Showcase Presents: The Teen Titans volume 1

By Bob Haney, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Bruno Premiani, Nick Cardy, Irv Novick, Bill Molno, Lee Elias, Bill Draut, Jack Abel, Sal Trapani & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-677-1 (TPB)

The concept of kid hero teams was not a new one when DC finally opted to entrust their big heroes’ assorted sidekicks with their own comic. The result was a fab, hip and groovy ensemble as dedicated to helping kids as it was to stamping out insidious evil; ready to capitalise on the growing independence of modern kids.

The greatest difference between underage wartime groups like The Young Allies, Newsboy Legion and Boy Commandos or 1950s holdovers like The Little Wise Guys and Boy Explorers and the birth of the Teen Titans was quite simply a burgeoning social phenomenon popularly dubbed “Teenagers”: a whole new thing regarded as a discrete cultural and commercial force. These were kids who could – and should – be permitted to do things themselves free from constant adult “help” or supervision. This quirkily eclectic compilation re-presents landmark try-out appearances from The Brave and the Bold #54 and 60 and Showcase #59 – collectively debuting in 1964 and1965 – plus the first 18 issues of a Teen Titans solo title, running January/February 1966 to November/December 1968.

As early as the June/July 1964 cover-dated issue of The Brave and the Bold (#54), DC’s Powers-That-Be tested choppy unknown waters in a gripping tale by writer Bob Haney superbly illustrated by unsung genius Bruno Premiani. At that juncture B&B was exploring a succession of superhero combinations and ‘The Thousand-and-One Dooms of Mr. Twister’ united Kid Flash, Aqualad and Robin the Boy Wonder in a bizarre battle against a modern wizard/Pied Piper who had stolen the teens of provincial Hatton Corners. The young heroes had met in the town by chance when students there invited them to mediate a long-running dispute with the adults in charge. Hey Kids! Happy 60th Anniversary!

This element of a teen “court-of-appeal” was the motivating factor in many of the later group’s cases. One year later the lads met again for a second adventure (The Brave and the Bold #60, by the same creative team) but introduced two new elements.

‘The Astounding Separated Man’ featured more misunderstood kids – this time in coastal hamlet Midville – threatened by an outlandish monster whose giant body parts could move independently. They added Wonder Girl (not actually a sidekick, or even a person, at that time but rather a magical/digital artificial avatar of Wonder Woman as a child, but a fact writers and editors seemed blissfully unaware of) and finally earned a name: Teen Titans.

Their final test appearance came in Showcase (issue #59, cover-dated November/December 1965): birthplace of so many hit comic concepts. It was the first drawn by the brilliant Nick Cardy – who became synonymous with the 1960s series. ‘The Return of the Teen Titans’ pitted them against teen pop trio The Flips who were apparently also a gang of super-crooks… but as was so often the case, the grown-ups had got it all wrong…

One month later their own comic launched. Dated January/February 1966, TT #1 was released mere weeks before the first Batman TV show aired on January 12th. Robin was point of focus on the cover – and most succeeding ones – as Haney & Cardy produced exotic thriller ‘The Beast-God of Xochatan!’ with the youngsters acting as Peace Corps representatives in a South America-set drama of sabotage, giant robots and magical monsters.

The next issue held a fantastic mystery of revenge and young love involving ‘The Million-Year-Old Teen-Ager’ who was entombed and revived in the 20th century. He might have survived modern intolerance, bullying and culture shock on his own, but when his ancient blood enemy turned up, the Titans were ready to lend a hand…

TT #3’s ‘The Revolt at Harrison High’ capitalised on the craze for drag-racing in a tale of crazy criminality. Produced during a historically iconic era, many readers now can’t help but cringe when reminded of such daft dastardly foes as Ding-Dong Daddy and his evil bikers, and of course the hip, trendy dialogue (it wasn’t that accurate then, let alone now) is pitifully dated, but the plot is strong and the art magnificent.

