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

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