In April of 1940, about a year after the debut of arguably their most popular character, Bruce Wayne/Batman, DC Comics debuted “the sensational find of [that year]”, Dick Grayson/Robin. Since then, Batman’s pixie-boots-wearing partner has changed outfits and a number of different characters have assumed the mantle as the Dynamic Duo of Batman and Robin have become an iconic staple of DC Comics. Considering my fondness for the character and those who assumed the mantle over the years, what better way to celebrate this dynamic debut than to dedicate every Thursday of April to celebrating the character?
Story Title: “The Thousand-and-One Dooms of Mr. Twister”
Published: July 1964
Writer: Bob Haney
Artist: Bruno Premiani
All Star Comics (1940/1941) brought together the Justice Society of America (JSA) for the first time, birthing the first ever superhero team in comics. While the JSA’s roster expanded and changed over the years, they were rebranded entirely in the late 1950s when editor Julius Schwartz tasked writer Gardner Fox with breathing new life into the team as the Justice League of America (JLA). The JLA brought together eight of DC’s heavy-hitters and their origin issue became one of DC Comic’s best-selling titles; a mere four years later, DC would assemble a new team, one that specifically targeted their younger readers by bringing together the sidekicks of three DC Comics’ most powerful superheroes. Under the leadership of Dick Grayson/Robin, the trio would later be expanded considerable and come to be known as the Teen Titans, with runs by the likes of Marv Wolfman and George Pérez being notably influential, and the team has seen success in both animated and live-action ventures.
Our story begins in the town hall of Hatton Corners, where an “unusual” public meeting is taking place; specifically, Mayor Corliss is leading the charge against the disruptive and workshy youth of the day by calling for a curfew to help solve the town’s teenage problem. At the same time, in a dilapidated barn across town, the Mayor’s son, Eddie, is rallying the town’s teenagers, threatening that they’ll go “on strike” if they don’t get their new clubhouse, and both mobs are vehemently against the other. Robin, colourful partner and ward to Bruce Wayne/Batman, is on the side of Hatton Corners’ youths; while the Batman believes that the kids are acting like spoiled brats, Robin believes the kids’ voices need to be heard and accepts their invitation to join the Hatton Corners Teen Club (with Batman’s permission, in an amusing bit of irony). Barry Allen/The Flash is equally disturbed by the teenagers’ unruly attitude but his young partner, Wally West/Kid Flash, believes that adults have forgotten what it’s like to be a teenager and also agrees to join the club (again, with his mentor’s permission). The Hatton Corners Teen Club is so adamant about recruiting teenage heroes to their cause that they’re even able to extend an invitation (via an eel carrying a note in a bottle…) to Gar/Aqualad at the bottom of the ocean! Although Arthur Curry/Aquaman believes that kids shouldn’t dispute with their elders and warns Aqualad that he can’t survive out of the water for longer than an hour, he also allows his youthful companion to attend, and the three arrive at the club astonished not only to see each other there but also to find the barn demolished and deserted.
The trio go to Mayor Corliss for answers and he shows them a note form Eddie that reveals he and his fellow “cats” decided to “skip” until the adults “get hip” and build them a new clubhouse. While the Mayor and the town’s other adults believe it’s a ruse to get attention, Robin believes the note is phony since it didn’t use a more appropriate word for “music” (like “jive”); realising that the town’s elders won’t be of any help, the Boy Wonder takes charge and tasks Kid Flash with scouting around the area and Aqualand with checking out the surrounding waters for any sign of a clue. Robin stays in town and is thus on hand to help get the townsfolk to safety when a twister suddenly comes barrelling into Hatton Corners; despite his best efforts to resist the wind, Robin is tossed into the tornado and faces certain death courtesy of Bromwell Stikk/Mister Twister. Thankfully, Kid Flash is able to use his incredible speed to brave the winds and bring Robin to safety, but the young speedster is knocked for a loop when he tries to confront Mr. Twister and gets a blast from his odd staff. Mr. Twister takes credit for the missing children and threatens Mayor Corliss that the youths won’t be returned unless he bows to his demands; in the unspecified amount of time that follows, the townsfolk express regret at how quiet and lifeless it is without the kids, much to the trio’s disgust (though we never see the reactions from any parents except for the Mayor, who seems more bothered about Mr. Twister’s return than the loss of his son).
