Titans: Rebirth #1
Written by Dan Abnett
Art by Brett Booth, Norm Rapmund and Andrew Dalhouse
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Serialized storytelling has a lot of strengths as a medium - the use of overarching narratives, more opportunities to invoke twists and turns and callbacks, more variations on a work’s seminal theme. But even without those assets, there’s one distinct advantage that a long-running series has over a single self-contained work.
Stripping it to its barest essentials, serialized stories are about relationships. And I’m not just talking about the relationships between the cast. I’m talking about the deep, long-lasting connections that occur between characters and their audience - the sentimental bonds that happen when you come up with someone and watch them grow. It changes the dynamic between the watcher and the subject, sometimes to the point of passion, sometimes to the point of toxicity. It’s the kind of magic that takes a monthly comic and turns it into a reunion with friends.
That’s the game plan for DC’s Rebirth - and few comics of their lineup embody this more than Titans Rebirth #1. With pre-52 Wally West reconnecting with his longtime friends following his return in DC Universe Rebirth Special, Titans Rebirth feels like a retooling of one of DC’s most important franchises, and you can’t help but get swept up in this series’ heartfelt but action-packed return to form.
For many readers, this incarnation of Wally West is one that demands your attention - after years of following his adventures, watching him evolve from Kid Flash to Keystone’s Scarlet Speedster to a husband and father, it’s no surprise that readers have demanded his return for years. But Abnett gives Wally a fitting threat in Titans Rebirth - namely, the friends that have forgotten all about him. This winds up being a perfect framing device for this briskly paced one-shot, giving Wally, Nightwing, Donna Troy, Arsenal and the rest a chance to showcase their abilities, all while they slowly but surely begin to remember their absent teammate. It’s an old-school kind of superhero misunderstanding that leads to a fun battle royale, and while the solution is a hair too convenient, it makes sense given the themes of friendship and reconciliation that are woven throughout this book.
Of course, even if you don’t know the original Teen Titans, that’s not a hurdle for reading this book. Dan Abnett uses Wally as the quintessential good host for this super ex-sidekick party, introducing readers to his friends and playing up their personalities and power sets for those who might be meeting them for the first time. By utilizing both a running internal monologue as well as well-timed flashbacks from Wally’s memories, such as Wally and Lilith’s first kiss or Dick and Wally taking the Batmobile for a joyride, Abnett single-handedly characterizes a team that until now had been unrecognizable in the New 52 landscape. When we see a splash page of Arsenal, Donna Troy and Lilith all hugging a laughing Wally, Abnett gets to drop the emotional payoff that Geoff Johns and Josh Williamson had teed up in DC Universe Rebirth Special and The Flash, as he tells us, “I’m finally home.”
And while he might be an acquired taste to some, it also bears mentioning that this is some strong work from Brett Booth, who has hit his stride thanks to the team’s new costumes. The over-complication that defined much of the New 52 has been thankfully reduced here (or, in the case of Arsenal’s backwards cap, glasses and arm tattoo, feels like an organic choice given his history of being a screw-up). Donna Troy’s new costume in particular is a huge upgrade, with her black and white stars evoking her post-Darkstar years, but with the details highlighting her warrior instincts. The green-cloaked Lilith, meanwhile, seems to fill the same visual niche as Raven, while Aqualad seems to be channeling the Prince of Persia with his new suit - but given some of Garth’s previous costumes over the years, this ain’t half-bad.
With these characters having a stable visual foundation, it allows Booth to experiment more with panel layouts - while his tilted panels do feel a little overused at times, you can’t deny that Booth delivers some dynamic fighting here, particularly a great double-page splash of the team converging around Wally, or watching Donna try to smash this unknown speedster with her Amazonian shield. Colorist Andrew Dalhouse also deserves plenty of credit here, using a cool color palette to lend some mood to this setting, which he then punctuates with bright bursts of hot oranges and greens.
Some people use the term “fan service” with a sneer, as if it was a bad thing. But that’s the difference between a single series and a franchise - there’s that longstanding relationship between the characters and the audience, the loyalty and passion and engagement that comes from following these fictional people over years of laughter and tears. And Titans Rebirth #1 gets that. “Every second we had together was a gift,” Abnett writes in a particularly metatextual bit. “Then it became a memory. And then even the memory faded.” But no longer - DC Comics is remembering its history, and reminding readers why they were so invested in these characters in the first place, and I can only hope the rest of the publishing line can take their cues from books like this. Consider Titans Rebirth #1 the first step in rebuilding a beautiful friendship.