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This is the curse of being such a Batman fan. I return to a book I abandoned months ago because of a Batman crossover tie-in that stars two of my favorite Gothamites. I return to it with low expectations. Yet, I still end up disappointed.
As part of Death of the Family, Joker has managed to capture both Red Robin and Red Hood with the intent of tormenting them in ludicrous and convoluted fashion. Because that’s all this crossover event really is. Joker being Joker. That also turns out to be Death of the Family’s greatest weakness. See, it turns out that the Joker is a really hard character to write. So much so that some writers aren’t really even trying. Scott Lobdell sums this up perfectly in a line of Red Robin’s narration.
“How did he find them? How did he bring them here? How could he have even known? And the answer becomes obvious... he’s the Joker.”
What you’re looking at there is an admission of lazy writing. It asks questions of the sort that I have been asking pretty frequently during this crossover. So much of Death of the Family has Joker engineering these extravagant scenarios each member of the Bat-Family all while orchestrating his primary one against Batman himself. And all this is happening at relatively the same time. ...No. Don’t try to feed me a story that has Joker exhuming and arranging dozens of corpses as Haly’s Circus while arranging his own wedding with Batgirl and magically keeping tabs on Red Hood’s every movement to abduct him with Red Robin and then try to coronate Batman as king over at Arkham Asylum. Some of these things would be stupidly unbelievable on their own. And it’s not my fault to want a better answer for all this than to be told that it’s just the Joker.
Because no, it’s not the Joker.
What it is rhymes with toolkit.
Between Teen Titans and Red Hood and the Outlaws, Lobdell has probably been the worst offender of this. He was doing this before Death of the Family even started by putting forward the completely unbelievable idea that Joker has meticulously manipulated almost Jason Todd’s whole life. In Lobdell’s books, Joker is God. He works in mysterious ways, allowing the writer not to have to do things like... explain anything in a remotely credible fashion. We get more of this as Tim and Jason are ultimately duped by Joker again by gas-spewing life model decoy. ...Because it’s the Joker.
One of the major changes Lobdell made to Batman’s world in the New 52 was to reinvent the relationship between Tim and Jason, putting them on friendly terms. I originally liked this change. It made more sense than to have Tim so bitterly against Jason. I’ve always felt that Tim fell somewhere between Dick and Jason in the morality spectrum, leaving him sometimes open to Jason’s perspective. Since then, it seems Lobdell has overplayed it. He portrays them as almost the best of friends. Tim thinks of Jason as the closest thing he has to a brother. What makes this especially weird is that the issue begins with Tim saying he hasn’t talked to Jason much since Jason came back from the dead. …See the problem there? Tim didn’t come around until after Jason’s death. So what Tim is actually saying here is that he and Jason haven’t talked a lot EVER. When did these two become so close? Maybe Tim is just very needy and has overanalyzed Jason’s confirming their friendship on Facebook.
I know Lobdell has admitted he’s the kind of writer who likes to keep it loose and make things up as he goes, but it’s pretty bad when the same page will contradict itself.
Then again, some of the blame could also go to Fabian Nicieza, who is credited for writing this issue's dialogue. More blame should also fall on editors Darren Shan and Eddie Berganza, who must not have actually read this issue.
Since I rarely ever read or review Teen Titans, I have to take this opportunity to mention that I hate Tim’s wings. I was on the fence about them when they first debuted as part of his new design. It seemed like a bit too much and out of place in Gotham City. But at the same time, I could understand the reasoning that Tim of all Robins would be more gadget-oriented. It’s true. He would be. So I thought I could accept the glider wings. Then, in the first or second issue, I saw those wings be used as a shield effortlessly heavy weapons’ fire. Screw that. Things like that take those wings to a whole new level of out of place ridiculousness. In this issue, those wings become blades tough enough to hack through Red Hood’s helmet. ...Screw that too. It’s like these wings are trolling me. What makes this all worse is that I could have sworn a previous issue established that Joker took away Tim’s wings and dressed him in his older costume.
This issue of Teen Titans is full of forced and contradictory characterization. Very little about this story holds up to a second glance. In fact, quite a bit of it fails to make much sense at the first glance. The Joker is a ridiculously omniscient threat. The new bond between Tim and Jason falls apart spectacularly once the weight having them team up for more than a brief scene comes down on it. Brett Booth’s art is energetic and enjoyable at least, even though he includes that face on Red Hood’s helmet I hate so much. But ultimately, Lobdell fails to craft a strong thoughtful story here. Instead, this is something that reads as though it was written hurriedly over a weekend on short notice.