Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Andy McDonald, Brad Anderson
Apparently we’re still doing Earth One, with Teen Titans getting a sequel that’s slightly expanded DC’s still-uncertain prestige line. In all seriousness, the Earth One line is one of those projects that DC needs to take a good, hard look at to figure out where it stands against its current publishing philosophy. Practically speaking, the line has only published eight volumes in five years, and J. Michael Straczynski’s departure from comics leaves the future of his Superman Earth One and Flash Earth One projects in question. Grant Morrison apparently has more Wonder Woman planned, so there’s that.
Earth One has yet to engage in any serious world-building as well, so these books are fiercely independent of each other. (Superman Earth One made a very sly nod to Batman, and The Multiversity postulated that the stories are on an Earth where the continuity is still “cooling,” but that’s it.) It’s important for a reader to recognize that fact, because Teen Titans Earth One Vol 2 takes the bold step of introducing some new characters independent of their adult counterparts, who may-or-may-not exist in the Titans universe. For purposes of this story, they don’t, but it can be a bit jarring for established readers to meet a Wally West and Cassie Sandsmark who have no connection to Barry Allen or Diana.
This means that readers need to get used to Jeff Lemire’s radically different take on the Titans, and indeed, they probably need to read Volume 1 first to get the larger context of the story. Classically, the Titans have been, among other things, a club for sidekicks, a friendship of young adults coming into their own, and/or the future successors of the Justice League. Lemire’s team is none of these. They’re actual kids without a Justice League to turn to.
Following the events of Volume 1, Lemire’s Titans are a divided band of teenagers who live in hiding because most of them don’t look normal in public. Terra, Beast Boy, Cyborg, and Tempest live in abandoned housing hoping to survive as their powers are killing them, while Raven lives elsewhere training with Starfire, who was revealed to be the source of the team’s powers back in the last volume. He’s also got the Earth One version of Deathstroke–a much kinder version than his mainstream counterpart–trying to figure out how to the save the life of his disembodied son, Jericho. And finally, he’s got Niles Caulder (hey, he was a good guy in mainstream DC) sending a different team up empowered teenagers–Cassie, Wally, and Kole–to take the other group of kids down.
Where Teen Titans Earth One falls flat is the non-Titan subplots. These side-stories with Deathstroke, Jericho, and Caulder don’t tie converge much with the main story until the reader gets deep, deep into the book. The new Titans also come up a bit short–despite being prominent on the cover, we don’t meet the new kids until far into the story, denying us an opportunity to really connect with them. When these stories do come together, it happens so rapidly that the ensuing chaos really is that, and it’s a little hard to tell what’s happening.
But where the book succeeds is its new spin on the Titans as a pack of runaway teenagers who have no one to turn to but each other. To than end, it’s great that the art team actually portrays them as teenagers on the younger side. These Titans look like kids, not lower-level adults in a high school setting. Beast Boy and Tempest innocently pal around, while Terra constantly frets over Cyborg, who loses more of himself every day to his machine half. Raven (here, portrayed as a Native American mystic) struggles to connect with a girl as alien as herself. If this book captures anything about the spirit of any of the classic Titans incarnations, it’s that they’re a group of friends who care deeply about each other.
As with most of the other Earth One books, Teen Titans Vol. 2 ends on an open-ended note which invites another chapter to come. We’ll see if that actually happens. This is an appropriate closing point to the story with the kids coming into their own with an open future ahead of them. If DC and the readers want to keep this branch of Teen Titans going, it’s not a bad concept, though the growing cast will require the story to focus next time.
Rating: Three Titans out of Five.