Wednesday, July 03, 2013

The dual dynamics of the Dynamic Duo

You know, after I had spent so much time on my last entry about JUNGE GIGANTEN - and fellow blogger Terry Hooper did such a nice plug for it - I was tempted to leave it on the top of my blog for a few weeks.

But I have a few things to add to the subject, or rather further elaborate on it, and since it will be the Fourth of July Tomorrow I guess my american readers might be looking for something new to read.

Fine, in our last post I had covered my first encounters with the Teen Titans through the german JUNGE GIGANTEN editions, how difficult it is to collect the american editions and the various incarnations of the book and the various teams but I guess we kind of stopped before we could get to the most important part - namely why the run by Marv Wolfman and George Perez is considered such a classic run by most comic readers.


We already established that the Teen Titans started out when the teen sidekicks of Batman, Flash and Aquaman decided to start their own little club, to be joined later by Wonder Girl and Speedy who replaced Aqualad.

And while they all had adventures of their own, they were pretty much still under the shadow of their mentors. The first incarnations of the team pretty much focused on topics that the people at DC thought would appeal to younger readers such as racial tensions and the protests against the Vietnam War and when the characters reached their early 20s the team simply disbanded - probably because DC felt that young readers could no longer identify with them. Now this may be true or not, but the point is moot anyway since the book had it´s highest success when Marv Wolfman decided to bring back the team with a focus on the young adult heroes and their struggle for independence and acceptance. A story element that was introduced in the YOUNG JUSTICE tv show from the get - go.

Now don´t get me wrong, THE NEW TEEN TITANS also had epic superhero battles, which were wonderfully rendered by George Perez who initially didn´t think the book would last longer than six issues.

But the parts were it really did shine were the small character moments where Marv Wolfman would flesh out the problems, hang ups and angst of those young heroes on their way to adulthood so incredibly believable. Okay, some of it may seem stiff and overladen by Todays standards but back in the time you didn´t see this kind of writing in other books and you definitely did not see it in Marvel´s top selling UNCANNY X - Men book. At least not with characters that were so young which is one of the main reasons why Teen Titans took the top spot in the reader´s favor.

Young readers - and I was one of them following their exploits in Junge Giganten - could identify with their fights and struggles to be accepted as heroes in their own rights by the law enforcement as well as their older superhero contemporaries and mentors. Especially Dick Grayson, who started as Robin on the team, has a really interesting story arc in the series, depicting his long journey to emancipation that starts with opposing views with his mentor, a break up of the longstanding Dynamic Duo and which ends with him forging his own identity under the name of Nightwing. It´s a perfect example of how the members of Teen Titans were allowed to grow and get older which in the case of Robin lead to one of the big paradoxes in modern comic continuity : namely that Batman doesn´t age above the age of 30 but Robin does. That´s right, back in the Silver Age the writers had no problems making Batman old with many comics depicting the adventures of Dick Grayson as the new Batman.

I know some of these stories were just imaginary stories, some were hoaxes and others took place on alternate earths but back in the day there were some really weird stories involving Robin who was often used in his primary function : as a bullet trap or sacrificial lamb.


Now some people may not see it this way, but there was a reason why Robin was wearing bright colors while Batman was dressed in black and grey : Robin´s main purpose was to draw enemy fire away from Batman.

And judging from many covers of the time the writers treated the character accordingly with stories that had Robin dying or at least emphasizing that the position as Robin was a temporary one at best. There were a lot of stories with Batman holding Robin try - outs, or the partnership of Batman and Robin breaking up for various reasons ( most often than not involving a woman ) the most severe of them the demise of one of them. Todays focus is on Robin but there also were a lot of stories in which Batman died, was killed or committed suicide.

Todays readers may think that stories like BATMAN R. I. P., A DEATH IN THE FAMILY or the recent story involving the son of Batman are new and unique but all of these stories - and many more - have been around before. Especially the death of Robin ( which was just recently rehashed way too soon in the NEW 52 ) is kind of an ongoing theme throughout the various decades up to the point where it´s getting repetitious. 

For the longest time it seemed that Robin was only included in stories as part of the " Batman and " equation to do the work Batman couldn´t be bothered with or to take on the role as damsel in distress or at least the weaker link of the team that had to be rescued.

