Publisher: DC Comics (Paperback Edition – 1 April 2004)
Series: Teen Titans (2003)
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artists: Mike McKone
Reviewed as part of my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.
Ever since I mentioned Geoff Johns’ 2003 Teen Titans series in one of my Top Ten lists last week, I have wanted to revisit the series. I have always loved this run of Teen Titans the most. Something about the combination of storylines, characters and this version of the artwork always spoke to me. It was also one of the first comic series that I read and subsequently went out of my way to get every collected edition. Even years later I still love dusting this series off, so I figured this would be a good time to go back and have a try at reviewing parts of this series. That is why for this Throwback Thursday I will be looking at the first collected volume of the series, Teen Titans: A Kid’s Game.
The Teen Titans are a team of teenaged heroes in the DC universe, usually the sidekicks of the universe’s adult heroes, but also featuring several characters without mentors. The first formation of the Teen Titans occurred in 1964 and featured the original Kid Flash (Wally West), Robin (Dick Grayson) and Aqualad (Garth). After a short while the original Wonder Girl (Donna Troy) joined their ranks and the team started calling itself the Teen Titans before it was given its own series. Teen Titans was DC’s attempt to appeal to the younger generation of comic book fans, and it proved to be an extremely successful series, featuring a number of DC’s younger characters, including Green Arrow’s sidekick, the original Speedy (Roy Harper), who is considered a founding member of the team. Teen Titans went through a number of different relaunches, with probably their most famous one occurring in 1980 with the launch of the New Teen Titans series, which brought back most of the original Titans, revamped Changeling to Beast Boy and introduced a number of iconic characters, including Cyborg, Starfire and Raven. It also introduced several of the team’s most famous villains, including Deathstroke and Trigon. The Teen Titans are one of DC’s most iconic superhero teams and have been featured in a number of media platforms, including the amazing Teen Titans animated show, Teen Titans Go (the less said the better), the dark and surprisingly good live action Titans and a number of key story and character elements have been included in the awesome Young Justice animated show.
Teen Titans went through a number of relaunches throughout the 1980s and 1990s, but the one most relevant to the 2003 Teen Titans comic series is the 1999 Titans comic series, which followed the adventures of adult versions of the original Teen Titans, most of whom had new superhero personas. At the same time, DC launched the Young Justice comic book series (which I have talked about before) incorporating the younger generation of sidekicks (for example a new and younger Robin and Wonder Girl). Both these series ended after the 2003 crossover limited series, Titans/Young Justice: Graduation Day. Graduation Day featured a number of important events, including the sudden death of longstanding Titans member Omen; however, the most significant event was the death of the original Wonder Girl, Donna Troy. The resultant despair and guilt following the death of this significant character led to both the Titans and Young Justice dissolving in what was to be conclusion of both these series.
However, shortly after this, Geoff Johns started this specific run on Teen Titans, which combined elements of the cancelled Young Justice and Titans series, with the main four characters from Young Justice teaming up with some of the classic Teen Titans. Another new series of Outsiders started around the same time and was heavily linked to this run of Teen Titans and featured Dick Grayson and Roy Harper. This specific run of Teen Titans lasted until 2011, when DC initiated their New 52 relaunch (which I may or may not have some issues with). Geoff Johns was the principle writer of this series until the 2005-06 Infinite Crisis limited series, which was a significant story point for all of DC’s titles at that point. Due to the fact that Johns was the principle writer of the Infinite Crisis series, several of the younger Teen Titans (Superboy and Wonder Girl in particular) played a key part in this big crossover event, and several storylines from the 2003 Teen Titans turned out to be heavily linked to the crossover event.
Following the tragic events of Graduation Day, the young heroes that made up the superhero team Young Justice are lost. Tim Drake (Robin), Conner Kent (Superboy) Bart Allen (Impulse) and Cassandra Sandermark (Wonder Girl) dissolved the team in their grief over losing the original Wonder Girl, Donna Troy, and have been avoiding each other since her funeral. They may be the sidekicks of the greatest heroes in the world, but they are all missing their friends. Despite their reluctance to team up again, each of them accepts an invitation from Victor Stone (Cyborg) to form a new version of the Teen Titans. With a new base in San Francisco and other veteran Titans members Starfire and Beast Boy to help as mentors, Cyborg wants to bring these young heroes together again and forge an effective team.
