Friday, June 9, 2017

0022: Julie Schwartz's Been Workin' For The Drug Squad

Forget Scorpio, Vera Lynn and laughter for a moment. Does anybody here remember the Protector?

When DC launched their "New Teen Titans" series in 1980 it provided them with the biggest hit they'd had in years. The characters began making guest appearances in other titles, starred with the X-Men in what turned out to be the last Marvel/DC crossover for many years, were the subject of the seventh ever DC mini-series (ahead of most of DC's most famous Silver Age characters), hosted free 16-page insert previews for three other titles, made the covers of fanzines, etc., all in less than three years. Also during that time was a two-part story called "Runaways" (#26-27) about children caught up in drug and prostitution trade. After it shipped, according to Marv Wolfman in an article by Kim Metzger (in Comics Collector #3, Spring 1984), DC was approached by Steve Jacobs. Jacobs was a special consultant for the U.S. Customs Bureau, which had been behind a successful collaboration with Marvel doing public service comics with corporate sponsorship. While the White House was hoping to use characters best known through television (Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman) for an anti-drug message, those characters were constrained by pre-existing licensing commitments. Besides, said DC, they're no longer our best sellers. Showing Jacobs the "Runaways" story, it was immediately obvious that a more kid-friendly version would be perfect. Keebler would be the sponsor. The only problem? Nabisco had already licensed images of Robin along with Batman. Also, Jason Todd was being introduced in Batman stories with plans for him to be a second, concurrent Robin. The solution? Rework Robin  into a new character called "The Protector". Change the costume and hair color (but not the actual style) and keep everything else. After the Keebler comic began circulating, collectors began snatching it up. Unlike most public service comics, this one was written and drawn by the same team making the best selling monthly title. To ensure that they reached their intended audience, DC created a commercial direct market version fans could buy at comics stores. The American Soft Drink Industry sponsored a second issue and IBM sponsored a third in early 1984.

Later in 1984, Kid Flash and Robin left the group, Robin returned as Nightwing, the series spun off a direct market only second title and the newsstand title began laying the groundwork for Crisis On Infinite Earths the following year. Flash forward to late 1989. Jason Todd has been dead for three years. Tim Drake has just been introduced and will become the third Robin in late 1990. The newsstand Titans title became a reprint series after Crisis. George H.W. Bush is in the White House and while the rhetoric of protecting children is up, any notion of proactively doing something that might actually protect a child is treated like maggoty roadkill. It's for the private sector or not at all. Thus, in steps DuPont Pharmaceuticals:

And you'll notice that it's presented by... Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, the very characters whose prior commitments steered the previous project towards the Titans. Forget that Tim Burton version that was ubiquitous everywhere else in 1989, this kid-friendly Batman even wrote the introduction.

You'll also notice that there's no mention of government involvement in the indicia. The contents are 16 B&W pulp pages of mazes, word searches and other simple puzzles which, if they were used in conjunction with prepared instruction, would be a good way to reinforce lessons about the importance of treating prescription drugs cautiously. Unfortunately, there is no indication anywhere that prepared lesson plans or outlines are available to interested parents or educators. Inside, you'll not only see the heroes on the front, but the Flash (in Barry Allen's costume, not the similar one worn by Wally West at the time), as well as these two guys:

That's right; both Robin and the Protector. Why? These comics were prepared for elementary school children. The Protector hadn't been used for over five years. While the children reading this might have been born then, they couldn't have been old enough to be reading anti-drug comics aimed at pre-teens. Or reading at all. Nobody would know who this character is. Even I had to look up his name and I flipped through those three Titans comics less than a year ago. So, congratulations, you've just seen his only appearance besides those three comics and a Secret Files in the year 2000.

On the bright side, you can feel free to enlarge these, print them out and color them to your heart's content. I'll be using scans of the other pages should things get slow. That might be a while. I keep tripping over oddball stuff around here.

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Previously on "Sieve Eye Care"...