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Monday, August 06, 2018 

A tedious article about Teen Titans history

The Fort Smith Times-Record wrote a puff piece about the history of the Teen Titans, with some pretty ridiculous and unobjective parts. It starts off with this:
If you saw “Teen Titans Go! to the Movies,” which premiered July 27, and you’re not a regular Cartoon Network viewer, you might be a little confused.

“Wait,” you might say. “Isn’t Cyborg in the Justice League? Isn’t Starfire black? And isn’t Robin called Nightwing now?”
And isn't the columnist going to lament the political correctness behind the decision to rewrite Cyborg's history so he was no longer a Titan? Oh, guess not, because reporter Andrew Smith's not one to write these items for objectivity. Also, while the actress playing Starfire in a new live action TV program planned is black, Koriand'r has gold/yellow-colored skin in the comics. His focus on Donna Troy's origins as Wonder Girl is no better:
It all started in a team-up book called “The Brave and the Bold” in 1964. That was when editor George Kashdan had the bright idea to team up the sidekicks of several DC Comics superheroes. The result was an adventure co-starring Robin, Kid Flash and Aqualad, the 1960s partners of Batman, Flash and Aquaman.

Evidently it sold well enough for a sequel six issues later — one in which the trio gained a formal name, “Teen Titans,” and a new member, Wonder Girl. The latter was pretty baffling, because “Wonder Girl” didn’t really exist. There had been stories in “Wonder Woman” about Wonder Girl, but they were simply adventures of the titular character from the past, when she was a teenager — and mostly imaginary ones at that.

But writer Bob Haney either didn’t know that, or didn’t care. Without explanation or exposition, Wonder Girl was suddenly present.

Occasionally readers would bring up Wonder Girl’s non-existence. And DC didn’t really have an answer.

“Originally, Wonder Girl was supposed to be Wonder Woman when she was younger,” Kashdan wrote on the letters page of “Teen Titans” No. 7. “But our W.G. is an up-to-date, 1967-model teenager. So what’s her relation to W.W.? That’s something we’re still trying to dope out. Anybody out there have any ideas?”

That’s pretty sad. But “Wonder Chick,” as her hepcat colleagues called her, eventually got an origin in 1969. There’s no sense recounting it here, though, because it didn’t stick — and the character has had several more origins since.

The addition of the Teen Amazon not only added some much needed sex appeal, but also raw power — she was far and away the mightiest member of the bunch. Even the 1968 addition of Speedy — Green Arrow’s sidekick — didn’t much change that equation.
This is, IMHO, one of the dumbest "explanations" I've ever read. She didn't exist? Well starting in 1965, she did! A brand new creation sporting the name WG rather than Diana herself, plain and simple. So what about it? And how come they don't mention Marv Wolfman and Len Wein thought up Wondy's first origin, in one of their earliest contributions to comicdom? Or that several months prior to Kara Zor-El's introduction as Supergirl in 1959, there had been an imaginary-like story in Superman featuring a precursor to the Man of Steel's cousin from Argo? Wouldn't that also be considered a case of supposed "non-existence" until created?
Another oddity of early “Teen Titans” was the bizarre patois Haney came up with to approximate teen slang. Occasionally readers would question that as well.

“The way (the Teen Titans) talk, you’d think they were beatniks or something,” wrote one reader in “Teen Titans” No. 11 (1967). “I’m a teenager and I know a lot of other teenagers, but I don’t know any that talk the way the TTs do. All teens talk some slang, but the Titans are too much to stomach.”

DC didn’t much care, because it wasn’t shooting for teen readers — it was, Haney said in “Titans Companion” Vol. 1, “very calculatingly aimed at a 12-year-old audience. We kept it very simple.”

