Titans #21
TITANS #21 by Dan Abnett, Paul Pelletier, Andrew Hennessy, and Adriano Lucas
While some of the characterizations fall apart, TITANS #21 shines as a character spotlight on Roy Harper. A believable and realistic look at alcoholism and drug abuse, this is an issue you shouldn't overlook.
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No matter what version of the Titans you’re looking at, they’re always defined by their bond. Under threat from DC’s greatest supervillains, their friendship comes first and foremost. Roy Harper’s battles, though, have mostly focused on the internal. Addiction and alcoholism plague his history, and relapsing might be his greatest fear.

In the last issue, the worst seemed to have happened. After a chance encounter with Cheshire, his ex, Roy woke from a night of passion with a hangover. Exposed to a new designer drug, Arsenal must engage with his past sins in TITANS #21. With his friends’ lack of trust leading to a confrontation, can Arsenal stop Cheshire, Mallah, and the Brain before their evil scheme comes to fruition?

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Old Foes, New Fears

TITANS #21 page 3. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

The strongest aspect of TITANS #21, by far, is the focus on Roy Harper. I wasn’t onboard with Roy’s relapse in the last issue. It felt lazy to force this sin upon a character because it strips away the consequences of his actions. Despite this, though, TITANS #21 pays brilliant tribute to the struggles of addicts and alcoholics.

The wayward stares of loved ones, the lack of trust. Everything that Roy experiences perfectly mirrors the reality of his situation. Writer Dan Abnett uses the very antagonist of drugs to play into Roy’s story, and it helps escalate the tension throughout. The battle between Arsenal, Nightwing, and Flash makes total sense because it comes from a real, human place.

With that said, I didn’t take as much enjoyment from the real antagonists of this story. The Titans themselves played their parts as the distrusting friends well, but I never really felt their characters come through. I’m willing to look past this, as they were meant to fill the plot. However, I’m less forgiving of the characterization of Mallah, the Brain, and Cheshire. While I enjoy the call-back to old Titans’ villains, I felt like they were very generic.

The Brain’s plan is very diabolical in his attempt to become a hyper-genius and control the world’s population. His motivation, to garner the respect of other villains, is likable, but it isn’t focused on nearly enough. Meanwhile, Mallah and Cheshire have the chance to showcase strong personalities, but they’re most often overshadowed by their robotic master.

Storm’s Brewing

Titans #21
TITANS #21 page 4. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

As with Roy’s characterization, the flow of the plot in TITANS #21 is masterful. The story moves from point A to B believably and quickly. It never allows the tension to fizzle out, even when we sit through heavy dialogue segments. From the moment we dive into this issue, we understand the stakes and the barricades in Roy’s way.

My only real complaint comes from the fact that there’s no surprise. From the start, the reader is acutely aware that Roy isn’t presently on a drug trip. We know that Mallah and Brain’s scheme has led to his persecution. This takes some of the drama out of the story. If Abnett removed these scenes, readers would have no choice but to side with Donna and the other Titans when Roy seemingly loses it.

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On another positive note, the battle between Arsenal, Nightwing, and Flash is really fantastic. In terms of the fight itself, Abnett and artist Paul Pelletier have crafted a purposefully slow, methodical sequence. It isn’t a typical superhero fight scene, where the hero bursts in, and three panels later, the fight is over.

Abnett has written a no-holds-barred, bare-knuckle brawl. Most importantly, it matters to Roy’s character. It showcases why Roy’s a member of the Titans. His ability to read and understand people gives him a leg up and allows him to play against their personalities. It also gives readers the chance to witness his insecurities, his belief that he’s nothing more than a “discount Robin.”

Lightning-Like Energy

Titans #21
TITANS #21 page 5. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Paul Pelletier’s art in previous issues hasn’t spoken to me as much as Brett Booth’s did in TITANS’ beginning. However, TITANS #21 might just be Pelletier’s best work. He crafts every panel so methodically and with so much energy. The fight scenes feel absolutely electric, with masterfully constructed poses. Roy Harper kicks butt under Pelletier’s pencil, and every page brings more wonders for the red archer. The inks, provided by Andrew Hennessy, only add to his work by giving each image deep contrast with heavy blacks.

Adriano Lucas’ work on colors, though, bring this story to the next level. One of the things that I appreciated about Lucas’ art is the way in which it contrasted the different settings. In Roy’s apartment or on the city streets, the colors look more muted and sullen. These sections reflect the stark reality of his potential relapse. Meanwhile, the moments where we see the Justice League Watchtower or Brain’s laboratory are decidedly more saturated. This gives these settings a far more other-worldly feel, which only adds to their impact.

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Final Thoughts: TITANS #21

TITANS #21 isn’t the best story in this series. It has issues with its characterization of the antagonists, and the overall plot falters a bit because the readers know too much. However, you shouldn’t overlook TITANS #21. This story honestly looks at addiction and alcoholism. More importantly, this story comes from the relapser.

Typically, these stories are told from the outside. This unique point of view empowers the characterization and plot with unique outlooks on those closest to the addict or alcoholic. More importantly, this story proves to readers that Arsenal isn’t just some knock-off Robin. He ‘s a hero in his own right that has battled long and hard to be where he is today.

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