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TEEN TITANS: EARTH ONE VOLUME 1 Review

One of the oddest things longtime comics readers noted about DC’s New 52 when it began was the prominence of Jeff Lemire. Best known for his acclaimed autobiographical work like Essex County and his Vertigo series Sweet Tooth, Lemire has been a steady writing presence all across DC these last few years, ranging from writing a new volume of Animal Man to taking up Green Arrow. While it seemed odd at the time, Lemire’s writing work has been critically acclaimed by comics fans and press; he’ll be taking over Marvel’s vaunted Hawkeye title next year.

But before he leaves DC behind, Lemire steps into the publisher’s Earth One line–a line of self-contained original graphic novels–to redefine the origin of comics’ oldest teenaged super-team, the Teen Titans. With the illustrative help of the always astonishing Terry & Rachael Dodson, he’s crafted a book that is a really solid piece of superhero comic storytelling and a good jumping-off point for that TV show TNT is supposedly developing.

The Plot

On the Ramah Navajo Reservation in New Mexico, Raven, a shaman-in-training, has an eerie vision of a family of orange-skinned, black-eyed aliens being captured by government workers. A strange alien language keeps appearing in her mind and she consults with her grandfather, the current shaman, about what it could all mean.

Meanwhile, it’s the first day of high school in the riverside city of Monument, Oregon. Prodigy Garfield Logan is being shunted up from junior high and feeling nervous. Tara Markov is starting off the year miffed at her distant alcoholic mother. Her boyfriend and Big Man On Campus Vic Stone ain’t feeling so great himself. He keeps clashing with his mom/teacher Elinore, who rebukes him in front of everyone and praises Garfield and new transfer student/her summer mentoree, the withdrawn Joseph Wilson.

Later, an ill Vic heads into the bathroom and discovers a patch of liquid metal on his stomach. That’s spreading. Touching it, he receives a flash of a black-eyed alien calling to him: the same messages Raven’s been getting.

Later on, while making out in Vic’s car, Tara discovers what’s going on with him. Touching the metal, Tara also receives a mysterious flash. Screaming, she freaks out as the ground rumbles around them. She runs away and Vic calls after her, only to see that the ground around his car looks like it’s been hit by a tremor.

Victor confronts Elinore about what’s happened, but instead of concern, she beams, “Finally!”. Back home, Tara gets into another fight with her mom that gets her slapped, causing her to well up in rage and shake her house. During dinner, Gar suddenly intones, “Tara’s in trouble,” speaks in the strange alien speak the others have heard, and collapses.

What’s going on with these kids? How’s Raven connected? Who is this alien and what do they want?

Story

What’s at once this story’s biggest freedom and biggest obstacle is that it’s entirely stand-alone. There are no other heroes or villains around except what happens here. On the one hand, Lemire can proceed with his own vision unimpeded. But he can’t use the most prominent Titans members–Speedy, Aqualad and of course, the Boy Wonder–who are all sidekicks and can’t be used.

Thankfully, Lemire strikes the balance by doubling down on the teenager angle. I’m not the biggest authority on Titans lore–I leave that to others–but this is clearly the most X-Men influenced an incarnation of this team has been in a while. Maybe ever. There’s an authenticity to how these kids deal with their world and their problems. The teens–especially Tara–are also very empathetic, something superhero writers let slip by on occasion in favor of preexisting character affection.

Furthermore, having an experienced hand at the graphic novel format is a tremendous boon. Not once does the plot feel stretched or anything contrived. While it’s slightly disappointing Raven is not as prominent as the others are (although the epilogue promises heavier involvement in the sequel), her drastic reinvention is wholly unbelievable and not pandering.

Similarly, having Elinore Stone be alive (traditionally, her death is what leads to Cyborg’s origin) and the villain is an interesting upset. With this revelation, and the subsequent unfolding conspiracy that unfolds, Lemire hearkens back to Marvel’s vaunted Runaways, which had a similar big gimmick and equally big heft behind it.

Art

Speaking of Runaways, the work of the acclaimed Terry and Rachael Dodson (he pencils, she inks) recalls the work of that Marvel book’s co-creator and original artist, Adrian Alphona (currently tearing it up on Ms. Marvel). It’s a bit of a shift for Terry in particular; his work here is more animation-esque than it’s ever been. It’s a lovely shift.

Perhaps the biggest impact of this new direction comes in Gar’s animal transformations. They’re depicted very organically, with Dodson actually designing in-between stages for Gar as he evolves, instead of simply snapping from one form to the other. Dodson’s fluid work really sells these moments, as well as the creepy, shimmering metal that engulfs Vic.

Combined with Rachael’s (and Cam Smith’s) striking, inks. Dodson also nails facial expressions. Every character is realistic yet memorable. No caricature or over-staging is needed; the emotion is clearly there. If this style is a new normal for this duo, I’m on board.

Finally, in what’s been a banner year for comic book coloring, colorist Matt Anderson (with Terry assisting), does outstanding work. A familiar face to comics fans–he’s done everything from Star Wars to Superman–Anderson turns in some striking work here. In particular, the shadowy mood that plays out over the sequence of the aliens being discovered is some remarkable playing with hues and lighting on his part. His work here proves even more that not only is digital coloring here to stay and improves with each passing month, but that colorists are well deserving of the cover credit DC now gives them (and hopefully more publishers follow suit).

Overall

For someone who grew up with on the 2000s Teen Titans cartoon or enjoys the current wacky antics of Teen Titans Go!, this radically different book will throw them for a loop. But it’s got the same sort of charm and solid action that the former had at its best–something even a non-fan of it like me can admit it had–so they’ll adjust.

If you know the other eras of Titans history, especially the vaunted 1980s New Teen Titans, there’s a lot of subversion and playing with expectations here to enjoy. And if you are or know someone who doesn’t really know anything about the team, this is a rock-solid introduction and yet another winner for DC’s Earth One line. Lemire may be gone (although no word’s been given about his being replaced on this series), but hopefully, the Dodsons stay on to keep bringing their fantastic work to this new take.

4 out of 5 stars

4 out of 5 stars

Teen Titans: Earth One Vol. 1 is available in print and on Comixology.

Cover image via

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Categories: Comic Reviews

Author:Tom Speelman

A lifetime of reading comics and watching television has left Tom with an inexhaustible supply of pop culture knowledge from the obvious to the obscure. Rather than keep it all in his brain for use at parties, Tom turned to writing a few years ago to help him share that knowledge with as many people as are remotely interested. Tom writes for several websites including The Mary Sue, Strange Horizons, Loser City and others. For even further rambling, follow him on Twitter @tomtificate.

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One Comment on “TEEN TITANS: EARTH ONE VOLUME 1 Review”

  1. 11/26/2014 at 1:24 PM #

    Reblogged this on tomtificate and commented:
    Really happy I’m allowed to talk about this book now because it’s terrific.

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