Teen Titans: Raven takes all the best traits of both comic books and YA lit and merges them together to create an evocative and exciting origin story.
As a ride-or-die DC fan and a lover of YA lit on a professional level (I’m a middle school teacher) and as a personal preference (there tends to be a lot less pretension in the stories and among the authors), the DC Ink publishing imprint seems tailor-made for me.
Because as much as I love comics and enjoy the way in which they can and often do tell fantastically dark, gritty and sometimes gruesome stories about superheroes clad in brightly colored tights, I’ve always hesitated recommending my favorite arcs and graphic novels to my middle school students — especially when I taught sixth grade.
It’s not that I don’t think students experience darkness or grimness in their own lives — I’m an English teacher, after all, and I have my students write a shit ton about their personal lives — nor am I all that intent on shielding them from the grittiness of the world around them or in the pages of a comic book.
That said, as much I respect my students’ abilities to process difficult storylines, there are certain scenes and storytelling arcs in many modern comic books which either require or are better experienced with a level of maturity and background knowledge that my 12 to 15-year-old students don’t necessarily have yet.
Because while comics as a medium may have started as a way to entertain teens, many of them are now written with or cater to an adult audience — which, I would like to stress, is totally and completely fine! I like the mature storytelling and themes explored in comic books, and the way they use superheroes and their ilk to explore big ideas and present a modern-day mythology.
But I also like being able to recommend stories about my favorite superheroes to my students.
Which is why I’m so thankful for the DC Ink imprint and so happy to have read Teen Titans: Raven — a story that I not only enjoyed as a fan of Raven, but would be happy to recommend to my students.
Like most comic book heroes who have been around for a long time, Raven has gone through her fair amount of reboots, retcons and character changes. She’s been good, bad, possessed, dead, and resurrected — multiple times — since her introduction to DC comics canon in 1980.
However, despite all the changes and reboots along the way, a few things remain standard for Raven.
She is always the daughter of the union between the demon Trigon and a human mother, though whether this union was one born of terrible violence or gentle coercion varies from writer to writer.
She is always given up by her mother to be raised by someone else — though whether her mother did this out of sole fear of her father or out of fear of her as well depends on the depiction you’re reading.
And she is always a character who — as a half demon — struggles with the darkness inside of her. Trigon is always looking to use her as a way — through a portal or possession — to destroy Earth, and Raven always struggles with whether or not her demon genetics means she’s predisposed to cruelty and malice rather than heroism.
Raven, then, is a character born from and surrounded by trauma and violence.
But the reason Raven has so endured for the last 40 years — and one of the things which makes her such a fan favorite and icon among the Teen Titans — is that she is also a character who has not allowed herself to be solely defined by that trauma and violence.
And it is this second — and more powerful — aspect of Raven’s character which is so richly explored in the DC Ink novel, Teen Titans: Raven.
Those expecting another run-of-the-mill superhero origin story will find themselves disappointed by Teen Titans: Raven.
Then again, those looking for another run-of-the-mill superhero origin story were looking in the wrong place for it.
While Teen Titans: Raven does concern itself with Raven’s supernatural origins and abilities, it is mostly concerned with Raven’s interiority as it relates to her sense of identity and struggle to overcome a major trauma in her life.
The novel opens with Raven having suffered a terrible accident which claimed both her foster mother and her memory. She begins her story as a veritable blank slate, struggling to understand who she is without her memories. She isn’t on her own, however, and the inclusion of original characters — most notably Max as Raven’s foster sister — are one of the highlights of the book.
Max acts as a sister who helps Raven regain her sense of self, a friend to support her through the everyday woes of high school life and a guide through the mysteries of her abilities and the occult-drenched setting of New Orleans.
Writer Kami Garcia does a great job narrating Raven’s internal struggles as a teen, with her interactions with Max and Tommy — all set among the backdrop of a normal high school — being some of the strongest scenes in the book.
It isn’t all high school hijinks and adolescent heartbreak, though. The supernatural elements of Raven’s character are woven in throughout the story seamlessly, with Raven’s abilities and bloodline slowly making themselves more and more apparent as the book goes on.
Raven struggles with remembering who she is and what she likes alongside questioning why she can hear other people’s thoughts or can seemingly make bad things happen to people she doesn’t like.
Of course, this is all building toward a confrontation with her father, Trigon, and a usage of her abilities that has all the flair of a big budget season finale (alongside a few surprising and heartbreaking reveals), so those wanting a fair amount of superheroics or who have been longtime fans of Raven and know just what it is she’s capable of won’t be disappointed either.
Teen Titans: Raven takes the superhero struggles of the character and makes them relatable for its teen audience. Not everyone has amnesia to contend with or the ability to manipulate events around them, but we all struggle with trying to figure out who we are and go through changes we can’t quite understand.
Raven’s journey in this book is not becoming a superhero, but learning to accept who she is and what she feels. More than this, it is learning to accept her trauma but understanding she is not defined by it.
About ‘Teen Titans: Raven’ by Kami Garcia and Gabriel Picolo
When a tragic accident takes the life of 17-year-old Raven Roth’s foster mom — and Raven’s memory — she moves to New Orleans to recover and finish her senior year of high school.
Starting over isn’t easy. Raven remembers everyday stuff like how to solve math equations and make pasta, but she can’t remember her favorite song or who she was before the accident. And when impossible things start happening, Raven begins to think it might even be better not to know who she was before.
But as she grows closer to her new friends, her foster sister, Max, and Tommy Torres, a guy who accepts her for who she is now, Raven has to decide if she’s ready to face what’s buried in the past… and the darkness building inside her.
From #1 New York Times bestselling author Kami Garcia and first-time graphic novel artist Gabriel Picolo comes this riveting tale of finding the strength to face who you are and learning to trust others—and yourself.