However, before Cyborg can attempt to work with the four new Titans and convince them to stay on the team, a massive explosion rips through Alcatraz, endangering tourist lives. As the Teen Titans mount a rescue, one of them is ambushed by the team’s oldest and most dangerous adversary, the world’s best assassin, Deathstroke the Terminator. Deathstroke has long had a complicated relationship with the Teen Titans, but this time it looks like he wants to put the team down for good. Claiming that kids should not wear costumes, he attempts to take out each member of the team, but what is the real reason behind his attack? Can this new version of the Teen Titans survive the ruthless assassin? What role will recently reborn Titan Raven play? Moreover, what will happen when the Justice League arrives to shut them down?
As I mentioned above, I am a huge fan in general of this entire run of Teen Titans, but this has to be one of the best instalments in the entire series. Geoff Johns and his creative team came out of the gate swinging with this one and started the series off with a bang. Not only does A Kid’s Game feature a fantastic storyline and contain some excellent character work, but it also serves as an outstanding first instalment of what turned out to be one of DC’s most consistent and captivating comic book series between 2003 and 2011. The A Kids Games collected edition is made up of Teen Titans (2003) #1 – 7 and also features parts from Teen Titans/Outsiders Secret Files 2003, which can be useful for those readers unfamiliar with the characters, or at least that incarnation of them.
The storyline contained within A Kid’s Game has a lot of fantastic elements to enjoy within it. The initial formation of the team is handled very well, as each of them is shown to be lonely or unsatisfied with their lives without their friends, and despite their misgivings decide to join up. The follow-up battle between the team and Deathstroke is really good, and the team learning how to fight together while uncovering their antagonist’s motivations is very exciting. Deathstroke has a hell of an entrance in this volume when he kneecaps Impulse at the end of the second issue in what is a pretty shocking and memorable moment. I personally loved the storyline that occurred right after this in Teen Titans 2003 #6, when the Justice League, including the mentors of each of the younger Teen Titans’ members, show up and try to meddle with how the team is run. This results in some chaotic action and a huge amount of amazing comic book drama, as the sidekicks fight and vent their well-justified frustrations to their mentors while also coming to terms with the guilt they feel over Donna Troy’s death. I really cannot speak highly enough about this part of the volume, and I think this was what made me initially fall in love with the series. The final storyline shows each of the characters during the school week, when it really helps to highlight the issues that being a part of the Teen Titans is helping them face.
One of the things that I really like about this volume is that each issue contains a shocking reveal at the end. I know that some comics overuse this, but I felt that Johns and his team were pretty justified in doing this, as they were trying to up the stakes during these first comics in their new series. A lot of significant and surprising things are revealed during each of these issues, many of which would have ground-shaking impacts not just for the Teen Titan, but for the DC universe as a whole (Spoilers ahead). This happens right in the first issue, with the reveal that half of Superboy’s DNA comes from Lex Luthor. Other big events occurring at the end of each issue are the kneecapping of Impulse, the revelation that Jericho was still alive inside Deathstroke, Bart’s first appearance as Kid Flash, Wonder Woman showing up to start the brawl between the League and the team and the reveal that Lex Luthor is the person leaking information about Superboy’s genetics to Robin. Even the quiet, final issue of this volume has a big reveal at the end, with the revelation that Rose Wilson is now working with her father Deathstroke.
The creative team behind this original run obviously had a great appreciation for some of the preceding Teen Titans series, as they utilise a number of key characters from these earlier series. I personally thought that the issues contained with A Kid’s Game did a fantastic job of blending these old school Teen Titans storylines and character together with the former Young Justice characters, creating an excellent new dichotomy for the team. This blend of the old and new helped create an excellent new series and was one of the best features of John’s run, and I also enjoyed the respect he showed towards the old Young Justice series. I was also really impressed in hindsight with how well Johns and his team set up or hinted at a number of future storylines or character developments in these initial issues. Many of these storylines (such as Superboy being a mixture of Superman and Lex Luthor’s DNA, Wonder Girl being related to Ares, Rose Wilson joining with Deathstroke, the resurrection of Raven and Jericho and the new Brother Blood) would have impacts for years to come and some are even utilised in comic series, television shows and animated movies to this day. The creators of A Kid’s Game did an incredible job including them this early in the series, and they were really good introductions.
