Teen Titans: Raven has now hit shelves and it is my favorite installment in DC’s line of Young Adult graphic novels so far! If you’re familiar with my writing here outside of Ink Spots, you know how I stan the Teen Titans. From the time I was a little girl, I saw a part of myself reflected in Raven, and Kami Garcia and Gabriel Piccolo’s Teen Titans: Raven continues that tradition. (Hot tip: if you aren’t following Piccolo on Instagram you are missing out, my dear friends!) I’m pretty familiar with Rachel Roth a.k.a. Raven’s origin from her introduction under the legendary hands of Marv Wolfman and George Perez and I’m sure many readers are familiar with her from either of the animated Teen Titans series or from Titans in live action. Teen Titans: Raven is a new take on her origin that I found refreshing, relatable (as someone who was once a teenage girl) an unexpectedly educational.
Garcia made a really interesting choice shipping Raven to New Orleans—one of the most magical places in the United States—and scattering voodoo traditions throughout the narrative.
The magic, whether it’s completely fictional or based in real-world practices, shines a light on some of the difficult subject matter this graphic novel covers. Adoption, foster care, the death of a mother. All of these things can be difficult and complicated to deal with at any point in your life, let alone during the whirlwind of adolescence, and by pairing these turns in Raven’s life with magic, Garcia and Piccolo are able to shine a light on the former two, which turn out to be incredibly positive forces in her young life.
If you were ever wondering why “Azarath” is featured in Raven’s mutterings and meditations, that’s where her father, the demon Trigon, reigns supreme. The powers of Azarath are what keep trying to drag Raven back throughout Teen Titans: Raven, only in this iteration, she’s protected by a shade in the shape or a raven. I really like this narrative device that Garcia and Picolo have conceived. Shades and familiars are sometimes intertwined in various mythologies and transitions—animal spirits, protectors or astral projections operating in tandem and in complement to a witch’s magic. A black cat is probably what springs to mind most immediately, however ravens and other black birds (crows, magpies) are also commonly associated with magic wielders. Any Game of Thrones fans reading this have seen ravens in servitude at some of their fictional best!
Like Raven, it took me a minute to warm up to her new foster sister, Max, who at the end of the day turns out to be her most stalwart ally. Sisterhood can be a surprisingly difficult lesson to learn as a young woman. Garcia hammers home the message through the events of Teen Titans: Raven that women are stronger together.
But that’s not all that Max provides in this surprisingly rich story. Around the halfway point of Teen Titans: Raven, Max begins exhibiting the true strength of her hereditary magic. There’s a wonderful scene where Max teaches Raven a protection spell. The telepathic young hero is having issues concentrating and Max does her best to help her sister out.
At first, Raven thinks the spell is too simple and too easy to be true, but it’s actually a pretty true-to-life example of contemporary witchcraft. I remember reading Silver Ravenwolf’s books when I was a teen and there were plenty of self-protective rituals involving intention and focus very much like what Max imparts to Raven. In addition to being true to the inspiration, this moment also imparts a lesson it took me becoming an adult to fully grasp—you have immense power over your own state of mind and you own life.
This idea is at the core of Teen Titans: Raven. While Rachel struggles with the implications of her internalized powers and their exact origins, readers may be starting to grasp the level of control we have over our own lives. It can be a pretty big idea as you’re staring the rest of your life right in the face, and I love that Raven, our little demon girl, is the vehicle for this metaphor. By believing in her own strength, power and capability, and not letting her fears limit her, Raven is able to keep New Orleans safe from Trigon.
If she can do that, just imagine what the rest of us can do.
Teen Titans: Raven by Kami Garcia and Gabriel Picolo is now available in bookstores, comic shops and as a digital graphic novel.
When not expressing her love for Robin and the Teen Titans, Ashley V. Robinson can be found writing about TV here on DCComics.com as part of the Couch Club and giving Geek History Lessons on the Jawiin YouTube channel. You can follow her on Twitter at @AshleyVRobinson.