-bomb  who, without constant vigilance and control, could detonate at any given time.  For this reason she continues to be one of the most intriguing characters to read about.  There are simply so many layers to her character.

While this trade was filled with plenty of life and death situations, there were also quite a few moments focused on the more human side to each character, addressing their hopes for the future, and especially their love lives.  With perhaps the only “happy ending” we get to see in this trade, Donna Troy, aka Wonder Girl, agrees to marry her long-time love, Terry Long.  With their engagement set, the two are given a brief yet romantic moment together in the park:

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Because such tender moments were virtually non-existent in these comics, it made this particular panel that much more moving.  After the tragic death of Starfire’s romantic interest, though, I can’t help wonder if Donna’s happily ever after will be short-lived as well.

One of the biggest changes in this particular trade is referenced in the collection’s title: the appearance of Terra, a young girl with superpowers and a hazy past who is made a member of the Teen Titans after proving her mettle.

The introduction of a new Titan didn’t bother me one bit. It makes sense that the Titans would filter in and out and that they would inevitably meet new worthy crime-fighters along the way.  I didn’t, however, enjoy the specific character.  Terra (real name Tara) is shown as a petulant little brat, complaining that the Titans don’t trust her while keeping her entire past shrouded in mystery.  I was beginning to seriously dislike her, and hoped she wouldn’t become a mainstay in the story.

Luckily, we eventually find out that Terra is a double-agent, working with none other than The Terminator to learn the Titan’s secret identities and bring about their downfall.

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I was so happy when it was revealed that she was a bad guy.  I suppose the reader was supposed to be upset that she’s double-crossing the Titans, but all I could think was, “Yes! Now I’m allowed to hate her.”

Does this make me a bad person? She’s a bad guy, so I’m going to say no.

So much focus was put on Terra, along with the in-house bickering between the Titans, that it was difficult to locate a main central story in this trade.  Honestly quite a bit of it read simply as:

ANGST ANGST ANGST (RANDOM FIGHT WITH A BAD GUY) ANGST ANGST ANGST

Yes, The Teen Titans has always had angst, but this was the first time it felt like it overpowered the main story.  None of the villains had an overwhelming presence in the series, and nothing really tied the story together from issue to issue.  The characters and their internal woes carried over, but there wasn’t a clear plotline to trace throughout the trade.  Character-driven stories are great, but the characters need to actually be doing something, not just sitting around pondering their own existence.

Unfortunately this trade ends rather abruptly, with no major resolutions given to the problems that had built up over past issues.  This would be okay, except for the fact that this is the last New Teen Titans trade on “the shelf” (at least from this particular run).  Luckily, Mistah J had given me a head up that I wouldn’t be getting the complete story (and it’s a good thing too, because if I just got to the end of this trade without knowing beforehand that I was done reading about The Teen Titans for a while, I would have been just a LITTLE upset.  He’s a smart one, that Mistah J.)

Although I’m a bit sad that I didn’t love this collection as much as the others, it does have a silver lining.  I’m not dying to keep reading about The Teen Titans, at least not as much as I was with the previous trades.  Still, the overall stories were more than enjoyable enough that, should Mistah J choose to expand his New Teen Titans trade collection, I will gladly go back and finish the series.

-Jess

The New Teen Titans: Volume Three

I’m three trades deep into The New Teen Titans lore, and I must say I always enjoy when numerous trades about the same characters fall in a row on “the shelf”.  I’m able to completely immerse myself in the stories, and everything just seems to flow so much better.  As a newbie to the comic scene, this makes the stories so much easier to understand, and keeps my head from exploding from information overload.

Side note: I’m about 40 trades into “the shelf” at this point.  How long before I can stop referring to myself as a comic newbie? I mean, I know it’s not a lot in the grand scheme of things, but I’ve read a lot of the earlier stuff.  Anything after 1982 is a mystery to me, but could I win a trivia contest if the topic was 1960’s Batman trivia?  Do I need to be up to date with all the current comic events in order to not be a newbie?  Am I just a spaz for even thinking about this?  These are the questions that keep me up at night.

But anyway.

Volume Three picks up right where Volume Two left off (shocking, I know), with a minor twist in the storytelling format.  The issues collected here are broken down into two sections.  The first half of the trade features single stories about a handful of different villains.  These standalone stories differ from the more centralized, “big picture” storylines that were the focus of the earlier issues.   Although still enjoyable, I found myself missing the clear connection to a larger plotline.

