The Titans #49 Review

Reviewer: Ben Morse

Story Title: “Murder By Consensus pt. 2”

Quick Rating: Poor

Written by: Tom Peyer

Penciled by: Barry Kitson (breakdowns)

Inked by: John Stokes (finishes)

Colored by: Tom McGraw & Heroic Age

Lettered by: John Costanza

Editor: Andy Helfer

Publisher: DC Comics

To explain the teaser…when talking to a friend of mine the other day about Titans, and trying once again to justify why I own the entire run of the series (I really liked JLA/Titans, then began collecting back issues…and before I knew it, I had nearly everything, and kept going for the sake of being a completist), I described the book as “the black hole of DC comics.” Anything and everybody who sets foot anywhere near this title over the past four-plus years has quickly had any good qualities they may have once possessed sucked away.

To put things in perspective…the current creative team is Tom Peyer & Barry Kitson. Peyer is the brilliantly witty and clever writer behind the acclaimed Hourman series, had a fantastic run on Legion of Super-Heroes and pals around with the likes of Grant Morrison, Mark Waid & Mark Millar. On Titans, his three storylines have been clichéd borefests, featuring such original villains as a group of extra-dimensional drug dealers, some ghosts in the desert who had the convenient ability to conjure up images of dead characters from the Titans’ past (but those creations didn’t actually get any lines, despite the amazing potential of say Jason Todd confronting Nightwing, or Jericho or Terra haunting, well, anybody), and now, as-of-yet unseen aliens with mind-control powers. Aliens, ghosts, and people from another dimension; now we just need evil twins and we’re all set…

Barry Kitson has long been one of the most underrated artists out there. He was brilliant on JLA: Year One and is well respected for his creator-owned work Empire. He’s one heck of a co-plotter (and a tremendously nice guy on the DCU message boards) to boot. But even Kitson’s work seems to have taken a step back on Titans. Argent’s hairdo has been the topic of great unrest amongst fans, Arsenal has seemingly forgotten how to use a razor…ever…and there are times in issues #48 & 49 where Starfire, the DCU sex symbol of the 1980s, looks like a bodybuilder having a roid rage.

Then there’s the characters; since issue number 20 (29 issues ago, for those of you keeping track), this book’s cast has included Nightwing, one of DC’s most popular characters, Troia & Arsenal, two more fan favorites, Tempest, a character that had intrigued people for several years since his revamping, and Jesse Quick, who had always had a nice cult following from JSA and The Flash. The only real wild card was Argent, but it was certainly a character ripe to be built off. Yes, fans were upset by the departures of characters like Cyborg, Starfire, The Flash, Raven and Changeling (or…ugh…Beast Boy), who had long been closely associated with the Titans titles, but this was still a damn good cast.

Slightly more than two years later, some of these beloved characters have been dealt blows from which they may never recover. Nightwing has been portrayed as a second rate Batman, trying to intimidate and bully his teammates rather than lead them; Dick Grayson’s strength as a character has always been that he’s Batman with people skills, as was pretty aptly demonstrated by Joe Kelly while the character was featured in JLA. Arsenal, DC’s “ultimate ladies man,” fell into alternating between mooning over a woman in Cheshire that had betrayed and tried to kill him on numerous occasions (the two of them spent one night together…since then they’ve always been on opposing sides. Yes, they have a child together, but is that enough to cause Roy to never give up on her?), having his teammates freak out any time he’s shot with any sort of drug or poison (because he was addicted to heroin…years ago…), or just standing around making useless wisecracks (he was a moderately effective team leader and Checkmate operative once upon a time); like Nightwing, Arsenal is getting much better treatment in another book, Green Arrow. The potential for Tempest was never tapped, he spent issues supposed to “spotlighting” him in a coma, and now he’s been shipped out of the team by an over-protective wife (and hopefully into a better role in Aquaman).

Troia has done alright in Titans, possibly just because there’s no more aspects of her character left to mess up, but she’s experienced very little growth. Argent has neither grown nor regressed in two years (except in a Superman story that nobody read). Suffering perhaps more than anybody else, though, is Jesse Quick, who under the previous writing reign of Jay Faerber went from competent professional woman to morally weak skank who slept with her mother’s fiancée, and who under Peyer does nothing more than complain in every panel about how she’s “not considered a Titan” (to be fair, Peyer started to touch on why Jesse has been the way she is in #48, but with only one issue left, it seems unlikely that there will be any resolution for the character, and now she’s been tainted and will need to be redeemed by future writers).

Seemingly, the entire Titans series has been one non-stop run of shattered expectations and tremendous letdowns. The JLA/Titans mini-series that set up the ongoing was phenomenal, but writer Devin Grayson seemed to quickly lose interest in the characters, and artist Mark Buckingham wasn’t around very often, leading to inconsistent art (fun fact: current critical darling and Y: The Last Man writer Brian K. Vaughan co-wrote several early issues of Titans with his buddy Grayson). Jay Faerber, who followed Grayson, had come off a well-received run on Generation X and pared down the cast, but he did more damage to the series than anybody (although if you ask certain people, mostly Faerber himself, it was more editor Andy Helfer’s fault), introducing the DEOrphans, a group of kids with superpowers who almost completely stole the main characters’ spotlight and were universally hated by fans. Peyer & Kitson came onboard to try and salvage the book, and promised great things, but it was announced that the book was being cancelled not long into their run, and from the looks of it, they stopped trying after that.

A major complaint throughout the series has been that the Titans never seem to come out of an issue looking good. These are all experienced (with the exception of Argent) and talented heroes with the greatest team leader in the DCU leading them, and yet they seem to get their asses handed to them (or their spotlight stolen) every month. I had a conversation not too long ago with Matt Morrison about how fans will only keep watching their favorite characters get beat up for so long before they no longer care about the pay-off, and that point passed a long time ago for this book. Again, this month, most of the Titans come off looking like complete amateurs and aren’t even a factor in the battle with the aliens.

I think it’s a shame that the extremely funny Young Justice is being cancelled in order to make room for the relaunches of Teen Titans and Outsiders, but at this point, it seems like only a complete overhaul of this book will ever make these characters readable again.