Thoughts on Titans #23 – “The Spark Part One”

Titans #23

There is a new, Justice League sanctioned Titans team in the field in Titans #23.  There first mission is to handle an emerging new metahuman, and it probably will not go well.

Titans #23

Titans #23 Cover“The Spark Part One”
Writer: Dan Abnett
Artist: Brandon Peterson
Colorist: Ivan Plascencia

Publisher: DC Comics

Cover Price: $3.99

Release Date: July 11, 2018

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Reviewer: The Watchman

Solicitation Text

Can anything stop the Metagene pandemic unleashed through the events of Justice League: No Justice?  The all-new Titans are on the case.  Roll call: Nightwing, Donna Troy, Raven, Steel, Beast Boy and Miss Martian!  But can even their combined might stand against new super-powered weapons of mass destruction birthed by the Metagenes?  And (SPOILERS) how will the events of Teen Titans #20 come back to haunt the Titans?  New enemies are out for blood.

Background

Although this is issue twenty-three of the current Titans series this is really a follow-up to the Titans Special and Justice League: No Justice stories.  It is rather refreshing to not have the series rebooted back to number one even though DC certainly could have.  I will treat this as a number one since most subplots from before No Justice have been swept aside, and the team has been slightly restructured.

The new roster features a mix of new and old characters with most being relatively easy to recognize for any returning Titans fans.  Only Steel and Miss Martian feel out of place in the team for the moment, with the latter having that angle played up intentionally.  Following No Justice Nightwing was approached to form a squad of junior Justice Leaguers, which he grudgingly agreed to.  Part of the arrangement was to include Miss Martian as the team’s liaison, which has not gone over well with the Titans at all.  The divide between them is central to the current story arc, and will probably drive conflict for some time.

The other major factor behind this issue is the worldwide emergence of new metahumans coming from the fallout of the Dark Metal event.  This is strikingly similar to Marvel’s use of the inhumans in recent years in a failed attempt to create new characters with little need for backstory, and I expect this will go down about just as well.  There does seem to be a bit of an insanity angle coupled to these new metahumans, which at least separates it from the Inhumans a little bit.  This story is still developing across the entire DC universe so we will have to wait to see where they are going with it.

General Thoughts

Titans #23 begins right in the middle of the action, and then never takes a moment to breathe until the end.  It works well enough as an introduction since it allows each of the Titans a chance to show off their powers and display how they are not working as a team.  As I noted above there is a lot of conflict between Miss Martian and Nightwing due to her position as Justice League liaison/spy, but it is hardly the only tension in the issue.  Beast Boy is having trouble controlling his powers since No Justice, though that is not well explained, and Wonder Girl seems a bit out of control.  You know the Titans are in a rough patch when Raven — the woman who has a demon for a father — is the voice of reason on the team.

At the moment a lot of the team’s inner-tension is a bit forced and not entirely well fleshed out, but it is also the first issue of the arc so there is still time for that.  There is potential here and there are some interesting directions the story can go.  Beast Boy in particular could have some fascinating subplots come out of this.  He has traditionally been the happy-go-lucky attention seeker who uses his powers in goofy ways, but since No Justice he’s been more of a Hulk-style character.  The old character still shines through, but this could give some growth that Beast Boy has needed for years.

Beast Boy smash in Titans #23

The actual plot itself is rather bare bones and so far only serves to give the Titans bad guys to punch.  A guy who cannot control his new powers and who is not entirely there mentally shows up, wrecks havoc in the city and the Titans stop it.  There is an additional bad guy trying to pull a fast one which elevates the issue above the usual introductory superhero fight, but it is still nothing we have not seen before.  Even though this is part one a story arc there is no actual hook at the end of the issue to lead into Titans #24, and it instead relies on a “coming soon!” preview on the last page which is just snapshots of scenes from the next issue.  Given that this arc is called “The Spark” and that our new crazy-guy has lightning powers I am sure it will make more sense why this is a “part one” story later, but right now this feels like it would have been better suited as a one-off.

Writer Dan Abnett has been on Titans for a while now, so he has a good handle on the characters.  The strength of the issue lies with them, and the best moments come from their banter.  The worst moments do, too, though.  Most notably the forced tension between Nightwing and Miss Martian.  While Nightwing is certainly justified in being annoyed at having a nanny forced on to his team, the way he is reacting does not quite fit.  He has always been the strong leader who acts as an anchor, and this just does not fall into that.  This idea of tension between a team and its minder is a reliable one, but Titans #23 does not sell me on the idea that it is a good fit here.  I hope they work through it quickly.  As a side-note, I will be highly disappointed if they spin this into a romance between the two on the hate-and-love angle.

Lastly we come to the character of Natasha Irons, aka Steel.  As the newcomer to the team this would have been a good issue to introduce her and get her in front of the readers.  Dan Abnett has apparently been following the Brian Bendis school of thinking on team books, and spends little time with the newest member.  It appears that she is going to be one of the voices of reason alongside Raven, and also she will help provide the team with their tech, but otherwise we learn almost nothing about her.  I hope she is going to get some time in the spotlight soon, because she really needs it so that Titans fans can see what she brings to the table aside from a big hammer and fancy tech.

Thoughts on the Art

Brandon Peterson has been an industry veteran for a long time, and it shows in his skilled layouts and panel arrangements.  He also has a good sense of action and kinetics, which make the fight scenes pop.  What is a bit shakier is his grasp on anatomy as characters often have awkward proportions and slightly warped poses, as well as some of the usual problems women heroes can have.  I am assuming it is intentional since he is such a talented artist, but it makes everything appear just a little bit off.  One of his standout skills is facial expressions, and those really are a highlight of the issue.  There are one or two even there that are a bit wonky, but overall it is never hard to tell what a character is expressing or how they are feeling.

Raven is the voice of reason in Titans #23

Joining Brandon on the colors is Ivan Plascencia, and he definitely brings some solid work to the table.  Brandon Peterson was doing his own colors for a while, but he had a tendency to give everything a chromatic, shiny feel, so I am glad he let someone else take over for Titans #23.  I am not overly familiar with Ivan’s work prior to this, but it is easy to see he knows his business.

Overall the team of Brandon and Ivan has put together a solid looking book, with some annoying quirks to it.

Final Thoughts

Titans #23 is an odd mix of good and bad.  On the one hand it works as an introductory issue and lays out several subplots to develop in upcoming issues.  On the other hand it seems to be ignoring the newest cast member to focus on a conflict that feels forced, at best.  While there is nothing truly bad about this issue, it does come up a bit short of the mark.  Ultimately it just feels a bit unsatisfying, especially when you add in the abrupt ending.  There is plenty of room for this story to improve in future issues, and there are enough dangling hooks to follow up on, but few of them are developed enough yet to say if they are worth tracking.

As a big Titans fan it pains me to say it, but in the end I would recommend waiting to see how this story arc will close out before committing to it.

Titans #23

3.99
7.5

Titans #23 Final Score

7.5/10

Pros

  • Works as an introductory issue
  • Team is a good mix of Titan veterans and newcomers

Cons

  • Odd anatomy proportions at time
  • Tension between Miss Martian and Nightwing feels forced