Thursday, March 11, 2010

Review: Teen Titans: Deathtrap

You know those occasional issues of super-team comics which focus on the changing of the line-up? Where the plot more or less stalls for 22 pages while the writer checks in with the various characters, who take turns explaining to one another why they’re leaving the team, or why they’re joining the team?

After slogging through two trade paperbacks’ worth of Sean McKeever’s disappointing run on Teen Titans, I realized that during that period the series had begun to seem like an entire regular, monthly series comprised of nothing but issues like that, or perhaps a single changing-of-the-line-up issue decompressed into a year’s worth of comics, McKeever’s plotting and characterization too often taking a back seat to explaining changes in the cast.

So I was quite surprised when I got to Teen Titans: Deathtrap to find out just how focused and tightly-plotted a book it was. It collects a crossover between three different titles—Teen Titans, Titans and Vigilanted—and featured McKeever and Marv Wolfman taking turns writing chapters, and yet it was the most consistent, straightforward and accessible of the Titans trades I’ve read recently.

I won’t go so far as to say that it’s a good comic book, but it is a more-or-less complete story, but it’s definitely a better chunk of comics than On The Clock and Changing of the Guard. It has a beginning, a middle and an end. I could make sense of it without having to consult Wikipedia, creator message boards and interviews, and my memory of past DC solicitations. It was also the only one of the three that seemed to know where it was going from chapter to chapter.

It’s got a lot of problems, big and small, but it doesn’t dare you to keep reading it, the way those other Teen Titans trades did, and, as an added benefit, there’s less splatterstick gross-out gore and creepy sexual bits.

The most apparent problem is probably just how ugly a comic book this is; if the scripting seems better thought-out here than in the Teen Titans trades immediately preceding it, the art is just as slap-dash and drawn-by-whichever-artist-had-a-hole-in-his-schedule as the earlier chunks of the title. There are five artist credited as pencillers, and six as inkers, and it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that very few of them have anything approaching similar styles.

What surprised me most about the art were the fairly obvious mistakes sprinkled throughout, which not only passed the original editors of the various titles unnoticed, but apparently that of the editors assembling this trade collection as well (Unless they were noticed, but the general philosophy is something along the lines of “Eh, fuck it—no one buys these trades for the art anyway, it’s just not worth redrawing a half-dozen panels.”) These include the smooth, bald head of Cyborg sprouting hair between pages, Static changing his costume design during a plane ride and Eddie changing clothes three times during the same flight, including taking off his street clothes to don his old Red Devil costume, complete with the red skin he wore under it….? Or Something?

Perhaps less apparent, but somewhat fundamental, was the slow realization that it’s rather weird that this is story is collected as Teen Titans: Deathrap instead of Titans: Deathtrap (The spine has the number “11” on the cover too, so this is apparently Teen Titans Vol. 11). The teen team, the one appearing on the cover of the trade, is the focus of only the first chapter of the book, in which Cyborg apparently tries to kill them all using the high-tech defenses he built into their headquarters.

After that, they jump into a jet plane to fly to New York City and join the adult Titans in their hunt for the hero-turned-villain Jericho, and don’t reappear until near the climax of the book. So there’s about 100 pages or so which are Teen Titan-free, and focus on the grown-up Titans and Vigilante trying to track down Jericho—the Titans to apprehend him and save him from himself, Vigilante to kill him.

Perhaps Teen Titans trades sell better than Titans ones, and thus that was simply the best way to brand the book? I don’t know; it was simply something that confused me (And, I admit, disappointed me a bit, since that is such a weird and interesting line-up, and it seemed to be composed of characters that McKeever would have more-or-less exclusive control over, making future issues of his smoother and less likely to have to explain comings and goings).

Here’s the story: After Cyborg, working through Titans Tower, tries very hard to kill the new and improved Teen Titans team, it’s revealed that someone is possessing Cyborg and that someone is Jericho, the body-possessing Titan who went from being the second-hairiest character during the classing Marv Wolfman/George Perez run to being a crazy maniac attempting to kill all the made-up presidential candidates in DC’s ill-advised, chicken-shit piece of garbage 2008 miniseries DC Universe: Decisions (A book so damn bad that DC never even collected it…? They collected Countdown!).

The new Vigilante, Vigilante IV? (…or V? Maybe VI…?) is on Jericho’s trail for…some reason. He also has a back-story and motivations I never really figured out, as this storyline seemed to run parallel to several ongoing sub-plots of his own title that crossed over with the two Titans books here. It wasn’t a negative type of confusion I felt when these elements would come up, though. That is, I knew what I didn’t know, and I knew why I didn’t know it and where I could learn about it if I cared to, and it was made clear I wasn’t missing anything important—for all intents and purposes, all one needed to know was that this Vigilante was of the Punisher-type, rather than the original singing cowboy type. (Well, I didn’t understand why the Vigilante narrated all of the chapters of the story featuring him, but not the other chapters, which were narrator-less…I’ll never understand why so many comics are written with inconsistent points-of-view like this).

Jericho’s deal is that all of the body-possessing of villains and other’s that he’s done over the years has left psychic residue in his own mind, so he picks up bits of other people’s personalities, including an awful lot of villains’ personalities. He wants to prove himself the world’s greatest assassin, one-upping his father Deathstroke by killing all of the current Titans, and he plans on doing it with a really stupid death trap.

The idea is to create an elaborate hostage situation, get all of the Titans in the same room with him and the hostages and then—wait for it—blow them all up. With dynamite.

It’s a pretty Wile E. Coyote kind of plot, and it falls apart if one thinks about it too long (that is, at all). I got the impression that Wolfman and/or McKeever came up with the nature of the death trap first, and then plugged whatever Titans were on the teams at the time into the scenario, but it’s the sort of trap that you might spring on, say, Batman and Robin, but the Titans?

Regardless of how much dynamite you use, it wouldn’t be enough to blow up Miss Martian (who is invulnerable and can turn intangible) or Bombshell (who absorbs energy). I don’t know for sure, but I would expect Blue Beetle’s armor and or force fields could protect him. I think Donna Troy’s as strong as Wonder Woman, and can take an explosion. Raven can teleport herself…and everyone else. The Flash could outrun and explosion, or vibrate through the concussive force. Or, um, just run everyone out of range of the explosion in a split-second before it goes off.

Obviously the Titans don’t all get killed anyway, but it’s a pretty drama-free climax, given the mundane nature of the threat and, more disappointingly for me, the lack of imagination in its creation. If you’re going to be using The Flash in your comic, you really have to at least think of half-assed, comic book science explanations for why it might be possible to hurt someone who can move at light speed, you know? Sure, it ain’t always easy, but seeing writers wriggle through the obstacle course previous writers have established for them is at least part of the fun of reading corporate, serial super-comics that have been around for decades.

Not that the Flash plays a very big role in the story. Few of the characters actually do…in fact, most of the characters are lucky to even get a few lines. Cyborg, Beast Boy, Donna Troy and Vigilante have fairly large roles, and Ravager gets a bit of a spotlight near the end, but after the first, Teen Titans-focused chapter, it’s very much a Vigilante vs. Jericho story, with a few of the Old New Teen Titans in supporting roles.

So Teen Titans: Deathtrap? Not very good—but much less not very good than some of the other Teen Titans trade paperbacks one could read instead.

1 comment:

Ian said...

Hope you had fun with your friend.