Teen Titans 19

Do you like puns? Do you like titles that are puns? Well, have I got one for you.

Teen Titans #19 opens with the narration: They are the Teen Titans. This isn’t their best day. I would have to agree.

After last month’s needless cross-over with the Suicide Squad, the Titans are more than a little peeved with their fearless leader. Wonder girl seems particularly  upset by the deception (and by upset I mean considering an impromptu tracheotomy). If this sounds like an effective way to set up tension between a team to you, I’d have to say that I agree, however if you think it doesn’t sound like strong character work, that would be two things I agree with you on.

Particularly as someone trying his own hand at writing, I’m becoming increasingly aware that there is a ‘right’ way to write a story. There are conventional plots and twists that, tired as they are, are used because they allow a story to cover the maximum amount in the briefest time.

Truly great writers are the ones who know this and either find another way that their particular story can function with similar efficiency or who can make it worthwhile to read something that is not so optimized.

Scott Lobdell achieves neither this month. In fact, he takes those well-trod paths and fails to make something particularly intelligible out of it.

On the bright side, Lobdell does do a fine job of deepening the mystery of Tim Drake’s erratic behavior, however, after a few months, the suspense is getting a bit stale and Lobdell isn’t even willing to tip his hand and reveal what was going on last issue.

Even worse, he continues to write Wonder Girl as if he has no greater thoughts about her character than ‘sexy’ and ‘angry’. With her newfound recognition from the sadly canceled Young Justice, and her long history of poor treatment, it’s particularly sad to see Cassie Sandsmark wasted so. Even worse, Lobdell takes this opportunity to set up some interesting twists in her character, stating a connection between Trigon and the magic armor that provides her powers, as well as revealing the mystery of her New 52 parentage (Spoilers).

Luckily, Lobdell has a much better handle on his villains. Lobdell’s Trigon, though lacking some of his predecessor’s legitimate majesty, is a delightful opponent. His mercurial temperament and colorful exclamations help move the issue along. Best of all, Lobdell seizes the opportunity to introduce another classic Titans enemy, one with previous ties to Trigon, no less.

It feels like Lobdell struggles under the sheer power of his characters. Trigon has always been a true world-ending threat, but  he still takes cheap shots from Cassie and Superboy (can’t let people forget how powerful Kryptonians are, after all). The strain of making all parties valuable is tangible, and it doesn’t reflect well on the book

Lobdell’s best moments on this series have always been the ones that remind you of his long-term connection to the X-Men franchise, and this issue is no exception. While Trigon is taken by surprise at first, he does make a good show for himself, subjecting two of the Titans, in particular, to truly Clairemontian tortures. Though I could stand to see Trigon demonstrate just how heavily stacked in his favor the odds of this encounter are, it’s certainly impressive to see him effortlessly remove two combatants from the battle.

The writing on this issue would be weak but acceptable, if not for the last few pages, where all of it suddenly falls apart.  Lobdell is playing with some interesting ideas, but it’s no excuse for how hurriedly he ties up this issue. Little explanation is given as to what happens to the myriad villains, and what is given is far from convincing. Without  saying too much, the climax depends entirely on some mysterious powers of Beast Boy’s that are never seen or explained. I actually checked to make sure I hadn’t skiped pages.

Whether the fault falls on Lobdell himself or on Tony Bedard, who is credited as co-writing the dialogue, is slightly unclear, as it’s hard to say how much Lobdell contributed, however it disturbs me that Bedard would be brought on in the middle of a story. This comic may hold up better as part of a trade paperback, but it’s entirely possible that any gains in clarity will also reveal the change in the two writer’s styles.

Luckily Eddy Barrows remains the sole penciller for the series. Though Barrow’s consistant issues with faces remain, at this point I think we have to accept that that’s part of his style and just be thankful that it’s far less pronounced than in the previous two issues.

Perhaps most importantly for this issue, Trigon looks great. One of the few characters to receive a less ridiculous outfit than his post-crisis incarnation, Trigon shines, in design and execution. The sense of his sheer mass and arrogance is constant throughout his appearance, and that does a lot to make the issue stronger.

Oddly enough, Barrows also provides excellent interpretations of Beast Boy  (still red though) and Raven, so maybe he’s just got a talent for Trigon-affiliated characters.

Barrows also provides some interesting page layouts that help keep the book interesting. Though I’ve been pretty hard on him in month’s past, Barrows is a big part of the saving graces of this issue.

Before we go I have to stop and take a moment to discuss the title of this book. I’ve noticed Lobdell’s penchant for punny, often musically inspired, titles since the start of the New 52, but what on God’s green Earth convinced this man that there was an acceptable time and place to title an issue Trigon-ometry? That may be one of the worst puns I’ve ever heard in a comic. I think we’ve all had that moment when you’re out of time and you need a title (I know I have), but this is just ridiculous. I wonder if Lobdell thought that there was some clever reason to use that name (there are technically three sides in play here, but that seems like a stretch). What would have been charming as a Tiny Titans title just stops me in my tracks when paired with a serious (some might say overly serious) depiction of Trigon’s first appearance on the New 52 Earth.

Sorry…it’s a really  bad pun…

Anyway…

Though hardly enough to buck me from the strange and wild horse I call Teen Titans, Scott Lobdell and Tony Bedard give us a rather bumpy read this month, smoothed out slightly by comparatively stronger work by Eddie Barrows.

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