Titans East Special #1 (January, 2008)
“The Fickle Hand, Part One: Go East, Young Man.”
Writer – Judd Winick
Pencils – Ian Churchill
Inks – Norm Rapmund, Andy Lanning & Jon Sibal
Colors – Edgar Delgado
Letters – Comicraft
Assistant Editor – Adam Schlagman
Editor – Eddie Berganza
Cover Price: $3.99
The late 2000’s. It was the best of times… oh, who am I even trying to kid… it was the worst of times (to be a Titans fan).
Anyone who might be following my reviews of the contemporary (post-Rebirth) Teen Titans (vol.6) over at Weird Science DC Comics knows that up until a few months ago, I was very hard on the direction (or lack thereof) of the book. It was the same thing every month, high on angst with the looming threat that somebody was going to quit the team at any time. Rarely an issue would go by without someone quitting, threatening to quit, get kicked off, or threatened to be kicked off. It was an awful run.
But then… if you’re a tenured Titans fan… your mind might take you back to the post-Geoff Johns/pre-J.T. Krul era… and I realize, “Hey! It could always be worse!”.
We open back in the long ago during a Jenni! concert that has been hijacked by… the Joker! (I did check around to see if Jenni! was a reference to some obscure Golden/Silver-Age character, but she doesn’t appear to be). In fact, it’s not only the Joker… but Bizarro too! Man, I love me a Joker/Bizarro team-up… what a classic, right? Right??? Okay, in fairness, I’m sure they’d probably rubbed shoulders a time or two before this… I mean, World’s Finest Comics was a thing for a very long time. Anyhoo, the Teen Titans are there to (try and) save the day! This looks like it would’ve taken place early in the New Teen Titans era, as Wally is a) still a member, and b) still Kid Flash.
Over the next several pages, the Titans look for an opening to attack the Joker (who is revealed to be handcuffed to the lovely and talented Jenni!), all the while Bizarro plays the heavy. Beast Boy transforms into a bee, and stings Joker on the cheek, which provides Robin the opportunity to use a ‘rang to shatter the cuffs. Beast Boy then turns into an ape and rescues the girl.
Wally rushes the Joker and swipes his gun… only to find out that it’s actually a ticking bomb inside a gun’s housing! He runs it out into the bay where it explodes… 3 seconds early. The kinda thing that would add real drama in any story that isn’t clearly a flashback!
As the Joker gloats over “killing” Kid Flash, he is suddenly overcome by emotion… yup, Raven’s in the house. While gettin’ high on the Joker’s supply, she goes a little nutty herself (but thankfully doesn’t give us like a half-dozen pages of her acting like the Joker).
Back with Bizarro, Starfire realizes that since Superman is powered by yellow sunlight, Bizarro might actually be de-powered by the same. Lucky for her, she appears to be right!
Just then, Wally returns (from dead) with a box under his arm. While he was gone, he swung by… I dunno, S.T.A.R. Labs or something, and picked up a chunk of Blue Kryptonite (which is actually steeped in Bizarro history)! This puts Bizarro down for good… for now.
Robin socks the Joker, and the Titans stand together atop the heap of baddies.
Then… we jump ahead to “now”. Cyborg is trying to assemble a second team of Titans. This is post-Infinite Crisis, so the San Francisco-based (Cassie-Wonder Girl-led) iteration ain’t doin’ all that hot at the moment. Vic asks his usual running-buddies, but they just ain’t feelin’ it. Donna is off doing some Countdown-related stuff with Kyle Rayner, Beast Boy is hanging out with the All-New All-Old Doom Patrol, Roy is part of the Justice League of America… hell, even Lilith turns him down, and I’m sure she ain’t doin’ anything!
Finally, Vic reaches out to Dick Grayson… who also ain’t feelin’ it. Ya see, Cyborg has drafted some “newbies” and he wants the vets on board to help whip ’em into shape (yes, again). Nightwing says they were a great team once, and they may be a great team again… but now might not be the right time. They get nostalgic for a moment, before Dick asks Vic about these “newbies”…
And so, let’s meet a few. First stop, Dawn and Holly Granger, the all-new Hawk & Dove! It seemed like they really wanted to play-up Holly (Hawk)’s sex appeal, and so naturally, we catch her in the shower. She tells Dawn about “some guy” she picked up the night before. More on that in a bit…
… or, right now. Next, we meet… Power Boy (complete with booby-window!). He talks about how last night he “got some” with a freaky girl who didn’t mind wearing a Supergirl costume while they “did it”!
