Yesterday Titans Tower alerted me to ToB’s lengthy analysis of the 1980s Teen Titans, written to observe the passage of thirty years since the team’s first appearance in DC Comics Presents, #26.
(I missed that magazine at the time, but I have the first five years of New Teen Titans, purchased month by month and preserved in poly bags. Not that I plan to ever sell them.)
On her Histories of Things to Come blog, ToB argues that the New Teen Titans and subsequent storylines are a generational touchstone:
Along with [Chris] Claremont’s revamped X-men from this period, the New Teen Titans are Generation X’s superheroes. There was something in the NTT title of a latchkey generation that felt (and still feels) forgotten, overlooked, misunderstood or dismissed by their elders.While focusing on “the early-to-mid 1980s as seen from a youthful point of view,” the essay actually goes deep into the storylines of the following periods. In fact, I think it ends up devoting more space to the Titans’ interrelationships of the late 1980s (leaving out Danny Chase, of course). Which, along with some other hints in the blog, makes me think that ToB is a few years younger than I am—just a few, but a significant few.
At first Gen Xers, like their parents, were seduced by the glamour of ’80s high life. But they were also the first witnesses of the private cost of that life within families. Xers were compelled to survive in Brave New social settings and develop new values to cope in Postmodern and Post-Postmodern circumstances, while riding the economic booms and busts generated by their predecessors. That’s what The New Teen Titans was all about - and it was especially about building a family in a world where families had broken down.
Later Titans titles have picked up the same themes. The Titans are a pop culture mirror held up to reveal the trials of a generation that has repeatedly absorbed the often unseen costs of Boomer-driven social change.
Via Twitter I recently suggested that all online rants about comics should include the date when the author was twelve, so readers can calculate approximately when he or she believes the whole field reached its peak and started to go downhill. For me that date is 1978, also about when I started reading superhero comics regularly; I laid off in 1985, with Tales of the New Teen Titans being my last monthly purchase.
ToB places a lot of emphasis on generational friction, not just in this essay but in other analyses of Boomer/Gen-X interaction. And there was definitely a youth-against-middle-age theme to New Teen Titans. But I find ToB’s take to be even more specific to her apparent age. The essay is thoughtful and well worth reading for Titans fans of all ages, as long as we keep in mind that particular perspective.
For example, ToB writes, “Unlike the Boomers, who generated the message that love could free you, Xers were inundated from early adolescence with the message that love could kill you,” seeing that reflected in the Titans. But the first public-relations campaigns about safer sex came in 1984, and they were still kept narrow by controversy. For four years the Titans’ magazine had been the sexiest that the Comics Code Authority could allow.
In The Art of the Comic Book, R. C. Harvey wrote:
Upon first looking into issues of [George] Perez’s New Teen Titans, I was struck by two aspects of his drawing style—how pretty his people looked and how copiously his detail abounded. . . . His people were statuesque hunks and glossy glamour girls, hothouse heroes and heroines cavorting in shapely perfection amid uncluttered and tastefully appointed settings.Those Titans looked like supermodels, not just superheroes. Robin and Starfire were half-naked to start with, and the whole team spent a lot of time at their pool. Even the supposedly unattractive members looked gorgeous. There was no worry about disease when the magazine finally acknowledged what we all knew—that Dick Grayson and Koriand’r were sleeping together. Heck, they were all over each other from issue #2.