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It’s got to be hard to write a Year One title, especially for a team with as much history as the Teen Titans.
They’ve gone through a lot of rosters and are well known for containing characters with extremely convoluted (and frequently ret-conned) back-stories. They’ve also been headliners for titles directed solely at children (Teen Titans Go!) as well as titles credited for bringing comics into the realm of complex long form storytelling (New Teen Titans).
But I guess that’s the whole point of a “Year One” – to provide a clear starting point for a team or character that otherwise might be intimidating to start reading.
The team assembled to tackle this problem is writer Amy Wolfram (who has experience in the DC Animated universe), Karl Kerschl on pencils, Serge Lapointe on inks, plus Steph Peru and John Rauch handling coloring (and they really should have a cover byline for their work here.)
This book seeks to tell the story of the founding Silver Age team: Robin (Dick Grayson), Wondergirl, Speedy (who gets left off the front cover for some reason), Aqualad, and Kid Flash. For those of you less acquainted with the DC Universe, Speedy is the kid apprentice to Green Arrow. Everyone else is pretty self explanatory.
The general plot here is that, slightly neglected by their adult partners and starved for some friends their own age, the teen superheroes get together in their new clubhouse and foil some minor crimes. Then there’s some more weirdness, as each kid super is confronted by their mentor acting decidedly weird. The plot isn’t particularly engaging though and feels awkward at times. While that makes for a mixed collection in terms of story, the real challenge is to introduce each character and show the Titans come together as a team. It’s a toughy.
The historical origins for these character are a mixed bag already. Robin is straightforward enough (Circus orphan trained by Batman) and the average reader should know him. Speedy and Kid Flash probably came about as a sales influenced response to Robin’s long standing success. But Wondergirl was originally a younger version of Wonderwoman and only accidentally became her kid sister when used in a storyline through an editor’s mistake. And honestly, even I don’t know much about Aqualad’s original creation and characterization. I haven’t gotten to the Aquaman Showcase Presents volumes yet.
Each of these characters has a huge publishing history and almost all of them (not sure about Aqualad again) have stepped into their mentor’s shoes – Dick Grayson has worn the cowl of the Bat, Wally West graduated to full-fledged Flash for an extensive run (see what I did there? Run, hah. I kill myself) and so on.
It’s fair to say that any fans of these characters have a lot of respect for them. Each of them has started as a plucky sidekick and worked their way up (except, perhaps, Aqualad.)
As a Year One title, though, and a fairly kid-safe one, this book seems entirely geared to new readers. It doesn’t have to be a bad thing (Batman: Year One, of course, is an excellent DCU entry point) but a book that’s supposed to get people excited about reading more should have a next point that makes sense. If the characters presented here aren’t the characters in those latter volumes, does that really help keep readers interested?
Robin is closest to the Dick Grayson we know now (and who developed in the New Teen Titans), but seems far from his 60s origin. He’s a lot broodier and shies from the spotlight associated with being a hero, kind of different from the circus brat moving through acrobatic routines in the middle of cases. It’s not too jarring – if this is a reader’s introduction to him, he might feel the same as he’s presented in Dark Victory or Robin: Year One.
The other characters seem to have one trait that is followed through the entire book. It’s not entirely fair to them. Wondergirl is boy crazy (really?) Kid Flash is impatient and obsessed with fame. Aqualad lacks confidence to the point of repeated “wetting himself” jokes. Speedy is a lech and kind of a jerk. Ok, maybe those last two are fair. And kind of funny when you know their “latter” stories. But I was seriously annoyed with Wondergirl’s complete lack of depth. Either Wolfram was trying really hard to allude to the fact that Wondergirl was pretty much accidentally typo’d into the universe (so she’s about a day old here) or this writer never read any New Teen Titans story. I can’t think of much else to explain why she’s some kind of good-natured teenage fem-bot.
The book isn’t all bad. Actually, I enjoyed it at first. There are a lot of moments in here that are quite entertaining. The dialogue isn’t bad and the plot allows for Batman to act like a total jerk, which I always enjoy. There are a few adorable moments for each character and few of the jokes fall entirely flat. I have to admit I particularly enjoyed a scene where Alfred gets his own sudden appearance, and I like when he’s presented as a fully abled member of the Bat-family.
Part of what makes it easy to read, despite the numerous faults, is that the art is so good. Kerschl and his comrades do an exemplary job. It’s cartoony, but still fits in with the mainstream DC style. The Titan’s bound youthfully through the pages, their lanky forms full of expression.
I particularly enjoyed the care taken with the color scheme in each page. From the green blue of Aqualad’s underwater confrontations to the warm sunset during Wondergirl’s date – the mood is immediately conveyed.
It’s a shame that the good things couldn’t bring the book together more. The ending is rushed and several plot threads felt unfinished. Speedy just disappears. I don’t really like the “face your fears in a psychic confrontation” style climax, either. It’s a lazy way to directly show what each character is going through.
I guess that I felt let down. Maybe the “Year One” prefix caused me to expect too much.
Unfortunately, I have to say no. I’m not even sure if it represents current continuity!
It’s not the worst starting place (you don’t want to jump in the middle of a New Teen Titans arc, believe me) but it might not be the best either.
If you’re really interested in the origins of the Silver Age Teen Titans, read Showcase Presents: The Teen Titans Vol. 1 or the Silver Age Teen Titans Archives. They’re probably more fun than this anyway, if a bit dated. If you just want to jump into a modern Teen Titans book, you might be better served by starting with Teen Titans Vol. 1: A Kid’s Game.
None of this cast is actually in modern ongoings, so if you want to see what happens to them you have to go for the pre-crisis volumes mentioned above. Then you can read the New Teen Titans, which are luckily very very good (if you’re in the mood for the slightly dated 80s storytelling methods.) Not everyone shows up there, though, and a new cast is built fairly quickly. But the characters introduced during these highly regarded arcs are well represented in modern Teen Titans tales, so it’s worth learning your history!
If you want to skip this volume and jump right into the New Teen Titans, you’ll be forgiven. And rewarded.