The Teen Titans today are much better known for the Marv Wolfman/George Perez 1980s run or the Teen Titans animated series, but their roots go back all the way to the Silver Age. Rereading that run (or part of it at least, my collection is spotty in places) it’s striking how much the series changed over seven years, from 1965 to 1972 (cover by Nicholas Cardy, all rights with current holder)
The roots of the Titans were Brave and Bold #54, in which the teens of Hatton Corners invited Kid Flash, Robin and Aqualad to mediate a dispute with the town adults. Needless to say the dispute was soon overridden by super-villainy, when Mr. Twister enslaves the town’s youths. Apparently this did well enough to green light a formal Teen Titans team, which debuted in B&B #60. The only cast change was Wonder Girl, who didn’t really exist (as I describe here). The origin was surprisingly simple: Robin tells Batman that after the Hatton Corners fracas, the guys saw the need for a super-hero team that focused on helping teens out, invited Wonder Girl and off they went.
The series stayed true to the focus on teens and teen culture (despite occasional grumbles from the sidekicks’ older partners that they might be in over their heads): dropouts, runaways, teen idols, DJs, reform school, hippies, hot-rodders, you name it. Middle-aged scripter Bob Haney has been mocked many times for his efforts at writing cool teen slang (and the mockery is valid, though it’s not like most comics writers do any better), but on the plus side he seems genuinely fond of teens, and perfectly happy letting them solve problems on their own without letting some adult explain the facts of life.
This continued after Haney left the book, with various scriptwriters, including Dick Giordano, Steve Skeates and Robert Kanigher who wrote the Big Change issue, #25 in 1969. Despite warnings from the teen psychic (and soon-to-be member) Lilith, the Titans fail to save the life of a legendary philanthropist and suffer heavy talkings-to from the Justice League. The Titans end up taking off their costumes and going into training under Mr. Jupiter, billionaire philanthropist.
This was in line with comics trends in the late 1960s: super-heroes were waning and relevant stories, ripped from the headlines were in (this was the period when Wonder Woman and the mechanical Metal Men tried quitting their super-identities and living as ordinary people). In TT 31, the Titans take on a college that uses mind-control to keep the students in line. In TT 26, they have to survive on the streets of Hell’s Kitchen, and meet Mal, a black kid from the ghetto; an astonishing amount of his dialogue somehow referenced how whatever was happening made him think of ghetto life. It’s also most Titans fans’ least favorite era: after three years of teens handling things themselves, now they were back learning from the wise adults.
Then in TT #32, Flash and Mal get sucked back in time, accidentally kill a caveman and return to find the present eerie and ruled by the supernatural. They manage to go back and fix things (the caveman, Gnarrk, ends up returning to the present) but this was the first step in a series of supernatural tales. Editor Joe Orlando had turned House of Mystery and House of Secrets, under-performing super-hero books, into supernatural anthologies, and they were smash hits, followed by many more successful books. I assume that the Titans segue into black magic, demons and ghosts was a desire to cash in. Over the next year they battled the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, an evil magician returning from the past, a ghostly slavehunter looking to capture Mal and a monster trying to take Wonder Girl as its bride. Some of the stories worked okay, several of them still had “relevant” themes (after the Four Horsemen case, Jupiter explains that we can never truly be rid of famine, plague and war) and some of them felt like using the Teen Titans was just irrelevant—any bunch of young adults would have done as well.
With TT #43 (below, cover by Cardy, all rights with current holder) the book got the axe anyway. It came back for a short run for years later, then broke into the big leagues with the Wolfman/Perez era and different versions have been around ever since.