Clouseau: I thought you said your dog did not bite!
Desk Clerk: That is not my dog.
* * *
For the second time, I’m ready to drop Teen Titans.
I’ve read just about every version of the Teen Titans, including all of the Dan Jurgens/George Pérez Teen Titans 2.0; but I have never quite warmed to the current book, regardless of its creative team or character lineup.
I was a Young Justice fan, and if you were too I probably don’t have to explain why that’s important. Through YJ’s freewheeling, funny stories, the core of Teen Titans 3.0 — Tim “Robin” Drake, Connor “Superboy” Kent, Bart “Impulse” Allen, and Cassie “Wonder Girl” Sandsmark — got to know each other. Once they graduated to Teen Titans, though, things got grim. Today, the book (at least what I have read of it, which includes the first couple of years under writer Geoff Johns and the last year or so under writer Sean McKeever) finds its characters more concerned with avoiding their particular dark and terrible futures. When I dropped it the first time, Geoff Johns had just finished the “Titans Of Tomorrow” story, wherein the Titans had met their totalitarian adult selves. I picked it back up to see what McKeever would do, but that turned out to be another Titans Of Tomorrow story which has continued to inform the book’s subplots.
And speaking of dark and terrible futures …
SPOILERS for last week’s issue #62 lurk after the jump.
For those readers who didn’t grow up with the various “Super Friends” cartoons, a little background might be in order. “Super Friends” debuted in 1973 as a somewhat loose adaptation of Justice League of America. It starred Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and Robin, and Aquaman. Its characters and locations were designed by the great Alex Toth; it featured fine voice work from veteran actors (including Ted Knight’s stentorian narration); and it had a rousing theme by Hoyt Curtin.
However, rather than having the Justice League fight familiar supervillains or intergalactic despots, the average “Super Friends” episode focused on stopping natural disasters and the misguided scientists who, inevitably, had caused them. Don Markstein observes that “it was a time when networks were trying to appease parent action groups by emphasizing so-called positive values like sharing, giving and friendship, rather than the sort of bashing that superheroes are better known for.”
Sure, the show probably made the right choice in terms of the mental health of its fairly young audience — but as that audience aged, and wanted animated adventures closer to the comics they were (still) reading, it grew more annoyed with the changes “Super Friends” had made.
Perhaps the most significant change was the addition of teenagers Wendy and Marvin (no last names), and their pet Wonderdog. These “Junior Super Friends” were more like a compact Scooby Gang, more often than not finding their way into the mad-scientist’s secret laboratory and sometimes even facilitating his change of heart. Of course, in the comics the Justice League had its own teenage “mascot” in the form of attempted hipster Snapper Carr, who early on helped the League defeat both Starro and Despero. Snapper had no super-powers, but snapped his fingers compulsively and talked like a bad grownup-to-beatnik translation engine. (Naturally, an older and slackier Snapper had a recurring role in Young Justice.) Still, he looked like Jason Bourne by comparison, in part because Snapper didn’t have to share time with a Scoobyesque dog. As a result, WM&WD came perilously close to Mary-Sue-dom, and did not appear past the show’s first season.
Wendy and Marvin got a better deal from writer E. Nelson Bridwell, who in the Super Friends tie-in comic book gave them last names and connected each to a Justice Leaguer. Wendy Harris was the niece of Harvey Harris, the detective who tutored young Bruce Wayne. Like her uncle before her, Wendy had independently deduced Batman’s secret identity. Similarly, Marvin White was the son of Diana Prince White, the woman whose identity Wonder Woman assumed upon her arrival in Man’s World.
Later, in Teen Titans vol. 3 #34 (May 2006), writer Geoff Johns reintroduced them, although pretty much only in name and general appearance. Johns made them super-genius fraternal twins who graduated from M.I.T. at age 16. This background qualified them to maintain Titans’ Tower and repair the catastrophically-damaged Cyborg. Since then, near as I can tell, they’ve stayed mostly in the background. Finally, though — and I do mean “finally” — they got the spotlight last week, just in time to meet their ostensible dooms at the hands of a demonic Wonderdog.
The responses have been rather predictable, which is not to say that they should be discounted. McKeever has urged patience, asking readers to wait and see how the story plays out; while elsewhere, many readers and commentators seem to be lamenting the exploitation of “Junior Super Friends” for grim ‘n’ gritty purposes.
Of course, I could make the case that these are not “the” Wendy, Marvin, and Wonderdog who eventually came to annoy the children of the ‘70s. These days the reader-identification characters are the Titans themselves; and Wendy and Marvin are practically in-jokes personified. (Besides, the “real” Wendy apparently had a cameo in December 2002′s Wonder Woman vol. 2 #186, as a tutor working on Themyscira.) Therefore, McKeever and his editor Dan DiDio can claim that the “real” Wendy and Marvin are still around, floating in comic-book limbo until someone decides to bring them back.
Moreover, the issue doesn’t show Marvin’s actual mauling, just the aftereffects; and it doesn’t show Wonderdog mauling Wendy, just her terrified face framed by its massive teeth. While we see Wendy ultimately from Wonderdog’s point of view, we see Marvin’s body only from Wendy’s; and therein lies another loophole. Wendy could have hallucinated Marvin’s corpse, and Wonderdog could simply have knocked Wendy out. Indeed, Wendy and Marvin may themselves have some hidden past whose mechanics will let them return.
In the meantime, though, Teen Titans #62 still purports to show a pair of teenagers mauled by a profane version of the friendly pooch on the cover. I won’t argue with those who are tired of gruesome spectacles, because in the end, that was the point of issue #62. It set up the introduction of a new Wonder Girl villain, and if it had to kill off a pair of ‘70s references along the way, looks like that’s too bad. Personally, I’m tired of these kinds of stories not just because they’re overly familiar (see also last year’s Titans East Special), but also because they result in a predictable back-and-forth of “this death was pointless” vs. “patience, the point is coming.”
No, I’m dropping Teen Titans because after a year following the title, I don’t feel involved in the lives of these characters. I don’t dread the day Miss Martian embraces her evil side.* I don’t root for Robin and Wonder Girl’s relationship, if indeed that is what I should be doing. I’m not quite sure what to think about Red Devil, Ravager, or any of the others. Blue Beetle does seems to work well, primarily because the fun hasn’t been sucked out of him yet. Static might also provide a similarly fresh perspective. Heck, Wendy and Marvin could have.
Until then, though, this doesn’t look like a book for me. Maybe I’d feel differently if I’d been with Teen Titans the whole time, because even after a year, it still feels like the book is dealing with the same set of relationship issues. Maybe it’s an age thing — not in a fanboyish “you’ve violated my precious childhood” sense, but in a “too old for emo” sense.
Regardless, when the Wendy & Marvin comic you write in your head is more entertaining than the one you’re reading — and you weren’t all that fond of Wendy & Marvin in the first place — it’s time to move on.
* [By the way, when Marv Wolfman and George Perez did the "oh noes! I has an evil side!" subplot twenty-odd years ago with Raven, they eventually spent a couple of issues (New Teen Titans vol. 2 #s 3-4) showing the Titans battling their evil selves. Those issues included graphic, on-panel depictions of Batman's corpse, splayed out and speared through the chest; Evil Wonder Girl crushing her husband's windpipe; and Evil Changeling eating his loved ones. So, you know, I suppose there's a precedent.]