So… Teen Titans… Is it a dark, moody, angst-fest, or is there more to this team than meets the eye? Find out below!

There will be a large group of people who will not like this run because the characters (Damian and Emiko) are “darker” than what they would prefer. If that is how you feel, that is perfectly ok, but you should give this issue a chance because there is a tonal shift in the narrative compared to last month’s Special, and it could be enough to keep you interested long-term. No, this still isn’t your grandpa’s Teen Titans. These teens are brash, question authority, and think they’ve got it all figured out. And you know what? It feels like an accurate representation of teenagers if you ask me. That’s not to offend teens in any way, but it’s an honest reflection of how youth are going against the grain, speaking out, and challenging the status quo more than ever. I work with teenagers (as young as 15), and they often think most of what goes on around them is an injustice. Teens have a tendency to get angry, jump to conclusions, and believe they know a better way to solve the world’s problems, so they embark on a (sometimes misguided) mission to solve those problems. That’s what I see from the characters in this book. But despite the darker tone, this is still a group of kids trying to make the world better… Let me repeat that because I think it’s important. This is still a group of kids trying to make the world better. The only real difference here is Adam Glass is letting them make mistakes in the process.

The first few pages of this issue feel a little clunky. Glass throws us into the middle of a mission without any introductions and there’s a lot to take in. Not only do we have three new team members that we essentially know nothing about, but we also have Brother Blood as the antagonist, and a mission where the mission itself is unclear… But what feels clunky at first, serves the story well by the end issue. Roughly halfway through the book, I realized how brilliant this approach is for the overall narrative. Yes, on page one we don’t have any details about what’s taking place, but with each page, we’re introduced to new information without the need of exposition. *Gasp* Wait… You mean… We have a writer that is using show versus tell in a visual medium? What!?! I’m shook!

But seriously, just concerning the team members, we learn a lot in the opening action sequence. Without making any formal introductions, Glass, not only, introduces each character, but he also showcases their powers and reveals their distinct personalities. He also makes it clear that this mission is about taking down the villain, not necessarily saving the innocent victim. I have to assume this theme will be pursued again in the near future, and that it will serve as a life lesson and opportunity for growth amongst the team. But, I digress, I’m getting ahead of myself and I’ll discuss this idea when it becomes more relevant.

There are brief moments of exposition that show Robin’s recruitment of the team members, but that’s about it. The scenes are short, serve their purpose, and provide character motivations without bogging down the story. So, for the record, exposition is used, but only to provide a platform for character motivations – three of these examples hinting at future stories that are sure to surface sooner rather than later.

The aspect I enjoyed the most about this book is the characters. I often cringe when I see new characters introduced into a story because I tend to feel that the writer is desperately trying to leave their legacy in the comics industry rather than tell a good story. We already know the three main Teen Titans – Robin, Emiko, and Kid Flash – but we now have the new kids, Crush, Roundhouse, and Djinn.

First off, I just want to be open and admit that I did not want to like Crush. I did not like the idea of Lobo having a kid, I questioned the possibility of it, and honestly just didn’t desire to see a “child Lobo”… Until I actually had a child Lobo and saw her wreaking havoc! Crush is awesome. She’s basically a mini, girl, Lobo, but with daddy issues. And her daddy issues aren’t the cliché, “I’m damaged because of my terrible father” approach, but more of a, “yeah, he’s a deadbeat and I’m going to kick him in his balls if I see him.” What I enjoy though, is that despite her… umm… Lobo-ness (?) she still works and plays well with the team – much in the way Lobo did in Steve Orlando’s Justice League of America. When all is said and done, Crush is a fun, welcomed character that elevates the book in a number of ways, so I suspect she’ll garnish many fans rather quickly. Also, considering Glass introduced a mystery concerning Crush’s mother and foster parents, it’s clear she will be more than just the team’s heavy hitter or source for blunt humor.

Speaking of mystery, Djinn is potentially the most intriguing character added to the roster. While she doesn’t provide much in the way of development here, she presents an endless amount of potential for future stories – both as a protagonist and antagonist should Glass ever decide to go that route. Djinn is a teenager that’s also a 4,000-year-old genie. The narrative isn’t completely clear if this is the case, but it appears that Djinn is struggling with a bit of duality. On one hand, she’s a confused, lost teenager with a heart of gold. On the other hand, she’s an all-powerful being with a long, dark history. If there’s one character that could survive this run without feeling like a flash in the pan, it’s Djinn. There are so many places a writer could take her after Teen Titans that it’s going to be a shame if DC doesn’t run with the character.

