From a television standpoint, we’re in what may be the most blessed era for a Teen Titans fan. Not only did we have a sweet series in the early 2000s that you can binge for free, we have Young Justice, a high-quality Titan’s-adjacent concept with many of the same characters, coming back for an additional, belated season, and a live-action Titans show drawing ever closer to reality. Oh, yeah, and that comedic Teen Titan’s Go! series, which, while perhaps polarizing, is giving the Titans’ core characters more mindshare than ever.
But, even as we’re in the Teen Titans’ golden TV era, the golden age of Titans comics was the 1980s, when George Perez and Marv Wolfman’s take on the team duked it out with Chris Claremont’s X-Men for sales supremacy. So popular was the New Teen Titans series that Hanna-Barbera developed a cartoon based on the property. Unfortunately, it never made it to the public, aside from one television PSA and one tie-in comic book. Today, we want to share the details of the Titans series that could’ve been, the one based on those very comics, with character designs clearly influenced by Perez and team composition mostly hewing to Wolfman’s stories. Let’s take a trip back to 1983.
According to Titans Tower (which had the absolute best, most comprehensive info about this never-launched cartoon), quoting a Silver Bullet Comic Books article that appears to be no longer online, Wolfman said he and Len Wein (comics legend and creator of Wolverine, among many others) and Jenette Khan (former DC publisher) pitched Hanna-Barbera on the Titans show – “concepts and characters” – along with another DC property, Dial “H” for Hero (side note: what a show that could’ve been!).
Recall that at the time, Hanna-Barbera was producing the long-running Superfriends cartoon. Perhaps because Robin appeared in Superfriends, or perhaps because of competing licenses to snack companies (see below), the proposed New Teen Titans show would substitute a purple-clad hero called Protector – perhaps better than elf booties and short pants, but still ably filling the role of “hero with terrible costume” for the missing Dick Grayson. But the rest of the lineup was to be the same one featured in the popular comics: Cyborg, Raven, Kid Flash, Changeling (who these days is better known as ‘Beast Boy,’ but same character), Starfire (with her glorious George Perez-style giant curly mop of hair), and – best of all – Wonder Girl, who would be team leader. Why best of all? Wonder Girl is a fun character who under Wolfman was written with depth and was less of a sidekick to Wonder Woman, far more of a character who shared elements of her older counterpart’s origin but was always more of an independent protagonist. She’s been criminally underrepresented in media (and, frankly, not given enough play in the comics post-Wolfman).
Why did the series never make it to air? At the time, it seemed characters like the Smurfs ruled the Saturday AM roost, and Hanna-Barbera concentrated its resources on similar properties, such as The Snorks. But some of the New Teen Titans ‘toon did make it to the general public in the form of anti-drug PSAs. First, a short spot on air, a version of which follows:
Second, and most excitingly for this correspondent, a comic book that was distributed to elementary school kids with an anti-drug message straight from President Reagan, and sponsored by Keebler Company. Now the exact timing is unclear between the development of the comic and the never-launched show, but artist George Perez offered a different reason for the inclusion of Protector versus Robin. Robin, it seems, was being licensed by Nabisco, and could not be used. Thus the man in the purple pajamas.
There were three comics total given to the kiddies, and only the first looks to be sponsored by Keebler, but the damage was done: no Robin. Your humble correspondent recalls fondly receiving this very comic, third in the series, during his fifth-grade class. He also recalls coloring Cyborg’s metal parts with his friend’s fancy silver pen to make it more authentic. It also catalyzed a love of comics that, for better or worse, continues to this day.
Truly, we live in a blessed era, where several versions of Teen Titans, a great superheroic concept, exist, and more are pending. But when you think about what could have been – that maybe Titans could have influenced kids via the small screen a couple decades before the landmark Teen Titans cartoon from the early 2000s – it makes you wonder if they’d be even more popular now. Or if Protector would be starring in a DCU movie by now. Okay, maybe not that last thing.
Images: DC Comics, Hanna-Barbera
Source: Titans Tower