My first encounter with the Teen Titans was watching the team on cartoons in the very late 1960s and early ’70s. The Saturday morning Superman/Batman/Aquaman hour had finally reached syndication, and I watched a half-hour’s worth each weekday morning before going to elementary school. This was probably two or three years before I started collecting comics. After either the Superman, Superboy, Batman or Aquaman feature, I got to see one episode out of a series of rotating features: Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, the Atom, Justice League of America, or the Teen Titans. The Titans line-up was Wonder Girl, Kid Flash, Speedy and Aqualad.
The first Titans comic I bought was Teen Titans #40 (July-August, 1972). There had certainly been some changes since I watched the TV cartoon. Mr. Jupiter was now the group’s mentor; Mal, an African-American, was a team member; Wonder Girl had changed her costume; and Aqualad was now considered a former member. The one notable difference between the cartoon version and the funny book version was that Robin had always been a team member (and leader) in the comic.
“The Spawn of the Sinister Sea,” by writer Bob Haney and artists Art Saaf and Nick Cardy, is a first-rate adventure yarn set in Scotland. The Titans are there to verify the existence of the Loch Ness Monster, and come across an ancient myth even more startling. Centuries ago the Black Moray lived on an island in the loch where he practiced mystic arts. He claimed the lives and souls of many people who lived along the shores of the loch. His powers were quite formidable, and unleashed evil across the land. Fortunately, there was an equally powerful holy man nestled in the hills above the loch, and the two raged battle, and both were vanquished. Supposedly. The Black Moray and his island sank, but those arcane powers from Hell do not dissipate that easily. He learned to breathe underwater and menace the surface world once a century, when his island would rise above water for one night. The Black Moray enlisted ‘thralls’ to do his bidding, and two of them attacked Robin and teammate Mal while they were underwater searching for clues to the Loch Ness Monster (the monster is discovered and taken down, by the way, but it’s not the legend it’s hyped up to be).
Robin shocks the Titans by accusing Aqualad of being one of the thralls that attacked him. As coincidence might have it, they learn that Aquaman’s sidekick is attending school in the Loch Ness area. Aqualad has a fairly sound excuse for being there, but I wouldn’t let Aquagirl know about the cute Scottish blonde he’s hanging out with! Turns out she’s a thrall, too. The action gets fast and furious as Aqualad is captured and chained by the Titans, the ghost of one of the thrall’s victims comes to life to warn the super-teens, the island comes to the surface, the Black Moray attempts to haul in a school bus and possess the kids inside, graves overturn, lightning shoots across the sky, thunder bellows, a storm breaks, people go mad in bars (more so than usual), the Titans are struck down by the blonde thrall, Aqualad is set free to follow his new love, and Robin and Mal find their hydrofoil on the raised island (whew! And that’s just in a few pages!). Will Aqualad be saved before he enters the sinking castle? Will Robin and Mal be able to escape? Well, of course.
It’s brisk adventure that held me spellbound when I first read it, even though there’s a little confusion when the word balloons are switched a couple times in the heat of things, allowing Kid Flash to talk for Speedy and Speedy to talk for Kid Flash. One’s off pursuing one key to the evil-doings, the other’s pursuing another, and when they meet to compare notes and wrap things up with Mr. Jupiter at the end, it reads as though each of them did the other’s work. That Black Moray enchantment affected everyone! After the Titans are triumphant, there’s an attempt to mix verbal humor and visual tragedy in the last panel, which works despite its morbidity.
Bob Haney had a tendency in the early Titans tales to overdo it with the ‘hip’ but corny youthful dialogue, but he restrains himself here. The action is relentless. It’s also nice to see artist Nick Cardy on a full-length feature. I don’t think he’s done much comics art in years. His Titans work, whether as solo artist or inker, is, I believe, greatly underappreciated (but certainly not forgotten). He and Art Saaf do a commendable job with this story’s art, especially with Aqualad. His fiery anger at being chained by his former teammates and the despair on his face as Mal holds him back from joining his bewitched beloved is effective in its portrayal. “The Spawn of the Sinister Sea” in Teen Titans #40 remains solid entertainment. It was a worthy reintroduction to one of my favorite super-teams.