Linkara: Hello, and welcome to Atop The Fourth Wall, where bad comics burn. Oh me, oh my, oh me, today's gonna be a fun one for me. Why? Because I get to talk about my favorite team of superheroes ever, the Titans, the group that got me to start reading comics to begin with.
(voice over footage) Though to be fair, I got into the Titans series of the late 90s and early 2000s. In particular, my favorite comic of all time is JLA/Titans: The Technus Imperitive. But the thing I always love to say about The Technus Imperitive is that it makes you want to read the backstory. You want to see all the stuff that happened before it. You want to get all the references they make because they sound like such awesome stories. And guess what? They are! The original Teen Titans came about in the 1960s to unite a bunch of sidekick characters at the time, like Robin, Kid Flash, and Aqualad. The series had a brief revival in the 70s, but the best-selling and best-remembered stories of the group came about under the work of Marv Wolfman and George Perez in the 1980s, when The New Teen Titans were introduced. In addition to some of the original members, the book introduced several new ones, like Cyborg, Starfire, and Raven, and even brought in Beast Boy from the Doom Patrol series.
(cover of the anti-drug comic) So where did this book come from? Well, then-President Reagan's drug awareness campaign was looking for superhero comics to talk about drugs and, well, get kids aware of why they shouldn't do them.
(pictures from the runaways arc) According to artist George Perez, while they weren't initially looking at the Titans, what got their attention was a two-part story about teenage runaways that had been a part of the book's normal run. Today's particular comic was done by Wolfman and Perez, who were totally on board with doing the book. However, they ran into a stumbling block here and there. Perez has said that the released product was pretty watered down from their original draft, that their runaways story only had to deal with DC editorial, but the drug awareness book had to face several government commissons that said stuff like "we don't want to blame any kids" or "we don't want parents to feel intimidated", etc, etc. Wolfman himself, wanting to get educated about drugs, had spent a lot of time in New York attending meetings with former drug users and anti-drug organizations. When he spoke with former users and translated some of their stories into the book, he had to cut down the amount of drugs he heard them use, because a lot of the drugs sounded so outlandish that nobody would believe they were real things.
(the China Cat panel from Rise of Arsenal 3-4) I guess this explains our old pal China Cat, which apparently is a real drug name. Seriously, who the hell come up with names like that?
Linkara: "Hey man, you wanna get a hit of Slinky?" (jiggles a Slinky toy back and forth) "Everyone knows it's Slinky."
(voice over footage) Anyway, the most glaring problem with the book is the addition of this purple and red fellow with a star on his groin. OK, get this, people, the leader of the Teen Titans was Robin, then Dick Grayson, Age...18, 19, I can't remember. Anyway, Robin is a character in his own right, more tied in with Batman's rights and licensing. Keebler was sponsoring the anti-drug giveaway and the rights to Robin when it came to cookie companies- seriously- were Nabisco's. Robin was already drawn for the full book, so he was literally whited-out of every page and replaced with this guy, The Protector, created by artist Dave Mannik. The drug giveaway book was apparently a complete success- don't know how one measures these things, but an inerview with Marv Wolfman says kids responded to the book and a second printing followed. Wolfman was also concerned that since he and Perez made the book, that Titans fans and collectors would want to get their hands on it- this was a few years before the speculator boom hit, mind you- and steal them from kids. So a direct market copy was sold, where this digital copy comes from, with a banner saying that all money from the sales of the book would go to fight drug abuse. Fortunately for us, though, a fan very kindly donated to me one of the originals that was handed out in classes. Though the only difference is in the cover, and that someone wrote on the back of this copy. Two more specials followed, though George Perez didn't work on them and Marv Wolfman only wrote the second one while plotting the third one. As such, today we're only going to focus on this first issue.
Linkara: So let's dig into (holds up) the first New Teen Titans Anti-Drug Giveaway, and see if this was really as good as those fourth-graders thought it was. Oh yes, and welcome back my friends, to PSA Hell Month.
(PSA Hell Month sequence)
(title card to Michael Jackson's "Bad")
Linkara (vo): I should note that I'm not really sure what to call this book. Technically in most databases it's listed as The New Teen Titans #1: Drug Awareness Giveaway, but there's no number on it, and no name for it in the copyright info beyond The New Teen Titans. I only call it Anti-Drug Giveaway because it's not listed as an official part of DC canon. Although The Protector, being a DC character, is actually included in Who's Who guides to DC and has made background cameos once in a while in comics where they need to have a big gathering of heroes. The cover is pretty good with that classic La Pieta pose, as Speedy carries this child who is no doubt dead from a drug overdose. You know, for kids!
