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A Teen Titans #1 Review – Missed Opportunities

TITLE: Teen Titans #1
AUTHOR: Will Pfiefer
PENCILLER: Kenneth Rocafort
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: July 17, 2014

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Teen Titans #1 was DC’s chance to take a series that had fallen on its butt since the New 52 began, and take it in an entirely new direction. There were so many ways the company could have taken this book about teenage superheroes, and made it different than anything else they’re putting out right now. They could have taken a more light-hearted, almost cartoony approach, like Amy Wolfram and Karl Kerschl did with Teen Titans: Year One. They could have recruited a young adult author to take advantage of the popularity of that genre, while also getting some new eyes on the product. Heck, they could have even played up the teens’ everyday lives more than their actual superheroics.

Instead, they gave the book to the guy who wrote Amazons Attack!

Teen Titans #1 sees a mysterious supervillain hijack a bus filled with schoolgirls and go speeding through Times Square. This quickly attracts the attention of our new line up of Teen Titans: Red Robin, Wonder Girl, Beast Boy, Raven, and Bunker. For reasons unclear, the hijacker apparently has a grudge against S.T.A.R. Labs. In any event, the Titans definitely have a new enemy. They also may have a P.R. crisis on their hands, as Bunker snaps on a civilian who nearly uses a slur against homosexuals.

Before we get into why this issue sucks, let’s talk about why Teen Titans has sucked overall since the relaunch happened…

In the New 52 canon, the team that began forming in Scott Lobdell and Brett Booth’s 2011 Teen Titans is, for whatever reason, the first and only incarnation of the group that has ever existed. While the book itself, along with books like Red Hood and the Outlaws and Batwoman, initially indicated otherwise, all such conversations have subsequently been edited out of existence. Thus, in this continuity, Tim Drake, Cassandra Sandsmark, and the other heroes from the Lobdell series are the original Teen Titans.

To put it plainly, that sucks. It robs a sense of richness and history from not only the Teen Titans series, but from characters around the DCU. Dick Grayson, Beast Boy, Raven, and Starfire are just a few of those effected. Hell, even if they weren’t called the Teen Titans, can’t we at least say they hung out? Can’t they have been some sort of group to set the precedent?

Secondly, the Red Robin costume. It sucked in 2011, it continued to suck through 2012 and 2013, and it still sucks in 2014. Brett Booth completely butchered any aura of coolness Tim Drake had by giving him a suit that’s way too busy and gimmicked up. The wings are idiotic, and there are way too many belts, capsules, pouches, pads, etc. This new series was the perfect chance to clean Red Robin up. But they missed the boat on that one too.

Thirdly, and most importantly, for the past few years Teen Titans has been just another superhero team book. Again, a GIANT missed opportunity. The element that makes the Teen Titans different, and what can potentially draw in a different demographic than say, Justice League, is the fact that they’re teenagers. They’re young, moody, and haven’t fully discovered who they are yet. That concept has so much fertile ground for storytelling, and that’s why it’s used so often in popular culture. The last writer to really get what Teen Titans should be about in the 21st century was DC’s very own Chief Creative Officer, Geoff Johns. If you look back at the first issue of his run, which began in 2003, you see heroes who are rebelling against the adults in their lives, coming to grips with what’s expected of them, and trying to find their place in the world. They were acting like teenagers. Imagine that…

We got hardly any of that in Lobdell’s series, and in this issue we have next to none of it. We have a cover that looks like a Facebook photo, because social media exists. And we have a young hero that takes exception to his sexuality being demeaned. But that’s certainly not something specific to teenagers is it? So what we end up with is just another superhero story. And not a very interesting one, because we don’t know enough about our villain, or what she (it’s a woman, apparently) intends to do.

Kenneth Rocafort isn’t the best choice to handle the pencil, either. This is especially true when it comes to Wonder Girl. Cassandra Sandsmark’s New 52 redesign essentially turned her into a Power Girl clone wearing a variation on Donna Troy’s old costume. As if that weren’t enough, Rocafort draws her without a trace of human emotion. At one point, she rips one of the kidnappers out of the speeding bus, and subsequently stands atop the bus while holding him up with one arm (shown below). She did this because she was angry he threatened to kill a young girl. But judging by her face, you’d think she was picturing herself laying on the beach or something. She seems to be there just to be the hot blonde with big boobs. What is this, The Big Bang Theory?

As for Bunker’s little outburst toward the end of the issue, I don’t have a problem with superhero comics tastefully addressing and incorporating gay issues in our culture. But I don’t have even the slightest confidence that Teen Titans can do that effectively. Yet another missed opportunity.

At the risk of sounding like a run of the mill fickle comic book geek, Teen Titans #1 gives us almost everything the series shouldn’t be. It’s business as usual. And when I open Teen Titans I’m not looking for business as usual. I’m looking for something different, something that takes on the DCU from a different angle. That’s not what this is. And unfortunately, it may be a long time before we see it again.

Front page image from dccomics.com. Image 1 from comicbook.com. Image 2 from comixology.com. Image 3 from adventuresinpoortaste.com. 

