Teen Titans Sexuality Controversy and a Review of Teen Titans #1
The Teen Titans as an ongoing supergroup is a going concern now for 50 years. When the first iteration of this teen-aged team appeared in 1964's The Brave and the Bold #54, the original group consisted of Robin (Dick Grayson), Kid Flash (Wally West), and Aqualad (Garth). Ok, technically, that was just a three-way team-up, with the first official appearance of the group calling themselves the "Teen Titans," four issues later, in The Brave and the Bold #60, this teen trio was joined by Wonder Girl (Donna Troy), and Speedy (Roy Harper). The kids got their own comic book title in 1966, with the publication of Teen Titans #1
Brave and The Bold #54 Cover-Teen Titans
That was 50 years ago. A lot has changed in the intervening decades. The DC Comics Universe has rebooted and retooled multiple times, and with each reboot, once familiar characters change. Characters grow up, move on, die, come back to life, and so on. Dick Grayson, the original Robin, is now the adult hero Nightwing. Wally West inherited the mantle of The Flash. Garth grew up, changed some of his powers and became Tempest. Roy Harper became a drug addict. He survived that and became the hero Arsenal. And Donna Troy, (whose original origin story identified her as Wonder Woman's adopted sister), would later take up the title of Wonder Woman for a short time.
DC Comics' latest re-boot though, still referred to as "The New 52," despite the reboot occurring nearly 3 years ago, provided a confusing mish-mash of new origins, new personalities, new team-ups and meet-ups, and in general, a not-very organized relaunch of a comic book universe with a great canon of material. Some things are the same. Bruce Wayne is still Batman. Clark Kent is still Superman. Dick Grayson is still Nightwing (and the first former Robin). In fact, we now have several Robins and former Robins running around.
Brave and the Bold #60- 1st Teen Titans
When the New 52 first came out, several books had scenes where former Teen Titan characters would make reference to past versions of the team, such as Tim Drake mentioning the Titans and Batwoman (Bette Kane) referred to herself as a "former" member of the Teen Titan. Then Dan DiDio of DC Comics mentions in an interview that in the New 52, there ARE no previous versions of the Titans. That came after several characters had already mentioned the Titans in the past tense. At this point, DC actually edited (nice substitute word for CENSORED) out any reference to previous Titan teams when the company published the New 52 TPB collections. DC Comics clearly had no idea what they were doing with the Teen Titans.
This makes the New 52 version of the Teen Titans the only one that has existed, according to current DC continuity. Beginning in 2011, DC published Teen Titans Volume 4, through 30 regular issues and three annuals. DC cancelled that run of Titans, and announced a re-launch with Teen Titans #1, Volume 5 in July, 2014. All is good in the world of the Titans, right?
Wrong! No sooner does DC provide some preview information on the new title, including a preview of the cover of the highly anticipated Teen Titans #1, than the controversy begins.
When it comes to the New 52 version of the Teen Titans, we have Red Robin (the kid, not the restaurant), AKA Tim Drake. We have Beast Boy, Raven (both popular staples of the animated TV show), and Bunker (a new character created in the New 52 universe). The "new" Wonder Girl is Cassandra "Cassie" Sandsmark, a character who has been around since 1996. She is the new Wonder Girl, and, like her teammates, is a teen-ager. Duh, that should seem obvious, right?
Not if you look at the cover of the new Teen Titans #1. The cover of this book has Cassie front and center, with the other Titans behind her. She is portrayed as a girl with a very large bust, and a very revealing top. A hard-hitting article by noted comics-reviewer and editor Janelle Asselin (@gimpnelly) calls out DC for over-sexualizing a teen-aged female character. Asselin has a very valid point in criticizing DC for how Cassie is portrayed. This is a kid, after all, not an adult character like Power Girl or Marvel's Emma Frost. Modern comic books do have a problem with the over-sexualization of female characters, but defenders of these portrayals can say that these characters are written and drawn as adults, and, frankly, most comic readers themselves are adults. Granted. However, Janelle Asselin, in addition to pointing out some anatomical details that defy reality and gravity in this Wonder Girl, emphasizes the point that this girl is just that...a girl. Not a grown-up; a kid. Like the other kids in the Teen Titans. It would not be appropriate for an adult male comic book reader in real-life to ogle a high-school aged girl dressed like Cassie Sandsmark (or any teen for that matter). Nor should it be appropriate to ogle the comic-book version of this kid.
