Review by Juhyun Tony Bae
DC Ink, DC Comics, 2 July 2019
176 pages, paperback, $22.99 CAD, 978-1-40128-623-1
Ages 13-17, Grades 8-12
Young Adult, Graphic Novel, Fantasy, Contemporary Realism
I didn’t pick out any of these posters, but I like all of them. Would the old Raven have liked them?
Or these? What about this t-shirt? Or this t-shirt?
It doesn’t matter. I like them.
I don’t know who I was before the accident, and maybe I never will. But the universe is giving me a clean slate. I get to decide who I want to be now.
Even though we see reboots frequently in superhero comics, it’s a difficult task for any author to create a fresh start for any character with significant history. The reincarnation needs to be modernized and have some originality to justify it in the first place, while still honouring the old character so it doesn’t disappoint veteran fans.
Kami Garcia’s Teen Titans: Raven is about Rachel Roth—a seventeen-year-old girl who finds herself in a car accident where she loses her memories and her adoptive mother. The story then unfolds, following her through a typical high schooler’s life while rediscovering her powers and memories through random flashbacks and dreams.
Issues for the story becomes quickly apparent in its pacing. Kami Garcia tries to fit so many elements into this story that many of the core themes don’t get the attention they deserve and characters are left underdeveloped. For instance, when Rachel loses her adoptive mother, the story doesn’t stop to show how this loss affects her emotionally. It just simply skips to three weeks later, when she’s been adopted into a new home. We don’t linger on how that feels either, and just skip right to being in high school. It felt like the book sacrificed genuine character interiority to rush into clichés. Additionally, for a character who’s chaotic powers are tied to her emotions, we never see her properly lose control of it, not through bullies, romance, or tears. The combination of amnesia and Raven’s powers should have created some dire consequences, but it isn’t explored at all.
The book tries modernize by talking about societal issues like homosexuality, race and feminism, but it ends up feeling forced. For example, Raven has a token gay friend that does nothing other than say that they’re gay to some ignorant teenager who acts as if they’ve never met a queer person in their life. Then they never bring up sexuality again. It’s a jarring difference compared to the last book I reviewed, Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me, which didn’t define its characters by their sexuality or treat them as some sort of rare oddity.
I’m a big fan of the original Raven. If I wasn’t, maybe I wouldn’t have minded the fact that Garcia didn’t explore Rachel’s powers in more interesting ways. Teen Titans: Raven is less a superhero comic and more of a high school drama with supernatural elements. The story almost feels like it was originally plotted for a different teenage story and then repurposed to fit Rachel. But underneath those busy layers of teenage life clashing with superpowers that fail to be incorporated into the core elements, there is a story you might enjoy about friends, family, relationships and support.
I appreciate what Garcia attempted to do, but it might be too much in a small space. This was her first attempt at writing for graphic novels, a medium where the pacing is quite different. I hope in her next project we get to see a tighter focus on fewer but stronger themes. If you are looking for a better modern adaptation of a teenage Raven, I’d recommend Titans on Netflix instead.
Juhyun Tony Bae is a Korean-Canadian writer currently studying at UBC. He’s been working on a dystopian YA novel that he says will be completed between the next one to fifty years. His work has been published in Grain, FreeFall, and Wax Poetry and Art. You can find him at tonybae.com