Teen Titans #15 review

Here’s the third chapter of Super Sons of Tomorrow, a 5-part crossover running through Superman, Super Sons, and Teen Titans. This arc once again sees the return of Tim Drake of Tomorrow to the present day DC Universe, and he’s come to execute a plan similar to what he attempted during A Lonely Place of Living (Detective Comics #965-968). While some readers may be annoyed to see this story so soon after ‘Tec wrapped (which is totally understandable), I will say this: Super Sons of Tomorrow takes the same basic idea, but expands on it by introducing extra characters and putting more focus on Hypertime.

For those interested I wrote about the covers as well. See the spoiler tag.

Cover A (by Francis Manapul): Personally, I prefer this one. Manapul draws up a beautiful composition that could very well be the promotional poster of a new epic sci-fi film. On the left side we have characters from the future; on the right those from present day. Cassie Sandsmark looking concerned, her eyes bright blue in a wash of yellow; Kori with a similar expression, and green eyes under fire-red hair. Conner in his Superman attire, powerful and fierce; Jon in his Superboy clothes, determined to save the world. Bart Allen, Wally West: both exploding from electric red and yellow, charging into the fight. In the center of all: Tim in the bat-suit, holding out a gun, and Damian raising his sword that cuts the dividing line between future and present. In this way the cover thematically reflects story mechanics, and with color-work this beautiful it’s hard to pass up.

Cover B (by Chad Hardin & Alex Sinclair): This one puts the Titans of Tomorrow (Conner, Bart, Cassie) front and center, with Conner up front. To his left we see present day Kid Flash, Damian, and Starfire. To his right we see present day Raven, Aqualad, and Beast Boy. They all look very shocked, but their shock comes from something off-panel; this is probably intended to make the audience curious as to what’s going on. The Titans of Tomorrow come racing through a Hypertime tunnel, leaping from the cover, which makes for a very dynamic image as opposed to Manapul’s movie poster approach. Overall, I like both covers, but Manapul’s is just more to my tastes.

For those who came in late: this crossover started with Superman #37, where Tim Drake of Tomorrow successfully took out both Batman and Superman, so that those two heavy hitters wouldn’t be standing in Tim’s way while trying to get to Jon. In Super Sons #11 Tim contacted the Teen Titans by hacking into the monitor room. With Raven’s help, Tim managed to telepathically send visions of the future to the other Titans, showing to them the destructive force that Jon will unleash, and thereby killing millions. Just after these visions, in the monitor room, Jon panicked and accidentally started to unleash his Solar Flare power. He could get away only far enough so as not to kill his friends in the blast. Nevertheless, he did considerable damage to their home base…

Right on the opening page we are confronted with the burning Teen Titans Tower. Red flames and thick smoke rises from the wreckage, there’s rubble on the ground, and windows are shattered and walls are cracked. The low-hanging sky’s dark-blue hue bleeds into scarlet. This is an omen. Like Tim of Tomorrow delivering a message from a future timeline, the burning tower can also be read as a premonition of what is to come.

These dark themes of destruction are continued through pages 2 and 3, as we sweep our gaze across fallen Titans among debris. Their costumes are torn and ripped, their skin scratched, and they’re unconscious. Except Tim, who narrates throughout the sequence, allowing for readers to get another glimpse at the inner workings of his mind. He blames himself for miscalculating, and therefore being responsible for destroying the tower. What strikes me as odd, however, is that he says he “negated the emotional factor.” Are the writers hereby implying that he didn’t consider the past friendship between his former teammates and himself? And that the situation could therefore get out of hand very fast? Am I meant to believe this is Tim Drake? Of all people, he should be able to understand that his old friends will be upset by their former leader (albeit a distant, future version) setting out to kill a kid. I suppose it’s not easy to have a contingency plan for someone’s feelings, seeing as the emotional factor can’t always be controlled, but I just don’t see Tim completely ignoring it. That said, his inner monologue is effective in establishing that the Titans of Tomorrow are now involved and on Tim’s trail. It’s precisely the inclusion of these future Titans that makes this arc more interesting. Where we only saw Tim in ‘Tec, in this arc Tomasi and Gleason expand on the concept by bringing over more characters, and in doing so create more layers to the story. Not only is Tim trying to save the future by killing Jon, not only is he being opposed by the Teen Titans of present day, he’s also being chased by the Titans of Tomorrow. And as if that’s not enough, Hypertime’s pull is growing stronger and Tim’s time is limited. With this much pressure, it’s slightly more believable that he might rush into the situation, neglecting to pay attention to certain factors. But on the other hand, you’d think that Tim would come up with a detailed strategy before jumping across time.