Teen Titans #1 Cover -2014 Wonder Girl
DC needs to find a different outfit for her, and they need to start treating (and drawing) female characters in a real-life fashion. For speaking her mind about this very real problem, Asselin was subjected to a lot of abuse on Twitter and throughout the internet. She showed a lot of courage, conviction, and guts to call out DC for this shameful display. And a lot of putative comic book fans showed a lot of bad behavior in launching personal attacks on Janelle Asselin.
All of this debate, however, did spark curiosity over just what is happening in this new version of the Teen Titans. Here is our review of Teen Titans #1 (2014):
Despite the questionable ethics of how female characters are portrayed, the art in this book, (drawn by Kenneth Rocafort, story by Will Pfeifer), is actually pretty good. The colors by Dan Brown stand out, and the story is not bad.
Without getting too much into spoiler-land, we have a school bus full of kids hijacked by terrorists who have some sort of anti-tech manifesto they want to publicize. The first Titan on the scene is Cassie Sandsmark, who ducks into an alley to change her clothes (Note: it does appear that this scene was meant to titillate to some degree. See criticisms up above).
After changing from her spaghetti-strap top to her super-hero tube top, Cassie flies to the roof of the school bus where she proceeds to toss out terrorists. It is kind of fun to see terrorists get tossed out of a speeding school bus to hit their heads and necks onto a concrete building (and where are the ethics of super-powered kids killing or crippling non-powered bad guys? That is another controversy for next time). Red Robin is atop a building, directing other members of the team to the scene. This whole speeding bus thing, while a well-worn trope (see the movie Speed, among others), serves as a workable threat to gather our heroes together. The resulting action serves as a sort of introductory piece for the team as they appear on the scene one-by-one to help save the day. This is typical of comic book #1 issues, where the writer assumes that some of the readers may be unfamiliar with the characters. By the time the team is all together, the threat is seemingly neutralized , and the final scenes set us up for the next issue as the threat manifests itself in a different manner. (How is that for non-spoiler generic vagueness?)
The action scenes are well-done. The heroes are drawn well, and Rocafort's visualizations of Bunker as he uses his powers reminds me somewhat of a George Perez-like style. While the story is more a generic set-up piece, the dialogue among our Teen Titans is okay and largely in-character. The bad guys are somewhat generic, and we only learn that the leader of the baddies is female when other characters refer to her with feminine pronouns (she is covered head-to-toe, and is wearing a mask). Perhaps she is supposed to represent the total antithesis to Wonder Girl. A female who is so non-sexualized in her clothing that only her voice (which, of course, the reader cannot hear) is her gender identifier?
Pick this book up if you are curious about the Wonder Girl controversy, or are just a fan of the Teen Titans. If you are thinking of getting this book for your younger kids who like the Teen Titans Go! cartoon, think twice about that, or at least use this book as a lesson to your kids in how NOT to dress for success!
By the way, if DC is now looking at a way to find a logical reason for Cassie to dress more appropriately, here is a scenario: She is a teen, right? Teens should be in school once summer break is over. Have her in a school (her own, or perhaps undercover), and have her sport her super-hero tube top in class. Instant assignment to school detention for inappropriate clothing, and a severe scolding by a female school staff-member (who should look JUST like Lynda Carter), and an edict to never dress like that again. That would be both hilarious and true to real-life.
Roger Lee is a life-long comic book and sci-fi aficionado. As such, he fell into the habit of writing about the superheroes and sci-fi scenarios that he reads in the comics and books and sees on screen. Since writings on superheroes need to be shared, he has written for web audiences for years. His writings have appeared on www.comicshistoryguy.com, www.comicbookmovie.com, www.bamsmackpow.com, and now in superheroreviews.com.