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Subj: Titans #1 - 'The One Where...' Dan Abnett Celebrates the 1990s.
Posted: Tue Aug 02, 2016 at 03:36:06 pm EDT (Viewed 1548 times)
Opening up any discussion on the particulars and aims of the revived Titans from DC Comics is always going to be a business fraught with a good deal of difficulty. Not that Dan Abnett's revival lacks a certain appeal, rather instead that after a contemporary set quietly impressive mini-series with solid lavish art the modernism that made that eight issue-long relaunch a moderate success has inexplicably given way to something altogether unforseen, and not necessarily healthy - the Titans repackaged and branded as 90s nostlgia/tribute piece.
Everything, and I stress everything, about this first issue is culled from the DC comics you may have read as a youngster in the 1990s. Whether you remember Devin Grayson's warmly presented 50 issue-long Titans series of the late 90s as fondly as I do, or Wally West's time as The Flash under Mark Waid's pen, or Roy Harper's happy-go-lucky reinvention as Arsenal, all this and more is directly and very deliberately culled from the 1990s mass marketed era of DC Comics, indeed to cement all of these various elements there is even the undeniable sprinkling of that hit sitcom 'Friends' to make the broth complete. Yes, the 90s themed book has arrived at DC Comics and is in rude health, and it is called The Titans.
There is absolutely nothing in Dan Abnett's premier issue here that is original or novel, nothing. No new faces, not new problems, no new supporting cast, no Friction between the cast... instead there is just the blind faith in the strength of nostalgia and sense of familiarity that seeing this familiar band of ex-side kicks together again and rewired to their previously wiped history will be enough to get the target audience onboard and willing to indulge in 22 pages per month of pure Nostalgia and rehash. Buckets and buckets of nostalgia and rehash. For this issue might be construed as a love letter to the past, and in particular to Wally West's time as the one and only Flash.
It is telling that Titans #1 opens up with a sequence patterned along the same technique that became so familiar in Wally West's time as The Flash, with the internal monologuing and exposition Dan Abnett evokes the glorious past for a very specific introductory hook that will go on to thread through the remaining 20 pages, for by issues end there will be no doubt at all that this debut issue is as much a continuation of The Flash as it is a Titans tale...
At this stage I must pause and admit to some difficulty in evaluating this book as a piece of worthwhile work.
It seems as though I am grasping around for some context by which to understand the thinking behind the series, an understanding for why it is that a revival that was stylish and determindly modern when it landed last year is now re-presented as a tribute piece to another era. Another fashion. The choice of Image Comics graduate Brett Booth can be no coincidence surely, as mor ethan any current working artist, bar Ian Churchill, his is a particular artstyle that owes everything to the hyperactive and extravagant styles of early 90s comicbooks and the early Image years. And yet the choices seen here within this book all seem to designed and intentional, As scenes flow into the other the identity of the book, the purpose of this group, becomes superfluous as we watch what are clearly dearest friends lounge around on the couches of Dick Grayson's flat and merely intent on enjoying the moment. For all the world this is 'Friends'. But then to be fair this series does have a precedent as as previously mentioned writer Devin Grayson was heading a book with the exact same name and with the exact same characters, Dan Abnett's revival is merely a continuation of her fine work on that little remembered series. The only difference is that hers was set in a canon that was built in a rational and logical manner while Dan Abnetts is managing with an awkward relationship to that once linear and natural canon. As Wally pines for a Linda Park who no longer remembers him the reader might well pause a moment and wonder why it is for example that Roy Harper is not similarly troubled by the absence and erasing of his beloved Daughter Lian, or Donna for her departed Husband and Child. But then this opening stroyline is Wally's story, so perhaps we will explore Roy's thoughts on the recent events at some date in the future, but this is the sort of awkward questioning that Dan Abnett has to wrestle with, how to reconcile the remembered past with the actual modernday real world in which these characters now live in. It is a baggage the series can do without.
If there is such contention to be had in the books purpose and reason for being as an entity is there then any real way of gauging the actual worth of this first installment and obvious manifesto for the style and intent of the book going forward? It is all too clear that The Titans is a product with zero ambition to progress and present the team book concept in any particular new way, no new method or formula's to try out, so might it then not be possible to engage with this work on a purely surface level and accept it as the lightweight superficiality that it in fact is?