Another character that didn’t get knocked unconscious in the blast is Damian. While I can’t fully accept Tim’s characterization, Damian actually leads us into my favorite scene of the entire issue, which is written in a typical Tomasi/Gleason fashion. You see, no matter what comic from these creators you read, they always spend time developing their characters through interaction and the integration of lessons learned, while simultaneously managing to nudge the plot forward. Where another team may have focused solely on plot progression, Tomasi and Gleason strike a fine balance between both plot and character bonding—a skill these creators have been honing through years of comic crafting.

Damian’s first move is checking on everyone’s vital signs, and his second move is tracking down Superboy. These are actions his father would have taken as well, as Bruce is always concerned about the health of his friends and innocents. In turn, this raises an interesting parallel. In the case of Tim, we see him in the cape and cowl and how being Batman impacts him in negative ways, emphasizing bad aspects of his personality and his paranoia, whereas, as Robin, he always was composed with an analytical mind and leadership capabilities. In the case of Damian, however, he’s showing more and more likenesses to the positive sides of Batman (especially caring about others’ well-being), and while he usually wants to act solo, he is showing more willingness to accept others and responsibility as a leader. In short, where Tim’s slipping into a darker version of himself that wants to kill in order to save the world, Damian is growing into a brighter version that just wants to keep people safe from harm.

Especially aboard the submarine Damian’s development is being emphasized. Jon has regained consciousness and, naturally, he’s worried that he might have hurt people. He starts to walk around nervously, but Damian snaps him out of it, reassuring him that the Teen Titans are fine and that none of this is Jon’s fault. This scene leads to the most rewarding and heart-warming moment in the entire book. It’s where Damian promises to keep Jon safe and, finally, calls Jon “friend.” I don’t know about you guys, but there was a big smile on my face while reading this. For those who’ve read my review on Metal #4, I’d written a paragraph there on Bruce seemingly getting happier lately. I suppose the same could be said for Damian. From a writer’s perspective, his position as leader of the Teen Titans isn’t just so DC Comics can make some more money because the son of Batman is leading the team, but it actually opens up possibilities to further explore Damian’s relationship with others. It allows for him to grow into a more caring person as well as learning the values of friendship and teamwork. This way, the comic isn’t just a boom-kick-POW! book but actually has a deeper meaning on a character level. If there’s one thing you can count on when reading a Tomasi story, it’s precisely this kind of character work, and for this reason he’s one of my favorite writers!

Now, that’s all well and good, but still there are a few things that I don’t care for as much. This concerns, once again, Tim Drake. The Damian/Jon sequence runs parallel to one with Tim. The scene serves as a transformative moment for Tim, during which he explains that he never lived for the symbol of Batman and always wanted to move away from its shadows into the light of day. To reflect this transformation, Ed Benes draws Tim wearing a new costume. It’s a black/gray/red suit, complete with a trenchcoat and a black cowl with red lenses. It’s reminiscent of his old Red Robin outfit in some ways. However, when I see this costume I don’t think about a hero in the light of day—I think about an evil mercenary, especially since Tim’s still wielding two guns. His new codename is Savior, but if that’s what he wants to do, saving lives, then why the need for carrying lethal weapons? Why the need for such a dark and villainous look?

His new look also reminds me of Flashpoint’s (and New 52 Earth 2’s) Thomas Wayne; a brutal, red-eyed version of Batman with guns and a willingness to kill.

Looking at the scene where Tim once more confronts the Teen Titans, I’m even less convinced of the character’s wish to become a hero in the light. He approaches his former team with guns trained at them and his fingers on the triggers. He admits to wanting to kill Jon and possibly Damian, and even implies he’ll have the Teen Titans undergo a similar fate if they were to try and thwart his plans. Several Teen Titans oppose him, pointing out how nonsensical his actions and words are, and I wholeheartedly agree. I can’t help but wonder why Tim didn’t simply go to Superman in Superman #37 and told him up front, “Listen, Big Blue, I’m from the future and your son is going to explode because of the Solar Flare, endangering innocent lives, so please help me find a way to cure him!” Superman would’ve immediately understood the implications of the Solar Flare, seeing as this is something that he’s gone through himself in the past. Superman, Batman, the Teen Titans—everyone could have worked together to find a way to save Jon. Instead of going for these logical options, Tim decides to lock ‘n’ load and hunt down the kid aggressively. This realization really doesn’t sit well with me. It makes me question the entire arc and I just end up getting incredibly annoyed by Tim Drake’s antics.