Characterization only happened when necessary for the story and when it wasn´t convenient anymore retconned or outright ignored. The thought of Robin becoming his own entity wasn´t really entertained until he became the leader of the reformed Teen Titans under Marv Wolfman.It´s true that the seeds of this had been planted before as you see Dick Grayson going on solo missions more and more and starting to disagree with Batman on crime fighting methods. He´s no longer content with just following orders which ultimately leads to a split which happened in two versions.

In Pre - Crisis continuity Dick and Bruce part entirely amicable and Dick passes the mantle of Robin voluntarily to Jason Todd while Bruce gives every impression to be pleased with his ward´s coming of age. Before CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS the second Robin was just a copy of the original one with a similar origin story although his parents were killed by Killer Croc. After Crisis he got one of the most stupid origin stories where he was a street kid and orphan who got adopted by Batman when he tried to steal the Batmobile´s hub caps. Which kind of makes sense if you apply the logic of Batman using Robin as a distraction : " Wow, look at that stupid kid. I bet he´ll make an excellent bullet trap ! " 

This also changed the seperation of Batman and Robin as in the Post - Crisis stories Batman was less pleased with Dick´s growing indepenency, going to such lengths as informing him that if he doesn´t want to be his partner on Bruce conditions anymore he has to retire as Robin.

Which leads to a few awkward moments when reading the Teen Titans in regards to the relationship of Batman and Robin if you don´t know.

In the crossover between THE NEW TEEN TITANS 37 and BATMAN AND THE OUTSIDERS 5 ( I actually bought the second part of this crossover three times : once in the german version and twice in the original version ) Batman is starting to treat Robin like a sidekick again until Robin pulls rank because he knows more about teamwork. At the end of the issue they both shake hands and congratulate each other.

In issue 39 of THE NEW TEEN TITANS Dick announces that he quits the Robin identity because he´s not Batman´s partner anymore but there is no mention of a new Robin or to his identity. As far as I could ascertain from the internet Marv Wolfman wanted to evolve Dick Grayson while the writers of BATMAN wanted to keep using Robin so Gerry Conway and Don Newton created Jason Todd who was headed in that direction even if it wasn´t set in stone exactly how that happened. Fact is that when it finally did he was changed after CRISIS into such an unsympathetic, hated and alienating character for the readers that they decided to kill him in one of DC´s biggest publicity stunts ever. And though this particular death still haunts Batman to this day it didn´t last forever.

As to the repercussions of it, it was addressed in the parts that crossed over in the A LONELY PLACE OF DYING story ( the BATMAN issues of this crossover are not included in the third volume of the TEEN TITANS OMNIBUS 3, but we will get to that later on ) and earlier in issue 55 when Robin goes to talk with Batman at the batcave and Bruce decides that after the death of Jason he will become a solo act. 

Of course the whole Robin thing started to deteriorate when Dick Grayson became Nightwing, Tim Drake became Robin and later on Red Robin, Jason Todd came back from the dead to take up the mantle of Red Hood and Damian became the latest Robin, who just got offed in the NEW 52.

Not to mention that Dick Grayson became Batman when Bruce Wayne was killed by Darkseid and teamed up with Damian as Robin. Or - which in my opinion was the shortest and most illfated tenure as Robin - when Stephanie Brown took up the mantle and soon afterwards got herself killed only to be retconned back to life later on. And it really wasn´t so much her becoming the new Robin but rather Batman drafting her into this position when Tim Drake wasn´t willing to play ball anymore.

The whole absurdity of Robin suddenly being a girl while Batman pretended it had always been this way must have somehow eluded the creative people at DC because I really have no other explanation for it. The only thing I liked about the whole trainwreck was the issue of the restarted TEEN TITANS in which Superboy told her that she wasn´t the real Robin, only a girl wearing his clothes.

" You are not welcome at Titans Tower! We already have a Robin! "

For those of my readers trying to keep tabs ( and I´m having a hard time with it here myself ) Stephanie Brown was formerly the costumed character Spoiler who´s main hang ups was to screw up the crimes of her father, the villain Cluemaster and dating Tim Drake when he was Robin.

She also took on the identity of Batgirl after she had proven she pretty much sucked at being Robin - by instigating a gang war that totally got out of control in an attempt to..well, basically suck up to Batman.