Linkara: Oh yeah, and let's get this one out of the way here. "Oh, his name is Speedy and he's a former drug user. Hahahahaha, haven't heard that one a kajillion times!"
(vo) Hey Cyborg, I know you're lonely, what with being half-machine and everything, but please stop feeling up the kids, it's making them uncomfortable. Also, you gotta love how all the Titans are watching Speedy carry the kid away, but not The Protector. He's too busy looking over the true cause of this kid's death- those books!
Linkara: (dressed in trenchcoat and looking at "The Nitpicker's Guide To Classic Trekkers") "Nitpicker's Guide, exactly as I suspected."
(vo) We open on a kid named Debbie, giving a testimonial about how she got into drugs.
Debbie: I've taken alcohol, pot, hash, hash oil-
Linkara: Pot, hash, and hash oil? I'm pretty sure those are all the same thing.
Debbie: -pop and mushrooms- (actually says PCP that Linkara misreads as pop, this gets pointed out in the Next Top 15 Screw-Ups video. Whatever, it gave us a good joke:)
Linkara: Oh my God, not pop! First they get you on the Pepsi, then they move you up to harder stuff like Mountain Dew!
Debbie: Another friend was doing smoke and asked if I wanted to. I didn't, not at first, but then I said "Sure." I mean, most of my friends were. Besides, everyone thinks pot's safer than alcohol, right?
Linkara!Debbie: "But then we got the munchies, and started eating Cheetos, and the Cheeto dust got everywhere, and I couldn't wash it off my hands! It's like my hands were stained with orange blood!"
Linkara: (vo) The comic truly opens with the Titans attacking a warehouse.
Speedy: There, in that building. It took two months to find them, but the work paid off.
Linkara!Speedy: "Push back the release date on that new toy again, huh? Well, we'll see whose preorder gets honored now!"
Speedy: By the way, Protector, I'm really glad you're joining us on this case.
Protector: My pleasure, Speedy. I've always wanted to work with the Teen Titans.
Linkara!Protector: "I'm sure this team up will lead to many, many more in the future!"
Linkara: (vo) Anyway, they're attacking a drug lab and naturally, people who make drugs wear three-piece suits, espcially purple ones like this fellow. I mean, dress for success, am I right? Starfire wonders why anyone would make drugs which would only hurt other people.
Speedy: Greed, Starfire- pure and simple greed.
Linkara!Speedy: "There are no other reasons why people make drugs whatsoever!"
Linkara: (vo) Two goons try to escape, but Raven intercepts them. Being an empath, she envelops the two with her soul self and causes them to feel the pain caused by drug addicts. However after she finishes, she convulses in pain.
Raven: Help me, the world has gone mad!
Linkara: (vo) And we see from her eyes the world has become distended and miscolored!
Linkara: Oh my God, Raven's tripping balls!
(vo) What she's actually feeling is a young boy nearby whose having trouble dealing with the drugs in his system. They fly him to a nearby hospital, and suddenly it's evening or early morning, and wait to see if he'll be OK. I'm assuming after they busted the drug dealers they called the police on them or something, since otherwise they all got away.
Starfire: Speedy, you know more about these things than I do.
Linkara!Speedy: "Yes, Starfire, I know."
Linkara!Starfire: "I mean, what with you being a heroin addict and all."
Linkara!Speedy: "Thank you, Starfire, everyone's aware of that."
Linkara!Starfire: "I mean, you were doing the China Cat pretty heavy."
Linkara!Speedy: "That's enough, Corrie."
Linkara!Starfire: "I'm just saying, you were high as a kite and hearing colors all the time."
Linkara!Speedy: "You know, for an alien from a culture all about love, I'm not feeling any right now."
Starfire: If drugs are bad, why do kids take them?
Speedy: Lots of reasons, and sometimes no reasons.
Linkara: "Hey, why did you start cracking crack?"
Linkara 2: "Eh, no reason."
Linkara: (vo) A doctor comes to them and lets them know that unfortunately they got to him too late and he died.
Starfire: Those drugs killed him?
Linkara!Doctor: "Oh heck no, we're just a terrible hospital."
Linkara: (vo) Starfire immediately flies out into the now-night-again. (cue the Darth Vader "NOOOOOO!") The doctor walked off to talk to one of the parents of one of the boy's friends who is also in the hospital, though fortunately she got to the hospital in time and is in detox. Meanwhile, Starfire in her rage arrives back at the drug lab from earlier.
