We review the new graphic novel from Kami Garcia and Gabriel Picolo and cherish all its warm and fuzzy feelings.
There's a special feeling that occurs when you discover that a creator loves a character as much as you do. Kami Garcia and Gabriel Picolo adore their Teen Titan lovebirds, and after a few solo adventures, they've finally brought them together in Beast Boy Loves Raven. The result is a charmingly sweet romance with an action/adventure third wheel.
In most mediums, it's obvious when the person crafting the story adores their creation. It's their creation. Big duh. But in comics, that's often not the case. These characters are IP, created decades back, and they have their financial masters. And sometimes, you sense that the writer or the artist actively despises the characters they're controlling. Maybe that's not true, and it just extends from our (or, really, the word I should be using is "my") reckless preciousness and foolish sense of ownership for these characters. But, when a comic like Beast Boy Loves Raven comes around, there is no doubt that the people steering the tale cherish the characters they're informing.
Garcia and Picolo want us to know that their intentions are pure. They put their love for Beast Boy and Raven front and center. Before the story even kicks off, the collaborators issue a statement, "Dear Reader...Raven and Beast Boy are two of our all-time favorite characters. They remind us so much of ourselves as teens..." Garcia and Picolo acknowledge Marv Wolfman, George Pérez, and Arnold Drake's characters as reflections of their former hormonal anxieties, but the inspiration doesn't stop with them. The brief forward continues, "...We have met so many of you in person or online, and we want Raven and Beast Boy to feel as brave and inspiring as all of you." Garcia and Picolo want to do right by their readers, and the strength they provide must find its way into these two heroes.
It's a bold mission statement and something I was not at all expecting when I turned that first page. The cynical devil within may have even issued an initial eye-roll, but as Beast Boy Loves Raven worked its love on me, I revisited Garcia and Picolo's intro and recognized its genuine care. As Raven Roth and Garfield Logan stumble their way into Nashville, you can sense Garcia and Picolo hovering above everything, placing their hands on the future Titans' shoulders, pushing them slowly together, helping them find strength in the other to combat nagging doubt.
For a good majority, Beast Boy Loves Raven operates like Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise. It's two kids in a big city, attempting to navigate its tourist attractions while investigating their partner's intentions. Gar almost immediately finds himself drawn to Raven, but she is less sure about the weird dude with a monkey in his backpack. Given her druthers, she'd rather get lost in her copy of Bram Stoker's Dracula than absorb this boy's cumbersome flirtations.
Neither character needs a relationship right now either. Raven has only recently recovered her memories and trapped her demon father inside her amulet. Gar still struggles to control his transformative abilities, and he can't even figure out how to make waiters at restaurants treat his Veganism seriously. Unknowingly, the two characters were both lured to Nashville by Slade, who imagines treacherous possibilities for these super-powered youths.
Beast Boy Loves Raven is not allowed to be all talking and walking. The bad guys have to get smashed eventually, and other heroic individuals must make their presence known. That's a bummer. I could have read Raven and Gar's Before Sunrise for another two hundred pages. The first half is sweet, cringey, honest, and beautiful. These panels are ready for Netflix; let's get this YA romance on the screen.
Thankfully, when the action/adventure must occur, Garcia doesn't ditch the warmth. The danger forces Raven and Gar to consider their feelings seriously and zeroes their focus on who they want to be as individuals. And through the affection of the other, they identify what makes them unique.
Selling everything is Picolo's cartooning (special shout-out to Rob Haynes' assistance and David Calderon's cool breeze colors). It's clean and piercingly expressive. Rip the dialogue from the balloons, and the reader would have no trouble understanding what's rattling around in Raven and Gar's heads.
With each new young adult release from DC Comics, I find myself appreciating the endeavor more and more. They're stripping their characters to their essential selves, rebranding them with a modern teen context, but highlighting what's always worked about them. These books are putting much-needed emphasis on their internal torment, not necessarily neglecting the punchy-fighty but cementing the soap opera elements as the superior entertainment realm.
Quickie Review: The Teen Titan universe Kami Garcia and Gabriel Picolo have developed is adorably compelling. Beast Boy Loves Raven is character first, action second. The creators want to reveal to their audience what they love about these heroes; they're hoping to bring in new readers, but in the process, remind old readers what's so dang special about these two and how they elevate each other. 9/10
Teen Titans: Beast Boy Loves Raven
Writer: Kami Garcia
Artist: Gabriel Picolo with Rob Haynes
Colorist: David Calderon
Letterer: Garbiela Downie
On Sale: NOW!
Synopsis: It seems like years, but it’s only been a few days since Raven Roth recovered her memories, trapped her demon father, Trigon, into her amulet, and had her heart broken for the first time. But she doesn’t have time to think about the past…she has to focus on finding a way to get rid of Trigon for good.
Garfield Logan still can’t believe he has powers that allow him to change into different animals, but the price of knowing that his parents kept this secret hidden from him just feels too high. And what’s more, his difficulty controlling these abilities could have unexpected consequences.
Both are seeking answers from the one person who seems to have them all figured out: Slade Wilson.
When their paths converge in Nashville, Raven and Gar can’t help but feel a connection, despite the secrets they both try to hide. It will take a great amount of trust and courage to overcome the wounds of their pasts. But can they find acceptance for the darkest part of themselves? Or maybe even love?