13 QUICK THOUGHTS on FILMATION’s Ginchy TEEN TITANS Cartoons

TEEN TITANS WEEK: Saturday is for cartoons…

Welcome to TEEN TITANS WEEK — an anniversary celebration of comics’ greatest (or at least most entertaining) superteam. The term Teen Titans was coined 55 years ago this year and The New Teen Titans #1 debuted 40 years ago Aug. 14. So all week long here at 13th Dimension, we’ve been featuring a variety of tributes to Robin, Wonder Girl, Speedy, Cyborg, Starfire and all the rest. For the complete index of columns and features, click here.

On this Saturday, the final day of TEEN TITANS WEEK, it only seemed appropriate to break out THE FILMATION FILES with an INSIDE LOOK at the Titans’ first screen appearance — the three 1967 “super superhero” shorts that ran as part of the Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure on CBS.

The shorts naturally lived on in syndication and online and are among the most freewheeling cartoons produced by Lou Scheimer and co.

So dig these 13 QUICK THOUGHTS ON FILMATION’s GINCHY TEEN TITANS CARTOONS:

1. None of the Filmation “super superhero” shorts are particularly complicated. They only run about 5 or 6 minutes or thereabouts, so the focus is on action, action, action. That said, compared to the shorts for the Justice League, the Atom, the Flash, Green Lantern and Hawkman, then Titans adventures are the most simplistic of the bunch. All three pretty much come down to Titans vs. Monsters.

2. That said, these three are really fun and the reason is the characters’ chemistry. Unlike the kind of turgid Justice League entries, the Titans shorts are a gas, man. As they should, the Titans behave like friends, as opposed to work colleagues and they’re consistently shown to be having a great time, even when danger is nigh.

3. The Teen Titans have one of the best openings. The zippy theme by John Garth introduces us to the “quartet of towering talents” — Kid Flash, Wonder Girl, Speedy and Aqualad (whose musical cue is yanked straight from the series’ Aquaman theme). I guarantee you’ll want to play this more than once:

4. I’m not 100 percent sure the order of the segments because reliable scheduling info is hard to come by, so I’ll go with how they’re presented with the Filmation Aquaman cartoons available on iTunes and home video. (Filmation Aquaman — and all the “super superhero” shorts were recently dropped from the DC Universe app and it’s not clear where they’ll pop up next for streaming, though the smart money is on HBO Max. Click here for details.)

So, all that said, The Monster Machine is the first one to watch. Like all three shorts, it was written by George Kashdan (and not Bob Haney!) and basically the Titans have to battle a giant robot, defeat a mysterious computer and battle more giant robots. Spoiler: They succeed. But it’s fun to watch because they’re having such a great time and, since they’re not the most powerful of beings, they have to work together as a team to win the day.

5. Naturally, a touchstone of the Silver Age Titans is the nicknames they tag on each other and the cartoons play that up in a big way. So in case you’re wondering, here’s the breakdown for Speedy: Robin Hood (three times); Speedy-O (three times); Arrowhead; Eagle-Eye; and Speedy Boy. By the way, I think the producers tried to justify Speedy’s name by having him talk faster than the others.

6. Where’s Robin? His rights were tied up by ABC because the live-action Batman was still on the air. Filmation didn’t get its hands on the Dynamic Duo until Batman ’66 was cancelled in 1968. (Which also explains why there’s no Batman in the Justice League.)

7. Aqualad’s nicknames aren’t quite as inspired as some of the others. There’s the well-known Gillhead (four times) and Davy Jones — as in Davy Jones’ locker (twice). Still, Kashdan contrived plenty of ways for the Atlantean to be useful in these stories, conveniently setting the action near bodies of water.

8. Instead of giant robots, The Space Beast Round-Up pits the Titans against garishly colored, giant extraterrestrial beasts that look like dinosaurs. (They were cruelly dropped as ballast from a spaceship filled with aliens with exceptionally large noses.) Again, the action is really basic but it’s fun for the Titans’ interplay and the episode’s overall colorfulness.

9. Kid Flash’s famous Twinkletoes nickname is prominent in the segments (used four times). There’s also Flasheroo (three times) and Fleet Feet. As I noted in our 13 QUICK THOUGHTS on FILMATION’s Flashy FLASH Cartoons (click here), I’m still baffled by the studio’s decision to go so far off model with Kid Flash, whose classic comics outfit is one of the greatest ever. One reader suggested that it’s because red popped better than yellow but I’m still not sure. It does make Kid Flash even more endearing, though.

10. Of the four Titans’ senior partners, we only see Aquaman and the Flash in other Filmation cartoons. Speedy is a sidekick without a mentor, because Green Arrow didn’t make his screen debut until years later, in Super Friends. And there’s no Wonder Woman, presumably because, as with Batman, William Dozier had optioned the Amazing Amazon for a TV series. The spectacularly bad test footage shows why that project died on the vine.

11.  Since this was 1967, Wonder Girl — despite being the strongest Titan — gets saddled with the chauvinist Wonder Doll (twice) and Wonder Chick (twice). She’s also called a doll once and a chick twice. She even cries when she’s overcome with happiness(!). On the flip side, she’s probably the coolest of the four and is otherwise treated like an equal by the boys.

12. Operation Rescue comes closest to breaking the mold. Yes, again we get giant creatures, but we also get spear-throwing, horned mutant men on a mountain top. But the best part? I’d swear this is Filmation poking fun at Jonny Quest. The Titans’ mission is not only to defeat the beasts and mutants but to rescue a blond-headed kid whose father just happens to be a pointy-bearded explorer.

13. I’ll admit here that if there’s an aspect missing from TEEN TITANS WEEK, it’s the wonderful animated series that ran from 2003 to 2006. You can’t always cover everything but that show will get its proper due here one of these days. The theme alone is one of the greatest superhero tunes ever:

In any event, there was no way I was going to pass up a chance to write about the original Titans cartoon run — and you should click here for a FILMATION FILES podcast on The Monster Machine, hosted by John S. Drew and yours truly. It, like the Teen Titans themselves, is ginchy, groovy, far out and right on.

MORE

— The Complete TEEN TITANS WEEK Index of Features and Columns. Click here.

— The TOP 13 TEEN TITANS Stories — RANKED. Click here.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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4 Comments

  1. I don’t really remember the Filmation series as I was around 8 years old at the time. I do remember the 2003 to 2006 series and thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m just glad they changed Kid Flash’s costume and got rid of his mile high hair style. Talk about a drag on his aerodynamics.

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  2. There is a DC Filamation DVD package with the titans shorts, as well as green lantern, the atom and hawkman.

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  3. I loved this article. George Kashdan was the editor of the Teen Titans and Aquaman silver age comic books when Filmation parterned with DC and was familiar with the Teen Titans as well as their “teen talk” that Bob Haney crafted for the characters. I think Kid Flash’s costume and hair were changed to help speed up the ink and paint process for animation. Aqualad and Wonder Girl already had black hair and red shirts and in a group shot (from the waist up), the ink and paint department would only have to use a few colors to ink & paint the characters which would speed up the production schedule. Filmation changed Bat Girl’s costume from black to a shade of gray which stood out better in all of the Batman action sequences that took place at night.

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