Mayor Corliss sheds some light on what Mr. twister’s beef is; back in colonial days, Bromwell’s ancestor, Jacob, allowed settlers to build Hatton Corners on his land in return for him and his descendants being paid one passenger feather a year or forfeit one of their youths. Since the demand was so ludicrous, the town’s founders never honoured the agreement and, when Bromwell showed up looking claim on the unpaid debt, he was laughed out of the Mayor’s office and vowed revenge. With passenger pigeons having gone extinct in the intervening years, Robin decides to do a little detective work to find the missing kids and discovers records of “unidentified flying objects” heading southwest to…Goat Island…the same night the teenagers vanished. Aqualad arranges them some transport to the island on the back of a manta ray; along the way, he and Kid Flash get into a bit of a dispute over the appeals of the sea and super speed and Kid Flash even questions Robin’s tendency to bark orders considering his lack of superpowers. Still, they arrive at the island and find the missing teens being put to work by Mr. Twister to build a massive stone tower in his honour. Although Eddie tries to fight back by…throwing a rope at their captor…his efforts are easily subdued thanks to Mr. Twister’s staff and he (as in Eddie) and his fellow teens are suddenly longing for the safety and security of their town and its adults. Mr. Twister leaves to run an errand and threatens them with punishment if his tower isn’t completed by the time he gets back; while Robin goes to uncover the source of the villain’s powers, Kid Flash uses his superspeed to build the tower in no time at all, thereby sparing the youths the wrath of their kidnapper.
Back on the mainland, Robin discovers Mr. Twister using “long lost Indian medicine” to empower his staff; when he’s discovered, Robin leaps into action, tossing sand in the villain’s face and landing an uppercut to his jaw. However, his eagerness backfires; as long as Mr. Twister is in possession of his staff, his body automatically repels any force used against it. Mr. Twister uses a tornado to dump Robin back into town with a further threat to destroy the town unless his debt is paid, but the Boy Wonder is clueless how they can meet the villain’s demands or oppose the power of his staff. Jealous of the adulation Kid Flash receives from the town’s kids, Aqualand returns to the ocean to revitalise his strength and discovers that Goat Island is…somehow…held aloft by an extremely narrow piece of earth under the sea. Using his command over marine life, Aqualad has a bunch of whales literally transport the island out of Mr. Twister’s grasp, bamboozling the villain and earning him the admiration of the kids. Although the teenagers are safely returned to town, Mr. Twister makes good on his threat by conjuring a cloud of dust to bury the town; however, Kid Flash is easily able to disperse it with his superspeed. When Mr. Twister tries to flood the town in torrential rain, Aqualad is able to drain the water by commanding a narwhal to bore a hole into the ground but, when the villain rains literal fire upon the town, Kid Flash and Aqualad are incapacitated by bolts from his staff and the town is slowly consumed by fire (…despite the fact it was just half-submerged under water). Robin pulls his friends to safety and hops into a fire engine; he climbs up the fire ladder and is able to disarm the villain with a ridiculous amount of ease simply by tossing his Bat-Rope and because Mr. Twister was apparently unable to get a clean shot…even though he hit Kid Flash mere moments earlier! Anyway, Mr. Twister is depowered and apprehended, the trio put out the fire, the adults agree to build the teenagers their clubhouse, and everyone celebrates their newfound appreciation of each other.
