Teen Titans Academy #1 review

Term begins at the Roy Harper Titans Academy, the DC Universe’s brand new school for ‘gifted youngsters’.

I’m not being snarky, the phrase is right there in the splash page legend for this Future State spin-out, which tells us that Nightwing, Donna Troy, Cyborg, Starfire, Raven and Beast Boy are ready to mentor the next generation of heroes.

Given how many teenage hopefuls have died on their watch, I’m amazed any parents and guardians would let their super kids within a mile of Titans Island, but there you go… perhaps there’s a Resurrection Class taught by Ra’s al-Ghul.

We do find out what a couple of the New Titans are teaching.

Actually, it’s Donna teaching the History of the Multiverse that’s funny, given how many times she’s been reborn as Crises hit. I don’t actually know how she’s got a teaching certificate, mind, given that the only college I remember her attending turned out to be run by a supervillain. As for Nightwing, Dick Grayson was at college for decades, and never won that flat hat. Still, it’s not like they’re in charge of the educational modules, obviously someone with proper teaching qualifications would get the job…

Oh well, at least Starfire gives a good speech. Sorry, I mean ‘Ms Starfire’, colleague of ‘Mr Nightwing’, ‘Mr Cyborg’ and the rest. I couldn’t stop thinking about Spidey’s old pup pal, Ms Lion… For once, Donna Troy wins the day by not using a superhero name, she gets to be plain old ‘Ms Troy’.

So, the set-up of the Titans Academy series doesn’t bear scrutiny, but that’s not a dealbreaker – plenty of comics have weird premises. I’ll go with it, the New Titans are running a school – it’s not like the likes of Beast Boy, Raven and Cyborg have actual jobs. And the last time professional photographer Donna picked up a camera, she used actual film.

Against all expectations – writer Tim Sheridan was behind the Future State: Shazam book which I did not enjoy – I liked this first issue loads. Sheridan juggles an awful lot of characters without the issue seeming overstuffed. The New Titans are on good form, the Teen Titans get a great action sequence and the freshman class are an intriguing bunch. Here are just some of that last lot.

We don’t learn what all their skills and powers are, though Summer was in the recent Endless Winter event, and the wonderfully named Gorilla Gregg looks to be from Gorilla City. My instant favourite is the student who may have something to do with Ragman, or could be a Ragdoll cast-off, but more likely is their own person – Stitch.

A nice surprise is that along with recent Teen Titans Crush, Red Arrow, Roundhouse and Kid Flash, we get former Justice Society member Jakeem Thunder and New 52 kid Bunker, a good character despite being saddled with the worst name this side of ‘Night Thrasher’. Also among the students is Billy Batson, which worries me, given how Sheridan played him in the aforementioned Shazam two-parter. If that’s where we’re heading, along with the sounded-so-grim-I-skipped-it Future State Teen Titans book, I’m not sure I want to be along for the ride. The best thing Sheridan could do would be to emphasise that the Future State stuff is a possible destination, and start deviating from it to make the point.

One demerit in that department is the inclusion of Future State cast member and TV cartoon Titan Red X, whose history – or at least some version of it – has been folded into the DC Infinite Frontier timeline. His involvement in this issue makes Dick look like an amateur.

Oh yeah, something’s off with the holographic fighting system, let’s not have computer god Cyborg check it out, just let it go. Then again, the ginger kid, Brick, looks like he’s doing a Maxwell Lord on Dick, soothing away his natural suspicions. Later in the issue we see he has an undeclared EMP burst, so who’s to say he’s not a secret telepath too? And there’s more suspicious behaviour, and a strangely passive Dick, after that. My guess is Brick has been inserted into the academy by a Titans foe – I could see him being the son of Psimon and Shimmer – but is kicking against his parental programming.

I’d be amazed were Sheridan not doing a ‘Traitor within the Titans’ plotline somewhere in this series, they’re always great fun.

One thing I wasn’t thrilled about in the script was a moment between Kory and Dick that suggests they still have a romantic spark. Been there, done that and the recent DC Love is a Battlefield special tied a lovely bow on it. Sheridan gets back in my good books, though, with a wonderful speech from Dick on the wearing of masks.

