Monday, April 14, 2008

Titans #1 v. Tiny Titans #3

In the mid-80's, Teen Titans and X-Men were the go-to books of choice for many readers. Both were team books. Both featured a youngish cast with problems from a soap opera, littered with decent villains. Both had writers which planned long term and built a universe within the book.

My first exposure to Teen Titans was actually in a DC anthology, published in a smallish format called a "Blue Ribbon Digest"* (they'd reduced the page size). The reduction probably didn't do George Perez's art any favors, and the issue was not about non-stop action, but rather... the wedding of Donna Troy to some bearded dork named Terry. I would be college before I would consider the matching of a nebbish dweeb to an Amazon princess to be an odd pairing, and to this day I think its the creepiest thing to ever occur in Titans.

Titans sold big numbers back in the day, but, as these things occur, somehow the fanbase drifted away. Including myself. I don't know if it was a change up of creative teams, change up of the roster (I recall being confused and annoyed by the "Danny" character), the conclusion of too many threads by Wolfman leaving them grasping at straws... And I've heard weirdness about the decision in the 1980's to make Titans a direct market book, which seems almost suicidal in the age of the spinner-rack and before most readers were old enough to have a driver's license. I think DC and Marvel, in NYC, often lose sight of what it means to not have public transportation readily available to get the kids to a comic shop.

Many, many incarnations of the Titans have resurfaced since the 80's run drew to a close. Aside from the Geoff Johns penned run of Teen Titans (circa 2003), none have really taken off. Even that "Teen Titans" series eventually became a plotless slugfest with underdeveloped characters who whined relentlessly. And, it didn't star the Wolfman-era Titans, anyway.

Titans #1

The new series picks up the action from the Titans East one-shot which ran several months ago to absolutely no fan reaction. Penned by Judd Winick, he of the "let's bring Jason Todd back to life" plotline, the narrative of the issue is entirely dependent on a huge amount of a priori knowledge by the reader. In fact, for a number 1, there's literally no way a reader would be able to follow this issue without a whole lot of DC comics at their fingertips. It references the series "52", Countdown to Adventure, 70 years of Batman comics, recent storylines/ mindless violence of Teen Titans, the Titans East one-shot, JLA, the Flash comics, etc... And while all of those should be respected by a writer on a team book, assuming the reader is up to speed is a mistake. Further, the conclusion of the issue references a run of Titans which occured more than twenty years ago. Twenty (actually, something like 24 years ago).

It's not a big deal to do this in comics. Dusty, bench-riding characters re-appear all the time in comics. But the normal MO is to drop some exposition and treat the reader coming to an issue marked #1 as if this is a brand new comic. I'm not sure this would prevent this reader from believing that Winick has made a career at DC out of taking decent concepts from the past and recycling them and/ or putting a pretty bland spin on them. In any case: what is DC saying by assuming new readers will be up on a 20+ year old story? And begin the action as if this were just another mishap in the lives of the original Titans?

The gravest mistake Winick makes is going for the tried-and-true mode of bringing a team together by having all of them randomly attacked by a former villain who has returned from the grave. I feel a bit cheap criticizing this tactic as Morrison ingeniously used it in recent issues of Batman, but perhaps that's the difference between Winick and Morrison's skill level.

Add in Churchill's cupcake skirt cheesecake art, and there's nothing to love here.

Given Winick's tendency to sort of muck up a lot of good concepts (the ScareBeast? Really?), and the retreading of the Trigon story, which seems as if its pretty well-worn territory at this point, I'm not in for issue #2.

Tiny Titans #3

For Leaguers looking for (a) a comic they can put in the hands of their kids, or (b) a genuinely funny, if a bit adorable, read... Tiny Titans is your comic.

Tiny Titans is intended to reach kids well under the median age of comic readers, and should be aimed at 4-10 year olds. Little kids will like the pictures. Olderkids will like the hi-jinks and school setting of the series. It features Titans from all eras of the Titans, from Rose Wilson to Kid Flash (Wally).

The concept is fairly simply: There's a school where the superhero kids go. It's just plain old school, not superhero school. The villains of Titans are cast either as teachers or rival kids within the school (Deathstroke is leading Show and Tell, which is hilarious in and of itself). Titans are mostly a bunch of goofy kids in capes and masks with powers which are best for goofing around, and not necessarily crime-fighting.

It's a cute comic. I'd hand it to a kid in a heartbeat. If they don't get the jokes, well... woe unto them.

I suspect that if the indie crowd found Tiny Titans, it could be their only non-Vertigo DC title they'd pick up, especially thanks to the little in-jokes and whatnot that pervade the comic.

Highly recommended.

*Why DC does not publish a similar sort of anthology these days is beyond my ability to comprehend. This WAS my gateway drug to the DCU. It fetured Legion, Outsiders, Infinity Inc. and the Titans. Looking at this page, it looks like, had I found more of these, I would have been into DC many years earlier.

I just think its a neat format, and the price point seemed like a good entry for folks wantuing to try some stuff out.


Simon MacDonald said...

I couldn't agree with you more. I loved the Teen Titans/Titans in the 80's and early 90's. Plus the Geoff Johns restart of Teen Titans has been great as well.

However Titan's #1 is not so great. It all seemed to me like it was some recycled boiler plate script for forming a team. Plus what was with ignoring/retconning the end of Titan's East?

Anyway, I've been reading Tiny Titans and it is just great all ages fun.

Everyone should listen to Raging Bullets episode 62 ( as it features an interview with Art Baltazar and Franco of Tiny Titans fame.

The League said...

I was a fan of Johns' run until OYL. I don't know what happened. I kind of think Johns just got overtaxed and became much more interested in his other projects. Still, the run up to that point was really pretty solid. (And I really liked his Kid Flash.)

Anyhoo, I'll check out the Raging Bullets dealy. Thanks, Simon!

Simon MacDonald said...

Personally, I think the entire DCU suffered from OYL. I don't think they let it go long enough before they started the next big event.

To say nothing of the way they totally mis-handled some of their major properties with delays in Superman, Flash and Wonder Woman. Plus the horrible decisions for creative teams on Flash and Nightwing make a lot of OYL forgettable.

The League said...

I never read the Nightwing run, but I can say that the Bart Allen Flash wasn't just a disappointment, it was a disaster. I wasn't expecting anything from it, and STILL it managed to fail. I am bitter.

And the re-launch of Wally as Flash has been shaky, at best.

OYL just seemed poorly strategized. The only good that came of it seemed to be Didio realizing what fan expectations are for their monthly comics vis-a-vis timely delivery, and slowly realizing that putting your pet writers on books (who will gladly follow your editorial direction)doesn't work as well as putting good writers on books.

The DCU is still a mess. It's just a different mess than prior to Infinite Crisis.