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Can I trust you, Robin?

Before Greg Pak came aboard for last month’s Teen Titans #17, several readers (and reviewers, if I remember correctly) were saying that what this title needed more than anything was a break. Pull the plug for a few months (or longer), let folks get the bad taste out of their mouths, and then kick things off with an all-new, all-different creative team (allusions to some other company that makes comics intended, because). I instead chose optimism; Pak has never exactly smacked one out of the park for me, but he has a good reputation, and I enjoyed most of last year’s “Nemesis” arc in Batman/Superman. While I hate being wrong, and I struggle when it comes time to admit it, I’m afraid I’ve reached that point.

I thought you’d be interested

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After a decent-enough start last month, Pak seems to have (mentally) checked out. The bulk of this installment consists of a frame story about Cassie’s father, and how he met his untimely end at the hands of Cassandra (Cassie’s crazy demi-goddess aunt that she met last issue). There are a few beats in the present, but for the most part, we get nothing but Diana and Cassandra alternating at telling the same tale. The trading off mitigates some of the boredom one might expect from a “let me tell you a story” sort of issue, but not much. The artwork bears a significant chunk of the blame for the remaining clunkiness, because–with the exception of one good page–we only see close camera angles of folks in the present, either in Tim’s Birdwing (if it isn’t already called that, I’m claiming that one) or Jabba’s Sail BargeCassandra’s flying thingy.

There aren’t really any establishing shots here, either, resulting in a story that feels like it doesn’t occur in any meaningful place or time (whereas last issue had us bouncing around the United States, and eventually, the world, providing a tangible expression of the Titans’ life on the lam). I don’t really blame the artists for this, though, as Pak hasn’t given them a script in which location matters. And so while we end up with a colorful, reasonably well-drawn set of pages, we don’t get a very interesting story, visually or otherwise.

Stop doing everything strange demi-goddesses tell you

With such a flawed foundation, there isn’t a whole lot that the creative team could do to salvage this issue, but it would be nice to at least see them try. Unfortunately, the little bit of characterization we get (from Diana, Cassie, and Cassandra) is filled with contradiction and maddening ignorance. Cassandra tells Cassie “our minds are just human. But we’ve got the power of gods…is it any wonder I sound like a crazy lady?”, and yet just a few pages later, she insists that Wonder Girl trust herself–an exhortation that appears to have its intended effect, since Cassie immediately does what she’s asked, apparently having heard exactly none of the story that her aunt spent several pages telling.

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I wish my balled-up fists could cleanly slice through snake flesh…

But lest we dump on poor, confused, teenage Cassie, I ought to point out that Pak’s Diana suffers from the same strain of delusion as young Miss Sandsmark. As I mentioned earlier, Wonder Woman has been telling the same story as Cassandra–a story littered with plenty of evidence that would dissuade any reasonable person from trusting Cassandra. No problem! Apparently, all it takes to fool Wonder Woman and her lasso is being selective with the truth. Just say the bare minimum, and the Goddess of War, renowned for her wisdom as well as for her ferocity, will not bother to ask any follow-up questions. I’m not exaggerating: Cassandra–bound in the Lasso of Truth–simply says “I came to bring back her father”, and Diana is suddenly ready to be chummy. Never mind all of the horrible things she’s just told Tim about Cassandra. Never mind that bringing back Cassie’s father could have all sorts of evil motivations attached to it. Pak leaves these very basic questions on the table, and we’re expected to suspend far more disbelief than could be considered reasonable. It comes across as though he just didn’t have the time (certainly possible, given Pak’s prolificity), and so he forced Diana to accept Cassandra’s explanation for the sake of the over-arching story he’s trying to tell.

Like it or not, guys…I feel a team-up coming on

So that’s all of the bad stuff. I won’t hold you in suspense: there isn’t enough good in this book to salvage it. There are, however, some things worth pointing out for the sake of proper credit. Overall, I do like Churchill’s pencils. His Wonder Woman still looks a bit funky, and his cover for this issue is incredibly misleading, but everyone else is at least serviceable, and I’m a huge fan (no hyperbole) of his Power Girl and Beast Boy. Those two always come off looking just right for this book. When he does get a chance to widen the frame a little bit, he does a fine job, especially when rendering the Enormous Guardian Snakes of Asclepius, God of Medicine®:

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AAAAGH!

I really enjoyed Tony Aviña’s colors last month,  and he delivers once again–even given less to work with this time around. Tom Derenick ends the issue with a substantial improvement on Churchill’s Wonder Woman–a welcome bright spot to close out a profoundly disappointing book. Finally, to be fair, Pak manages to deliver a pretty hilarious moment between Diana and Tim back on the first page (see above). There are a lot of them, indeed.

Recommended if…

  • You like hyena men and huge snakes more than interesting plots and intelligent characters.
  • You’re drinking too much caffeine and would rather not spend your three dollars on that grande mocha latté.
  • You make Pollyanna look like Nietzsche.

Overall

I concede: this book needs a break and a reset. I think it’s fair to say that it’s never been great since the start of The New 52, and it’s most often been quite bad. Rebirth is coming in June; here’s hoping DC chooses teams for the Titans books wisely. A book about teenage superheroes should be an easy sell–it’s high time we got a Teen Titans book that lives up to the appeal of its basic premise.

SCORE: 3/10