Furthermore, what’s really confusing me at this point is the appearance of the Teen Titans. Compared to their ravaged looks in the opening panels, they look totally fine on the final pages. Yes, I still see some tears in their outfits, but they don’t look nearly as damaged as in the opening panels. The characters themselves also look fine. I see no cuts or bruises on their skin. Their body language does not show that they were knocked unconscious in a Solar Flare explosion. They’re just standing there like nothing happened to them. This is a continuity error, and I don’t understand why the creative team/editorial didn’t pay more attention to this.

Toward the end of the issue we return to the image of the broken Teen Titans Tower. By this point, if read through this lens, it has come to symbolize the divided team. Some of the members have decided to side with Tim, while others still oppose him and are setting out to track down Damian and Jon to see if they can help them. This theme of division runs through the entire issue, as there is the present and the future, with Hypertime swirling through each and in between. There’s Tim, a failed Batman, and Damian, who might become a better Batman than Tim of Tomorrow ever could be. There’s the Titans of Tomorrow and the Teen Titans of present day. All these are opposites that are bound to meet in the middle somewhere down the line—a clash (hopefully) epic in proportions that I’m still looking forward to seeing unfold.

Before wrapping this up, a couple more remarks on the artwork:

First of all, looking at the panels where we see Starfire and Raven unconscious among the debris, I can’t help but wonder why they lie in those particular poses. It seems weirdly sensual to me, and I don’t think it’s appropriate to the issue’s tone at all. In my opinion, it would’ve worked much better if they were on their sides and there was less emphasis on their exposed female forms.

Second, I’m not completely on board with the coloring. It’s one thing to have both Ed Benes and Jorge Jiminez on pencils in the same issue, but to have such distinctly different colorists makes for jarring transitions. Don’t get me wrong, I think both Dinei Ribero and Alejandro Sanchez are amazing colorists. Both use varied palettes and are incredibly detailed in their color work. They add layers on layers, creating depth, and their beautiful color schemes make for rich individual pages that are a joy to behold. It’s just that their aesthetic qualities are so different from each other that I don’t think they match well. Apart from each other they would’ve shined; in fact, I would have been fine with either colorist on this book on his own. So I’m not sure why editorial opted for both of them. Perhaps it had something to do with time constraints? Anyway, it’s not a make it or break it deal, but I do find that it makes for a disjointed look overall.

Third, with all due respect to Ed Benes (the man truly is an amazing artist who draws detailed backgrounds and characters—a good fit for a superhero book), I prefer Jorge Jiminez’s art for Teen Titans. Especially in combination with Sanchez’s colors, the bright and animated aesthetic lends itself well for a story about teenagers saving the world. In my opinion, Benes’s work is perhaps too realistic and better suited to a darker superhero story the likes of Hellblazer, The Demon or even Justice League Dark.

Fourth, I am not sure why but, on page 15, there are two identical panels at the top of the page, and two identical panels at the bottom of the page. This just looks lazy to me. I’m sure, if they really didn’t want to draw one more panel, the creative team/editors could’ve found a way to make the dialogue work with one less panel. Failing that, even a simple head-shot panel would’ve solved the problem here. Really, I don’t see the need to just copy/paste images to fill up a page.

These are the identical panels at the top of the page.

Recommended if…

  • You love seeing Damian and Jon’s adventures together! (Easily the best part of the issue)

  • You’re intrigued by Hypertime and want to see how it plays a role in the next issues

  • You don’t mind two distinctly different art styles in one book

  • You aren’t completely annoyed by Tim of Tomorrow’s antics

Overall: Teen Titans #15 is a bit of mixed bag. The art is good but suffers from jarring transitions between artists; Damian and Jon are lovely but Tim of Tomorrow is starting to piss me off; Hypertime is intriguing but I’m wondering in what way this will be relevant for the story’s outcome. It’s not a bad issue overall, but it doesn’t quite stand out either. At least it gets the job done and pushes the story forward. Here’s to hoping the remaining chapters will raise the level of quality so this crossover can end on a high note. I know Tomasi and Gleason are more than capable. In the meantime, I recommend that you wait and see if the next reviews will be more positive before committing yourself to this 5-part crossover story.

Score: 6/10