The ‘who is Red X?’ bit seems to be a major selling point for lots of folk, but as I’ve never seen the cartoon, I’m not one of them. I am, though, impressed enough by Sheridan’s blend of action and characterisation here to come back next time. With a Legion of Super-Heroes-sized cast, an obvious knowledge of DC history and a solid background as a professional TV superhero writer, Sheridan could produce a terrific series.

He certainly has a great artistic partner in Rafa Sandoval, whose clean figurework and vibrant layouts are a real asset to the book. The debuting characters are distinctive, while the New Titans have a confidence befitting veteran heroes. As for the middle group (I think I’ve come across ‘upper classmen’ in Gilmore Girls or somewhere), just gaze on this spread.

It’s a shame Roundhouse and chums have lost their book, but if this series is a success, you can add a ‘for now’ to that thought. And art this good – the talented Jordi Tarragona embellishes – can only help their case. Sandoval has been at DC for awhile and this could be his breakthrough book; I hope so, his stylish craft deserves attention.

The colours of Alejandro Sanchez are a feast for the eyes, while Rob Leigh lays down the fonts with his usual imagination – the letterman-style treatment for the clever story title, Admissions, is just one example.

Sandoval, Tarragona and Sanchez also provide the cover, and it’s rather unusual for a first issue, not showcasing a bunch of heroes, but showing a class of rightly rattled students. I like it.

Teen Titans Academy #1 is a great-looking comic book full of satisfying character introductions and teases, along with a smattering of mystery and a delightfully bombastic obligatory fight scene. This teacher gives it a gold star.

16 thoughts on “Teen Titans Academy #1 review

  1. The comic is mediocre, let’s be honest, it doesn’t follow the line of action of the other titles, the character of nightwing loses his growth in this title.

    The character of Raven has a very marked flaw regarding the design and age of the character since in rebirth we are still being told that she is a teenager and now out of nowhere she is a mentor of the new generation.
    The inconsistency in the timeline and personality of the characters makes the title, makes the viewer doubt if there is really continuity in the story regarding past events.

    Characters grew out of nothing and others remained in adolescence. Among these errors and other more marked errors regarding the characters.
    I can say that the story is maintained only by the mystery of red x outside of that the comic does not contribute anything.

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    1. Thanks for the comments. I do wonder if the story isn’t taking place on an alternate earth, that would explain a few things. I’m going to hang around and see where things go.

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  2. Sounds like a fun book, Mart!

    One other thing to note about Donna’s teaching a History of the Multiverse course — she pretty much wrote the book on it. Or at least, at some point, in some continuity, she did — in the DC Special: The Return of Donna Troy series, a crossover series to Infinite Crisis, published — great Hera! — SEVENTEEN years ago back in 2005. IIRC, she pretty much takes over Lyla’s old chronicler job that she had in History of the DC Universe.

    I haven’t read the book in ages, and I remember being disappointed by it — my recollection is that it felt wordy and static. But with Phil Jimenez writing, and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and George Perez drawing, it at least merits a second look — and who knows, I might like it better as its own thing, without the burdens of crossover expectations weighing it down.

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  3. Oh goodness me, I’d forgotten all about that Bold New Direction for Donna. It was never mentioned again, was it? She changes direction so much that she could take up that old Captain Compass name.

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  4. Donna did a retelling of the History of the DCU in the 52 weekly series all those years ago. It was done well, and like the reviewer said, it makes sense considering the # of times she’s been dead and back again.

    If this book was someone’s very first issue, I would feel bad for them. There’s no real introduction to the Titans characters. It’s written for, I guess, “long-term Titans fans”, even though this isn’t the direction _this_ long-term Titans fan would do. While that two-page spread is nice to look at, it doesn’t help introduce the characters to readers. I’m not saying each character needs a caption box with name and powers, but if you’re starting a new book, couldn’t that be considered for issue 1 at least.
    Not having read the DC “Love is a Battlefield” issue, I can’t comment on that aspect of the Nightwing/Starfire relationship. It does seem a bit — off — to see it start up again based on what was seen in the Last Days of the DCU book.

