The Teen Titans Project, Part II: 

The “Dimension X” Era (1968-1969)

The late ‘60s were an interesting time for the Teen Titans.  In the last two years of the decade, the Teen Titans slowly transitioned to a different kind of title.  Both the stories and the art were growing in sophistication, though it would still be a stretch to call them sophisticated.  Yet despite the increasing quality of the comic, this era is often overlooked.  It simply doesn’t have the notoriety of the comics that came before -- the outlandish early appearances described in the previous column -- or the comics that came after -- the infamous “relevance” era.  Even so, these comics planted the seeds for future stories and stand out as the best run of the first volume.

A lot of the credit goes to artist Nick Cardy.  For the first dozen issues, Cardy contributed simple figures and standard layouts, appropriate to the simple stories and youthful audience.  But, with issue #13, Cardy noticeably altered his approach. Faces and features became more detailed, particularly for supporting characters.  He made greater use of light and shadow.  And he utilized a greater variety of layouts, including insets and irregular shapes like triangles.  The new approach also added personality as the increased detail allowed for greater range of emotion.  It was an abrupt -- and welcome -- change. 

Cardy showed that he could draw from the disparate styles of past masters and new trends to create a unique style that was refreshingly modern and all his own.  His faces and figures show a clear debt to Will Eisner.  Mr. Scrouge, the Ebeneezer Scrooge simulacrum from issue #13, could have been pulled from a Spirit story.  But the imaginative layouts owed a lot more to Cardy’s contemporary Neal Adams, especially in the use of angled panels. 

The change is also evident in Cardy’s covers for this era.  For the first few years, Cardy generally depicted scenes from inside the comic for the cover.  However, during these years, Cardy began playing around with non-representational covers, drawing pictures that evoked the essence of the story without duplicating a specific scene.  This new approach can be seen in issue #13 (the triangular trash pile that looks like a Christmas tree), #14, #16 and #23.  In that last example, Wonder Girl famously burst through a portrait of her old costume while wearing a new one.  Although it happened near the end of the era, Wonder Girl’s new costume is one of best examples of the Titans’ growing maturity and Cardy’s artistic skill.    

The stories became more sophisticated during this time, as well.  Bob Haney and the other writers abandoned the trope of the earlier years when the Titans would open each issue by reading their fan mail before rushing off to respond to a request for help.  Instead, the Titans became involved in stories with literary or biblical allusions (Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol in the oft-mentioned issue #13 and the Old Testament Battle of Jericho in issue #20).  They also eschewed the formulaic generation gap morality tales of earlier issues.  Instead, the Titans dealt with a wide range of threats, including the mystical, the alien and the geopolitical.  They fought the Gargoyle and banished him to Limbo in issue #14.  They encountered aliens from Dimension X in issue #16.  And they crossed paths with Starfire, a teen hero from the Soviet Union in issue #18. 

The Teen Titans were growing in complexity, not only in terms of individual stories but also as a title.  Apparently influenced by the growing popularity of Marvel Comics, the Teen Titans began to embrace aspects of continuity.  The aliens from Dimension X are the chief evidence of this, as they became recurring villains during this time.  They initially fought the Teen Titans through proxies before engaging them directly.  They were also the villains behind the Teen Titans’ first two-part story in issues #21-22, which wrapped up a year-and-a-half long era of Dimension X appearances.

Even as they abandoned the formulaic plots of responding to teenaged requests for assistance, Teen Titans comics did a better job of incorporating the perspective of youth.  Of course, it helped that younger writers like Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Neal Adams and Mike Friedrich stepped in to tell a few stories.  Wein and Wolfman exposed concerns about the Cold War by showing the common humanity between the Teen Titans and the Soviet hero, Starfire.  Neal Adams expressed concerns about peaceful protesters being misunderstood on the one hand or coerced into violence on the other with his powerful Battle of Jericho story.  Elder statesman Bob Haney even got into the act.  In issue #23, Haney depicted a good-natured rock star, beset by selfish mangers, who rescued his uncle.  It was a sharp departure for Haney as the teen saved the adult, instead of the other way around.

The Dimension X era wasn’t an entirely linear progression.  A couple of stories retained the kitschy feel of the earlier years, especially the Captain Rumble story in issue #15.  Other stories foreshadowed the changes that were to come with the ‘70s.  The Teen Titans spent most of issue #24 out of costume as they engaged in an ownership dispute while on a ski vacation. 

Teen Titans comics also kept some of the better aspects of the early years.  They continued to bring in the occasional guest star.  Speedy showed up in #19, before trading places with Aqualad in the subsequent issue, and Hawk and Dove guest-starred in issue #21.  Plus, the Teen Titans made a guest appearance of their own, dropping by to visit Batman in The Brave and the Bold #83.  They also brought back the Mad Mod for a second classic clash with the fashion designer-slash-supervillain. 

As noted in the beginning, these issues planted a few seeds for future stories.  Hawk and Dove were merely guest-stars in 1969 but they would become full-fledged members of the Teen Titans the following year.  In addition, Marv Wolfman and George Perez would often harken back to this era during their classic run of New Teen Titans.  They would re-use the name Starfire for their new alien princess and then re-introduce the Soviet hero as Red Star.  They would borrow the name of Neal Adams’ villain Jericho for another New Teen Titan.  Plus, they would draw from “The Origin of Wonder Girl” in issue #22 for their seminal “Who Is Donna Troy?” story.  And, of course, Aqualad, Speedy, Hawk and Dove would all drop by Titans Tower in future years as former members. 

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Interesting stuff, Chris. Another era that I know little about.  It's amazing how many areas of DC's history there are that I've never explored.  Makes me appreciated folks with encyclopedic knowledge, like the Skipper, the Commander, Uncle Eric or Mister SA.

Not to pick nits (moi?), but given Cardy's work on the Lady Luck feature in the Spirit Section, wouldn't Eisner have been his contemporary, even tho Cardy and  that young whipper-snapper Neal Adams were both working on the Titans during this time period?  Still, much of the artwork during this run, and early into the next was breath taking.

Like the Baron, this era is something I know little about.  I'm finding these discussions interesting as well.

Chris, do you find that the X-Men or Spider-Man had any influence on Teen Titans, or vice versa?

I'm not Chris, but other than the visual similarity of Neal Adams' art on both titles, I didn't see a lot of X-Men or Spider-Man influence during this run of Titans, and even at that, Adams drew the Titans looking younger than the X-Men, who should have been in the same age range.  While the Titans were developing continuity (within limits) and more "serious" threats, they continued to avoid Marvel-type soap opera sub-plots, and the less campy villains never quite made it to the status of a Mesmero, let alone a Magneto.  The Gargoyle had a lot of potential, but it was never really developed, and Wolfman's eventual reveal that he was supposedly Mr. Twister pretty much finished him off.  If I recall correctly, at least some of the continuity was in the form of using the Dimension X aliens to explain some of the ridiculously high-tech gadgets some of the camp villains had, so I suspect that at least some of it was retroactive.

Chris, do you find that the X-Men or Spider-Man had any influence on Teen Titans, or vice versa?

John, I'm sorry that I didn't answer your question earlier but Dave basically covered it.  I think there's a general Marvel influence on the Teen Titans in terms of being open to ongoing subplots and two issue stories but I couldn't point to a one-to-one influence at this time. 

However, this discussion has basically confirmed my point.  We had over a dozen posts on both the camp and the relevance eras demonstrating that, though this is the best era of the early Titans, it's usually overlooked because it doesn't have the notoriety of the eras that came before and after.

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