Last year’s DC Universe: Rebirth left fans with a lot of exciting questions about our favorite heroes. The issue brought Wally West back to us, indicating that DC needs another way to inveigle 90s kids to pick some of their titles back up (or maybe just proving that killing superheroes is impossible). We also got to see Saturn Girl, Aqualad and even Dr. Manhattan make a return. But the questions still remain: who altered the past? Why are they after Wally? And will things ever be the same? Solicited as a continuation of the story in Rebirth, Titans Vol 1 sets out to answer some of those questions.
Titans starts out promisingly, and the first issue (Titans: Rebirth #1) might be the best. The story is great, with Wally and the rest of the Titans reuniting after forgetting about Wally. The art is allowed to shine and the colors help tell the story, with bright colors during the flashbacks giving way for a more bleak present. The sun begins rising near the end of the issue, bringing the color back to the Titan’s life. The flashbacks are ok, but none of them really help set up character dynamics for the rest of the series. We see Wally and Lilith kiss, but there’s no mention of that later on. The dynamic between Wally and Donna doesn’t get pulled through either, they seem to have a very different relationship than the one portrayed in the first issue. The only flashback that really establishes a good duo is Dick’s, showing him and Wally hijacking the Batmobile, but even that doesn’t tell the reader a whole lot. Wally and Dick’s relationship is developed and shown later in the series, however, and it’s clear that Nightwing is seen as both a great leader and a great friend by his peers. There’s no question as to why he is the head honcho here.
An issue that the story runs into is narrative pacing and exposition. Now, it could be a lot worse, but in the spots that matter, information that has already been given out is retreaded multiple times. This is typical in a comic book series, since a reader who picks up issue #3 wouldn’t want to be totally lost. The problem is that the story aspect that we know least about (the how and why of Wally’s disappearance) is the aspect that gets under-covered. This is likely to tease the further evolution of this mystery and the ties to the events in Rebirth #1. The main villain of the title is happy to reveal his plan to anyone who will listen every time he is in focus, but won’t say a word about anything else. His return sequence is pretty strange, too.
There’s at least one plot hole worth mentioning. At one point in the story, the villain is supposedly in three places at once, and has a hostage that needs rescuing. So, instead of speeding to all three places and scouting out the area like one would expect the fastest man alive to do, Wally West has the Titans split up and go to all three locations separately. This sets up the trap that is supposed to be his downfall, but could have been avoided if. . . actually I’m not sure what the point of going to all three was in the first place.
The last issue is another place where the writing is able to shine. The colors help tell the story here too, making the speed force and the timeless world it creates vibrant and memorable. The dialogue and character building between Linda and Wally is stellar, and delivers what a lot of this arc was leading up to. The end of the issue gets a little bit campy, with that hackneyed “friends are family and love is timeless” message thrown in, but it doesn’t spoil the payoff too much.
Brett Booth’s pencils and Andrew Dalhouse’s colors are pretty cool when we get to see a splash page. Sadly, the art is usually hindered significantly by the layouts. Almost every page in this 160-something volume that isn’t a splash has diagonal panels of some sort. I have nothing against diagonal panels. Unless they’re on every single page.
The pages in this book devolve into multiple widescreen frames at dutch angles that are slowly spiraling out of control. Not only does it take away from the story and art, it makes no sense intuitively. I’m a big supporter of innovative paneling, but this is in no way innovative. They use the same formula for every page, but the perspective is inconsistent: some angled panels give us an angled view of the scene while other angled panels give us an upright view, but almost every upright panel gives us an angled view. This makes it so the reader has no grasp on the spaces these characters are occupying, let alone the direction or dynamics of the action scenes. Add to that the lack of visible backgrounds and most of the book might as well be a bunch of floating heads having a conversation for all the good the art is able to do the story. The layouts don’t feel organic, intuitive, or even legible.
The first thing I notice with the collection is that it doesn’t contain DC Universe: Rebirth. Of all the volumes that are coming out for the new titles, I expected this of all of them to contain it, but it looks like DC is doing the same thing here that they’ve been doing with The Killing Joke: refusing to publish it in a collection where it belongs so that they can sell a single issue in a hardcover that’s gonna cost you ~$10 to get. It’s a decision that will really only serve to make the completionists angry since you can still find the Rebirth one-shot in magazine form on ebay for less than $10 (and it is worth reading).
Final Score: 4.7/10
While the first and last issue in this book did a good job with characterization and re-upping the team for this age, Titans vol. 1 doesn’t connect enough dots to make it a Rebirth stand-out.