So this easy-reader “Teen Titans” barreled along, with Robin leading his peers in solving the kind of problems teens might have on “Leave It to Beaver” and battling fad-based villains like “The Mad Mod” and “Ding-Dong Daddy.” It took until the 1970s for “Teen Titans” to catch up with the 1960s, and even then it didn’t do a very good job reflecting the teen viewpoint.
And this column doesn't do a very good job recognizing why entertainment is what matters first and foremost. Why, even Spider-Man spouted dialogue and slang at times that didn't always reflect how teens could talk in real life. Even the X-Men and the Human Torch could do that too. So what's the point? What matters first is the comedy and slapstick amusement some of this slang and wisecracking was built on. But wait'll you see this hilarious typo coming next:
And just as you’ve probably read somewhere, Dick Grayson dropped the “Robin” persona and started calling himself Nightwing (1984). He was replaced as Robin in the Bat-books by four successive characters: Jason Todd (now Red Hood), Jason Todd (now Red Robin), Stephanie Brown (now Spoiler) and Batman’s biological son, Damian Wayne (still Robin). That’s relevant because most of them served stints on various Titans teams — there’s almost never a Teen Titans without a Robin, or at least a former Robin.
Wow, now this is a real laugh riot! So Jason's both of those roles, and Timothy Drake's not the latter. I guess Paul Levitz's not the only one who doesn't want to thank Chuck Dixon for all the hard work he did on the solo spinoff in 1993, even though Tim was actually Wolfman's creation, introduced in 1989, and it took at least a year until Tim donned the costume. Also, Steph was Spoiler before the brief, totally botched stint as a female Robin, which lasted little more than 2 paltry issues, and all so the writer/editors could do their damndest to depict her as a bratty, annoying teen in hopes the audience wouldn't care, acting under the confidence they couldn't tell the difference between fantasy/reality.
And there have been a jillion other characters who have appeared over the years in the pages of multiple titles, not just “Team Titans” and “Teen Titans” but also “Terror Titans,” “Titans” and “Young Justice.” There’s no need to list them here; if you’re a comics reader, you probably know them, and if you’re not, you don’t care.
Those who aren't comics readers will be glad they don't care about the "Terror Titans" storyline by Sean McKeever. One of the most awful attempts to do a variation on Geoff Johns' concoction of a Rainbow Lanterns brigade in Green Lantern, which was pretty lethargic.
But a great many more people watch TV than read comics, and that’s where mainstream confusion might come in — because the Titans have lots and lots of TV appearances. Go back far enough, and you’ll find the original four Teen Titans on the “Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure” in 1967. They’ve appeared in several animated movies, like “Justice League vs. Teen Titans,” which featured the Damian Wayne Robin. [...]
With the possible exception of Donna Troy, troublingly enough. As noted here, Donna, despite being such a beloved cast member, only appeared in 2 animated TV productions, and was largely absent from the rest. I don't think it's because of "convoluted" history though, so much as it is a case of likely disdain for those deserving of royalties for all the hard work they did. An even more notorious example's existed with Spoiler, who's never even had merchandise adaptations. Not that it's such a big deal, because all this "mainstreaming" has simply ruined superheroes, but if residuals and recognition matter, then DC's management proved themselves an utter disgrace. To date, they haven't even reprinted Mike Baron and William Messner-Loeb's runs on the 2nd Flash volume during 1987-91, and that's also bad. At the end of the article:
And just to thoroughly confuse everyone, the DC streaming service will also air “Titans,” a new, live-action show starring Beast Boy (Ryan Potter), Raven (Teagan Croft), Robin (Brenton Thwaites) and Starfire (Anna Diop). You’ll notice the absence of Kid Flash, who has already been established on The CW’s “Flash.” And there’s no Cyborg, since DC decided in 2011 that he’s now a founding member of the Justice League, and his Titans history officially no longer exists. Even though, as you know, he’s still a Titan in “Teen Titans Go!”

