The Teen Titans are one of the most prominent of DC’s superhero teams, primarily because it is based around legacy superheroes such as Wonder Girl and Robin and other young heroes like Starfire and Beast Boy. Over the years, the Teen Titans have carved out quite a niche for themselves, even transcending the comics with shows like Young Justice and Teen Titans Go! which have proven to be popular as well. So it was no surprise that when DC began to roll out its series of Earth One storylines for its premier heroes like Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, that they’d delve into the Teen Titans as well.
Teen Titans: Earth One Vol.1 repositions the team in a timeline that is very different from the current comics storyline. This is a trend that follows on from the other Earth One graphic novels, where the characters and their stories are reinvented and have their own continuity separate from the main comics-verse. Written by Jeff Lemire and art by the Dodson Duo, it is an interesting read that brings together some classic characters such as Raven, Cyborg, Beast Boy and others, but it also falls short by a significant margin because the story can be incomprehensible at times.
This graphic novel is basically the origin story for these characters, and as far as origin stories go, it isn’t too far-fetched or anything. It just isn’t as good as it could have been, in my opinion. We are introduced to Cyborg, Beast Boy, Raven, Terra, and Starfire here, and by the time the story ends, there is a sense that you’ve come to know what makes these characters tick, what drives them, and what they want to be. But the problem is that the journey is really bad for them.
I love Jeff Lemire’s work, especially on DC’s Green Arrow once he took over and his Trillium series for Vertigo, which were both awesome books. He’s got some really zany ideas in him, and he can do an “epic” really well. But this book falls short of his usual excellence because the setup feels really awkward. To clarify things a little bit, Starfire is an alien princess who comes to Earth for a reason (it differs from story to story) though we don’t know what that is, yet. As such, she ties in to all the other characters, and I can see where Jeff was going with it. The Teen Titans have always been about functioning as a group, they are all teenagers who get together really well (even when they don’t, if that makes sense), and while many dismiss them as Justice League lite, they are far from that. They have an identity that goes beyond their age and the legacies that they have inherited, and their common bond is something I see as very much a core part of their identity. So what Jeff does in this book isn’t that far off the beaten path, given that we’ve seen this happen to other members of the group in various stories before.
The wrinkle comes when Jeff applies it to the group as a whole. And the young heroes all come off as immature and petulant most of the time, which was also a bit distracting to me. The dialogue often felt forced, and the events felt too contrived. There was a certain lack of… creativity on the story and so I wasn’t entirely sold on what Jeff was going for here. There are some really good moments here such as when the heroes finally get over their differences and start to work together, or pretty much any scene with Raven, but the rest of it is pretty choppy and that’s disappointing. I had high expectations of the story, and they weren’t met.
The pencils for the book are by the incredible Terry Dodson with the inks by Rachel Dodson and Cam Smith. Brad Anderson and Terry take care of the colours, and then Jared K. Fletcher rounds off the team with the letters. The art here is incredibly. All five artists on the team are incredibly talented, and Teen Titans: Earth One Vol.1 has to be one of their best work to date. I’ve been a fan of Terry and Rachel for ages, and it is great to see them tackling the Teen Titans. The lines are clean, the colours and inks are solid, and the art just generally pops off the pages. The signature Dodson style of the camera angles of the art focusing on the big, expressive eyes of the characters can be found throughout the book, and adds a certain otherworldliness to the story. You really feel as if you are getting drawn into the story. There are some scenes where the art feels a bit less… substantial than it should, but those are few so not a big negative in any way. I’d recommend to pick this book up just for the art.
All in all, not quite what I was expecting. The art excels, the story doesn’t. The ending is also a big cliffhanger, and that grates on me because I wanted to see a more resolved climax. But this is what we get, so ah well. Looking forward to the next volume. Just about 2 more months before that is release!