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:
Although 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:
Starfire’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:
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:
The 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:
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.