It has been a good year for DC’s Teen Titans. Just a year ago, Teen Titans Go! to the Movies hit movie theaters. Since then, the characters have starred in a storyline in the MMO DC Universe Online and had a successful first season launching the new DC Universe streaming service in Titans. Now, the characters are being relaunched in an excellent new original graphic novel run starring individual characters by YA star Kami Garcia, with pencils by comics newcomer (but fan favorite) Gabriel Picolo.
Teen Titans: Raven reimagines Rachel Roth as a normal teenage girl (if one can be half demon and be normal). “We wanted to portray her as a real teen,” Garcia told Den of Geek. “I just wanted Raven to seem like a girl who could be in your class, a new girl at your school.”
Picolo is known on social media for his “Casual Teen Titans” fanart, depicting the members of the Teen Titans cast in street clothes. Together, Garcia and Picolo developed the look they wanted for their new version of Raven to make her accessible to a new audience, but also honor the character’s long legacy.
Although she’s not an original member of the Teen Titans, Raven has been around since 1980, and was created by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez, who are credited with bringing the superhero team to prominence. Given all the different depictions of the character across the earlier comics and the media adaptations, Garcia and Picolo had big shoes to fill.
“I’m a fan of the character,” Garcia said. And while she was comfortable stepping away from other versions of Raven to create her new story, she noted some connections to Raven’s other current incarnations: Teagan Croft, who plays the character in Titans, blurbed the book and met up with Garcia at the premiere. “They want to show a really dark portrayal of the origins of the character [on Titans],” Garcia explained.
In the graphic novel, the character starts at a very different place. In the opening pages, Raven, who is a foster kid, loses both her foster mother and her memory in a car accident. When she goes to stay with her foster mother’s sister and niece, Natalia and Max Navarro, in New Orleans, strange things start happening to her.
“She’s shell-shocked,” Garcia said. “She doesn’t know if these are new weird things that are happening, or if these things were happening before the accident.” Though the strange things are frightening, it’s almost more terrifying for Raven to think that they are the result of brain trauma from the accident, and that she might never get better. Readers familiar with the character know that the supernatural is at work, and that voice in Raven’s head has some serious evil mojo just waiting to be released, unless Raven can stop him.
But, without that insider knowledge, Raven pushes off worry about the supernatural to focus on things she’s lost. “She doesn’t know what kind of music she likes,” Garcia said. “She doesn’t even know if she likes candy bars. As a teen, those are big things. What her focus becomes is trying to find a new way to fit in, and figure out things like: what do I like in my coffee? What kind of music do I like? Is that cute boy really smiling at me? Because the bigger things and weird stuff that’s happening isn’t happening to everyone around her.”
She ignores the scariest issues, because she has all the smaller details to figure out. Garcia drew on personal experience of a car accident she had when she was young, in which her hand was damaged. At the time, she was an artist, and it was terrifying to think that she could lose her career path. “In order to not think about that, I focused on other details that were less terrifying,” she recalled.
While Raven is allowed a bit of self-pity in her own internal narration, her foster sister Max, who becomes her biggest champion, gives her none of it. Max is an original character created for the graphic novel (and my personal favorite), who “takes Raven under her wing,” as Garcia put it, to supply her with a friend group while she adjusts to her new life.
Max looks into ways to recover memory loss and pushes Raven out of her comfort zone to make discoveries about both who she was—and who she is now. But she’s not just a foil for Raven. As much as Raven has going on, Max has the same kind of troubles—both the regular teen kind and those bigger, supernatural issues—that could earn her a solo comic as its star.
“Even though in the beginning she seems strong and kind of sassy, she has her own problems,” Garcia acknowledged. “She has some secrets. She has things going on in her life with her mom and her friends that are a big deal.” Garcia and Picolo give her a tremendous amount of depth, never allowing her to fall into just the best friend role but presenting her as a fully formed character with her own agency.
It takes time for the two girls to open up to each other. Even though their friendship starts off strong, and both try to provide support for the issues they know about, both girls remain closed off about certain worries and fears.
“I think when we’re making friends, or with our family or parents, we measure what we’re comfortable talking about,” Garcia said, and she wanted to represent that through their developing relationship. She also pointed out that while Max never “rescues Raven, she becomes instrumental in Raven rescuing herself.”
Part of Max’s heritage is from the tradition of Vodou, which Garcia had researched previously for her Beautiful Creatures series, where she had many cultural consultants. The graphic novel only touches on the religion, but the pieces presented steer clear of Hollywood sensationalism, instead focusing on the more universal aspects of connections to ancestors. As she said: “A lot of us, if we believe in that ancestral connection, gain strength and courage from that.”
The story also delves deeply into its setting of New Orleans, immersing Raven in her new home and readers in the feel of the city. Garcia has been a visitor to the city many times, and felt it was very much the type of setting where Raven would fit. “I wanted to show some of my favorite foods and places,” Garcia said, but noted that she frequently contacted fellow YA-writer and New Orleans native, Alys Arden, to make sure she was getting all the details right. (Arden is also working on a DC YA graphic novel.)
Garcia and Picolo are also working together on Teen Titans: Beast Boy, due out in 2020, and readers who pick up Teen Titans: Raven will get a preview of a normal-teen version of Garfield Logan. But though there are more titles in the works, Garcia explained that the details are top secret. In the meantime, Teen Titans fans can pick up Teen Titans: Raven from friendly local comic shops—and stay tuned for the second season of Titans.
Alana Joli Abbott writes about books for Den of Geek. Read more of her work here.