Desiring to save the lives of his fledgling Titans, Damian returned to his grandfather, pledging fealty in exchange for Ra’s calling off the Fist. But centuries of life have bred caution in the heart of the world’s most prolific killer/crimelord/madman, and peace might just cost Robin his life—in Teen Titans #4.

Pham settling in

The early departure of artist Jonboy Meyers stamped a big question mark on this series. Meyers’s distinct, angular aesthetics and bombastic storytelling seemed like the perfect fit for the material. The arrival last month of his replacement, Khoi Pham, failed to remove the sting of losing Jonboy. A lack of consistency and a visual style with less youthful pizzazz made me wonder whether or not Pham could deliver. While I still believe that Meyers was a better match for Teen Titans in general, and Ben Percy’s approach in particular, I happily made it through this entire installment without picking the same nits as I did last time.

Meyers’s instantly-recognizable brand of character design continues to leave a bit of a hole, but Pham wisely plays to his own strengths and delivers solid lines, free of the distracting inconsistencies that we saw a month ago. And so while no one will say “hey, awesome, that’s Khoi Pham!” when they look at this, the bright side is that no one will say “ugh, gross, that’s Khoi Pham.” There’s nothing wrong with serviceable finishes over well-conceived layouts, and having created both, Pham should feel satisfied with a job well-done.

Unfortunately, colorist Jim Charalampidis gives us a cloudier picture. His character colors are impeccable most of the time, and some of his background work looks beautifully painted. But then, there are instances—too many instances—when I can discern the shape of his digital brush in lazy, unblended strokes of color. Look at the pool of lava below: where we would expect round, smooth blends between oranges, I instead see what looks like mouse-painting in a photo editing application. Don’t get me wrong—there’s no inherent flaw in colorists using available technology. But for a book with a monthly release schedule—a book that will rise a dollar in price within the next few months—the apparent sloppiness is without excuse.

A good script keeps it moving

While working through the first New 52 Teen Titans, I frequently complained about the extensive recapping done at the beginning of each issue. Bringing readers up to speed has its benefits, but if done without craft, it feels like a waste of time for anyone who has been following along. On my second trip through Percy’s Teen Titans #4, I noticed something I’d missed initially: a perfect recap. The first page does not comprehensively cover what has come before; however, Percy seeds the reader with the right information. The basic facts of the arc—Damian’s concern for the Titans, Ra’s having dispatched the Demon’s Fist to wipe out his prodigal grandson’s team, and Damian’s sacrificial decision at the close of last issue—these core elements reassert themselves through natural dialogue and effective visuals. Even someone who’d missed the previous three chapters could pick up Teen Titans #4 and have enough to make sense of the rest of the story. That’s no small feat.

On the downside, Percy at times struggles with characterization—a complaint I’ve registered in prior reviews. While a Muhammad Ali-inspired moment for Damian has grown on me with repeat reading, it still feels like it doesn’t quite fit the young Robin, whose self-image I would have previously described as a sort of arrogant dignity. Ra’s similarly descends from his station at times, presenting more “dopey delusional” than cold, calculating tyrant. These “class shifts” occupy small, isolated portions of the script, and at other times Percy writes both characters quite well, but the deviations nevertheless create distraction.

The rest of the Titans are simply hard to pin down, especially Kid Flash and Beast Boy. Moments meant for laughs often land a bit off-kilter, and it isn’t always easy to distinguish the role that Percy means for each of them to play in the team’s social dynamic. Starfire and Raven, on the other hand, have a lot less personality than Wally or Gar, and feel more like conversational grease than equal members of the cast. Hopefully, Percy can find a way to give them greater moment-by-moment significance in the future.

Not lovable, but likable

I would love to see Teen Titans climb higher. While a major improvement over both New 52 runs, the book remains a head below its potential. Even so, I appreciate the artistic improvements from Pham, and that Percy has been able to maintain a standard that is—though not great—perfectly fun for a monthly read.

Recommended if…

  • You have enjoyed “Damian Knows Best” so far.
  • You missed the first few issues and want a good place to jump in without having to pick up #1-3.
  • You liked Pham’s artwork last month—he’s back and more consistent.

Overall

Ben Percy’s Teen Titans continues to show promise, but it also holds onto some of its past flaws (and adds a few new ones). Pham’s pencils benefit from far greater consistency than we saw last time, and the narrative tension works quite well; but rushed color work and uncertain characterization take some of the wind out of this book’s sails. Even so, Teen Titans provides plenty of entertainment, while occupying a place in DC’s line that was poorly served in The New 52.

SCORE: 7/10