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Teen Titans/Outsiders: The Death And Return Of Donna Troy
posted September 8, 2009
Phil Jimenez, Judd Winick, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Ale Garza, George Perez, Phil Jimenez, Andy Lanning
DC Comics, softcover, 176 pages, 2006, $14.99
I read a giant stack of recent and not-so-recent mainstream comics soft-covers over the weekend, and The Death and Return of Donna Troy
stuck with me more than the others for three reasons: 1) I severely disliked it, 2) there were long stretches where I had no idea what the hell was going on, 3) #1-2 developed despite the presence of a lot of talented comics people, many of whom I like, trafficking in a kind of old-school storytelling I'm as prepared to read as any person on the planet not going month-in, month-out with these comics.
The plotline, such as it is with the book cobbled together from multiple series, revolves around the Donna Troy character. For those of you more familiar with Bob Haney than Judd Winick, that's the former Wonder Girl. I don't know exactly why she's better known by her civilian name than her superhero name (whatever that currently is), and I have to say that kind of thing always strikes me as inbred and dopey, but there it is. Like many of DC's female heroes, Ms. Troy's character arc is defined by romance-comics tropes rather than adventure-comics plot progressions -- self-identity and romantic entanglements rather than self-actualization and people wanting to kick her ass. Donna Troy is killed by a robot version of Superman (I know) in this volume's initial group of stories. We experience the aftermath of her funeral -- and "experience" isn't far from the truth, because I felt uncomfortable and clueless through this section of the book just like I might in real life -- and then there's a resurrection tied into a cosmic plot involving the super-powered Titans of Myth. If I understand what's happening, it's basically one retcon of the character being used to facilitate the return of Donna Troy to a more favored conceptualization of the character, which I suppose is clever in a meta-fictional way. But God knows if I'm right. Most of this is drawn by high-quality comics artists like the always-welcome Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. The characters are nearly always pretty, they live in a recognizable if not detail-laden universe, and actions taken tend to be clear if a bit rudimentary.
Where this comic drove me nuts and frequently right out of the trade is in the execution of its story, the maddening details and failures at fundamental levels of engagement. I never got the slightest sense of the book's central character as a character. I read a relentless wave of folks telling me how awesome she is, but it's not the same thing. Talk in general was at a premium. The first half was dominated by characters talking through their roles and sharing mutual assurances of their general greatness like so many kids up late at night at a state thespian conference. The second half is filled with hack-and-parry talk as a supplement to a more sophisticated or purposeful depiction of action, a way to compress the execution of what should be pretty major events by constantly repeating the stakes rather than revealing them. It's a chatty grind, and the effect is that you're having a story told to you rather than being immersed in one. I felt at many times that I was just catching up with plot points while things exploded, including references to outside plot points and events that could have been made up for all I'd have a clue.
Curiously, all the verbiage makes the funeral (well, the standing around after the funeral) the centerpiece of the volume. That scene -- which bounced around a bit time-wise, again I'm not sure why -- was at least interesting for how oblivious most of the characters seem to be to their general dickishness. At one point, two characters turn their noses up at a woman of whom we're told her entire family has died
as being upset because she always felt less glamorous and beloved than Donna Troy. This is Craig T. Nelson on The District
level asinine behavior presented as matter-of-fact cool. On another page, I felt bad for Wonder Woman because her choices of shoulders to cry on are Superman and Batman. Each seems about as comforting as a major appliance. Is there a super-villain whose main motivation is that he finds modern superheroes to be insufferable tools? That whole section could be a significant part of such a bad guy's secret origin.
The other thing that's sort of interesting about the mourning scenes is that we're not given a single compelling reason to believe it's a real tragedy as opposed to a temporary one, beyond former junkie Speedy telling his daughter that he thinks this one will probably stick. He does this with all the enthusiasm of a person adding a seventh team to a long-shot parlay wager. The notion that even second-tier characters can't die in comic books is an astonishingly weird thing that I'm not sure comics people have ever truly explored with the curiosity it deserves. My guess is that it's the ultimate expression of the wallow in adolescence facilitated by reading the same material for decades on end, made possible by the fact that it's hard to find something that hits with really particular audiences. Or it could just be getting the cheap drama of death without having to pay for it with complicated, morose outcomes on down the line. I'm not sure. At least in Donna Troy's case it makes for some boring comics, a wound-up comics odyssey with the embodiment of pretty, bland superheroes at its heart. They should make a rule that for any character to come back from the dead, they have to have been alive first.