Saturday, September 6, 2014

Earth One: Teen Titans, Vol. 1

Generally, I really enjoy Jeff Lemire's work (his most famous-ish standalone so far, The Underwater Welder, was actually my least favorite).  I love his Canuckness (not a word).  He's very good at characterization and internal struggle, which, on a basic level, is one reason why people connect so much with superheroes.  Obviously, they're (superheroes, not Canadians) nothing like us in that they have uncommon abilities, but for the most part, they struggle with the same doubts, fears, and self-loathing that the norms do.  Superman was adopted and worries that he could end up being the policeman of the world.  Wonder Woman is on not-so-hot terms with her mom and has dating issues.  Spider-Man ... wait, I can't even go into Spider-Man because I seriously dislike Spider-Man.  If he's human like us, then he's the whiny 13-year-old us that we look back on now and just want to slap some sense into.  Part of the appeal of X-Men is Hugh Jackman (sorry) the concept that people ostracized for their differences, people who are othered, are actually the ones with the power to save the world.


I don't pretend to know a ton about comics.  I've seen movies, and I've been getting into comics and graphic novels ever since I became a teen librarian about a year and a half ago, so all of my references are current storylines.  I did go back and read Mark Waid's Kingdom Come (because I love his run on Daredevil), and I quiz my little brother, who is like a comics savant, about this whole Crisis on Infinite Earths thing.  

Actually, this evening, as I was reading Earth One: Teen Titans, Vol. 1, I called him up and worked through the concept of the Earth One series from DC.  I think I've got a handle on it, as much as a newbie can get behind the concept of splitting into various DC universes so that writers can take characters in different directions than what I would call "canon."  I can only describe his reaction to my earnest questioning as bemusement, in both definitions.  

My other point of reference is the Teen Titans show that used to be on Cartoon Network.  I loved the anime-inspired style of the show, and the humor, and the theme song sung in Japanese.  For better or for worse, those characters are how I envision the Titans (although it was obviously cleaned up and polished for the littler ones who would be watching).

There's good and there's not so good in Lemire's Teen Titans.  I do like the twist on their origin (remember, Earth One universe, does not need to match what's happening in the New 52--although from what I've read that's not a particularly good run either: evidently Starfire is some sort of sex fiend???  Anyway.  Parenthetical digression done.) and the Titans' relationship to Starfire, who, in this volume, made me go, "She's so awesome."  Which is generally how I feel about her anyway, and which is why the articles discussing her role as eye candy for men in the New 52 make me sad and angry (can we make this sangry?  Like hangry but sad?)  I don't like how the origin story dragged on. We've also got the requisite: Mad Scientist ("Mwa-ha-ha!"), Bad Boy (Cyborg/Victor Stone), Bad Girl (Terra/Tara Markov), and the Misfit (Beast Boy/Changeling/Gar Logan).  Even though these are the original characters, they're not redone in a way that makes them more interesting to me.

In this imagining of the Titans, they develop their powers all of a sudden.  However, the transition for Beast Boy was really fast.  In one panel, he was a smart kid, and then he turned into a green cat and everyone was pretty darn chill with that.  He's a shapeshifter and none of the other characters really comment on the strangeness of that.  Here's the scene (note: this was taken from an e-galley, so things may change, names may be changed to protect the innocent, and so on):

Victor: "HOLY CRAP!"
Gar: "I saw it all too ... you guys, this place, the ship, the crash... and uh, apparently I'm a cat now.  A green cat."
Victor: "What ... what are we?"
Fin

That's pretty much the whole discussion of Beast Boy.  I don't know about you, but I'd be a smidge more freaked out if my new classmate suddenly gained the ability to turn into different animals and was permanently green.  But hey ... maybe these Oregonians are really well-adjusted kids (the action is split between the Oregon coast and New Mexico).

Meanwhile, back at the ranch ...

I have a problem.  Maybe I'm overly sensitive.  Wait, I know I'm overly sensitive, but hear me out.  This is an issue that deserves a reaction, even from the non-overly sensitive.  Raven, another member of the Titans (who in the TV cartoon was a wonderfully emo, Daria-esque character), is Native American and part of the Navajo Nation (Diné).  She has mystical dreams and lives with her grandfather, who used to have mystical dreams until Raven was born.  He dreamed that she would save everyone.  Grandfather also recorded his dreams in petroglyphs inside a secret cave.  He tells her stuff like, "Feel it in you, Raven.  The old ways.  The Navajo ways."

Right.  So let's just toss in every single cliché about Native Americans that we can possibly think of .  I'm pretty sure the Diné don't have to write in petroglyphs.  It turns out Raven is kind of a skinwalker (again, another odd choice because in most instances (not all, but most) I'm pretty sure skinwalkers are not viewed as friendly community members) and can teleport in magical raven form to other places.  She does this a grand total of one (1) time.  Woo.  

Lemire really is a better writer than this.  He writes better dialogue that the strange, stilted stuff that comes out of the mouths of the teens.  And also the Mad Scientist.  I much preferred the Essex County trilogy and his work on Animal Man to this.  

The art is generally fine, although there are some stylistic issues, particularly when it relates to Cyborg, and some continuity issues.  Cyborg sports the biggest, baddest flattop I've seen since The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.  Seriously.  Why?  This is not 1992.  I'm pretty sure there were a few panels where Terra's hair color switched from pale blonde to dark blonde/light brown and then back again.  I suppose you could argue this was a "lighting effect" but it did confuse me to the point where I thought, "Wait, who's that?  Oh, Terra."

Finally, where's Robin?  I mean, sure, it's Earth One, so Lemire can do whatever he wants, but for me, Dick Grayson is an integral part of the Titans.  To leave him out of the entire first volume seems a bit odd.  

As I began writing this, my feelings on this were, "Eh, it was fine."  But now, after having worked through it all, I guess I have more problems with it than I originally realized.  However, it was a quick read and I would read volume two to see where Lemire takes this.

I received a digital ARC of this title from Netgalley.

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