Sunday, November 21, 2010

DP02-05 Beast Boy and Mal Duncan in Teen Titans Part 2

.....In Part 1 (the previous post, or DP02-04) the history of the Teen Titans during the 1960's, both as a group and as a title, was summarized against a background of changes at DC Comics. In the last three years of the decade ('67-'69) there were as many titles launched as in the first seven ('60-'66), yet when the 1970 cover dates began to ship, most of the titles that had been weeded out during the decade had originated during that decade. There was still a higher rate of retention of titles dating back to the precode era as of 1971than of titles from the previous five years. That's rate, not just absolute number. Teen Titans ranked among the lucky survivors and would be luckier still as even more '12-cent alumni' were cancelled during 1970 and 1971 but only four precode titles were lost, all non-continuity: Secret Hearts, The Adventures of Jerry Lewis, Binky and Girls' Romances . What was Teen Titans doing (or not doing) that kept it alive during this period? Was it as simple as the name recognition of the characters? As byzantine as office politics? I think that it may have been that while some other second string DC titles underwent radical changes to grasp at straws of relevancy, Teen Titans managed to at least remain relevant to its readership. We're all aware of what they say about 20/20 hindsight, of how easy it is to ridicule failed experiments from the vantage point of those who've learned better from the results. Yet so much of this period seems to come from a file stamped "What were they thinking?".

.....Turning the Blackhawks into super-heroes, the Metal Men into humans or the Challengers into ghost-hunters wasn't likely to appeal to their hard-core fan base, those reliable numbers who remained after the sales figures shrank. Obviously those changes were intended to bring in new readership. How that was supposed to happen and why anyone expected that hypothetical new audience in the bush to be larger than the bird DC had in its hand isn't nearly so obvious. What did work was the subtler alterations to Teen Titans, Green Lantern, and Justice League Of America. Rather than change the characters substantially these titles gave them topical situations. They seemed to be finally learning from Stan Lee what Arnold Drake had figured out long ago: ask what a real person would do when faced with these fantastical circumstances. Also, recognize that there are very real circumstances all around us that present formidable challenges to decent people everyday. These stories are at least as interesting as whatever Captain Cold wants to steal this month.

.....Thus was introduced Mal Duncan.
.....By the end of 1968 Marvel had introduced ensemble cast members such as Gabe Jones and Robbie Robertson, background characters like Bill Foster (who would become Black Goliath in the 1970's) and most importantly T'Challa, The Black Panther, a black super-hero and genuine African prince. The next year would see the debuts of The Falcon and The Prowler followed by Eddie March ( the original black Iron Man, before Jim Rhodes), Monica Lynne and Jim Wilson in 1970. But in late 1968 the very young Marv Wolfman and Len Wein submitted a script for Teen Titans to Dick Giordano in which a new super-hero enlists the Titans' help fighting a gang that had been recruiting disaffected black youth. A number of articles in both Comic Book Artist (TwoMorrows) Vol.1, #1(Spring/98) and Vol.1, #5(Summer/99) relate bits and pieces of the story behind the story from the key players. They were interviewed by different persons in different contexts and thirty years' distance has left some memories a bit hazy and inconsistent, but the approved script was pencilled in its entirety by Nick Cardy. In the surprise ending, after Jericho and the Titans have captured the gang's leaders and lectured their teenaged recruits, would-be recruit Mark is shocked to find that Jericho is actually his brother, Ben. What should be even more shocking to the readers is that both Mark and Ben, who spend this scene talking at length about what it means to be black men in a white man's world, are both clearly white themselves. The art is reproduced without color, and Cardy (or any other capable artist of this period) would no doubt take great pains to avoid drawing black characters as broad stereotypes. In fact, a year later we would see him drawing Mal as a handsome and unquestionably African-American young man. Yet Mark and Ben have thin lips, narrow noses and straight, straight hair showing obvious comb-strokes. Editorial Director Carmine Infantino didn't cite that glaring inconsistency when rejecting the story, though. His main concern was that the dialogue for a story purportedly endorsing racial harmony was written in such a ham-fisted manner that it would be offensive to both black and white readers.

.....So, to recap: Wein and Wolfman brought the script to editor Dick Giordano, who approved the story.
.....Nick Cardy drew the story and then dialogue was added.
.....Editorial Director Carmine Infantino nixed the final version (probably prior to coloring).
.....At this point the story was brought to Neal Adams by one of the five people above. An attempted rewrite was also rejected and Adams found himself scripting a new story almost from scratch with about a week to make the printer's date. This is the point at which the original story, "Titans Fit The Battle Of Jericho", becomes the story eventually published. With little time in which to work, Adams took Cardy's finished cover (with the story's title on it) and four or five additional pages to form the basis of a story with a similar plot. In the new story, Adams took the logical step of making the hero's name Joshua and have him oppose a vast organization called Operation Jericho (which eventually "comes tumbling down"). For reasons that are less clear, Joshua's real identity is not Ben but David, and his younger brother is not Mark but Chuck. The gang is now recruiting mostly white teenagers by pandering to generational tensions. This undermines the 'reveal' of Joshua's identity; in the rejected version of the story when Mark finds out that the mystery hero is his brother Ben, and their previously presumed racial differences don't exist. In the newer version, Chuck discovers that the mystery hero is his brother Dave, but that doesn't change the fact that they are different ages. As befitting its lesser impact, the scene is relocated from the end to about two-thirds into the story. The new finale is the revelation that while the teenagers were dupes of the gang, the gang were dupes of the aliens from Dimension X (seen in issue #16). What the teenagers were told would be a method of political demonstration turned out to be a disguised method of breaching the dimensional wall and unleashing a monster on Earth. Joshua, an electronics genius, uses a sonic weapon (a 'horn') to tear down the alien 'wall', fulfilling the biblical metaphor. In addition to the Cardy pages there were two pages by Sal Amendola showing an interlude with the aliens' human agent. The rest was pencilled by Adams and inked by Cardy.

.....Mal Duncan, of course, is not Joshua. But when the Titans were revived in the later 70's there was a push to give Mal some sort of super-power. Although there was a flirtation with the Kirby Guardian costume and exo-skeleton, the shtick that stuck was a magic horn provided by divine intervention. Of all the possible gimmicks in the world of super-heroes, what kind of a coincidence is it that DC's first black hero is retrofitted with a device that recalls the motif of what would have been DC's first black hero?

.....Mal's eventual debut came in Teen Titans #26 (03-04/70). Of all the Marvel characters named above, only Jim Wilson followed Mal. Sadly, he rarely appeared on the covers. In the original run he made it onto the front of #32(03-04/71), #38(03-04/72) and #42(11-12/72). By that time you were more likely to see an inset of Page Peterson, fictional advice expert of the romance titles, on the cover of, say, Young Romance. He was also beat out to the covers by Lois Lane, who spent "24 Hours As A Black Woman" in the notoriously silly story and cover "I Am Curious (Black)", written by Robert Kanigher (who also wrote the Titans arc that introduced Mal) and drawn by Werner Roth (who worked with Arnold Drake on X-Men).

.....In Part 3 I look at several stories from the 80's that attempt to fill in the holes in continuity from the 70's, including a chronology of Gar Logan. Then in Part 4 I shoot for a comprehensive list of all of Mal and Gar's appearances during the 1970's.