Monday, February 18, 2013

Wonder Girl: Best of all the Teen Titans!

Nick Cardy, Teen Titans #1 (February 1966)

This gorgeous Nick Cardy panel of Wonder Girl showing up the rest of the Teen Titans appeared in Teen Titans #1, way back in February of 1966.  Those were not simpler times.  John F. Kennedy had been assassinated almost three years earlier, the Vietnam War raged in Southeast Asia (the same month this comic came out saw both the Tay Dinh and the Go Dai massacres), John Lennon made his infamous claim that the Beatles were "bigger than Jesus" and a gunshot felled James Meredith during the March Against Fear to encourage African Americans to register to vote.   War, assassinations and riots lay ahead in the next few years as a nation threatened to tear itself apart.  Above it all soared Wonder Girl, held aloft by the hopes of youth in post-war America, amid the fast-fading ghosts of Camelot, the dreams of the Civil Rights Movement, the high-tech hopes of the Space Race, and the attempt at making a Great Society.

How could you not love Wonder Girl?  In fact,* will fist fight at high noon on the corner of 3rd Avenue and Pine Street any sucker who doesn’t like her.  All right, I’m just kidding.  I never get up that early.  We’ll have to fight sometime later in the afternoon, or perhaps just before dinner time.

No, really, Wonder Girl really is a wonder.  Out of all the Teen Titans, she gets the biggest kick out of having powers, being young, being a girl.  The latter would be difficult for the others as they’re all boys, but all gender considerations aside, the 1960s Wonder Girl is pure joy.  She’s a pleasure seeker who finds pleasure almost everywhere, in the smallest things.  Like simply being able to fly.  That’s the kind of true happiness that doesn’t require a lot of extraneous elements; the rest of us—those who aren’t vivacious young Amazons capable of flight-- can get that a similar feeling from running (if we’re runners) or drawing (if we’re artists).  Or whatever it is we like to do with the least fuss. 

Her self-confidence is refreshing, as well.  Being a Titan means she’s probably not the smartest person you’re likely to meet.  She’s more into dancing than reading, for example.  She probably favors Frankie and Annette beach musicals over French Nouvelle Vague cinema, the British invasion over minimalist composers.  There’s nothing wrong with any of that.  It all just goes to show Wonder Girl is comfortable within herself.  And that makes her a positive role model in my book.  A girl to learn from.  Love who you are, love what you do, love life itself.

In the vintage Teen Titans, which are generally easy, breezy, carefree reads about teens who want to help the world rather than tear it apart, Wonder Girl is by far my favorite character.  If DC should ever bring her back, they need to bring back this version or someone similar.  More light.  That’s what’s needed.  More light, fewer shadows.  

*Not in fact.  But you can treat me to lunch.


Richard Bensam said...

"Those were not simpler times."

Thank you! That cliche always annoys me no matter what age it's meant to describe, but never more so than when applied to such a fraught, emotionally-charged time. And Bob Haney spent part of his Depression boyhood in a Hooverville (another time that wasn't simpler than today) and became a socialist and pacifist who nonetheless saw action in Okinawa. Haney never lived in simple times, you know? You have to figure all this taught him to understand the importance of fun. And that sure as heck comes through in stuff like this!

Joel Bryan said...

Me, too. It also annoys me when people use the "today is a darker, more complex time, therefore today's stories must reflect that." I think the only thing they reflect is the tendency to confuse negativity with honesty and/or reality. The idea that today is worse than yesterday or that yesterday is better than today is merely a media dysfunction-- we see all the bad news reporting of now and forget that of yesterday because those feelings are dulled by time. Plus, media is more pervasive now with the Internet news cycle exposing us to more information but without historical context.

I can't think of a time in history that didn't have its own complexities. Even the 1920s and 1950s were times of change, upheaval and violence although they're sometimes viewed as nostalgic utopias. Today isn't some unique era. It's just our current boneheadedness that causes us to see it that way and to think grim, murky stories about grim, murky heroes are somehow more truthful than these lighter tales.

It's not that today's dark stories are invalid. But they don't invalidate the Wonder Girl outlook.

Plus, I'd like to see more stories about socially conscious teens who aren't so selfish and troubled. There are a lot of kids who are involved in their communities and helping people, many more than are slipping away on drugs and self-destructive behavior. I really don't see why teen-oriented stories have to feature a lot of sullenness. Sure, that's part of being a teen-- but so is friendship, having fun, doing good and making a difference.

Joel Bryan said...

And it's not as if 50s and 60s kids didn't have their problems. Adults like Bob Haney just expected great things of them and invested a lot of hope in them to go with the worry. I want to see more of that in modern Titans stories.

Matt Celis said...

Wonder Girl doesn't fly, she glides on air currents.

Matt Celis said...

Today's writers desperately want to prove "conics are serious legitimate literature" and mistakenly believe that means everything must be dark and negative and reject lightness and whimsy. It's the immature attitude of an inferiority complex writ large.