Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Women's History Month Part 2: The Ladies of the Teen Titans

I'm a big Bonus Feature guy. I buy a lot of DVDs knowing I don't really want to watch the main feature, but I do want to hear the commentary or watch the making-of docs. They're usually more interesting that the actual movie/show. It's the same with comics. If I really like a series, I love knowing what goes into making it. I read a book dedicated to the history of the Teen Titans and was fascinated by one bit of behind the scenes trivia that seems so obvious now, but that I never noticed upon first reading those tales. Well... I mean, I was six, so you'll have to forgive me. Allow me to explain...
My first exposure to Wonder Girl was the Wonder Woman sleeping bag that my friend had, the same friend that had all the Strawberry Shortcake dolls that her mom wouldn't let me play with. It featured a large illustration of Wonder Woman, surrounded by smaller images of Catwoman, Supergirl, Batgirl and... Wonder Girl?! Who the heck was that?!
Wonder Girl was a member of the Teen Titans and was actually included by mistake. The creators of the Teen Titans saw a Wonder Girl in the pages of Wonder Woman and included her in the all-sidekicks group, not realizing that Wonder Girl was actually Wonder Woman as a teenager and that those stories were flashbacks, a la Superboy's adventures.
They then cobbled together an explanation: Wonder Girl was a baby that Wonder Woman had rescued from a burning building and took to Paradise Island. There, the Amazons used their magic/science to siphon off a tiny portion of each Amazon's power and immortality and give it to this new baby, whom they named Donna Troy and whom Queen Hippolyta (Wonder Woman's mother) adopted and raised as her own. Then, upon reaching adolescence, she, like her big sis, flew off to Man's World to combat evil, joining forces with other younger heroes in the Teen Titans.I fell in love with her instantly. Like Wonder Woman, she was raised an Amazon warrior, capable of kicking anyone's ass, but always seeking a peaceful solution. Having grown up as the token "girl" in the Titans, she naturally assumed the "Mom" role, ironing out the problems of the more volatile members and keeping peace among her team. She was even more rational and patient than Robin, the team's leader who was going through his rebellious phase, struggling to come out from underneath Batman's imposing shadow. Plus, she wore that ferosh red jumpsuit. LOVE!

Getting to the "behind-the-scenes" goodies. Joining the Titans around the time I started reading were two new female heroes, Starfire and Raven.
Starfire, Princess Koriand'r from the planet Tamaran, a planet of passionate warriors (think space vikings). They did everything to excess, be it fighting or loving. Her people kept nothing below the surface, which led to bewilderment when Starfire arrived on Earth and found that people did not just lustily go after everything they wanted. Pure and uninhibited, she fought as passionately as she loved, cutting loose with her energy powers to the point where the other Titans had to reign her in to keep her from killing her opponents.The other new Titan, Raven was the exact opposite. Born from the union of a human woman and a demon known as Trigon, Raven was raised by the priests of Azarath, an other dimensional haven, who bore responsibility for keeping demon overlords from attempting to conquer Earth.Raven possessed healing abilities and teleportation, making her useless in a fight. She constantly struggled to stifle any emotion, because if she submitted, her father Trigon would be able to use her as a conduit to invade Earth. He constantly tormented his daughter in his power lust.
What I didn't put together, was that the three women represented a triangle of sorts. Smack dab in the middle was Wonder Girl, an Amazon warrior raised to exude compassion and care. Unlike the more perfect Wonder Woman, Wonder Girl was more of a girl-next-door type, down-to-earth and approachable. Physically, she, like most super heroines, was a paragon of womanhood, but still more or less realistic.Starfire was like Wonder Girl's warrior nature to the extreme. She oozed ferocity and emotion. She lacked Donna's cool, level-headedness and rationality. This was exemplified by her outward appearance, scantily clad and uninhibited, plus her... ahem, assets were much more extreme and overt.And on the exact opposite end of the spectrum, Raven was (mostly) completely covered and demure. When not in costume, she dressed similarly to an Indian woman in lots of draped fabric, like a sari. In one story, when the Titans go undercover, she must wear pants and she remarks that it is the first time she's ever worn them and that she feels uncomfortable. Whereas Starfire was pure emotion personified, Raven couldn't exhibit ANY emotion, lest Trigon use that to his advantage. Co-creator of the New Teen Titans, George Perez went so far as the render her almost flat-chested... a first for a super heroine! Whereas Starfire's face and body were rounded all over (think Beyonce), Raven's face and body were skinny and gaunt with sharp cheekbones (think Courtney Cox). And once more, Wonder Girl was right in the middle, average... neither overly voluptuous nor gaunt.
I found this explanation fascinating! It's really amazing to hear how much thought went into creating these balanced personae that would compliment one another. Often creators simply use costumes and hair to differentiate one character from another, and they all have the same bodies and even faces. George Perez really tried to contrast one from the others, making each a "real" unique person. It's really no surprise that even to this day, this run on Teen Titans (which was from 1980 to about 85 or so) is still considered the best. This series, along with Crisis on Infinite Earths (by the same team of George Perez and writer Marv Wolfman) are the two most important comics in my development as a comic nerd. So, y'know, now you know who to blame.

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