Teen Titans by Geoff Johns Part 4 (of 4)
Reviewing stories found in Teen Titans v3 #32-46
Written by Geoff Johns and Adam Beechen
Art by Todd Nauck, Tony S. Daniel, Carlos Ferreira, Peter Snejbjerg, Al Barrionuevo
This is around the point that Johns was spread pretty thin at DC. He wrote The Flash, JSA, Hawkman, Action Comics, Infinite Crisis, and was part of the collective that penned the weekly series 52. Even though he’s one of my favorite writers of the pre-New 52 era, I have to admit this Titans work feels very rushed. I get the sense he had some big stories he wanted to tell and was trying to get them all out but possibly got burnt out on the book. Significant changes were happening with DC on the multimedia front, so I think his attention was shifting to other things.
The first couple of issues here are Infinite Crisis tie-ins and are honestly unreadable without having a good knowledge of what was going on in that series. Johns attempts to follow up with his Superboy Lex storyline, which is the best & most complete arc of Conner Kent to date. The clone of Superman sacrifices himself to save the whole of reality. Then the DC books entered into a few months that were referred to as “One Year Later,” and as the title implies, every storyline jumped ahead by a year as the readers tried to piece together the fallout of the Infinite Crisis event.
For the Titans, this meant a change-up in the team roster. In the story arc titled “The New Teen Titans,” we find Robin, Wonder Girl, and Cyborg are still around. The only other members are Ravager, Deathstroke’s daughter, and Kid Devil, now a fully infernal being. Throughout Infinite Crisis, Superboy died, and Kid Flash was hyper-aged into an adult and was the current Flash (thankfully, they resolved that and did away with it pretty quickly). Johns uses the opening pages of issue 34 to give readers snippets of what happened in an homage to Robocop. Through Cyborg’s eyes, we see glimpses of the changes to the Titans as the mechanical hero was being rebuilt. A comic book version of the Superfriends’ Marvin & Wendy is introduced, Beast Boy leaves the team, and Cyborg eventually wakes up.
I can’t say I really cared for this line-up. It is interesting to have Ravager there because she does contrast with the other teammates a lot. I just straight up don’t like Kid Devil. He reads too much like a 1990s edgy character rather than someone I’d care to learn more about. However, Johns does devote a significant amount of time to his arc. I don’t think it’s completely terrible, just not a story that compels me to want more. One of the bigger reveals is that Robin/Tim Drake is attempting to clone Conner to bring his friend back from the dead. It’s a fairly dark turn for the young superhero, but I do like it.
The rest of this arc focuses on The Brotherhood of Evil and a reintroduction of the Doom Patrol. DC intelligently decided to erase John Byrne’s ill-advised team reboot in the early 2000s and bring them back to more weird, horror roots. The Doom Patrol resides in a spooky castle where there seems to be a perpetual thunderstorm. The Chief is emphasized as being a manipulative, creepy, mad scientist type. Former Titans Bumblebee & Mal Duncan have joined the Patrol, Mal having suffered a body horror-related injury during Infinite Crisis. Ever since Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol, every reappearance of the team honestly feels neutered, in my opinion. I kind of like this version because it is very Silver Age in nature, but it was a sign to me that Johns wasn’t going to deliver anything too groundbreaking with the remainder of his Titans run.
The next major arc is “Titans Around the World,” where we learn more about how the team went through many members over the year. In the pages of 52, there’s a moment devoted to showing some of them, and we eventually get glimpses here. Grant Morrison at the time talked about how they went their idea notebooks and just flooded DC’s books with interesting base concepts, and it feels like Johns did the same here to some extent. Some of the characters get developed, others just seem like a cool name & costume, and that’s about it. It certainly makes the world feel more populated, but it doesn’t give us as many interesting new characters as I would like. The first stop in the world tour in Russia, where the team reunites with Red Star, a former member & ally. During Infinite Crisis, he lost his makeshift family of Pantha and Baby Wildebeest and definitely feels traumatized from that. The primary purpose of the storyline is to learn what happened to Raven, which leads them to their next few stops.
They catch up with Zachary Zatara in Tokyo, the cousin of Zatanna and an amateur wizard in his own right. That brief encounter leads to introducing a character who would become a pretty significant figure in the comics and especially the Young Justice cartoon series, Miss Martian. I loved the visual of this character from her first appearance, and her origins revealed as an essential part of this story arc are pretty clever. I personally never felt like the comics gave Miss Martian her due. I can’t say what sort of story or level of exposure she deserves, but she feels like the sort of character who could become pretty important. We are also introduced to Amy Allen, aka Bombshell, a teenage female version of Captain Atom. This story also involved the resurrection of Joseph Wilson, aka Jericho, and it becomes a muddled mess with so many moving parts. This is the rush to get the stories out I feel when I read these issues.
The big finale to Johns’s run is where things just run out of steam. The ideas are there, but the execution is sorely lacking. Deathstroke has formed a group he calls Titans East, teenage heroes on the villainous side of things. Some of them are pre-established characters like Match (a Superboy clone a la Bizarro), Inertia (an evil Kid Flash), and Duela Dent (a very confusing character who at one point called herself The Joker’s Daughter). Batgirl (Cassie Cain) appears to have broken bad too. Risk, a member of the outlier second Teen Titans team of the 1990s, has been converted to evil. Then we have new characters like The Riddler’s Daughter, Sun Girl, and Altar Boy. The motivation behind Deathstroke’s brutal assault on the Titans appears to be reuniting his family (Ravager & Jericho).
From the perspective of spectacle, there are lots of exciting things happening. The characters have very evocative and interesting looks, but it’s like I said above; there’s little substance to who these people are or how Deathstroke got them all together. Sun Girl seems to be from the 31st Century and related to the Legion of Super-Heroes; nothing comes of it. Altar Boy may have some history with Kid Devil, but that’s not extrapolated on. I literally have no idea what is going on with The Riddler’s Daughter. I think these are basic concepts Johns had developed, but he was just about to leave the title, so they never went anywhere. On the last two issues, he shares the writing credit with Adam Beechen. My suspicion is that Johns plotted the story, but Beechen stepped in to do the scripting.
After this point, Teen Titans became a really awful book. I just didn’t find the stories or characters enjoyable to read anymore, and it would eventually be canceled. There was a Titans book featuring the older characters that was also not worth reading that then transitioned into a series about a team of villains led by Deathstroke. For the iconic nature of the Teen Titans, DC just hasn’t done much interesting with them since Wolfman & Perez’s original run in the early 1980s. That’s a hell of a long time to let such a potentially interesting property meander. Right now, DC is offering up Titans Academy, which reframes those 1980s Titans as mentors to a younger generation. I like it so far, and it is full of new characters who are getting developed relatively well. I really hope at some point some creative team can recapture the best things about the Titans without simply retreading the same tired old stories.