Previously in Teen Titans Academy, we got another gimmicky issue! Will Teen Titans Academy #5 be any less gimmick and more, you know, story? Or even, gasp, character? In a shocking turn of events, yes, actually. Read on to find out more.

ART

Steven Lieber is back for another go-around with the Bat Pack and I gotta say, I’m digging his art much more. Lieber’s aesthetic still has a bit of indie comic flavor, which works here. Maybe part of my about-face is just priming or familiarity bias, but I think it mostly boils down to issue #5 giving Lieber a lot more interesting things to work with. 

He gets better locales (eg: the streets of Gotham, a seedy laboratory), a sketchy researcher, and knock-off Man-Bat to play with. Lieber’s Man-Bat-adjacent is the highlight of the issue. It looks monstrous, fun, and appropriately Jekyll/Hyde-y, like it stepped right off a Universal Backlot circa 1930-40. There are also more interesting perspectives this time around and even a bit of action with some fairly dynamic poses.

Dave Stewart is back on colors, and his colors seem a little less flat and a little more textured. The overall and within-panel color palettes seem to have increased exponentially, giving each panel a much richer and more contrasted look and feel.

Overall, art-wise, this isn’t a leap in quality, but more a bunch of small and subtle improvements combining, Megazord-style, to give the whole issue a significantly more pleasing eye feel.

STORY

For those of you not keeping track, in TTA’s mere six issues, we’ve gotten trite generational conflict, gimmicky mysteries, lame cliffhangers, forced crossovers, flash-forwards, flashbacks, and, for some reason known to no god or man, an annual. Meanwhile, there’s been almost no characterization for the Titans, Teen Titans, or Academy students. 

Is this a… maximum security children’s home?

Praise be to the great old ones, we actually get a bit of character fleshing in Teen Titans Academy #5. Specifically, a little more focus on the Bat Pack. It’s in the form of a flashback… but beggars can’t be choosers, amirite?

The nearly-full-issue-flashback revolves around how the Bat Pack formed and how one of the trio was transformed into Chupacabra, a sort of kid Man-Bat. The tri-gang solve a breezy, almost cozy, Scooby-Doo-esque mystery involving missing kids and take on the culprit, who turns out to be a bit more than your average unethical scientist. Even though it also covers how the Bat Pack ended up at the Academy, this is mostly Chupacabra’s origin, and that’s okay. I’m just relieved that we are finally starting to get some time with these kids.

A couple of things did bug me, though. There’s still a bit of bizarre tone-deaf hip-and-with-it dialogue here and there that made me pause, like  “Okay. NGL. That’s actually pretty drac.” The story tries to lampshade it later on, but why not just — you know — not.  I’ll have to dip a toe into mild spoilers to discuss the other thing that bugged me. You’ve been warned. 

Spoiler

Nightwing uses a dog whistle to dispatch the Man-Bat wannabe. I can’t recall a dog whistle ever being used as a plot device in the Man-Bat stories I’ve read (eg: Leviathan (in Streets of Gotham), Man-Bat (1996), and of course, On Leather Wings) — but I absolutely loathe the idea. If you can just use a whistle to dispatch Man-Bat(s) every time they show up, you end up completely deflating any tension and ruining heaps of story possibilities. I mean, just imagine Talia showing up with her Man-Bat horde in Batman Inc. and Batman and crew pulling out dog whistles and TKO-ing the lot wholesale. 

Maybe it’s that I’ve been thirsting for character development in TTA like a mummy thirsts for souls to reincarnate their beloved. But I think the Bat Pack as a concept — that is, a trio of Batman fans team up into a Mystery Inc-ish gang —  is a pretty fun idea. And it’s refreshing to see them set loose on something other than the toothless “Who is Red-X?” stunt. I hope beyond hope that Tim Sheridan et al. keep it up and start giving us more time with the other academy students.

Recommended if…

  • Scooby Doo-style mysteries complete with dastardly villains and meddling kids are your jam
  • You’ve always wondered what a Man-Bat would look like with sideburns
  • You’re a) dead set on giving this series more chances, and b) have been hungering for character-flesh as much as I have

OVERALL

Teen Titans Academy #5 still has some cringe dialogue and relies on a flashback instead of focusing on the kids within the context of the school, which is — I assume — what everyone is here for. That said, with improved art/colors from Lieber and Stewart and some desperately needed characterization from Sheridan, overall this is definitely a step up from most of the previous issues of Teen Titans Academy

Score: 6.5/10


Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.