Thursday, November 4, 2010
DP02-04 Beast Boy and Mal Duncan in "Teen Titans" Part 1
.....While the Doom Patrol were experiencing a revival of sorts in Showcase in 1977, several other DC titles were experiencing more explicit revivals, not the least of which was the Showcase title itself. In the previous year, Blackhawk, Plastic Man, All-Star Comics, Metal Men, Green Lantern and Teen Titans all resumed publishing at the issue numbers following their respective points of prior cancellation. [The actual details are a bit more complicated than that; DC Super Special was also revived, but only for one issue, which was neither super nor particularly special, and All-Star Comics had previously run from #1(Summer/40) to #57(02-03/51) when it changed title (and motif) to All-Star Western #58(04-05/51) to #119(06-07/61). When it was brought back as All-Star Comics #58(04-05/76) to #74(09-10/78) as a vehicle for the Justice Society once again, instead of beginning with issue #120, it may have been to draw attention away from the fact that in a different era it published more issues in a shorter period as a western.]
.....Joining Showcase in 1977 at the 35 cent price point were Aquaman, New Gods, Mister Miracle and Challengers Of The Unknown. Today all those characters still persist in one form or another, although we know that by 1978 only Green Lantern survived the axe as an ongoing title. As befits revivals there was a streak of nostalgia running through most of these titles, using old villains, picking up unresolved plot threads and dusting off fellow M.I.A.'s as guest-stars: Green Arrow and Black Canary did double duty in the JLA and Green Lantern, Bruce Gordon/Eclipso shows up in Metal Men and Challengers Of The Unknown integrates Swamp Thing, Deadman and even Rip Hunter"... Time Master!". For its part, Teen Titans put together a West Coast version of the team from existing characters, some of whom had appeared in the original run of the series.
.....For those less familiar with Titans history, the first ten years were relatively simple. It only gets migraine inducing in the year leading up to Crisis On Infinite Earths and increases exponentially after that. The folks at titanstower.com (linked on the left) make it all... well, if not easy, at least sane and orderly. For graduate studies focusing on Wolfman/Perez and Geoff Johns stories, I've found posts on those (and every other thought provoking topic) at historiesofthingstocome.blogspot.com (while not DP-centric enough to necessitate a permanent link, its author ToB and I are mutual followers; as of this writing she maintains the Aeon Flux icon at left and if you think this blog does its research you owe it to yourself to check out her blog; it's the "Aquaman Shrine" of xenophilology). To follow the 1977 revival one only need to know that the feature launched in The Brave And The Bold #54(06-07/64) (with art by Bruno Premiani!) when the title had settled into pairing heroes (mostly JLA members) but not yet resigned to becoming "Batman and... ". The concept was simple, even obvious. So many of the JLA had teen-aged sidekicks who did not accompany them on JLA adventures that they could form a team themselves. That began with Kid Flash, Aqualad and Robin. A second B&B appearance one year later added Wonder Girl and a team name, followed by a Showcase issue and on-going series months later. During those first three years (#1-17) there were two guest appearances by Speedy (the pre-heroin Roy Harper) and one by Beast Boy [noted in the Original Period synopsis, post DP01-AA]. Ultimately it is decided that Beast Boy is too young for the team after Robin breaks the 'fourth wall' in the last panel and asks the comic's readers directly if they want Gar to join the team. He didn't at the time, so we would have to assume most voted no if at all. If that seems cruel, the terms 'Robin' and 'readers poll' in conjunction usually conjure much worse.
.....At the end of 1968 the famous turnover in personnel at DC affected Teen Titans and Aquaman pretty dramatically. Arnold Drake had already left the cancelled Doom Patrol and Stanley And His Monster for Marvel's X-Men and Captain Marvel and the Charlton creators who had just been hired at DC brought an objective eye to the titles that remained. There was a lot of imagination and some valiant efforts at change, but of the twenty titles cancelled during 1968 and 1969 they were disproportionately recent. Only four of them began publishing prior to Fantastic Four/Justice League Of America : the aforementioned Doom Patrol and Stanley titles (which actually began as different titles and changed during the "12-cent" period), Blackhawk (acquired from another company in the 1950's and not quite "family") and The Adventures Of Bob Hope (which was a licensed property, meaning that the cost of using Hope's name must have been cutting into the profits). DC only introduced about 40 new titles during the 1960's. According to my calculations only 14 left 1969 intact. Of the titles that started prior to 1960 cover dates, DC began the decade with 32 precode titles and 14 more silver age. It ended the decade with 32 combined, plus the 14 that were introduced during the 1960's. I would have to do a great deal more blurry-eyed research to break that down into frequencies (i.e., the number of issues each title publishes per year; just because DC was publishing the same number of titles after ten years doesn't mean they were publishing the same number of issues per title, or selling the same number of copies per issue). Suffice to say that the readership provided the sales and the sales determined further publication and at that time publication heavily favored established characters in established titles and features. In spite of this, Teen Titans survived.