Dan Abnett is no stranger to writing ensemble casts. From The Legion to the Guardians of the Galaxy to Earth-2, he has experience with the team book format and can manage several characters on the page at once. So opening with an excitingly laid out set of pages showing Wally West's reverie and potted history the reader is brought into the books opening chapter with a rather awkward amount of prefacing and explanation as to who and what this version of The Flash is. For we are assured that this youth IS a Flash, not Kid Flash, A Flash. And he even reinforces the point as he dubs himself The Fastest Man Alive. So straight away a comparison and contest is being made that this is a character equal to the well established Barry Allen, and as events progress the strength of the Flash element will only get stronger. Brett Booths artwork is quite impessive when taken on its own terms here and compared to previous primers, there is more detailing given to panel backgrounds, more thought put into page layout, and the result is for several standout panels to be had as the story progresses. Wally is being consoled and questioned by the empathic Lillith and the memory of his beloved Linda Park is never far from the font of his mind, in this reset reality she does not remember him, and why it is that he cannot trigger her memory in the same way he triggered his old friends in the Titans we can but wonder. But Linda is his sad burden, his more pressing mission is the mysterious and unknown force that he knows is responsible for rewriting reality. And for such a vaguely defined threat the Titans are peculiarly very ready to accept events these last few days at face value and summarily become preoccupied with helping Wally find out more about this phantom threat.
It is all so matter of fact all of this. Indeed the phantom threat and Wally West's pining for the revised Linda Park is the entire thrust of the book, a none too blunt admission that this series has no ambition to explore the new nor aspire to venturing into new territories and new adventures. That we watch on as Linda Park independently takes an interest in the mystery Flash goes in hand with what then develops as the return of a very unexpected and famous Flash Rogue, and this particular choice is as surprising to see appear as he is absolutely fitting in the context. For this particular character crossed paths with Wally several times over...
If you made it this far you can no doubt sense my ambivalence to this book by now. How does one discuss a series that exists as a pastiche and tribute to times past and contains absolutely nothing of any originality or ambition? Consisting instead of a 'Best Of...' collection of 1990s Flash Comics and wrapped in a warm enveleope of cod nostalgia for an era in time now firmly existing only in the past? For the unavoidable reality offered here is that these Titans are all living in the past, literally obsessing over the dead past.
It is a difficult business to talk about this book. For while there are elements within that do resonate these elements are entirely derived from the sight of a bunch of old friends enjoying each others company in the tight confines of a swanky apartment they are co-sharing. Like the cast of 'Friends' these are purely fantasy figures who exist in our dream world of what the perfect friends should be. And on one level this is to be praised, after all too many Superteams today exist purely on a professional basis and with a membership that interacts and behaves purely on the professional level. The Titans is a book that aims in the other direction and taps into an era when the superteam concept was modelled as a unit containing your ideal friends list. Who wouldn't want Donna Troy as your big sister? Or the cool Dick Grayson as a smart loyal ally and friend? Or the rough n' ready Roy Harper as your grizzly strongarm and streetsmart support?
And it is in this facet that Abnett's approach actually does work, where the story content offers a perfunctory and fan-pleasing procession of moments and introductions the strength of the characters themselves and the strength restored to them by the realigning of their history to relink to the old comes into full value here - for while it may evoke the cozy saccharine world primetime buddy sitcoms and apartment sharing banter the sight of these familar and well loved figures just chilling and enjoying each others company is the books only real asset. For Titans is not a series or group with any reason at all to exist, there is no mandate or mission statement driving this group, rather here we have just a band of old and well matched friends who just want to be together and escape their loneliness.
When looked at in those terms The Titans is rally just a return to old fashioned junior superheroics as you liked them back then. The days of Claremont X-Men, Wolfman's Teen Titans revival, Nicieza's New Warriors, or Johns' Justice Society. And as much as there is in this first issue to be legitimately critical of the negative aspects are securely balanced by just these very simple truths. Titans is a book about deep friendships and Loneliness, a band of lonely young people who struggle to find a place in the world. The formula is an old one, not much used in modern team book settings, but on the occasions it is the book in question will hit the correct emotional triggers in the readership and resonate like for like. The plots may be deeply familiar and lack much originality but as in the Titans here there is just enough of a draw to keep the reader interested in making a commitment to follow. Quite where Dan Abnett is headed though is hard to see beyond the overexcessive indulgence in 90s nostalgia...