I have a confession to make: I was not fully on board with DC’s whole “DCYou” initiative they launched after “Convergence”, essentially a large line-up of new books in an effort to appeal to new demographics (specifically, those that didn’t compose the middle-age white, straight, male demographic). And now, it’s not because of some “Oh, these damn SJW’s ruining my comics!” Far from it. I despise the gatekeeping of the old guard of fandom and mainstream comics embracing new, underrepresented demographics is a fantastic plan, from both a social perspective and a business perspective. No, what caused me to be hesitant (in spite of great books like “Gotham Academy”, “Midnighter” and, problematic though I find it, “Batgirl”) was a very simple fact of lack of faith in DC being capable of pulling this off, and it all centers around “Teen Titans”.
To put it in the most blunt way possible: Why should I trust DC to try and appeal to different demographics when they can’t even get their most premiere teen superhero team in some semblance of working order?
“Teen Titans”, as a franchise, team and piece of the bizarre tapestry that is the DC Universe did not benefit at all from the continuity-slashing clusterfuck that was/is “The New 52”. Between the Schodinger’s History that has been whether or not the generation introduced in September 2011 actually was the first generation of Titans, being pulled left and right into stories in other books, the arbitrary attempts to distance the central four characters of the book (Red Robin, Superboy, Wonder Girl, Kid Flash) from their legacies (which is not the same thing as the aforementioned dragging them into other books’ stories), and just general unpleasentneess or completely uninspired plots or character work all throughout that gives the impression that a lot of it was not a priority in the reconstruction of this “new” DC Universe. And when you are trying to sell us on books like “Gotham Academy” and the like, it has to be done on some semblance of good faith.
But why am I talking about this now when this has been an ongoing problem? Well, apart from the fact it is a continuing problem and needs some discussion every now and again, the recently released “Teen Titans” #12 (that is, the twelfth issue of the second relaunch Post-Flashpoint) essentially brought back every single aspect that has been met with, at best, lukewarm reception.
Now, this isn’t to say that there wasn’t positive aspects to come from the Teen Titans and Young Justice sides of the New 52. One of the most praise-worthy aspects of that general area over the decades has been the diversity of characters, from characters such as Cyborg and Jericho during the Marv Wolfman/George Perez “New Teen Titans” to more recent characters like Jaime Reyes, the much underutilized Kaldur’ahm/Jackson Hyde as Aqualad, Miss Martian and Rose Wilson. And I will not deny, the starting roster for “Teen Titans” was incredibly diverse in terms of gender, race and sexuality; with a 4:3 male:female ratio including a gay latino (Bunker) and African American woman (Skitter) and an Indian woman (Solstice) and even continued into the relaunch with the African American Power Girl.
There are three big problems that the “Teen Titans” have been facing that are worth discussing: the lack of a coherent or original direction, the intentional distancing from the DCU, and the inability to depict these characters as teenagers.
On the first topic, the lack of a coherent direction. Now, at first there seemed to be a direction of Tim Drake, Red Robin, gathering a group of young heroes to investigate the disappearances/killings of young metahumans. It’s not a particularly original concept but fine. This plotline saw the main cast brought together in a battle against the super secret organization, N.O.W.H.E.R.E. (of course, we never find out what that acronym stands for, because it’s not a well thought-out name) in a story called “The Culling”. And here’s where the problems start. “The Culling” was a crossover book with “Superboy” and “Legion Lost”… not even a year into publication. These books didn’t even have a decent foundation before they were forced to pair off in the “Part One, Part Two Hoedown”.Continued below
“The Culling” made things worse with it’s villain, Harvest. was essentially the Big Bad of Lobdell’s run on Teen Titans and heavily tied into Superboy’s new origin. And he is also the worst villain that the New 52 has created. Bar. None. His motivations are as vague and non-sensical as they are unrelatable, eclipsed only by his vacuous lack of charisma. His design (especially for a villain that continues to pound on that he’s a Well-Intentioned Extremist) is a throw up of poorly-conceived cliches and over-detailed linework. His ability to predict and counter things he, by all rights, should not know is to such a ridiculous extreme that any way to be defeated would come off as a Deus Ex Machina. A poorly-made mess that was a slog to get through and should have been quickly forgotten. However, after “The Culling” did a great job of alienating a lot of fans, DC attempted to bring them back by rehashing the classic storyline “Terror of Trigon” which saw Trigon’s reintroduction and the introduction of Titan’s classic character, Raven. Like “The Culling”, it wasn’t well-received and also introduced some really creepy connotations like Tim Drake being mind-controlled and having sex with Cassie Sandsmark. After this was “The Trial of Kid Flash”, which I’ll talk about in detail below, and then they decided to bring a supposedly repentant Harvest in to conclude the first Teen Titans volume.
