For four years and fifty issues, DC Comics published what should be considered, in my opinion, one of the best kid-friendly comics in the history of the medium: Tiny Titans. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. The series was nominated for multiple Eisners, and actually took home the award on two separate occasions — in 2009 and 2011 — for Best Series for Kids. And while DC no longer publishes (for now) the adventures of Robin, Kid Flash, Beast Boy, Raven, and the rest of the gang at Sidekick Elementary School, Art Baltazar and Franco’s creation has left an indelible mark on how good “comics for kids” can truly be. Plus, my daughter loves these books. So much.
Vitals: Tiny Titans lasted from 2008 until its initial run ended in March 2012. The “Tiny-verse” was briefly brought back for twelve issues of Art and Franco’s Superman Family Adventures — a comic that employed the same visual style, structure, and tone.
Plot: There really wasn’t one, really. Each issue basically consisted of loosely connected vignettes of sight gags and puns. The gist of Tiny Titans is essentially that the Titans — and other superhero sidekicks — are all elementary school students where the teachers and administrators all happen to be familiar supervillains. So Deathstroke is “Principal Slade,” Darkseid is the lunch lady, Dr. Light is a science teacher, and on and on.
Meanwhile, the kids have to deal with things that kids have to deal with, like eating cereal and holding secret “Pet Club” meetings. Though there isn’t a narrative through line, necessarily, there are certain things that happen in nearly every issue: Robin is never taken seriously; Beast Boy has an unrequited crush on Terra; Raven is constantly being embarrassed by her father Trigon, who’s also the school’s resident substitute teacher. And an inter-dimensional demon.
Basically, if I had to compare Tiny Titans to something, it’d Peanuts in the DC Universe where Robin is Charlie Brown.
Pros: Uh, everything? Seriously, Tiny Titans was probably my favorite book DC published in the last 5-7 years. It was excellent bedtime reading material, and like I said before, my daughter absolutely loved every one of these books.
We got started by downloading the first issue on Comixology (which was free) and ended up checking out all of the trades at the library. And that turned into actually buying all the trades! The humor, situations, and structure of each story are not only relevant to a kindergartner, they’re also humorous to an adult. Especially an adult familiar with DC Comics lore.
One of the things I really dug about the series is that it often poked fun at the history of DC Comics. For example, Robin dons a new costume and changes his name to Nightwing (in a bid to garner more respect, and to have birds stop following him around), only to have his friends make fun of the name and josh him for the disco collar.
Also, Tiny Titans wasn’t afraid to take a tongue-in-cheek swipe at current-at-the-time storylines, either. Like, when DC was hyping up their “Battle for the Cowl” mega-crossover in the Bat-books, Tiny Titans similarly had Robin embark on a mission to reclaim Batman’s cape and cowl, which had been taken by a cow. A Bat Cow. Heh.
Cons: The series was canceled — though it ended at a nice, round number (issue #50). The Titans made cameos in Baltazar and Franco’s Superman Family Adventures, which ostensibly took place in the same universe, but it wasn’t the same. The duo was also responsible for a series of DC Super Pets chapter books for kids that told the exploits of Krypto the Super Dog, Ace the Bat Hound, Comet the Superhorse, and other furry and four-legged heroes. You can catch some of these Super Pets stories in animated form as part of DC Nation’s Saturday morning block of shorts on Cartoon Network.
Art and Franco eventually moved on to write/draw Itty Bitty Hellboy for Dark Horse, but it just wasn’t the same. Though Dustin Nguyen’s Li’l Gotham has been a nice substitute, I still prefer Tiny Titans.
The good news? (Yeah, I know. This is the Cons section. Leave me alone.) At New York Comic-Con, DC announced that Art and Franco are coming back to Tiny Titans in 2014. Aw Yeah!
Age-Appropriateness: My daughter was four years old when she first became familiar with the Titans. She started reading each trade paperback — as well as the Super Pets chapter books — independently last year.
Oh yeah, that’s the other thing, though this is a skewed version of the DC Universe, my daughter is probably more well-versed on the ins and outs of DC Comics history than most (or any) kids in the first grade. And she has since graduated on to Cartoon Network’s Teen Titans Go! to get her Titans fix now (which is also the reason she dressed in Raven cosplay for Halloween this year).
To purchase: I’m sure you can still find back issues at your local comic shop retailer. As I said earlier, we got hooked by downloading digital issues on the iPad. The trade paperbacks are also easily purchased on Amazon, too.