At the end of last month’s issue it was revealed that the team’s new plan to “fix criminals” was to use Djinn to alter the minds of the men and women the team captured so they’re productive members of society. With an ending like that, the next step is to explore the repercussions of this decision, see how the team feels about things, and toss in a complication or two, right?
Apparently not. Instead of exploring the complications associated with brainwashing criminals, the story jumps to a different problem altogether. It’s not long before Djinn’s ring is stolen and we’re plunged headfirst into the traitor plot line that Deathstroke hinted at in The Terminus Agenda and that Damian and Emiko discussed last issue. I was really hoping the traitor plot line would be on the back burner for a while. Why start a new story line when you haven’t even dealt with the fallout from the last one?
While I’ve mentioned that I feel like Teen Titans has an issue with multiple plot lines, I’m starting to think that my problem is less the number of plots and more the fact that we as readers get no real resolution to any of those stories. The secret prison has been an underlying theme in most of this title, yet we don’t get the satisfaction of watching the team grapple with one another or the moral question of it all. Instead, we’re told they’ve decided to magically alter the bad guys a month after they’ve started doing it. The team (and I) still have no idea who The Other is or what they want. And by the way, does anyone remember the fact that they all almost died and still don’t know who dropped a building on them? Nothing is given time to breathe, let alone develop as a story. Instead, readers are whisked from one conflict to another, back and forth and forth and back in the most frustrating juggling routine ever.
Because of this, I feel like the book feels disjointed and lacks depth. I’m not attached to these characters the way I should be, nor am I invested in the plots since they seem to shift every issue or so. Worst of all, I’m confused as to how any of this fits together. It makes me think the story has really lost its way since it started.
When Glass’ run on Teen Titans began, there were two clear cut goals for the team: find a better way to deal with criminals, and move beyond past mistakes. Unfortunately, I feel like those ideas have become muddled the further the series has gone along. There has been little actual focus put on these goals, and — as in the case with the prison subplot– when they do show up they are mostly used to develop further conflict. Almost no time is taken to let characters have conversations about or meditate on these issues. It’s all surface level, so I feel like neither main goal has been developed very much. Instead, readers are kept busy with one new “explosive” issue after another.
It shows in this issue especially: we were just given a huge plot development, yet the story rushes on to something else without taking time to answer any questions or even give us a good moment of the team together in some kind of harmony. All this rushing around makes for some unclear team dynamics: are they even friends? Do they get along as a group outside of fighting crime? These are important considerations when you look at the conflict proposed in this issue: there is a traitor in the group, and they’ve stolen Djinn’s ring.
As much as I hate cliched traitor plots, they can serve a great purpose. They test a team’s bonds, and if done right, in the end can make a group stronger. The problem is, the team has to be a functioning force for the angst and conflict to really work, and right now the teens don’t seem to be much of a team. They’re more like co-workers who kinda like each other but really hate the boss.
The idea that they aren’t a team flows through the story. With the theft of Djinn’s ring, Robin starts a search through their home to find it. And by search, I mean he shakes down and threatens everyone individually. The individual questioning aspect is a hallmark of these kinds of stories, and I can’t fault it much for that. The issue is basically just Damian confronting each of his teammates, followed by their rebuttal. A few get some jabs in at Damian, and they’re all united together for a moment, but overall it doesn’t do anything to further them as a group.
Quite honestly, the investigation frustrated me more than anything. Damian running around being bad cop was grating, as was the team’s response to him. I know the story has built him up to be the villain of the group: selfish, manipulative, and willing to do anything to further his goals. I also know that everyone hates him because of the prison. None of that means I have to like it.