The second half of the trade was comprised of a 4-part miniseries (I’m assuming it was only 4 parts.  The last issue of the trade ended with what seemed like a pretty tidy wrap-up).  In each issue of the miniseries, one of The Teen Titans revealed their backstory, backstories which were alluded to in previous issues but which hadn’t yet been divulged in their entirety.  In these issues we learn the individual histories of Cyborg, Raven, Changling, and Starfire.

I found these issues, perhaps moreso than any of the other New Teen Titans, to be the most interesting and compelling.  As readers we’re allowed to take a break from the immediate action to reflect on where our heroes came from and what past experiences helped shape who they are.

I also enjoyed the fact that rather than rehashing the same old “creation” stories for Robin, Kid Flash, and Wonder Girl, stories readers were likely very familiar with and which had already been briefly mentioned in prior issues, here the focus is switched to those whose pasts are shrouded in mystery.  We know bits and pieces, but for once we’re given full access to all of the nitty gritty details of each character’s history.

Of the four stories, Starfire’s was perhaps my favorite, providing us a glimpse into the life of a young child hated by her older sister, and later imprisoned and tortured by that same hateful sibling.

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Learning Starfire’s history provides a more complete view of her character, and helps explain her violent tendencies.  What’s more, I greatly preferred that these backstories be presented later in the series, rather than serving as opening issues.  This way, we see each character in action and can make our own assumptions about their personalities, before finally learning the truth.  This method felt so much more organic than simply learning every detail of a character’s past right up front.  I applaud the writers’ choice in this method of storytelling.

The writing in this trade continues to be on point, but let me pause for a moment to address the other side of the coin; the artwork.  Being so swept up in the story, I’ve failed to mention how well these comics are drawn.  With each issue, the reader is drawn into the story and can actually feel the movement within each panel.  I noticed this sense of motion most in the following panel:

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I was so caught up in the story that I wasn’t actually looking for good example of action, but after seeing this panel I was stuck by how clearly I could imagine the whole scene.  This terrifying demon lauding itself over Titan Tower while debris spins wildly around.  I felt the movement, the sense of urgency and power this image is meant to invoke.  Without even realizing it, I was picturing an entire scene in my head, using the panels as a guide and filling in the blanks, allowing the images to move in my mind to create an ever-changing scene.

Perhaps this is how people view all comics.  For me though, this was one of the first times I was so deeply immersed in the story that I felt it completely envelop me.  So many earlier comics have static images that make the story feel stilted and incomplete.  Here was a prime example of a comic drawing you in and not letting go, and I have to say, I really liked it.

As intense as the stories were, I can’t write a post about The Teen Titans and not address their other, lighter side.  The jokes abound in this collection, as they did in the others.  There are simply too many in this trade to zero in on my favorite, but one certainly stands out, primarily because of its source:

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Outside of a Batman comic, you don’t often see a villain cracking a joke, and I was surprised to see Dr. Light shown in such a (wait for it…) light mood.

I crack myself up.

It felt a bit uncharacteristic for Dr. Light to make such a comment, but I really enjoyed it.  Here he is, trapped in a room with monsters, none of his plans panning out the way he hoped.  His last-ditch effort to gain control over the situation that had so completely slipped from his hands felt entirely human.

I did notice, perhaps moreso in this trade than in the others, just how many political and cultural references were being made in these comics.  A large sub-plot of Cyborg’s backstory deals with racial inequality, while Kid Flash is openly antagonistic against a Russian man, whose status as friend or foe is unclear.  When The Titans confront him about this, he retorts quite matter-of-factly:

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I was quite surprised to see these comics so openly address political parties, and go so far as to identify their characters as belonging to one over the other.  While I didn’t feel it detracted from the overall story, it was an inclusion whose necessity I still question.

I’m still very happy with how these stories are progressing, even if there seems to be a lack of an over-arching storyline at this point.  This comic seems to be largely character-driven, something I fully support.  Still, I suppose I prefer the character-driven stories when matched with personal conflicts and recurring villains. I’m hoping the next collection features the emergence of another main villain, perhaps one tied to one of the heroes’ pasts.

Even if it doesn’t, I have a feeling I’ll still be perfectly happy reading these comics.

-Jess

The New Teen Titans: Volume Two

Fresh off my foray into Volume One of The New Teen Titans storyline, I was greeted with Volume Two next on “the shelf”. (spoiler: Volume Three follows directly after this.  Who’da thunk??)

As mentioned in the last post, I very much enjoyed reading about The Teen Titans, and was perfectly content to continue reading about their exploits in this next collection.

