Welcome to the special anti-420 editon of Scanning My Collection. I don’t know why the number 420 has any meaning in the drug culture, nor do I give a flying fig in a bucket. Drugs suck, so if I think of it every year, I’m dedicating 4/20/(insert year here) to pissing on them.
This round I’m looking at an anti-drug comic produced by DC Comics, in cooperation with Keebler and President Reagan’s anti-drug campaign. So let’s head back to the 80’s and check out the Teen Titans, their new friend, and the war on drugs.
Format: comic book
Title: The New Teen Titans (“Plague”)
Creators: Marv Wolfman and George Pérez
Staff: Marv Wolfman (writer), George Pérez (penciler), Dick Giordano (inker), Ben Oda (letterer), Adrienne Roy (colorist), Len Wein (consulting editor), and Dave Manak (editor) with special thanks to David Mishur and Stephen Jacobs (whoever they are)
Roll Call: The Changeling, Cyborg, Raven, Wonder Girl, Speedy, Starfire, and special guest star The Protector.
The Titans are joined by anti-drug crime fighter the Protector when they take down a drug lab. After beating the snot out of the pushers, they find a kid in the back who later dies from (I’m presuming) an overdose at the hospital the heroes rush him to. No reason is given for his being at the lab, but the death so angers Starfire that she flies off and destroys the lab. Back at the hospital, the Titans come across one of the dead boy’s friends, also in the hospital due to an overdose, and her family. Her little brother overheard something that leads the teenage heroes to a major drug bust.
Meanwhile, the dead kid’s sister and her friends are trying to deal with their loved one’s death, but are still getting high, even after Speedy relates his own druggie days. (An actual tale from the early Green Lantern/Green Arrow team-up comics.) However, at the funeral, the sister has a high-induced breakdown and runs off. Her friends run off when her parents come to find her, and tell their daughter to go into rehab. The other kids in the story also go, deciding that they’ve lost too many friends to something not so innocent.
During the whole story, the kids relate how they got into drugs at such a young age (early teens, but some started sooner) to presumably the audience, but later shown to be the rehab meeting. (Speedy’s testimony is also told in the same layout as the other testimonies, but wasn’t at the meeting.)
PSA comics, like any “very special story” have to be reviewed on a different curve. While I still maintain that the narrative should be number one, with a more subtle message, this is tougher to do in these comics. The message should still be number two, but a closer number two than some. That said, it still has to be good, and this one was at least average. The main story is the Titans, and their new friend the Protector (more on him in a moment) taking down drug operations. It’s the 80’s, so things like why there is a kid ODing in the back room and just how a kid overhears a drug drop so big that helicopters are taken to some arctic region that is still accessible to Federal authorities (presumably US government law enforcement) are pretty much ignored.
However, Wolfman does a good job with the side story, that of the kids dealing with their addiction. (And despite an ethnic cast, they aren’t a bunch of one-note stereotypes, not even the Juarez family, outside of their names.) The testimony pages (all in the same format, even Speedy’s) are the only heavy-handed parts, and all but Speedy’s are set at a rehab center, so it even makes sense in the end. Speaking of which, Wolfman remembering that Speedy is himself a recovering drug addict adds a nice touch to the piece. In a scene at the hospital, one of the kids remarks that because they’re big time superheroes, the Titans couldn’t possibly know anything about drugs. Speedy then relates his story from the story arc in Green Lantern/Green Arrow #s 85 through I believe 87, in which the teen sells Ollie’s own arrows to pay for drugs. Shut the kid up rather quick.
Here’s some data I picked up looking into this comic. The people who approached DC from the President’s Drug Awareness Campaign (home of the infamous “Just Say No” campaign) had wanted to use some of the more famous characters in their stable. However, since they were already being used in other projects, DC tried to diversify a bit and convinced them to use the Titans thanks to a runaway story Marv Wolfman had already done previously. However, there was one other problem.
The Keebler cookie company was sponsoring the comic, but Robin, leader of the Titans in those days, was already licensed to Nabisco as part of a cookie line featuring other DC heroes (perhaps there was a Super Friends cookie I’m not aware of?), so even though it was a different product, the powers that be though there would be trouble. So images of Robin in the comic were re-inked and colored to create a new character, the Protector! A later Who’s Who appearance helped flesh out a back story for the character. Jason Hart, came up with the costume as a way to talk his cousin out of drug use, but circumstances forced him to take up the costumed identity for real. Now dedicating his life to ending the drug threat, the Protector carries no weapons and has no powers, but he is trained by Robin and occasionally works with the Titans. I can imagine a more angst-ridden origin by today’s DC writers. (Just ask Barry “maybe I was better off a martyr” Allen.)
However, it doesn’t sound that way in the comic. Since they had to do a rush job to change Robin into the Protector, many of his lines are more in line with Robin. One panel has him giving the Titan’s orders, and some of the word balloons have a little extra space after someone mentions the Protector by the shortened “Pro” name. Some lines were fixed, that notes the Protector worked alone, has always wanted to work with the Titans, and occasionally works with Customs, all of which don’t seem to match the Who’s Who take. Also, a few panels have the costume, most notably the mask, a bit off-shape, but it’s not something I noticed until I learned the behind the scenes origin. Apparently the identity gets used as an Easter Egg later on. According to the Titan’s Tower profile linked to in the last paragraph, there’s a cameo in The Titan’s Secret File #2, and I recall reading of another one during my research, with a different real identity. He is also used in an anti-drug ad that I can’t seem to find online, but there are stills in that Titan’s Tower article. The ad was produced by Hanna-Barbera (who was already making Superfriends at the time) in part to test the waters for a new Titans cartoon. It didn’t come to pass, but Cyborg did end up in the revamped Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians show based on it.
Personally, I like his costume, but some people weren’t a fan of it from my research. Speaking of costumes, Starfire and Wonder Girl’s costumes were made a bit more…conservative…than their usual outfits; the creators thought that too much cleavage might become an issue, and decided to fix it the first time so that potential headache was out of the way.
Two more comics were produced with the Protector and the Titans, but with Kid Flash in place of Speedy. Although these weren’t produced with Keebler (one was sponsored by IBM and the other by the American Soft Drink Industry. Personally, I’d like to get these comics for myself. Like, mini-comics, I do enjoy these PSA comics because they’re different stories. This one even has an original character that sadly DC never really used after these comics. It’s a pretty good story, and worth checking out if your a Titan fan.
You tell ’em, Robin Protector!