Glass writes Damian very much like he’s still new to being a hero, instead of someone who’s been doing this for a while. Both Roundhouse and Djnn call Damian out for not trying to be better, and for being cruel and nefarious. As a fan of Damian I hated reading that, as I see him he’s beyond this kind of characterization. Yes, he’s brash, overly confident, and can easily be called a brat. Nefarious? Not doing everything he can to be better? These are things that are decidedly not Damian. More so, this is not the kind of leader anyone wants over a team. Having someone the group despises and cannot trust doesn’t make for a strong group and further undermines the team structure.
We’ve also seen this before in Percy’s run on Teen Titans. Much of that featured Damian the same way: hated and untrustworthy. I was hopeful that Glass would have chosen to take Damian down a different route here, that he’d allow him to be someone who helps his teammates– and even criminals– find redemption and become better. It was something Damian promised many of them at the start of this whole run, and I’m disappointed that it’s been basically forgotten.
One of the few things I actually enjoyed about the traitor story line was who it turned out to be:
Roundhouse! I mean, what!?
Out of everyone, I was not expecting that. Which is a good surprise, but at the same time, I feel like it’s also not. We don’t really know much about Roundhouse. So far he’s not only been a source of comic relief, but of lightness and hope in the book. I’d hate to see that as a facade for something more sinister, as that would feel a little trite. It would have been really nice to see him more developed before this. I did, however, love how he surprised Damian this issue by calling out his interrogation technique, and defending himself against Damian’s verbal attack. I think more moments like that would not only flesh him out as a character, but it would add authenticity to the reveal that he’s the traitor.
The traitor plot isn’t nearly as interesting to me as other things going on. For one, I’m still dying to know more about the brain-altering the team is engaging in. I had a number of questions about it last month, and I still have those questions, none of which are answered. What are the repercussions of this decision? How does literally anyone on the team (aside from Kid Flash) feel about it? Crush, Djinn, and Roundhouse should have a lot to say about this, since they didn’t sign up for secret prisons either. Beyond that, what about Emiko? I loved her moment in this book because it harkened back to the idea of becoming a better person. What was with Crush’s eyes when they freaked out Damian, and what did Damian want to talk to Wallace about? It’s these things, more than the jumpy plots or extended drama, that I’m interested in. I want to learn more about both what’s already been going on, and these characters that I’ve spent 34 issues with. This book has a lot of potential, if it would just settle into an idea and let it play out.
Bernard Chang is back on art, and manages to create some great character moments. During Damian’s investigation, he gives each team member being questioned a half page close up that highlights their feelings about the investigation. I liked that he had Damian and the teen flanking the close up of their face. It feels very much like a video game screen, where two characters are battling, which is representative of the conversation on the page. The only difference is during the conversation with Djinn, where instead of her image we’re given a sullen looking Damian. There’s no need for them to go head to head, as Djinn is the victim here, and despite what she says, Damian is doing his best to help her.
Another thing I enjoyed was the attention he gives to each Titan’s room. We get this wonderful glimpse of their personality in how the room is kept and decorated. A good example is how the cracks in the walls and loose workout equipment in Crush’s room reflect her charged personality. Or how Djinn’s open area and huge window match her mystery and desire for freedom. It’s a really nice touch, that’s both subtle and telling.
Overall Chang does a good job, and works in tandem with Glass in crafting the story. The tone is serious and darker, and Chang handles it well. I think his style is suited to more serious tones, and it fits in nicely with this issue.
- You’re curious to learn who the traitor is
- You don’t mind the plot moving away from brainwashing
- You enjoy seeing Damian play bad cop
There are things I liked about this issue, like seeing Emiko struggling to figure out who she is, and I really enjoyed how Roundhouse had more depth than “fun jokester,” and showed knowledge of interrogation techniques. Unfortunately the book still doesn’t seem to know where it’s going. It has yet to settle into any real depth of narrative. The revelation of a traitor on the team has only increased this frustration. It’s a plot meant to either break a team apart, or make them stronger, but it doesn’t work when I can’t figure out what kind of team they are in the first place. The elements for a great book are here, things just need to slow down for a little bit and actually develop them.