I did say it was confusing, didn’t I?
But he didn't say it was hugely dismaying DC went miles out their way with editorial mandates to craft a basis on which the since abortive Justice League movie could be built on, and so far hasn't restored Vic Stone's history with the Titans, did he? Nope. If that's all he can say, he's not fit to shine the Titans' battle boots. Not mentioned either is that the Kid Flash featured on the live action TV programs is black, and was apparently one of the reasons DC went out of their way to change Wally West's racial background nearly 5 years ago. Interestingly, since we're on the subject, it looks like the actor playing the black Kid Flash is leaving the shows, and according to a reader comment:
They’ve been disrespecting his character since the beginning of season 4. His girlfriend breaks up with him out of the blue, he goes to “find himself” in Keystone and basically never comes back. They had every Arrowverse character EVERY created in the crossover event and they still managed to give Wally practically zero screen time. He literally was tasked with taking Cecile and his dad to a safe place and NEVER. COMES. BACK. He’s a bloody speedster….he could be jogged and been back in seconds. He doesn’t even return for Barry’s trial for murder?? When there NO speedster protecting Cental City. The blasphemy. I was relieved he was on Legends because he’s a great character that keeps getting screwed. Now he’s gone there too. And yet they make Constantine (the one who already had a failed spin-off) as a series regular. I’m feel ill from the injustice and poor character development and writing.
Sounds like they spent so much energy developing a diversity-pandering character for nothing. Not that the social justice freaks could really care, since they apparently don't watch these overrated productions anyway.

And of course, if the column as published in the Times-Record can't even provide opinions on how scriptwriting and character development is handled in the comics or not, then it's not even worth publishing. A waste of space. The Titans deserve far better.

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The point about the Titans slang wasn't just that it was made up, but that it was from a generation previous, from the beatnik era. Lots of shows and books use made up slang, and sometimes it gets adopted in the real world - nobody talked like Buffy before her show, but they started talking like that after. The Titans used slang from the forties and fifties!

At the same time, the book was a lot more relevant to its times than the article makes out; Haney took a liberal stance on things like prison reform and civil rights and wrote it into the stories.

Really impressive post. I read it whole and going to share it with my social circules. I enjoyed your article and planning to rewrite it on my own blog.
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Silver Age comics were written by middle-aged men who were trying to make the teenage characters sound "cool." I never heard any teenagers IRL talk like the Titans, Spider-Man, the X-Men, or Johnny Storm. Or Snapper Carr or Rick Jones, either.

Buffy's dialog was quasi-realistic. Teenagers did not talk like that IRL, but they probably would if they could be that articulate.

Actually, "The Superman-Aquaman Hour of Adventure" featured Speedy instead of Robin in its Teen Titans segment. At the time, the live action Batman TV series was still running on the ABC network, so CBS and Filmation did not have the rights to Robin or any Batman-related characters.

ABC cancelled their Batman show in 1968, and Filmation later produced a "Superman-Batman Hour" for CBS.

Haney never let continuity or logic get in the way of the story he wanted. Some fans refer to Silver and Bronze Age Teen Titans and Brave & Bold issues as "the Haney-verse."

There may have been some thought of using Supergirl as the Titans' female member, but Mort Weisenger, who edited the "Superman Family" titles (Superman, Action, Adventure, World's Finest), opposed it. Similarly, Superman and Batman rarely appeared in the Justice League in the early years.

Superman and Batman were regular players in the Justice League from its inception; it was the Justice Society stories from All-Star comics in the 40s where they rarely appeared. What is now DC was actually two related companies, DC that published Superman and Batman, and All American, published by M C Gaines, that published Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern and the JSA. As DC rather than AC characters, Batman and Superman made only nominal appearances in the JSA. Also, to avoid overexposure, characters who had their own comics were required under the JSA bylaws to formally resign their active membership and become auxiliary members only.

Superman and Batman were charter members of the JLA, but they made relatively few appearances in the first two years (1960-1962). As with the JSA in the Golden Age, the JLA was sort of a showcase for B-list heroes who could benefit from extra exposure.

Also, Mort Weisenger, editor of the Superman comics (including Action and World's Finest) and Jack Schiff (editor of Batman and Detective) were worried about over-exposure.

When JLA's sales began to droop, publisher Jack Liebowitz overruled Schiff and Weisenger, and ordered that JLA feature DC's most popular heroes more often.

It is true that Batman and Superman appeared only rarely in the Justice Society, and were only honorary or auxillary members from the beginning. AFAIK, they only made two appearances in All-Star Comics in the 1940s, and one of those was a cameo.

And, yes, it was a rule that superheroes with their own self-titled comics could not be full time JSA members. Green Lantern was a regular when he only had a feature in All-American, but left the team when his self-titled comic started.

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