The New Teen Titans was one of DC’s bona fide hit titles at a time when the company was getting steamrolled by Marvel’s mutant-powered success. Taking a cue from Chris Claremont’s X-Men stories, troche Marv Wolfman and George Perez took a property that had been quaintly goofy at best (in the 1960s) and unrelentingly awful at worst (the 1970s) and transformed it into a profitable mix of soap opera and superheroics.
Though the stories from the first few years of the run haven’t aged quite as gracefully as their Marvel counterparts have, they are still fairly entertaining reads. The are pretty much my baseline for competently done, modestly sophisticated storytelling in the genre. Things quickly went south for The New Teen Titans, however, when both Wolfman and Perez were tapped to write and draw DC’s massive inventory taking via “event” comic, Crisis on Infinite Earths.
It was all downhill from there. Perez left, and Wolfman staggered along on a trajectory established by the inertia of a declining, yet still-popular series, with old plots and concepts getting a superficial facelift before getting passed off as new. As the team had drifted away from it’s original (unconvincing, at best) “teen” focus over the years, Wolfman decided to freshen up the demographic appeal.
Meet DANNY CHASE!
Oops. Wrong image.
Meet DANNY CHASE!
There you go.
The resemblance between the telekinetic teen super-spy and The Brady Bunch‘s Cousin Oliver goes deeper than the haircuts and John Denver glasses. Both characters were later season additions designed to freshen up the mix, thereby prolonging audience interest, in properties that had passed their rightful sell-by date. Neither effort was a success.
Danny made his debut in 1987′s New Teen Titans Annual #3, in which he enlisted the team’s help to rescue his super-spy parents from the clutches of Godiva, a villainess of the “psychotic bimbo” school of genre cliches. (You know the type, I’m sure. The one who flirts with an opponent before shooting him in the face, then delivers a post-kill double entendre? “Ohh, I love a man who plays rough! BLAM! You don’t want to cuddle?” Not actual dialogue, but close enough.)
At the predictable end of the predictable (and overlong) story, the Titans offer Danny a spot on the team. He accepts, but no before offering a taste of his signature teen-a-tude.
Watch out, world! This kid is sassy!
These attempts at demographic pandering rarely end well, but under Wolfman’s direction, Danny was not so much a character as a red wine stain on a white pile rug. Wolfman’s efforts to calibrate Danny’s characterization towards something more acceptable to Titans fans only succeeding in making the readers hate the character even more. During his tenture with the team, Danny veered wildly between unappealing extremes, from hyper-competent Mary Sue to snivelling shit to obnoxious fanboy turned sour.
While perhaps true to the behavior of the fans Danny was intended to vicariously represent, it only illustrated how ill-conceived Danny’s addition to the roster was, and spotlighted the problems with the Titans franchise he was intended to alleviate.
Disturbing “imaginary girlfriend” subtext aside, the character of Kitty Pryde — another young teen hero — was worked organically into the X-Men by Chris Claremont during one of his better plot arcs, and he was careful about letting circumstance and time put her on even footing with the rest of her teammates. In contrast, Danny Chase was shoehorned onto the Titans during a pedestrian annual story, and his character’s development never rose above the ulterior “meta” motives of the writer.
The “teen” pretense was eventually dropped from the series, which rebranded itself as The New Titans with issue #50. With it went Danny, who was unceremoniously booted from the group in issue #55…
Wolfman made another go at selling the public on Chasemania during the incomprehensible “Titans Hunt” storyline. A more traditionally superheroic version of the character, rebranded as the hockey mask-and-rags-clad “Phantasm,” was presented to the readers. The readers refused to bite, however, and the character was killed off to much applause during the conclusion of the arc.
So ended the story of Danny Chase, the Cousin Oliver of the DC Universe, and most certainly nobody’s favorite.