Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Showcase Presents The Teen Titans

After totally enjoying Showcase Presents Superman, I decided to check out another volume of the DC reprints series, this time the Teen Titans. I chose this one because I read the Titans Lost Annual a few months ago and loved it. It was a pure rush of 60s pop insanity. Could the entire series match this level of sublime craziness? Unfortunately, the answer is no. However, the series is entertaining on its own level, a bit formulaic, but still worth checking out.

I have a soft spot for 60s youth culture, the hippies vs. squares, mods and what have you. It’s a time that’s been mythologized a lot in our culture, as a pure moment of creative and social inspiration. But, even in these comics, written in ’68, hippies feel like a parody of themselves, and the ‘scene’ is largely being mocked by the writers of the comic. Wonder Girl is used as a standin for the kids caught up in the latest thing, while the other three members of the team generally remain decidedly on the square side of things. There’s a conservatism to the work, but also an embrace of the goofy fun of youth culture. I’m not sure how much of that is the adult writers condescending to the audience and how much is genuine affection, but either way, you get a good dose of 60s wackiness. It’s not quite Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, but then again what is?

The primary issue with the book is that every story is basically the same. The Titans get a letter from a teenager asking for help, they go to a town, go through some narrative twists, and eventually resolve everything. The standout story in the volume is Robin’s trip to Limbo, because it switches the formula up and raises the stakes a bit. But, generally, you never really get the sense that anyone is in any danger, and despite a few references to old stories, there’s not much continuity from issue to issue.

The other problem is that the characters aren’t particularly well defined. As I mentioned, Wonder Girl stands out as the one who embraces the culture of the day, and seems to fall in love with every cool guy they meet on their journeys. Robin has to deal with issues leading the team, and has an intellect that makes up for his lack of superpowers. However, Kid Flash and AquaLad don’t stand out in any particular way. The most notable thing about AquaLad is how lame he is, with his white boy afro and need to involve water in every story. Kid Flash fulfills some story requirements, but has very little in the way of notable character traits. The formula lends itself perfectly to soap opera, but I guess there wasn’t much in the way of ongoing stories in the early days of DC. It sounds like the 80s Wolfman/Perez run does more of a soapy, serial style with the same characters. It’s a run I’d love to read, but the first few issues are only available in pricey Archives editions, and I’m not quite ready to drop $50 on a blind buy.

To enjoy the stories, you’ve just got to get in the mindset of the time, appreciate the goofy dialogue and overenthusiastic narration. I like to look at the pop culture of the past because it gives us a window into the minds of the time. I don’t see this as a realistic representation of 60s youth culture, but it’s a spin on what was happening at the time, and in this alternate version, you can see a picture of what was real. It’s not as interesting as the Silver Age madness of Showcase Presents Superman, but it was still a good value for the money.

Next in the ongoing journey through the Silver Age is Showcase Presents The Legion of Superheroes. After that, I’ll probably check out another Volume of Superman, or perhaps jump over to Marvel and read some classic Spiderman.

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