The Jericho Experience
Writer/penciller: Neal Adams. Inks: Nick Cardy.
Teen Titans #20-22, 1st series (1969)
There are a few reasons I love this arc of the classic, Silver Age Teen Titans -- a trilogy that was collected long ago in a digest.
One is that it's drawn by Neal Adams -- his only time drawing the Titans in their own comic (though he drew them at least once in the Batman team-up comic, The Brave & the Bold). Adams was a critical favourite at the time (though not necessarily a commercial hit maker -- a number of series Adams worked on, though now regarded as "classic eras", didn't necessarily sell that well). And with his realism and expressive faces mixed with sinewy figures and dynamic action, as well as striking and innovative composition, it's easy to see why he was -- and remains -- a legend. And inker Nick Cardy -- who either drew, or inked, much of this era of the Titans -- brings a rougher, sketchier organic finish to the pencils that is actually quite appealing, and with his use of shadows and light-dark contrasts, infuses the scenes with a lot of moody, stylish atmosphere.
Adams is not generally known as a writer, but he does a nice job here, of maintaining a fast-paced, snappy tempo, with nice interplay between the various characters, whether it be friendly camaraderie, or bickering, as well as capturing the different personalities: Robin the level headed thinker, Speedy the hot head. Even a subtle bit where Hawk (of the Hawk & the Dove) balks at climbing something -- alluding to that character's fear of heights. The script is also peppered with amusing, wry quips. I tend to like this era of the Titans, despite the sometimes heavy handed '60s vibe, precisely for the genuine sense of the characters as pals, not just team mates, and Adams' displays that exemplarily. And even the story boasts some nice plotting, particularly the first issue, which is structured so it unfolds as we go, rather than have everything laid out in the first pages.
Yet what's one of the most appealing things about this arc -- is how it seems to be aiming to be THE quintessential Teen Titans story. Maybe the fact that it was Adams only run with the team, he wanted to do the definitive story. In its three part format, each chapter seems to encapsulate a different aspect of the series.
So in the opening chapter, "Titans Fit the Battle of Jericho", the Titans (Robin, Wonder Girl, Kid Flash, and Speedy) are recruited by the mysterious Joshua (a costumed character who never appeared again) to help save some teens who've fallen in with some self-styled urban revolutionaries. It's nicely evocative of the Titans '60s milieu -- and original raison d'etre -- of them being heroes bridging the 1960s generation gap (and with them paired with the older Joshua, conjures up a sense of their sidekick origins). But the case, though solved, opens the door to a far bigger menace (in a nicely chilling sequence).
The second chapter, "Citadel of Fear", moves into straight super hero adventure -- with aspects of Mission: Impossible and other '60s spy shows -- as the Titans team up with the Hawk & the Dove (characters who would later become semi-members of the Titans). It's lots of action and death traps, shored up with solid character interaction.
Then the third and final chapter, "Halfway to Holocaust", goes all head trippy and sci-fi as the Titans end up in a bizarre otherworldly dimension (the villains behind it all being aliens they had fought before -- something we learned back in the first chapter) where Adams can really go to town on weird, psychedelic imagery. Admittedly, story logic gets a little more tenuous here -- but still relatively holds together. (The third issue even has an 8 page tale -- unrelated to the rest -- telling Wonder Girl's origin, by artist Gil Kane and writer Marv Wolfman -- Wolfman, who would later revive the Titans in the 1980s to much success, here delivering probably one of his earliest scripts).
As a little side note, I once read the rumour that Joshua (the new hero in the first chapter) was originally intended to be black -- which would've made him DC's first African-American super hero. But somewhere along the line that was nixed, and he's white. Whether that's as troubling as it sounds (ie: DC refusing to okay a black super hero) or whether it just became a story aspect innocently lost in the rewrites (after all, the black Titan, Mal, would be added to the team just four issues later) -- or, indeed, whether it is anything more than a rumour -- I'm not sure. But since I'm writing about this arc, I figured I'd mention it.
It's the very ambitiousness of the three-part story that is appealing, representing in a sense three different types of tales under the umbrella of a single story (contrasted with a lot of modern multi-issue epics in which one "chapter" is indistinguishable from the next). Which is why I think of it as almost the definitive Teen Titans saga -- how many series/characters can you point to a single story arc and say it kind of captures various facets of the series? And with great art, a fast pace, and surprisingly effective badinage and interplay, it makes for a memorable effort.