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‘Titans Special #1’ (review)

Written by Dan Abnett
Art by Various
Published by DC Comics

 

“Chamber 404. The space assigned us.”

“Our new headquarters.”

“It’s a shame it’s not T-shaped…”

 

The opening sequences of this month’s Titans Special focuses on Nightwing.

That’s as it should be.

The Titans, and the Teen Titans before it, have always at their core been about Dick Grayson.

The bright hope, the original sidekick, the one on which all the others were patterned.

Dick’s heroic spirit and boundless energy launched the Titans, and for many, many years he was the glue that held together the first iterations of the team through all their ups and downs. His leadership was a given.

More than any of the others he commanded respect: one part deferential status, one part unshakeable self-assurance, both qualities derived from his early years on the frontlines backing up DC’s most intimidating vigilante. Dick Grayson’s Robin was the bridge, a link between the traditions of the old guard and the optimism of a new generation.

As DC launches the Titans into a new era, and two new teams, it makes sense that Dick would, once again, be tapped to forge and lead the premier team. Though after all this time, and his own lengthy solo career as the somewhat darker-edged Nightwing, I suppose we’ll have to forgive the powers at be for highlighting his traditional side in this current endeavor more than his once youthful joie-de-vrie.

Maybe that’ll be Damian Wayne’s job.

Maybe they should’ve rethought that.

At any rate, while all the other heroes have been preoccupied with Source Walls and space gods, or busy coming to terms with personal tragedies, shifting allegiances and personal agendas, Dick Grayson has been hard at work doing what he always does. Being a hero.

Turns out, people all over the globe are developing superpowers. Apparently, the damage to the universal Source Wall has been bathing the planet in mutagenic potential from errant ‘Source Wall energy’, or energy from beyond its breach, or somesuch. Writer Dan Abnett isn’t terribly clear on the point, and it’s the first time I’ve heard anything of such goings on, (current events in the Justice League notwithstanding), so as a raison d’etre plot development it’s a little out of the blue and strange.

Suffice to say though, it’s been creating problems. Problems that Nightwing has decided to do something about.

As it happens, the Justice League agrees. They not only give Nightwing their blessings, they give his plans for a new team more support than he imagined, or possibly wanted.

And so, the genesis of a new Titans team is upon us. Writer Dan Abnett, whose been with the Titans for a few years now, seems very eager to highlight the tensions that Justice League involvement may hold for Nightwing. So straight off, despite a large roster of League-endorsed new recruit possibilities, Dick makes it clear he’s already selected the members of his new team. Ostensibly because he has decided they are all people he is sure he ‘can rely on’ to back him up and handle the crisis at hand.

Which makes it a little strange when it turns out everyone he has in mind, is facing down so many of their own problems.

I won’t get into all of that, better to leave those details to the loyal reader for now. But I will say (because everyone else already has, anyhow) that the new team consists of Donna Troy, Raven Darkholme, Gar Logan aka Beast Boy, Natasha Irons aka Steel, and Miss Martian. And yes, they got problems. Donna’s a mess, Beast Boy is a basket case, Raven is, well, Raven, Natasha Irons isn’t ‘good at making friends’ apparently, and Miss Martian is… uninvited.

Not all of these are necessarily deal-breaking crises, and some don’t even make much sense, but the message at the outset is clear enough. This is not your happy go lucky band of old friends and angsty teens figuring out life while saving the world from supervillains together.

Presumably in an attempt to make this version of the Titans appear much more serious, Abnett has chosen to depict a team that shades decidedly to grim. It’s even reflected in their costumes. The one unifying color in each uniform – including Gar’s for goodness sakes – is grey.

For this, and other reasons, I find myself uncertain about the potential of this new chapter in Titans lore.

On the one hand it’s good to see a team again which pairs Dick and Donna with Gar and Raven. And Nat’s tech savvy (actually, her distinctly super-science tech savvy) and her background fills a role the team has desperately missed since Victor Stone was co-opted to the Justice league after Flashpoint. Even Miss Martian’s status as a once-upon-a-time Titan, together with being an alien, with red hair, who is also a sidekick herself (sort of), seems to fit the pattern of a classic Titans team.

Except that the primary purpose for placing M’gnn on the team seems to be to keep an awkward tension between the Justice League and the Titans front and center. And I’m not a big fan of that.

Full Justice League endorsement is a nod Dick has coveted since the inception of the Teen Titans, and of course it’s nice to see them finally get their due. Emphasis on finally, unfortunately.

Sure, at one time, The League’s (and Batman’s) over-parental oversight of his team and leadership would have been a rich vein of post-teenage angsty drama for Robin. But it’s been a long time since Dick Grayson was an adolescent. A little like Dad telling his kid how to run his own multi-million dollar media conglomerate.

Making it clear throughout that Dick is by no means certain he even wants the Justice league’s involvement doesn’t do all that much to correct for the cloyingness of that. Particularly if tensions between Dick and M’gnnn, in her role as the League’s representative/’chaperone’/babysitter, becomes a primary narrative tension going forward. Which seems likely.

Don’t misunderstand. I understand why Abnett is choosing to do it. It’s an obvious direction to explore. And I guess he has to do something to address the dynamic, particularly after spending so much time in the run up to this new era, creating much of that tension between the current-day teams himself.

And I also understand the pressure he must feel to honor and cherish a legacy that is clearly close to his heart. This is not the first time he’s attempted to recapture the magic the flagship books held back in the seventies and eighties by layering on heavy reflections of what-has-gone-before.

But it is a new era.

Given how long now any long-time fan of the original Titans teams have waited for this acknowledgment of Dick Grayson and his compatriots, it would be nice to see Abnett take the opportunity to at least launch things with a truly fresh and original start. He’s certainly got the skills to come up with something more creative than slapping a paint of grey paint on a team known for its boisterous optimism, and immediately plunging them into degrees of angst, that frankly feels over-played, and undeserved.

Here’s the thing. What always set the Titans apart, particularly back when Marv Wolfman was at the helm and at his best, was the deft balance it always struck between flashy super-heroics and soap opera dramatics that were nonetheless authentic and gripping. I’m not saying move away from that. By all means – recreate that magic.

But let’s not get too serious. Gotta save some room for the sheer joy of super-heroics and the fresh excitement of boundless possibilities.

Right now, I’m wanting a lot more of that.

 

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