Heroes and Villains: March 9, 2018

What’s up, true believers? Winter has made its comeback outside the home office in Cobourg, Ontario, but I’m warm and cozy at my desk so it must be time for Heroes and Villains!

This week I swung by BMV and picked up two fresh trades from my two favourite super teams: Teen Titans and The X-Men!

As the cycle of comics goes around, both series have had a recent relaunch/renewal with Teen Titans falling under the DC “Rebirth” branding and X-Men just being X-Men and heading in a new creative direction.

As a guy who grew up on 1980s comics, I have nothing but love for both these franchises, with the epic crossover between them still standing up as one of my all-time favourite reads.

What did I think about this most recent installment for these two franchises? Read on!

Teen Titans Volume 2: The Rise of Aqualad
Writer: Benjamin Percy; Artists: Khoi Pham and Phil Hester

Having gotten my gripe on about the never-ending DC continuity shuffle in a previous column, I looked at the cover to this comic and immediately got excited about what I saw.

This is a Teen Titans lineup I can get behind; it’s a cross between Titans Go, The DC animated movie-verse and Young Justice, with versions of the characters that are clean and recognizable. Yes, it’s Damian Wayne as Robin and the new Arrowverse-inspired Wally West, but I know these characters.

I am joining the story here at volume two, but what I need to know is laid out pretty quickly by clear characterization and straightforward story telling. Damian is kind of a jerk, but it’s his Wayne money that’s financing the team and he wants them to be the best super team around. Kid Flash is the fast guy that kind of has a thing for Raven, the mysterious girl with affected speech bubbles implying her raspy Titans GO voice. Starfire (who is wearing more clothes than she has in a long time; well done on this one, DC) is the alien powerhouse who should probably be in charge. Beast Boy is Beast Boy and Aqualad is the new guy. Its easy, accessible and doesn’t weigh itself down with endless back story and continuity.

After struggling through one volume of the New 52 Titans, with its stuck in the 1990s designs, bizarre roster of new characters and unpleasant reboots of favourites like Red Robin and Superboy, this was a real treat.

The creative team knows what works for the Titans as a concept. And, more importantly, they make them accessible to an audience that might only know them from their cartoon counterparts. Little details, like depicting Beast Boy as a vegetarian, are perfect for kids that grew up on the animated Titans. His character makes me wish that Cyborg hadn’t been drafted as a leaguer; a “booya” or two would have really hit the spot in this series.

What else can I say? Damian Wayne continues the tradition of Robin as one of the best characters in comics. The art is great. The story is fun. Starfire is wearing clothes… You guys get it. This comic was awesome.

X-Men Gold Volume 1: Back to Basics
Writer: Mark Guggenheim; Artists: Ardian Syaf and R.B. Silva

As the title of the volume, Back to Basics, implies, this relaunch is meant to evoke a classic feeling with a Claremont inspired X-Men lineup of Colossus, Storm, Rachel Summers (now called Prestige for some reason), Wolverine (old man Logan) and Kitty Pryde as their leader and school headmistress.

While reading this comic I kept thinking of the pro-wrestling concept known as the nostalgia pop: An old wrestler or old gimmick returns to the ring after a lengthy absence, usually resulting in thunderous applause. This only works sometimes and is best served up to fans judiciously, as a nostalgia pop can quickly go south when the fans realize their old hero can no longer perform at the level they once did.

X-Men Gold is a six-issue nostalgia pop playing X-Men greatest hits such as: bigoted mutant-hater with a media platform, The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, a new and improved Sentinel, and the team takes a break from everything to play baseball. They even throw in some “will they or won’t they” with Kitty and Colossus.

Done well, maybe those classic concepts could still go to some interesting places. But they don’t. Even the revamped costume designs are stale. Storm’s headdress doesn’t make sense. Why would Nightcrawler, a guy that climbs walls and fights with his hands, wear white boots and gloves? Why is old man Logan wearing a duster? And what is that thing on Rachel’s face, anyway?

I’m going to hit pause on my art criticisms for a second. Despite the controversy regarding artist Ardian Syaf and his subsequent firing , the guy should not have been placed on this book in the first place. X-Men is a top talent comic and there is no excuse for a publisher with Marvel’s bank account not to have an A+ player doing the pencils. R.B. Silva is a huge improvement, but he still has to work with some seriously uninspired choices from his predecessor.

I am a fan of Mark Guggenheim, so I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt that maybe he has some cool stuff around the bend, but I have read way too many X-Men comics to find anything to sink my teeth into here.

And really… what is that thing on Rachel’s face????

So two relaunches; one that got it right. At least that’s my opinion.

From Titans Tower to 1407 Graymalkin Lane, I’ll see you folks around the multiverse!

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