Teen Titans, which should be one of DC Comics's flagship titles, has had a rough time of it lately, surely since the beginning of the New 52 but really probably for more than a decade. Benjamin Percy's Rebirth Teen Titans Vol. 1: Damian Knows Best marks a slight uptick, if at least because these Titans are no longer rebels or misfits, but rather teen-ish heroes in their own right who decide to fight crime together. But Percy's got nothing new or groundbreaking here, and rather there's a fairly boilerplate conflict that could have fit into another volume of Robin, Son of Batman rather than here -- nor does the book's art hold up to its original promise. Percy gets points for an aspirational take on the Titans, but he'll have to do more to hold my interest.
[Review contains spoilers]
Admittedly I perhaps cling to a characterization of Robin Damian Wayne that's no longer his mainstream portrayal, but I found this idea that Damian would gather these Titans at least in part for a want of friends hard to swallow. Percy makes Damian, in my estimation, too self-aware too immediately -- had it occurred to Damian after the fact that he'd made friends, that would be one thing, but to gather the Titans at least partially for the purpose of creating a peer group seems beneath Damian. No sooner do I think Damian would gather a group of heroes to be his friends than I think Batman would (and perhaps that's the standard); there's an extent to which the characters wear their hearts on their sleeves that betrays where Percy wants the story to go and not where I think it is.
The other reason Damian gathers the Titans is because, conveniently, there's a team of assassins tied to Damian's past who want to kill them. Here again, Percy lets the overt needs of the story drag the plot around -- the assassins conveniently have powers just like the Titans, they're conveniently able to infiltrate Damian's super-secret base with no difficulty just at the moment that the second issue needs a fight scene, and so on. Surely Percy will bring back at some point this team of anti-Titans, who remind of Dan Jurgens's Teen Titans's Dark Nemesis -- but just like Dark Nemesis, these ad hoc baddies by such names as "Blank," "Stone," and "Nightstorm" seem fated to be individually forgettable. That's problematic in that they don't help to make the first arc remarkable, and Percy's cackling, absurd Ra's al Ghul equally robs the book of much seriousness or threat.
Percy does do well in the included Rebirth special returning these Teen Titans to their roots, if somewhat incongruously -- Beast Boy snaps back to having been bitten by a green animal and having a rich uncle; Starfire has explicitly restored her relationship with Nightwing if not also her time with the Titans, and so on. Percy's dialogue is sometimes labored, especially in terms of the younger Kid Flash Wally West, but again it's nice to see Titans invested in being professional heroes. Percy also has a nice nod to Teen Titans lore here when he gathers the team around a campfire as part of their coming together ritual.
I enjoyed very much Jonboy Meyers's first issues, which give the title a lot of animated, manga-inspired youth and vitality. Diogenes Neves is not on the same level but still resembles Meyers; however, I saw a noticeable difference when series artist Khoi Pham came on. The facial expressions are at times too absurd, the heads often outsized, and there's something of a lack of detail overall that I don't think can be laid at the feet of veteran inker Wade von Grawbadger. DC Comics's Teen Titans desperately needs both a definitive story and a definitive look (see Otto Schmidt and Juan Ferreyra on Percy's Green Arrow, for instance), and in this case unfortunately it has neither.
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In Damian battling another diminutive foe against the backdrop of Ra's al Ghul's ninja assassins, Percy's Teen Titans Vol. 1: Damian Knows Best reads too similar to Patrick Gleason's Robin, Son of Batman. And while Damian is the team leader, of these heroes he's the one we already know the most about and therefore his story holds the least interest. I think I understand Percy means to spotlight the other characters, which should hopefully be better, not to mention the other team member coming along soon. That seems the more interesting storyline, actually; hopefully we'll be able to chalk up this first volume just to growing pains.
[Includes original and variant covers; character sketches, designs, and page layouts]
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