'Teen Titans' is a complicated topic in comics and on TV

© 2018 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Teen Titans Go! to the Movies features (clockwise from left) Raven (voice of Tara Strong), Cyborg (Khary Payton), Starfire (Hynden Walch), Robin (Scott Menville) and Beast Boy (as a cat, Greg Cires).

Andrew A. Smith

Tribune Content Agency

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?”

The answer? It’s complicated.

The movie is based on a cartoon, Teen Titans Go!, which has been airing on Cartoon Network since 2015. And, yes, that show is based on the DC Comics property “Teen Titans” – a team with a 54-year history that’s had a lot of different lineups. Even more confusing, multiple TV properties have been based on the Titans, all with a different premise.

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 #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.

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 #11 (1967). “I’m a teen-ager 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 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.

Teen Titans continued, adding so many members that they eventually established a Teen Titans West in California. But by 1978  the book had run out of steam and got canceled – which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Because that gave writer Marv Wolfman and artist George Perez a chance to re-imagine the concept.

 

Cover art by George Perez. Copyright DC Comics Inc.

The 1980 relaunch New Teen Titans starred (clockwise from top left) Starfire, Raven, Wonder Girl, Cyborg, Changeling (ne Beast Boy), Robin and Kid Flash.

 

The New Teen Titans launched in 1980 with three old members – Robin, Kid Flash and Wonder Girl – and three new, non-sidekick ones –half-robot Cyborg, mystic Raven and alien powerhouse Starfire.  A seventh member from Doom Patrol comics rounded out the team: Beast Boy, a character who had guest-starred in Teen Titans a few times, and with New Teen Titans #1 changed his nom du combat to Changeling.

It was a huge success, and spawned a bunch of spin-offs, including Team Titans, which somehow included characters from the future. Hey don’t judge – the first team had a caveman member named Gnarrk!

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), Tim Drake (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.

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.

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. And there have been no less than three animated shows based on the Teen Titans concept, each of them unique:

* Teen Titans (2003-06) starred Beast Boy, Cyborg, Raven, Robin I and Starfire. This series is a favorite among comics fans for its fidelity to the Wolfman-Perez era, including Robin becoming Nightwing; Raven’s battle with her father, the demonic Trigon; and new member Terra betraying the team in the famed “Judas Contract” story. The series ended with a made-for-TV animated movie, “Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo” (2006).

* Young Justice is a weird one. DC did publish a Young Justice title at one point that filled the Teen Titans niche, but this isn’t it. Instead, this series drew from all parts of DC’s sprawling superhero universe and history, with a teenage team going on secret missions for the Justice League. The team was assigned missions by Batman, mentored by Red Tornado and trained by Black Canary.

In its first season (2010) Young Justice starred Aqualad, Artemis (a new Green Arrow sidekick), Kid Flash, Miss Martian (a new Martian Manhunter sidekick), Robin I and Superboy (Conner Kent, a teenage clone of Superman). The second season, titled Young Justice: Invasion, took place several years after the first and starred Batgirl, Beast Boy, Blue Beetle, Bumblebee (a holdover from the ‘60s), Impulse (a new version of Kid Flash), Lagoon Boy (a new version of Aqualad), Nightwing (the former Robin I), Robin III (Tim Drake) and Wonder Girl II (Cassie Sandsmark).

That should have been it for Young Justice, as it was canceled after two seasons and, honestly, it was something of a relief. Everybody was bummed out all the time, the Justice League characters acted like jerks and some characters even died.

But the first two seasons left a lot of questions unanswered, so fans have clamored for a third. And lo, it has come to be. Young Justice: Outsiders will appear on DC Universe, the publisher’s new streaming service, starring Arrowette (a new version of Speedy), Arsenal (the old version of Speedy), Beast Boy, Blue Beetle, Impulse, Robin III, Spoiler (formerly Robin IV), Static (the Static Shock character), Thirteen (the daughter of “ghost-breaker” Terrence Thirteen) and Wonder Girl II.

* Teen Titans Go! launched in 2015 and is currently in its fifth season on Cartoon Network. This is the show that produced the current movie. It’s very loud, completely silly and bears no resemblance to its ultra-serious forebears.

Well, except that it stars the same five characters as the first Teen Titans series. And it uses the very same voice actors as that first show: Greg Cipes (Beast Boy), Scott Menville (Robin), Khary Payton (Cyborg), Tara Strong (Raven) and Hynden Walch (Starfire).  

© 2017 - Warner Bros. Television

The new, live-action Titans show coming on the new streaming service DC Universe stars Brenton Thwaites as Dick “Robin” Grayson.

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?

Find Captain Comics by email (capncomics@aol.com), on his website (captaincomics.ning.com), on Facebook (Captain Comics Round Table) or on Twitter (@CaptainComics).

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I'm sure I should already know this, but why are you saying that Jason Todd is "now" two different characters, Red Hood and Red Robin?

I think the good Captain meant to say Tim Drake in the second instance, as Tim is Red Robin.

Whoops! Yeah, I repeated Jason Todd erroneously. Tim Drake is now Red Robin. Thanks for catching that!

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