Going over all these incarnations of Robin you can´t help but notice that none of the people who became Batman´s sidekick managed to stay dead.

Stephanie Brown was resurrected and became Batgirl. Jason Todd was resurrected and became the Red Hood. And while Dick Grayson didn´t die as Robin he was fated to die during INFINITE CRISIS, a decision on which DC backpaddled due in a large part to the avid female fanbase that controls Nightwing´s destiny in secret. I really don´t know what it is but Robin does seem to have a habit of returning from the grave. Which leads to another big dilemmas of Batman lore : with so many Robins coming back from the dead Batman´s status as a loner is seriously diminished. I mean, it´s only natural that when they keep dying and Batman keeps on taking new sidekicks under his wing who also keep dying and subsequently coming back at one point in time there will be an army of Robins and former Robins to dwarf the membership of the Legion of Super - Heroes.

Which would be a really great story if it was written by Grant Morrison.

So, in closing and making the segueway back to Teen Titans, here the characters really developed and were fleshed out. It´s true that in some cases it was really convoluted as the example of Robin shows.

But that was something all the characters had in common. They all had a shared history that made them more like a family than a team going through all the ups and downs in life. Like with Wonder Girl who first was introduced as Wonder Woman´s sister only to be retconned again and again with each new origin story becoming more ludacris than the one before until it became as confusing as Power Girl´s. Even some of the newer members like Beast Boy, who was rejected earlier on because he was too young to join, had some backstory with the Doom Patrol that was interesting to discover for the readers. Which was something he had in common with the new additions Cyborg, Raven and Starfire. You really didn´t know anything about them and in some cases you were learning about them at the same pace as the other team members.

What´s more, they became such an intrinsic part of the team over the years that I have trouble with a Teen Titans team that doesn´t include Cyborg. It just feels all kind of wrong having him on JUSTICE LEAGUE because he really doesn´t belong there. And the same goes for Starfire on RED HOOPD AND THE OUTLAWS. Not to mention how horrible she´s written now. I mean, she was always depicted as a liberated and openly sexual active character but in a way that was consistent with her as a three dimensional character. Yes, she was shown in bed with Dick Grayson in the first Baxter issue but not in a gratuitous way and they had been a couple for quite some time. She wasn´t written like male wish fulfillment.

But I already wrote about this when the NEW 52 started and it´s time to wrap things up for Today anyway. It´s my free day but instead of sleeping the sleep of the just my nose is running all the time because it rained so much Yesterday. It did however prompt me to use the opportunity and write this since I wasn´t getting any sleep whatsoever. Ah, the internet would be such a bleak place without all the insomniacs.

So, we covered a little bit of ground in regards to the Teen Titans although most of the post was about Batman and Robin and the weirder aspects of the Dynamic Duo. Sorry, it all got a little away from me there and I totally blame it on my fever induced headache. As usual, here are a few websites without whom I couldn´t have done this post, to which I want to give a shout - out, indispensable all. First of all, if you want to know more about the Teen Titans head over to the Teen Titans megasite Titanstower , especially the library where you can find all kinds of articles and exclusive content in their New Teen Titans archive especially about the Titans Hunt Era . Also use the Teen Titans on DC wiki for further info.

Once again we didn´t get to discuss the TEEN TITANS OMNIBUS so we´ll come to that part in one of our next posts - unless DC decides to revamp another old story and really make Batman younger than Robin.

Likewise I don´t have a Titans related video in this post. Instead here is the trailer for the new animated Avengers series AVENGERS ASSEMBLE which, in my opinion, shows pretty well which why EARTH`S MIGHTIEST HEROES was such a good show and at the same time exemplifies the problems I have with the new Avengers comic.

Which is that there is too much meddling by the corporate guys. I don´t know if it´s true that they want to get rid of the pesky comic guys because they believe they know better how to handle the franchise. The fact is it falls flat the same way the comic doesn´t deliver anymore : you know it´s supposed to be epic but it just doesn´t hit the necessary bases. Like if you have to explain a joke or when you announce that something is cool. Like a tiny guy once said : Do or do not. There is no try.

New to the blog ? Everything you need to know about TALES FROM THE KRYPTONIAN : top ten posts / more posts of interest

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