Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Review: Smallville Season 11 Special #4 Titans

This is way overdue and I apologize.

Smallville Season Eleven Special #4: Titans came out on print a couple of weeks ago, an adjunct to the main Smallville storyline but defiitely another brick in the world building that writer Bryan Q. Miller is his little pocket universe. And as an added bonus, Smallville cover artist Cat Staggs, who has killed it on covers, does the inside artwork.

The idea of adding the Titans to the Smallville universe is a brilliant one. Miller has shown us Martian Manhunter, Batman, and Wonder Woman for the senior circuit. We know that Nightwing and Supergirl are already active. We had seen the JSA in the past. Superboy was on the show. Miss Martian was in a prior special. So why not add to the roster of the next generation? Even the villain of the piece (one of my favorite newer characters) could end up with the good guys.

Plus, with a Crisis around the corner, there is going to be a need for an army of super-heroes to battle the (Anti-)Monitors and the destruction that follows them.

As usual, Miller is able to put together just the right mix of humor, teen angst, and action into one issue showing that life is neither consistently light-hearted or grim and gritty. And for someone who loved the Young Justice animated show, there is just a whiff of that show here.

And Staggs really shines here. I have been trying to put my finger on whose work it reminds me of and (I know it might sound weird) I finally came upon the name of Steve Bissette. It just had the feel of some of the earliest Swamp Thing issues that Bissette did. This is a high compliment, trust me. I can't wait to meet Staggs at the upcoming Boston Comic-Con.

The book opens with an action piece as the Titans fight Dr. Phosphorus. This is a raw team so Superboy, Miss Martian, Blue Beetle, Speedy, and the Wonder Twins (!!!) can't get the job done easily. Sure, eventually he gets brought down (with an assist by Titans mentor Jay Garrick) but not before a nearby amusement park is trashed. Superboy is the de facto leader of the team but couldn't seem to get the team together.

Garrick is something of a curmudgeon but in the high-stakes world of heroing, you probably need someone who gets tough when it is needed.

Anyways, if you put the Wonder Twins in anything and make them not lame, it has to be a win.

The middle portion of the book is a closer look at the Titans themselves, why they are doing what they are doing, what their motivations are, and what emotional baggage they are lugging with them. We even get a look at Garrick and how the 'death' of Bart weighs on him. With just a couple of panels and pages, Miller is able to give these characters a depth.

And if you are sick of the Superboy/Lois Lane/ JonLaneKent disaster in the main DCU, you can always head here where Superboy is ... gasp ... a mix of Superman and Lex Luthor!

Miller knows that the Superman/Luthor genetic makeup is great grist for the mill. Which side will win? And Jay calls Con out for it.

Superboy's genetic makeup is a classic take on the character. His 'costume' - jeans and black t-shirt with red s-shield - reminded me of Young Justice.

And if that wasn't enough, Miller brings one of my favorite bits of Young Justice into the comic - the Superboy/Miss Martian romance.

Man, I miss that show!

The outline of the issue works so well. Action piece to open. Emotional scenes in the middle, fleshing out the characters. Action piece to end.

Turns out that Rose Wilson (!!) broke Dr. Phosphorus out of jail so he could fight the Titans. This way she could learn their tactics and attack them. She wants revenge for her father, killed in Smallville.

And Rose is very much Ravager here, breaking into the Titans home and eliminating the Wonder Twins and Blue Beetle almost immediately.

I laughed out loud at this scene where she finally comes out in the open to fight the remaining Titans. Is there anything more 'old man' than someone telling a kid to get off their lawn. Just fantastic.

I have always love Rose as a character because she is a character raised in a terrible environment, daughter of a villain, and walking that fine line between good and evil.

Here she seems straight-up evil, planting bombs, stabbing Zan, immobilizing Jay, and skewering Conner with Kryptonite katana. But even Conner sees through this a bit. If she wanted to truly kill people, she could have killed all the Titans in the house instead of injurying and incapacitating them.

Maybe she is protesting too much. Maybe she doesn't want to follow so closely in her father's footsteps.

In the end, Conner is able to lead the Titans, injured as they are, to subdue Rose. There is a clear difference between the first adventure and the last as the Titans seem much more cohesive as a team.

I have said before that the Superman in Smallville has a much more ingrained feel. He is a hero, the ultimate good guy, and a role model/inspiration for other. So I was glad that Miller has him show up at the end to congratulate Conner for defeating Rose and putting together a good team.

And I like how Conner saw a reflection of himself in Rose. It isn't just nature. It's nurture. And free will. She doesn't need to be like Slade. She can be whoever she wants ... just like him.

So this was a good little side adventure in the Smallville, deepening the roster of that universe and catching us up with Superboy, Miss Martian, and Jay. We get some Young Justice. We get some Super Friends. And we get Ravager.

Add to that Staggs' moody pencils and you have an entertaining special.

Overall grade: B+

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