Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The surprising social conscience of Teen Titans #30

A few months ago, I was rifling through some dollar boxes, picking up some flashy '90s books (Silver Surfer #50) and some silly late-80s books (an issue of TMNT) when I came across a couple early issues of Teen Titans, both from 1970 and both in not-terrible-but-not-great shape.  I'm not a big fan of the Teen Titans in any of their iterations (well, maybe Young Justice if that even counts), but some classic stories for only a buck proved to be too good to pass up.  I expected to read cramped, dated, superhero fare, but what I got was actually a bit of a surprise.  The Teen Titans of 1970 read very much like the famous Denny O'Neal/Neal Adams Green Lantern/Green Arrow run in that there was quite a bit of social conscience on display.

One of the starkest concepts on display in the book was the decision to keep all of the characters out of costume for the entire time; apparently, the Titans had previously lost control of a riot in which a man was killed, so they decided to stop being superheroes, foregoing their costumes and refusing to use their powers until they learned more about their role in the human experience.  This was an interesting idea, though it made it really difficult to tell who the characters were in the book.  Which one was Wally West and which was Dick Grayson?  Who could tell?  The character might have taken their vows a little too seriously, though, such as in the following scene, when Wally West - Kid Flash! - watches a guy get hit by a car.

Okay, I mean, I guess he yelled at the guy to watch out.  But when you've got super speed and let a guy get creamed in the middle of the street on, what, principle?  Then you just might be a jerk.

Later on in the issue, the book proves that even after 40 years, people are still generally terrible as this guy recites a line that I've heard...once or twice before...in response to the Titans trying to raise some money for a charity that helps rehabilitate former criminals:

The hits kept coming, as the book moved on to more social causes, this one even more reminiscent of the O'Neal/Adams collaboration:

To be honest, the story came across a bit heavy handed.  Obviously, I understand that the times might have called for frank storytelling like this, at a time when the Civil Rights movement was in full swing, but it did seem a bit like the creators were checking items off a list.  But even so, it was fairly stunning to see such a socially progressive message in a book like this.  Just to make sure they didn't miss anything, the book later responded to an eye-rolling moment at the beginning of the story where the guys of the team told the girls to stay back while they engaged a group of thugs; Wonder Girl and...uh, whoever the other one is...thoroughly mangle a couple would-be assassins thusly:

Overall, this was an interesting look into the history of not only comics but also the socially progressive movement of the late '60s and early '70s.  If nothing else, it's pretty clear that most mainstream comics today would blanche at the thought of putting such controversial material on the shelves and in front of readers.

In other news, the letters page helped me finally learn how to say Dick Giordano's last name!

Interesting stuff!


Sara said...

I really enjoyed this post. It's interesting that comics at the time were okay with being so socially progressive. Do you (anyone reading this post) think the big guys (DC & Marvel) still show progressive views in their comics or do you think they play it too safe?

Jeff said...

It's always difficult to tell, when mainstream books are taking on a particular social perspective, if they're doing it because the creators or company really believes in what they're espousing or if it's just because controversy sells comics.

In this particular instance, the book was absolutely taking a page from the socially progressive O'Neal/Adams Green Lantern run. Whether or not the creators of this book (notably the editorial staff) did it for the message or the notoriety is anyone's guess.

Jeff said...

Also, you're beautiful.