Wednesday, April 20, 2016

New Teen Titans Drug Awareness Special (1983)


New Teen Titans Drug Awareness Special (1983)
"Plague!"
Writer - Marv Wolfman
Penciller - George Perez
Inker - Dick Giordano
Letterer - Ben Oda
Colorist - Adrienne Roy
Consulting Editor - Len Wein
Editor - Dave Manak
Special Thanks - David Mishur & Stephen Jacobs
Cover Price: $1.00

This issue has long been atop the stack of books I wanted to cover for the ol' blog, and I just hadn't gotten around to it.  I figure, given today's date I may as well be all "lol, internet" and post it now.  This is an interesting PSA that features the first (and one of the only) appearance of an all-new Titan, the Protector.  Pro, as his fellow Titans call him is a stand-in for the unavailable Boy Wonder, Robin.

This issue was co-presented by the Keebler Company... like, as in the Elves that make cookies in a tree.  At the time, and hell... perhaps even now, Robin's likeness (along with presumably the entire Batman family) was licensed to the Nabisco Company.  Tensions must have been high during the cookie-wars of the early 1980's.

It's pretty much a tradition here in the United States that the First Lady takes up a cause.  Currently, Michelle Obama is taking on childhood obesity, Laura Bush tackled illiteracy, and so on.  Well, back in the 1980's, First Lady, Nancy Reagan aimed to start the War on Drugs.  It seems like such a quaint idea in hindsight, but at the time "Just Say No!" was a mantra in schools all across the nation.  This comic is part of those efforts, and even includes a letter from Nancy Reagan on the inside front-cover.  This should also be an indication of just how huge the New Teen Titans were at this point in time!

Normally, this whole concept is one that I'd roll my eyes at.  Growing up in the 80's, I found myself the victim of many a "very special episode" of my favorite sitcoms, and feel I kinda know the score.  If there's any creative team who can make me feel different, it's most definitely Marv Wolfman and George Perez.  Let's see how this one plays out!

--

We open on a confessional scene.  Something out of a contemporary reality television program.  A thirteen year-old girl, who introduces herself as Debbie O'Hara, tells of her history of drug abuse.  She also alludes to problems in her family home, perhaps to justify her use.


As the story proper begins, we observe the Teen Titans, sans Robin... plus Protector about to bust up a drug ring they had been surveying for the past several months.  On Speedy's mark, the team bursts through a wall and into battle.


The Titans make short work of the "scums".  Raven attempts to use her empathic powers on the remaining felons wrapping them within her soul-self, and finds herself overcome by pain and weakness emanating from somewhere nearby.  She collapses to the ground.


With her teammates surrounding her, Raven points to the source of her pain.  The Titans discover discover a young boy going into fits, presumably from his rampant drug use.  Realizing time is of the essence, Cyborg instructs Starfire to fly the poor boy to the hospital straight away.


Shortly at the hospital, the Titans anxiously await the news on whether or not the boy would come out of it.  Moments later, a doctor approaches.  He tells the Titans that sadly, by the time they arrived the boy was too far gone.  Upon hearing this, Starfire in particular takes the news rather badly, and bee-lines it to the nearby drug-lab and blasts the thing to pieces.  She questions how people could be so cruel to one another, and begins sobbing.


Back at the hospital, the O'Haras arrive.  They are the parents of the girl who chatted us up earlier.  Apparently, she also had a bad trip and was currently in detox.  The doctor tells them she will make a full recovery, but will need a lot of guidance to stay straight.  Changeling meets Debbie's brother, Teddy and tries to see if he can learn anything.


The rest of the Titans begin questioning the elder O'Haras.  They tell of Debbie's recent change in personality, and the toll it's taken on their entire family.  Raven gets that funny feeling again, this time it's anguish... and it's coming from a motley group of children waiting in the hallway.


Back in the confessional, we now meet twelve year-old Anina Juarez... also a drug user.  She's friends with Detox Debbie, and is the sister of the recently deceased Juan.


The Titans approach the children, thinking perhaps they could be of value, information-wise.  The kids, of course beat a hasty retreat.  Speedy, Raven and a returning Starfire are able to cut them off at the chase, and begin their soft interrogation.  The kids act all defiant, and one has the gall to stick his finger into Speedy's chest.


This brings us back to the confessional.  Speedy tells his tale of use and abuse.  He says the things he would do to get his fix would make them sick, but does not go any further into detail.  He shares that at his lowest point, he contemplated suicide.


Back inside, Protector, Cyborg, and Wonder Girl are trying to speak with detox Debbie.  They want to know where she got her drugs.  She refuses to answer... says she's not a snitch.  Changeling and young Teddy enter the room.  Ten year-old Teddy claims he may have overheard something of import.


