Titans: Villains for Hire Special #1

Does anyone else remember when members of DC editorial started hastily trying to correct fans who (understandably) assumed that “Brightest Day” would mean an upswing in positive, happy stories in the DC Universe? I can’t help but think that they were specifically thinking of the “Titans: Villains for Hire Special” when they did so. With its big “Brightest Day” banner at the top of the cover, trust me, this is anything but positive or happy.

I’m not against reading a comic about a group of villains. “Suicide Squad” back in the day was one of my favorite titles, and “Secret Six” has also proven to be a thoroughly enjoyable and engrossing book. On the other hand, “Titans: Villains for Hire Special” is easily the most distasteful comic that I’ve had the misfortune of spending money on this year. It’s the comic book equivalent of a snuff film.

The issue follows Ryan Choi, star of “The All-New Atom” series from a few years ago, through a day in which he fights not only the Floronic Man, but Deathstroke and his new team of assassins that call themselves the Titans. It doesn’t necessarily sound like a bad idea until you start to realize that it’s the entire issue; the Atom getting hunted down by a group of assassins who won’t give up until he’s dead.

It’s hard to ignore the elephant in the room, with many people accusing DC editorial of gunning for its minority heroes. (The fact that DC just shortened “The Great Ten” mini-series by an issue is probably not helping matters.) And at a glance, it’s actually easy to see why DC and Eric Wallace decided to go after Ryan Choi. He’s a character who no longer has his own title, and with Ray Palmer also running around as the Atom again, a character with a duplicate name and power set. There would certainly be a larger emotional impact of Ryan Choi getting murdered over, say, Edge, Jamm, and Cardinal Sin from DC’s “Bloodlines” crossover in the mid-’90s. (Besides, DC already used that trick in “Faces of Evil” when Prometheus came back and randomly killed and maimed other “Bloodlines” characters.)

When most of your characters are Caucasian, though, it’s hard to ignore that another one of the few minority characters just got axed. And at a company where there are three characters called the Flash, and five different active Green Lanterns from Earth alone, it’s hard to keep from wondering why a second Atom had to die for the sake of Ray Palmer. But you know what? That’s not the biggest problem with this story.

The big problem with the “Titans: Villains for Hire Special” is that it’s a bad story. It’s a series of scenes introducing villains, and each villain then attacking the Atom. It’s also a comic that doesn’t seem to even understand the Atom’s powers on more than the absolute, most basic level. There’s nothing inventive about this comic, both in how Wallace handles the villains or the hero. It’s a lot of punching, and occasionally a bit of shrinking, but at no point does any of the characters actually stop and think that they have super powers and should use them for more than, say, shooting out a floorboard. This is a comic where all of the characters could have been turned into people with knives and guns and you wouldn’t have to change more than a few dialogue balloons. I’ve never seen such a generic script before, and it bodes very poorly for “Titans.”

Fabrizio Fiorentino’s pencils range all over the map this issue; some pages look like they’ve been colored directly off of his pencils, other times it’s a much more standard ink job. (Having three inkers attached to the book probably didn’t help in terms of consistency.) The fight with Floronic Man is a prime example of the problems here, though. Is the Atom shrinking down to three feet tall? Or is it just bad perspective? And why would being three feet tall help with pointing a severed gas line at the villain? Fiorentino also seems to think that the Atom has an eating disorder, based on how we keep getting to count his ribs through his outfit. And that’s not even touching on things like how the Tattooed Man appears to be cross-eyed in his first two pages of the comic, or the expanding and contracting width of Cheshire.

Never mind that Ryan Choi gets killed off for nothing more than shock value. This is a badly written and drawn comic, period. I’ve gone on the record as saying that the Titans books are in desperate need of a revamp, but this was not at all what I had in mind. I can’t see sales on “Titans” doing anything but sliding dramatically over the next six months if this is what the series will be like.

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