A Changeling Will Do You Good: The “Tiny Titans” Swansong

These last few days I’ve been haunted by a single memory of something that’s never happened to me. I’m at the movies, sitting in my favorite seat, and I’m watching that magnificent “Godfather-esque” montage in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, where all the narrative loose ends are taken care of to powerful music. But instead of Julio Iglesias crooning out “La Mer”, I’m acoustically inundated by the David Guetta and Sia collaboration, “Titanium”. It couldn’t have happened of course. I know beyond a shadow of doubt that it was Julio belting out “La Mer”. I know too that I’ve heard Sia quite frequently of late, but on her collaboration with Flo-Rida, “Wild Ones”. And yet this memory of “Titanium” playing out the closing montage in Tinker Tailor is perfect, seamless, like my memory of leaving Singapore for the first time, or my memory of my first kiss at that terrible wedding.

If it’s not the individual parts of this fake memory (and it’s not, it’s not Sia or David Guetta or a music video about that kid from Super 8 crouching in the woods, or Gary Oldman playing George Smiley finally seated behind the Big Desk at the Circus), then maybe it’s the whole of it. Something about the whole of a misremembered soundtrack plays into what I’m reading right now, Tiny Titans #50. It’s the final issue, except I don’t want for it to be. My exact words when I first heard it a while back now were, “You’re breaking my heart here, Alex”. Skimming through Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers cemented for me why it is Tiny Titans needed to end–endings are the beginning of greatness. But that fake memory has to tie in to something. Something in Tiny Titans definitely, because the two seem always to appear together.

Issue #50 is singularly the best issue of Tiny Titans to date. All the stops are pulled out by series creators Art Baltazar and Franco. The central story revolves around the the one, final unresolved element that has pushed the whole story together–will Beast Boy finally convince Terra that she really does love him? They’ve been Tiny Titans’ Ross & Rachel, Beast Boy and Terra. And the way that Art and Franco handle this final arc of this relationship really does speak volumes about why Tiny Titans been awarded Eisners for Tiny Titans. Like so many things with this book, it’s the ending you’re hoping for, but the actual path getting there is where the joy of it all lies.

The gang’s all here for this issue; we’ve got Kid Flash, Cyborg and Robin contemplating what kind of heroes they’ll be when they grow up, we’ve got Supergirl and Superboy playing frisbee in the Fortress of Solitude (and a special guest appearance by Jor-El), we’ve got Alfred. But the core of this story, its “through-narrative”, is the relationship between Terra and Beast Boy. Just calling him Beast Boy taps a well of fond memories from the Marv Wolfman era of Teen Titans, a book that both Art and Franco are diehard fans of. Of course, back then, Beast Boy was walking himself back from the “Changeling” monicker he used during his tenure with the Doom Patrol.

Changeling is a wonderful name, fully evocative of Beast Boy’s fae-like power to take the form of any creature, real or imaginary. But in evoking that connection to the fairy-tale creature of legend, “changeling” also evokes the darker connotations of the word. The changelings of legend would often steal into the houses of new parents, and, after luring the newborn off to fairyland, take their place in the crib. With this semantic array gathered around “changeling”, I’d want to walk back from that codename as well. “Changeling” is the perfect codename for a character in Doom Patrol, that inner broken-ness with which the Doom Patrol confronts the world demands characters who themselves are equal to that kind of challenge, characters who can rise to the level of psychic mastery where they themselves offer a dark reflection of a broken world. But Teen Titans was about something different. Teen Titans was aspirational in the deepest of senses. Marv Wolfman’s Teen Titans spoke of deeper drama of reaching-beyond where these teens, already superheroes, were still trapped in a condition of not-yet-but-soon. And Art and Franco’s Tiny Titans even more so. “Beast Boy” would definitely be a far better codename for Garfield Logan than “Changeling”; “Beast Boy” would neatly circumvent the darker aspects that a title like Doom Patrol sought to embrace.

And yet, Art and Franco, in perhaps the greatest example of their shared brilliance on Tiny Titans, seem to dedicate this final issue actively reclaiming the concept of the “changeling” for Gar Logan. In this final issue, Changeling adopts the appearance of Superman (his furry, green face smiles out from the folds of a Superman costume, sans red shorts). But more than simply this, Gar reenacts Superman’s origin; he rides a homemade rocketship (made from wood!, sublimely delightful!), bounces off the Phantom Zone and hurtles uncontrollably towards Smallville.

What a beautiful crafting of the tale. Here, Gar for the very first time in his publication history, enacts the idea of the Changeling. And he attempts to supplant Superman himself, to reenact Superman’s origin in an attempt to assert his love of Terra. After this story, it becomes impossible to demonize, to vilify the concept of a changeling. What changelings do, they do out of love, Art and Franco remind us. And, with Changeling being rescued from crashing by Superman himself, there’s a deeper level at which we can accept the different and the misunderstood.

In the space of just twenty pages, Art and Franco lay to rest the demons of a generation ago–when Gar was forced to choose between two sides of his superhero personality. Here, in the final issue of Tiny Titans, Garfield Logan reintegrates Beast Boy with the Changeling. This is a magnificent turning around of a previously unnoticed pain. It is a true and honest emotional breakthrough. And Art and Franco, use as its signature, something they’ve never offered before–they show Superman’s face. A clear indication that the Tiny Titans have themselves now matured to a point where adults are no longer larger and beyond their grasp.

Remember when, in Charles Schultz’s Peanuts, the kids would always respond to unseen adults? And how on the TV show, the voices of adults would never utter any words, only unintelligible sounds? Art and Franco really exploited that idea by always illustrating Superman or any adult superhero with their faces never being seen. But now, seeing Superman’s face in the closing pages of this final issue of Tiny Titans it feels like we’ve all grown up in the safest, sincerest possible way.

An Eisner for this issue would be just perfect. But an Eisner would also be too small. A Pulitzer, a Nobel jointly in literature and psychology. Not because Tiny Titans #50 points to some vague halcyon, some deceptive nostalgia about when you were young. But because, in a complete mastery of the medium itself, Art and Franco speak about the challenges to come, and remind you of that inner strength you found when you faced up to every psychic challenge you’ve encountered to date, and how you succeeded. Art and Franco, remind you that you’ll win, because that’s what you’ve always done.

And maybe that’s why this fake memory haunts me so. Because as much as Tinker Tailor is about the past, about the fictive compromising of the British intelligence service during the 70s, but also my past with both the original book (trilogy really, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy plays through into the Honorable Schoolboy and Smiley’s People), and with the original BBC TV adaptation (starring Sir Alec Guinness), Tinker Tailor is also about my present. “La Mer” is much preferable to Bobby Darin’s rendition of “Beyond the Sea”, but neither of these fit as well as the music video of a young boy whose superpowers bring him into conflict with the real superpowers of this world, and the story of how this boy uses his superpowers to set himself free from exactly that conflict.

RATING 10 / 10