DC Comics Relaunch: Teen Titans #2, Red Hood and the Outlaws #2, & Nightwing #2 Batman Ex-Sidekicks New 52 Review (UPDATE)

Columns, Reviews, Top Story

UPDATED: Please see new information in Nightwing review in blue lettering below.

Following last month’s ex-Robins reviews of Nightwing & Red Hood and the Outlaws debut issues plus Red Robin’s Teen Titans debut review, comes their October 2011 sophomore issues!

All three books are rooted under the leadership of the respective ex-Batman side-kicks: Dick Grayson as Nightwing, Jason Todd as Red Hood and Tim Drake as Red Robin.

Like many readers of DC Comics and from what I hear from Comics Nexus regulars, the titles featuring Batman’s former Robins are a big part of the appeal of the DC Comics Relaunch’s New 52, but they also contribute to some logic bombs.

So, with all that said, on to the reviews…

Red Robin’s Teen Titans #2:

Why this book isn’t called “Red Robin and the Teen Titans” or “Teen Titans” with a sub-head denoting that the book is “featuring Red Robin” is beyond me. The Scott Lobdell penned, and Brett Booth pencilled, TT #2 is very much a book told mostly from Tim Drake / formerly Robin 3 / currently Red Robin’s point of view.

The Teen Titans brand has suffered since DC’s Chief Creative Office Geoff Johns left the previous title years ago. Plus, the Teen Titans anime inspired animated series has been off the air for years and truthfully wasn’t reflective of the DC comic book product anyway. The glory days of this title even precede Johns run; we’re talking the 1980s and the New Teen Titans by Marv Wolfman and George Perez – a book that rivalled and even surpassed Marvel’s Uncanny X-Men of the day.

It seems that with Peter David’s Young Justice and the Geoff Johns’ and beyond Teen Titans wiped from continuity, DC Comics is restarting the Teen Titans Generation 2 franchise with the same winning formula of the 1980s era: a mix of established icons with a similar number of newbies. Now, I am referring to this current yet-to-be-formed-team as TT:G2 because while the New Teen Titans of the 1980s had the team’s second significant incarnation, it still revolved around the same generation, age-wise, anyway of heroes and heroines.

Teen Titans #2 chronicles Red Robin’s attempts to corral the DC Universe’s (DCU) teen heroes into a team to protect them from the threat of N.O.W.H.E.R.E.; an enemy “trying to capture, corrupt or kill super powered teenagers”. It opens with a glimpse of a captured Kid Flash; explicitly confirmed to be Bart Allen. His debut in the DC Universe was literally last issue so the character was seemingly never Impulse in the new continuity.

It’s not clear if he is a time displaced hero or not yet; it would be interesting if he was since in the actual Flash title of the New 52 Iris West (no longer hyphened “Allen”) and Barry Allen (the Flash) are not married and not even dating. I’d suggest DC keep Bart’s background a bit of a mystery so as not to undercut what is going on in the Flash title; a book where Barry Allen is dating someone who isn’t Iris. Bart also has a run-in with a very different Solstice; a heroine that debuted with quite a sunny disposition, literally, in the last few issues of the last Teen Titans series pre-Flashpoint.

The rest of the book shows Superboy on his perch observing his power-rival on the Teen Titans, Wonder Girl, and Red Robin’s attempts to recruit the insectoid heroine “Skitter”. In that whole melee, we get to see how really cool Tim Drake as Red Robin as he takes on N.O.W.H.E.R.E.’s in the sewers with brains, brawn, and some very cool “toys” (channelling my best Jack Nicholson as the Joker voice).

Despite the flashes to other points of view in the book, whether Superboy or Kid Flash, the engine of this title is Red Robin and his single-minded desire to protect and nurture teenagers with newfound powers. It’s like Tim Drake is a teenaged Professor Xavier recruiting is teen X-Men. It’s a winning formula by a writer well versed in X-Men lore and teen escapist misadventuring. We’re still being teased by the various members of the team who haven’t officially come together yet as team; in fact one of our principal players actually makes a point of walking away in this issue. With the soap opera and X-Men adventuring overtones, writer Scott Lobdell delivers another compelling Teen Titans issue. The pencilling work of Brett Booth also fits so well with this kind of story that is peppered with light and dark throughout; tonally and with the various shades of characters we encounter.

Teen Titans #2 is fun, intriguing, and an ction packed romp by an excellent pairing of writer and artist. Can`t wait for November’s issue #3.

Red Hood and the Outlaws #2:

Unlike Teen Titans, writer Scott Lobdell’s other team book in the New 52 makes no bones about who its lead is, namely Jason Todd a.k.a. Robin 2, and now the Red Hood in “Red Hood and the Outlaws”. With that said, its not surprising than that the book focuses on him with the sultry alien Starfire and frat boy Arsenal as hangers-on in a new age Batman and the Outsiders type book. Much of the controversy in issue #1 focused on Starfire’s sexual “liberation” and impatient readers’ viral observations. As such, writer Lobdell was forced to reveal a future plot point online, namely that the character’s forgetfulness was a joke made by Red Hood in reference to Starfire wanting to forget and not talk about her past. Now, I was dubious about this claim initially and felt that DC and Lobdell were pivoting based on some of the online fire, but when one reads this month’s second issue, it certainly gives more credibility to his claim; Starfire is a lot more take-charge here than bimbo. Maybe it was all planned to rollout this way. ;)

The book opens with a reveal about a new chapter in Jason Todd’s past with Talia Al Ghul’s introduction of our anti-hero to the metaphysical All Caste sect. It’s a younger, brash, impulsive Jason that is welcomed by this sect. These are intriguing scenes with vistas and characters beautifully rendered by artist Kenneth Rocafort.

