If you’ve seen trailers for Teen Titans Go! To The Movies and you’re not a regular Cartoon Network viewer, you might be a little confused.
“Wait,” you might say. “Isn’t Cyborg in the Justice League? Isn’t Starfire black? And isn’t Robin called Nightwing now?”
The answer? It’s complicated.
The movie is based on a cartoon, Teen Titans Go!, which has been airing on Cartoon Network since 2015. And, yes, that show is based on the DC Comics property “Teen Titans” – a team with a 54-year history that’s had a lot of different line-ups. Even more confusing, multiple TV properties have been based on the Titans, all with a different premise.
It all started in a team-up book called The Brave And The Bold in 1964. That was when editor George Kashdan had the bright idea to team up the sidekicks of several DC Comics superheroes. The result was an adventure co-starring Robin, Kid Flash and Aqualad, the 1960s partners of Batman, Flash and Aquaman.
Evidently it sold well enough for a sequel six issues later – one in which the trio gained a formal name, Teen Titans, and a new member, Wonder Girl. The latter was pretty baffling, because “Wonder Girl” didn’t really exist. There had been stories in Wonder Woman about Wonder Girl, but they were simply adventures of the titular character from the past, when she was a teenager – and mostly imaginary ones at that.
But writer Bob Haney either didn’t know that, or didn’t care. Without explanation or exposition, Wonder Girl was suddenly present.
Occasionally readers would bring up Wonder Girl’s non-existence. And DC didn’t really have an answer.
“Originally, Wonder Girl was supposed to be Wonder Woman when she was younger,” Kashdan wrote on the letters page of Teen Titans #7. “But our W.G. is an up-to-date, 1967-model teenager. So what’s her relation to W.W.? That’s something we’re still trying to dope out. Anybody out there have any ideas?”
That’s pretty sad. But “Wonder Chick,” as her hepcat colleagues called her, eventually got an origin in 1969. There’s no sense recounting it here, though, because it didn’t stick – and the character has had several more origins since.
The addition of the Teen Amazon not only added some much needed sex appeal, but also raw power – she was far and away the mightiest member of the bunch. Even the 1968 addition of Speedy – Green Arrow’s sidekick – didn’t much change that equation.
Another oddity of early Teen Titans was the bizarre patois Haney came up with to approximate teen slang. Occasionally readers would question that as well.
“The way (the Teen Titans) talk, you’d think they were beatniks or something,” wrote one reader in Teen Titans #11 (1967). “I’m a teenager and I know a lot of other teenagers, but I don’t know any that talk the way the TTs do. All teens talk some slang, but the Titans are too much to stomach.”
DC didn’t much care, because it wasn’t shooting for teen readers – it was, Haney said in Titans Companion Vol. 1, “very calculatingly aimed at a 12-year-old audience. We kept it very simple.”
So this easy-reader Teen Titans barrelled along, with Robin leading his peers in solving the kind of problems teens might have on Leave It To Beaver and battling fad-based villains like The Mad Mod and Ding-Dong Daddy. It took until the 1970s for Teen Titans to catch up with the 1960s, and even then it didn’t do a very good job reflecting the teen viewpoint.
Titans continued, adding so many members that they eventually established a Teen Titans West in California. But by 1978 the book had run out of steam and got cancelled – which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Because that gave writer Marv Wolfman and artist George Perez a chance to re-imagine the concept.
The New Teen Titans launched in 1980 with three old members – Robin, Kid Flash and Wonder Girl – and three new, non-sidekick ones – half-robot Cyborg, mystic Raven and alien powerhouse Starfire. A seventh member from Doom Patrol comics rounded out the team: Beast Boy, a character who had guest-starred in Teen Titans a few times, and with New Teen Titans #1 changed his nom du combat to Changeling.
It was a huge success, and spawned a bunch of spin-offs, including Team Titans, which somehow included characters from the future. Hey don’t judge – the first team had a caveman member named Gnarrk!
And just as you’ve probably read somewhere, Dick Grayson dropped the “Robin” persona and started calling himself Nightwing (1984). He was replaced as Robin in the Bat-books by four successive characters: Jason Todd (now Red Hood), Tim Drake (now Red Robin), Stephanie Brown (now Spoiler) and Batman’s biological son, Damian Wayne (still Robin). That’s relevant because most of them served stints on various Titans teams – there’s almost never a Teen Titans without a Robin, or at least a former Robin.
And there have been a jillion other characters who have appeared over the years in the pages of multiple titles, not just Team Titans and Teen Titans but also Terror Titans, Titans and Young Justice. There’s no need to list them here; if you’re a comics reader, you probably know them, and if you’re not, you don’t care.
But a great many more people watch TV than read comics, and that’s where mainstream confusion might come in – because the Titans have lots and lots of TV appearances. Go back far enough, and you’ll find the original four Teen Titans on the Superman/Aquaman Hour Of Adventure in 1967. They’ve appeared in several animated movies, like Justice League vs. Teen Titans, which featured the Damian Wayne Robin. And there have been no less than three animated shows based on the Teen Titans concept, each of them unique – Teen Titans (2003-06), Young Justice and Teen Titans Go!, which was launched in 2015 and is currently in its fifth season on Cartoon Network.
Teen Titans Go! is the show that produced the current movie. It’s very loud, completely silly and bears no resemblance to its ultra-serious forebears. Well, except that it stars the same five characters as the first Teen Titans series. And it uses the very same voice actors as that first show.
And just to thoroughly confuse everyone, the DC streaming service will also air Titans, a new, live-action show starring Beast Boy, Raven, Robin and Starfire. You’ll notice the absence of Kid Flash, who has already been established on The CW’s Flash. And there’s no Cyborg, since DC decided in 2011 that he’s now a founding member of the Justice League, and his Titans history officially no longer exists. Even though, as you know, he’s still a Titan in Teen Titans Go!.
I did say it was confusing, didn’t I? – Tribune News Service