Best Shots Review: TEEN TITANS - RAVEN 'an Enjoyable Summer Read'

Teen Titans: Raven
Credit: Gabriel Picolo (DC Ink)
Credit: Gabriel Picolo (DC Ink)

Teen Titans: Raven
Written by Kami Garcia
Art by Gabriel Picolo and David Calderon
Lettering by Tom Napolitano
Published by DC Ink
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Credit: Gabriel Picolo (DC Ink)

The most recent installment of young adult graphic novels from DC Ink, and the first of a Teen Titans series, Teen Titans: Raven is a fairly solid outing on both fronts. Written by Kami Garcia, a best-selling author and co-writer of the Beautiful Creatures novels with Margaret Stohl, with artwork from Gabriel Picolo, Raven explores a modernized version of an iconic Teen Titans team member. Garcia herself is a perfect fit for both the character and the project; her Beautiful Creatures novels are haunting explorations of Southern Gothic magic, and Teen Titans: Raven adopts a similar premise as its central focus: a young girl, Rachel Roth, left without memory in the wake of a tragic accident, struggles not just to discover her own identity but the dangerous secrets about what’s happening to her — secrets her own family seems to be intent on keeping.

Credit: Gabriel Picolo (DC Ink)

Teen Titans: Raven feels closer to a DC graphic novel than recent offerings from the Ink imprint, and its younger sibling imprint Zoom — this is a different version of a character you’re already familiar with, rather than a novel for younger readers with a thin veneer of DC comic books laid over it. The pacing up front is a little jarring; Garcia’s script opens on a tragic accident and then gets almost too wrapped up in Rachel’s introduction to a “new” family and school in the wake of amnesia caused by the accident. It’s frustrating and largely noticeable because of how much more engaging and exciting the rest of the book gets as Rachel gets closer to her family and to the reality that what’s going on with her can’t just be swept aside as a “side effect” of something from the accident. Garcia's introduction of voodoo into Raven’s world is also a marked improvement on the SuperSons OGN, with a thoughtful look into a culture that is a good fit for a character with powers like Raven’s. I can’t pretend to know enough to comment on accuracy, but at the very least Garcia doesn’t reduce Natalia or Max down to broad “spooky witch” stereotypes to move the story forward.

Credit: Gabriel Picolo (DC Ink)

The illustration work doesn’t necessarily help the pacing, either, in the times where it falters. I don’t know whether the DC Ink books are necessarily all going for a similar visual aesthetic — Raven feels very similar to Tidebreaker and Under the Moon in a way that may work for the imprint, but doesn’t necessarily help the book. Stephen Bryne’s spot-colors in Tidebreaker were a highlight; David Calderon’s color work in Teen Titans: Raven isn’t necessarily bad, but feel applied somewhat inconsistently even from page to page — Raven is sometimes drawn in full color, sometimes not, and the decision about who to render in full color and when doesn’t always make narrative sense with who’s the focus of a panel or page. Calderon’s soft water colors are beautiful to look at, and the moments where they do make sense go a long way in elevating the drama of a page.

Credit: Gabriel Picolo (DC Ink)

Potentially maintaining a consistent aesthetic across the line also seems to put Picolo, a celebrated Teen Titans fan artist with his own webcomic, at something of a disadvantage. His work in Raven doesn’t feel as clean as the work he’s best known for, and while he does play with panel layouts and white space in eye-catching ways, the effect is somewhat inconsistent. He tends to pull a character out of panel to place them into prominence — there are times where it works exceptionally well as a spotlight, such as a portrait of Raven in a crowded shop as she tentatively attempts to see whether her empathic power will be overloaded, and times where it makes following the narrative across the page a bit confusing. That said, Picolo delivers lively and expressive characters and solid action sequences near the end of the book, and the ways he attempts to play with space, when they work, make the book feel fresh and new. There’s a preview of Beast Boy near the end that already feels more consistent, and Picolo’s style will be a great fit for Gar.

Teen Titans: Raven is a solid graphic novel that likely would have been an excellent prose tie-in — the writing feels a lot more in line with the narrative trends of YA prose than what folks may likely expect of YA comics (which tend to feel a lot younger). That’s not a negative, just a reflection that "young adult" doesn't always mean the same thing across mediums, and the DC Ink and Zoom lines don’t seem to fully understand who they want their audiences for either line to be. Regardless, Teen Titans: Raven does work well as the set-up for a larger new Teen Titans universe. Its shortcomings feel more like the unsure footing of a first outing. These are not insurmountable difficulties, and Teen Titans: Raven has enough going for it that it’s still an enjoyable summer read.

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