‘The Secret Olympic Heroes’ guest-starred Green Arrow’s teen partner Speedy in a very human tale of parental pressure at the peak end of sporting endeavour, although there’s also skulduggery aplenty from a terrorist organisation intent on disrupting the games. In #5’s ‘The Perilous Capers of the Terrible Teen’ the Titans faced dual tasks: helping a troubled young man and capturing a super-villain called The Ant, despite all evidence indicating that they were the same person, before another DC sidekick made his Titans debut in ‘The Fifth Titan’. Here obnoxious juvenile know-it-all Beast Boy from the Doom Patrol falls under the spell of a wicked circus owner and the kids must set things right. Painfully illustrated by Bill Molno & Sal Trapani, it’s the absolute low-point of a stylish run.

Many fans would disagree, however, citing #7’s ‘The Mad Mod, Merchant of Menace’ as the biggest stinker, but beneath painfully dated dialogue there’s a witty, tongue-in-cheek tale of swinging London and novel criminality, plus the return of the magnificent Nick Cardy to the art chores. It was back to America for ‘A Killer called Honey Bun’ (illustrated by Irv Novick & Jack Abel): another tale of adult intolerance and misunderstood youth, set against a backdrop of espionage in Middle America featuring a deadly prototype robotic super-weapon in the title role, whereas #9’s ‘Big Beach Rumble’ saw the Titans refereeing a vendetta between rival colleges before modern day pirates crashed the scene. Novick pencilled and Cardy’s inking made it all very palatable.

The editor obviously agreed as the artists remained for the next few issues. ‘Scramble at Wildcat’ was a crime caper featuring dirt-bikes and desert ghost-towns with skeevy biker The Scorcher profiting from a pernicious robbery spree whilst Speedy returned in #11’s spy-thriller ‘Monster Bait’ with the young heroes undercover to save a boy being blackmailed into betraying his father and his country. Twin hot-topics the Space-Race and Disc Jockeys informed whacky sci fi thriller ‘Large Trouble in Space-ville!’ with #13 a true classic as Haney & Cardy produced a seasonal comics masterpiece ‘The TT’s Swingin’ Christmas Carol!’: a stylish retelling that has become one of the most reprinted Titans tales ever. At this time Cardy’s art opened up as he grasped the experimental flavour of the times. The cover of TT #14, as well as the interior illustration for grim psycho-thriller ‘Requiem for a Titan’ are unforgettable. The case introduced the team’s first serious returning villain (Mad Mod does not count!): The Gargoyle is mesmerising and memorable. Although Cardy only inked Lee Elias’s pencils for #15’s eccentric tryst with Hippie counter-culture, ‘Captain Rumble Blasts the Scene!’ is a genuinely compelling crime thriller from a time when nobody over age 25 understood what the youth of the world was doing…

Teen Titans #16 returned to more fanciful ground in ‘The Dimensional Caper!’ when aliens infiltrate a rural high school (and how many times has that plot resurfaced since this 1968 epic?). Cardy’s art reached dizzying heights of innovation both here and in the next issue’s waggish jaunt to London in ‘Holy Thimbles, It’s the Mad Mod!’: a cunning criminal chase through Cool Britannia including a command performance from Her Majesty, the Queen!

This initial volume ends with a little landmark as novice writers Len Wein & Marv Wolfman got their big break introducing Russian superhero Starfire and setting themselves firmly on a path of teen super-team writing. ‘Eye of the Beholder’ is a cool cat burglar caper set in trendy Stockholm, drawn with superb understatement by Bill Draut, acting as the perfect indicator of changes in style and attitude that would infuse the Titans and the comics industry itself.

Although perhaps dated in delivery, these tales were a liberating experience for kids when first released. They betokened fresh empathy with independent youth and tried to address problems more relevant to and generated by that specific audience. That they are captivating in execution is a wonderful bonus. This is absolute escapism and absolutely delightful.
© 1964-1968, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.