Starfire: Well they'll never kill another child again! Nobody will ever die because of this place!
Linkara: (vo) And she promptly eradicates the building.
Linkara!Starfire: "There, now the police have no crime scene to investiagte, no evidence, and I'm guilty of destruction of private property. I'm feeling better already!"
Linkara: (vo) Actaully she's still sad that someone so young died and that the drug dealers will just set up shop somewhere else. OK, seriously, no one called the cops to pick up the drug dealers? It's not like nobody would believe you, you guys are the Titans, you're a well-known superhero group! You've got an island with a building shaped like a giant T! You're friends with the police!
Starfire: Why aren't they the ones who suffer? Why do the children have to suffer?
Linkara: I'm sorry, Starfire, it's just the way it is. Hell is for children. (cues the Pat Benetar song)
Linkara: (vo) Back at the hospital Beast Boy, or rather Changeling as he was called at the time, tries to talk to the brother of the girl in detox.
Changeling: Are you with the O'Haras?
Teddy: I'm Teddy, Debbie's brother. What's it to you?
Changeling: I dunno. It's just sad to see someone so young-
Teddy: You mind? I don't wanna talk about this.
Linkara!Teddy: "How dare you show kindness and compassion! Go to hell!"
Linkara: (vo) The Titans talk with Debbie's parents.
Father: We didn't notice it at first, but she started dressing differently, as if she didn't care what she looked like.
Linkara: I wouldn't worry about it, dude. The leg warmers, neon colors, and plastic bracelets will go out of style in a few years.
Mother: And you should hear how she talks to us. Every other word out of her mouth is a curse.
Linkara!Mother: "I'm telling you sweetie, that Angry Video Game Nerd is a bad influence on her!"
Linkara: (vo) Hey, and get this- apparently they couldn't decide where the speech balloon was coming from, so they just put one on top and one below. Raven senses something and asks Speedy to come with her, seeing a bunch of other children who are obviously feeling the same drug pains that Debbie is. Annnd time for another testimonial.
Anna: My brother, Juan, he was the one who started me using drugs. Now look at him- he's dead.
Linkara: Oh, I get it! Juan from Spider-man: How To Beat The Bully was addicted to steroids! That's how he could toss people around one-handed!
(vo) The kids, who are friends of Debbie's, recognize the Titans and decide to bolt.
Raven: (in extreme closeup) Please, do not run.
Linkara!Raven: (same closeup) "Aren't my eyes comforting when they're up close like this?"
Linkara: (vo) The kids try to escape the hospital, but the Titans intercept them. Speedy asks why they were trying to run.
Joe: What do you expect? What would you do if you saw "The Man" coming at you?
Linkara!Joe: "The first thing they do is punch you in the stomach and declare that they're a man!"
Linkara: (vo) The girl from the testimonial, Anna, says that her brother was the one they found dead. The other kids, however, insist that they don't want any help.
Starfire: On my planet, we care about each other. We never turn our backs on anyone.
Joe: So go back to your planet, lady. We don't operate like that here.
Linkara!Joe: "We are all complete and utter assholes on this planet. Your hair looks stupid!"
Roger: Joe's right. Go back where you came from. You're nothing but bigshot superheroes. You don't know anything about this.
Speedy: Pal, you just made yourself a bad mistake.
Linkara!Speedy: "Here, wanna see the pictures of my dead daughter, who led me to start taking drugs again? Do you? ANSWER ME, DAMMIT!"
Linkara: Oh, but I kid. Lian hadn't been born yet at this point in the comics...and, thanks to the reboot, she never existed at all. Neither did this team, from what I can tell. (beat) You know, I think I may hate the reboot.
(vo) It's Speedy's turn now for his testimonial, talking about all the drugs he used to take back when he was 13.
Speedy: So I used to hang around my druggie friends smoking dope- back then they said pot had no bad effects...that was before they did further research. Kids are still growing...so things like pot and booze affect them worse than they do adults.
Linkara: Alcohol, yes, but pot...I think the jury's still out on that one. And before anyone asks, I don't know or care about the issue of legalizing marijuana. I just remind you all that "research" resulted in this film about what marijuana does to you- (title card for "Reefer Madness") Just saying.
(vo) While the three continue to talk to the kids, we cut back to the hospital room, where Debbie's parents try to convince her to tell them where she got the drugs from.
Debbie: You don't understand. You never have. I don't snitch.
