Teen Titans 20

Wow, quite a cover. Anyway, let’s review a comic that has nothing to do with that.

After a mixed debut, this month’s Teen Titans gives us a glimpse into the backstory of Trigon and his mysterious daughter, Raven.

Like her former teammate Starfire, Raven’s backstory is largely the same, however it has changed in tone and in the quality of the telling. Those drawn to the title by the anime-inspired television series of the same name will find a disappointing rendition of Raven’s origins awaiting them. There are a lot of words thrown at this issue, but, ultimately, Raven managed to explain her own character far better in a single line from the body-swap episode, and the fourth season of the show managed to give a far better portrayal of her relationship with her father.

But I suppose that’s neither here nor there. What’s wrong with this book, without comparison? Well, for starters, Trigon’s sturm und drang is hardly as effective when played straight. Last month’s issue showed us a villain who savored destruction, however, now he reveals himself to be a tired old conqueror, weary of ruling and aching to return to the field (Tumblr! Why are you even there if you can’t provide GIFs of a Trigonized Robert Baratheon when I need them!?). Function follows form, it seems, and all the energy and vigor that Lobdell brought to the Titans’ demonic adversary has gone out of him (though I will say that the 70s Trigon on page 6 is pretty fabulous).

Though he rambles on about how he longs to possess the seven kingdoms (Tumblr!), Trigon’s monologuing does little in the way of world-building and gives the impression of sword and sorcery blandness instead of the high fantasy Lobdell seeks to affect.

The other problem is that Lobdell is woefully unclear. Lobdell’s narration proclaims Trigon to be “ruler of the five under realms”, only for the same demon to proclaim his desire to rule the “seventh kingdom” before you turn the page. Is he just going out of order? Then he tells us that he sits “upon the throne of a dozen dark kingdoms” before referring to the “seven under realms” a page turn later. How many realms are there and are they distinct from kingdoms?

To make matters worse, part of the story is either told in Phantom Stranger #1 or simply lacking in clarity. How Raven came to be Trigon’s partner in crime is explained only in the vaguest of terms. And when the story reaches its conclusion, it is merely that Raven seeks to make the Titans her court…or something. I wish that that was an expression of my confusion, but Trigon doesn’t seem to know either, and, given that her motives, unclear as they are, don’t seem to line up with this analysis, we have to consider the possibility that Trigon is an unreliable narrator. Sheesh!

The enmity of Trigon’s sons for their father’s favorite offspring could lead to interesting developments down the road, but in this issue they are merely an annoyance, used to spice up a dull issue, spout nonsense dialogue, and point out to the reader how silly Trigon’s preoccupation with Raven is.

Also, while I doubt it matters to anyone else, why is one of them named Belial, while the others are given original names? It ties Trigon to a Judeo-Christian context that only serves to complicate the metaphysics of the DCU. Weirdness all around.

But, the issue isn’t all Trigon. Our time with the Titans themselves is, if not brilliant, better. Solstice and Kid Flash get a moment in the spotlight as they square off against Psimon on top of Beast Boy’s tentacled body (comics, everyone!). Even better, after 20 issues of waiting, Wonder Girl gets a truly excellent moment. Still, it’s kind of a case of too little too late. The final pages with our heroes are rushed in, so as not to interfere with Trigon’s sub-par monologue, to such an extent that the artists struggle to fit everything in, or at least that’s the best explanation I can come up with. I assure you that this does not help the troubled script express itself clearly.

Speaking of the artists, it’s a hit and miss issue for Eddy Barrows and Patrick Zircher. Barrows’ work never hits the lows of his early efforts on the book, but it’s slipped a little since last month. The twisted hellscapes of the under realms and solemn lights of Azarath provide plenty of interesting material for Barrows and Zircher, but the whole issue feels squashed. Perhaps it literally is, by the special demands of Trigon’s many captions.

Still, credit where credit is due, the pair make excellent use of camera angles, never settling for the obvious when there’s something else to be tried. There are plenty of great panels in this issue, though the power of the story telling tends to drop unless the scene calls for a very long timeline.

The second and third pages in particular seem to highlight the best of this art team, providing detail, energy, and a sense of motion. Unfortunately Barrows seems to agree with my taste in his art, as he copied Raven either into or from the first page and used a barely modified version of the last panel again later in the issue. One step forward, two steps back.

Interestingly, Raven seems to possess a different costume in this issue, though I can’t quite tell if it’s actually a change in uniform or simply evidence of how influential an inker can be. Either way the issue taunts me by reminding me how great Rachel Roth looked in the scans I saw from Phantom Stranger #1.

Over all this is a weak issue, plagued by errors that seem to indicate a rushed production. I don’t know what went on behind the scenes, but, even with Lobdell’s heavy workload, it’s not acceptable for one of the largest comic companies in the world to put out such rushed work, especially on a franchise that used to be one of their best sellers.

Teen Titans remains a roller coaster, all we can do is hope that next month will be better or that the book will grow consistently weak enough to drop.