Sometimes comics publishers miss timing opportunities with television series, but Titans United could not have timed its debut any better. The comic, ostensibly, has nothing to do with the television show, but the cover includes a “Watch Titans on HBO Max!” sticker. The members of this team (plus an appearance at the end of the issue) makes its goal more obvious: let’s take the Titans lineup from the series, add a little comics continuity, and see what happens.
Titans United #1
Jamal Campbell (cover artist), Rex Lokus (colors), Jose Luis (pencils), Carlos M. Mangual (letters), Cavan Scott (writer), Jonas Trindade (inks)
September 14th, 2021
This review contains spoilers for Titans United #1. The reviewer was provided a copy of Titans United #1 in advance for review purposes.
What happens is pretty good, actually. And for a generally disappointing television series that just wrapped its third season, it also functions as a coda to transition the television viewers into the world of comics with a team that possesses a daunting forty years of continuity.
There’s a lot to recommend this series on its own merits without the Titans TV connection. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I cut my proverbial teeth on the Geoff Johns/Mike McKone run of Teen Titans and therefore have a huge affection for any Titans series that taps into that nostalgia. Titans United does that for me with its art and aesthetic, created by the holy trinity of Jose Luis on pencils, Jonas Trindade on inks, and Rex Lokus on colors. It is bright and bold with the same vividness and freshness that Mike McKone (pencils), Marlo Alquiza (inks), and Jeromy Cox (colors) were able to achieve on Teen Titans almost twenty years ago. It just feels right. And the costumes are perfect–especially Starfire’s, which has been upgraded from the string bikini to a one-piece swimsuit. The epaulets are a particularly nice touch.
The membership mirrors that of the television show; viewers will find the characters familiar, but, thankfully, the characterization is pure comics. Along with Starfire, we have Nightwing and Donna Troy, who are badass, older, and wiser than the other half of the team, but not in a way that creates an uncomfortable power dynamic. While not everyone is equally experienced, it doesn’t feel like the grownups are running the show while the kids struggle to keep up. Beast Boy and Raven are at their most Beast Boy and Raven, i.e., in the middle of an on-again/off-again romantic entanglement complicated by Raven’s struggle with her powers. But this is almost tangential to a brand new, amazing, incredible couples dynamic that would never work on the television show but works here because of their rich individual histories in DC Comics.
That’s right. I’m talking about Superboy…and Red Hood.
Look, there is only one Robin that belongs on a team with Conner Kent: Tim Drake. Period. It would take something exceptional for me to accept Red Hood on the Titans with Conner instead of Tim.
But ask, and ye shall receive.
I would not call myself a Jason Todd fan, but this series might be my tipping point because the dynamic between Jason and Conner isn’t just entertaining–it’s sexually charged. I don’t even go here and yet I’m reading their interactions and thinking to myself, “I can’t wait for the fanfic that’s going to come out of this.” There is honestly nothing better than pointed banter between two people who clearly dislike each other “just because.” I am reading Conner’s dislike as stemming from his friendship with Tim. And knowing what we know of Batfamily dynamics (thanks to Batman: Wayne Family Adventures) and Tim’s recent coming out, it would be entirely in character for Jason to flirt with Conner to screw with Tim.
The fact that Jason and Conner are on a team with one couple (Gar and Raven), one ex-couple (Dick and Kory), and one almost-couple (Dick and Donna) adds to the “So, when are they gonna bang?” atmosphere. It is honestly the selling point of this series for me. The plot is a familiar comics trope: someone appears exhibiting the powers of all the Titans in a disastrously uncontrolled way. It is unclear if the person is absorbing powers (think Rogue from the X-Men), because Conner ends up with a broken arm, or if something else is going on. But in any case, it’s not really the plot that makes this series special.
Titans United has everything it needs to succeed: gorgeous art, enough continuity to satisfy longtime fans (but not intimidate new readers), and that one magical element that will keep readers reading. For me, that reason to keep reading is Jason and Conner’s unresolved sexual tension, and I don’t think I’m going to be alone.