NOTE: This article contains SPOILERS for "Teen Titans" #24 & "Teen Titans: Rebirth" #1
It may be television that gets the most credit for angst-ridden tales of teenage turmoil, but over the years, DC's Teen Titans have had more than their fair share of growing pains and loss. All the while, rebooted or updated incarnations of the team have had to contend with the legacy of the original team (and Wolfman and Pérez's wildly succesful "New Teen Titans" that followed). Wally West, Dick Grayson, Donna Troy and Roy Harper may have been only sidekicks at the time, but cast long shadows, even after they aged out into solo heroes of their own.
But the time for "Teen Titans: Rebirth" has arrived, and the team of Benjamin Percy and Jonboy Meyers have concocted one truly unique method of uniting the new roster. With traditional leaders like Cyborg and Robin either starring in their own titles or... otherwise indisposed, the job of assembling a team of young, outcast heroes has fallen to Damian Wayne. And from the book's first issue, the bold direction, artwork, and hints of pathos are easy to see - and even more satisfying to read.
When Titans Fall
First things first: it's inherently risky building a comic book around Damian Wayne, since the character has proven divisive (to say the least) among readers and fans. For some, he's exactly what you would expect from the son of Bruce Wayne, emulating his father and viewing the world through his years of tutelage among the League of Assassins. For others... he's a whiny, troublemaking, arrogant brat with few redeeming qualities. Readers are free to make up their minds, but the history drawn upon for "Teen Titans: Rebirth" is important to recognize.
Following his death and resurrection (dig into that on your own, if you like), Damian Wayne, the son of Batman carved out a truly unique identity for himself as Robin. Acting in the role beside Dick Grayson's Batman and his father's, Damian even joined the Teen Titans in the pre-New 52 continuity (but left once Tim Drake returned, since the team "didn't need two Robins"). Recent series have softened his petulant side, casting him as more of a determined, socially awkward child, as opposed to an annoying monster.
And with his own story in "Robin: Son of Batman" brought to a close prior to the DC Rebirth, readers got their first glimpse of his new mission on the final page of "Teen Titans" #24. The issue brought the current team (and book) to a close with the death of Tim Drake, following each member as they relived their fondest memory - leaving readers to gaze upon Damian, thoughtfully taking in the costume worn by Tim during his Titans tenure.
Garfield Logan, Beast Boy
We mentioned pathos above, and Percy wastes no time in driving the point home, opening the first "Rebirth" issue on Gar Logan surrounded by an adoring throng... smiling to hide the pain and isolation he feels. For those who may not be well-versed in "Teen Titans" history, Gar a.k.a. 'Beast Boy' has been a staple of the modern era (in animated incarnations, too). But beyond a typically lighthearted, fun-loving personality, even fans may have a hard time zeroing in on one defining characteristic that is completely his own.
Which is why this introduction is so compelling, returning Gar to his original comic book roots as a player in the Hollywood Hills, and explicitly owning his addiction to being the center of attention. It's unclear exactly how much Percy is linking Gar's Hollywood life to emptiness, performance, or isolation, and how much of that is due to his just losing a close friend. Either way, these few short pages make it clear that the metaphor and irony - a young man who can transform into anything can't just be himself - are in the forefront of the creators' minds.
Add Princess Koriand'r's name to the list of "Titans" characters that are certainly known, but actually understood by a far smaller, far more devoted fan base. She hasn't had an easy ride, either; a green-eyed, otherworldly princess with little knowledge of social demands led to too many scandalous, pin-up covers and splash pages to count. Obliviousness is a part of her character, sure, but after some problematic roles in prior "Teen Titans" and "Red Hood and the Outlaws" runs... let's just say that the situation in which we find her in "Rebirth" is infinitely more promising than we had dared hope. Just like Beast Boy, she too is struggling to find a satisfying life in a world that is not her own (literally).
Having left the other "Titans" behind (the former Teen Titans, including Koriand'r's on-again, off-again paramour Dick Grayson) Koriand'r has set her sights on stopping slavery - in what is, interestingly, the third Rebirth title to feature human trafficking as a modern horror (Percy's "Green Arrow" and Tim Seeley's "Nightwing"). It's a life Koriand'r has seen for herself, indicating her origin story remains intact. And while the initial impression of this take on Starfire walks close to that of Wonder Woman, we'll allow it since they're both compassionate, guileless princesses (and the world needs more Wonder Women).
Rachel Roth, Raven
The collected characters in this new group of "Titans" are nothing if not lost - or wandering, at the very least. But no soul is more truly lost than that of Rachel Roth, best known to her frie-- readers as Raven, empath and mystic. Also, daughter of the Devil (Trigon). Since Raven's backstory is heavy enough without the many plots, prophecies, and shadowy cults that populate her past, the "Rebirth" issue keeps to the basics. An art museum is the perfect place to escape the thoughts and emotions of other people, and Raven is nothing if not introverted.
And, as those reading will expect by this point, tortured by the knowledge that she was conceived by a demon for a horrible purpose. It's too soon to tell exactly what Percy and Meyers have in mind for Raven (and "Rebirth" may be a clean slate), but those intrigued to know more about her would do well to pick up "Raven" #1. In the first issue of her solo series, writer Marv Wolfman and artist Allison Borges follow Raven to a new home, family, and the most horrifying hellscape of all: high school.
Wally West, Kid Flash
It feels like it's been years in the making, but Wally West (not the original) has finally taken the first steps into adopting the superhero identity of 'Kid Flash.' Shown to be testing his new speed in "DC Universe: Rebirth" and fighting alongside Barry Allen in the current run of "The Flash", it looks like Wally will be getting some true time in the spotlight in "Teen Titans" - and his introduction shows incredible promise. Of all the characters, Wally is the truest newcomer - and the storytellers know it, defining him as a walking exploration of liminality. Wally doesn't know what or who he is... only what he isn't.
It actually speaks to the modern purpose of the Teen Titans as an organization: a sidekick isn't a sidekick if they're on their own, but they don't become heroes overnight, either (and what is a hero, anyway?). Bundle that up into a narrative taking place alongside the physiological progression from adolescence to adulthood, and you've got yourself some fertile ground for storytelling. Setting aside our hope that this is the storyline we've been waiting to see Wally claim as his own, it's enough for Kid Flash to be similar, but different, from his new friends: they've had their identities shaken, but Wally hasn't even decided on one. And don't even get us started on the inevitable daddy issues.
Robin & Goliath Return
So, who better to step in and give this assortment of broken, tortured, lost souls and liminals some direction than a pre-teen(?) with delusions of grandeur and a talent for tactics that could only be genetic? He's already demonstrated his determination and skills by ambushing each of the other heroes, and rendering them unconscious without even raising suspicions. Now that he has them captured and restrained, we doubt he even needs to looming presence of his devoted pet dragon bat, Goliath.
Family is as big a factor in Damian's character as any other member's, with his grandfather Ra's al Ghul confirmed to the be the threat which has drawn these heroes together. Knowing that, it appears that Damian's inherent goodness, and intelligence is what's actually propelling his plan - even if he claims the usual unassailable, unspoken (or tyrannical) logic governing his actions. As his final line of the issue implies, Damian has some explaining to do. And with the group of outcasts arranged before him, it's anyone's guess whether his answers will unite them, or... oh, who are we kidding? The Teen Titans are already united.
Keeping them that way? That seems to be the challenge.
Teen Titans: Rebirth #1 is available now.