The fourth volume of Scott Lobdell’s New 52 run on Teen Titans is right in character with the volumes that precede it. Whether or not you consider that a good thing will (obviously) depend on how you felt about 1-3. He is joined this time around by an assortment of artists, with Eddy Barrows handling the majority of the layouts (as well as pencils on a few issues) and Eber Ferreira, Rodney Buchemi, Patrick Zircher, Jesus Merino, Robson Rocha, and Wayne Faucher contributing, as well.
This trade includes Teen Titans #18-23 and a modest amount of extras (more on those later).
Death is standing right beside us
This book is not very good, and I’m going to tell you why. But first, here’s what happens: Tim has bizarre Damian Wayne hallucinations en requiem, propelling him harder on the quest that serves as the heart of this book: to protect special kids (special like the Teen Titans) from the people and organizations that want to hurt them. Said quest moves to the back burner for a large chunk of time so that Trigon can attempt to take over the world but suffer defeat at the hands of The World’s Most Unlikable Teenagers®. Relationship drama, future people, and trust issues fill the many cracks in Lobdell’s larger narrative.
The chum bucket is always half full
The only reasons I gave this book a non-negative review score are 1) The art was actually pretty good overall, and I would give it (at least) a 6; and 2) Batman News does not support assigning a negative review score. I wish I was joking, but I’m not.
To give Lobdell a small amount of credit, I’ll say that he has some decent big-picture ideas. The Titans breaking into Belle Reve and scuffling with the Suicide Squad? Fantastic. Trigon bursting through the ground and having his brimstone-smelling booty handed to him by a bunch of awkward-but-powerful teenagers? You betcha. The problem with this book specifically, and with Lobdell’s run on Teen Titans in general, is that an idea is worthless without a good implementation. And a poorly-implemented good idea is just as hard to read–perhaps moreso–as a plain old bad idea. I have no choice but to conclude from the work itself that Lobdell (and his editors) are convinced that an idea is enough, regardless of its implementation.
I don’t usually shoot kids, but…
The only storytelling in this book is done by the artists. Lobdell certainly tells a story, in the strictest sense, but his attempts at the craft of storytelling fall spectacularly short. There is no method at work here: just naked, unadorned information. And so reading through these six issues is a lot like sitting through a Power Point presentation in which the speaker has filled slides with an ocean of tiny-type text and then proceeds to read through each and every one of them while you struggle to stay interested.
Instead of a process of discovery, whereby we gradually learn things about characters and events as the information comes about in the natural course of time, Lobdell gives us contrived conversations and an omniscient perspective in which no one’s thoughts are hidden from our eyes. Sometimes, these things are done in the service of recap; other times, they’re meant as shortcuts for establishing characters. Regardless of the reason, we end up with awkward dialogue and excessive internal monologue, and the characters stop feeling like characters (if they ever felt like characters in the first place).
I call this “tactile telekinesis” (again and again and again)
It’s worse than simple exposition dumps, though. There are several points in the book when I get the sense that Lobdell thinks himself clever, and he wants to make sure the rest of us know just how clever he is. Whether it’s phrases like “Fortress of Attitude” or “here goes everything”, or Raven and Superboy making a point to refer to their powers by fancy names in normal conversation with people who wouldn’t understand what they’re talking about, I too often feel like I’m reading through Scott Lobdell’s List of Things That Might Be Cool In A Comic Book instead of a refined, edited narrative.
It’s such a shame, because I should love a book with these sorts of people and powers on display. It’s a shame, because there are even moments where Lobdell gets something right, and characters are genuinely fun. But those moments don’t stick because they are rare, and such fleeting victories are not enough to win the war that Scott Lobdell is waging against my entertainment.
Rather appropriately, Trigon drags everything even further down. I get that I’m reading a comic book, and that–especially in a story like this one–villains are sometimes (purposely) overwrought; but in Lobdell’s control, the Ruler of the Five Under Realms is simply unbearable–and that’s when his voice is consistent (which is not all the time).
Thankfully, Barrows and company shine brightest where Trigon is concerned, whether it’s depictions of the battle between he and the Titans, or between the Titans and the Titans, or simply in their rendering of the big, red, ridiculous, six-eyed demon king himself. Fans of Barrows’ work on the DC You Martian Manhunter book won’t be surprised to see the artist find his wheelhouse when depicting the bizarre and ghastly–his energetic layouts and imaginative figures feeling like the perfect fit for such an otherworldly conflict. If I could turn off Lobdell’s script and just flip through the book, I’d probably enjoy it a lot more.
You don’t do anything you don’t want to do
I could rant on and on about this book, but I hope you get the point by now. Despite a pretty good showing from the art team, Teen Titans, Vol. 4 is unfortunately hamstrung by Lobdell’s serious storytelling deficiencies. Lacking a serviceable script to string it all together, the pictures are admirable, but without much utility. It’s a shame to see good work put to such wasteful use, but that’s what we’ve got. So that I can end on a positive, here’s one of the few parts in the book that I actually did like–a panel where Lobdell finally does justice to Barrows’ hard work:
There are a few variant covers and some layouts by Eddy Barrows. The layouts are actually a very nice addition, but they are unfortunately gilding on a cow pie, and are not enough to justify the existence of this book.
Value: Dirt Cheap
Devil DinosaurBeast Boy gets it.
Friends don’t let friends pay money for bad comic books. I’m your internet friend, and I don’t want to see you wasting your life (or your money) with this. Find a library that has it or don’t find it at all. If I saw this in the free bin at 2nd & Charles, I’d leave it there.
Scott Lobdell may get paid to tell stories, but he is not a storyteller. Instead of constructing a narrative that serves this beloved team of young superheroes, he repeatedly indulges himself and reduces characters to one-dimensional irritants. Eddy Barrows and the rest of the artists turn in good work, and it pains me to score this volume so low with their efforts inside. But the hard truth is that the visual accomplishments simply cannot compensate for the disaster that is Lobdell’s script. I’m sorry to say that my final word on Teen Titans, Vol. 4 is this: don’t.