    To me, this issue reads like it was pulled out of a TPB collection which was done first, and then the first part was printed this way.

    Compared to other First issues of Titans series, this to me is ranked just above the New52 (both series), but just below Team Titans. It has a long way to go to improve.

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    1. You’re right John, there should have been proper introductions. I moan about that regularly! Jim Shooter was right when he pointed out that every comic book is someone’s first; if they’re not welcoming, they won’t get to their second.

      I’d always put Team Titans at the bottom so far as first issues go for requiring folk to buy five issue to get all the story.

      Thanks so much for the great comments!

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  5. I gave this a shot, even though I disliked Sheridan’s Future State: Teen Titans, and this is apparently the same story. I guess there are just too many characters here for me, and I don’t know or care who Red X was or is, but it looks like the main reason to follow this is if you are interested.

    I guess DC thinks this might work where the last Titans and Teen Titans book failed, by having something for everyone: fans of the older Titans, fans of the latest Teen Titans, and readers who want to jump on board with a set of brand-new young characters. It seems a formidable task to juggle them all in a satisfying way in a single book. But maybe it will work and attract a good-sized audience.

    I’ll likely let this simmer, then read it again in a few days. Maybe I’ll judge it more favorably then.

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      1. Fair point. Well, it read better on the second go around. Sad that this is the first time an artist made Donna look awful – and what’s with the plastic-looking hair on her and Starfire? Guess I can’t complain about unusual artistic flourishes at DC these days, given the Riley Rossmo precedent.

        There’s too much text, too many panels where whispering is printed in tiny font, too much groanworthy humor. (Any time Beast Boy is around, there’s going to be bad jokes.)

        And – these are the best recruits they could find? Seems like bad judgement is in evidence. Many of them have serious attitude problems, like everyone in the bat-pack. And one of the recruits (I assume) is doing something very weird with Red X. Whoever it is, they weren’t vetted well enough to have been recruited into this class.

        They’re going to have to start killing them off, or maybe some of them will flunk out or be “suspended” for insubordination, because there can’t be much character development or even action spotlights in a group this size.

        In one panel, Alinta calls Summer “Tidda” and I guess that’s either part of her full name; or (according to a web search) is Australian aboriginal for “sister”; or (according to Urban Dictionary) is Hawaiian Pidgin slang “for a woman with ‘tomboy’ attributes.” I guess Sheridan meant one of these, but is there any possible way to know which? If we knew where Alinta was from, that would be a clue, but from what I’ve seen so far of the way Sheridan writes, it’s a clue he won’t give for a while, if ever, and by then who will be interested? (He’s a screenwriter – can you imagine a screenplay with “Tidda” in it? That’s when you have to look at closed captions even to know what was said, though that would still not let you know what was meant. She said “Oh, Tidda” and maybe you’d hear it as “Oat eater.”) It’s better than what he did in Future State, where an entire issue was littered with pseudo-Latin-sounding words that had no meaning at all.

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  6. I enjoyed the issue. The artwork is reminiscent of what Mark Buckingham did in the Titans way back when Devin Grayson was writing their adventures.

    I agree the book was text heavy but I don’t mind that of the text is mostly conversation. And in this case, I enjoyed the conversations that were going on, so… cool.

    I think what little we saw of the new kids was interesting enough to bring me back for a second issue, and since there’s no Legion coming out anytime soon, I’m more than happy to support this book with its huge cast.

    I have a couple quibbles. The “Mr. and Miss” stuff *has* to go. That’s Bob Haney levels of silly.

    Are regular readers of the a titans supposed to know who Red X is? I’ve read most incarnations of the team and the character isn’t striking any memories. If he’s from the cartoon, has he *also* made an appearance in the comics? Or are they referencing some heretofore unrevealed piece of Titans history that most readers are unaware of?