After hearing the news Mr. O'Hara begins laying into the Titans, claiming they haven't done enough to stop things like this.  Cyborg pops in and says they can only do so much, and makes an observation in regard to how sexy drugs and alcohol are depicted in media.  He also mentions that the crew he used to hang out with all fell in with drugs, but he was able to sidestep it.


Now, armed with the information (that they haven't yet shared with the reader), the Titans take to the skies.  They pass an almost perfect juxtapositional scene with one group of teens being active and playing basketball, and another group just lounging with smokes and drinks.  Okay, I think they could have cut this scene... we get it already.


The team happens upon the helicopter they had been looking for and they hang back as to not arouse any suspicion.  After a landing, the team observes a drug drop.


Confessional time.  Meet fourteen year-old Joseph Cummings.  Drug user and detox veteran, Joe claims his father is a cop.  He hasn't been feeling too good of late, and he hopes it's just because of his drug use, and not anything more dangerous.


It must be a few days later, as it is the morning of Juan's funeral.  Joseph approaches Anina and notes that she looks upset.  That Joe must be on some enlightening stuff at the moment.  Joey reaches into his pocket and retrieves a joint... surely, in light of recent events the best thing for mourning Anina is a toke.  She clearly agrees, and lights up after putting up a sad bit of resistance.


Meanwhile, Titans Protector, Starfire, and Cyborg fly to the mountaintop base of Evil Narcotics Incorporated, LLC and overhear some goons talking about the death of Juan.  They all laugh it off, and joke that with all the garbage they're lacing the drugs with, they aren't surprised.  The team, well, okay just Starfire (but the others do follow) bursts into the scene, and make short work of the scums.


Back in the city, a funeral is taking place.  As the priest gives Juan's eulogy all of the children begin laughing.  That sounds about right.  When Anina's parents question her bizarre reaction, she flips out on them and flees through the graveyard.  Her goofball coward friends turn all scared rabbit and run away as her parents give chase.  Anina ultimately collapses into a pile of tears and bong water, and her parents hold her as she sobs.


Confessional ti... wait, him?  Bwa-ha-ha-ha-haaaaa!  Okay, okay... ahem.  Meet thirteen year-old Henry Catlin.  Drug addict, and I think he was the heavyset red-haired kid that was in every 1990's kids movie... like the ones where they played sports, and they weren't very good... but still won in the end.  Yeah, him!  Either that, or this is Pat from Saturday Night Live.


Meanwhile, across town... remaining Titans Wonder Girl, Changeling, Raven and Speedy pull a raid on the street dealers who are selling to a group of kids.  They do so in grand fashion, Changeling takes the form of an elephant and Wonder Girl throws a truck and appears to rip one poor guy's heart out.


The day is saved, and the Federal Task Force is called in to take the creeps into custody.  The empathic Raven runs the gamut of emotions, surrounded by all of these poor addicted children.  Speedy gives her a hug, and promises they'll bring her someplace safe.


Later on, the He-Man Drug-Lovers club all decide it's time to clean up once and for all.  They get arm and arm and march into detox, heads held high.


Our final confessional scene features fifteen year old Roger Levine.  While he goes through his history, he stops himself.  He knows that drugs have overcome his life, and he wants a change.  Only now does he know he wants and needs help to stop.


We close with the Titans sitting in on a group therapy session for addicts and their families.


--

Okay, that was... and I swear I'm not trying to be contrarian here... not half bad.  The Titans had featured socially relevant stories throughout their tenure, and this one (outside of featuring the Protector) would not feel terribly out of place.  A bit heavy-handed, perhaps... but it kind of had to be given the circumstances.  Of special note, they made Starfire's outfit a touch more modest, covering up her belly and cleavage.  I suppose that makes sense if these things were going to be passed out in schools and pediatrician offices nationwide.  Really can't complain too much about that, in fact I didn't even notice it while I was reading, it was only after doing a bit of research that I found out.

While on the subject of Starfire, I'd say that maybe her behavior was a touch over-the-top, however, she was always known for losing her cool in the heat of emotion/battle.  I gotta say, all of the Titans acted completely in character throughout this tale.  Only sorta-kinda hiccup to me would be Raven  referring to the Protector as "Pro"... I mean, she called Flash "Wallace", I can't see her being so informal... however, I'm guessing this is the result of having already sized the word balloon to fit "Robin", and trying to fit "Protector" in there would be a bit unwieldy.

Overall, this was an extra 20-odd pages of Teen Titans drama and action by two of the all-time greats.  Of course it could be better, however, I think I can safely say it could have been far far farrrrrr worse.  If you're a fan of the Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans, yeah, snap this one up.  I know we're in a more cynical and perhaps devil's advocate-y time, but there really is a lot to dig about this issue.

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