Teen Titans by Geoff Johns Part 3
Reviewing stories found in Teen Titans v3 #20-26, 29-31 & Outsiders #24-25
Written by Geoff Johns (with Judd Winick)
Art by Mike McKone, Marlo Alquiza, Tom Grummett, Matthew Clark, Art Thibert, Tony S. Daniel, Carlos D’Anda, Scott Shaw, Scott Roberts, Nelson, Richard Bonk, and Todd Nauck
Johns jumps into these issues, which serve as the bridge between the Identity Crisis & Infinite Crisis periods in the DC Universe. The company had gone all-in on centering its shared universe around the fallout of the former and the lead-in to the latter in a way that didn’t always flow. Johns was the chief architect of the whole thing, and I’ve always found it interesting how his writing during this time can feel very in sync with the larger picture but then have moments where he appears to be overwhelmed with how many plates to keep spinning. The opening issue here is a direct tie-in to the events of Identity Crisis and is one of the few epilogues to that event that seamlessly transitions into new stories.
That big new story arc follows villain Doctor Light as he exacts his revenge on the Justice League. In Identity Crisis, it was revealed that the League had been mind wiping some villains to make them less lethal. One of them was Dr. Light, who sort of became the butt of jokes during the Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans run, a rogue who was being humiliated by children now. The newly reawakened Light was revealed to be genuinely craven & homicidal. Now, DC fans are very divided on how they felt about this highly dark turn. I don’t hate it and think dramatically it provides an interesting narrative twist. It doesn’t make for comics you want to share with your kids, though, but that’s sort of a problem the whole of the comics industry has been tussling with for almost forty years now.
This storyline also brings Speedy into the fold. Mia Dearden, a teenager, is taken in by Green Arrow after discovering her being exploited by a cruel pimp. In the pages of Green Arrow, she has quite a harrowing character arc, eventually learning she was HIV positive from years on the street being pimped out. Green Arrow helped her find a better life and finally gave in to her demands to be trained and serve as his sidekick. She shows up to join the Titans just as they are dealing with Dr. Light, and it’s a pretty decent story, told from her perspective, explaining how inadequate she feels alongside people with literal superhuman powers.
The story culminates in a gathering of all living Titans to take on Dr. Light and put him in his place. There are the expected faces like Nightwing and Arsenal, but being the DC nerd I am, I love seeing the really obscure characters like Joker’s Daughter, Pantha, and Baby Wildebeest, to name a few. So many of the characters get fantastic little spotlight moments to shine. The story wraps up with Light taken away by Batman and Batgirl. Speedy reveals her diagnosis to her new teammates, and to the teenager’s surprise, they fully accept her and share a lot of their own personal struggles. Oh yes, and it turns out that wasn’t really Batman & Batgirl but Deathstroke & Ravager in disguise, whisking Light away to the Secret Society of Super-Villains that was forming in the build-up to Infinite Crisis.
The next big arc in the collection is the “Superboy Lex” story, and if you are looking for a definitive story about Conner Kent, this is the big one. Robin & Conner are the only ones who know about the latter’s shared DNA with Luthor and have been keeping from the team since issue one. Before Conner can come clean to his teammates, Luthor activates dormant programming in the Boy of Steel and turns him against the Titans. There are some genuinely heartbreaking moments between this mindless Conner and his girlfriend, Wonder Girl, as she tries to reason with him. I think the story would have been fantastic if it stayed contained in the pages of Teen Titans. However, it crossed over with Outsiders.
Outsiders was written by Judd Winick, one of my least favorite DC writers of the time. I can’t quite explain what it is about Winick I disliked, but his storytelling style just grated me. I haven’t delved too deep into his work, but he did write a Titans series just before the New 52 reboot, and that book was abysmally horrible. Including the Outsiders stories here is jarring because it’s clear that those characters and that title have their own story arcs going, and it just serves to make the narrative feel incohesive. There is an attempt to recapture the old Luthor/Brainiac team-up trope of the Silver Age, but it doesn’t work here with these characters.
The rest of these issues are a hodgepodge of stories. Conner takes a leave from the Titans and is consoled by Raven, who shows him that as a clone, he does have a soul. Unfortunately, Brother Blood rears his head again. Eddie Bloomberg, formerly Blue Devil’s sidekick Kid Devil, reappears, teasing his eventual membership on the team post-Infinite Crisis. Brother Blood resurrects some deceased Titans as a cruel act of revenge on the team. There is a cool use of Kid Eternity in this storyline, but that doesn’t really go anywhere. Overall, the stories here are decent but showing signs of Johns losing his focus on the title.