“If these shadows have offended, think but this and all is mended; that you have but slumbered here, while these visions did appear; and this weak and idle theme, no more yielding but a dream…” So speaks Robin Goodfellow at the end of Shakespeare’s joyous comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Although Dan Abnett’s Titans Hunt #1 is a very different story in a totally different medium, the mischievous fairy’s advice is worth keeping in mind. The issue seems crafted deliberately to resemble a dream with fragmented events and overdetermined references. But it is a dream not just of a character, or even a group of characters, but of the world. The purpose of this series, no secret to anyone who has followed the solicits and interviews, is to introduce the classic Teen Titans of the 1960s and 1970s into continuity, thus undoing what many see as one of the greatest mistakes of the New 52 reboot. Somehow this team once existed and was erased from history and memory. Now the memory is returning, as if the DC Universe is asleep and struggling to wake.
The reverberating echoes begin with the standard cover of the issue, an obvious homage to Justice League #100, a story from 1972 in which the Justice League of pre-Crisis Earth 1 and the Justice Society of pre-Crisis Earth 2 join forces to solve the mystery of the Seven Soldiers of Victory, a former super team that was erased from memory and lost in time. The references continue with constantly recurring twisters and gyres, a clear nod to Mr. Twister, the very first villain the Titans faced in Brave and Bold #54 in 1964. But the echoes sound deeper and louder than mere amusement for longtime Titans fans. This is a world caught in a loop of reality and causation, a universe unable to progress. Many of the scenes are infused with surreal familiarity and a vague feeling of repetition, as if the world is itself moving in spirals.
Thus the third-person narration that drives the action serves to distance the reader and allow us to see the circling movement, while itself echoing the writing style of forty years ago. Roy Harper falls off the wagon, literally falling out of his truck to emphasize the point, and driving home the trap of his addiction. Dick Grayson is once again searching for metahuman organs, as if he cannot escape the first arc of Grayson. The operation stealing the organs is called Harvest, as if the universe is locked into that particular trope from the current Teen Titans. And Mal Duncan, Herald of the Titans, finds himself hallucinating about infinite staircases at an awards banquet presided over by Buddy Baker, who seems fated to eternally attend such functions. The DC Universe is going through the same motions again and again, its forward motion stymied by whatever force is repressing the Titans from memory.
The story will obviously follow the unraveling of this mystery and document the return of the Titans to reality. The more difficult question is what DC’s long-term strategy will be once this return is accomplished. Since their reboot, DC has had a mixed record with teams. The Justice League flourishes, but beyond that all efforts have tended to stall or at best to limp along unimpressively. The current Teen Titans team is likely headed for a new re-launch, the second of the New 52, and the Suicide Squad is being buoyed by interest in the upcoming movie. But Stormwatch, the Green Team, the Demon Knights, the Movement, and even the subsidiary Justice Leagues have all proved unsuccessful. Is DC hoping that an appeal to the past will launch the DCU into the future?
Will this series appeal anyone other than fans of the classic Teen Titans? Leaving aside all the literary and strategic questions, that is the great economic challenge facing TITANS HUNT. In a market flooded with strong competition from Marvel and the Independents, it is a major gamble. Then again, if DC is thinking primarily in terms of the long-term development of their fictional universe, they may regard immediate profit as less vital than getting the story into continuity and the trades on the shelf. The first step is taken, now we shall see.