Finally, we have Roundhouse. Roundhouse is both the most important member of this team, while also serving as the most insignificant member. When you break the character down, he’s basically just the comedic/fan archetype. He’s essentially a low-level Beast Boy, but has the pros of being ethnic and is the strongest juxtaposition to the darker tones of this team. And hence, the problem with the character. Hopefully, Glass has some strong character moments planned for Roundhouse, because if he doesn’t, no matter how enjoyable he may be – especially when paired with Crush – he’ll ultimately just be a plot device to lighten the tone of the narrative.

Speaking specifically about this issue, there are problems narratively that don’t make the debut of this arc as enjoyable as it could be. I described this script as efficient – and it is – but where I can appreciate that technicality, it’s unlikely that casual readers will. Casual readers might find the issue a little generic and unfocused. Some readers might also focus too heavily on the mission at hand – which honestly, carries no weight other than to set-up the reveal at the end of the issue.

Spoiler

If I were to critique one thing specifically though, it’s that Glass tries to do too much here. He already has enough narrative to cover with the mission and introducing the team, but he also tries to set-up a future “big bad,” and unfortunately overplays his hand. Multiple members reference a being known as “The Other,” but it’s too much too soon, so it isn’t as effective as it could be. In total, there are three references to the character, and the story would have been much more impactful had Glass simply stuck with the first reference (which is discussed in Robin’s recruitment of Emiko), and saved the other examples for future issues.

My concern with the heavy focus on The Other, is that the villain will end up coming into play too soon, and create a conflict with Robin’s secret. I would recommend putting the focus of the first arc on team dynamic, Robin’s secret, and the conflict it will create with the team before fully introducing The Other. This would allow Glass more time to establish The Other as a threat, connect the personal connection he/she/it has with various members and create the notion that the character is here for the long run. Instead, what we get, is a heavy hand and a set-up that appears destined to over promise and under deliver.

If there’s one takeaway that I hope you get from this review though, it’s balance. There’s a lot of talk about how “dark” this take is because the heroes are confrontational and more brutal. While there is some truth to this, it’s more so a truth for character representation than a reflection of the story itself. So, if you skipped this issue for this reason, circle back to your local comic book shop and pick up a copy.

The Art: Last month I praised Robson Rocha’s pencils, and claimed that I wished he were the main artist for this title… Well, now that we’ve reached the actual debut of this run and have been introduced to Crush, Djinn, and Roundhouse, I’m going to walk my comment. Not only does Bernard Chang do an incredible job – as he always does (no, seriously, I’ve gushed about his artwork for both Batman Beyond and Nightwing) – but his art helps lighten the tone of the overall comic. This may not seem like a big deal, but his pencils could be the very thing that keeps select readers from saying, “This take on Teen Titans is too dark for my taste.”

Beyond that, Chang delivers clean pencils and tells an engaging story with each panel. One of my personal favorite sequences is the confrontation between Brother Blood and Djinn. There’s a lot of dynamic and tone in the panels, but also nods to classic horror tropes, that I appreciate. Most importantly, it felt as though Chang had fun drawing this issue, and that energy came through the page for readers. As always, it’s excellent work.

Recommended if:

  • You enjoyed Teen Titans Special #1
  • You’d like a Teen Titans book that feels slightly more mature.
  • You want a book that features teens with attitude! (Power Rangers reference)

Overall: Is Teen Titans #20 an excellent book? No. There are some minor problems, but the book is still quite good and it’s incredibly efficient! I have to applaud Adam Glass with how much he’s able to accomplish in this issue, and in doing so, he’s set us up for a fast-paced narrative that doesn’t require the slog of exposition to slow it down. And it’s more than just an efficient book. This is also a fun book. Yes, you read that correctly… FUN! While there are darker tones – especially with Damian and Emiko – the other characters bring a welcomed balance to the narrative. Where Teen Titans Special #1 was a character study that introduced the tonal approach to the three main characters, this issue establishes the tone and approach for the book itself. If you thought Teen Titans would be a bleak, angsty book, the rest assured that’s not the case. Instead, this is a diverse book that features a range of emotions, tones, and genres, and it deserves your attention.

SCORE: 7.0/ 10