He goes for a swim before heading over to the first meeting of Teen Titans East. His teammates include, Little Barda, Anima (a Bloodlines buddy), (semi-obscure Charlton character) Son of Vulcan, Lagoon Boy, and, of course… Hawk & Dove.
Cyborg informs them that for this first training session, Power Boy is going to be something of a tackling dummy. The rest of the team are to track him down, and defeat him in combat… which is the case for the next dozen or so pages! During those pages, he exchanges banter with each teammate, and even learns that the freaky girl he was with the night before is now a member of his team! Each member of Titans East gets to sorta-kinda “show their stuff” during the brouhaha… which, sadly, isn’t saying much.
The team eventually loses sight of Power Boy, and heads into the nearby woods to investigate… and what they find is, rather grim. A badly-burned Power Boy has been impaled on a tree branch!
Vic rushes in to see what’s up, and suddenly beams of energy start raining down on the heroes… one of which goes right through poor Anima!
When Cyborg makes it to the clearing… the beams get a bit bigger… and by “a bit” I mean, a whole lot. A tremendous beam bears down, smashing into the team, and leaving a crater in its wake. To be continued…
Okay, before we begin. I gotta say that being a decade-plus removed from this one, I didn’t hate it as much as I did when I first read it. I didn’t like it… but, I’m not as mad at it as I was back in the Winter of 2007. If you weren’t reading the Titans back in the “nebulous interim” that was post-Infinite Crisis/pre-Final Crisis, you wouldn’t know just how many team members were “sacrificed”. This was the era of the Teen Titans “casket cover”… lotsa teen-age heroes were being thrown on the fire… and the fatigue was real!
Look at this cover… “Who Will Die?” That’s your selling point? What is this, Heroes in Crisis?! I’m sorry, you’re going to need more than that. Buying a book only to find out who dies? Really, if that’s all you’re interested in… just hang out on social media a week before the book comes out, some “pro” reviewer will undoubtedly spoil it. If that’s all you’re looking for… there’s no reason to shell out four-bucks for this.
Let’s put this book aside for a moment… and say, you missed out on it. Didn’t even know it was a “thing”. One day you head into the local comic shop, and see a bright-shiny Titans (vol.2) #1 sitting there on the shelf. You pick it up and take it home. Upon opening it, you’re greeted with “The Fickle Hand, Part TWO”. Part Two… in a #1 issue! What a mess.
Now, let’s look at the issue itself. It’s kinda empty. It’s basically two big fight scenes separated by a couple of pages of exposition. Not sure why we needed the “This was Then…” bits, other than the desire to shoehorn the Joker into the issue. That’s fair enough… not sure why it necessitated so many damned pages though.
Speaking of an embarrassment of pages… that training exercise probably didn’t need twelve of ’em! I get that we want to try and flesh these newbies out… let ’em “show their stuff” before the big “gotcha”. But, that only works if you don’t spoil the fact that someone’s going to die on the cover! We never get the opportunity to lose ourselves in the story… we’re just looking for someone to die. We’re anticipating the “gotcha” moment, so that when it finally happens… it doesn’t really have the desired effect!
The expositional middle… was okay. It feels like the Titans are always in “rebuilding mode”… nobody can just tell a story about them coming together… there has to be some cockamamie reason behind it all. The past several times has been about “training the next bunch”… which… I mean, there’s already a Teen Titans team… and before that, there was Young Justice. This is redundant… and I totally understand the “originals” wanting to be as far away from it as possible. This whole thing feels like a “here we go again” rather than… “Hell yeah, new Titans!”… which isn’t the best way to launch a new series.
I suppose we could go into Power Boy and Hawk’s cosplay sex… but, I mean, what can I say? It’s pandering, crass, and ultimately unnecessary, but it’s pretty much exactly what I’d expect from DC and Judd Winick at that point in time. Was this to give us a feeling of “loss”? It wasn’t depicted as romantic in the slightest… and it’s not like nu-Hawk has all that much time left among the living either. I dunno… the whole thing was just really off-putting.
Overall… I really don’t know what to say. Back in 2007-2008 I’d give this a hard-pass, and suggest everyone else would too. Now? I still don’t need this in my life, but that doesn’t mean other folks won’t dig it. The era of Titans-death-fatigue is in the distant rear-view at this point… and so, this might actually feel novel rather than just another few bodies being haphazardly thrown on the fire. It is worth noting, the art here is good. I had some problems with early Ian Churchill… he was very much in the Rob Liefeld-alikes list. You can still see some of the influence here, but it’s softened quite a bit. This issue is available digitally if you’re interested… but I would suggest holding off until you find it in the cheap-o bins instead.