The first volume generally focused on one or two main storylines.  In that trade, one of those stories was fairly neatly tied up (or at least concluded satisfactorily enough to disappear from the main story for the foreseeable future).  I had a feeling the presence of the H.I.V.E (the big baddies in this series) would continue to be felt in each issue, but I wasn’t sure where they would take the overall story from there.

Luckily, my questions were answered rather quickly, as a new threat is introduced to the fray.  After an encounter with The Terminator (I know, I know, eventually he becomes more widely known as Deathstroke, but I still can’t get over that name), Changling is mortally wounded.  To save his life, the Titans rush him to Paradise Island where Donna (aka Wonder Girl) hopes to use the purple ray to heal him.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around what exactly happened, but at some point after arriving on Paradise Island Hyperion, one of the original Titans (as in the all-powerful gods from Greek Mythology) breaks free from Tartarus, Donna falls hopelessly in love with him, and all hell breaks loose.

Just your average, ordinary day in the life of The  Teen Titans.

I really enjoyed this particular story, especially because of the Amazons’ portrayal.  Moreso here than in perhaps any of the comics I’ve read so far, the warrior side of the Amazons shows through, and it’s absolutely thrilling.

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In most of the stories in which they’ve appeared, they remain in the background, preaching pacifism and not playing much of a role in any action scenes.  Here, we get to see just how formidable they can be, vowing to battle literal gods for what they believe in.  I was excited to see the Amazons portrayed as strong, battle-ready warriors, rather than just the peaceful women that we usually see.

It was also refreshing to see the Amazons shown in such a strong light considering how Wonder Girl acts in these issues.  Enraptured by Hyperion, she falls completely in love with him (in her defense, he forces her through mind control). Still, Donna is completely enthralled with the man she thinks she loves, and follows him blindly into battle.  No big surprise, given the affect he seems to have on her:

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I’m thinking a lot of guys wish they could make women react this way.  Just a guess.

As I read, I started to notice a trend in the storylines.  It seems that a series of issues will focus on a single villain, usually someone with a specific tie to one of the Titans.  So far Raven, Wonder Girl, and Changling have been the focus of such plotlines, and I thought each were exceedingly well-done.  We learn a bit more about each character through their interactions with the villain, while still gaining further information about the Titans as a whole and how they work together.

What made the stories more engaging, even moreso than the action, was the allowance for introspection with each character.

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The action is intense, but its these moments of self-reflection that drive this series.  Each character faces their own demons at one point or another throughout the series, both literally and metaphorically.  Such inclusions enrich the stories moreso than just about any other trade I’ve read so far.

With all of these serious moments driving the series, that doesn’t mean that there are never points of light-heartedness.  Indeed, the comic is filled with jokes and random asides, often alluding to relationships between the Titans:

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Honestly, Robin.  This is why fans question your sexuality.

References and jokes like this not only lighten the mood of the overall comic, but they also serve to enhance each character’s personality, giving them their own unique voice.  Just from the single panel above, Robin’s no-nonsense attitude and Starfire’s overt sexuality are clearly displayed, without the writers having to bore us with long-winded descriptions outlining each character.

Two trades into this series, I’m very eager to continue reading.  So much so that I’m almost done with Volume Three as I’m typing this post.  The stories are fast-paced, the characters are interesting, and I just can’t wait to see what will happen next.  As each Titan’s backstory is slowly revealed, I am that much more endeared to their characters and want to read even more about their exploits.  The relationships and situations feel very realistic (well, as realistic as any story with a few aliens and a green shape-shifting dude can feel).  Reading these stories feels like I’m reading about people I could be friends with, something I really haven’t been able to say up until this point.  As the issues progress I hope their teenage antics, along with the strong, character-driven stories, continue.

-Jess

The New Teen Titans: Volume One

Finally breaking free from the field of “Greatest Stories Ever Told”, I found myself embarking on what would be a new adventure: The stories of The New Teen Titans.

Let me preface this by saying that I have virtually no prior expose to the Teen Titans.  I think I read one issue of the original group in a trade a while back, and Robin makes a brief reference to the group in one or two Batman comics.  Other than that, I knew nothing about the characters, or even who all was part of the team.  Going into the trade, I was excited to read about new characters.  I’ve read so much Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman lately that it was refreshing to be introduced to a handful of new superheroes.  Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy the stories I’ve been reading, but sometimes you want something new.

This trade delivered full-force.  Rather than provide a lengthy exposition detailing the backstory of each individual character (an important feature to any new series, but one which can sometimes bog down the reader with too much information and not enough action), this series throws the reader straight into the fray, with little to no backstory provided.  Instead, each character’s backstory is revealed slowly, organically, so that the reader gets to know them as one would get to know a friend.

