Who is Jackson Hyde? Where does the newest member of the Teen Titans come from? The mysterious past of Aqualad comes to light in Teen Titans #9SPOILERS AHEAD.

A mushy start

In what seems to be standard form, Teen Titans #9 gets off to a bit of a slow start. Pham’s characters aren’t nearly as consistent with the new inking crew, and the writing is up and down for the first few pages. There are some downright fantastic lines from Damian, but I feel like the book doesn’t really settle into a groove until about halfway through, once we’re done catching up with Wally and Raven.

The dialogue is the prime suspect. Damian can be tough to write well, because his arrogant, proper speech can easily come off as unnatural. So when he says “I won’t allow that to happen again”, it works just fine. But when he says “one’s legacy can be…a burden”, it doesn’t quite fit—almost like it’s gone one step too far. It would work coming from his psychotic grandfather, but not from him.

Wally and Raven’s scene is just clunky, and the whole thing feels premature. I actually like the idea of these two gravitating toward each other, but we haven’t seen enough of their interaction up to this point—only some hints that they would be moving in this direction. It doesn’t help that Wally once again reminds us that finding out his father’s horrifying identity really messed him up. At some point, Percy needs to move on from this. Maybe having Kid Flash take a break from the team for a while will help. All I know is that he’s dragging this scene down.

But then Manta shows up and I can’t think about anything else.

Okay. I am not a long-time Aquaman reader. I don’t know a whole lot about Black Manta. And yet, him entering the story changes everything for me. Maybe his good showing in Young Justice made me a fan, or maybe his helmet is just dorky enough to be awesome, but I love him. And when he gets his first page about halfway through this book, I get excited and (thankfully) forget the drag of the scene that came right before.

Maybe Percy does, too, because things loosen up considerably from here on out. Jackson still has a heavy situation with his mother, but even his contemplative walk across the bay gets some welcome comedic interruption, courtesy of an excited child and her neglectful mother. Even Jackson’s mom seems looser—more natural—when he and she meet up at a restaurant; her “I brought you into this world and I’ll take you out of it” tone comes across perfectly in the dialogue. The end of their conversation is a bit less impressive, but I’ll let it slide, because the bulk of the scene works very well.

The book is perhaps at its best when Starfire and Beast Boy take on some criminals in the middle of San Francisco. Dinosaur Gar looks amazing, and Starfire’s no-contractions, no-nonsense style of speaking gets me every time. Yes, it is difficult to understand someone with a car in his mouth.

The book closes with a full-page spread that atones for every artistic misstep in the rest of the issue. Freaking Black Manta, people:

Well done, Khoi Pham. That’s some mighty special sauce.

Events suck

So…this one was okay—maybe even a little better than okay. But the biggest problem, I think, is not even in this issue. The biggest problem for Teen Titans #9 is The Lazarus Contract. It interrupted Percy for a month, but it did not take place in a vacuum. The team spent time together—interacted, fought, laughed, and who knows what—but we didn’t get to see much of it. And so we get them back this month, changed, developed, but unfamiliar. Maybe if Percy could have written a regular issue last month, I would feel more invested in Wally and Raven. Maybe I would feel a stronger connection with Jackson and his struggles with the team. Hopefully, my brain will just “assume” the current state of things now, and I’ll be able to enjoy subsequent issues a bit more.

Recommended if…

  • You want to know more about Aqualad’s past.
  • Starfire and Beast Boy banter makes your heart sing soprano.
  • Black. Freaking. Manta.

Overall

While somewhat undermined by inconsistent artwork and the residual effects of The Lazarus ContractTeen Titans #9 nevertheless manages to hit some very high notes. Black Manta looms large over the narrative, even as he only appears on two pages; and Damian, Starfire, and Beast Boy pepper in just enough of the humor that has made this book a consistently decent read.

SCORE: 7/10