Written by: Jeff Lemire Pencils by: Terry Dodson Inks by: Rachel Dodson & Cam Smith Colors by: Brad Anderson & Terry Dodson Collects: Original Graphic Novel, $22.99 ($17.25 after MCS discount)
Though I’ve enjoyed every title under DC’s Earth One banner, none of the Superman or Batman stories really explored the “alternate universe” space. There are deviations from the canon DC Universe, but they’re slight. Superman is still super-manning and Batman is still taking on Gotham corruption, admittedly with less …tact.
With the release of the latest E1 series, Teen Titans: Earth One, the question many will have is, does the story deviate enough from the source material to justify the purchase?
The biggest changes readers will observe are to the team members themselves. Beast Boy, Cyborg, Jericho, Raven, Terra and a surprise guest make up the team, and they all play well (though not often with each other) over the course of the book.
While the graphic novel contains the familiar Teen Titans themes of searching for ones place in the world, and forging relationships amongst peers, Lemire makes significant changes to the Titans formula using the team itself. The youngsters are altered enough (in some cases very different) from their mainstream counterpart that most preconceptions you have of a given character will need to adapt. Their superpowers by-in-large function the same, but who they are and what motivates them is changed, which in turn affects how they connect with each other.
Their interpersonal struggles are set against the backdrop of conspiracy that somehow links every member of the Titans. As discoveries are made, bonds are fostered. The conspiracy is good too. There are hints here and there as to what’s going on, but Lemire plays a good hand, and tips it enough to make things consistently compelling. If the quality of the narrative ever started to dip, the curiosity inspired by a new universe with altered and compelling relationships between the Titans kept me moving, as they should.
This is my first experience with Terry Dodson’s pencils, and I came out pleased, but yearning for more. Dodson does a great job depicting the Titans themselves. This is a teen-oriented book and he approaches it as such: using clean, expressive lines to create a tight, simplistic experience. It can be too simplistic, however, as there’s a notable lack of background in many panels. I don’t mean just the occasional tree or rock that fades into the background, either. Too often there’s nothing to see except the characters themselves, and when there is scenery, it’s usually not very detailed. It could be argued Dodson did this on purpose, opting to draw the reader’s focus towards the character interactions, and I understand that, but I’m usually not the kind of reader that would notice something like this, which may say enough on its own.
Perhaps most off-putting is Dodson’s depiction of Slade Wilson in his Deathstroke uniform. It’s not awful, but it’s also not intimidating, which is kinda Slade’s thing. Between his fun-dad depiction earlier in the book, and his smirk-worthy battle attire, the Terminator’s edge is somewhat blunted. There are also times with the occasional limb would have an off-kilter shape to it. Small things like these take away from an otherwise refined aesthetic.
Any criticisms of Lemire’s writing I have are limited to the speed with which the GN reads, and the scope that it’s working with. DC appears to have a circa 150-page mandate for all the E1 books, as no comic in the imprint (both published and announced) contain more than 160 pages. This appears to hinder the story as Lemire alludes to big things in the book, but doesn’t seem to have quite enough space to address everything properly, affecting the story’s pacing. Presenting a number of interesting questions without the space to provide answers is an incredible bummer, primarily because of the rate the E1 installments are published (roughly one volume in a series every 18 months).
As someone who’s been holding out for a good Teen Titans tale for quite a while (Scott Lobdell’s work on the New 52 incarnation was an exercise of self-punishment), this comic definitely scratches an itch. Just keep in mind the poor page-to-price ratio, and the long wait for volume two.