The Titans were more than a superhero team. They were a family. That was in better days, however, before they were forced to disband by The Justice League.
Then The Source Wall broke and strange energies were released, which are now manifesting on Earth and randomly awakening the latent powers of people all around the world. A solution was needed to help an already overburdened Justice League contain the problem and Dick Grayson (a.k.a. Nightwing) offered one – a new Titans.
The Justice League leadership agreed to Dick’s terms with one stipulation. He was free to build his own team, but they would choose one person to act as a liaison. Thus was a new group formed…
Donna Troy – an Amazon clone with identity issues.
Raven – an empath struggling to contain the darkness within.
Beast Boy – a feral shapeshifter who fears losing control.
Steel – a rebellious technician aching to prove herself.
Miss Martian – the telepathic liaison with her own agenda.
They aren’t a team yet but, if Dick Grayson is right, they may be what is needed to save the world.
Titans #23 seems like an entirely different book than the earlier Titans series and not just because only two members of the original team remain. The focus of the book is entirely changed, from a group of friends that just happen to be superheroes, to a squad, largely made up of strangers, assembled to act as the DC Comics equivalent of The X-Men. While there is a need for such a team in the current DC Universe, I question whether that team should have been the Titans.
Titans, like New Teen Titans before it, was always at its best when it focused on personalities instead of plots. The problem is that the set-up of the new series has largely altered the personalities of the characters we know in the face of some major changes. The book is also more focused on containing metahuman-fueled disasters than how the characters are changing. A prime example of this is Beast Boy, who has lost much of his fun-loving, trickster nature in the wake of Justice League: No Justice and the energies that are changing the universe causing him to lose control of his powers. He still manages the occasional wisecrack but he’s far from the hero most fans are familiar with.
Dick Grayson is also written as if he were an entirely different character, which does make sense given what he has had to endure recently. Yet it is also indicative of a common problem with portrayals of Nightwing in the DC Universe at large. Dick Grayson is routinely portrayed as warm and friendly in the Batman family of books, whereas other titles tend to paint him as being every bit as dark and controlling as Batman. Such is the case here, with Nightwing butting heads with Miss Martian for no apparent reason other than him not wanting to answer to anyone.
Nightwing is given a better reason for not trusting Miss Martian later on in the issue, but up until then he seems horribly out of character. This also begs the question of why Nightwing – one of the most trusted and experienced heroes in the DCU – would be made to answer to a novice like Miss Martian in the first place, but I suspect that answers on that are forthcoming. Sadly, these questions, and what few character moments this issue contains, are far more interesting than the main story regarding the teams’ efforts to stop a rogue metahuman with electrical powers before he accidentally kills someone.
The artwork is equally mixed. The first page of this issue is easily one of the worst I’ve ever seen, being a prime example of the forced-posed, thin-inked, overly-bright aesthetic commonplace to 1990’s Image Comics superhero books. Things get better as the book moves on, thankfully, but the levels of shading and definition between that first page and the rest of the book are like night and day. Still, Brandon Peterson does manage a few nice touches here and there. My favorite is the use of boxes to show the telepathic conversation taking place between the Titans and the subtle note that, in his own head, Beast Boy still looks like his normal self.
Ultimately, I consider Titans #23 to be a disappointing book given the talent involved. Dan Abnett is capable of writing great character pieces but it seems that his heart isn’t in it anymore with the new line-up and the story has him seemingly going through the motions. The artwork is largely competent, but hardly outstanding. There’s enough good here to encourage fans of the series to date to stick around a while longer to see where this is going, but Abnett needs to shift the focus back to the characters and away from the random metahuman attacks fast.