The New Teen Titans is comprised of the following heroes: Robin, Kid Flash, Wonder Girl, Raven, Changling, Cyborg, and Starfire.  Of those, I had only ever read about Robin and Kid Flash, meaning I now had five new characters to discover.  Since these characters were so well-written, it was fun to read about each and every one of them.

Some backstories, such as Wonder Girl’s were kept short and sweet:

wpid-wp-1447352844288.jpgAlthough the story is told over only a few panels, it is moving enough that the reader gets a good sense of what made Wonder Girl the person she became.   This is perhaps the single-most important aspect of these comics: they create unique characters.  So many of the earlier comics had characters with interchangeable personalities.  Here, each character brings their own personality and perspective to the table, creating a healthy mix of opinions and behaviors.  It makes the stories feel real.

Adding to this realism is the well-placed humor peppered throughout each issue.  Yes, The Teen Titans are facing life and death situations, but they are also regular teenagers:

wpid-wp-1447354174870.jpgStarfire’s question is completely rational.  She makes a good point – the bikini isn’t really functional.   Wonder Girl’s answer, though, is both funny and, let’s be honest, entirely true.  Humor in a comic is usually entertaining, but the fact that these stories make it feel so natural draws the reader in and makes each issue feel that much more real.

Along with the frequent jokes, there is also a healthy dose of angst contained within the comics to remind the reader that, heroes or not, we’re dealing with hormone-ridden teenagers here.  There are constant references to flirting and dating, plenty of hints at possible relationships among the group, and numerous references, particularly from Robin, about wanting to branch out on their own and be viewed as adults.  The comics allow the teens their independence for the most part, but every once in a while we’re reminded who’s really in charge:

wpid-wp-1447376399533.jpgOooooooo, Robin’s in trouble….

I could see some readers being annoyed by this inclusion.  These characters are battling forces of evil from alternate universes, but can still be intimidated by their mentors?  If you stop and think about it though, it makes perfect sense.  I’m almost twenty-seven years old, but if I hear my mother use my full name I still shudder with fear (and if you claim you don’t do the same thing, you’re lying).  No matter how old we get, there is always someone in our life that we respect enough to let them hold this power over us.  Now we know the same can be said for superheroes too.  Again, the inclusion of this minor detail only further adds to the realism of the story.

Luckily, the realism in the comics is balanced by a fair amount of extraterrestrial beings and magical powers, keeping each issue from reading like an episode of “Saved By The Bell”.  The main story arc of the series so far has focused on Trigon, a being said to be the son of the devil himself.  Trigon is a destroyer of planets, ruling an entire universe and seeking to branch out into our own.  The Teen Titans are brought together by Raven (whose motives are revealed within the comic) to stop Trigon and save the planet from destruction.

We are introduced to Trigon slowly.  First, he is merely a floating mass in the sky, capable of speech but without the reader really knowing who he is.  Later he manifests himself , but his face is obscured in each panel.  Finally, he is revealed in all of his terrifying glory:

wpid-wp-1447383514219.jpgThe build-up to his ultimate appearance generates enough drama and tension to make the scene even more dramatic, causing the reader to feel the appropriate shock and awe when he finally graces the comic’s pages.  This was a very smart move on the writer’s and artist’s part, drawing out the character’s reveal.  When a villain will be appearing in a multi-issue story arc, it makes sense to take your time and reveal him slowly to your readers, rather than throw him on the cover and have him remain fairly unchanged for five issues.

Each member of The Teen Titans was uniquely engaging, but I found Raven to be perhaps the most interesting to read about.  Unlike most heroes, she is rather shy and reserved.  Unlike just about every other female superhero, she doesn’t walk around in revealing outfits, but instead opts to wear a full cape which shrouds her face and entire body.  Wrapped in mystery, Raven’s story is revealed painstakingly slowly to the reader.  I found her fascinating to read about, as she was so different than just about every other superhero I’ve encountered.  Despite her reserve, when she finally uses her powers it seems like she may just be the most powerful member of the group:

wpid-wp-1447379129167.jpgI’m excited to see how her character develops as the story progresses.  Raven may just be my favorite character in the trade.

That being said, I can’t really say there are any characters I dislike.  They are all very well-written and they each have such a distinctive voice and personality, so much so that I never get bored reading.  I greatly enjoyed this first volume, and know there are more waiting for me next on “the shelf”.  After reading so many collection trades with self-contained stories, it was refreshing to read a continuous storyline here, and I’m very excited to see where it goes.  The humor, the action, the drama: it all works together to create a well thought-out story, one which constantly leaves this reader craving more.

-Jess