After completely taking the reins as Teen Titans editor, Dick Giordano began making incremental changes.
The most noticeable one was dropping Aqualad from the roster and replacing him with Speedy, the Green Arrow’s junior partner. Under the prevailing continuity at the time, the Boy Bowman had no official standing with the Teen Titans; he had guest-starred in the title twice before, and was listed again as such in his appearance in Teen Titans # 19 (Jan.-Feb., 1969). That issue marked the transition, with Aqualad making his last appearance as a regular Titan.
In terms of future plotting, the switch made sense. Just as Gardner Fox had come to realise about Aquaman’s presence in the Justice League, TT writers had found it increasingly difficult to script plausible underwater bits for the sea-based member of the Titans. Finally, they gave up even trying. Many of the last few issues under George Kashdan’s editorship simply had Aqualad along for the ride. As reader Gordon Flagg, of Atlanta, Georgia, noted in a letter to the “Tell It to the Titans” letter column, the Junior Marine Marvel “might as well have been an ordinary teen-ager”, for all that he contributed to the latest adventures. Replacing Aqualad with Speedy eliminated the restriction of including water-related scenes (which was largely being ignored, anyway) and opened up the scope of the plots.
Giordano immediately took advantage of that enlarged scope. The next three issues tied together in an arc which marked the Teen Titans’ first truly cosmic adventure. Cleverly basing this saga on a Kashdan-edited story---“The Dimensional Caper”, from TT # 16 (Jul.-Aug., 1968)---the Fab Four undertook its first truly extra-terrestrial mission, thwarting the effort of aliens from Dimension X to invade the Earth. In one of the first instances of retroactive continuity, two villains from the old Titans era—Doctor Larnier (issue # 8) and the Scorcher (# 10)---were revealed to have been advance agents of the aliens.
The tone of the series had turned 180 degrees from the “Beach Party” nature of the early years. The last traces of forced teen dialogue were eliminated, as was the “teens misunderstood by adults” morality lesson which had been inserted into every tale. The maturity level had risen, both in the sophistication of the plots and in the behaviours of the individual characters. Another element introduced was personality conflicts. Instead of being a group of ever-genial, always-jocular adolescents, the Titans now experienced some moments of friction with each other. Kid Flash and Speedy were constantly trying to one-up each other in trying to gain the inside track with Wonder Girl, who occasionally got fed up with both of them. And all of them sometimes bristled under Robin’s no-nonsense leadership.
Speedy’s status as a Titan was confirmed in Teen Titans # 21 (May-Jun., 1969), when Wonder Girl referred to him as “the newest member of the T. T.” This status was not conferred upon the Hawk and the Dove, who guest-starred with the team in that issue. (Their memberships weren’t far off, though.)
The boulder of change kept rolling, gaining speed. The end of the “Dimension X” arc, in issue # 22 (Jul.-Aug., 1969), led directly to something which the Teen Titans title had sidestepped for years---reconciling the existence of Wonder Girl as a contemporary of the other Titans. In eight short pages, written by Marv Wolfman, Wonder Girl received an origin, a new civilian identity as “Donna Troy”, a new coiffure, and a new costume.
As dynamic as these refits were, they were nothing compared to what editor Giordano had in mind for the series next.
Just as the gates of the Silver Age were closing, the Teen Titans had transformed into a conventional super-group of the time. Now, it was about to become---relevant!
Following two issues featuring fairly pedestrian stories doing little more than highlighting Wonder Girl’s new look, Teen Titans # 25 (Jan.-Feb., 1970) took the series through yet another radical turn. The seeds had started to sprout in previous issues, in the minor personality conflicts among the Titans, and in the inclusion of the Hawk (representing the radical right) and the Dove (symbolising ultimate pacifism).
Now, the theme of relevance bloomed fully in Teen Titans # 25. In Robert Kanigher’s story, “The Titans Kill a Saint?”, the Titans, once again joined by the Hawk and the Dove, attempt to quell a riot at a peace rally. But events take a radical turn as the heroes inadvertently cause Nobel Peace Prize-winning philanthropist (and Albert Schweitzer look-alike) Doctor Arthur Swenson to be shot. Fatally.
As if the Titans didn’t feel bad enough about their hand in Dr. Swenson’s death, the Justice League of America shows up to rub their faces in it.
“Your powers entail a responsibility . . . a responsibility to use them with maturity!” the Flash tells them.
“But your brash youthfulness---your lack of maturity---cannot cope with your duty!” says Green Arrow (somewhat uncharacteristically for the way he was being written by that time).
“And today, you have violated the most sacred duty—to protect life!” says Superman. “The reckless use of your powers requires a responsible rectification! You must be your own judge and jury!”
“Reach your decision before day’s end---or we shall execute punishment ourselves!” the Batman intones grimly.
The tragedy of Dr. Swenson’s death and then being kicked while they were down by their own mentors create a crisis of guilt and confidence in the souls of the teen-age heroes. They wander the streets, feeling sorry for themselves.
After a couple of pages of this, the Titans encounter wealthy social activist Loren Jupiter, who offers them a lifeline. He enlists them in his personal project to train young people to cope with the modern world, to combat "the new problems of tomorrow . . . the unknown in man himself . . . the mystery of riots, prejudice, greed . . . ."
There’s one hitch. This entails the foreswearing of the junior heroes' costumes and powers, to which the Titans agree willingly.
Only Robin demurs.
“I’m sorry, sir---I can’t!” he tells Mr. Jupiter. “I’ve committed myself to finishing my own education---I’ve decided to go to college! This must sound like I’m copping out on you guys, but I’ve got to find out for myself what I want to be!”
Thus, Robin was written out of the series.
(Obviously, this was a necessity; the Boy Wonder was too integral to other DC series to have him up and abandon his identity. Besides, his position as leader of the Titans would conflict with the new leadership provided by Mr. Jupiter. Kanigher's plot had given Robin an "out" within the story itself, by having him absent---he had gone to summon the police---just before the riot broke out at the peace rally. So, technically, he did not have a hand in causing of Dr. Swenson’s death. He just joined in the pity party.)
On the plus side of the ledger, the Hawk and the Dove become official members of the Titans, along with the mysterious, titian-haired Lilith, who had appeared throughout the story as something of an oracle, foretelling the fate awaiting the Titans.
The next step is for the Teen Titans to surrender their costumes.
“I . . . didn’t think it’d be this hard to give up my uniform!” Kid Flash admits.
“Wh--what about me? I just got a new one!” replies Wonder Girl.
Mr. Jupiter issues them new garb---close-fitting shirts that zip up the front, and breeches, boots and a belt. Drab grey in colour for the males, while the females get white shirts and light blue breeches. (Within a few issues, the girls’ uniforms would be modified by exchanging the breeches for grey pleated skirts.)
But, as the readers would soon discover, Dick Giordano did not intend to keep even this remnant of super-hero convention, as the Titans’ new, identical outfits were used only for training purposes. While on assignment, the junior heroes would wear ordinary civilian clothing.
The Teen Titans’ first foray against social injustice would begin with the next issue!