Sunday, July 29, 2007

Teen Titans

My first exposure to the Teen Titans was in 1967 on "The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure." This Filmation cartoon series spotlighted 7-minute cartoons (just long enough to keep my 3-year old attention span) featuring Superman, Aquaman, Superboy, and then a variety of DC characters, including the Titans. Why Kid Flash was drawn with pitch-black hair is a mystery to me, but I thought it was great that kids could form a superhero team just like the adults could.

It wasn't long after that that I discovered the Teen Titans comic book and was deeply involved in their adventures. Nick Cardy was and is a great artist, and Bob Haney's stories have always been among my favorites, especially in Brave and the Bold. I was thrilled, though, when I found out that Robin was actually one of the Teen Titans. He had not appeared on the cartoon, instead remaining at Batman's side.

During my "dark age" when I was living with my mother and stepfather, I only got to read comics when I visited my father and paternal grandparents. One Christmas (1975) my grandmother bought us the "Christmas with the DC Super-Heroes" treasury. You probably remember those oversized comic books, ridiculously priced at $1.00! Who in their right mind would pay $1.00 for a funny book? Anyway, one of the stories in that book was a reprint of Teen Titans #13, "A Swingin' Christmas Carol." While a direct lift of Dickens' classic, it was at least acknowledged in the story that it was! I still have a copy of that treasury and I pull it out and re-read it every Christmas.

When my brother came to visit during the period where I was living with my father, we picked up DC Comics Presents #26, featuring the first appearance of the New Teen Titans. I was beyond comics by that point (girls > comics), but the story looked really interesting. I didn't know who half the characters were, and I'm sure that had a lot to do with that. You can see more of that story here.

The Teen Titans came and went, undergoing many changes over the years, but then it was announced that Warner Brothers would be producing a cartoon based on the New Teen Titans that Wolfman and Perez had created. Given Bruce Timm's track record I had total faith that it would be done well. Much to my chagrin, I was shocked to see Americanized anime, complete with a theme song performed by a Japanese pop group. I didn't see how they could go from this concept:to this:

When I first saw the promotional image I thought that someone should probably tell Calvin's dad (of Calvin & Hobbes) that his son was dying his hair black and dressing as Robin. I watched the first couple of episodes to give it a chance, but it just wasn't for me. I've never been a big anime fan (although I've tried) and put it aside.

Recently, I've taken a second look at the Teen Titans, but not with the jaded eye of the middle-aged comic book fan looking for validation of the form as serious art. I've started looking at them as forms of fun and ways to get kids to read. I had lost that sense of wonder and resented cartooniness. I thought that if you couldn't draw like Neal Adams or paint like Alex Ross, then you shouldn't be in the business.

I was wrong.

The Teen Titans cartoon, and this is the part I missed the first time around, is fun. The characters are not full of themselves and facing world domination every day. They're kids who get to be superheroes and hang out at this big tower and play video games and eat pizza. As a teacher of middle school kids I should have really caught that Raven was being portrayed as a moody Goth girl. Cyborg is the jock. Starfire is the cheerleader. Beast Boy is the class clown. Robin is the one who takes everything seriously. Now I get it. The same kids who are being represented by these characters are into anime and manga and they are the ones for whom this cartoon was being made. As I work on my secret project I have to remember what the producers of Teen Titans knew: The audience is the most important factor in creating entertainment. Teen Titans succeeds at that.

1 comment:

Martin said...

Jim, exactly what happened to me. Initial "what the..." and then much acceptance. This isn't the Titans we grew up on, but it is a nice version for a new generation.