It appears that the old Captain Comics site has vanished into the cyber-ether, taking with it a good deal of the written history of what was---and remains---the most convivial, informative, and illuminating comics forum on line. Most of you probably preserved sections of the old board. I’m afraid I didn’t keep as much as I should have. But one thing I do have is the original copies of the eighty-three Deck Log posts that appeared there.
It’s probably my ego talking, but I like to think that they were a source of entertainment and knowledge for not just you, my fellow Legionnaires; or my most faithful fans, Lonie and Doug Ward; but for Silver-Age devotees sitting in front of their computer screens all over. If it’s not just my ego talking, then I thought it might be a good idea to republish those old Deck Log entries. After, of course, taking the time to polish the writing, as well as take out all those typos I slapped my forehead over.
I’ll be starting at the beginning---well, not actually the beginning; my first Entry was little more than some self-indulgent “look at me, I have a column” drivel. But I’ll be starting with the first real article I did and work my way forward. Hopefully, it will be better the second time around.
I want to talk about two things which typified DC comics in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.
First, the word “new”. It was all over the place.
The New Wonder Woman. The New Metal Men. The New Blackhawk Era. The New Green Lantern, co-starring Green Arrow.
To the savvy DC fan, seeing the word “New” attached to a title meant “What we were doing with this series before wasn’t working, so we’re trying something different in hopes that you’ll like it.” To the savvy comics fan, the word “New” meant DC was saying “We’re going to try to out-Marvel Marvel.”
You see, the suits at National Periodical Publications were in a quandary. The popularity of that upstart, Marvel Comics, was rapidly overtaking that of their own comics, and they really didn’t have a clue why. So they took the titles that were experiencing sagging sales and experimented, trying to copy whatever it was that Marvel had latched onto. Essentially, they were trying to find out what stuck to the wall.
That leads to the second thing I’m going to talk about---relevancy.
If there was one single theme that extended through all of DC’s titles at that time, relevancy was it. Gone were stories focusing on super-villainy or alien invasions or even simple bank robberies. Plots now dwelt on global pollution, corporate greed, racial prejudice, military belligerence. DC’s super-heroes had found new bogeymen—in callous landlords, evil businessmen, and military renegades.
Green Lantern # 76 (Apr., 1970)---the landmark issue in which Green Lantern teamed up with Green Arrow to travel the heartlands of America---is generally considered the comic that marked DC’s sea change toward relevancy. Certainly, writer Denny O’Neil took the idea and ran with it, and it clicked with the readers. Writer O’Neil and artists Neal Adams and Dick Giordano took home armfuls of Shazam Awards in 1970 for their work on that series.
The impression is left that Green Lantern # 76 blazed the trail, and once DC saw the sales on that title soar, it directed every other series to follow suit.
Truth to tell though, Green Lantern wasn’t the first DC title to immerse itself in social relevancy. It may have been second, but it wasn’t the first.
That honour belongs to---Teen Titans.
Yeah, you heard me right. Teen Titans. Or rather, The NEW Teen Titans. (See how neatly I tied both parts together?)
For those of you who came in late, in the 1960’s, Teen Titans was one of DC’s “second-tier” series concerning the adolescent-oriented adventures of the teen sidekicks to some of DC’s major heroes. Germinating from a Brave and the Bold team-up of Aqualad, Kid Flash, and Robin, the Boy Wonder, the Teen Titans sprung full-blown in 1965, with the addition of Wonder Girl (whose existence as a contemporary of the other three Titans was confounding, given that over in the Wonder Woman mag, Wonder Girl was supposed to be Wonder Woman as a teen-ager).
The early Teen Titan stories were light-weight, conforming to a simple formula: a teen-ager, or group of teens, in distress requests the help of the Teen Titans, who show up to put the situation aright. Usually, there was a central theme of “adults vs. teens” underlying the problem, and by page 26, both sides had found mutual respect and understanding.
For the first sixteen issues of the series, the menaces the Teen Titans ran up against could hardly be considered cosmic threats. The major villains of the early days of Teen Titans---the Mad Mod, the Scorcher, Ding Dong Daddy, Captain Rumble---were all bad guys with only a gimmick and/or an attitude and a gang of thugs to take on “the Fab Four”.
Most notorious was the hip teen-age lingo---or more accurately, what the adult writers thought was “hip teen-age lingo”. It took a hardy soul, indeed, to get through the dialogue without wincing. The Titans referred to themselves as “Wonder Chick”, “Flasheroo”, “Gillhead”, and “Robin-o”. One didn’t make a teen-ager angry; one “ruffled his cool.” A Titans plan wasn’t just succeeding, it was “flying on all engines.” Bad guys were “grim and grotty” or “uncool and ungroovy.”
In sum, in those first years, the Teen Titans seemed to live in the same bizarre, teen-age-oriented reality as did Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello in their “Beach Party” movies.
In 1968, things began to change. With Teen Titans # 15 (May-Jun., 1968), Dick Giordano replaced George Kashdan as TT editor. However, on the story in that issue, and on the next, Giordano had left no visible fingerprints. Those scripts had already been approved by the out-going Kashdan and were in the inventory.
The story in Teen Titans # 17 (Sep.-Oct., 1968) was the first in which Giordano’s editorial tinkering could be detected. It was the last of the Kashdan-approved scripts, and while still in the expected mould of a Titans tale, one could perceive some minor upward adjustments. The youthful jargon was more pointed and less artificial sounding; and the powers of the individual Titans were used much more effectively. In fact, this tale would mark the last significant use of Aqualad in an underwater milieu. By this point in the series, the Junior Marine Marvel had been reduced pretty much to being a tag-along.
The transition was even more marked with the next issue, the first that Giordano edited in toto. Thankfully, all trace of the inane teen-age dialogue was gone, and the Teen Titans were thrust into a story of international intrigue, involving a Russian teen super-hero named Starfire. While the villain of the piece, "master jewel thief André Le Blanc", was rather second-string, someone whom Robin alone, in Batman or Detective Comics, could have handled without breaking a sweat, the mature interaction of the characters overcame that weak spot.
This watershed story was written by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman. Subsequent TT stories, penned by Wolfman, Mike Friedrich, Neal Adams, Robert Kanigher, and Steve Skeates, would further raise the ante. Titans adventures from here on in would be farther ranging in scope---international and inter-dimensional menaces---and in depth. Gone were superficial problems of teen-agers not being understood by their parents and the like, to be replaced by societal ills foremost on the minds of the next generation---prejudice, poverty, pollution, drug abuse, and civil injustice. In short, the screed of "relevance" was beginning to rear.