.....Teen Titans in 1968 brought on Dick Giordano as editor and the changes began immediately. Inheriting the last three scripts from George Kashdan/Bob Haney, the cringe-worthy faux-teen slang was dialed back a bit and the covers began changing logos with every issue, from the last of the original standard logo on #14(03-04/68) and (on a smashed window, tellingly) #15(05-06/68) until the first use of what would be the second standard logo on #19(01-02/69). As soon as the last of the leftover scripts had been used Giordano began using a variety of new writers beginning with one of the earliest published scripts from Len Wein and Marv Wolfman in #18(11-12/68) which introduced a new teen hero, the male Russian Starfire (no relation to Koriand'r). #19 followed with a teen costumed villain, Punch. It also brought in Speedy as a full-time member and ended with Aqualad returning to the Aquaman title. #20 introduced another teen hero, Joshua. #21 had a guest appearance by Hawk and Dove shortly before their own series would end. Then in #22 they open the biggest can of worms in Titans history: they point out that Wonder Girl doesn't have a real name. The character was originally created to simply be Wonder Woman herself as a teenager, then appeared in 'impossible tales' (as they were called in the 1960's) in which Wonder Woman would fight alongside the younger versions of herself (Wonder Girl and... Wonder Tot...yeesh). It was only in the Titans stories that she existed as a sidekick/younger sister/niece/adopted ward/mascot/whatever of Wonder Woman. That existence then retroactively worked its way into the Wonder Woman title under editor Robert Kanigher. [NOTE: When Dick Giordano took over editing Teen Titans Jack Miller took over editing Wonder Woman with Denny O'Neil on scripts and Mike Sekowsky on art. This was the famous 'new look' version of Wonder Woman with no Amazons, no powers, no costumes and no Wonder Girl. The series became a martial arts/detective title. Within a year Sekowsky was not only drawing the book but writing and editing it, too. I mention this because the entire time Sekowsky was doing the art on the book, Giordano was inking his pencils while editing Teen Titans. As he watched Diana getting further and further away from super-hero conventions he oversaw his writers bringing Wonder Girl closer in line with them, giving her a secret identity, a more adult, form-fitting costume, and an origin story. The culmination of the overhaul coincided with Sekowsky's full take-over of the Wonder Woman title. Both would remain editors of their respective titles for about two more years and leave right before the 'Bigger and Better' format is instituted at DC. Curiously, although Sekowsky left Wonder Woman, Giordano did not. He remained in varying capacities, pencilling and/or inking interiors and/or covers under the editorship of Denny O'Neil until Robert Kanigher returned with issue #204(01-02/73) and brought the super-hero motif back with him.]
.....After a year of shake-ups there were two scripts by Bob Haney (the only Titans author prior to issue #18) in Teen Titans #23(09-10/69) and #24(11-12/69) that were single issue stories with few entanglements in continuity (characteristic of his pre-Giordano tenure). This was possibly the last time the phrase "few entanglements in continuity" could be used without sarcasm when discussing the Teen Titans. Bob Haney's 'done-in-one' approach, which would continue to serve him well during his years of writing The Brave And The Bold, would reassert itself when he returned a year and a half later and Giordano left the editorship. Haney would in fact finish the original run of the series. However, he would have to be doing it under greatly altered circumstances. The Teen Titans during the 1960's had only ever been five specific people. They were friends because they shared highly unusual experiences as young counterparts to famous super-heroes. Despite their occasional protestations that they were not simply a junior JLA but their own people, a junior JLA was precisely what they were... up to that point. Beginning with the 1970 cover dates they began to taken on new members for the first time in years instead of random guest stars and engaged in activities in civilian clothes instead of costumes. The two men responsible for these stories would be once-and-future Wonder Woman editor Robert Kanigher and Aquaman author Steve Skeates.
.....The next post will contain Part 2, which traces the background of Mal Duncan, who would go on to briefly join the Doom Patrol as Vox after Infinite Crisis. Part 3 will examine the return of Beast Boy.