Holy God! I was expecting this to be pretty bad but, somehow, the first team-up of the proto-Teen Titans managed to exceed my wildest dreams. I’ve said many times how much I dislike the dialogue and characterisations of teenagers and women of this era of comics, so it’s no surprise that I wasn’t best impressed by all the lame attempts to be “cool” by shoehorning in language and anti-adult attitudes all over the story. I liked that the story kind of acknowledged this when Robin noticed the note was clearly written by an adult; it’s ironic as this story, and all other teenage characters, was written by adults trying to capture the speech and beliefs of the younger generation and it just comes across as awkward and out of touch. The whole “teenagers against adults” thing is pretty overplayed throughout comics, especially in the pages of Teen Titans and its successors, but it’s paper thin here; we’re never seen what the Hatton Corners teenagers do that’s deserving of a curfew and the kids only rally against the adults because they won’t build them a clubhouse. There’s no discussion about the relationship between Mayor Corliss and Eddie, no reaction from any parents, and the kids immediately start praising the ground the adults walk on when they’re forced into slavery by Mr. Twister.
Speaking of whom…what the fuck is this villain? He’s the descendant of some landowner who made a bonkers agreement that was immediately welched on and yet he somehow stumbled upon some poorly defined “Indian” magic to empower his staff and gain control of the elements. I mean, I’ve seen some pretty wacky villains in comics in my time, but Mr. Twister takes the cake! He’s literally willing to kidnap a whole bunch of kids, force them to build him a monument, and destroy the entire town, killing all of its inhabitants, unless he’s given a bunch of feathers! He makes the pompous Mayor Corliss look reasonable by that measurement, but the worst part is that he’s portrayed as a credible threat! And that’s a really weird thing for me to complain about as I’m normally bemoaning the fact that the villains of these team-ups aren’t enough of a threat, but Mr. Twister makes mincemeat of both Kid Flash and Aqualad with his staff’s power and could’ve easily killed Robin when he had him unconscious but chose not to for no bloody reason! And yet, despite his vast power, the heroes have to triumph so the story pulls some of the most ludicrous explanations out of its ass to facilitate that; Goat Island is held aloft by a thin perch of earth? A goddamn narwhal? And the fact that Mr. Twister can “kayo” the two superpowered teens but can’t hit Robin because he’s climbing a ladder?!
The whole story is just a complete mess of a fever dream. The three teenage heroes are brought together in the most contrived way possible and, for all their high and mighty talk of the troubles of the youth moment, only go to Hatton Corners when their mentors give them the go-ahead! The dynamic between the three isn’t very developed, but there’s definitely potential here; the rivalry between Kid Flash and Aqualad doesn’t get a lot of play but it was kind of fun seeing them out-doing each other to impress the girls and bickering about their respective powers. If there’s a standout of this story, it’s Robin; he takes command of the three easily and naturally and they listen to him without question (save for one inconsequential remark from Kid Flash). As the far more logical and level-headed of the three, it’s fitting that Robin discovers where the kids have been taken and the source of Mr. Twisters power, and the remarks about his lack of superpowers mean he was obviously going to be the one to topple the villain…I just wish it had been in a more impressive fashion. In the end, “The Thousand-and-One Dooms of Mr. Twister” is indicative of the storytelling of its era; it might seem unfair to hold that against it, but I’m going to. There are certainly far better Teen Titans origin tales out there and you’re really not missing all that much if you skip this one unless you’re a big fan of outdated slang, outmoded opinions on both age groups, and nonsensical storytelling.
Have you ever read “The Thousand-and-One Dooms of Mr. Twister”? If so, what did you think to it? Do you own a copy of the original comic or do you remember reading it when it was first published? What did you think to the first team-up of Robin, Kid Flash, and Aqualad? Were you also put off by the outdated slang and attitudes or did you enjoy these aspects? What did you think to Mr. Twister, his motivations and powers, and the way he was defeated? What are some of your favourite Teen Titans stories? Whatever your thoughts on the Teen Titans, and Robin, drop a comment down below and check back next Thursday for more Robin content.
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