But then, as mentioned above, “Teen Titans #12” brought all of this back. All of this ill-thought out and bad plots. It makes it worse when Superboy, who had moved on from the idea of being “Harvest’s Living Weapon” does a complete character 180 to deciding that he’ll never escape that fate and Tim practically begging his “friend” not to leave. I say “friend” because, as we will also discuss below, there is so little character interaction on a relatable level to justify this “emotional” scene.
We come to the second problem that “Teen Titans” has: Preventing the four core characters (often nicknamed by fans as “The Young Justice 4”) from being an active part of their legacies. One of the big problems with the New 52 is the incredibly constraining five-six year timeline since Superman made his first appearance. Many believe that this is some attempt to make characters like Superman and Wonder Woman and Flash seem “younger”, which would explain the position that Teen Titans creative team was put into to create these new origins. Now I can see how it was pushed into this, but this goes completely against the historical connectivity many of the Titans characters had with the greater DC universe. More specifically, it doesn’t excuse the incredibly poor new origins that were given to these characters that have no basis on any of the core concepts that these characters are all about.
Because I have to ask: How does distancing these characters from the superhero families they were part of benefit them? How does Superboy not be a clone of Superman and having an origin so convoluted that Stryfe is off to the side going, “Slow down, man. Your giving me a migraine.” How does Wonder Girl not getting her powers from her Amazon heritage but instead from some bizarre armor that is also trying to kill her (not to mention the armor’s garish design) and not even liking the name “Wonder Girl” benefit her? And how does making Bart Allen not only disconnected from the Allen and Thawne families, not getting his powers from the Speed Force and being a damn terrorist (should be of note, Bart Allen was originally created to go against the trite and grim cliches of the nineties) benefit him?! How does making the Titan’s connection to the other superheroes skeletal benefit the property? I’ll give Tim Drake one thing, sure his origin in “Teen Titans #0” was not good, but at least we have gotten kernels of scenes with him in books like “Batman Eternal” and “Batman & Robin Eternal” (really, anything edited by the Bat Offices) that show quality.
And now we come to the third topic that is preventing the “Teen Titans” from achieving the greatness it deserves, and it’s perhaps the most important one. Now, looking back on the history of the Titans and the younger side of the DC Universe in general, there are three runs that are met with a great deal of praise and respect: the Wolfman/Perez “New Teen Titans”, the era of the Peter David/Todd Nauck “Young Justice” and Devin Grayson “Titans”, and finally the Geoff Johns/Mike McKone “Teen Titans”. And those runs share a common quality (in different doses) that is carried on in modern books like “Ms. Marvel”, “Miles Morales: Spider-Man”, “Nova” and “Young Avengers” that has barely been shown in the New 52 “Teen Titans”. That quality is very simple:Continued below
“Teen Titans”, as it has been since September 2011, has been about superheroes that happen to be teenagers.
The Wolfman/Perez, David/Nauck, Grayson, and Johns/McKone books were about teenagers and young adults that happen to be superheroes.
It may seem like a small distinction, but it isn’t. Character interactions and development were the top priority with “Young Justice” and the other books I’ve talked about. “Teen Titans” has been about the opposite. Okay, it may have gotten some character bonds formed, I remember an issue of downtime after “The Culling”. So congratulations, in nearly forty-five issues, I can think of one issue with okay downtime.
“If you guys can’t even get your premiere teen superhero team to a good quality level, why should I bother to trust you with anything else that tries to appeal to young adults and teens?” was the question I asked when the DCYou was being announced and marketed. Because continuing to rely on what you have created here is not the answer to this question. This is an example of not learning from your mistakes and just plain laziness that shows a lack of care. Now that idea of “they just don’t care” is thrown around a lot, but I cannot fathom people who generally care about these characters, who understood why people people like them or have a firm understanding of the audiences they should be trying to cultivate would ever put a comic like this out. I refuse to believe that.
Now, I’ve put out a lot of vitriol in this article, but let me finish off with this: I will gladly be the first in line to congratulate DC when it decides to put out a good “Teen Titans” or even a “Young Justice” book. Happily, will I be. But until then, I only have two words: “Git Gud”, as the Dark Souls meme goes. Git gud. Because if you don’t, books like “Ms. Marvel” and “Young Avengers” are going to leave you in the dust.