We also move back into modern day, where a more seemingly mature Todd and his immature pal Roy Harper / Arsenal travel to Hong Kong to meet Starfire to eventually tackle the newest threat against the All Caste. We have an interlude in one of Jason’s safe houses and the rotund villainess Suzie Su. These are unfortunate scenes, not due to the plotting or art, but the dialogue. Readers can ascertain that these scenes won’t end well for Su, as the scenes primarily try to convey Jason’s Robin Hoodesque cred in terms of his safe house collection, but its Jason’s banter in these two pages towards Su are over-the-top-mean-spirited and sexist. It says more about Jason’s frat boy core (??); perhaps his mature exterior is just a veneer? These two pages of scenes plot-wise and art-wise work well, and do advance the story to reveal key elements of Red Hood’s modus operandi to readers, but they would really benefit from some tweaked word bubbles that would present our lead in a better likable light.

The book ends where the previous issue did; as noted, most of this issue’s purpose was to reveal elements of Jason’s past and current approach to “Outlawing” plus explain how we got to issue 1’s cliff-hanger. We do get four new pages of action from that point that leads to this issue’s cliff-hanger; teasing that Jason has more emotions under his mature veneer than we’d expect and priming readers for next issue’s confrontation with the Chamber of All.

While Starfire may be somewhat – I stress the word “somewhat” – redeemed in this issue, it is clear that most of regression in terms of character development in the New 52 has occurred with Arsenal. He was a leader pre-Flashpoint (and pre-Cry For Justice / Justice League: Rise and Fall storylines) and a doting (and later mourning) father; in the New 52 he is a juvenile, frat boy, hanger-on with good weaponary skills. He is almost unrecognizable from his pre-Flashpoint days unlike Jason and Kori who bear strong resemblances to their past selves.

Overall, despite some weaknesses in dialogue and Roy Harper characterization, the bigger plot elements are done really well in this book and the art is magnificent. It is a recommended read.

Nightwing #2:

I remain a huge fan of writer Kyle Higgins and of DC’s first Robin, Dick Grayson, DC’s current Nightwing. Gates of Gotham, which Higgins co-wrote, and the New 52’s Deathstroke are other examples of this writer’s creative prowess. He is a risk taker well versed in the nuances of super-hero comic book culture, but also of the generational challenges and opportunities provided by an aging super-hero such as Nightwing.

Issue #2 opens with the assassin Saiko (despite my attempts at Goggling what this might mean, I remain at a loss; UPDATE: a source confirms that the meaning behind the name “Saiko” will be revealed in an upcoming issue) in battle with Nightwing who has thwarted his attempts to subdue “Gotham’s fiercest killer” Dick Grayson (unknown to the assassin at this point in the story is that his antagonists – actual and intended – are one in the same person). Clearly, our hero foils the assassin and we move onto the real story intent of issue #2, namely to set up Dick Grayson’s DC Comics Relaunch New 52 status quo vis-a-vis his boyhood Circus troupe under the Haly’s tent top.

It is interesting that in Teen Titans #2, Tim Drake as Red Robin displays the technological and sleuthing prowess of his mentor Batman; in Red Hood and the Outlaws #2 we see Jason Todd as Red Hood displaying the spirited and lethal side of the Dark Knight as well as his mentor’s ability to marshal forces; in Nightwing #2 we see Dick Grayson, Nightwing, in-costume display a Batman-like hand-to-hand combat competence, an ability to anticipate, and experience, while out-of-costume he demonstrates his active Bat-libido by joining the Mile High Club. And, like the other two former Robins, Nightwing also is seen to be using the resources that comes from being the ward or associate of a billionaire like Batman’s alter ego Bruce Wayne; Dick has access to the corporate jet!

I am really enjoying seeing Haly Circus back in Dick’s life. Seeing him walk through memory lane and its better days, despite the fate of his parents, and seeing where the circus is now was impactful. Whereas the sophomore issues of Teen Titans as well as Red Hood and the Outlaws have heaps of action, with emotional impact as a garnish, I found that issue #2 of Nightwing had a main course split evenly between adventure and emotional resonance.

The scenes between Dick and the sickly Mr. Haly are well worth the price of admission and not to be spoiled by this reviewer. These scenes are insightful, logical, full of emotion, and dynamic; you get the family element loud and clear between Dick and his circus brethern.

We also get the action with Saiko ready for round 2 with our hero with the stakes raised significantly for Nightwing AND Dick Grayson.

Penciller Eddy Barrows was born to draw a Nightwing book written by Kyle Higgens. Eddy’s art conveys the right emotions through vivid facial expressions and character positioning in those delicate moments between Dick Grayson and Mr. Haly. He also conveys the gravity and seriousness of battle in the two face-offs between Nightwing and Saiko.

I may not like Saiko’s costume, but the character does have some gravitas and readers are likely intrigued by who might be under the mask; I don’t know that, but I do know that I will be back for issue #3 of Nightwing next month!

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John is a long-time pop culture fan, comics historian, and blogger. He is currently the Editor-in-Chief at Comics Nexus. Prior to being EIC he has produced several column series including DEMYTHIFY, NEAR MINT MEMORIES and the ONE FAN'S TRIALS at the Nexus plus a stint at Bleeding Cool producing the COMICS REALISM column. As BabosScribe, John is active on his twitter account, his facebook page, his instagram feed and welcomes any and all feedback. Bring it on!