Linkara!Debbie: "Even though taking the drugs has landed me in the hospital where I'm barely clinging to life, I see nothing wrong."
Linkara: (vo) However off-panel, Changeling talked to her brother and while he doesn't take any drugs, he's been watching it happen all over school and knows where they're coming from. We cut to- a few moments later. That was very necessary. The father asks them why the schools or even the heroes can't do anything.
Cyborg: Hey, we can stop a couple of manufacturers, but the problem's bigger'n that. Drugs have been made to sound acceptable. Alcohol is everywhere.
Linkara: Oh yeah, well you try reading Marville and then not wanna drown yourself in booze! (holds up bottle)
Cyborg: The stuff is shown on TV and the movies as sexy, as something glamorous. Kids see it and they want to be "adult", too.
Linkara: OK, I've seen this argument before, but can anyone name a single movie or even a single TV show where people are drinking or shooting up, and it's portrayed as the most awesome thing in the world? I mean, one that actually shows that it's cool and hip? And I mean something that would be seen by like millions of people, including children, not some indie film where you see God if you do enough pot. Something? Anything?
(vo) Cyborg says that he used to be friends with druggies and he did some drinking and pot as well, but he stopped because of his athletic aspirations at the time.
Protector: Listen, I want to follow up on what Ted told us. This might be the chance we've been hoping for. Let's go!
Linkara!Protector: "I am The Protector, you new lord and master! You will come and go as I command!"
Linkara: (vo) And within minutes, it's daytime again. I really wish the comic would decide what the hell time it is. The Titans, flying in their jet, decide to follow up on Ted's lead as they fly over the city...the mountains...then the city again...then a beach? (Nope, he's not kidding.)
Changeling: Look down there, on the beach. Those kids should be playing, swimming, having fun. Instead, look at them...they're doing nothing. They don't seem to care.
Linkara: (vo) OK, how low to the ground are you guys flying if you can tell that those kids on the beach are drinking and smoking? Hell, how can you tell how old they are? After confirming that there are at least other kids nearby who are playing basketball instead of getting high off the pot, they detect something nearby via radar.
Wonder Girl: Chopper! What should we do?
Linkara: Nothing? You don't know who the chopper belongs to.
(vo) But no, they pull back so they don't get spotted. Apparently the drug dealers can afford helicopter patrols near the beach. Actually, it turns out that the choppers are bringing deliveries for several vans waiting for them.
Cyborg: Do we bust 'em?
Protector: No, not yet. We want their boss. We land and wait.
Linkara: Geez, you guys. These dealers are really well-organized and well-financed. I think they need to call in some backup on this one, indivduals well-versed in dealing with this kind of situation.
(cue the "Dragnet" clip)
Friday: It was Tuesday, March 15th. It was fair in Los Angeles. We were working the day watch out of Juvenile Narcotics. A new kind of powerful drug capable of producing weird and dangerous hallucinations had found its way onto the streets of the city. It had fallen into the hands of juvenile experimenters. We had to try and stop it.
Linkara: (vo) Anyway, the Titans decide to split up, some following the dealers on the ground while the rest follow the choppers. Raven wonder how this will help the children, but The Protector says that all they can do is stop the inflow of more drugs. Then it's up to the kids to decide for themselves what they do.
Linkara: Or, take away the choice by throwing them in juvy for possession of illegal or controlled substances. That happens too.
(vo) And after another testimonial, this one by a young Mr. T (Joe), the kids have gathered with Anna for her brother's funeral. The others, knowing just what to say to this grieving young woman, say \ he probably just had a bad hit and she should do some more drugs. What great friends. They know exactly the right thing for this sort of situation. I hope they burn their fingers when they light that joint. Meanwhile, the Titans following the choppers pursue them to a cold mountain region, no doubt where the drug dealers have their secret mountain headquarters. All drug dealers have those, right?
Dealer: One of the delivery kids bought it today- at the warehouse.
Drug lord: So what else is new? You know what this stuff is laced with. Anyone could die.
Linkara!Drug lord: "Yes, because my goal is to have people die, thus they'll stop being able to buy drugs from me!"
Drug lord: And if they're stupid enough to buy it, they get what they deserve.
Linkara!Drug lord: "Oh my God, it's fun being transparently evil! I'm gonna go kick a puppy!"
Linkara: (vo) Starfire, enraged, attacks them. The Protector wants her to hold back, worried that she'll kill them and they'll be no better than the murderous drug dealers.
Cyborg: Okay, you're right, boss-man-
Linkara: He's not your boss! Your boss is busy doing a Nabisco crackers commercial!
