Teen Titans: Earth One
I’m not sure I’ve read any of the previous Earth One volumes. Started in 2009, the label reworks well-known names — Superman and Batman most prominently — for the bookstore market, featuring original stories published in hardcover.
However, like most relaunches, the story in Teen Titans: Earth One makes most sense if you already know the brand. The odd mix of abilities demonstrated here — dirt control (Terra), shape-shifting (Chameleon), body invasion by organic metal (Cyborg), Native American mysticism (Raven) — don’t stem organically from the premise of an evil scientist organization experimenting on a captured alien. These power sets exist because they’re from the … well, not original Teen Titans, those were superhero sidekicks, but from the most famous Pérez/Wolfman comics era.
Like most series launches — the book is optimistically labeled Volume One — this is an origin story, a gathering of the troops to make a team. They’re all high schoolers together in Oregon — Tara (Terra, earth mover), Gar (Chameleon, changes shape into green animals), Vic (Cyborg, part living metal), Joey (Jericho, spoiler) — with the exception of Raven, who lives with her grandfather on a reservation in New Mexico. She was the standout character to me, and I’d have liked to have seen more from her than simply being used as a deus ex machina.
Raven seemed to have the most potential, with a well-thought-out reworking (if a bit stereotypical). Originally, she was the daughter of a demon god. Here, while all the kids have parent problems, she has a reliable guardian and is the one whose origin is most changed from the previous, since she’s now a Navajo shaman who has visions. Plus, the Dodsons’ art makes her lovely while maintaining her air of mystery. They’re a good choice for a book about superhero teens, telling the story clearly and attractively.
Writer Jeff Lemire does a good job making these modern-day teens believable, since they spend most of their time grumpy and disaffected. I never bought Tara and Victor as a couple, though, since that seemed too convenient and there’s no chemistry between them. All the kids have very similar voices, too. If you took the dialogue by itself, it would be difficult to know which one was saying what.
The parents are callbacks to the original. Gar’s parents were Steve and Richard, while Tara’s mother was Rita, who drinks to avoid the knowledge of what they’re doing to the kids. Joey’s father turns into yet another Titans reference later on, while Vic’s mother, Dr. Stone, is the stereotypical mad scientist experimenting on her kid.
The book has pacing issues. For example, I quibble with the opening. You have to get through six pages of muddled images, intercut with an equal number of black panels, captioned in an alien language to set up the premise, which we’re all familiar with from numerous other stories. I’d rather have started with the kids. And the book reaches a natural stopping point, with the team beginning to form, but like so many superhero stories, it’s clearly intended to continue, with many open questions.
It’s a weird mix, more realistic characterization in what boils down to a 50s movie plot. It’s a decent read, if very familiar, but somewhat unsatisfying in that we don’t know whether or when we’ll see more. And if we do, one slim story a year requires a lot of patience for what should be a pulpy adventure read. Still, it’s true to the feeling of the famous New Teen Titans while modernizing the threat that brings them together and cutting the ties to the rest of the DC universe. No superhero sidekicks or second generations here, just kids coming to terms with abilities they didn’t want.
J. Caleb Mozzocco points out that this reads like a TV pilot, and a single-volume introduction is a good way to get media interest, but one wonders how well that would work when the Teen Titans are already so well known, in different roles, as a cartoon. But for those disgusted by the current DCU, with its poor writing, bloodthirsty tone, and gory, hard-to-read art, this is a decent alternative. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)