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A Serenity: Leaves on the Wind Review – The Sequel 10 Years in the Making

TITLE: Serenity: Leaves on the Wind
AUTHOR: Zack Whedon
PENCILLERS: Georges Jeanty, Fabio Moon. Cover by Dan Dos Santos.
COLLECTS: Serenity: Leaves on the Wind #1-6
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: Dark Horse Comics
PRICE: $19.99
RELEASE DATE:
November 5, 2014

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

So here’s a question: Why did it take us so long for us to get a comic that substantially picks up where Serenity left off? Why did it take so long for us to get the next chapter? Dark Horse has published a variety of comics and graphic novels set in the Firefly universe, some of which inched the story forward. But why did we have to wait so long for a significant follow up to Serenity? 

In any event, thanks to the magic of comics, we finally get to see the fallout from that movie that came out 10 years ago with Serenity: Leaves on the Wind. Malcolm Reynolds and the crew of the Serenity are the most wanted outlaws in the ‘verse. However, they’ve planted an all-too-valuable blemish on the Galactic Alliance’s reputation by revealing that the Reavers (space cannibals, basically) are actually byproducts of their experiments. What’s more, the ship is running low on food and supplies, and Zoe on the verge of giving birth. To say the least, our heroes are between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Something’s got to give.

Whedon and Jeanty give us a pretty strong opening, jumping right into the damage done to the Alliance’s reputation by the Reaver scandal, and the “New Resistance” created by the controversy. They make us wait a bit to see Mal and his crew, and that wait carries a lot of, um…weight to it, as when we left them in Serenity, they were in a fairly vulnerable state.

About halfway into the first issue, we learn that Mal and Inara finally gave into all that romantic tension at some point between Serenity and Leaves on the Wind. For yours truly, that’s a creative disappointment. We spent all that time becoming invested in their relationship, and then we don’t get the pay off? Lame. If they’d wanted to, they could’ve built this entire miniseries around the moment Mal and Inara finally reveal their true feelings. But instead, they simply jump into bed in issue #1. What a missed opportunity…

Zoe comes out of this book looking particularly strong. In the span of one story, she has a vision of her dead husband, gives birth to the child she conceived with said husband, gets tossed into an “unnamed prison camp,” and kills a man, among other feats of badassery. Character-wise, one can argue Zoe has never been more interesting than she is in Leaves on the Wind. She’s incredibly vulnerable and emotional, but still tough as nails. Zack Whedon more than lives up to his brother’s standard for strong female characters.

Leaves on the Wind also adds a pair of new crew members to Mal’s ship. The first is Bea, leader of the New Resistance. Aside from her fierce contempt for the Alliance, she’s not fleshed out much here, but that’s understandable given how much other ground we have to cover here. Interestingly, she seems to have attracted the romantic interest of Jayne. Coupling Jayne up with someone might make for interesting storytelling down the road. But as we now have Mal and Inara together, along with Kaylee and Simon, that might run the risk of making things too “coupled up.” Toward the end of the story we also meet Iris, a victim of the Alliance’s experiments much like River. She serves as an interesting illustration of how far River has come since we first met her, and could lead to some further development for her down the road.

Leaves on the Wind isn’t necessarily friendly to fans who haven’t seen Firefly or Serenity, which is fair enough, I suppose. But if you haven’t seen the source material in awhile, you may need a review session before jumping into this book. It took yours truly some time to remember who The Operative was, and how he was connected to Mal and the crew. We also see Jubal Early again, which is delightful. But keep in mind, he only appeared in one episode of the series.

Georges Jeanty’s art is hit or miss for me here. At times his characters perfectly evoke the actors that played them in Firefly and Serenity, and at other points they don’t. As a reader, that’s frustrating. Either make your figures look like the actors, or render them in a way that suits your particular talents. But pick a direction and stick with it. What’s even more frustrating is at times, is when Jeanty really nails an actor’s face. Zoe, for instance, looks like Gina Torres a good portion of the time, which is part of the reason why she comes out so strong in this story. Mal on the other hand, vaguely resembles Nathan Fillion. Other characters, like Kaylee and River, go back and forth in terms of accuracy. Realistically, unless you’re an Alex Ross, there’s only so much you can ask from any artist in terms of photo-realism. But it’s that touch-and-go factor that irritates me.

This issue also includes the 2012 Free Comic Book Day exclusive, Serenity: It’s Never Easy, the short story in which we learned Zoe was pregnant. Illustrated by Fabio Moon, it’s far more cartoony-looking than Leaves on the Wind. But on the plus side, it lacks the inconsistency of Jeanty’s work. In truth, it’s only there to lay the foundation for Zoe’s pregnancy, which is fine.

Serenity: Leaves on the Wind is a bittersweet creation in a lot of ways. If the world were a fair place, we wouldn’t need this book to exist. Joss Whedon and everybody involved with Firefly would have gotten to make their TV show, and it wouldn’t have become one of the biggest missed opportunities in the history of television. It’s actually painful to imagine what Firefly could have been, and I’m not even a die-hard Browncoat. Leaves on the Wind is flawed, but I doubt you’ll hear a lot of folks complaining about it. Hell, it’s new Firefly! Just kick back and enjoy the positives, folks. And hey, maybe there’s reason to be hopeful. Now that Star Wars is leaving Dark Horse, there’s a hell of a void to fill.

And to that I say, why not Malcolm Reynolds?

RATING: 7/10

Front page image from comicbookresources.com. Image 1 from gonnageek.com. Image 2 from mygeekygeekyways.com. 

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