Let’s just get it out up front, there’s probably no other comic put out by a mainstream publisher that’s as charming as “Tiny Titans”.
It’d be easy to rest on the laurels of Art Baltazar’s effortlessly endearing artwork and just clumsily tape Teen Titans characters onto worn stories about lost dogs or solving mysteries at abandoned carnivals. Instead, the “Tiny Titans” he and Franco have delivered is clever, smart, and legitimately reverent to the source material.
The backdrop is Sidekick City Elementary school, but that’s pretty much where any allegiance to typical superhero stories ends. Instead we simply have Teen Titans characters throughout history, hanging around the playground. It owes more to classics like “Peanuts” or “Calvin & Hobbes” even as it pays tribute to the work of Wolfman and Perez.
Like the best works of entertainment for kids, “Tiny Titans” is sharp enough to appeal to every age. Using kid penguins to fool Commissioner Gordon into thinking he’s talking to Batman and not Nightwing and Batgirl holding a penguin on their shoulders under his cowl, is a gag set-up just absurd and adorable looking to work on anyone.
Baltazar’s cartooning goes a very long way toward cementing that appeal on every page. It’s simple, but captures the costumes and nuances of all the characters extremely well. And, put simply, he draws a great enormous cartoon mouth.
For a long time now, there has been lots of back and forth from people who say the industry needs more kids comics, and the industry saying no one buys kids comics. I remember going to New York Comic-Con this year and seeing quite a heartening positive reaction to editor Jann Jones’ various initiatives in this regard, including “Tiny Titans”. I couldn’t help but worry that this was simply an audience trying to look like they would never be the one to say kids comics couldn’t be successful, but then still never buy the book at their local comic book store. It’s a shame, but in all honesty, “Tiny Titans” is a work of a bit more subtlety then your average superhero donnybrook.
Reading a “Johnny DC” book after piles of mainstream comics is like falling into an alternate dimension. The ads are almost exclusively for other books in the line, and it all feels like a cohesive attempt to appeal to the intended audience. Whether or not it ultimately works, you certainly can’t fault DC for trying their best.
I think anyone who’s honest with themselves knows that there are some things so endearing, adorability so perfectly captured, that only the most sour and soul-dead among us can resist them. “Tiny Titans” is filled with pages of them. It’s strange, but for a read that took very little time at all, I found myself opening the book several times, just to look at Speedy’s exasperation with Enigma, or a lovestruck Nightwing (I mean, Robin). It’s a fun, breezy read, and something the comics industry needs a whole lot more of.