Teen Titans by Geoff Johns Part 1 (of 4)
Reviews stories found in Teen Titans v3 #1-12, Teen Titans #½, Teen Titans/Outsiders Secret Files 2003
Written by Geoff Johns (with Judd Winick)
Art by Mike McKone, Tom Grummett, Ivan Reis, and Carlo Barberi
Geoff Johns has been one of my favorite DC Comics writers of the 21st century, especially his work on the Justice Society and The Flash. I definitely think not every character is suitable for him and his work on Teen Titans is undoubtedly some of his more mid-tier writing. That doesn’t mean it’s terrible, but I just don’t find it as exciting as those other properties. There are some interesting character arcs and plots during his tenure on the book, but it suffers from being interrupted by the Infinite Crisis event. You would think that crossover would blend better as Johns wrote it, but it awkwardly breaks up some storylines he had going at the time. However, Johns does manage to deliver some strong development for Conner Kent, aka Superboy, that has become a significant part of who he is in the stories being told today.
Johns’ roster for the team reflects his admiration of DC Comics when he was coming of age. There is a staff of three adult former Teen Titans (Cyborg, Starfire, Beast Boy) and their students (Robin [Tim Drake], Wonder Girl [Cassie Sandsmark], Superboy, and Impulse). In the background of these issues, we glimpse Raven, who has been reincarnated in a new body and eventually joins the team. Johns’ run starts by spinning out of the Graduation Day event where the Titans and Young Justice get involved in a mini-event that ends with former Wonder Girl Donna Troy dying. The elder Titans in this book decide to form a school in San Francisco to help train the new generation of heroes to keep them safe from such tragedies.
Unlike Peter David’s Young Justice, there is much less comedy here and more dramatic storytelling. Right away, the intrigue begins as the first issue ends with a revelation that shakes up Superboy’s world. He was created for the Reign of the Supermen event in the early 1990s and was a clone of Superman made by the Cadmus Project. Conner has believed he was a mix of Superman’s DNA with Cadmus’s Director Westfield for most of his life. However, Robin discovers that the human half of his genetics comes from none other than Lex Luthor. This leads to a crisis of identity as Conner re-evaluates what this means about who he will become.
Then the Titans’ old nemesis Deathstroke is thrown back in the mix right away and blows out Impulse’s knees with a shotgun by the end of the second issue. Bart Allen, the future grandson of the Silver Age Flash, is rushed to the emergency room, where he drastically changes his life after being stabilized. His increased metabolism allows him to heal, and he decides to repair his reputation of being an airheaded idiot by using his speed to absorb as much knowledge as possible. He also adopts the long-discarded identity of Kid Flash to prove to his cousin Wally West, the current Flash, that he is worthy.
It’s eventually revealed that Deathstroke is possessed by his presumed-dead son and former Titan, Jericho. Jericho wants to prevent the Titans from existing. His argument is that he was murdered as a youth, only remaining because of his unique ability to send his consciousness into other bodies. Jericho cites the Titans’ long list of casualties as his justification, and it is hard to argue with his ideas. But, on the other hand, his actions involve driving a sword through the eye of Cyborg’s robotic half. It’s the young heroes working together and coordinating their attacks that lead to Jericho’s ultimate defeat. Raven returns around the same time, resurrected by the Church of Brother Blood, setting up an arc later in the book.
There are a couple of one-offs where the sidekicks have confrontations with their elders who would rather keep them close than have the kids go off to San Fran every weekend. Then we’re back in the thick of things with the reintroduction of Rose Wilson, Deathstroke’s daughter. She’s targeted because of who her dad is, but he ultimately rescues her, and she shows she’s a daddy’s girl by brutally killing the man sent to assassinate her. Finally, Raven gets spotlighted with a retelling of her origin, and Johns uses that as an opportunity to retroactively connect her mother’s involvement with a cult to the Church of Blood. That is one thing I always enjoy about Johns’s writing: he seeks to make connections between canonical elements logically and feels like it always should have been that way.
The Titans rogues gallery has always been an iffy one for me. Deathstroke works the best, and Brother Blood was close based on how many issues were dedicated to the original one. In this Titans run, he is the son of Brother Blood and a vampire created in Devin Grayson’s run. Because of the connection, Johns establishes Raven and Blood are like half-siblings, but he also wants a romantic connection to keep the bloodline going. The Titans are forced to team up with Deathstroke & Rose, now wearing her dead older brother’s Ravager costume. Jericho becomes involved again, and it all concludes in a battle in the Church of Blood. Raven can come back into the embrace of her friends while Brother Blood is brought back to life again. The most interesting part to me is Rose Wilson’s psychological descent which shocks even her mercenary father.
As I said at the start, this isn’t Johns’s most compelling DC work. He certainly loves these characters, but I think the foundations they are built on aren’t the best. Having read Marv Wolfman’s New Teen Titans run, I didn’t find many memorable stories. A handful like The Judas Contract stuck out, but the ideas are often better than the execution and development over the years. You can see that here with the legacy characters. However, I love Bart Allen’s changes, which alludes to what a strong Flash writer Johns really is. There is also some strong writing done on Conner Kent, setting him up for the series most significant arcs to come.
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