Why oh why is this book not called New Teen Titans?
It sure feels deserving of the title. After a lackluster first salvo at the launch of the New 52, the Teen Titans are back in a fresh #1. The creative team of Will Pfeier and Kenneth Rocafort make it an exciting debut, with an abundance of characterization and energetic art. There are even echoes of the Marv Wolfman and George Perez glory days, with a real sense of a team dynamic established. That’s a darn good benchmark set in just one issue.
You know how Justice League took months to bring its cast together? None of that here. We meet the team without overwrought exposition- Red Robin, Wonder Girl, Bunker, Raven, and Beast Boy all jump into action in the first issue.
Refreshingly, this issue tells a linear story and builds its characterization around the action, not the other way around. The story moves as its being told. There are no coffee breaks. Will Pfeifer has clearly done his homework, as the pacing feels like a Titans adventure of old but with a thoroughly modern twist. Teamwork-based action beats, exposition dialogue, hints at subplot conflicts, and an overriding sense of character identity. This is exactly what a new Teen Titans #1 should be.
It’s great to see Tim Drake back in confident form as Titans leader Red Robin. He’s been handled questionably even before the New 52 reboot. Pfeifer writes Drake in a way that’s more consistent with the character’s 25-plus year history than what we’ve seen in recent years. Tim feels like the team’s natural leader here, and there are traces of Dick Grayson’s early Nightwing days in his character. For Tim Drake fans, this is a welcome return to form.
Wonder Girl is center stage throughout most of the action, proving to be the issue’s superhero heavyweight. It’s cool to see a young woman in the role of team “tank” — taking the hits, doling out the return firepower. Her raw strength and quick dispatching of hapless henchmen feels like the actions of a young, brash Superman. Cassie is fun character for readers to root for.
Classic Titans Raven and Beast Boy also return in fine form, and newbie Bunker, introduced in the first New 52 Titans series, jumps out of the gate as a multifaceted and excitingly unpredictable character. He has an outburst towards the end of the issue that’s particularly worth noting in that it tackles numerous issues in a few short panels– discrimination, bigotry, social media, and violence. Bunker looks positioned to be a sort of catalyst for exploring these issues and more.
Kenneth Rocafort’s art is as clean and fast-paced as the plot. He makes beautiful use of the page, arranging panels in a way that significantly adds to the book’s fast and fun energy. Rocafort does particularly standout work in Beast Boy’s numerous animal forms and in the design of the unnamed woman antagonist introduced in the issue. Her look is menacing, mysterious, and badass.
With the new villain Pfeifer and Rocafort deliver a refreshing spin from standard superhero fare, where female villains are typically shown as witchy temptresses or shrill accessories. This antagonist is ruthless and bold, and feels like a real supervillain to watch.
The issue does wobble a bit when trying to milk the social media aspects, or more accurately, in its failure to do so. The front cover is adorned with ‘@’ signs and hashtags. While not a bad bit of iconography, there’s no real weight behind it. The teens do make use of technology in their first adventure, but it’s not a key element. For whatever reason, DC books in particular seem to struggle with being able to make the best use out of youthful ideas. That stodgy Silver Age energy somehow has survived all these years, so when the publisher does attempt to tap into current trends it comes across like your Aunt Judith trying to use Twitter to talk about her Steely Dan records. I guess I’d rather see Pfeifer and Rocafort just be free to tell their story without having to unnecessarily layer things on in an attempt to be hip. A simple hashtag like #teentitans and perhaps an editorial call for readers to talk about the book online makes more practical sense than trying to appeal to a new generation of readers by stealing their imagery without fully understanding how it works. It’s a minor detraction, but still feels like a missed opportunity for a book about teens.
Do teenage superhero comics still make sense in the new world of the 21st century? Teen Titans #1 certainly makes as strong case for the genre’s lasting appeal. It’s a fun book packed with action, adventure and a surprisingly full slate of meaningful dialogue. Will Pfeifer and Ken Rocafort make the first issue feel like a complete experience, not merely the first chapter in an eventual trade paperback. Even without new in the title, this new Teen Titans is a welcome refresh by DC.