    Regarding the Starfire/Nightwing chemistry. I know it flies in the face of whatever is going on in his own book, and with whatever happened in Death Metal, but this isn’t those books. I’m totally fine if Dick and Kory wanna rekindle something in the pages of Titans. They have a history and a Titans book is the place to explore and play with that chemistry. He can be all starry eyed for Babs in his own book. In Titans, it’s kinda expected that Dick and Kory are gonna be coupled. Maybe.

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    1. As I understand it, Red X was a character in the Teen Titans TV cartoon, with the anti-hero originally an undercover Robin, and later, an unknown person. Sheridan seems to be treating the cartoon as comics canon, or perhaps he’s using Infinite Frontier’s ‘everything happened’ gimmick as justification. It is confusing – heck, Dick here says two people wore the mask after him but on the TV, I believe, it was just one. Maybe we’ll get a flashback to how the Red X thing went down in the current comics DCU.

      Great observation on the Mark Buckingham look, Mr Murray!

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  7. Sheridan is a writer for animation, I guess, though IMDB only lists 16 writing credit for him, so I don’t know what else he does in his professional life. He must be on the writing staffs – a given writer may only be credited with a few episodes a year, even though contributing all along in breaking the stories.

    An interview with him here explains a lot about what he’s up to in Teen Titans:

    www. denofgeek . com /comics/teen-titans-red-x-dick-grayson-infinite-frontier/

    I guess Mike Cotton’s idea for Dick to lose an eye eventually was realized by taking out Stephanie Brown’s.

    Anyway, it appears the Red X mystery profoundly impacted a young Tim Sheridan. “Like many of us, Sheridan was shaped by the iconic Teen Titans animated series, so to be the one heralding Red X into the comics is almost too good to be true.”

    ““Red X is a character with so much mystery surrounding him, the best thing they ever did was that [Teen Titans] gave us Red X.”

    So that animated feature was not just formative for him, but the Red X mystery was the pinnacle of it.

    It’s not really possible to recreate in an adult that feeling a kid has when exposed to a particular mystery in a cartoon. So there’s an audience for this (Teen Titans viewers from 20 years ago) who are blown away by this (and thus there was excitement over Red X appearing on some covers), while the rest of us are not moved one way or another – it’s like an excited conversation other people are having.

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  8. While the premise holds my interest – Stitch is obviously the breakout new character, but any series that has a Dial H hero is one I must keep tabs on, not that that worked out with Miguel’s inclusion in Young Justice – but for me, the “teacherly” speeches were the worst thing about the book, ESPECIALLY Nightwing’s. What a bore. I hate him in this. Well, I guess he’s the Cyclops, so that makes sense.

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    1. Oh, weren’t they awful? They should get some proper teachers… do we have any superheroes who teach? There must be some. Captain Comet has transferable skills.

      And if Miguel is here, where’s Summer?

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  9. Miguel’s Summer has no powers so I guess that’s why. Though Miguel doesn’t really either he just spins a dial. I don’t know. You can’t have two girls named Summer can you? The book is already hard enough to follow.

    The older Titans have been a bore. I wouldn’t mind more of red arrow and kid flash. The older Titans are getting the Titans United mini in October which is probably out of continuity and may not be precisely the same team makeup as was in the last Titans book or is teaching right now.

    Dan Jurgens wrote a one-year generic classic team Titans Walmart feature, that got released to comic shops as the series Burning Rage, and I stopped reading it after two or three installments.

    In that first Walmart series there was a 12 month Tom King Superman story, a 12 month Bendis Batman story, a 12 month wonder woman story by Connor and palmiotti, and the one-year titans story by Jurgens. All of them had to create a Serial where you could pick up any one installment and be satisfied but it was part of a longer one year story. Bendis story was fantastic. Kings was quite good. I dropped Jurgens and I dropped the wonder woman because the larger story wasn’t that interesting and the installments were annoying.

    Benders had Batman go to a different dimension each issue. King had superman go to a different planet each issue. But Jugens simply had the titans lurch from one fight to the next, and wonder woman encountered weird phenomena on some island. Those last two just didn’t work for me.

    My apologies for my messed up spelling and punctuation etc. I am dictating on my phone.

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