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Review: ‘Teen Titans Go! To Camp!’

Teen Titans Go! To Camp!
Writer: Sholly Fisch
Artists: Marcelo DiChiara, Franco Riesco, Agnes Garbowska and others
DC Comics; $9.99

Adapting a television show into a comic book is always a bit of a challenge, but cartoon Teen Titans Go! is more challenging than most. Not only are the episodes short, the plots absurd, and the pacing completely manic, but Teen Titans Go! relies quite heavily on sound for many of its funniest bits, from the sound effects to the peculiarity of the characters’ voices to music. (The waffles song and “The Night Begins To Shine,” for example, wouldn’t work in print, because it’s not like the lyrics are what make those songs, and the shows based around them, so funny.)

Despite the challenges, DC has been publishing Teen Titans Go! comics in various formats almost since the show debuted in 2013, with varying degrees of success. With Teen Titans Go! To Camp!, they try a new format: The original graphic novel. The extra space this affords—the book runs 150 pages, as opposed to the short, 10-page stories that filled the issues of the comics —allows for writer Sholly Fisch and artist Marcelo DiChiara to develop gags better than the short stories in the Teen Titans Go! monthly comics ever could, but it still faces some of the same limitations as any attempt to wrestle such an idiosyncratic cartoon into the straitjacket of panels and dialogue bubbles. The many musical numbers, for example, don’t quite work.

The premise should be familiar to anyone who watches the show, as the Titans went to a superhero summer camp for a five-episode special event last May. This camp is a different one than the one they went to on TV, but then, the story implies the Titans are particularly hard on summer camps. There’s a flashback to their disastrous time at the Justice League’s Camp Super Friends the previous summer, which was cut short when Robin’s competitive streak lead to him attempting the world’s largest s’more and drowning the Hall of Justice in molten marshmallow.

This year they’re attending summer camp on Apokolips, home world of DC’s god of evil Darkseid and his minions. Also attending are Titans East, led by Robin’s arch-rival Speedy, and villainous teen team the H.I.V.E. Five. Camp Counselor Granny Goodness of course has ulterior motives, hoping to use the camp process to find potential recruits for Apokolips’ armies, and the best prospect seems to be Robin, whose ruthless quest to be deemed the best at everything leads to constant cheating…but perhaps he will learn the value of teamwork at the climax…?

The setting allows Fisch and DiChiara the opportunity to work in plenty of cameos from the extended DC universe, including not only the Justice League and Mister Miracle, but some pretty obscure members of the Jack Kirby-created Fourth World, like Devilance The Pursuer and The Deep Six (who serve as camp lifeguards).

Perhaps the greatest pleasure the book offers, however, is that each chapter ends with a letter home from camp from a different camper, and each of these short, two-to-four-page sequences is drawn by a different artist in their own style, which is almost always an incredibly sharp departure from DiChiara’s work, which sticks quite closely to the show’s designs and general aesthetic.

And so Agnes Garbowska, Dario Brizuela, Jamal Igle, Franco, and others draw short sequences in which little side stories feature a gag or six of camp life, sometimes in cute chibi styles and sometimes in realistic styles that adhere to a regular, if occasional, type of gag from the TV series, when the default style changes for the space needed to tell a particular joke.

Like the cartoon whose milieu this graphic novel is based in, this will likely be an acquired taste, but if it can’t do everything the show does in the same way the show does, Teen Titans Go! To Camp! does make an effort to tick all of the show’s boxes and succeeds a bit better than the shorter comics that have preceded it have managed.

DC must have been pleased with how this turned out, as a second Teen Titans Go! original graphic novel is set for fall release: Teen Titans Go!: Roll With It!, in which a different creative team will have the Teen Titans playing Basements & Basilisks.

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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