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‘Titans Annual #2’ (review)

Titans Annual #2
“The Great Brain Robbery”
Written by Dan Abnett
Illustrated by Tom Grummett 
Published by DC Comics
Released 4/25/18 / $4.99


Titans Annual #2 is the conclusion of Dan Abnett’s last arc on the run he revitalized for DC two years ago, before the Titans teams and the Justice League get rebooted after Scott Snyder’s May event, Justice League: No Justice.

It pulls together the lead team’s core four – DC’s original sidekicks Dick Grayson, Wally West, Roy Harper and Donna Troy – for one last adventure together, pitting them against two of the most memorable villains from the pages of the Teen Titans defining classic era; the brilliant commando simian, Monsieur Mallah, and his beloved leader, the diabolical, disembodied Brain.

With all that, and a title for the issue that reads, The Great Brain Robbery – Cyborgs, Assassins and One Angry Ape, you’d think this would have all the makings of an unbeatable comics masterpiece. And yet sadly, it falls well below that bar.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking the effort.

I’m generally a great fan of Abnett, and he’s done solid work on this title. One of Abnett’s enduring strengths is he knows the lexicon of good comics storytelling. He knows the beats and the hooks and the pithy repartee, and the important place of soap opera, and how to create good narrative tension. And he’s imaginative, with an excellent ear for the wonder and joy of his medium.

And all of that is present here too. It’s just, maybe it’s all there just a little too much.

It’s not entirely his fault. Coming off of the high, and the big reveal, of his Dark Troia storyline – a nod to the classic Who is Donna Troy? arc by George Perez that Abnett has been laying the groundwork for throughout the entire run of his series – everything that follows is bound to feel a little anti-climactic. Add to that the fact that this stretch clearly serves as a bridge to whatever is to follow in the summer of 2018, one that evidently required the very unlikely disbanding of the team – by big daddy Justice League, no less – and already the whole set up feels forced.

That doesn’t change as our heroes inevitably rally, come together, and save the day, even as it serves to prove to the League and I suppose to the Titans themselves, that really, after all, they are A-list players. I mean, we already know they’re all A-list players. The New 52 reboot not-withstanding, these characters all have tremendous history and anyone who has followed DC comics for any length of time, understands just how proven the core Titans are. Heck, Dick Grayson’s been bounding around as Nightwing for 30 years now.

That’s arguably been the crux of the challenge to this whole project, and I’ll say again, that on the whole Abnett has done a solid job of pulling it off. Weaving a narrative to re-introduce Wally West prime and re-band the original Titans, now as fully formed adults, is no easy piece of sleight-of-hand. If it has been unsatisfying at all, it is in the way that so much of the old ends up being rehashed, perhaps overly so, in order to make that effort palatable. Some of that works, some of it doesn’t. But that’s the gig.

In this final scene of the final act, all the strands of the last several months come together. And all the elements are there. Mallah has created a highly addictive street drug, the use of which is helping the Brain amplify his cyborg-brain capacity. Chesire is helping them up the traffic and thus, Brain’s evolution into a disembodied godlike intellect. And it all would have worked too if not for Arsenal’s dogged interference. But no one takes Roy seriously, and the Justice League has been deftly, if surprisingly, outmaneuvered by the Brain. Mallah and the Brain here, are revisioned as B-list villains, levelling up to outwit and defeat the Justice League. In this new DCU, it’s the Titans first encounter with them (really? *sigh*), and it’s a good thing they manage to come to Arsenal’s aid at the last minute, or else all of reality itself would end up being putty in the Brain’s, er, hands.

Yes, the Titans ultimately foil the Brain’s master scheme. Yes, Troy overcomes her insecurities and follows her heart to rally the team. Yes, Roy is redeemed, despite an indiscretion with Chesire and her inevitable betrayal. Yes, Dick, sort of, obnoxiously apologizes for losing faith in their friendship. And yes, Mallah’s devotion to the Brain proves stronger in the end than all their evil schemes.

Ostensibly, in this new 52, all for the very first time. But on top of the formulaic predictability of it all, so much of how that all plays out is foreshadowed, over and over, before it happens – hell, even as it is happening – that in the end, it sort of leaches a lot of the joy out of the whole escapade.

Oh well.

It’s a triumph for the Titans at least, and it’s an acceptable conclusion to their re-introduction phase to this new DCU. What comes next should be a whole new mixture of characters and plotlines, and I hope Abnett and the other authors on the top tier team books will take full advantage of that, to create wholly new and original developments for our favorite core characters in the months and years to come.

Just as it should be. Titans Forever.


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