By: Will Pfeifer (writer), Kenneth Rocafort (artist), Dan Brown (colorist)
The Story: Like many a teen protagonist, Cassie Sandsmark’s story begins racing to catch a bus…
The Review: Though the title remains inexorably linked to some of the most beloved stories of their eras, the latest volume of Teen Titans was something of a disaster. The N.O.W.H.E.R.E. story never really caught on, Trigon’s introduction to the New 52 squandered its potential, and a time-traveling attempt to reinvigorate the series left many readers frustrated. With Scott Lobdell’s complex mega arc concluded, DC has seen fit to relaunch the Teen Titans with Will Pfeifer at the helm. Will it be enough to revitalize one of DC’s most beloved franchises?
Well thankfully, Teen Titans #1 is not accurately represented by its rather obnoxious cover. Those worried that this would be a twenty-first century repeat of the original hip, happenin’ Titans can put those concerns to rest. There aren’t any ham-fisted references to social media or attempts to be particularly topical, instead the issue focuses almost entirely on action. We literally meet our villain in the issue’s third panel and Pfeifer wisely chooses to use the excitement to introduce us to the Titans in action.
Unfortunately our villain leaves something to be desired. The addition of a competent, non-sexualized female master planner to the DCU is appreciated, but our nameless antagonist remains fairly generic throughout this issue. The universal media broadcast and speeding hostage situation are classics of the genre, but there’s not much to set this caper apart from its fellows. Honestly after facing down Trigon, Deathstroke, and Brother Blood this kind of seems like a downgrade for the Titans.
Pfeifer does a solid job of sketching out the basic relationships between the Titans, but there’s a certain absence of joy. While it’s partially Red Robin’s stern management style, this is a very distant, businesslike team of teenagers. Admittedly Beast Boy feels a bit more youthful but, for the most part, there’s a lack of passion that feels off for a teen superhero team. And while I expect that later issues will show us a little more interpersonal interaction, small things like Raven explaining her powers to Gar make these Titans feel like strangers to one another. Admittedly, it seems like the groundwork is in place; the opening panel of Wonder Girl seems to hint at bigger things for her down the line and the implied relationships between Beast Boy and Bunker and Red Robin and Raven, respectively, are intriguing. However, it’s odd that the first issue only shows up phantoms of what may yet be, rather than what is.
The way that Pfeifer handles his characters is also extremely odd at points. Tim Drake has been the brains behind the youngest generation of DC heroes since the days of Young Justice, using his ability to see where a conflict was going for the greater good. Here, however, Tim seems less tactically brilliant and more smugly detached.
We meet Red Robin sitting on top of a skyscraper, for reasons that are never even vaguely explained, where he directs his Titans to deal with this new threat. However, despite a speeding bus full of gun-toting criminals and elementary schoolers, Tim tells Cassie to wait, not to engage. He’s apparently more interested in hearing the hijacker’s “manifesto” than saving lives. Even when Wonder Girl is forced to intervene to save a young girl’s life, Red Robin merely asks Beast Boy “what was that sound”. When Gar responds that Cassie threw a man from a moving bus and that he’d need to check to be sure he survived, Tim tells him “don’t bother” and insists that he let the situation play out. There’s a similarly troubling scene featuring Bunker near the issue’s end that seemingly goes against everything we know about the character. There’s definitely a hard edge to these Titans, but I’m not sure it’s for the best.
That said, Pfeifer can write for these characters when pressed. A gorgeous page of Red Robin saving and comforting a frightened child stands out as one of the issue’s most emotionally resonant.
So if Pfeifer’s not focused on establishing his team’s personality or his villain’s, where’s his priority? Well, a large chunk of it goes to introducing S.T.A.R. Labs, which looks to be an important part of the story going forward. While an attempt to endear a new character to the audience is rather transparent, it’s interesting that we’re actually meeting a number of S.T.A.R. personnel.
The book’s greatest strength is the art. Kenneth Rocafort and Dan Brown’s work is stunning, as ever, and give Teen Titans a distinct visual identity. The overall effect is highly impressive and the high-speed story is a natural fit for Rocafort’s dramatic, almost expressionistic, layouts.
Mysteriously, but thankfully, back in his classic green, Beast Boy is by far the visual highlight of the team. Wearing his New 52 uniform better than ever, Beast Boy has been given a much younger, more impish look that sets him apart more from his teammates. The new design plays up his personality, giving his expressions an extra jolt. Of course, Gar has many looks and Rocafort proves that naturalism is well within his wheelhouse. Whether it’s humming birds or a Bengal tiger, the animals in this book are absolutely gorgeous!
Rocafort and Brown also seem to have a particular love for Wonder Girl, giving us a particularly beautiful version of the character. However, it’s marred by a predictable problem.
This book has already come under fire for the cover’s sexualization of teenage girls, but unfortunately the trend continues into the pages as well. While Rocafort draws the New 52 Wonder Girl costume better than anyone, especially the armored portions, he insists on drawing the neckline as if it were clinging desperately to her nipples. I look past the implausible physics of Power Girl’s boob window or the Amazonian bathing suit as part of the genre’s suspension of disbelief, but this is flatly ridiculous. Perhaps creepiest of all, however, is the lovingly rendered, omnipresent shine on Cassie’s lips. It seems like every panel of the female Titans is drawing attention to their lips. Raven’s costume actually looks fantastic but even she, a being of fear; sexual trauma; and utter emotional control, has an oddly sultry smirk on her face during her big entrance.
The Conclusion: Teen Titans #1 is not the rebirth that the franchise needed. While this issue doesn’t commit any sins against the title’s legacy, it doesn’t add anything to it either. Kenneth Rocafort’s art is gorgeous and Dan Brown delivers brilliant color, but, especially with the unsettling relationship with feminine sexuality, it’s not enough to save the day. This isn’t a bad issue, but with light characterization and a serious lack of a hook, there’s really nothing to encourage readers to come back for issue 2.