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Mama Deb
mamadeb
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December 2010
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Mama Deb [userpic]
Sidekicks

DC has been putting out these Showcase tradepaper backs - phone-book sized compilations of older comics in black and white. At $16 for 500 pages, I figure they're a bargain (it's in imitation of Marvel Ultimates.) I've purchased two of them - "Superman Family", which was largely Golden Age Jimmy Olsen plus one Lois Lane, and "Teen Titans", which were their first two appearances plus the first 18 issues of their own title.


Superman's Boy Pal
Yeah, that's what he was called, which is slightly squicky now. Jimmy is a teen-ager - a "cub-reporter", but he's also independent. He has his own apartment and earns his own living, and has a girlfriend of his own, so I'm assuming he's college-age, but is apprenticing.

He travels widely, but knows that whenever he signals, his best pal will come flying to help. He helps, too - kryptonite, as we well know, is everywhere. He has costumes, he gets into and out of trouble, he goes undercover and he makes headlines - he makes the news instead of writes it, which should be annoying Perry. Problem is, all the adventure blurs into one (Jimmy gets idea for a story. Jimmy goes with it. Jimmy gets into trouble. Supes rescues him. Bad guys caught. There's a headline. Buy war bonds.) It doesn't help that the stories themselves were maybe five-ten pages long, with several packed into one issue.

Now, I read comics like that - main story and back-up - as a kid, and they managed to tell complete stories in that constrained space and even do it well, but I've gotten used to the multi-issue arc. The problem is, they had to do this every other month, and that has to be a strain. I ended up skipping to the Lois Lane story at the end, and my major impression of Jimmy was that he a huge crush on Superman, but, you know - who wouldn't?


Teen Titans!

Robin was very different. He was dependent on Batman - Bruce Wayne had custody of Dick Grayson. He wore a costume and a mask. And he didn't really have money of his own. There were others like him in the sixties - Speedy, who was Green Arrow's ward/sidekick - Green Arrow was like a daylight version of Batman, complete with Arrowcave and Arrowcar, and a millionaire alter-ego. Major difference was that Bruce only played a playboy; Ollie was one. Aqualad, who was raised by Aquaman. Kid Flash, who ran with his aunt's boyfriend. Wonder Girl, the younger daughter of Queen Hippolyta, and Wonder Woman's little sister. Major difference - at that point, Diana could ride air currents, but not actually fly without her invisible jet, but Wonder Girl could. There were other teens around, too, like Beast Boy, who could turn into any animal he wanted to, so long as he didn't mind it having a green face and hair.

Note that these descriptions are purely Silver Age and no longer apply all the characters.

And this was the sixties, teen-aged baby boomers were rising and DC decided to use its young heroes. (Was X-men begun around then, too?) So, for an issue of The Brave and the Bold, which was DC's team-up issue, Robin, Aqualad, Kid Flash and Wonder Girl got together as a one time thing (with mentor's permission - more on that later) to save a town's teenagers. Part of the plot was that the note supposedly left by the missing teens was not written in the correct slang. They save the day, they go on another mission and then, again with mentors' permission, join up.

I was and am confused about that - Kid Flash. Hippolyta is Wonder Girl's mother, so of course she can give permission. Batman is Robin's official guardian, so the same applies. Whatever Aquaman is, he's also Aqualad's king.

Flash? Is Kid Flash's aunt's boyfriend. Wally West's parents were alive and well and aware of what their son was (even if they didn't know who the adult Flash was.) Barry Allen had absolutely no authority. So when he gives permission to form the Teen Titans, and, in one bizarre issue, for Kid Flash to join the Peace Corps.

I mean bizarre - apparently, no one blinked an eye that the Peace Corp would enlist four teenagers of unknown age and background, who keep their identities a secret *from each other* - and two of them aren't even American, and are, in fact, loyal subjects of foreign monarchs.

And they all salute a picture of JFK, too. And, again - why would Wonder Girl and Aqualad do that? And their origins are actually known - I Wonder Girl lives on Paradise Island, and Aqualand can't live anywhere but the sea, given that he can't spend more than an hour away from water. Neither appear to have a "secret identity." Or a name. But that was common enough at this time period - you wear your costume, you get called by your hero name.

The identity thing is very true, but they had a cute and somewhat realistic response to it. They were too close to keep using the hero names, so they ended up creating nicknames. Okay, Robin-bobin was kinda - odd (Robbie - that makes sense) and Wonder Chick may have made sense in the sixties, but it feels condescending to my eyes. Otoh. Twinkletoes and Minnow do make sense. And it is what a bunch of teen-agers who spend time together would do.

They also speak in what I assume is a stilted version of the teen slang of the time, flitered through adult ears. Rhyming, "making with the" whatever, things like that. Which also tell me they were going for the teen market - see, we speak your language.

Meanwhile, Wonder Girl is clearly boy crazy and the boys are shown to be lusting after her, but of course nothing happens.

Yeah, right. Personally, I think that we have a bunch of unsupervised kids here, ready and willing to experiment.

You'll notice the lack of Speedy. He shows up twice in guest appearances, perving over Wonder Girl. Who likes him back.

I wonder if Devin Grayson read that?

Meanwhile, I can see other dynamics that continue in all the Titans' incarnations - most of the characters are powered. Wonder Girl is the most powerful member - strength, flight, speed plus bracelets and lasso - and they do acknowlege it (except for the spring break issue. Oh, the spring break issue.) The others have speed and underwater powers. Later, there will be other members with more or less esoteric abilities. But the leader of the group? Robin. Nightwing. Dick. Tim. Always.

He was the brains and the guy who made the decisions. And he had the toys on his belt to make things work. Dick and Tim are natural leaders, and that's their true power (and Batman is NOT a natural leader, so he doesn't run the Justice League.) And that's very cool.

The spring break issue? There's a pair of feuding colleges heading to a Florida town with guitars and such, prepared to rumble on the beach there (which the town does not want.) The Titans, donning their Titans jerseys (they'd been sent college jerseys, but wisely decided not to wear them) go to the town. Ah,those jerseys. WG's costume includes a pair of star-spangled short-shorts. Not a problem. Kid Flash is wearing long tights. Not a problem.

Robin and Aqualad look like they forgot to wear pants. And I have a feeling it would be worse in color.

And they get the college kids together to build a breakwater jetty to protect the beach instead of destroying it. The boys cut logs and transport them. The girls? Make sandwiches. Using Wonder Girl's mother's recipe. Because that's where the fourth most powerful person on Earth (Superman, Supergirl, Wonder Woman and Wonder Girl - I think the Marvels were not around) would be. With the college girls feeding the boys.

*Rolls eyes*

However - while the issues feel dated today, I think that's a strength. They fit with their own time. We get to see teen slang and clothing change over time. We get to see these kids become very close friends - the family they end up being and signs of the adults they will be.

And the entrance to the Titan's cave? Is behind a billboard advertising the Batman tv series. They even have Robin say "Holy Something" once per issue. So that's extremely cool now.

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