First Roy took on Intergang on his own and now he’s even more out of his depth! Going up against Monsieur Mallah, the Brain and Cheshire sounds like a job for the Titans but trying to get the band back together could prove to be a tall order in this month’s Titans #21…

Off the bat, it’s worth noting that this issue doesn’t move the story forward much and several members of the core cast remain absent but it is nonetheless a worthwhile read thanks to a satisfying fight scene and excellent character work throughout. Abnett treats the Titans with respect and understanding. He highlights that Roy’s difficult life has made him a stronger man who wouldn’t relapse again of his own volition but also focuses on Roy’s bitterness, a trait that would also go hand in hand with his experiences. Even more impressive is that Roy’s angry outbursts aren’t just generic insults; he actually tells his ex-teammates some hard truths. Check out how realistic the scene below feels; how did Abnett think of that too-long-to-answer part? I can only assume that, like any writer worth his salt, he’s picked it up from real life.

Dick also features prominently in this issue. He’s the leader of the Titans and was trained by Batman himself so it’s a relief when he’s handled correctly and portrayed as a master combatant, as he is here. In Detective Comics, Tynion is always using Batman as a punch bag to impress upon the reader how special the other Gotham Knights are but, even though it would move the story along at a quicker pace, Abnett resists the temptation to treat Nightwing this way. This is good writing; stories being driven by characters acting organically.

It’s not all about the Titans’ interactions, either. Mallah and the Brain only get five pages of the book but still manage to make an impression. They are funny, tragic, insecure and caring; they’re not your average villains. Because they’re charming company (even though there are no French accents this time), when they point out that they aren’t famous or successful like Lex Luthor, I actually feel sympathy towards them. They’ve been forgotten like Killer Moth’s gang of Misfits from Shadow of the Bat #7-9.

Spoiler

However, Mallah and the Brain aren’t so eccentric when it comes to their ambitions. Just like every other villain, they’re planning on a spot of world domination (rather like the Brain’s mousey namesake in the classic Spielberg cartoon!). It’s not the first time this couple have tried to take over the world so I understand why this is their mission on this occasion but I prefer it when they’re motivated by their hatred of the Doom Patrol. Though he presents an immense threat, at least the Brain doesn’t seem too overpowered compared to his previous incarnations (unlike Ivy in recent issues of Batman).

After a couple of issues of thinking Roy’s mission was all about stopping drug dealers, it’s kind of a shame to find out that it’s business as usual for the Titans, especially as this must surely mean that the new status quo of the team being disbanded won’t last long. The Justice League conveniently don’t believe Roy (which amusingly puts me in mind of how adults never believe kids when they tell them something terrible is happening in movies) and this is too big for Roy to handle alone so presumably the Titans will have to reunite in order to overcome this new peril. This short-term split kind of cheapens the drama of the separation happening at all.

Due to the weight of the lines, the heavy-handed shading and the sparse detail, Pelletier’s work isn’t the kind that usually gets hung on the wall (Lucas’ colours can also be a little bit flat; not as nuanced and varied as Brad Anderson’s, for instance). However, the purpose of the art here is to tell the story and the team achieves that magnificently. The character proportions are great and, as I’ve mentioned before, Pelletier’s action is clear and flowing. The fight scene in this issue is well choreographed – it’s not just a series of shots of characters performing flying kicks on one another – it feels like a real fight between the characters involved, with plenty of improvisation. Other intricacies I appreciated included a white spray effect wherever the rain was hitting a person or building, drips of water remaining on Dick’s face once he’s come in out the rain, the shiny exterior and complicated wiring on the Brain, lightning flashes surrounding Wally when he moves at speed (not dissimilar to those surrounding Ezra Miller in Justice League), and the spot-on body language of Donna slouching in a seat and resting her chin on a table after an upsetting discussion with Batman.

Recommended if:

  • You like it when superheroes act like real human beings.
  • You can stand to see Wally take another verbal and physical beat down.
  • You like well-planned fight scenes.
  • You want to see who can pull the grumpiest face out of Roy, Donna, Dick, Wally, Bruce, Diana and Mallah.

Overall: As usual, angst is front and centre but Abnett handles it so genuinely and manages to make space for Pelletier to deliver an exciting brawl in each issue. There’s nothing that will really twist your melon here but that doesn’t matter as long as the action and drama is this compelling. The Titans may not be enjoying life right now but I’m having fun reading about them.

SCORE: 7/10