Somehow, I have a collection of some of Geoff Jones’ work on the Teen Titans sitting on my shelf. It’s called “The Future Is Now”, and includes Teen Titans 15-23 from 2005, according to the copyright page. Honestly, I don’t know how it got here. I didn’t buy it; I know my wife didn’t buy it. Maybe somebody who thinks comics are still for kids gave it to us for the boy? I don’t know; I’m stumped.

In any case, Matt Brady’s epic Johns takedown from September, and some of the defenses of Johns which resulted, made me wonder if I should check him out (especially since, for whatever mysterious reason, I can do so for free.) In particular, I have to admit that I find this sequence from (I think?) some Blackest Night bit really hilarious.

Zombie mothers vomiting rage bile on their zombie offspring — that’s solid, goofy entertainment. I’d read a whole book of that for free.

Alas, “Teen Titans: The Future Is Now”, does not include any rage-bile vomiting, nor any zombie babies. Still, the first couple pages are kind of enjoyable. Superboy (who is a clone of Superman with telekinetic powers) is going on his first date with Wonder Girl (a new one named Cassie Sandmark, not Donna Troy — just in case anyone cares.) Anyway, she shows up late because, as she said, she wasn’t sure which skirt to wear, he tells her she looks amazing, they flirt and talk about taking it slow, and then Superboy (who isn’t totally in control of his powers yet, I guess) accidentally uses his X-ray vision and sees through his clothes, which he obviously finds super-embarrassing, albeit not entirely unpleasurable.

Not that this is great comics or anything, but it’s competent, low-key, teen superdrama in the tradition of Chris Claremont and Marv Wolfman. The art by Mike McKone and Mario Alquiza isn’t especially notable either, but it is at least marginally competent in conveying spatial relationships and expressions. Superboy covering his face with his hand is cute, for example. I could read a whole trade of this without too much pain or suffering.

Unfortunately, I don’t get a full trade of Claremont-Wolfmanesque teen super soap opera. I only get about four pages. Then Superboy is pulled into a dimensional vortex and Superboy from the future appears, and then there’s a crossover in the 31st century with the Legion of Superheroes, and then we’re back in the near future meeting the Teen Titans’ future selves who have all gone to the bad, along with a raft of other future-selves of guest stars…and then there’s a crossover with what I guess is the Identity Crisis event, which involves Dr. Light and Green Arrow and again about 50 gajillion guest heroes.

Luckily, I’ve been wasting my life reading DC comics for 30 years plus, so I know who all the guest heroes are, more or less. I know who the Terminator is, even though no one bothers to tell me; I know what the Flash treadmill is, even though it’s really not explained especially well. I even know why Captain Marvel Jr. can be defeated by a video-recording that shows him saying “Captain Marvel.” And if that last sentence made no sense to you, consider yourself fucking lucky.

So, yes, I can figure out what’s going on. But why exactly do I want to spend several hundred pages watching Johns move toys from my childhood from one side of the page to the other and then back again? I’d much rather find out more about Superboy and Cassie Sandmark. They seemed like smart and maybe interesting kids. But whether they are or not, I’ll never know. Johns is so busy throwing the entire DC universe at his readers that we never get to learn much about the characters who the book is ostensibly about. Honestly, I had to look at the opening credits page of the book when I was done to even figure out who’s supposed to be in this version of the Teen Titans. The team virtually never even fights as a team, much less slows down long enough to engage in even perfunctory character development. Cassie and Superboy’s romance is barely mentioned again; instead, the big subplot/emotional touchstone is Robin dealing with the death of his father — a death which appears to come out of nowhere, presumably because it was part of some crossover in some other title.

In a spirited defense of Geoff Johns, Matt Seneca argued that Johns sincerely believed in hope and bravery, and was “creating a fictional universe with no relation to ours whatsoever but using it to address the most basic (or hell, base, i’ll say it, who cares) human emotional concerns.” Maybe I’m reading the wrong Geoff Johns comic, but I have to say that there’s precious little of hope, or bravery, or of human emotional concern, base or otherwise, in these pages. Mostly there’s just a commitment to continuity porn so intense that even the most rudimentary genre pleasures are drowned in a backwash of extraneous bullshit.

Maybe Johns could tell a decent story if he had an issue or two to himself without some half-baked company-wide storyline to incorporate. But since it’s pretty clear from his career that he lives for those company-wide storylines, I’m not inclined to cut him much slack. As it is, I picked this up hoping to get a nostalgic recreation of the mediocre genre pulp of my youth. “Nearly as good as the Wolfman/Perez Teen Titans” — that doesn’t seem like it should be such a difficult hurdle. And yet there’s Johns, flopping about in the dust, the bottom-feeder burrowing beneath the hacks in the turgid swill of the mainstream.

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