With the framing device of two people considered less relevant heroes, the development of the Teen Titans and events of much of the 1980s in DC Comics is explored in The Other History Of The DC Universe #2, which is a deep but strangely unsatisfying take.
Make no mistake about what's here: the Titans come off very poorly, at best coming off as wildly indifferent and at worst as racist, with Roy Harper getting the worst of it. From a story standpoint, that surely paints fan favorites as having feet of clay, but in the words of one of the protagonists here, "the Titans back then were a messed-up group of people. Not even people. They were children. We were all kids, barely in our teens. Think about what any group of teenagers is like. Catty, and gossipy, and cliquey, and always trying to hook up."
There are technical challenges as well. The book is told through the sometimes contrary perspectives of Mal Duncan and Karen Beecher-Duncan, at best part-time heroes. Letterer Steve Wands made a choice of always presenting Karen's text in yellow (fitting her superhero identity, perhaps) with a font that may be below eight-point. In contrast to Mal's more black and white text (both literally and figuratively), the yellow text is harder to read on some backgrounds.
Writer John Ridley did a great job spinning the camera angle around to look at things from a different perspective, using some fun recurring framing devices ("Twice") and a rich context of the era to explore everything from racial turmoil to the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Unfortunately, that same thoroughness may have been too rich, as there are parts of this that are a slog to wade through between more interesting parts, more expository than necessary, even in a book full of what's essentially prose narrations over panels. The middling point where the couple had a long-distance relationship, for example, felt like it was a lot.
There's nothing wrong at all with the visual storytelling of Giuseppi Camuncoli, Andrea Cucchi, and Jose Villarrubia, who act like a veteran jazz band playing with a talented but unfamiliar vocalist. They follow Ridley's tune with skill and clarity, showcasing the breaks and brilliance of the titans as well as the Duncans' own ups and downs as well.
As a literary exploration, this is vital and important work worth collecting and referencing. As a chunk of entertainment, this falls just short of the mark by fractional scores. RATING: HONORABLE MENTION.
Other History Of The DC Universe #2
By John Ridley, Giuseppi Camuncoli, Andrea Cucchi
Before the New Teen Titans, there were the original Teen Titans. In the tumultuous 1970s, in an America that was very different than today but in many ways all too familiar, the trials and tribulations of these young heroes were witnessed by two of DC's first Black superheroes: Karen Beecher-Duncan, better known as Bumblebee, and Mal Duncan — even if their versions of events are often at odds. And across that decade, they fought for their seats at the Titans' table while joining the battle against injustice. The long-awaited miniseries written by Academy Award-winning screenwriter John Ridley (12 Years a Slave, Let It Fall) and beautifully illustrated by Giussepi Camuncoli and Andrea Cucchi continues to look at the mythology of the DC Universe as seen through the prism of DC Super Heroes who come from traditionally disenfranchised groups.