Linkara: (vo) So they start beating up the drug dealers and we cut to Juan's funeral. The priest is saying what a fine boy he was, but the kids, under the influence of drugs, start talking.
Joe: Fine boy? He was bad, real bad.
Anna: Yeah. Bad boy, real bad!
Linkara: Who's bad? (cues the MJ song)
Linkara: (vo) The parents want her to be quiet, but suddenly she goes nuts.
Anna: I hate you! I hate both of you! And I'm glad he died! Why don't you all die? You all hate me. You hated him, too. Everyone hates us because you don't understand us.
(cue "The Room" clip)
Tommy: Everybody betrayed me, I'm fed up with this world.
Anna: Why don't you leave us alone. Go away for God's sake- go away!
Linakra!Anna: (flailing) "Being hysterical and angry is what pot does to you, right?"
Linkara: (vo) After a whole lot of shouting, the other three kids run away and Anna and her parents embrace lovingly, and they tell her everything will be okay and they'll get her help. And oy, another testimonial. Say, I wonder how Friday and Gannon are doing on their end of the drug investigation?
Friday: 2:20 PM. We took the subject to Central Receiving Hospital. The examining doctor pronounced him under the influence of an unknown drug.
Linkara: (vo) The ground-based Titans find their way over to a rather large group where drugs are getting distributed. Seriously, wouldn't having this many kids in this spot gather unwanted attention? Anway, Speedy, Wonder Girl, and Changeling attack, beating the snot out of the dealers. The kids try to run, but Raven gets in their path.
Raven: Listen to me and know what drugs can do to you...you must understand how they affect your bodies. You ability to have children may be impaired.
Linkara!Kid: "But Raven, I don't wanna have kids."
Linkara!Kid 2: "I already have a disorder that leaves me incapable of having kids."
Linkara!Raven: "Oh, crap, I didn't think about that."
Raven: And addictions may be passed to innocent babies.
(Mr. T and the T-Force #1 panel-)
Mr. T: It's a crack baby, fool!
Linkara: (vo) Seriously Raven, these kids are like 12 and 13. I don't think you should have opened with the 'but it may hurt your ability to have kids' argument. Anyway, the Titans at the street level finish up while a federal task force arrives to take the drug dealers in the mountain into custody. Raven continues to talk to to the kids, telling them about all the physical effects of drugs that don't affect childbirth. Unfortunately being an empath, she's feeling all those afflictions right then and there, and the others decide to take her someplace safe and let the kids go with a warning to go to detox or some other kind of program.
Speedy: Believe me, I know- there can be hope.
Linkara!Speedy: "Unless you get your arm cut off and your daughter killed, and her zombie ghost appears to you."
Linkara: Yeah, I'm still bitter. What of it?
(vo) Back with the asshole kids, they all realize that drugs are ruining their lives and they decide to get help. After one more testimonial, we cut to a drug detox center where a bunch of kids and parents are in a group session talking about what happened. The parents thank the Titans for all their help.
Speedy: Thanks, we but had nothing to do with this. The kids made their decisions by themselves.
Linkara!Speedy: "I mean, it's not like we frightened them with stories about our own experiences with drugs and then interrupted them in a middle of drug sale, or pursued them and talked to them. We didn't do anything."
Linkara: (vo) And so our comic ends with one girl proclaiming that she's a druggie, but she's gonna stop. However, I'm just distracted by the drug counselor who I think might be (inset) Doc Scotty from Neutro. Apparently this is his community service after all the bone-headed things that happened with the robot who did not know the difference between right and wrong. But yeah, drugs are bad.
Narrator: The story you have just seen is true. The names were changed to protect the innocent.
Linkara: This comic...hard to say if it sucks or not.
(vo) On one hand, it is very dated, not only in the dialogue but also in portraying drug dealers and manufacturers as well-organized criminal empires who twirl their mustaches and laugh at the children dying from drugs. But on the other hand, there's clearly a lot of heart here and while they seem to get some stuff wrong, the testimonials do bring up various reasons why kids start doing drugs and the hazardous effects to them. It's also just nice to read another classic Titans story, even if they're being led by the guy who has a star on his costume for no reason other than to direct our attention towards his naughty bits.
Linkara: So yeah, this one's not too bad. And trust me, I've read a lot of bad stories involving members of the Titans. (quick shot of some covers) A LOT of bad stories involving members of the Titans. (sets comic down and gets up from couch)
(credits to "Hell Is For Children")