30 March 2008

Dressed for a New Teen Titans Universe

In 1992 a cartoon called Batman: The Animated Series became the best adaptation of the Batman legend ever made for television. As with Rocky and Bullwinkle and The Simpsons, top-notch writing made up for cheap animation. These superhero stories could be complex, dark, and character-driven. They were not your father's Superfriends.

This Batman series inspired others, and eventually the DC Animated Universe (DCAU) became its own "continuity" distinct from the regular DC Universe. The TV cartoons, originally inspired by comic books, spun off their own lines of comic books, with art in the simplified style.

The first of these Batman shows didn't include a Robin, but in later seasons the writers introduced Dick Grayson as Robin and Nightwing, and then a version of Tim Drake with Jason Todd's backstory and a new, red costume. Yet another take on the legend, The Batman, has yet another take on Robin.

This weekly Robin article isn't about Batman: The Animated Series, however. It's about another TV cartoon some of that show's creators went on to launch in 2003: Teen Titans.

That series was inspired by the Marv Wolfman/George Pérez New Teen Titans comic books dating from 1980, which were the last I read as a teenager. But the Teen Titans cartoon was aimed at younger kids. It pared down the 1980s group from seven members to five, made their personality differences bolder, and played up the humor.

The look of the TV show was greatly influenced by Japanese anime. (The best episode of the first season, titled "Mad Mod" or "Detention," also paid homage the Beatles animated cartoons of the 1960s.) Characters' faces and bodies could change shape drastically to express emotion.

Among the cartoon's other innovations was Glen Murakami's new Robin costume, shown above. Since animation requires eliminating hard-to-draw detail, Murakami drew a version of Neal Adams's redesign with green pants and less stuff hanging off the gloves and sleeves. His additions included:

  • spiky hair--the show's first episode hinted that this Robin uses massive amounts of hair gel.
  • the big feet of early adolescence, accentuated by even bigger shiny boots.
The Teen Titans TV show was such a hit that it spun off a manga-size comic book titled Teen Titans Go! Together this cartoon and comic create yet a third DC Universe, separate from the other cartoons and magazines. That universe's Robin, like his teammates, doesn't appear to have a non-costumed identity. He sleeps in his mask, and for years there were only hints that he was ever named Dick Grayson.

Batman never appeared in the Teen Titans show; producer David Slack explained:
the thing about Batman is: If we ever bring him in the show, Robin becomes a kid. We put a lot of energy into getting Robin out of Batman's shadow. A lot of out younger fans think of Robin as a leader, not a sidekick. And that's a good thing for them.
This Robin even threw red "birdarangs" instead of black "batarangs."

Despite enjoying the Teen Titans cartoon on its own terms, I wasn't planning to discuss its Robin costume along with the others. (Honestly, I thought I was done with that topic!)

But last week I came across this drawing by Somerville's own Joe Quinones, artist for some stories in the last issues of Teen Titans Go! It shows how Murakami's costume would look on a more realistic body, and I thought it was interesting enough to share. (Here's another.)

In fact, Quinones has produced yet another variation on the classic Robin costume. What happened to the yellow fastenings at the top of the Boy Wonder's chest? Quinones explains: "I just have never liked that element of his costume. Never made sense to me, so I yanked it out."

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