One of the best things about the entire 2003 run of Teen Titans is the focus on the characters and their development throughout the series. While other volumes of this series feature some great character moments, nowhere is this more prevalent than within the issues that make up A Kid’s Game. Most of the focus within this book is on the four characters, Robin, Superboy, Impulse and Wonder Girl, who are moving over from Young Justice to the Teen Titans. The creators take a significant look at each of them and really work to develop each of them as substantial characters and develop them deeper than what they were within Young Justice. With this impressive focus on developing and utilising these characters to their full potential, it is no wonder that they were utilised as such major characters during the Infinite Crisis storyline and beyond. I also like how the older members of the team had to step up and assume a leadership role that readers had not seen before. As a result, Cyborg and Starfire attempted to fill these leadership roles, while the slightly younger and less mature Beast Boy acts as the bridge between the two generations. I thought that these new roles were really clever and added some new dynamics to the team. I was also really impressed with how the creators focused on the trauma that all of the team members were feeling in the wake of Donna Troy’s death. Each of them was racked with guilt after they were unable to help stop her death, and the anger and grief that each of them was feeling was extremely evident throughout the volume.
Another incredible part of this initial volume was the strong look at the relationship between the sidekicks and their mentors. Despite the high regard each of their mentors holds in the superhero world, each of these sidekicks has issues that stem from how they perceive or are treated by their mentor. The creative team really go out of their way to highlight these issues, and many are quite clever. For example, Superboy, who is living as Conner Kent, appears to be frustrated at living a quiet life in Smallville, but as the story progresses it becomes clear that he is having trouble living up to the legacy of not only Superman but Clark Kent as well. Robin is stuck wondering what his future holds and it soon becomes clear that he is reluctant to become like Batman, despite the fact that his is more like him than any of the Robins that came before him. Wonder Girl is extremely angry and rebellious throughout this volume and is beginning to doubt her mentor Wonder Woman. This is revealed to be a side effect of her trauma at the death of Donna Troy, and it soon becomes clear that she is one most impacted by the former Wonder Girl’s death. Finally, Bart is sick of being considered not good enough to be part of the Flash legacy, as his own mentor does not think he is responsible enough to bear the Flash name (which is ironic, considering he is the only one of these young heroes whoever takes up their mentor’s mantle). As a result, he acts like he does not care, while deep down he craves approval and Flash’s respect. Bart easily shows the most growth within this volume, as he takes the Kid Flash mantle for himself, dedicates himself to learning all he needs to be a hero and vows to leave the Flash in his shadow. All of these character issues come to a head perfectly when the Justice League arrives unannounced at Titan’s Tower and they try to meddle with their sidekicks lives and there are some amazing and cathartic moments between the younger heroes and their mentors. His is comic book character work at its very best.
I have to note the great job the artistic team does throughout these first seven issues. There are some great new character designs, such as Superboy’s iconic new look of jeans and a superman t-shirt, something that is still utilised within the Young Justice television show. I also liked the way that Bart looked in the Kid Flash outfit. The artwork on the action sequences is also pretty awesome, and there are a huge number of eyepopping scenes throughout this volume. That shot of Kid Flash getting kneecapped is very impressive and really sticks with you. Overall, there is some fantastic artwork, which works really well with the outstanding story and character work to create an excellent first volume.
Teen Titans: A Kid’s Game is an amazing first volume in the 2003 Teen Titans series. I cannot speak highly enough about the storylines and the way that the creative team handle the complex young heroes. A spectacular start to an incredible run one of DC’s most iconic series. I fully intend to review some other volumes in this Teen Titans in the future so stay tuned for them.