Sunday, January 06, 2008

Teen Titans: Year One #1

Teen Titans: Year One #1, March 2008, DC Comics
writer: Amy Wolfram
artists: Karl Kershl, Serge Lapointe, Steph Peru
letterer: Nick J. Napoutano
assistant editor: Adam Schlagman
editor: Eddie Berganza

Blogger's note: Entry for Saturday, January 5, 2007.

Theoretically, Teen Titans: Year One #1 should be an excellent superhero comic book. First of all, it stars four teenaged superheroes, the very concept of which epitomizes the youthful escapism that made comic books a viable medium in the post-Depression, pre-World War II Golden Age of their inception. Secondly, these particular characters are four of the most recognizable in comics, and the “year one” story has become an equally beloved niche in the science fiction genre. (Indeed, Frank Miller’s now classic Batman: Year One may have contributed to the prequel phenomenon in contemporary cinema, from the latest Star Wars films, to Batman Begins, to Casino Royale.) Finally, the Teen Titans brand is more popular than ever, what with the success of their animated series; sure, the series is technically over, but the Kids’ WB recently reintroduced it in its Saturday morning line-up, proving that even Titan reruns are just as cool as new, say, Eon Kid episodes.

So, yes, Teen Titans: Year One #1 has the makings of a perfect superhero comic book. Unfortunately, it’s everything but. The Teen Titans catchy theme song claimed, “When there’s trouble, you know who to call -- Teen Titans!” So who do we call when they’re in trouble?

Summarizing the feeble twenty page story in Teen Titans: Year One #1 is a difficult task, since a plot actually barely exists. Of those twenty pages, seven are dedicated to Robin and Kid Flash just missing each other in a chat room, which is as painfully slow moving for Wally as it is for the reader. Aqualad and Wonder Girl are introduced via instances of their respective social inadequacies, then Batman blows off Robin during their hunt for an elusive cat burglar. Dick and Wally are the only Titans to actually appear together in this issue, and even then it’s a brief how-do-ya-do before Robin finds himself on the receiving end of Batman’s wrath again, implying that the rest of this six-issue miniseries will address the possible possession or mind control of these sidekicks’ mentors. It’s a slow start to a predicable conclusion, undoubtedly hinged around a single, inevitable splash page “rewarding” the faithful reader by finally featuring all of the founding Teen Titans together. Oh, I can’t wait.

Two pages of this issue’s expected twenty-two page format were reserved for a back-up story starring . . . I don’t believe I’m typing this . . . fish. A blowfish briefly appeared and “spoke” in the lead story, thanks to Aqualad’s presumed psychic connection with marine life, but this back-up story exploits that one-panel gag and expands it into a contrived prologue -- much like the previous twenty pages, I guess. I don’t know what writer Amy Wolfram is doing with these dangling threads, but if they aren’t woven together quickly, that little fish won’t be the only one floundering.

Thankfully, this issue’s crisp art softened the blow of its anti-plot, and its exaggerated style was undoubtedly inspired by the Teen Titans TV show, which successfully blended anime techniques with Bruce Timm’s definitive style, established in his Batman, Superman, and Justice League animated series. Pages are laid out and characters are blocked to the fullest potential for dramatic effect, and the coloring uses vibrant hues and strategic filters to best convey the pages’ fluidity. Still, these dynamic visuals won’t be enough to keep a casual reader’s attention (like mine), and I can’t imagine that even diehard Titans fans would be satisfied with this shallow exploration (exploitation?) of their favorite super-team’s origins.

Also, a few contextual elements pulled me out of the issue, such as Robin and Kid Flash’s futile on-line chat. The charm of Batman: Year One, the first “year one” of them all, was its primitive interpretation of the Dark Knight’s beginnings. While Miller obviously couldn’t set Gotham in the pulp-ridden ‘30s, when Batman first impacted pop culture, he was apparently careful not to mention the ‘80s, when Year One was originally published. For the sake of continuity, the setting was distinctively timeless, with any “futuristic” advances attributed to Batman’s ingenuity. Based on Teen Titans: Year One, Dick Grayson could’ve been Robin as recently as last week, unless I’m misinterpreting the implications of his screen name, “BoyWonder07.” Also, Wonder Girl, na├»ve to man’s world, is immediately awed by billboards of boy bands, and while I’m not suggesting she gush over old issues of Tiger Beat with Davy Jones on the cover, this social context will forever ground Teen Titans: Year One in our modern era of Backstreet Boys and American Idols. Normally, I wouldn’t quibble over these details, but without a substantial story to review, such minutia is all that’s left to analyze!

Despite my distaste, I know why Wolfram and company essentially phoned in this inaugural issue: it’s an easy sell. For all of the reasons I mentioned earlier, Teen Titans: Year One has enough conceptual charm that it doesn’t need substantial content, at least not in the first issue. I mentioned George Lucas earlier; while Star Wars fans usually denounce episodes one through three, one cannot deny Lucas’ genius back in ’77 when he started his epic in the middle. Even then, Lucas knew audiences would notice that haunting chapter heading and wonder how things began. J.J. Abrams is counting on this intrigue with his forthcoming Star Trek flick. In this regard, DC can’t lose! Slap a “year one” behind even the most obscure character, like Metamorpho, maybe, and the series is a surefire sell. No matter how C-list the hero, anyone can jump onboard from the beginning. No back issues needed, and best of all, no baggage, right?

Yet, for Teen Titans: Year One, a carry-on wouldn’t hurt.

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