Teen Titans (vol.3) #2 (2003)

Teen Titans (vol.3) #2 (October, 2003)
“Child’s Play”
Writer – Geoff Johns
Pencils – Mike McKone
Inks – Marlo Alquiza
Colors – Jeromy Cox
Letters – Comicraft
Associate Editor – Tom Palmer, Jr.
Editor – Eddie Berganza
Cover Price: $2.50

Over the past couple of weeks, Dan Didio’s name has come up a bit more than usual.  In certain corners of fandom, it seems like he’s almost being given the “blame” for the events of (the first issue of) Heroes in Crisis.  Funny, how a writer gets to sidestep it all… so long as they’re active on social media, ain’t it?

Now, these Didio-directed barbs… they’re not without cause.  It’s been clear from the start that he has a “vision” for what the DC Universe is/was going to look like.  Case in point, the book we’re going to be looking at today.

One of his first (publishing) moves was the cancellation of both Titans and Young Justice.  The former, a zombified husk… the latter, a wonderfully fun book, and (at the time) one of my favorite monthly reads.  Both books, regardless of quality, felt aimed at a wider audience.  Standard superheroics… and humor.  You wouldn’t worry about a young tween picking up an issue of either book.

Then… the darkness came.  Now, let’s not get it twisted… right now, I think Outsiders (vol.3) is a whole lot better than Titans was… and, I’m at a point in my life where I can reread this era of Teen Titans all day long… yet, struggle to get through even half an issue of Young Justice.  The point is, there was a definite darker turn, and… for lack of a better term, “maturation” of the young heroes in ye old 2003.  A darkness that, if books like Heroes in Crisis are any indication, is still with us… and, for better or worse, ain’t leaving any time soon!

We open with what appears to be a conversation between Slade Wilson and his ever-loyal bosom buddy, Wintergreen.  As the “camera” pans out, however, it’s made perfectly clear that this was just a one-way chat.  Ya see, Wintergreen’s head has been stuffed and mounted on Slade’s wall.  Wow… Didio didn’t waste a second, did he?  Just wait though… we’re nowhere near done yet!

We head over to Titans Tower, where Robin can’t shake the idea that half of Superboy’s DNA was provided by Lex Luthor.  Kon, who is just finishing up a few laps in the pool doesn’t want to discuss it.  He’s certain the whole thing is a cruel prank.  He tells Tim to cool it with the speculation… and most important, do not get Batman involved.  As he leaves the pool area, he drops his towel… Robin finds a single hair on it.

Elsewhere in the Tower, Gar and Bart fight over control of the TV remote.  Gar wants to watch the Discovery Channel to learn about new and exciting animals he could transform into, while Bart would prefer zoning out with some ‘toons.  They wrestle around, and wind up destroying the television, so the whole thing is moot.

Starfire breaks up the brouhaha… and then, a few moments later, Cassie walks into the “living area”… and quits the team!  Ya see, she never asked for any of this… yadda, yadda, yadda.  Bart chases her out of the Tower to beg for her to reconsider.  He tells her that they “need” these Titans weekends.  She suggests that he doesn’t really know who she is.  Bart tells her that she’s how he found out he liked girls.  Okey doke… creep her out, why doncha?

Suddenly, they’re surrounded by the rest of the team… and, naturally… they all want Cassie to stick around.  Then… an explosion!  This Titans Tower is in San Francisco, right on the water… and so, when a bomb goes off on Alcatraz, they’ve kinda got a front-row seat.  They head into action… Cassie included!

En route, Starfire starts giving orders… which Cassie contradicts, and starts giving her own.  As you might imagine, Cassie’s make more sense… ya see, we gotta pump up the rookies at the expense of the vets.  And so, over the next few pages, the Titans evacuate dozens of tourists off the island and onto a boat.

Then, to put out the fire… Gar transforms into an elephant, and starts spraying away.  Kon uses his tactile telekinesis to find a water line under ground… only, he accidentally yanks a gas main instead.  Whoops.

Luckily, Cyborg is on the scene.  He protects the Titans in a sort of static-electrical bubble.  He then officially welcomes Superboy into the Teen Titans.

We wrap up with Bart having a look around the abandoned prison to see if there are any more civilians.  He hears a voice… a rather taunting voice… and suddenly finds himself walking smack-dab into Deathstroke…

… who kneecaps him!

So yeah, that took a pretty dark turn, didn’t it?

Now, it’s hard to really take myself back to 2003… and, I mean… looking at this today, with how much darker things have become in comics overall… this looks charmingly quaint.  I mean, this very story is sitting on a shelf at Walmart (as part of Teen Titans Giant #2) as I type this.

I do recall that this left me with a little bit of… I dunno… culture shock?  It was the first time that I felt like comics were changing from what I knew them to be.  I mean, we (or I) lived through the Image revolution, where every third book had the word “blood” in the title… but, this was different.  DC was kinda the “old reliable”… and with books like this, I suddenly felt, I dunno, “unsafe”?

I mean, Bart being kneecapped is going to pass in a flash… and lead to some great character development… but, man… what an image!  Such a dramatic cliffhanger, having a Speedster (literally) taken out at the knees!  Add to that the sight of Wintergreen’s head stuffed and mounted in Slade’s trophy room… and, yeah… this definitely ain’t Young Justice anymore.

But… is it any good?  Well yeah!  I’d go so far as to say that the Teen Titans book hasn’t been this good… since the mid-2000’s!  There are things I don’t quite enjoy… such as having Cassie override Kory… but, that’s just something that’s going to happen.  Wonder Girl was the leader of Young Justice, so it stands to reason she’d be comfortable giving orders… and being more tactically-oriented than Starfire.  It’s just that, in 2018, I find I identify more with the vets than the rookies… so, maybe I’m a bit more sensitive to that scene than I was as a pup.

The art here… I can’t deny that it’s really good, but it doesn’t really speak to me.  There’s a certain looseness here that I struggle to get past.  I mean, even the cover… I rather dislike it.  There’s no reason to… but, I dunno… there’s just something about it.

Overall… although most of this discussion might come across as negative… I really do love this era of Teen Titans.  I’d recommend it to anyone really… Titans fans or Titans-curious.  This is probably the most accessible run of Titans from the past quarter-century… it’s probably also the best.  It’s been collected any number of ways… even in the (still on the shelves) Teen Titans Giant #2 Walmart exclusive.  It is also available digitally.

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