Deathstroke has captured the Wallys West! Determined to harness the power of the speed force to save his long-dead son, Slade tries to use the speedsters to go back in time and make things right. But with two young super-teams missing their fastest men, it’s only a matter of time before both sets of Titans come knocking at his door. “The Lazarus Contract” continues in Teen Titans #8! SPOILERS FOLLOW
Still haven’t read up on Part 1 of “The Lazarus Contract”? Check out our review of Titans #11.
A difficult investment
I read some of Deathstroke early on in Rebirth, but I haven’t been keeping up with it for the past several months. I think Priest writes it well, but not so mind-blowingly well that I can overcome my lack of desire to read a book starring Deathstroke. But I’ll never forget what Priest said at New York Comic Con in October: Slade’s a bastard. People complain on Twitter that he treats his kids so badly, but they just don’t get it. He’s not supposed to be some super-likable guy. And therein lies the problem with this crossover’s emotional hook. I might care about the archetypical crisis here: as a father, I will always have some measure of sympathy for someone who’s trying to save his child. But when you get down to the specifics, Slade is a bad guy for whom I care very little. He may be one of the coolest-looking, baddest fighters in comics, but that doesn’t invest me in him as a character. Having him at the center makes it hard for me to get hooked in.
For his part, Percy makes a go at shifting the emotional focus to Young Wally, but he doesn’t use a lot of space to do it, and it’s largely attempted through a straight-up narrative info-dump on the first page. I have generally enjoyed the way Wally’s been written in Teen Titans, even—especially—his narration; but that narration has typically been conversational rather than retrospective—he has told us about himself by not telling us about himself, and I think that’s the best way to go with this sort of thing.
It also hurts that Wally running into the arms of Slade seems to come out of nowhere. We begin the issue with him running away from Teen Titans HQ (calling it Titans Tower would just be too confusing in this crossover), having a moody moment about his dad, and about Barry. But there isn’t any inciting event that seems to spark this high-speed navel-gazing session. Unfortunately, the angsty run ends up looking like nothing more than a plot contrivance to get him where he needs to be.
Too many wasted pages
So where does the plot contrivance take us? Not very far. By the end of this installment, we know little more than we knew at the end (or for that matter, the beginning) of Titans #11. There’s a new Nightwing wrinkle, and the two teams have joined forces, but that’s really it. So we’re halfway through this crossover, and we’ve spent most of the time watching characters stand around and talk to one another. I’m not saying we need non-stop action, but there should be more things happening. Why couldn’t Part 1 have started with the Wallys being captured? Save the flashback for later (maybe after Dick’s admission), or cut it entirely, and focus on moving the plot forward in the present? Why not condense the long conversation with Old Wally in Part 1 and the long conversation with New Wally in Part 2? Axe the scene with Slade baiting New Wally with an automotive repair.
I won’t pretend to understand all that goes into planning a big crossover like this, and I won’t even grudge DC for publishing it. They need to make money, crossovers tend to sell books, and this particular crossover seems like one of the better general ideas for such an event that I’ve seen. But event books often get (rightly) criticized for stretching too little content over too much space, and so far, “Lazarus” plays right into that negative expectation.
Pham works better alone
It is ironic, then, that the artwork this time around would be so dense. Phil Hester handled breakdowns a few Teen Titans issues ago, and he’s back for #8. I said last time that I preferred Pham’s own layouts to Hester’s, and I feel even more strongly about that now. Most pages look pretty busy, and the shots are—with few exceptions—relatively close up. With a plot that feels like it’s taking a long time to heat up, this sort of composition is especially dragging, because it further emphasizes the sense that little happens over the course of the issue. I spend so much time untangling the images that I can’t get any momentum to carry me through to the end. The few spreads look really great, though, with Pham getting a bigger canvas to work out some of his own stylistic kinks. They’re still pretty tight on the characters, so they also contribute to the stagnation, but the composition works better than on those more congested pages.
We’ve got two issues to go in this four-part crossover, and I feel like I’ve only read a few pages worth of the whole affair. I’m always rooting for these books to be good, so I hope Priest knocks it out of the park with next week’s Deathstroke, but I won’t get my hopes up too high. “The Lazarus Contract” is, unfortunately, shaping up to be a miss.
- You’re buying Titans, Teen Titans, and Deathstroke anyhow.
- You really enjoyed part one. Maybe you don’t mind the slower flow of information?
Another slow-moving installment in “The Lazarus Contract”, Teen Titans #8 fails to offer much justification for its existence in the wider story. It still has some of the charm that Percy has worked hard to hone these eight months, but they are flashes in an otherwise dull picture. Pham and company are in decent form, but over Hester’s busy layouts, it’s hard to appreciate the visuals as much as I usually do in this book. Here’s hoping the next installment of this crossover makes up for the first two.