Teen Titans: Raven review
In the realm of comics, there are some stories that really don’t need to be told again. We all know how the Waynes were murdered and that Krypton exploded, for instance, and everyone is familiar with Uncle Ben’s adage about power and responsibility. Don’t get me wrong, these are important aspects of each respective character, but these origins have been told multiple times across different mediums. It’s kind of unnecessary to do it again, besides maybe a quick mention.
For me, the conflict between the Teen Titan Raven and her father Trigon is right up there. Like the aforementioned stories, it’s certainly an important part of her backstory, but it’s kind of been done.
Almost to the point that I kind of wonder if there are other Raven stories to tell. Just thinking outside of comics, it’s been a major plot point in the Teen Titans and Teen Titans Go! cartoons, the Titans TV show, and the Justice League vs. Teen Titans animated movie. It’s kind of like A Christmas Carol: the material isn’t bad, but how many different variations on it do we need?
So color me surprised when I finished Teen Titans: Raven, the latest book from the DC Ink imprint, and really, really liked it. Yes, it deals with Raven and her relationship with her father, but it’s told in a truly refreshing way that actually made me like Raven as a character a whole lot more.
The broad strokes are generally the same: Raven is the daughter of Trigon, ruler of an underworld realm, and a human mother. She has a distinctly “goth” aesthetic, and has been gifted with supernatural powers.
Where the story and characterization diverge are in the details, though. Right from the opening scene it’s evident that we’re in for something different, as Raven (or Rachel, as she’s known) and her foster mother are in a fatal wreck. While Rachel survives, her guardian does not. Now amnesiac, Rachel is sent to live with her deceased foster mother’s sister, where she tries to piece her life back together.
The smartest choice Kami Garcia made in this story, I think, is focusing on character over plot. There is a narrative flow, to be sure, and even a few surprises along the way. First and foremost it’s a story about Raven, though, and her dedication to rediscovering herself. You really get to know her as she learns more about who she was before her accident, and she ponders whether she wants to be the girl she was before or the girl that she is now.
What’s most refreshing is that, while Raven’s personalities before and after the crash are different, she’s likable either way she decides to go. We mainly “see” pre-crash Raven in a second-hand manner, hearing people talk about how she was without actually encountering her as she was. The story could have easily made her out to be better off without her memories, portraying her old self as mean and hateful toward those around her, but I never got that impression. She was probably more outgoing than the Raven we actually get to spend time with, who is quieter and more introspective, but by no means weak or timid. If anything, Raven’s “conflicting” personalities are reflections of the same girl who decides to have a different focus, and I would have been satisfied going on this journey with either of them.
The way Raven’s “empathic powers” manifest themselves in these scenes provide quite a bit of drama: she subconsciously “reaches out” to others with a psychic link, and has to fight temptation to cause some pretty awful things from happening. It’s interesting seeing someone who has those same fleeting thoughts that we’re all susceptible to in moments of anger (“I hope you trip and knock out a tooth,” “I hope you choke”), yet with the power to make them manifest and become real.
There are some expected beats that the story hits, to be sure, though save for a bizarre sub-plot nothing feels forced or out of place. The group of kids that Raven hangs out with at school could definitely be seen as outsiders, and there are several instances of bullying from some of the other students. It’s the way that Raven responds to her burgeoning powers that makes her most relatable in those scenes, for who hasn’t wanted to be able to exact revenge on someone who causes nothing but undeserved grief and anguish for others?
When the story becomes more plot focused it does lose a little steam, more because there are a lot of ideas that are introduced that aren’t ever fully fleshed out. Raven’s new foster family has roots in some sort of black magic society, for instance, which has potential but will likely be explored in a later book. The “bizarre sub-plot” I mentioned before is even more blatant in this regard, bringing in another popular DC character to create some tension. While it was interesting having another recognizable face in a cast of mostly new characters, his presence is effectively used to lead into the upcoming Teen Titans: Beast Boy book.
Now, based on how I opened this review, this might seem contradictory, but I also felt that Trigon’s involvement wasn’t executed as well as it could have been, at least toward the end of the book. For most of the story, he’s a haunting presence, a phantom that tries to turn Raven away from who she is toward what her “destiny” would have her be. That is actually really interesting and effective, and I wish it had been left at that. He finally makes a physical appearance toward the end, and while it leaves Raven in a better position, it’s still kind of anticlimactic.
Of the three Ink books I’ve read so far-- the other two being Mera: Tidebreaker and Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale-- Raven here has the… let’s say “loosest” visual aesthetic. Gabriel Picolo pencils, along with some assists from Jon Sommariva and Emma Kubert, and the three styles don’t ever really conflict, which is good. Still, Mera made great use of its limited color palette, especially with its use of red against various shades of blue, green, and black, and Isaac Goodhart’s strong, clean lines were the best part of Catwoman.
That’s not to say Raven looks bad at all, of course. Not by any means. While the coloring is still fairly limited, David Calderon is given a broader palette to play with than he used in Mera and Jeremy Lawson used in Catwoman put together. Even still, he uses color sparingly, making the characters and backgrounds that are colored stand out that much more. Take the scene where Raven goes on a date and walks along the streets of New Orleans, or the double-page spread where she and her friends just hang out at school. They’re vibrant and colorful, contrasted against the more muted visuals elsewhere in the book. It’s an effective representation of Raven’s increasingly sunnier demeanor, as the joy she experiences with a first love and a group of people who care about her breaks through the otherwise foggy uncertainty she’s facing.
Of all the good things Teen Titans: Raven does, the best I can say about it is that it made me care about a character I had previously been fairly ambivalent toward. I genuinely liked Raven here, and want to read more about her. What’s more, I liked her as a person, not just as a potential superhero. Her journey of self (re)discovery was so compelling that I would have gladly read an entire book about that; the supervillains and magic and what have you are just icing on the cake.
If that doesn’t indicate the quality of the storytelling then I don’t know what will. Teen Titans: Raven is very good, and you should read it.