WHO ARE THE TEEN TITANS? by Billy Wood
Seriously. who are they? Sure us comic fans know exactly who they are, but ask any regular Joe on the street and you'll probably get a shrug of the shoulders. Ask that same Joe about X-Men and you'll likely get a different response. In fact, ask most non-comic fans to name DC heroes in general and they'll stop right after Superman and Batman. Now ask them the same about Marvel heroes and the list gets a bit longer.

There's a reason for that, and the reason couldn't be more obvious than the case of the New Teen Titans.

Based on the various stories and articles I've read, it seems as though the New Teen Titans were at one time as popular in the comics as Marvel's X-Men. In the bio George Pérez: Storyteller, Pérez states that the series was responsible for both revitalizing the company and keeping it afloat at one point. He also mentions it was the only series at the time that sold well enough to warrant royalty payments to the authors according to DC's then-new policy.

Sounds like those Wolfman and Pérez guys were really onto something a couple of decades ago. Much like Claremont and Byrne did with Marvel's mutants, they took an unpopular cast of heroes, recast them in their own mold and turned them into the company's biggest seller. So why are the Titans not nearly as familiar to today's public as the X-Men? Why has Marvel's crew become iconic worldwide, while the Titans are only familiar to comic fans and those who watch Cartoon Network?

One major reason would be the marketing of these characters outside of the comic book industry. Marvel obviously worked hard to establish their All-New X-Men outside the medium from the get-go, while DC initially seemed content to simply sell comics with a franchise with similar potential. The X-Men had a video game in the 80's for the Nintendo console, a couple more for the Super Nintendo console, a successful multi-player arcade game followed by several Street Fighter tie-ins, a successful 90's cartoon with fast-food tie-ins, several popular toy lines, and finally, three hugely successful feature films. And the Titans? A shelved 80's cartoon, the anime-inspired series from the 00's and assorted action figures.

You'd think the success of the Titans cartoon would be a nice foundation to build upon, but sadly it doesn't appear as though that will be the case. WB and DC announced in 2006 that they would be producing a direct-to-video animated feature film based on the classic New Teen Titans story, "The Judas Contract." Seeing as this feature was supposedly going to be a mature representation of the story and in no way related to the toned-down story told in the cartoon, this would be an excellent opportunity for DC to expose Cyborg, Starfire and crew to a potential new audience.

But now this feature has been placed on indefinite hold, mainly citing the popularity of other iconic DC heroes as a reason. The following quote from a DC representative explains:

"Teen Titans is a tricky one. The script is in pretty good shape. The issue there is that we want to give the fans what they want. But every time we do research after a premiere of one of our films and we ask (the fans) what they want they always say, Superman and Batman. Teen Titans is always last on the list. So until the fans we ask put it at the top of the list, it'll be a harder one to do."

It's the last part of that quote that is particularly concerning. What they're basically saying is that unless it's Superman or Batman, the chances aren't good. Their exit polls show that fans want more Superman and Batman, does the fact that these two characters are featured heavily at these premieres -- and in every other place imaginable -- do anything to skew these polls?

I love all the great Superman/Batman/JLA features that WB and DC have turned out over the years, and I have nothing but high hopes for the Wonder Woman animated feature. But at some point they really should step outside their comfort zone and shine the spotlight on characters other than the Trinity. You never know, DC just might get lucky and give a boost to a few of their lesser known characters. I'm not saying it has to be The Judas Contract, it could be a Legion or Captain Marvel story, anything but the familiar JLA stuff.

It seems as though DC has really dropped the ball with promoting characters that had a decent chance for breakout success. Let me change a few words around from the previous quote about The Judas Contract DTV release:

"But every time we do research after a premiere of one of our films and we ask (the fans) what they want they always say Spider-Man. Iron Man is always last on the list. So until the fans we ask put it at the top of the list, it'll be a harder one to do."

Which is the bigger risk: a big-budget live-action theatrical release or a direct-to-video animated feature? Most of my friends had no clue who the heck Iron Man was before this summer, obviously that has changed. Tony Stark is no longer a simple comic book character, he's transcended the medium and become an icon to the masses. You would think DC would want to do the same and look into heavily promoting more of their excellent roster of heroes, but until that time it will always be Supes, Bats, and everybody else.

How they fail to see this is beyond me.

Thanks for reading,
Bill Wood