DC comics have always been at their strongest when emphasizing deep continuity. The long history of the DC universe in real time, with a corresponding but convoluted chronology within the fictional reality it represents, provides rich opportunity to explore long term developments and the thick texture of layered stories. In terms of character, this manifests in the multiple generations of legacy heroes for which DC is justly famous.
The New 52 era was to an extent a departure from this tradition. The experiment was not altogether successful, to put it diplomatically. The Rebirth initiative has taken the restoration of history and legacy as one of its chief goals, so far to generally good critical and commercial reception. Titans is a direct result of this new emphasis on history and legacy. Or, it has been about legacy in theory, as we have had little chance to see the team members interacting with their older counterparts, Nightwing’s relationship with Batman providing a crucial exception. In this annual, writer Dan Abnett takes the opportunity to explore some of these relationships in the world of Rebirth.
The set up to the story is familiar from any number of science fiction stories and films. Four Titans, Nightwing, Tempest, Wally West, and Donna Troy, find themselves transported into a vast metallic labyrinth, cut off from the outside world and beset by various synthetic foes. They are joined by Batman, Aquaman, Barry Allen, and Wonder Woman. The villain is almost incidental to the story. It turns out the Key has kidnapped these heroes to manipulate them psychologically, siphoning the energy of conflict and distress to break a mysterious entity out of an extradimensional prison. We never learn the identity of this ultimate foe, although one suspects it is the hungry demon introduced by Abnett in Titans Hunt and Justice League #52.
The heart of this story lies in the character interactions and the themes they reveal. That between the two Flashes is warm, friendly, and smooth. That between Nightwing and Batman is superficially very different, but probably even smoother and stronger. Aquaman, on the other hand, shows a haughty side to his personality that comes as a surprise to those who forget that he is, after all, a king. Tempest, whose particular relationship with his mentor in modern continuity has yet to be chronicled, reacts with respect laced with tension and rebelliousness. Wonder Woman reacts to Donna with suspicion and hostility, much to the latter’s confusion.
And here Abnett drops a bombshell. It turns out that Donna has a new origin, not in itself surprising considering her long history of those. As we saw in the New 52, she was created from clay as a weapon to destroy Diana. It isn’t clear the rest of her New 52 story still holds, although considering it involved mass murder one suspects it does not. Nevertheless, her memories are largely false, created to give her stability and the illusion of humanity.
The book's more subtle insight is the nature of teams in the DC universe. The Titans are friends, indeed family. In this they resemble Batman's sprawling network or the tight knit Kent clan more than the current iteration of the Justice League, who are a group of allies. The mysterious foe locked in a dimensional prison is probably only a side story to the greater epic of REBIRTH. But for this side story, that difference may prove all important.