It all ends here! Damian’s friends have come for him, but the Demon’s Head will not let his grandson go without a fight. Can the Titans work together and leave Infinity Island alive? Find out in Teen Titans #5, as “Damian Knows Best” draws to a close.
As I finished reading this, I found myself with a better impression of the story than I had while reading it. Indeed, as I reflect on this first arc, the memory of it—the broader strokes, if you will—conjures more personal fondness for this series than the scores of my previous reviews would seem to indicate. Those scores were by no means terrible, the lowest coming in at 6.5; but looking back over the whole of “Damian Knows Best”, I think it’s a solid 8—a story that should read quite well in trade.
Obviously, this sort of dissonance between my early impressions and my final verdict perplexes me. So why the dissonance? The scores themselves heavily imply the answer.
While no single issue of Teen Titans has been great, they have all of them been good. None of them presented any serious barriers to reading; and even when artist Khoi Pham hopped on and had some early consistency problems, the artwork maintained a similar level of quality as the writing: flawed, never great, but always good. Part of that consistent goodness—perhaps the largest part—springs from the simplicity of both the story and the artwork.
As shocking and disappointing as was the departure of artist Jonboy Meyers, I think Pham is, in the end, the better fit. He lacks the distinctive aesthetic flair of Meyers, but remains a capable storyteller nonetheless. His work isn’t as thrilling as Meyers’s, but—like a good letterer—he does his job with undistracting excellence, in complete service to the story. And after some struggles in his debut with #3, he has delivered quality lines with increasing consistency.
Percy’s body of work at DC has been a mix of hits and misses—he would have a great average if he were a ball player, but as a writer, I don’t find him dependable enough for a blanket recommendation of his work. He has upped his game considerably with Rebirth, but even his Green Arrow work isn’t quite as good as the broader community says it is. But his Teen Titans has remained a consistently fun read through five issues, while Green Arrow charts in peaks and valleys.
And therein lies the secret for Percy, I think: simplicity. His DC debut was the two-part “Terminal” arc in Detective Comics, and a simpler story you will not find: terrorists deploy a biological threat at an airport, Batman investigates (with a little help from a certain Spyral agent), Batman wins. Similarly, Teen Titans eschews the intricacies and numerous social reference points that crowd Green Arrow, instead delivering a story with clear narrative beats and much more natural dialogue. Put another way, Green Arrow often reads as though Percy is checking off someone else’s boxes, but Teen Titans feels more fully his own.
That was a nice essay on the series so far, Brian, but what about this issue?
Much like its predecessors, Teen Titans #5 offers a mixture of good and bad, but the good largely wins. Some of the characterization is spotty—especially when the pointy-eared elephant in the room shows up. The redemption of some of Damian’s enemies comes a bit too easily, though only just a bit. Beast Boy delivers a line that is meant to be funny, but instead comes off like Percy trying too hard. And yet, with all of its warts, this book wraps up the arc well, with (largely) fun banter, excellent action sequences, and a satisfying conclusion that never feels rushed.
Aforementioned issues aside, the dialogue is actually quite good. Starfire answers Robin’s self-centered heroism perfectly at the bottom of the first page, in what are probably my favorite panels of the book. Similarly, the team’s interactions with the Demon’s Fist throughout the rest of the issue are an excellent, contactless takedown: of the Fist’s assumptions about themselves, about their place in the League of Assassins, and about their place in the world.
That goes for the artwork, too
As I mentioned previously, Pham has improved dramatically since his debut, producing—with greater consistency—the best of what we saw in that issue. His figures occasionally strike an odd pose, but for the most part, his storytelling is very effective. I particularly like his backgrounds. I also generally like how Charalampidis colors him—especially the exterior shots—but several examples of the “rush job” strokes (highlighted in my review of the last installment) still show up from time to time. If a month isn’t enough to do the colors right, I would rather see Charalampidis remove detail than execute it poorly.
Made for trade
So what should you take away from this review? Teen Titans #5 falls right in line with the rest of the series: it doesn’t have the sizzle of many of its DC siblings, but it’s still a good time. And looking over the arc itself, I would argue that Percy has managed to create a more memorable story than many of his colleagues—and for good reasons, not bad ones.
- You want a satisfying conclusion to a decent arc.
- You enjoy Pham’s aesthetic—his work is a lot more consistent than it was in his debut two months ago, so it’s a lot easier to enjoy.
- Beast Boy’s puerile humor amuses you (yes, he really went there).
No single issue of Ben Percy’s Teen Titans has been a home run; but, as I think back on this first arc, I see Percy’s consistency producing an uncommonly solid story. The pace has been near-perfect, with strong beats marching each issue toward an ending that arrives in the fullness of time—not a moment sooner or later. This story is, in the end, greater than the sum of its parts, and that’s a good deal for everyone involved.