How the Teen Titans Redefined DC Comics
Proving one’s worth is an essential step on a super hero’s journey. It’s a step that’s always full of hardships and trials, no matter the hero or team. And no DC super hero team has had to prove their worth more than the Teen Titans. This team has faced its fair share of heartache and tragedy over the years and it has grown stronger each time. There have been multiple iterations of the ensemble as well as some noteworthy spin-off teams.
Initially, the Teen Titans were a trio of sidekicks that made their debut in 1964, with Robin, Aqualad, and Kid Flash — later they would add Wonder Girl and (sometimes) Speedy to the original lineup. It can be a challenge for sidekicks to stand out from the shadows of their mentors and predecessors. Over the years, however, the Teen Titans lineup has matured alongside its heroes, even undergoing a highly successful relaunch with The New Teen Titans in 1980. Ahead of the Titans season 3 premiere on HBO Max, let’s take a look at this team’s groundbreaking history. The Teen Titans have proven themselves worthy peers of the Justice League as well as capable of leaving a lasting impact on the DC omniverse.
Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like …
The Teen Titans have always boasted a dynamic roster of heroes, a wide range of characters with compelling motives and unique backgrounds. Among those distinguished heroes is Bumblebee, who debuted in Teen Titans #45 in 1976 and is widely regarded as one of DC’s first Black female super heroes. While DC Comics had already featured Nubia as a mighty Amazonian contemporary of Wonder Woman in 1973, Karen Beecher became a valued member of the Teen Titans after her boyfriend, Mal Duncan (also a notable early Black DC super hero), joined as Hornblower. Karen constructed her own suit, which gave her flight capabilities, a super-strength exoskeleton, and sonic disruptors to give her enemies the much-needed “sting” of the Bumblebee.
The Boy Wonder Grows Up
Dick Grayson, the first Robin, is arguably the most famous sidekick, but after a time he outgrew this secondary position. Dick began taking solo missions and discovering his own worth, even helping to establish the Teen Titans as a founding member. After a critical injury from The Joker (which would not be the last devastating Joker run-in for a Robin) and an estrangement with Batman, Dick tried to have a normal life. Soon, however, he made his return to crime fighting as Nightwing. Clad in a circus costume as an homage to his father and taking his new name from Superman’s tale of a Kryptonian vigilante, Dick finally found a suitable identity. Without the Teen Titans, Nightwing might never have taken flight from the shadows.
A Day of Reckoning
A group of powerful teenagers fighting injustice all on their own — what could go wrong? Well, in the early days of the Teen Titans, the worst possible super hero scenario became a reality. A civilian was killed and the blood was on the Teen Titans’ hands. At the peak of the Vietnam War, the American people were divided in their view of the war and in Teen Titans Vol. 1 #25, the team was preventing a Vietnam protest from turning violent. During a struggle with an armed protestor, the gun goes off and a globally renowned philanthropist, Dr. Arthur Swenson, is killed. Each of the Teen Titans, along with Dove and Hawk, are incriminated. In their guilt over the death, the Teen Titans give up their super hero identities and work as civilians for a while. The team addresses their grave mistake with maturity beyond the usual scope of teenagers, showing the true potential of the Teen Titans.
Even during the Bronze Age of DC Comics, storylines involving romance were fairly chaste. But the Teen Titans were having none of that. Over the years, the team transitioned into young adults and their issues became more reflective of that period in life. They fought with each other like siblings, confronted traumatic family dynamics, and, of course, fell in love. As Dick Grayson and Princess Koriand’r, AKA Starfire, developed their on-again-off-again romance, they were drawn together in physically intimate situations — not especially common for mainstream comics at the time. Likewise, Cyborg’s relationship with Sarah Simms was groundbreaking in its representation of interracial relationships. The Teen Titans paved the way for more realistic portrayals of relationships in comic books.
A Terra-ble Betrayal
Before the spoiler minefields of social media, shocking conclusions to comic book storylines were monumental events and The Judas Contract is a prime example. Writer Marv Wolfman and artist George Pérez had already revitalized the Teen Titans with their 1980 revamp, and a few years later in 1983 they would introduce a new member of the team, Terra, who would prove to be earth shattering. Terra’s manipulation of all earth matter was a valuable asset to the team but unbeknownst to the Teen Titans, she was a spy employed by Deathstroke. Her manipulation of the Teen Titans nearly defeats them but Terra’s journey eventually reaches a conclusion that readers never saw coming, placing The Judas Contract in the top-tier of DC storylines.
Facing the Darkness Together
Crossovers between DC and Marvel are rare, noteworthy events but when two of the most popular teams are combined with two of the most devastating super-villains, the results are profoundly epic. Printed in a single issue and published in 1982, the Uncanny X-Men/Teen Titans was written by Chris Claremont and Marv Wolfman. The crossover combined the forces of two of the most popular comic book properties at the time. Only the cooperation of these two teams was enough to extinguish the interstellar inferno of a resurrected Dark Phoenix, whom Darkseid sought to merge with the Source. This title is still an iconic entry in the archives of comic book crossovers.
The Teen Titans are a formidable force in the DC omniverse. The team has faced intergalactic intrigue, all-powerful demonic entities, and complex social issues such as drug addiction, familial strife, and domestic war. Whether they’re teenagers or young adults, the Teen Titans are nothing short of legendary.
Do you have a favorite member of the Teen Titans? Which storyline do you think is the most impactful? Let us know in the comments and don’t forget to Let Your Geek Sideshow!